What makes a scandal, scandalous?

This is a question that’s been puzzling me.

This morning, Rahul Mahajan’s blog provided a link to the video footage of the helicopter pilots murdering helpless Iraqis from a distance with heavy machine guns. Rahul has also been scrupulous about republishing the photos of the abuse (don’t call it torture, whatever you do) that have been coming out in the mainstream media.

Now, I have to admit that I wasn’t surprised at all when I heard this was going on. Actually that’s not true. I was surprised, in fact — surprised that it got out into the mainstream media. That is what surprises me about these ‘scandals’. How do ‘scandals’ become ‘scandalous’? Why do the media choose to leak things when they do? And why do things that are shown become scandals?

I ask this because on April 10, weeks before the torture– oops, sorry, I meant abuse — became a scandal, and just before the Fallujah massacre — oops, I meant combat — occurred, the UTS blog published a warning. Part of that warning was a video clip that came from CNN. That clip shows a soldier murdering a wounded man as he writhes on the ground, and then screaming, celebration, and commentary afterwards. Presumably, this was broadcast on CNN without any fanfare and no ‘scandal’, and yet the clip of the helicopter shooting couldn’t be aired on most networks.

What’s the difference? I found the CNN footage more appalling, not less, than the other. How did the latter become ‘scandalous’?

Why wasn’t the invasion itself a scandal? The occupation itself? Why isn’t the imprisonment of Palestinian children a scandal, or the starvation in Gaza? Or the massacres in Colombia… or in Haiti…

There’s something here I don’t understand, I guess. Journalists sometimes believe that if some explosive piece of information were to reach the public, that something would happen. Or that if it were to reach the media, they’d break the story and something would happen. But there’s plenty of explosive information reaching the media all the time. They don’t bother to pick it up and often when they do, there’s no reaction from the public.

I suppose if I understood scandals better, I’d set about trying to make scandals out of the many scandalous events that go on constantly.

Back to factual matters tomorrow.

Author: Justin Podur

Author of Siegebreakers. Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction. Teach at York U's FES. Author. Writer at ZNet, TeleSUR, AlterNet, Ricochet, and the Independent Media Institute.