15 April 2007

Quarrel In A Straw

What, dare I ask, is worse: being called a "nappy-headed ho" by a disheveled crank, or being falsely labeled a rapist by a county prosecutor and most of the national media? Watching the news coverage out of the States this week, you'd think the former. In fact, watching the various programmes that constitute the tradition of Sunday morning talk, you'd think Don Imus the worst person since Joe McCarthy. On Meet the Press, Reliable Sources and This Week, one story dominated the other completely by a huge margin in terms of air-time devotion. Guess which one. Meet the Press didn't mention the other at all; This Week elided over it almost completely; and Reliable Sources came to it only in an epilogue that rhetorically, and utterly emptily, asked if the media should apologize.

I wonder-- could there be an ulterior reason for this? The media couldn't be using Imus as a straw man to deflect attention from their irresponsibility, and their fundamental complicity, in the Duke fiasco, could it? No, the American media would never do that. It's just that there was no vigil to keep outside Mike Nifong's house.

So it comforts me to know that, as the clamour suggests, it's okay to make and perpetuate criminal allegations against male athletes, and to actively participate in grand public libel. But toss off a crude and thoughtless epithetical slander against female athletes, and there will be Hell to pay. It comforts me that being slurred in a couple second sound-byte is a greater act of victimization than being dragged through the courts for more than a year on the most serious and invidious charges. It comforts me that every news programme in the US, and every talking head featured on it, will go on effusively about how impressive the Rutgers women are, while those few that bother to mention the unimpressive Duke boys do so now to emphasize that they came from wealthy families who could afford fancy-shmancy legal representation. It comforts me that we're supposed to feel the pain these young women felt, while we're supposed to slough off the pain those young men felt because they were college boys and must have been bad in other ways we just don't know about. It comforts me that the social priorities are so clear.

Now, please, let's get on to the important business of going after certain cultural sections that use what's now clearly taboo. Let's get the rappers and the shock-jocks and the comedians and the satirists and the moviemakers. We all know they're the real problem.

After all, since we're discussing so intently the damage that can be caused by words (so much for sticks and stones), it's good to know which ones are really hurtful. So, feel free to call me a rapist. Just don't call me a ho.

4 comments:

nic said...

The media is vile. I can see your point about the media focusing on their morality for denouncing brother Imus to deflect from their role in branding the Duke players guilty. Whenever someone is cleared of false accusations there is far too little made of it, actually I guess they're never really cleared. It's terrifying to think how easily the world can be persuaded to revile you.

I certainly hope that jumping to label someone a rapist without a qualm is largely restricted to hype-mongering journalists and not the general population. I believe it's still the case that a large proportion of women raped do not report it, and when a situation like this is handled so poorly and publicly it certainly affects real victims as well.

I wonder though what the media could possibly say to make it up to these men? "Whoops, our bad?"

Nothing. It's horrible.

John Mutford said...

Sometimes I think Canadians (such as myself) exaggerate the difference between themselves and Americans. But on a recent trip to California, I definitely saw a difference between our media. I'm by no means under the delusion that Canadian media is perfect, but I could pick no sense in American media whatsoever. Morality and values for instance, seemed completely random. Perhaps related to that hypocrisy seemed to be the order of the day. And the news seemed to spin so much it was dizzying, everything's a freakin' editorial!

Dr J said...

I think the fundamental difference btwn the US and CDN media is that in the former the news is now run as an entertainment division, which isn't (or isn't as much) the case for the latter. As a result, news coverage in the US is given a deeply relativist spin that's troubling: the pursuit of truth is nominal (get a few facts and run from there), and the attempts at objectivity rarer and rarer. I sometimes wonder if Knowlton Nash would have found Nancy Grace funny or frightening. Probably a bit of both.

As for the apology issue-- well, I think the media outlets have to make big, loud, clear & unequivocating apologies, and then they have to start recognizing the mistakes that got them in this mess to begin with. They won't though. The rush to report, the rush to air, the rush to judge, and the rush to Rush; they're the symptoms a culture that, right now at least, speaks before thinking. Imus became a living metaphor for that, but he's a minor symptom. It's rather like the teenaged girl (or boy) who sees a pimple on her face and thinks that's why nobody likes her; it's not the pimple, it's the personality.

RK said...

Re Dr J: a friend who used to work as video librarian for CBC TV news told me that whatever TV news is, it's not information (even in Canada). It's entertainment, and bears only the faintest relation to actual facts. (When a reactor in Russia blew up, any pic of a reactor would do, and was then presented as the one that blew up in Russia, for instance.)

Re nic and John: may I break one more last despairing lance and mutter that the word "media" is a plural (derived from "medium") and NOT a f*cking singular?

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