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David Sirota

David Sirota

Posted: January 20, 2011 01:24 PM

Last night, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow rightly asked a taboo question of our "national" media: Why has it largely ignored what the FBI says is a major terrorist bombing attempt on Spokane, Washington? In the segment, you can see she cites examples of the "national" media hyperventilating about bomb scares that ended up being false alarms. She cites these examples to wonder why, in the face of a bomb scare that's actually real, the same "national" media has ignored the Spokane story?

I have an answer to that question -- it's an answer I've previously written about in a 2006 post entitled "It's the Geography, Stupid." As you can see from the clips Maddow cites, the "national" media has devoted wall-to-wall coverage to bomb scares that have occurred specifically in New York and Washington, D.C. That's not a coincidence from a "national" media that isn't "national" at all. Indeed, what passes for a "national" media these days is almost exclusively New York/D.C.-based media that focuses almost exclusively on New York/D.C.-centric stories.

Watch the typical news broadcast on a given night and you'll see what I'm talking about. Despite having satellite feeds and news facilities all over America, almost all of the "national" shows you will see are nonetheless primarily featuring anchors and guests living in, working in and focusing on Washington and New York.

Now, obviously, New York and Washington are important places, deserving of ongoing news coverage. But in a nation of 300 million people, they are not the only place where news happens -- and certainly not the only place that has worthy anchors and guests.

And yet, that's what our "national" media effectively suggests with its tunnel-vision focus on New York and D.C. to the exclusion of the Rest of Us. It suggests that what happens outside the New York/D.C. bubble is not important -- and if it is, it's only important in how it affects New York/D.C. A good example of this is the Tucson shooting -- most of the "national" media discussion in the aftermath of the tragedy focused on how it would affect future debates in Washington.

Now, Maddow courageously provides us another even more telling and undeniable example with the lack of coverage devoted to the Spokane bomb.

Why haven't the "national" media covered it in any serious way? Because the story is happening outside of the New York/D.C. media bubble -- i.e. a place that the "national" media and political elite see as an unimportant Siberia. It isn't being covered, in other words, because while it's a serious story affecting the faceless masses, it doesn't affect that New York/D.C. political and media elite in any personal or professional way.

The problem with this, of course, is larger than any one story -- even one about domestic terrorism in the Pacific Northwest. The "national" media's New York/D.C.-centric nature helps explain why the parameters of our entire political discourse are so skewed on every issue, and why this "national" media so often presents policy proposals as "centrist" even when those policy proposals are nowhere near the center of national public opinion. It's because many of these fringe policy ideas -- like, say, cutting Social Security -- are indeed "moderate" and "centrist" within the confines of elite social circles in New York and Washington. So to a "national" media disproportionately oriented to reflect only those circles, such policies seem "centrist" -- even when they clearly aren't.

As I said, "it's the geography, stupid" -- and because we've allowed our "national" discourse to become a homogenized argument primarily between competing New Yorkers and Washingtonians, we get a political and media class that is increasingly out of touch with the Rest of Us.

 
 
 

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