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MEDIA FOCUS ON THE SENSATIONAL, IGNORE REAL ISSUES

If you're anything like me, you'll agree that for the past few months, mainstream journalism has focused altogether too much attention on sensationalism -- events like Martha Stewart's release from prison, the Scott Peterson trial, the Robert Blake case, the Michael Jackson trial, steroid use among baseball players, and most recently, Terri Schiavo. In my opinion, reporting on the Schiavo case has gone well beyond the pale, turning a private tragedy into a media-driven circus, rife with right-wing political opportunism.

Meanwhile, real news, news about Social Security, the deficit, the budget, the weak dollar, the war in Iraq, the environment -- issues that will have profound impact on our lives and the lives of our children -- is all too often relegated to the back page or the brief sound bite. Some news is barely reported at all.

March 19 marked the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, yet little was reported of the worldwide anti-war demonstrations that included 800 cities and towns across the United States. One has to go to the European press to find out that in this war without an exit strategy, coalition soldiers are now dying at the rate of almost two a day, while the rate for Iraqi civilians is around 20 a day.

After initially reporting on the torture claims from Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and Afghanistan, the press has said little about the administration's refusal to appoint an independent commission or assign any blame to senior administration officials and officers.

Speaking of administration officials, the nomination of John Bolton, a rabid United Nations denigrator, as ambassador to that institution, speaks volumes about the administration's attitude toward the rest of the world, and certainly warrants more news coverage, as does the nomination and confirmation of Paul Wolfowitz, a chief architect of our failed Iraq policy, as president of the World Bank.

Of course, we've heard a lot about Social Security and the president's town meetings. Yet we hear little about the fact that the questions at these meetings are carefully chosen in advance. The participants are vetted, rehearsed and auditioned, and all of this is paid for by taxpayers like you and me.

In fact, since President Bush took office, taxpayers have shelled out at least $254 million on fake news segments and public relations gimmicks that put a positive spin on administration policies, but you won't see anything about this on the front page.

When supporters of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, in an underhanded maneuver, attached the measure to the Senate budget bill, a move that precluded filibuster, and then passed it, the mainstream media barely whispered. Overall, the president's budget would cut environmental allocations by 10 percent, yet how many of us know or care?

As a nation, we desperately need news coverage that places thoughtful content over tabloid spectacle, because just maybe, if we once again had a responsible press, we just might have a more accountable government.

Barbara Jezioro is a Buffalo resident.