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Why Americans Tune in to Canada
Published on Thursday, March 13, 2003 by the Toronto Star
Why Americans Tune in to Canada
by Antonia Zerbisias
 

My e-mail inbox overfloweth with missives from our neighbours to the south as, I expect, those of many of my Star colleagues do.

Many Americans seem pathetically grateful for offshore, online sources for news and views of the world.

Not that the Canadian media are perfect. We make our mistakes. We have our biases. But here, at least, there's a vigorous and wide-ranging debate on the looming war.

So who can blame skeptical Americans for resorting to Canadians when their "most trusted" and "most watched'' media are marching in lockstep to the drums of war?

Whether it's showing CNN's Connie Chung accuse actor/activist Jessica Lange of "betraying the troops" or yet another treacly report on how some soldier has "three more reasons to fight for freedom" because his wife gave birth to triplets, U.S. media are a long way from presenting not only the whole picture, but even a fair one.

Here are just a few of the recent omissions:

*** Some major news organizations have misquoted and distorted the record on President George W. Bush's stage-managed news conference last Thursday, altering his slip about how the whole thing was "scripted" to "unscripted."

If you stayed awake, you would have seen Bush at one point look at a list of reporters he planned to call upon while recognizing CNN's John King. When another reporter tried to cut in, Bush said: "This is a scripted —"

Check the official White House transcripts (http://www.whitehouse.gov/news) and you'll see the word "scripted." But go to the online transcripts at The New York Times, Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and the Los Angeles Times and you'll see the reference has either been cut or changed to "unscripted."

A typo? Perhaps. One George Orwell might have appreciated.

*** Many Americans who venture outside their borders for their news are waiting still for their own media to delve into a story broken by the London-based Observer on March 2. It charged the U.S. with spying on the diplomatic delegations from several Security Council nations.

There's been little to no coverage on the affair — and what did get reported was presented as being no big deal, as if spying by the U.S. at such a time was to be expected.

The government has never denied the report, which was based on a leaked memo written by a senior official at the U.S. National Security Agency.

The lack of American media interest in this story indicates, once again, that they can't be critical of their own. What does it say to the rest of the world, which has been intensely interested in this tale?

*** Just as news organizations are firming up their "exit strategies" for their reporters not safely "embedded" with U.S. troops, Kate Adie, who recently quit her job as BBC's chief news correspondent, told Irish radio that Washington's attitude is "entirely hostile to the free spread of information."

Adie, who covered the last Gulf war, also said that a senior officer in the Pentagon told her that any "uplinks" — satellite TV or phone signals — that were detected coming out of Baghdad, would be "targeted down" and "fired down on."

Truth clearly won't be either the first — or only — casualty in this war.

You can hear the interview at http://homepage.eircom.net.

*** Could it be that truth doesn't even have a fighting chance, even before the shooting begins?

A Florida Appeals court ruling last month overturned a jury verdict to award former Fox TV investigative journalist Jane Akre $425,000 under the state's whistleblower law.

Akre, and her journalist husband Steve Wilson, were fired in 1997 after writing, re-writing, and re-writing, some 80 times, a series on how Monsanto's synthetic bovine growth hormone was being used in Florida dairy cattle.

The couple alleged that local supermarkets did little to avoid selling the milk from the hormone-treated cows despite assuring customers otherwise.

The chemical giant complained and Fox killed the series.

Fox then fired the duo after they threatened to tell the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which monitors U.S. broadcasting, that Fox was distorting the news. The reporters subsequently sued Fox.

But the appeals court in Jeb Bush's Florida saw the FCC's stance on "news distortion" as just a policy and not a "law, rule or regulation."

Needless to say, Fox reported this as a "vindication" of its actions.

As for other media, well, I'm still combing the databases for any real mention of this shocking decision.

But I'm not holding my breath.

Antonia Zerbisias appears every Thursday. You can reach her at azerbis@thestar.ca.

Copyright 1996-2003. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited

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