Why Blanket TV Coverage of the Vegas Shooting Actually Does More Damage to the Country
Our country cannot afford blanket coverage of the massacre in Las Vegas, or any other tragedy, anymore.
Blanket coverage is lazy journalism, filled with hours of the same sketchy information, and heavy on first-person accounts adding nothing to the story at hand. Blanket coverage pushes critical stories off the air and permits the Trump administration, and other bad actors, to quietly dismember the institutions of our country.
In what is now mandatory cable fare, best executed these past few years by Anderson Cooper of CNN, anchors race to the event to provide on-the-scene, minute-by-minute coverage of the tragedy at hand. Monday night, MSNBC sent Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell to Las Vegas. Every first-responder press briefing is covered in full, while reporting on the rest of the world comes to a grinding halt. Everyone knows the drill, especially in a tragedy of this scale, with multiple crime scenes. The police need to do their jobs, gather forensics and report professionally. No matter, cable news reporters are going to pepper these tired, stressed-out first responders with questions they can’t answer hour after hour, anyway. There is airtime to fill.
For comparison, I checked out Monday night's "Vice News Tonight" on HBO. Vice has set a new standard for nightly evening newscasts, breaking from the tired, U.S.-centric reporting of the big three networks.
Vice began Monday's program with Las Vegas, sequentially stringing together first-person and Storyful videos of the tragedy followed by a tightly written update of the known facts at the time. Vice reported, the "seventh mass shooting of the year according to data from Mother Jones and deadliest in the United States since records were kept. Congress hasn’t passed a significant piece of gun control legislation since 2007, and is moving forward on a bill this month to buy and sell silencers.” End of story. Five minutes. Basically, all we knew, and all you needed to know right now about the Las Vegas tragedy, unless a loved one or friend was involved.
The following day, there would certainly be more to report about the shooter, his motives and the extent of the casualties. Vice News followed Las Vegas with a seven-minute embed set-piece on the challenges facing Puerto Rico’s police officers post-Maria; three minutes on the Supreme Court's docket its first day back; four minute on violence surrounding the vote for independence in Catalonia, Spain; and three minutes on an "abatement falconer" whose startup protects fruit crops using predatory birds, ending with this fascinating statistic: “There are almost twice as many startups in rural America than in urban areas.”
In 23 minutes, "Vice News Tonight" provided more news and information than 23 hours of blanket Las Vegas coverage on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. And that’s not all you missed.
A quick perusal of Monday’s New York Times and you find stories on 10 soldiers killed in friendly fire in our forgotten Afghanistan war, “In Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, 20 are experiencing some level of fighting"; the first day of the trial of the accused perpetrator of the Benghazi attack, Ahmed Abu Khattala; the first same-sex marriage ceremony in Germany; a troubling report on the scale of Russia's recent “Zapad” military exercises; Trump dissing Tillerson on North Korea negotiations; and the passing of publishing icon S.I. Newhouse Jr. And let’s not forget Friday’s under-reported abandonment by Congress of the CHIP program.
All ignored or covered in brief, for blanket coverage of Las Vegas.
Besides what isn't reported, there are other core reasons to stop blanket coverage of these tragedies.
There Is Nothing to Report
Does anyone remember the Malaysian plane that went missing? Day after day of nothing new, nothing to report. There simply isn’t a whole lot of new information on an hourly basis in real time during these tragedies that remotely requires blanket coverage.
We Feed the Next Troubled Soul
I don’t know where professional psychologists land on this question, but it seems like common sense that wall-to-wall coverage, with family pictures and detailed bios of terrorists and mass murderers, would help to encourage the next bad actor watching cable coverage at home. For CNN to hold back the name of the killer, yet cover the event 24/7 simply doesn’t go far enough.
Prediction Reporting Is Cheap and Dangerous
The cable channels trot out the usual suspects: the panel of experts on terrorism, child abuse, mental illness, and in this case, gambling, and everyone sits around imagining a plethora of possible motives. They have few facts at hand, and are ignoring real news and reporting as a result. Instead of waiting for the professionals to do their jobs, they predict and predict. It could be ISIS, but maybe not. It could be a personal slight, but maybe not. Maybe it is gambling debt, or family or blah, blah, blah.
A total waste of time, cheap as all hell to produce, and with the right qualifiers, absolutely no accountability.
Heroic Actions Can Disguise Official Inaction
It goes without saying that first responders in this country are some of our best citizens. And the clear majority of our fellow Americans are generous and good, with many acts of individual bravery warranting attention, gratitude and proportionate airtime—post tragedy. But certainly in the case of gun violence, and the NRA’s successful efforts to thwart conversation about root causes, the focus on individual bravery, often all there is to report when there are no hard facts, can distract attention from the lack of action by Congress and other elected officials.
Without Balanced Reporting, Trump's Team Gets off Scot-Free
The lack of legislation achievement by the Trump administration and a Republican Congress disguises Trump's attacks on our basic institutions. The unraveling of the EPA and other governmental agencies simply can’t compete in the video realm with the raw imagery and emotion of tragedy. Add President Trump's distracting tweets and a relentless succession of natural disasters and you have a prescription for bad governmental disaster after disaster, without the reporting it merits.
We need our cable newscasters to provide balanced news reporting and to stop 24/7 coverage of terrorist attacks and natural disasters.