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Media bias in the eye of beholder

February 16, 2003 1:09 am

DID YOU CATCH Jesse Ventura on Jay Leno the other night? Leno invited the outgoing Minnesota governor because he knows this bizarre hybrid of showman/politician likes to say what he thinks.

Such a combination is likely to add spice to the usual late-night television celebrity mix.

He came through. First, Leno recalled that when he initially tried to contact Ventura to invite him, Ventura's wife answered and said that he was out riding around while she was left to shovel snow. Leno asked the former professional wrestler why he would leave his wife to do that hard work.

"Isn't that the way it should be?" Ventura responded. There's a knee-slapper. At least we know his reputation as a Neanderthal is intact.

Then he went on to say the worst part of being governor was the press. I wasn't taking notes, but he said something to the effect that the press no longer reports the news but makes up its own version of events and reports that.

Then there was a round of applause. The crowd's reaction was probably based on some herd mentality, adding an exclamation point to Ventura's comment. I really don't think the audience as a whole is as stupid as Ventura.

After doing this sort of work for some 27 years, I have yet to figure out where people get the idea that the serious media have some sort of preconceived agenda in their day-to-day reporting.

You can question the validity of the tabloid newspapers and television programs. You can question the credibility of media that are run by personalities of religion such as Pat Robertson or the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.

I am sure many people find what they believe is slanted information in the news columns of some mainstream newspapers. But that is often more in perception than reality, and the great thing about newspapers is that anyone who disagrees has a choice of alternatives: He can throw down the newspaper in disgust, write a letter to the editor, or call the newspaper to complain. I've been on the receiving end of some of those.

For the most part, the news is simply information reported for humans by humans who are striving to be fair and accurate. The collection of news is by nature subjective, translated by a reporter whose job is to be objective as possible. The reporter's work is reviewed by a series of editors, most of whom are arguably human.

Mistakes are made, just as an umpire honestly calls strike when the replay shows the ball clearly out of the strike zone. Maybe he needs better glasses. Maybe sometimes we need better glasses.

I admit that I cringe during breaking news situations, when reporters press authorities for information that is either unavailable or that they aren't about to divulge.

That happened with the loss of the space shuttle Columbia. Within minutes after the breakup was confirmed, reporters were asking how and why it happened.

It's one of those situations that demands the questions be asked, despite their prematurity. There wasn't one person on Earth who, upon hearing of the tragedy, didn't immediately wonder why it happened. Reporters often rephrase the same questions in hopes of getting just a tidbit of new information. Just ask Chief Charles Moose.

For Jesse Ventura to charge the media with having ulterior motives is actually a good thing. That's because you have to consider the source of such an argument, and the source in this case is less than reliable.

Speaking of Columbia

The loss of Columbia illustrates what I see as a numbing of America to its most compelling national events.

With the media's help, we are doing our best to paint ourselves as being overwrought by the loss of seven Columbia crew members.

Yes, their deaths are devastating to their families, the space program, and the world. But since the moment the tragedy was first reported, many people compartmentalized it. It's as though this generation has already experienced the worst that can happen: Thousands of people killed right here in America while going about their daily routines.

Sept. 11 was so horrific that it has inured us to calamity until something even worse comes along. Before that it was Oklahoma City. These are the things about which we still ask: How could this happen?

But space flight accidents no longer seem to rise to that level. We've been down this road before with the Challenger disaster. Like every astronaut that came before, the Columbia crew members were adventurers who volunteered to put themselves in harm's way. It is absurd to think that NASA, even with a blank check, could guarantee the safety of astronauts hurtling though space in a man-made contraption at speeds of up to 17,500 miles per hour.

Experts once placed the odds of space flight disasters at one in several hundred. Turns out to be more like one in 57 so far. We're too new at this to know how dangerous it is. Just because we come to ignore these missions after a while doesn't mean they are routine.

And please, let's not call the lost astronauts "heroes," a term that has been especially abused since the terrorist attacks. These astronauts were incredibly smart and driven people, and we'll never know what more they could have contributed.

But not everyone who dies a tragic death is a hero. That's not how these astronauts would want to be remembered.

RICHARD AMRHINE is a writer and editor with The Free Lance-Star.





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