From the continuing war in Israel and Gaza to the unrest in Ferguson to the rampage by ISIS in Iraq and Syria, there’s almost too much misery going on to keep track of, even if you’re merely a consumer. News outlets have had to make decisions about which stories to cover, with some cable news channels emphasizing certain things rather than others.
CNN and MSNBC have had top anchors on the ground in Ferguson for most of the last week, leading to such memorable moments as Chris Hayes getting rocks thrown at him, and Jake Tapper’s grandstanding yet completely justified comment about cops dressed for combat going up against unarmed civilians. Less honorably? Don Lemon on CNN Wednesday night, in one of those clips I knew would go viral the second I saw it, making clear that he has no idea what the difference is between automatic and semi-automatic weapons.
Fox News has been covering Ferguson too, but it’s not like they sent Bill O’Reilly. Their coverage has been more focused on complaining about Al Sharpton, propping up the police’s side of the story, and concern-trolling about the black community.
But probably the most instructive cable news moment of the past week was this 30-second snippet of Fox host Megyn Kelly the other night, getting righteously angry that she had to cut away from coverage of the beheading of American journalist James Foley by ISIS, in order to cover the events unfolding in Ferguson.
“I realize something’s happening in Ferguson, but we’re talking about something important here,” Kelly said. “They’re clashing again, but we’re talking about the death of an American”:
The murder of Foley by ISIS is an outrage and a tragedy, and absolutely deserving of news coverage and discussion. But look at all of the stated and unstated assumptions, just in that 30 seconds: That the unrest in Ferguson isn’t important. That it’s somehow tiresome or frivolous to talk about another clash between cops and civilians in Ferguson, when there’s real news to concentrate on instead. Or, worst of all, “but we’re talking about a dead American.” As though Michael Brown isn’t a dead American. As though the entire Ferguson story isn’t about a dead American, or about issues of life and death.
And I don’t want to hear that the assassination of Foley “puts things in perspective,” in regards to Ferguson. If, say, a celebrity scandal is knocked out of the headlines by a terrorist attack, that puts things into perspective. Not when one matter of life and death- one with huge bearing on people’s safety, and about who we are as a nation- is knocked out of the news by another.
I’m long past the idea of expecting fairness, quality or in-depth reporting from cable news, and I’m not only talking about Fox. But it’s rare for that short a snippet to provide such a complete look into that particular worldview.