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Fast Food Media
April 1, 2003
By Leilla Matsui

There's little news on CNN... unless of course, you want to know how the Dow Index is doing or what the latest developments are in cases involving missing white children. As for war coverage, CNN merely gives us the bells and whistles; nifty graphics, Hollywood editing techniques and a blockbuster score to pre-empt the real groundbreaking news - the commercials. CNN anchors spend much of their airtime congratulating themselves for being able to deliver such a polished product in the time that it takes to slap together a quarter pounder. Unfettered by the nutritional requirements of content, CNN brings it to you shiny-wrapped and steaming off the wire.

Like its fast food counterparts, American news relies on the statistical improbability of the consumer ever actually opening the bun to reveal the reconstituted offal inside. News Inc., has become the forum for generals, commanders and CEO's to deliver a non-stop monologue of praise for themselves and the institutions that bask in the reflected glory of the shining tin on their chests. News viewers are seldom expected to digest the glut of information beamed at them with the intensity of a pixellated shock and awe campaign. We remember the headlines but more often than not, forget what's beneath the bold print. The sonorously indifferent lull of General-speak sets the mood for a collective amnesia - not much different from the starchly induced slumber that comes with consuming too many empty calories. How many of us even remember what never took place a few days ago yet somehow have it etched in distant memory as "breaking news?"

Just days ago, it was reported (falsely, as it turns out) that allied forces had unearthed what Hans Blix and his UN team were unable to find - weapons of mass destruction - the smoking gun Washington hawks had promised to produce as evidence of Saddam Hussein's Dr Evil plot to rid the world of America a few gas cannisters at a time. Again, breaking news became just more breaking wind from the Pentagon when CNN (along with several other American news agencies) failed to verify reports of a scud missile cruising into Kuwait from Baghdad. Under the guidelines the UN laid out to disarm Iraq after the first Gulf War, Soviet-made Scud missiles with their long-range capabilities were strictly verboten. If such reports were true then Washington had what it needed to say, "see, told you so" to former allies in Europe, including all those Communist agents in the Vatican. Later, intelligence sources discredited these reports so yet another smoking gun became just one more steaming pile of manufactured manure on the information super-grapevine reported as fact and not even checked before leading the news.

If CNN represents the Golden Arches of television broadcasting, then the FOX News channel is its dirtier Burger Barn rival, throwing guns and girls into its primetime mix of hard-broiled infotainment. As self-appointed custodians of fear, Fox anchors use their newsroom as a bully-pulpit to brow-beat their viewers into believing that fair and balanced reporting means twelve hours of liberal-bashing followed by twelve hours of bashing liberals. CNN plays the more cautious role of guardian to their corporate master's interests; the chickenhawk politics of the Saab driving, country club set - a declining demographic of Canadian grandmothers who call into Larry King's show and are careful not to offend the visiting generals on the set.

CNN brings the war to us with anchors recycled from the coffee klatch programs that are the mainstay of their ratings. The silkily glib Paula Zahn does her battlefront lounge act from her Manhattan studio alongside her embedded colleagues who wave at her by satellite link from Kuwait. For Paula Zahn's viewers, war coverage is a blonde-led prayer breakfast with assorted colonels and the relatives of enlisted men and women who looked shocked and awed to be in the presence of someone almost as famous as Jerry Springer.

Like the McFood that CNN emulates in its McNews format, the finished product resembles no more than trace evidence of the slaughterhouse's mechanized momentum of bloodletting. "All The War Without The Gore," seems to be CNN's dubious moral stance to the $75 billion and counting X-rated version of the Iraqi Horror Picture Show they've packaged to look a National Geographic special. If you want to see the true face of this invasion the only option is the foreign press, whose news teams unsparingly transmit images of the real war - the ravaged and grimacing corpses who even in death, know something that CNN viewers never will.


Leilla Matsui is a freelance writer living in Tokyo.

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