Archive for the ‘Cable News’ Category
We all want to know who planted the bombs, and why, and how, and what the authorities are doing to find them. But we don’t. This is the paradox of cable news. The nonstop coverage of big events gives the illusion that there is a river of information.
There isn’t. To carry out the water metaphor, it’s closer to a geyser. We will have hours and even days where there’s nothing, then we’ll have a spurt of news, and then nothing once more. But until the story goes stale (usually after a couple of days), the networks will continue to show pictures, conduct entire newscasts from the site of the blasts and round up their experts (many of whom are kept on retainer) to talk about everything from world terrorism to bomb types to the likelihood of headaches and PTSD for those who were hurt in the blast.
None of this should be confused with news. So if you’re feeling stressed about time, here’s a tip: Turn off the TV. Check your tablet every few hours if you just can’t help yourself. You’ll still know everything that’s actually knowable, and your mind won’t be cluttered with all the guesses, false leads and misinformation that get shoveled into your set to preserve the illusion of nonstop news.
There. I just gave you a day. You’re welcome.
My chief criticism of cable coverage of breaking news is that the pressure to get it on the air immediately makes it impossible to check “facts” for accuracy, completeness, relevance and fairness. Both CNN had on-air talent reading the first page of a voluminous Supreme Court ruling on an issue with enormous stakes. In both cases, the reporter — while on the air — read a few lines (or listened to a producer talking into an earpiece) and started talking about the reversal of the Affordable Care Act.
Both were wrong, because the ruling’s first comment — about the “commerce clause,” was only half the story. A few more minutes of reading made it clear that the mandate was upheld, albeit under the government’s taxing powers.
CNN apologized. Fox used the excuse that they were shoveling the info out to the screen the second they got it. To my knowledge, this is the first time a cable executive has ever admitted that the network is willing to sacrifice accuracy for speed.
Note that by the end of the day — or even by lunch time, really — the facts had become clear. Meanwhile, there was nothing any of us could do with the “news” except tell somebody else. In short, it was a huge waste of time and emotional energy.
Here’s what Fox’s Vice President of News, Michael Clemente, had to say about its (lack of) responsibility:
We gave our viewers the news as it happened. When Justice Roberts said, and we read, that the mandate was not valid under the Commerce clause, we reported it. Bill Hemmer even added, be patient as we work through this. Then when we heard and read, that the mandate could be upheld under the government’s power to tax, we reported that as well—all within two minutes. By contrast, one other cable network was unable to get their Supreme Court reporter to the camera, and said as much. Another said it was a big setback for the President. Fox reported the facts, as they came in.
Painful as it is to watch, cable coverage of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act serves as the perfect object lesson in the hazards of reporting (and getting) news unfiltered, moment by moment. In both clips you can see the networks’ on-air talent began to report the second they were handed the thick ruling. As press oopsies moments go, this was a beaut. Give Fox credit for catching the mistake several minutes before CNN did.
Here’s the Fox version:
So the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act. Now, for those of you who wasted the morning glued to the cable news channels, what are you going to do with that information? For starters, the networks were throwing stuff on the air before anybody had read the ruling. They had their “experts” in the studio ready to pontificate on something they haven’t read.
By suppertime, people will have actually read the ruling and they’ll get it right. There’s no practical need to know anything any sooner.
In the deadline fever, Both CNN and Fox gave us perfect examples of the problems with nonstop news. Poynter captured these images:
The shorter the news cycle, the more vulnerable it is to rumors, lies, manipulations and inconsequential trivia. A lot of stuff that seems important in the “urgency of the moment” is found to be either wrong or irrelevant by the end of the hour, the end of the day, or the end of the week. Facts get checked, and everyone has a chance to see what a given bit of news really amounts to. At the end of the week, we invariably see that many of the minute-by-minute ripples were just that. The trees fall away, and we finally see the forest.
Our constant monitoring of cable news and Internet news sites results in our “knowing” far too much that is later found to be wrong or beside the point.
For several years, I’ve criticized the cable networks for failing to discriminate between what’s fact, what’s rumor, what’s trivial and what matters. Last night, we saw one of the most dramatic examples yet, as CNN brought us the “breaking news” that a mass grave had been found in Texas.
Immediately, we had Homeland Security correspondent Jeanne Meserve on camera, commenting about recent mass graves south of the border and telling us that her sources (more than one, apparently) were reporting that there were at least 25 or 30, and there was a hint that there might be other sites on the property.
To his credit, John King offered a word of caution after the original report, saying that the first reports in stories like this sometimes turn out to be inaccurate.
In fact, he was right. It was a hoax.
To return to a dead horse that I haven’t beat in a while, the root cause isn’t just sloppy reporting. It’s the rush to get the news on the air right away. After all, there are minutes to fill. Before CNN, there were safeguards built into the system. Many wildly errant stories die quickly of their own accord, as this one did. Rumors get corrected. Editors have time to send reporters back to verify stories. Everybody gets a chance to think through whether the story matters at all.
Once the authorities actually got a warrant and looked at the property, it was clear that the bodies just weren’t there. In fact, if you believe the later versions, it’s likely that the only crime was the filing of a false report.