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Jewish World Review April 30, 2001 / 7 Iyar, 5761

Dave Shiflett

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100 Days of Platitudes -- NOBODY ever accused television hacks of having independent minds, which would be a deadly liability in that business as in most others. But the first three months of the Bush era (plus ten days) have reminded us that television news, especially the cable variety, is in the grips of Fatal Drone Syndrome. Everyone in the business seems to be infected, and there's no cure in sight.

Surfing from network to network, howl show to howl show, it has been impossible to escape the drone. The First 100 Days logo is everywhere. Identical stories are everywhere. Identical takes on those stories by identical guests and commentators are everywhere. Worse yet, the basic take is that there is no story to report in the first place.

The public may have expected journalism. What it got was 100 Days of Platitudes.

The basic problem is that the poor saps forced to tap dance between commercials have very little to say, and all day and all night to say it. They try to jazz things up, adding adjectives and dangling modifiers to the wire service copy they continuously rip off. They offer charts and graphs and invite suckers to send them emails, which are generally spiked upon arrival. MSNBC even created a stage antic of having anchors walk around while they chatter, hoping viewers will assume movement reflects dramatic news developments. The other morning the twin anchors of the 10 a.m. news show broke from their blocks and rushed the camera, like a couple of muggers pouncing on a cripple. Once they had our attention, all they did was drone on about the first 100 days of the new Bush Administration.

They scraped deep, but there was no blood left. It was the same all over the dial. All anyone could come up with was the lame observation, seconded by a vast panel of experts, that Bush doesn't make news like good old Commander Pecker did. They trotted out a few polls showing Bush is fairly popular, which cannot be considered big news. Nonetheless these poll numbers were repeated throughout the day and night, sometimes at high speeds, all of which was reminiscent of a pack of drunks who've gotten hold of a shipment of amphetamines.

While we can be sympathetic toward the people stuck in this professional tar pit, you have to wonder where news executives think all this is taking the industry. Straight down, it's safe to say. The problem is that normal people are wary of individuals who repeat maniacally. The operative word is "obsessive." This is far worse than the usual complaint against journalists regarding personal bias. The fact is, all of us have opinions, and we can forgive a dope for disagreeing with us.

Being obsessive is another matter. Obsessives are the ones who appear at the top of a mall escalator with a 12-gauge and a selection of pipe bombs, or end up in public parks barking like dogs. Even friends who may share the same ideas and values, should they become excessive in expounding them, will eventually be left for the coyotes.

There is no arguing against the fact that cable has branded itself with a big Scarlet O. When JFK Jr. nosedove his plane into the Atlantic the crews showed up, trained their cameras on the water, and didn’t leave until after the victims had been located, dragged off the ocean floor, autopsied, cremated, eulogized, then dumped back in the ocean, after which they hung around a couple more days still staring at the sea. It was embarrassing enough that a terrifying number of guests and commentators had their noses so far up the fabled Kennedy keister it lifted Teddy’s scalp. But the overkill was what did the real damage, as has obsessive coverage of Diana, O.J., Columbine, the killer nanny, etc.

The First 100 Days is up Sunday, so one might hope for a cooling off period. But that’s not likely. If nothing else comes along, the crews will probably wing off to Europe and set up shop alongside those massive cow and sheep pyres, honing in as the carcasses detonate like cans of beans in a campfire: "Kris, we believe that calf's name was Spotty, third born of Elsie, whom we saw explode live yesterday morning." A NEWS ALERT will immediately appear: "Spotty the Calf Explodes Without Warning."

This story should keep them busy through the spring, at which time the cameras will be trained on the sky just in case the killer asteroid swings into position.

JWR contributor Dave Shiflett writes from central Va. Comment by clicking here.


04/24/01: Sluggards, Unite
04/03/01: The Inn Crowd
03/30/01: Atheist for sale
03/27/01: Can you hack it?
02/13/01: We’re All New Yorkers Now: In praise of provincialism
02/09/01: Mind your manners and NEVER say "Monica Lewinsky" --- or you may well get sued!
01/30/01: A Stiff Warning: Bushies beware
01/26/01: Babes in Boyland
01/23/01: Dubya, First Philistine? It depends on how you define the word 'artist'
01/19/01: Goodbye L.A., Hello Nashville
01/12/01: Elvis and the Rock of Death
12/07/00: Col. Sauls-ders roasts some ducks
11/23/00: Democracy may be under siege, but now comes the fun
11/21/00: The dolt vote
11/15/00: Now what will we do for fun?

© 2000, Dave Shiflett