Virtual Front Page, Friday, August 20, 2010

This has been an on-again, off-again week for this feature, I know. I excuse myself with the consolation that there’s not much news to be had in August anyway.

Here’s what we have at this hour:

  1. Israeli-Palestinian Talks Set for September (WSJ) — See? This is big news, but it’s too big to happen in August. Fortunately, merely scheduling such talks qualifies as news.
  2. Other perspectives on the Mideast story (various) — This is big enough you may want to look at several versions, as the blind men of the MSM trying to describe a particularly elusive elephant. The NYT says Hillary Clinton is seeing hope for peace within a year, while the WashPost headlines Hillary talking about the obstacles to such an outcome. And don’t forget the BBC.
  3. Operation Iraqi Freedom ends as last combat soldiers leave Baghdad (WashPost) — Yeah, we sort of missed it since it happened yesterday (when I didn’t do a front page), but it’s still news. Or rather, history.
  4. S.C. unemployment rate increases to 10.8% (CRBR) — This is the first increase in the rate this year. FYI, Lexington County’s rate of 8.2 percent is as good as it gets.
  5. US calls for Lockerbie bomber to return to jail (BBC) — This story says the US wants the Scots to do it. I’m not entirely clear on how we expect the Scots to put that toothpaste back in the tube. By the way, you may be interested to read this opinion piece on the subject in the WSJ this morning, “The Lockerbie Bomber and Scotland’s Disgrace.”
  6. Brutality Against Women Stirs Fear In Afghanistan (NPR) — This, by the way, is what we’re over there to fight against.

11 thoughts on “Virtual Front Page, Friday, August 20, 2010

  1. Brad

    By the way, Bud said the other day that he’s “not sure why Brad downplays the mother-killing-her-kids story.” (The children were buried today.)

    It’s complicated. But I sort of think of news in “Why do we have a First Amendment” terms. That doesn’t mean that political news is the only important kind. But I tend to think in terms of what is useful to people in their lives as citizens, or as members of a community.

    There are some kinds of crime news that I think are important to play up big. For instance, if you have a serial killer or rapist working your city, people need to know about it; it’s practical information.

    Of course, things that are simply interesting are also news, and something this horrific is, in an intensely unpleasant and revolting way, interesting. But it fits into the category of things in which my curiosity is satisfied with a sentence. Tell me, “a mother killed her children,” and you have told me everything I need to know (and I’m really stretching the definition of “need” here), and far more than I want to know. It’s a take-note-of-and-shudder kind of thing.

    While such domestic slayings may be the most horrific to our sensibilities, they are in fact the least threatening to the reader. If a woman was going around killing OTHER PEOPLE’s children, it would be something people needed to be warned about, and should be played up. But a newspaper’s DUTY to play the story big just isn’t there with something like this story.

    Personally, I thought the Susan Smith story was overplayed. But at least with that one there was a legitimate PUBLIC issue, rather than merely a private horror. Susan Smith had defrauded an entire community, playing on perceived stereotypes of the Threatening Black Male Stranger to mobilize a town to try to help her find her. She had involved the community in her crime, or at least in her alibi.

    Of course, any time anyone dies, the community is diminished. And the death of children is particularly horrible to contemplate — and exponentially worse under these circumstances. But because the deaths were particularly horrible doesn’t mean the community is more diminished by them than if the children had died accidentally.

    Also, the community has an obligation to share in the protection of children, particularly when their parents fail to do so — and especially when the parents themselves are a threat. So a tragedy like this is a community failure to some extent. And if you have a PATTERN of such deaths, you have a public issue that must be engaged, and debated, and dealt with. But the very reason why this story shocks the imagination is that it is perceived as so rare, not as part of a trend we must face.

    A final complication is that I am very wary of falling into the sensationalist, penny-dreadful trap of seeming to divert people with anything this horrible. I am revolted not only by what happened, but by any possibility of being personally implicated in trying to exploit it in trying make my product more interesting to readers.

    Again, it’s complicated.

  2. Kathryn Fenner

    Susan Smith was Man Bites Dog, in that she was right out a a redneck film noir. This current case is important because it highlights how important our social safety net is–DSS funding has been slashed and slashed, as have counseling options for the poor.
    While those may well not have prevented this, who knows when they might?
    Someone needs to keep this in front of the comfortable–the mentally healthy who had healthy childhoods.

  3. Phillip

    Brad, I understand your perspective on this. However, there is another way to look at it.

    For example, according to figures found here:

    …there were 1760 child fatalities due to abuse or neglect in 2007 (the year I just happened to find stats for) in the US. If those numbers are representative of an average over the course of the last decade, they would certainly greatly surpass the number of Americans who are victims of terrorism annually. Certainly local TV stations, etc., look for the “sensationalism” in stories like the Orangeburg case to spike ratings, but one could also argue that the small-scale horrors that surround us every day (a child dies from neglect, someone killed via DUI, etc.) should get MORE media attention (and more of our national focus) than our obsession with the so-called War on Terror, which both in terms of media coverage and a nation’s alarming willingness to undermine its own values in a quixotic quest for 100% elimination of ALL terrorist threats worldwide, is the ultimate in “sensationalism.”

  4. Phillip

    A way simpler way to summarize my comment above is to say that a child in America stands a much higher chance of being killed by his or her mother or father than by a terrorist attack.

  5. Karen McLeod

    I agree with both you, Kathryn, and Phillip. It’s not the individual cases that need to be exploited, but the fact that all types of domestic abuse occur all the time. We see the occasional, sensational story like this one, and think how horrible it is; but we don’t see the ongoing devastation that’s occurring and recurring around us. And that’s the big story that needs to hit the front pages and stay there until we do something about it.

  6. bud

    Kathryn and Phillip made the point that I was trying to make in a previous post. It’s a broader issue than just the single horrific event. Brad’s point about exploiting the issue has merit also.

  7. bud

    Disagree on the Isreali/Palestinian talks story. I’d probably not even list it but to have it first is ridiculous. These folks have talked, killed each other and in general made a mess out of that part of the world for 6 decades now. Not sure why a story about a future set of talks is worthy of any discussion.

  8. bud

    Brutality Against Women Stirs Fear In Afghanistan (NPR) — This, by the way, is what we’re over there to fight against.

    No, NO, NOOOO, a thousand times No. The initial reason we went into Afghanistan (and Iraq too for that matter) was because the folks over their posed a huge risk to OUR security. Once we start re-stating the resons for a foreign misadventure we can come up with excuses to continue with it forever.

    And by the way, we’ve been there for nine long years now why aren’t we seeing some progress in alleviating problems of this sort? I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck for heaven’s sake. We’re in Afghanistan and Iraq in order to enrich a handful of wealthy Americans. Until people wake up and understand that we’ll continue fighting wars and making up reasons to fight wars and spend money on them. It’s a shame the Tea Party folks don’t rant about that violation of the constitution, along with the “limited government” nonsense they purport to support.

  9. Doug Ross

    Just finished reading Sebastian Junger’s book “War” about the 15 months he spent embedded in Afghanistan. An honest view of an unwinnable mission from inside an Army patrol on the frontlines. So much senseless killing on both sides. We’re fighting an enemy that cannot ever be defeated with traditional warfare to protect a country filled with people who don’t want us there… and every innocent we kill creates X more people willing to join the other side.

    It’s not our duty to be the world’s policeman. Defend our borders as strongly as possible. Aid our allies when they are attacked by another country. That’s it.

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