News you can lose, part 2.

Media criticism.
Sept. 5 2005 2:48 PM

News You Can Lose, Part 2

The readers give their gripes about cable news.

This being Labor Day, I shall undertake no labor except to clip and paste comments from my readers. Yesterday, I invited them to expand upon the subject of my column, "News You Can Lose: What I hate about cable TV journalism."

Take it away, readers.

[I hate] the same-old same-old of the reporter/producer/camera operator/anchor model. If you send out different kinds of people and teams to gather stories, you may get different kinds of stories, thus "covering" the story in the truest sense of the word. A five minute sounds-of-the-streets piece would get my attention, as would sending a VJ with a handheld out in the morning and seeing what he or she returned with. Handing a camera to someone dexterous and trustworthy in the Superdome would get my attention.

Jeremy Keehn

I hate that all day reporters will be giving information, then when fresh reporters come in they do not know anything that has been previously reported and ask stupid, uninformed questions. Why do these people not educate themselves by watching some of their channels before they come in so they can ask intelligent questions and be as informed as the viewers who have watched the station every free moment. It is their job to know what is going on. And, why do they not follow where the interview goes instead of sticking to their boring prepared questions. Sometimes an interviewee is giving new, really interesting information which is ignored why the reporter goes doggedly on with his list of questions pf ground plowed to death.

Another, separate issue is whatever the administration's message of the moment is the so-called reporters ask that instead of showing a little skepticism and thinking up questions of their own. I love CNN but Wolf Blitzer and the gone Judy Woodruff are two of the worst to do this.

Penny L. Pool

We watched the news for hours, flipping from channel to channel, looking in vain for the kind of information that would let two relatively non-brave people like us decide whether to launch out on a personal mission to evacuate people. As time passed, we became shocked, then enraged, that the TV news wasn't giving us this very very basic information. To show us a tearful woman begging to get out of the city, and not explain exactly, in detail, what the issues would be to get her out of the city, is just foul, disgusting, obscene, and inexcusable. All we saw was more and more footage of sad, desperate, people. OK, we get it already.

James Durbin

I hate the cloying, exploitative emotionalism of cable news. This is, perhaps, more forgiveable when something like Katrina or a tsunami occurs but it is the networks default position. Every story—most especially when it is barely a story—is treated the same way, be it Michael Jackson, the poor missing girl in Aruba or something that is generally newsworthy. After a while they all start to seem the same—in tone at least.

Alex Massie

The main thing I hated was that I could not tell if the lack of broader information on the nature of the relief effort was due to shoddy journalism or the fact that such information wasn't being put out by the authorities. All we saw were reporters on location saying they didn't see any evidence of relief where they were. Did that mean that was true everywhere? What were the relief agencies explanations for why this was the case? Was there a larger plan that meant that more critical issues were being dealt with first? Maybe there was no information on these points. Maybe there weren't press conferences by relief agencies to explain this. Maybe the relief effort really was marked by chaos. We never had any sense of what the answer really was because none of CNN, Fox, or MSNBC told us about information the obtained from authorities as to their overall plans or the status of those plans. They didn't even tell us that they asked these questions and couldn't get answers.

Doug Anderson

I wonder how Fox, CNN, and MSNBC are able to consistently field well fed, groomed and clothed reporters in the worst of the disaster, yet apparently the federal/state/local agencies are incapable of providing the same services for the ordinary citizens left behind.

Chris Laska

Seems to me you've got all the major categories of egregiousness covered. Although related to the emotional music cues and the opportunism is the way that anchors keep their performances of empathy at such high, amateur-theatrical pitch: absolutely let the on-location journalists—the Shepherd Smiths and Brian Williamses—show their authentic reactions to the horrors, but do not, please, back in Ft. Lee or New York or Atlanta or wherever, put on your I'm-sad-and-devastated-too face and voice every second you're on the air. Anchors can be the relatively unemotional brokers of field reports (a la Peter Jennings at his best) and let their people on the ground display authentic emotional reactions when and if they have them. This isn't a new problem for TV news, of course, but 24/7 cable coverage just makes it that much more obviously fake.

Kurt Andersen

CNN interviewing Bill Frist: He has a stethoscope around his neck as he describes touring the hurricane-affected areas and treating patients at the airport. After all, Frist points out I've been a physician for years, I'm relatively new to politics. Question, "How long are you going to be there?" Frist, "I'll be leaving later today." Smiles all around.  New to politics, but its fair to question whether his short visit to the airport will be more beneficial to the medical needs of those in need or to Frist's political ambitions.

Ed Ewing

Titles that announce a news story, such as "America Responds" on Fox.

Andrew Hurvitz

I hate the hypocrisy of it. Carefully groomed talking heads in clean, crisp studios blathering about how awful are the events being shown behind or beside them. I hate the jarring way they cut from a scene of devastation to a sexy, elegant car or soap commercial. I hate the way images are cropped to show only the horror. I especially hate the small amount of time given to explanations and information and the large amount of time given to commercials, politicians and, especially, celebrities.

The hypocrisy continues. Photo ops show Doctor Phil counseling victims and President Bush hugging children. Tormented, often mentally ill people are shown in close-up screaming their agony. Little time is given to normal people working together to overcome catastrophic events. And, if and when that time is given, guess who we have with us? The carefully groomed talking heads in clean, crisp studios blathering about how awfulness of the events are and the heroism of the people.

Television news shows a distorted reality coupled with a manicured fantasy. It is little wonder we react to both small and large events with the equal apathy. Our perceptions of the world come from a camera lens into an editor's cutting machine and are pressed into a producer's timetable and then interpreted by people chosen far more for their beauty and voice tone then for their intellect.

Perry Bruce

Although we watch MSNBC every night, we are wondering about the strategy of "news as entertainment," the radio-talk-show-ification of television. Rita Cosby, with her well-rehearsed strident poses, Joe Scarborough concluding every interview with "we greatly appreciate it," even though he's mostly talking to bought-and-paid-for retired generals and the like; Tucker Carlson, a breath of fresh air, I must say, but bogged down in rehearsed silly drama, like the removal of his bowtie on cue for his little smart-ass dialog with his producer. Joe Scarborough is the bottom-feeder. Until Katrina, he had devoted every single show for weeks to the Aruba and the cruise ship stories, with the audacity of announcing "exclusive breaking news," which never amounted to more than "there is a new line of thought, another possibility being explored" and junk like that.

Alan Glazen

They never stop and give you a capsule of the headlines. It's just that 24/7 rush. Even though I was glued to the three cable news nets (CNN Headline is so jumbled these days it's unwatchable), I found myself happily turning to the local news and network news shows for a few minutes at 6 and 7 p.m. just to get a coherent summary of the day.
Mark Potts

The other day, CNN split the screen into six components. If they had gone to many more than that, to me it would have been just like radio. How close to the TV do they think I'm sitting?

John Whitmore

In 10 minutes of watching Telemundo, three of which covered New Orleans, I really got a better depiction of being there than I did on all the major U.S. networks that I had been watching for several hours, and I don't speak any Spanish.

Jonathan Kyle

How easy it is to see each networks' template during this disaster. Fox = military obsessed. CNN = celebrity obsessed.

JMurphy

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That's all, folks. I don't expect to be publishing any more cable complaints from readers, but I'll be reading my mail at slate.pressbox@gmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.