Monday, January 12, 2015

Today's journalism lesson: The follow-up

Well, this certainly seemed like a major Fair 'n' Balanced story last Tuesday: 

The status of 53 Cuban political prisoners who were supposed to be freed as part of the historic deal thawing U.S.-Cuba relations remains a mystery nearly three weeks after the announcement, prompting criticism from rights groups and lawmakers that the Castro regime is stringing along the White House.

“We are very concerned,” Francisco Hernandez, co-founder and president of the Cuban American National Foundation, told “The problem with the agreement [between Cuba and the U.S.] is that there is no agreement. There are no guarantees. This has been a tremendous victory for the Cuban government.”

... much as it had been a week earlier:

Cuban dissidents have expressed frustrations with the U.S. government over which political prisoners will be on a list of 53 people scheduled to be freed by the Castro regime as part of an effort to normalize relations between Washington and Havana.

So you could be forgiven for expecting this morning's* exclusive from Reuters to be a big deal as well:

Cuba has completed the release of all 53 prisoners it had promised to free, the Obama administration said on Monday, a major step toward détente with Washington.

The release of the remaining detainees overcomes a big hurdle for historic talks next week aimed at normalizing ties after decades of hostility. The list of 53 is part of last month's breakthrough U.S.-Cuba agreement and includes many known to international human rights groups as "prisoners of conscience." 

But from the silence on the homepage, you'd think it was -- oh, a monthly Bureau of Labor Statistics employment report that had even the American Enterprise Institute acknowledging that the country is "in a recovery that is accelerating" or something. Though it's apparently even less interesting; the BLS data did land on the homepage for a few hours Friday, while the Cuba story appears to have languished back in the World section all day.

If Cuba was a story on its own merits, meaning US-Cuba relations had some sort of independent value (say, to voters or businesspeople) that allowed for rank-ordering this development in the context of other Cuba developments of the past month, you'd probably expect this one to play a little higher. (Like, say, employment statistics suggesting that not only has the sky not fallen, it's gotten a little farther from the ground.) That isn't how news works at Fox. If a story doesn't tell you how the Kenyan usurper has tugged the American dream a little farther from your failing grasp today, it ain't a story.

Back in 1989, as the battle over whether framing was a "fractured paradigm" or a fairly coherent way of looking at the media landscape was starting to heat up, Robert Entman** took a pointed swipe at agenda-setting and its best-known summary: media accounts don't tell people what to think but are really good at telling them what to think about. He calls that a false distinction:

Nobody, no force, can ever successfully tell people "what to think." ... The way to control attitudes is to provide a partial selection of information for a person to think about, or process. The only means of influencing what people think is precisely to control what they think about.

Truth be told, there's quite a bit crowding the homepage today anyway -- not just a full slate of Kenyan perfidy, but huge sea monsters, the fundamental awesomeness of Chick-fil-A, and a change to the formula for Cadbury Creme Eggs. (Though you might think Fox would be a little more wary of random fictions about "'no-go' zones" in Western democracies after -- hem -- yesterday's developments.) That's plenty for anyone to think about, isn't it?
* Monday, Jan. 12, should you be scoring along at home
** "Democracy Without Citizens: Media and the decay of American politics"

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Anonymous Picky said...

I'm with the Brummie Independent reader who objected to the idiot Emerson's apology for his nonsense about Birmingham, city of terror, on the grounds that it described Brum as a "beautiful city". Birmingam has points of beauty, well, one anyway, the Edgbaston cricket ground. But all in all it's as beautiful as Fox's news operation. No, that's perhaps unfair.

7:34 AM, January 14, 2015  

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