Saturday, April 21, 2007

Media madness

Guest post by Edward Copeland

Who would have thought I would miss the days of the blanket coverage of the Virginia Tech massacre so soon? This week has been a microcosm of media overkill (no pun intended) transforming back toward a reasoned approach before going apeshit again and then, finally, returning to the safety of the trivial and unimportant.

First came the 24/7 coverage of Virginia Tech, which was more notable for its lack of new information and banal blather than actual news coverage. (I won't repeat what I said about that again, but if interested you can read it here.) Soon though, the media (and let me be clear that my criticism really aims only at television coverage) started to regain its footing, covering the Supreme Court ruling on late-term abortion and some exceptionally violent days in Iraq, and even sparing a moment or two to note the passing of Kitty Carlisle Hart.

Then came the video tape that NBC received. The same network that decided a week or so earlier that it didn't want to have Don Imus speaking on its airwaves ruled that it was OK to run constantly the taped rantings of the Virginia Tech lunatic. The backlash was immediate, including some families of victims canceling appearances on Today because of their outrage. The network tried to backpedal a bit (after in a pure ratings ploy playing some excertps and promoting other excerpts that would come later) and said it would limit the coverage, though after other networks picked up the footage (clearly marked with the NBC logo so no one would miss it). Now, there might be something appropriate in seeing this tape, and it is decidedly news, but that's not how it was used. It was used to attract the "slow down by a car wreck" crowd. Honestly, was there something gained by seeing this? Did we not realize that Cho was a lunatic by his actions before seeing the tape? More importantly, they could have reported his comments on the tape without actually showing it and giving the dead gunman the platform he so obviously sought.

What's worse is that the arrival of the videotape pretty much shut out important news about Iraq, both over there and on Capitol Hill, and the embarrassing performance of Alberto Gonzales at the Senate hearing barely got more than cursory coverage. I never saw on TV any mention of Karl Rove's comment that Osama bin Laden was the decision maker behind our invasion of Iraq. We also missed Dubya's strange, rambling speech ("Polls just go poof") and very little coverage of Ex-Maverick McCain's "Bomb Iran" ditty to the tune of "Barbara Ann" by the Beach Boys. However, most of them did find enough time to toss in coverage about John Edwards's $400 haircuts.

Still, the worst was yet to come, and that was yesterday when cable news felt they'd hit the trivial and pointless mother lode with the cell phone message from Alec Baldwin to his young daughter which they ran (and continue to run) endlessly. Yes, cable news felt safe again -- they'd found an absolutely unimportant story to drone on endlessly about, and it even had the added plus of involving a celebrity.

Wouldn't this be a great world if some philanthropist with a lot of money launched a cable news channel that actually covered news? As someone who makes his living in the media (thankfully, not television), the Fourth Estate has become an embarrassment in its abdication of its duty of covering what's important and covering it well.

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