Three minutes on CNN

The situation in the Middle East seems to be going from bad to worse as Ehud Olmert demonstrates that to him everything is a big nail to be hit with his military hammer, and the militants in Palestine and Lebanon show that that’s their preferred state of affairs.

Here in the US we have the joy of receiving the news about the situation from such bastions of newstainment as CNN, who bring us this remarkably poorly written story (via Ed). In the midst of a story that does very little to explain much of anything, preferring to remind us that both sides are using threatening language, is this little treat of a link description:

“Watch gunfire and smoke as Israeli troops enter southern Lebanon — 2:55”

The article may not give us much useful information, but it does remind us once again that 24-hour televised news is a bad thing. To survive it relies on feeding us war porn, rather than actually trying to work out who invaded whom first, why they might have done that, or which strategy is likely to bring about a peaceful settlement.

Those three minutes may be better spent here or here.


  1. I like the term “war porn” very appropriate.

    My Sister-in-Law is/was due to go to Lebanon two weeks from now – it’ll be interesting to see if she can or will still go. (Her boyfriend is from there)

  2. I agree that 24 hour news has had its day (its day being September 11th 2001), but I do have a question on this one, James.

    One day last week a number of national newspapers in the UK (don’t know about the big US papers) carried a picture of a Lebanese child killed by an Israeli air attack (see here). I am fairly sure it is technically illegal to publish it in the UK, but there you have it.

    My question is this: is this a necessary, or helpful, image to have been published? And more broadly, where does the honest report of the shocking reality become the ‘war porn’?

  3. Good questions, Martin, and not ones that we can (or should) come to quick answers about. As a brief answer, I think that (as ever?) it’s probably all about context.

    News organizations exist to tell us stories based on what is going on around the world, and responsible news organizations also do what they can to provide us with tools to sift through those stories and work out our responses.

    If CNN’s story telling had been more coherent, or had made any steps to explain to us what was actually happening, I might have responded more charitably towards the images. If they made it clear that their images were aimed at building our understanding or giving us insight into the human situation on the ground, I’m willing to accept that there’s some mileage and some questions.

    But in this case, the images were advertised as showing the same sort of violence that draws people to action films. They weren’t advertised as being about insight, the description suggested titillation. That seems the crucial difference to me.

    It’s certainly not just CNN (or even 24 hour news) that does this, but CNN is emblematic for me of much that is wrong about the news media in the US. It’s far more insidious than Fox because its bias is far less clear (though it’s scary that there are people who don’t recognize Fox as having a bias…), but it does a very poor job of telling stories, let alone stories that might help inform people.

  4. Sounds fair.

    I realise now my link didn’t work before, had some trouble posting: