Just Say Noruba

I was thinking a lot over the weekend about the news and about how the news becomes the news, and then I read Jay Rosen's brilliant take on the Downing Street Memo coverage [to read Jay Rosen's whole piece go to www.huffingtonpost.com]. Rosen elaborates on Josh Marshall's assertion that "news stories have a 24-hour audition on the news stage, and if they don't catch fire in that 24 hours, there's no second chance." Rosen's theory is that blogs have become the news cycle's appeals court, and that the Downing Street Memo story is still alive because it won on appeal. And thank God.

But, unlike a traditional court, the Blog Circuit Court of Appeals lacks an enforcement arm. The only way its decisions can be enforced is by constant reiteration of the decision.

Which brings me back to this weekend. If you were to get your news only from television, you'd think the top issue facing our country right now is an 18-year-old girl named Natalee who went missing in Aruba. Every time one of these stories comes up, like, say, Michael Jackson, when it's finally over I think, what a relief, now we can get back to real news. But we never do. When one of these big league non-stories ends, they just call up a new one from the minors . . . and off they go with another round of breathless reporting. Anything to not have to actually report actual news.

Here are the number of news segments that mention these stories: (from a search of the main news networks' transcripts from May 1-June 20).

-- ABC News: "Downing Street Memo": 0 segments; "Natalee Holloway": 42 segments; "Michael Jackson": 121 segments.

-- CBS News: "Downing Street Memo": 0 segments; "Natalee Holloway": 70 segments; "Michael Jackson": 235 segments.

-- NBC News: "Downing Street Memo": 6 segments; "Natalee Holloway": 62 segments; "Michael Jackson": 109 segments.

-- CNN: "Downing Street Memo": 30 segments; "Natalee Holloway": 294 segments; "Michael Jackson": 633 segments.

-- Fox News: "Downing Street Memo": 10 segments; "Natalee Holloway": 148 segments; Michael Jackson": 286 segments.

-- MSNBC: "Downing Street Memo": 10 segments; "Natalee Holloway": 30 segments; "Michael Jackson": 106 segments.

When defending these choices, news execs inevitably fall back on the old "we're just giving the people what they want." But are they? Fox News averages around two and a quarter million viewers in primetime; CNN hovers just under a million; MSNBC pulls in a quarter million. We have 280 million people in the country. That means that tens of millions of people actually don't want what they're being given -- and that there are huge slices of audience a real news operation could go after.

The mainstream media regularly confuse interesting with important. What's more, they don't even do the former very well, and they largely ignore the latter.

One wonders what happens to all those enterprising young broadcast journalists being pumped out by J-schools across the country. I speak to them occasionally, and they all seem to be truly dedicated to reporting the news. So what happens to them between grad school and the moment they do their fiftieth windswept, beachfront update on Natalee Holloway? Surely no one actually aspires to spend their life describing the pre-verdict scene outside the Santa Maria courthouse or filling up airtime with a feature on the party scene in Aruba. This can't be what they wanted to do with their lives, can it?

In any case, here's my suggestion: Go cold turkey. Just say no. Every time you see or hear the word " Aruba" or "Holloway" on the screen in the next few weeks, turn off the TV, or change the channel. I've been trying it -- and it's not easy (I've found the Cartoon Network is a pretty safe -- if nerve-rattling -- escape valve).

This is not to minimize the tragic elements of Natalee Holloway's disappearance. It is tragic -- but it's not news in the way the Downing Street Memo is news. Or multiple deaths in Iraq are news. The deaths of 19 year-old Lance Cpl. Adam J. Crumpler, 26 year-old Lance Cpl. Erik R. Heldt and 36 year-old Capt. John W. Maloney were confirmed by the Pentagon in the last two days, but you won't hear their names repeated on Fox or CNN.

But be warned: Even if you try really hard to go cold turkey, the Scandalous Non-News Story of the Day still has a way of seeping into your consciousness. It's some kind of tabloid osmosis. Despite my best efforts, and an incredibly quick remote control technique, I've still found myself starting to offer an opinion on one of them at a dinner party before pulling up short. "Wait a second," my brain starts to shout, "I don't even care about this story -- why do I know so much about it!?"

But it's worth a try. And until the Blog High Court gets a better enforcement mechanism, we, as viewers, will just have to practice jury nullification.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

Close
alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.