May 13, 2004


This morning in most of the newspapers I scanned during my preparation for the show the top story was still the Iraqi prison abuse scandal. Nick Berg had already disappeared from many front pages, but the prison abuse stories remain. May I suggest to you that there is a reason for this? Maybe it’s just this simple: The prison abuse scandal can damage Bush, the Nick Berg story can only help him. Given the choice many editors will chose the stories that serve their cause, getting Bush out of the White House, rather than one that hurts it.

Such cynicism about the media, these days. But he’s right. The Berg video wasn’t shown on TV, and — as Boortz notes — the big media leaders seem almost desperate to keep the story on Abu Ghraib, even to the point of running already discredited fake porn photos purporting to be from Iraq. (And issuing lame and incomplete pseudo-apologies when caught out.)

But on the Internet, where users set the agenda, not Big Media editors and producers, it’s different. As Jeff Quinton notes, Nick Berg is the story that people care about:

Right now the 10 phrases most searched for are:
nick berg video
nick berg
berg beheading
beheading video
nick berg beheading video
nick berg beheading
berg video
berg beheading video
“nick berg”
video nick berg

Likewise, Rod Dreher of the Dallas Morning News reports that that’s what his readers care about:

Our letters page today is filled with nothing but Berg-related letters, most of them demanding that the DMN show more photos of the Berg execution. Not one of the 87 letters we received on the topic yesterday called for these images not to be printed. My sense is that there’s a big backlash building against the media for flogging the Abu Ghraib photos, but being so delicate with the Berg images. People sense that there’s an agenda afoot here. As somebody, can’t remember who, wrote yesterday, “Why is it that the media can show over and over again pictures that could make Arabs hate Americans, but refuse to show pictures that could make Americans hate Arabs?”

These guys are marginalizing themselves with their agenda-driven coverage. And they’re so out of touch they don’t realize it. As Andrew Sullivan notes:

My gut tells me that the Nick Berg video has had much more psychic impact in this country than the Abu Ghraib horrors. I even notice some small evidence for this. Every political blog site has just seen an exponential jump in traffic – far more than anything that occurred during the Abu Ghraib unfolding. My traffic went through the roof yesterday, and, according to Alexa, so did everyone else’s. People who have tuned the war out suddenly tuned the war in. They get it. Will the mainstream media?

My prediction: Nope, and they’ll continue to lose audience to the Internet.

UPDATE: It’s not just Jeff Quinton. Here’s what Lycos reports as its top requests:

Nick Berg is the new number one search term on the Lycos Search engine over the past 24 hours. The top 10 search requests Web users are specifically searching for regarding Nick Berg are:

1. Nick Berg video
2. Nick Berg Beheading
3. Nick Berg and Iraq
4. Nick Berg Execution
5. Nick Berg Beheading Video
6. Nick Berg Killing
7. Nick Berg murder
8. Nick Berg assassination
9. Nick Berg decapitation video
10. Execution of Nick Berg.

The video showing the beheading of U.S. captive Nick Berg, combined with the multitude of search activity for the War in Iraq and searches for the Iraqi prisoners of war, is generating 12 times more searches than the #2 search term, Paris Hilton.

I don’t think Google releases this sort of information. Am I wrong?

ANOTHER UPDATE: Steve Verdon has more, and Ann Haight notes that she spotted the fake porn photos as fakes on May 2d.

Meanwhile, Rod Dreher emails to make clear that the Dallas Morning News did run the Berg picture. (I knew that, and I didn’t mean the DMN when I said “these guys,” though I can see how that could have been confusing. Sorry!) And he adds:

I pointed out to Keven Ann Willey, the DMN’s editorial page
editor, that I initially got the idea for this editorial from doing my usual
bedtime run through the blogosphere, and seeing what a huge issue this Berg
video vs. Abu Ghraib photos was becoming. We’ve been talking for some time
about how editorial pages have got to make much more use of the blogosphere.
Kev gets it, she really gets it, and readers of our editorial pages will
continue to see big strides in making ourselves more exciting and relevant
to our readership. I’m the editor of Points, a new Sunday opinion and
commentary section that we’ll be launching in July. I’m going to run an
old-media section that will be well-informed by the edgy debates and the
lively style of the blogosphere. I firmly believe that editorial pages have
got to understand that by far the most interesting debates and commentary
are occurring not on the nation’s editorial pages, which are filled with
material written by middle-aged, middle-class professionals who live in
Washington, New York, Chicago and L.A., but on blogs, with their spectacular
diversity and intelligence. We’ve got to figure out a way to tap into that
in a serious and sustained way.

So some Big Media folks get it. And, finally, Google does track search requests, but only once a week and the last one, on May 10, missed the Berg story.

Nick Berg’s topping the Yahoo! search charts, too.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Jeff Jarvis has more on this:

The people have news judgment. And it beats the judgment of many an editor.

Yes. More here and here.

MORE: Reader Greg Taggart emails:

I just listened to the CBS news on the local CBS radio affiliate. Amazing. Here, is an accurate but abbreviated form is CBS’s report: Item one: Rumsfeld in Iraq-because of the “growing” outrage over the prison photos. Item two: Kerry called and spoke with Berg’s family. Item two: Berg’s family is blaming “the Bush administration” for his death. I’m not making this up. CBS managed to place everything at the feet of George Bush. They even turned Nick Berg’s death into an opportunity to make Kerry look good and a reason to bash Bush. Simply amazing.

I teach writing and critical analysis. One of the first things I teach is that writing is an intentional act. Words don’t just happen. Neither do news reports.


STILL MORE: Several readers email that this will get a lot of attention now that Nick Berg’s father is blaming President Bush. But Justin Katz was all over that story yesterday.

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