World affairs are forgotten as nation's media hotspot magnifies the hysteria

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The Independent US

If you think coverage of the Washington sniper is a little excessive in Britain – come to the US, and the capital area in particular, for the total immersion experience.

If you think coverage of the Washington sniper is a little excessive in Britain – come to the US, and the capital area in particular, for the total immersion experience.

The showdown over Iraq, a suicide bombing in Israel which in seconds killed more people than the Washington sniper in three weeks, not to mention the forthcoming knife-edge mid-term elections – forget about them.

Carnage on the streets of an Israeli city counts as nothing against a panning shot of an unoccupied bank of microphones at Montgomery County where Police Chief Charles Moose, now a national celebrity, might or might not be about to deliver his generally uninformative briefings. And what is a presidential ultimatum to the UN compared to the idle wittering of some retired FBI profiler, former police chief, child trauma counsellor, criminal psychiatrist or sundry other "expert" of whom America has inexhaustible quantities, whose standard opening line is "I don't want to speculate but ..."

No hyperbole is too great. "A five-year-old boy is struggling with the nature of good and evil," intones the announcer ahead of a CNN news item, as if the entire drama of human existence throughout the ages was being played out in the pleasant and normally deadly dull suburbs of Washington. Part of Chief Moose's problem is that this attack has taken place on the doorstep of one of the greatest permanent media concentrations in the Western world. Had the sniper been operating in Fargo, North Dakota, or Flagstaff, Arizona, the coverage would have been far less all-enveloping.

Here the national network hotshots are based just half an hour's drive away; many of them live in Montgomery County where six of the 10 killings have happened.

Further magnifying the hysteria is the competition between the cable news channels. Once upon a time there was just CNN; now we have its upstart rival Fox, for whom there are few envelopes that cannot be pushed, and MSNBC, the cable arm of NBC. Mass murder is ratings nirvana.

Meanwhile, no grain of sand – nor any anatomical detail – is left unturned by the media. CNN's most graphic contribution was a rather repellent model of the human torso, with skin stripped away to reveal the organs within.

All this was to enable the network's medical specialist to reveal (or rather speculate about) the precise course of the bullet which struck the victim on Saturday night in central Virginia.

And if there are any leftover minutes or column inches to fill, the media steps in by analysing itself. Please, not least to end this televisual torture, let them catch the sniper soon.

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