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Nuzak: What the mainstream media are giving us is elevator news’

Thursday 19 May 2005

by John W. Baker

Recently, I encountered the term "WPN" (for "what passes for news"). I’d like to propose a related term, "Nuzak." It’s a functional description of how WPN fits into the life of the average Joe, who never reads a newspaper except for the sports section.

Nuzak is like Muzak. It runs in the background. It’s a New York Times headline on the way out of the house. It’s CNN at the airport. It’s Fox News at home whileJoe is really doing something else. The purpose of Nuzak is to be mildly interesting and possibly entertaining without telling Joe anything that would disturb him personally. Real news has immediacy. It is "actionable intelligence," the last thing Joe is interested in. The average person basically wants to be left alone and to be told, town-crier fashion, that "All is well." Elevator news.

This does not mean that Nuzak can’t be unpleasant, or that certain stories are off-limits because they are horrific, or gruesome, or disgusting. Nuzak can report all such things, but the important thing to Joe is that the events are someplace else, happening to someone else, thathe personally is okay, and that there’s nothing for him to be disturbed about.

Lest you think I am talking exclusively about the "conservative" media or the "liberal" media, I’m not. The discomfiting thing about Nuzak is that it comes in both varieties and in between. Nuzak really has to do with the way the stories are told and heard.

WPN is most commonly the product of zero-sum journalism. A partisan is interviewed and quoted. A partisan of the opposite persuasion is likewise interviewed and quoted. The reporter, having thus presented both sides, considers himself dispensed from fact-checking and analysis. The reader is left to decide the truth for herself as though it were merely a matter of opinion. But as the late Senator Patrick Moynihan said, "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, not to their own facts."

We saw an example of this kind of journalism during the last presidential campaign. Swift Boat-loads of lies were told about John Kerry and dutifully reported, "balanced" with denials from the Kerry campaign but often with very little fact-checking or analysis by the reporters. WPN became Nuzak when the accusations turned into headlines and 30-second commercials and the facts and denials were delayed or muffled. After a few days of steady drumbeat on cable news, polls revealed most people viewed the lies as accepted truth.

Nuzak in itself is nothing if not innocuous. Not so, the use to which it is being put by the White House, with the willing cooperation of its friends in the mainstream press. Together they convinced staggering numbers of Americans that Saddam had WMD, that he was in league with al-Qaeda, and that preemptive invasion of Iraq was necessary to prevent Saddam from delivering a mushroom cloud or bubonic plague to our shores. None of these things were true.

The White House has also exploited Nuzak since the invasion to convince the public that the situation in Iraq is steadily improving, when it is clear that the opposite is happening. The White House spin grabs the headlines and soundbites; the corrections and the full facts must wait until the next news cycle, where they are buried by more new spin. The steady drumbeat goes on. Mark Twain had it right: "A lie can travel half-way around the world while the truth is still putting his boots on."

If we don’t want the White House and the mainstream media to use Nuzak to sell us another war, we are going to have to demand real news and be willing to be bothered by it. •

John W. Baker is a teacher who lives in Houston.

Forum posts

  • It’s been like this for a long time that I know of. I lived in the UK 90-99 and traveled every month to NYC for business in those years. The differance between American news and other world outlets was/is extreme.

    It’s gotten worse over the last 3 years that I know of. BUT Americans don’t want to know the truth. I was at a meeting this evening and a gentleman and I were talking, he is very astute and aware of what is going on behind the scenes and others heard us talking about the truth of our government and media and just glared at us with complete disbelief as though we were saying some kind of blasphemy.

    Patriotism is some kind of weird religion here, and people don’t understand asking questions and demanding answers is what people in a free nation do. So they hide away in silly TV shows and go to bed and do the same thing the next day with their rosy glasses on.

  • True, but don’t wait for the mainstream news media to make any changes in your lifetime, their corporate owners are in league with the politicians, all are on the same bribe lists (Newsweek), so in the mean time the internet and foreign news outlets are our only safe bet. And to hell with the rednecks that don’t want to be bothered with the real news, we need to keep laughing at them and point out how gullible and uneducated they are. I am no longer interested in being nice and politically correct, I will not remain silent and let the lies pass for the truth, if the news media will not do their job to keep the press free and independent, then we all need to all keep shouting out the truth and shouting down their lies. Slowly Joe and Billy Sue will have to stop repeating that Saddam Hussein attacked us, and that we are bringing democracy to Iraq, it is hard to keep on repeating Bush’s big lies if the rest of us do our jobs of ridiculing these stupid asses and the yellow journalism that passes for the press.

  • Perhaps Mr. Baker could be more specific about the "Swift Boat-loads of lies (that) were told about John Kerry." The facts we presented at have not been refuted or proven false. On the other hand, John Kerry now admits he did not spend Christmas in Cambodia and it is clear that he took advantage of the system for his personal benefit. The majority of the media either ignored SwiftVets or spent their time trying to kill the messengers. There was very little factual, investigative reporting. Each news organization promoted its own view, a policy confirmed by Mr. Baker’s unsupported criticism of "Swift Boat-loads of lies"
    Tom Wright
    Officer in Charge, PCF 44 & 89

    • The lies (plural) have been refuted among other places at

      The big lie, told with the help of the mainstream media and particularly cable news, was that a man who twice volunteered for duty in Vietnam and had returned a decorated hero was portrayed as unfit for command by supporters of a president who had volunteered to avoid combat in Vietnam altogether. This was in my opinion the most shameful episode in recent American political history.

      John W. Baker

    • ...sounds good if you are willing to ignore how the decorations were achieved and what Kerry did to support the North Vietnamese upon his return.

      Tom Wright
      Oficer in Charge, PCF 44 & 89

    • Hey Ossifer Tom, you think you are a hero, someone in the government told you that, and you believed them, then they laughed their ass off behind your back because you were really just a stooge for a few bucks. Myself, I think you are a low life paid killer without a conscience or even the sense to ask for decent money for your crimes. Your little nothing of a pay check is hilarious and you are a fool for being willing to do the government’s dirty work for a pat on the back to reward you for risking your worthless life. You and your kind are a scourge on humanity.

    • I am willing to rely on the judgement of the United States Navy in awarding the decorations. Thank you, though, for pointing out that Kerry’s anti-war activities upon his return are what the smear campaign was really all about...that and distracting voters from Bush’s volunteering to avoid going to Vietnam altogether.

  • Why not call it WP4N? That would be more in keeping with the dorky way our alleged "news" media name themselves!

  • Instead of lamenting the MSM’s piss poor performance and demanding that it "reform" itself for the good of the nation, why not jsut tune the crap out, cancel the subs to the print dross and seek out information elsewhere. Like the old saying goes: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Get over the MSM. It’s purpose is to lead the gullible down the garden path. Its real purpose is to sell stuff.