We're supposed to assume things are different this time around?
You know what they say happens when you "assume" something. It makes a you-know-what out of "u" and "me."
The mainstream media – in which I would lump the network news in the evenings and any other news outfits that were once under the umbrella of a "news" department or division from days gone by, but now must answer to the demands of an "entertainment" division – exist on a steady diet of assumptions.
Take, for instance, Lester Holt, filling in for anchor Brian Williams on NBC's Nightly News last week. As part of the continuing coverage of the awful things happening in Syria, Holt proclaimed that the apparent chemical weapons attacks carried out by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on his own people a couple weeks ago "shocked the world."
Oh, really? Or is Holt just assuming that? The only reliable thing that he or anyone else could say that relates to Syria is at least half of the world's population probably couldn't find Syria on a world map. So if a major facet of the world's population – substitute "the United States population" if you think the more specific reference makes the claim more accurate – doesn't care enough to know where Syria is, why in the world would this same giant block of people care enough to be shocked by anything going on there?
This is why Miley Cyrus making your average prostitute look like a church pillar on the MTV Video Music Awards a couple weeks ago is so much easier to follow. "What happened to our adorable Hannah Montana!?" the distraught masses want to know. Who wants to talk about mysterious chemical weapons like saran gas and lots of dead people in Syria when you can hop on social media and "OMG!!!" yourself and all of your cyber-pals to death while you debate just how mentally ill Miley Cyrus is these days? Arguing the pros and cons of a U.S.-led military intervention in Cyrus – excuse me...Syria – simply requires too much work.
Someone purporting to be CNN.com Managing Editor Meredity Artley wrote a beautiful explanation for why Cyrus' behavior the morning after the MTV VMAs was the cable news website's lead story. As I read it and witnessed a level of bluntness and honesty that was beyond refreshing, I grew suspicious, not yet realizing the piece was published by "The Onion," probably the most clever, hiliarious "news" outlet for satire geeks that ever existed. In a possible sign of how low Cnn.com has dipped on the relevance scale, Artley felt compelled to officially deny any notion that she'd written the piece. If only she had, though; it could have been a game-changer.
Trouble is, the Onion.com piece is no satire at all; it's the cold, hard truth.
Today's so-called "news?" In the digital realm, it's all about the number of website visitors you can attract and then boast to your advertisers about, it's about how long those visitors visit your site and how many related things those visitors visit while they're visiting, it's about how many online comments they make, how many friends they share your site with, and how much they tweet and re-tweet your content. Then, if those numbers are big, big, BIG, your advertisers will hopefully agree with you that they need to pay a premium to advertise on your digital "news" product.
The people in charge of drumming up all that advertising revenue and all that social media buzz realize that endless reporting on the tragic saga in Syria just isn't going to cut it. But Miley Cyrus "twerking?" If you're older than age 13, you'd probably never even heard of that word two weeks ago, but, while you still might not know precisely what it means to "twerk," you're at least informed enough now to wonder if it at all involves a large, foam finger. (Alas, it does not.)
And yet, maybe nothing is capable of generating a debate in the United States like the prospect of sending more American troops to die on a foreign soil half a planet away, for reasons that are at the least confusing, and at the most questionable and even suspicious. On NBC's Nightly News, during the same broadcast in which Holt assumed the world was shocked by the use of chemical weapons in Syria, an NBC News correspondent was sent to "America's heartland" to see how people "far away from Washington, D.C." feel about the notion of sending our soldiers into Syria. You guessed it, he interviewed people at the Minnesota State Fair, where one fair-goer who may or may not have been holding something deep fried on a stick boldly concluded that using chemical weapons on your own people is bad and that you shouldn't do it.
Haven't we learned our lesson? These entertainment and revenue-driven news outlets are leading the drumbeat yet again that marches us into another war. It's self-absorbed, breathlessly recited propaganda, bought and paid for by corporate news, entertainment, government and military interests who know that war is a business, and business is always good...unless you're not at war.
The NBC Nightly News Syria coverage during the broadcast I continue to pick on included the White House press secretary's factual, matter-of-fact and deadly-serious detailing of the chemical weapons attack in Syria. He spoke of rockets and rocket launchers that only the Assad regime could possess, and Syrian troops "on the move" in advance of a possible attack from the West. In addition, NBC Nightly News correspondent Andrea Mitchell, who, a moment earlier had warned viewers of the graphic images they'd soon see – babies killed by the saran gas – noted that the Obama administration is taking extra special care to lay out the facts for Americans and make a rock-solid case for military action in Syria, because the administration "remembers what happened 10 years ago in Iraq."
Oh, you mean when we were lied to? And we're simply supposed to assume it's different this time around?