briefly, on the meaninglessness of cable news


While CNN rages on one side, and Fox blusters on another, both share an inauspicious culpability. We may call it the boys who cry news.

One screen shows BREAKING NEWS, though the news is not actually breaking: the facts were first broken earlier this morning. The other shows ALERT, even though the matter being discussed is not worthy of disrupting my day.

It’s enough to make one long for the pre-news channel days, when special report carried more significant weight than a show hosted by Bret Baier.

Then again, NBC broke into the programming schedule of affiliates nationwide to report on Steve Jobs’ death in 2011.
First tabloids imitate news, then news imitates tabloids, then we can’t tell the distinction.

The tyranny of the urgent, we must do this, have to do that, can’t get through today without the other thing. Cynically, the news channels shout ALERT! when there is no alert, begging us to pay attention in the hopes that we fall in line and pay attention to the next commercial break, for schmucks to hawk their cheap wares (or investment gold).

Certainly, there are serious, vitally important matters which demand the attention of concerned citizens everywhere. Ferguson, the Ukraine, Gaza, Iraq, China, Washington: from the McDonald’s in Missouri to the White House, all are deserving of the scrutiny of a free, intrepid press, as well as the free exchange of ideas and opinions as is afforded to a liberal democratic society.

Instead, we get Gretchen Carlson’s crazy eyes, Carol Costello a hair’s length from going berserk at any given time (a sight even funnier muted, as it is here in the workplace), blustering talking heads bloviating their biases. One needs not shout fire in a crowded theater (who can afford to go to the movies? And who really wants to?); merely put BREAKING NEWS above the crawl and you get the same result.

The modern era in the tyranny of cable news began as an expression of 9/11 anxieties and we are now beholden to it for everything, as evidenced by the incessant crawl, constantly pooping out new data for us to ignore.

New data for us to ignore. When the real news breaks, we respond not with outrage, but a shrug.

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