Covering Wars at Home and Abroad
It is a connection that is rarely made in the media , but the fact is that wars overseas often intensify wars at home. The Vietnam experience was not that long ago. The absurdity of President Clinton lecturing students about the power of non-violence while NATO, under his command, relies on violence was not lost on many journalists--especially in other countries.
In both cases, violence has been the method of choice. Frustrated by an inability to bring Milosovic to heel through a rather convoluted diplomatic process., NATO launched missiles rather than stepping up less violent sanctions. Unable to make peace with their schoolmates who they felt victimized by, the self styled Trench Coat Mafia launched its own "cleansing " offensive, to wipe out the other cultural groupings which it had demonized. The macho, the testosterone, the war is the only road to peace option was in play in both situations. At Columbine High, the perpetrators committed suicide in a library where they had seemingly no time to read and get some perspective on their disaffection. In the former Yugolslavia, it is the Government which seems to be bent on suicide with the co-complicity of its miscalculating NATO adversaries with their far ineffective air campaign.
Perhaps that's why the news coverage of both events followed a similar trajectory. On both stories, the networks deployed regiments of correspondents with the assignment of providing saturation coverage. In both cases, the analysis of causes were downplayed in favor of images of the action--constantly replayed helicopter footage of students fleeing their school in horror in one instance, endlessly recycled footage of refugees fleeing in horror in the other.
In both cases, the genre has been crime and punishment. In Kosovo, that has meant an almost exclusive focus on Milosovic's criminality, with barely any examination of the role the West played over the years in looking the other way and not consistently challenging the pervasive human rights abuses.
At Colorado, and in communities across America, young people are virtually ignored by a media more interested in selling them products than engaging their concerns. The video games they buy, the slasher movies they consume, and the TV shows like MTV's "celebrity death match" are all manufactured by corporate America which does very little to provide other programming about positive role models and alternatives to conflict. This Beavis and Butthead culture has been fostered by a dumbing down of TV programming--a calculated strategy that media companies have no interest in critiquing in any serious way. How many times have you seen the suggestion that there is a link between media violence and real world violence brushed off --despite all the studies that document a connection.
The Kosovo story has been presented through two images--fires in the sky, and lines of displaced people on the road or in camps. It has been relatively bloodless and stage managed with well tested propaganda techniques on both sides. NATO bombs Serb TV after it shows the consequences to civilians of the growing number of collateral damage' incidents. This language is as dehumanized as much of the coverage. The Serbs in turn muzzle the brave voices of their independent media while the media here the critics and even the victims who are shown but rarely heard. The confusing vote on the issue in the American Congress--where a majority voted for and against the war at the same time mirrors media coverage that lacks depth, context and background.
In Colorado meanwhile, most of the coverage initially highlighted the military style SWAT squad police operation which looked like it might have been taking place in the Balkans. There were endless human interest stories about the bravery of the police, the tragedy of the families who had lost children, and the shocked community who though "it can't happen here." Give us a break. There has been a form of low intensity warfare between generations and cultures within America for years that has been ignored by educators and media alike. Getting kids to conform as a form of socialization is what many schools do with their standardized tests. emphasis on team sports and reinforcing gender roles.
Ultimately, both Columbine and Kosovo are treated as entertainments--with their dramatic footage, conflicts, characters, and narrative story telling style journalism. These are stories tailor made for news magazines that prefer emotion to information. What we are learning from all of this is that we won't learn very much. The lessons of Vietnam are lost on the NATO Generals who are bombing Kosovo to save it. The lessons of the lessons are children are learning is more obscure. Meanwhile at the networks the ratings are up.
Danny Schechter, executive producer of Globalvision, is the author of "The More You Watch, The Less You Know " just out in paperback from (Seven Stories Press) and the forthcoming "News Dissector."(Electron Press). He has won awards for TV coverage of the Balkans and youth issues,