Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Glorious Press

Yesterday morning I was in a lounge in a Fullerton hotel eating breakfast and reading the newspaper with a television on in the background. As near as I can tell the television had on a news program. It’s hard to be sure, though, because for the half an hour or so that I was there, there seemed to be only two stories that were covered: a fire in Malibu and Britney Spears failing to strap her child into his child seat. At first, not paying attention, I thought the two stories were somehow related, drawing an image in my mind of Spears failing to strap the child in the seat as she hurriedly rushing away from the fire. When the program cycled back to the Spears story though, it turned out not to be even that interesting; she was allegedly fleeing papparazi. I should emphasize here that the not interesting evaluation is mine, not the station’s. Clearly they thought it one of only two stories worth covering, acing out the Anaheim Hills fire, the Corretta Scott King funeral, various Bush Administration scandals, and everything else happening in LA and the world at large other than Malibu fire.

That fire is what really grabbed their interest. In the absence of freeway chases, I imagine fires is as good as it gets on television news. It’s colorful, it crackles, it gives you spectacular sunsets, and there’s always somebody who can be portrayed as being in peril from a fire. This one had school and road closures and nice helicopter visuals showing the Pacific Ocean in the background. It didn’t have much real news value, though. Neither Highway 1 nor any of the major roads through the canyons seemed to be imperiled and from the visuals they were showing, it seemed to be a pretty small fire. After awhile the fluff heads in the “newsroom” started talking about a burned out car found on a roadway near the fire. With no apparent evidence that the fire started at the car they spent about 5 minutes speculating about how a car fire, a car fire beginning at this particular car, was the “likely” cause of this fire. As far as I could tell from what they were saying, all they knew about this car was what they could learn of it from the shots from the helicopter.

My point, such as it is, is that at 7:30 in the morning, a television station serving the second most populous city in the country could find nothing truly newsworthy to report on and on the main story it did deem fit to cover it was reduced to making things up. Apparently this is a satisfactory arrangement for the people of LA. If this is all we demand of our TV news, broadcasting on the public airwaves, is it really any wonder that we have a war in Iraq, a Governor Schwarzenegger, and a President Bush?
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