08 July 2009


It's time to put some serious government regulation on "always on" media. That means television (network, cable, satellite), radio, and their associated streaming sites on the internet. But especially on the so-called news channels. In fact, I'm in favor of an outright ban on any stations that pretend to offer 24 hour news coverage.

You think I'm joking.

OK, I might be. But only a little.

I'll be the first to admit that I don't watch these channels. In fact, I haven't watched CNN on a regular basis since the 1st Gulf War, and I never watched Fox, MSNBC, or CNBC on a regular basis. The 1st Gulf War was really a turning point for these channels. Back then CNN was the only game in town, but that war coverage led the way in making war into entertainment. While Vietnam coverage brought the war into the living room to show its horror, the Gulf War coverage was there to show the power and the glory of technology and American military might (never mind that the US v. Iraq was basically the equivalent of an early September pre-conference football game for Penn State or Florida State).

Now before I get too Baudrillard on everyone, let me cut to the chase: the 1st Gulf War showed that it was the presentation of spectacle and not the importance or lack thereof of the object itself that mattered. It also showed that you could talk about one subject 24 hours a day if you just pretended you had different takes on it...so panels of experts appear out of nowhere, hour long pundit shows spring up to vary the delivery of the same information. And it doesn't only work for wars: the OJ Simpson chase and trial, Monica Lewinsky, etc. and now the Michael Jackson death can all be given the same treatment.

Enough is enough. Has anyone seriously reported on the G8? The length of time spent on unraveling actual stories that affect the world in a real way, like the G8 summit or Darfur or unrest in China? No, and the reason is that these stories aren't sexy. And they're dangerous. Sure war is dangerous, too, but the payoff is too great to ignore if it's a U.S. war. G8 summit coverage takes too much time, what with having to explain all the complex financial and political implications of a small cabal of industrialized nations getting together to decide how to maintain their influence. Darfur is, well, kind of dangerous, and so, well, 2008. And who wants to anger the Chinese government with coverage of internal unrest when China may decide to buy controlling interests in your news channel next year (OK, I jest on that last one, but only a little).

Complex analysis doesn't sell. You will learn more in one hour of the PBS NewsHour than you will in 24 hours of CNN or Fox. In other words, you don't need 24 hours of coverage to cover stories well, and you certainly don't need companies whose main goal is to fill 24 hours of time with about two hours worth of news (if that) fluffing stuff up like super-whipped butter on the IHOP buffet.

I'm willing to bet there's a direct correlation between how little you know about a lot of things and how much you watch cable news. And in the case of Fox, I'm willing to bet there's a direct correlation about how much you don't know and how much you watch Fox.

I think I've vented my spleen sufficiently.

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