no news is good news

I don’t sleep too well these days. I think it’s because I’m a news junkie. I am addicted to news. I have bookmarked thirty-five online newspapers (current favorites include the North Korean News Agency and the Moose Jaw Times-Herald ) and on cable I’m usually flipping between Headline News and MSNBC. I’m also pretty sure that my news addiction is to blame for my astounding lack of productivity–yeah, I may not have updated my blog in a week, but I sure know a lot of random facts about Uzbekhistan.

The news makes me edgy, because on the 24 hour news channels, they make you process everything at once. I swear CNN should be called ADD–on the screen is the guy telling the story, a caption underneath the guy telling you what the guy is telling you, the weather for forty-seven cities, basketball scores, and I’m pretty sure I saw someone in a small box doing an interpretive dance about the story.

Network news is worse—especially the teaser ads. See, the media needs the public to be afraid, otherwise we might not need them. I heard a news anchor say “Coming up at ten, we’ll tell you about a common household substance that can kill”…no…… TELL US NOW! There are people dying in their kitchens and your sitting on a story! And reporters on the scene aren’t any more Pulitzer-worthy. The other night, a reporter at the scene of an accident said “details are sketchy.” THEN THEY’RE NOT…DETAILS!!!

I lived in L.A. during the Rodney King nightmare, and it led me to this conclusion. The next time L.A. burns (because it will happen again), I hope the first buildings torched are tv news studios, because that’s where the accelerant. is. I would love to see some smug, insulated anchorman sitting at his desk reading off the teleprompter “We’ve got reports of a fire at–MY DESK! MY DESK IS ON FIRE!”

Seems like there are two extremes in broadcast journalism. There are talking heads that yell a lot and interrupt each other, and there’s Charlie Rose. I think Charlie is great. He never seems fazed by a subject–frankly, he never seems all that interested, either. Every time he puts his chin in his hand and leans forward, I’m worried he’ll nod off,. But I’ll take that  over the yelling any day.

As if it’s not bad enough that stories on tv news are all too short to be useful (Now I understand fundamentalist Islam, thanks to that sixty second feature) , time that could be used for thoughtful analysis is given instead to entertainment news. When you only have thirty minutes to give a rundown of the news of the entire world, maybe you should prioritize. I’m guessing the day Charlie Sheen kidnapped a hooker, there were at least one or two extra things that could have been mentioned about Darfur, or Iran.

As a nation, our priorities are a little out-of-whack. For instance, I love animals, but it seems like some people would step over a homeless person to get to an animal-rights meeting. MSNBC yesterday announced that scientists have isolated the cause of…gray hair. Really? You know, maybe we should organize a big scientist meeting and give them a to-do list…sure, spend some time working on the scourge that is premature graying but let’s do that AFTER we cure AIDS.

Prioritize, people! I hate to sound like a Luddite here, but when the banks are failing and nobody’s working, is it the best time to give NASA a billion dollars MORE than they got last year? Well, at least we’ll get amazing pictures from space of where that money should have been spent on Earth.

Ultimately, it’s the dumbing down of news that irks me. Like the whole ‘red state/blue state’ notion. Reducing the complicated dynamics of national politics to primary colors. It reminds me too much of USA Today, with all its colors ,pie graphs and simple headlines, like it’s edited by Dr. Seuss. I really imagine that if a nuclear bomb killed millions of people in this country, their headline would be “Lots of Us Still Left–And We’re Shopping More!”

We reached another nadir when I saw Katie Couric on Letterman. I think one of the inviolable rules of journalism is that an anchor’s credibility is inversely proportional to the amount of giggling said anchor does. Yegads! It was like listening to Dave interview Mylie Cyrus. And when asked about her interview with Alex Rodriguez, she actually said she’s a “glass-half-full kinda person” who, when people tell her things, “tends to believe them.” Katie, I hate to tell you this, but that’s actually the opposite of journalism.

Growing up, I got a lot of news from talk radio. It used to be like a neighborhood of the airwaves–just people talking over the metaphorical back fence about things that mattered to the community. I gave up on the medium when it got co-opted by fire-breathing right-wing hatemongers, but lately, since I’m not sleeping too well, I’ve started to tune in again.

Sure, there are still plenty of xenophobes and reactionaries on the air, but they’re my neighbors too, and I might as well be neighborly and listen. Like Mike Gallagher, the popular host who once explained why he felt the guy who threw the shoe at Bush should have been shot to death by the Secret Service. Seriously. Yeah, what better way to show Iraqis what democracy means than a little disproportionate whup-ass without due process.

Speaking of talk radio, I was sad when Paul Harvey died. I realize on some level that he was a right-wing flag-waving shill, but there was a certain integrity about him, too. He seemed genuine. And you have to admire that he was still broadcasting at ninety years old, after seventy-five years in the biz. I can’t imagine doing standup for seventy-five years, but I will say that if I’m still doing one-nighters in crappy bars in the year 2056 someone should put a bullet in my head.

Now Paul’s signature phrase was ”and now you know…the rest of the story.” After thousand of stories, I kept hoping he’d get bored and mess with his listeners just once…give a long, historically detailed introduction and then say “There is no…rest of the story. That’s all I got.”

The other night, I was pretty sure Paul had lost his mind, because he gave his usual setup that was all positivity and patriotism, and then the ‘rest of the story’ went on to describe how some of the first settlers of the Mayflower colony…were… cannibals. WHAT? You can’t do that! That’s like your grandpa telling one of his war stories and all of a sudden mentioning in an avuncular voice that “well, you know, we were in a foxhole and ran out of food, so we had to eat Private Jones.” But whether you liked Paul Harvey’s style or not, you had to admit one thing–he never giggled.