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By Dan Marsh

I don’t know if you are aware of this or not, but apparently, Paris Hilton has been involved in some sort of legal fracas in L.A.

Perhaps you’ve seen it on the news. Paris, locked in the back seat of a patrol car, screaming on her way to jail. Paris, in better days, posing on various runways, with that stupid, smug, rich-girl look on her face, mugging for photographers.

I’m guessing you’ve seen this coverage, I don’t know. Perhaps some of you have been living under a rock the last few days. Perhaps some of you have never even heard of Paris Hilton. I wish I hadn’t.

I think the news media is a wonderful invention, I really do, but I also think that, somehow, the media has gone off the rails. Somewhere, somebody in an air-conditioned office in New York or L.A. or Atlanta decided that, you know what, people don’t really want “news.” They want to be entertained. Sure, there has been a terrible slaughter in Darfur; of course, there are millions dying of disease and starvation in Africa; and, oh yeah, our troops are getting killed by the dozens every day in a delightful little corner of the globe known as Iraq.

We don’t care about any of that.

Quick, tell me the reason for the genocide in Darfur.

Quick, tell me how the G-8 summit may or may not have positively affected the poor and starving masses in Africa.

Quick, what’s the latest on al-Qaida in Pakistan?

I’ll bet you don’t know, because all weekend, we have been fed a steady diet of Paris Hilton on every major news network. Don’t feel bad, I can’t answer any of those questions, either. I can tell you that Paris mouthed “I love you” to her mom while the judge was throwing the book at her. I can tell you the name of the Los Angeles County sheriff who unlawfully yanked Paris from jail where she allegedly belonged. (Lee Baca, brother of Chew.) I couldn’t tell you the current status of the Taliban in Afghanistan, or how much money we spent on Iraq this past week.

The media has trivialized the important and made monumental the utterly trivial. Paris Hilton is a spoiled brat. I don’t care about Paris Hilton. Yet Fox News re-hashed FRIDAY’S coverage of The Hilton Event on SATURDAY NIGHT’S prime-time broadcast. I can only assume nothing of importance was taking place anywhere else in the world. If so, Fox, MSNBC, CNN, ABC, NBC and CBS chose to ignore it.

I ran across an interesting story the other day. According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism, an independent think tank, Fox News, in recent months, devoted significantly more air time to the death of Anna Nicole Smith than any of its rivals. That’s not all. Fox is also providing less coverage of the war in Iraq than its rivals. I’ll quote from the story.

“Fox spent half as much time covering the Iraq war than MSNBC during the first three months of the year, and considerably less than CNN. The difference was more stark during daytime news hours than in prime-time opinion shows. The Iraq war occupied 20 percent of CNN’s daytime news hole and 18 percent of MSNBC’s. On Fox, the war was talked about only 6 percent of the time. Another story that has reflected poorly on the Bush administration, the controversy over U.S. attorney firings, also received more attention on MSNBC (8 percent of the newshole) and CNN (4 percent) than on Fox (2 percent), the Project for Excellence in Journalism found.

“If Fox’s audience is dominated by Republicans who are disgusted about hearing bad news on Iraq, it would stand to reason that you’d want to feed them less of it. Bill O’Reilly touched upon that idea on the air one night last December, telling viewers that the lowest-rated segment of his show the previous night was when Iraq was discussed. Ratings jumped at talk about Britney Spears, he said.

“The danger is whether those concerns eat away at journalistic credibility.”

My question is, are we really getting “fair and balanced” coverage of any issue from any of the nets? The obvious answer is no, not when they are shoving Paris Hilton down our throats 24/7.

Then again, do we really want to hear “bad news”? Do we really want to know what’s going on in Iraq, or are we more comfortable staring down our noses at Paris? You decide.

Dan Marsh is the editor of the Daily Siftings Herald