Monday, June 8, 2009

What news is the American media "worst at covering"?

The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof asks the question, and gives his answer:

I would argue that it’s public health. One problem is that we tend to cover things that happen on a particular day, and public health challenges usually unfold every day — so they’re never really considered news. Conversely, we’re at our best covering politics and governments, particularly the decisions that are made on a particular day, because they have drama as well as consequences. They feel like news, in a way that a million people dying annually of malaria does not.
See the comments on that post for lots of answers.

It's an inherently hard question to answer since, by definition, poorly covered subjects are ones you wish you knew more about. But here are my answers:

1. Supreme Court (and other appellate) decisions. The media seems generally competent at legal reporting of pre-trial procedure and trials. But the media will report the latest Supreme Court decision as if it affected only the parties in that case. In reality, those parties are relatively insignificant; the broader legal principles are more important. The media seems to think that the latter are too abstract, hypothetical, or academic to be worth reporting.

2. Long-term war. Once it became clear that the Iraq War was going to be a lot harder and longer than people expected, the New York Times and the Washington Post (my two main sources for news) became obsessed with keeping track of how any given month compared with past months in terms of American casualties. I don't mean to disrespect the casualties, but from reading the NYT or WaPo you'd think the war mattered only to the extent it affected American troops. Also, the focus on ranking the different months is completely arbitrary.

3. Stuff going on in foreign countries that isn't (a) a humanitarian disaster or (b) directly, obviously relevant to our national interest.

4. Political campaigns. There's a vicious circle going on here. The media is ready to pounce on the slightest arguable misstep by candidates or people associated with them. This causes the candidates to be more and more cautious in everything they say and do, which causes them to be more and more phony. This, in turn, causes the media and the public to feel starved for any evidence that the candidates are real, fallible human beings, which causes them to pounce on the candidates' missteps, etc.


Jason (the commenter) said...

I liked JAC's answers much better than Kristof's, but I can't help thinking the entire article is a trap.

I read it and wondered, what is American media?

This morning I saw a story on how Susan Boyle left her treatment facility, followed by a story on bffs (best friends forever), but I'm pretty sure the NYT doesn't include the TV show which produced these stories when it speaks of American media.

I'd love to say blogs cover all of the topics JAC and Kristof brought up, but I'm pretty sure the NYT doesn't include blogs when it speaks of American media, either.

Or talk radio, or podcasts, or Oprah, or comic books...

In short, I think the article is propaganda.

I wont buy into your worldview NYT, but nice try.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Yeah, on second thought, I should have said "the American mainstream media" in the heading.

Jason (the commenter) said...

JAC : Yeah, on second thought, I should have said "the American mainstream media" in the heading.

Is the NYT mainstream? More people listen to Oprah, or Limbaugh, or gossip news.

I like this article. It has me thinking!