Cable news: All the news unfit to show
ONE thing that the recent arrest of the man who claims he killed little JonBenet Ramsey has shown is that television "news" programs no longer know what "news" is.
With 24 hours to fill, cable news channels have unilaterally ruled that anything and everything that happens anywhere and everywhere to anyone and everyone is news. Having spent considerable time in the "news" business, I find this new classification of news awfully convenient to broadcasters who now don't have to go through the bothersome task of separating the news wheat from the non-news chaff. Cable news channels have pretty much become all-chaff, all-the-time operations.
Newspapers, on the other hand, being slaves to a tight news hole dictated by how many advertisements are sold, have to actually figure out what news there is and where to put it in the paper. The New York Times' motto is "All the news that's fit to print" but most newspapers are stuck with the realization that they can print only "all the news that fits."
So I was happy to pick up this paper on Wednesday and not find a single story on the JonBenet Ramsey case because NOTHING HAD HAPPENED. Some newspapers did run stories pointing out that nothing was happening in the case, but the cable news shows gave minute-by-minute reports in excruciating detail that nothing was happening. They had reporters in Thailand reporting nothing was happening. Reporters in California reporting nothing was happening. And even breathless live reporters in Boulder, Colo., breathlessly reporting that nothing there was happening.
In between reporting that nothing was happening in the Ramsey case, the news channels gave up-to-the-minute details that nothing was happening with a patch of clouds off the western Africa coast. The reason for extensive coverage of the patch of clouds was its alleged potential to become a tropical disturbance, which could then become a tropical storm, which could then become a Class 1 hurricane and then graduate to higher classes and eventually could hit the United States, causing millions of dollars or largely hypothetical death and destruction. But the breathless meteorologist did concede that for now, it basically was a patch of clouds off the western African coast and nothing really was happening.
Then we were taken live back to Boulder where nothing was happening and not happening with a vengeance. Apparently, Colorado law-enforcement types had sent a small airplane toward California to pick up John Mark Karr, the weirdo who claims he killed JonBenet. But, then again, maybe they didn't. There could be a plane in the air and it could be going toward California and it could going there to pick up the weirdo. But, then again, maybe not.
Then, live from California, a newsman using one of those magic writing pens that allows you to make chicken scratches on the TV screen, was showing the route the hypothetical plane from Colorado would take if it landed in California and picked up the weirdo. But the newsman, being thorough, pointed out that if the weirdo was not taken by plane to Colorado he'd be taken by car. He drew a line on the screen from California to Colorado showing what the car ride would look like, assuming the car could go straight over the Rockies without having to stick to known highways.
I tried to imagine how excited all the reporters were going to get when the weirdo actually was transported to Colorado because then they would have some new non-news to report. Were there any actual editors working at these news channels, they might have pointed out that a murder suspect's trip from one state to another is not news, even if the suspect is a weirdo. News will be when it is learned that the weirdo either killed the kid or didn't. The rest is filler.
Having covered crime for many years, my money is on the weirdo eventually admitting he didn't kill JonBenet and simply wanted a free plane ride home from Thailand. He was about to be arrested in Bangkok for being a weirdo, which, for Bangkok, is quite a feat. (The weirdo's plane ride was a non-news event that received more air time than when President Kennedy's body was flown from Texas to Washington, D.C., which itself was barely news.)
There is no hope that cable news channels will ever revert to actually broadcasting news. There simply isn't enough news fill that vast 24-hour vessel even if the broadcasters knew what news is. We are doomed to forever be breathlessly told about far-away cloud patches and the travel patterns of weirdoes.
, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists' 2004 First Place Award winner for humor writing, appears Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org