4 Rules For a More Grown-Up Cable News Culture
Let's survey the cable news scene briefly, shall we?
Mark Steyn calls CNN "the airport channel," just another bit of low-grade torture we're forced to endure whenever we're obligated to fly.
What with Al Gore selling Current TV to Al-Jazeera, would this be a bad time to mention that Fox News is partially Saudi owned?
I wandered into the living room during the wall-to-wall Sandy Hook coverage to find my mother-in-law tuned in to MSNBC, just in time to hear one of the presenters say something like, "Why is American culture so evil, anyhow?" (I'm paraphrasing because I've tried to erase her statement from my brain.)
Traditional news delivery via print and broadcasting, with their deadline-oriented format and relative slowness, have their own built-in flaws.
But in the deadline-free cable news biz, it's always 6 p.m., and that red light never switches off.
This 24/7 news cycle gives cable a bottomless appetite for sensational (and highly visual) breaking "news" of questionable import. ("Balloon boy"? Seriously?)
Countless critics have already pointed out that cable news rushes to judgement, with sometimes fatal consequences. (See, "Jewell, Richard.")
Case in point: Almost everything you think you know about Columbine is wrong.
And here's a list of some of the misinformation you were fed about Sandy Hook in those first few hours.
Newspapers at least make the occasional feint towards old-fashioned respectability by issuing the odd correction. You'll rarely hear such apologies on cable news, probably because they'd take up so much air time.
Did the relentless coverage of Waco infuriate Timothy McVeigh to the point of homicide? Do we really need to watch cannibalism in progress?
Cable news in its current format -- the breathless pace, the reliance upon what seems to be one rather odd individual's worn-out, twenty-year-old Rolodex for "expert" guests (Dick Morris!?) -- has been with us since CNN launched in 1980.
Despite all the criticism and parody, that format is so entrenched I doubt it can be dramatically altered.
However, if you'll forgive a foreigner for boasting, we Canadians might be able to offer a few tips.
The Sun News Network debuted up here a few years ago. Dubbed "Fox News North" by liberal detractors even before it aired, Sun, being new, had no "bad habits" to unlearn, and a once-in-a-lifetime chance to start from scratch and thus avoid some of its predecessors' mistakes.
They operate on a budget that probably wouldn't keep CNN running for a day.
Yet Americans who've watched Sun segments via YouTube, my blog, and elsewhere typically exclaim, "Wow! Fox News wouldn't even do that! Not even John Stossel is THAT cool!"
Here's what they're talking about... (LANGUAGE WARNING for some of the videos below)