On Monday, August 27, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced he was resigning his post. Demands for Gonzales’ resignation had been bipartisan, and his departure signaled a major defeat for the Bush Administration’s efforts to transform the Justice Department into the right-wing arm of the Republican Party. But those seeking an analysis of Gonzales’ resignation would have been hard-pressed to even learn about his action from TV news shows. These shows had one focus that day: Atlanta Falcons Quarterback Mike Vick had pled guilty to dog fighting. The avalanche of coverage for Vick’s long-planned plea announcement contrasted dramatically with the absence of reportage of Gonzales’ unforeseen act—yet another example of the traditional media’s twisted priorities.
Thanks to Jet Blue, I had the “opportunity” this week to spend over six hours flipping television channels in the airplane. There may not have been a single minute during this period when one of the stations was not doing in-depth interviews regarding Mike Vick’s guilty plea in the dog fighting case.
I had previously experienced the Vick media blitz the preceding Monday, when my flight to Boston coincided with Vick’s announcement that he would agree to plead guilty. So by my return flight, I already knew all the relevant facts about the case.
But despite the fact that Vick’s August 27th plea had been announced a week earlier, and despite the fact that no actual “news” occurred this week except for Vick’s court appearance and press statement, the traditional media acted like nobody had previously known about Vick’s dog fighting operation. The same legal experts were trotted out to give the same opinions they had given the preceding Monday, accompanied by endless footage of Vick walking to and from court.
How do I know the Vick coverage was relentless and unceasing? Because after catching the opening of the CBS News with Katie Couric and learning of Gonzales’ resignation, I was flipping channels looking for additional coverage.
Which I never found over a five-hour period.
To be clear, MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olberman and PBS’s Lehrer News Hour are not available on Jet Blue, and both likely highlighted the Gonzales resignation. But for the many other news networks, unless a fellow passenger caught Couric’s report, they would not have even learned of the Attorney General’s departure.
How did multiple networks keep busy on the Vick story? Well, FOX News had a multi-expert forum on whether Vick was being treated differently because of his race.
Other shows ran repeated interviews with legal experts assessing Vick’s possible sentence, most of whom evaluated whether the judge’s demeanor signaled that Vick would serve longer than anticipated. There were even stories on the nature of life in federal prison, a subject rarely reported upon despite the record prison population in the United States.
Non-football fans may not know a key fact that makes this over-the-top coverage even less justified: Vick is not a superstar, the Falcons did not even make the playoffs last year, and the team was not projected to make the playoffs this year.
This is not a case where a Super Bowl winning quarterback like Tom Brady or Payton Manning committed a crime; such massive publicity would still be unjustified, but at least be more understandable.
And also keep in mind that the crime of dog fighting that Vick pled guilty to was not even a federal felony until May 2007.
Was Vick’s crime so heinous that massive media coverage was necessary?
Stephan Marbury of the NBA’s New York Knicks made the mistake of publicly noting that Vick’s electrocution of dogs was not that different from deer hunting. What Marbury should have said is that millions of animals are tortured and electrocuted each year in the United States, and the corporate presidents whose businesses commit these acts are considered fine, upstanding citizens.
I did not see a single news report putting Vick’s conduct in the larger context of the vicious practices of the U.S. meat industry.
Also missing were reports comparing Vick’s torture of dogs to Gonzales’ support for torturing people, and his condoning of the situation at Abu Ghraibh.
Alberto Gonzales was a far greater threat to America’s values and freedom than a football player with no control over the nation’s justice system.
And as we learned Monday, the traditional media is doing its best to confuse this issue.
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