I genuinely feel for the missing passengers of the missing Malaysian flight. But every day when I turned to CNN for several weeks, it was endless, mind numbing coverage of the search with constant sorry excuses for “breaking news”. It’s all about the huge ratings boost from disaster coverage, I get it. But this drive cultivates a disgusting media culture that fetishes and obsesses over disaster stories that don’t provide debate and have little implication for anyone other than the immediate families of the victims. This tabloid style news appeals to a low intellect base of consumers and encourages ignorance for other events infinitely more relevant and important than 3 weeks of plane search coverage.
Program hosts can have an ideological leaning and maintain professionalism and integrity. The media needs to serve as the 4th element to the checks and balances built into government; corruption exists across both public and private spheres. But a 24 hour news cycle has had the unfortunate effect of numbing a nation that once lived on every word of the evening news because it could be trusted. Our dozens of different outlets today leaves us stuck with one sided echo chambers like Fox News which can be counted on to include shotty primetime reporting and unashamed cable news personalities, or network coverage from CNN and MSNBC that do reporting without asking any critical questions or doing extra leg work to make the story more than just white noise lost in the sea of accessible information. What happened to the golden age of reporting and investigative journalism? Remember the Muck rakers? The Jungle? Or is the status of things so wonderful across the country that we can afford the dumbing down of hard stories and interesting coverage? Do we just need more OJ Simpson trial coverage?
So hey, CNN! How about dedicating a week of coverage for the severe drought conditions in the west? You could serve a useful function for the first time in 20 years by educating your audience about the critical need for infrastructure to maintain and build on our water supply. How about the civil war in Syria and its destabilizing effects on the Middle East? Iraq is on the fritz, 4,000 soldiers and 3 trillion dollars of ours later. Maybe talk about how CNN gave a huge pass on critically reporting any of the bogus evidence and logic leading up to the Iraq war? That has to be more newsworthy than a missing plane. Talk about the real ramifications of public policy and get someone at least a hundred times more exciting than Wolf Blitzer to tell me about it. They don’t even need to appeal to political junkies; dumb down the important political mumbo jumbo and transition to the state of a local animal shelters. Throw a puppy up on screen for extra effect. Talk about community issues, real problems that afflict the inner city and the suburb and the rural areas. Talk about ANYTHING! Just stop talking about a relatively minor tragedy in the grand scheme of things, since there are literally tens of thousands of people dying or suffering all over the world more heinously from more nefarious ways than freak plane accidents.
The superficial cares of broad swaths of our media enriched generations aren’t being helped by an uncritical TV media world on repeat, more concerned about ratings than it is about providing a useful component to society. These networks have a direct link to consumers and a chance to do real service. They need to actually provide it.