The Breaking News Epidemic

The Breaking News Epidemic

The Breaking News Epidemic

Arts and arguments in the news.
Oct. 24 2001 9:22 PM

The Breaking News Epidemic

As you know, the United States and Great Britain are fighting an elusive enemy in distant lands while combatting and containing terrorism at home. Both campaigns, the authorities tell us, will be protracted, yet we should take some comfort, as best we can, in their assurance that we shall prevail. Meantime, a third phenomenon has emerged in recent weeks: Breaking News Syndrome. This isn't a particularly dangerous syndrome although certain strains are especially virulent, contagious, and can lead to a state of high anxiety. Here is a fact sheet that outlines all you need to know about the syndrome and and what you can do to combat it.

How Do I Get Breaking News Syndrome (BNS)?

By watching CNN, MSNBC, Fox, Al Jazeera, or BBC World News 24/7 or as little as 1/7. Known cases include people who have merely turned on their television in the morning, tuned to CNN, and seen and heard Paula Zahn say "latest developments."

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What Are the Symptoms?

The chief symptoms of BNS are nervousness, exhaustion, and a sense of desperation. If you feel an impulse to call a friend with some speculative evidence gleaned from the news tickers at the bottom of the TV screen, then you've got it.

Should I Get Tested, Visit a Doctor, or Inform the Centers for Disease Control?

No, they're busy attending to serious business, and besides, you'll know if you have it or not. The syndrome, although highly contagious in crowded places, such as offices, restaurants, and bars, hasn't been proved dangerous in any physical sense, although scaring yourself silly is never very good for you.

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What Can I Do?

Turn off the television; if that's impossible, try a movie or sports channel. More precisely, avoid Paula Zahn, Lester Holt, and above all Chris Matthews—the vaguely hysterical and sometimes hectoring tone of Matthews' voice is an especially effective delivery system for BNS. If you are a pundit who can't resist an invitation to appear on one cable show or another, promise yourself this will be the last time—for now. If you are a reporter for a cable news company and you have the opportunity to ask a question at a press conference held by the Office of Homeland Security, think first: If you know the answer to your question before you ask it, then don't bother. Imagine yourself as the pretty or handsome wallflower you saw in your bathroom mirror in the morning.

A Definitive Cure

Promise yourself to visit a museum, go for a walk, read a novel, watch all of Woody Allen's movies, get annoyed with Thomas Friedman's latest column (which should be easy enough), let Mayor Giuliani know where you think the New York Yankees should have their ticker-tape parade after they win the World Series for the fifth time in six years. The Canyon of Heroes in Lower Manhattan is not itself this year.