All the Emotions Fit To Broadcast

Pam and I still try and keep our eyes on the US, at least through the media that we get here in Cana­da, and there’s plen­ty of it, despite Can­con. So we have our TiVO set to record the evening news­casts of ABC, NBC and CBS. We also record the Van­cou­ver CBC report. We don’t watch all of that record­ed news each and every night; we usu­al­ly pick one of those 3 or 4 and try and move around a lot (actu­al­ly, we’ve recent­ly stopped record­ing ABC as Pam felt that Diane Sawyer was such a dis­ap­point­ment as a News Anchor that she can’t bear to watch that news­cast).
Maybe it has just crept in over time, per­haps it’s because I’m becom­ing more of an out­sider and view­ing media more as an observ­er, but I’ve noticed a change in the way news is report­ed in the US in the evening. There seems to a small and small­er por­tion of the news­cast devot­ed to facts and more and more involv­ing emo­tion. Near­ly every sto­ry is about con­flict or a strug­gle, a cri­sis or a tragedy. Even the sto­ries that are com­plex and affect many dif­fer­ent things end up con­cen­trat­ing on one per­son about to lose their job (as the cov­er­age of that dis­as­trous and com­plex oil spill off the Louisiana Gulf Coast did) or search out the vio­lent edge of con­flict, (as the cov­er­age of the also dis­as­trous Ari­zona Immi­gra­tion Law).  In these cas­es, it’s clear that they are try­ing to per­son­al­ize the prob­lem or sim­ply make it more dra­mat­ic. This isn’t just mil­lions of gal­lons of oil head­ing for the coast, it’s a Port­ly Shrimp Farmer about to lose his liveli­hood, it isn’t just a new law about to take in effect in the Ari­zona State Leg­is­la­ture, but a vio­lent clash between immi­grants and police.

I can’t help check off the scenes we will no doubt see as if I’m play­ing a drink­ing game:

  • Some­one cry­ing or break­ing down dur­ing a speech or inter­view.
  • Some­one look­ing into the cam­era and say­ing how they don’t know what they’ll do now.
  • Some­one declar­ing that ‘It’s all in God’s hands, now.’
  • A group of peo­ple fight­ing or run­ning.
  • Some­one declar­ing that some­thing was ‘A Mir­a­cle!’
  • Peo­ple hug­ging, or an adult lift­ing a child in their arms.
  • A gov­ern­ment offi­cial being grilled in a meet­ing room or besieged in front of a build­ing by an angry mob (to be sure, that was more often seen last sum­mer)
  • A crim­i­nal of some sort walk­ing try­ing to hide their face with either some papers or a hood.
  • A short and chop­pi­ly edit­ed inter­view with a per­son who is quirky and ‘Mak­ing a Dif­fer­ence’ — as a cou­ple of the net­works call them out.*
  • (Add your own stock sit­u­a­tion or dra­mat­ic excla­ma­tion.)

My friends and I used to joke back when I was going to school in Cincin­nati that the evening news they always showed the same still snap­shot of a car in a ditch in Nor­wood (a still snap­shot? Hey, it was the ear­ly 80s, OK?), even if it was a dif­fer­ent acci­dent some­where else — they all looked the same. Now, every­thing is the same; it’s con­flict, it’s emo­tion­al, it’s extreme and some­how a deity is involved.

What’s going on now, is that because news is part of the bud­get for the net­works that involves enter­tain­ment, by gol­ly, it bet­ter be enter­tain­ing. I’d like to know the exact amount of oil that is gush­ing out, what that num­ber means in terms of envi­ron­men­tal dam­age, how long it takes for oil to get from the ocean floor to the sur­face. I want to know the specifics of what the new law in Ari­zona will deal with some­one wrong­ly accused of being an immi­grant; Can they sue? Can an employ­er fire a work­er for miss­ing work because of being picked up for false charges? I don’t know these things, how­ev­er, and I’m not like­ly to learn them from the Evening News­cast.

I can see why most peo­ple are get­ting their news through the Inter­net these days, as the TV news has shrunk­en into a drama­ti­za­tion of the events of the day, done in broad strokes with an empha­sis on the sim­plest rep­e­ti­tious images and scenes. The net­works have decid­ed that their audi­ences want their news a dumb­ed down as pos­si­ble. There is no point in pro­vid­ing much in the way of facts. And that’s for the net­works. Cable News, like Fox… I won’t even go there. (CNN’s also slip­ping into pro­pa­gan­da-laced sto­ries as well. I can only assume this is because their rat­ings have been so bad that they are emu­lat­ing Fox. )

Rather than com­plain about the way the news is pre­sent­ed, most view­ers either take it at face val­ue and aren’t aware of what’s miss­ing, or they are adapt­ing, by mov­ing to the Web.  I’n fact, I’m pre­dict­ing that there will even­tu­al­ly be an iPad app for delv­ing into facts (on an Inter­net site) dur­ing the broad­cast. The main facts of the news will be in someone’s lap, while they see the dra­ma on the big­ger screen.

Per­haps we’ll some­day see the kind of news­cast that they sim­u­lat­ed in the future depict­ed by the movie Star­ship Troop­ers, where each set of State Pro­pa­gan­da fas­cist slo­gans is fol­lowed by a screen that looks like a but­ton and a voiceover that asks: ‘Would you like to know more?’


*I must con­fess that I’m get­ting real­ly to loathe these ‘human inter­est’ pieces, because they are always cut and pre­sent­ed the same way and try so hard to appeal. Har­ry Smith, who some­times is a guest Anchor on CBS is one of the worst offend­ers in this regard. Near­ly every­thing he does smacks of that ‘human inter­est’ trea­cle.