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CNN’s Prophecy

I have a great deal of sympathy for the producers at 24-hour cable news networks.  To be sure, their jobs can be quite easy at times: when there’s a major election, terrorist attack, celebrity death, or economic shock, the focus of their programming is incredibly obvious.

But then there are days like January 6th, 2009 – today – when everything that counts as “news” is actually old news. Israel is fighting in Gaza, but it has been doing so for the past eleven days.  The Senate Democrats have refused to seat Roland Burris, but we’ve known that this would happen for at least the past week.  And Steve Jobs isn’t addressing the annual MacWorld conference, but this stock-depreciating news came – complete with new MacBooks – months ago.

In turn, a producer responsible for 24 hours-worth of news content is left at a crossroads: should the network follow Roland Burris’s every footstep all morning, anticipating the exact moment when the Senate secretary officially turns Burris away?  Or, should it use the day for highlighting weird news stories, such as Harrison Ford’s bizarre chest-hair-waxing commercial on behalf of Conservation International’s rain forest campaign?

Well, given its television and web dominance, CNN has the luxury of broadcasting both of these things.  But, sadly for CNN’s producers, this balance between mind-numbingly dull and incredibly useless news coverage isn’t enough to fill the 24-hour cycle.  So CNN has embraced a new genre of news analysis – prophecy.  Check out this oracular headline:

Gaza horrors sow seeds for future violence.

Granted, this is a miserably researched piece: CNN correspondent Nic Robertson draws his “future violence” prediction from uncritically watching interviews with children on Hamas’s own television station, in which the grade-schoolers say things like, “When we will grow up, we will bomb them back.”  As Robertson should know, the seeds for future violence were sown in Gaza’s children long before Israel invaded: Hamas regularly inspires kids to take up arms against the “Jews” in its children’s television programming and kindergarten graduation ceremonies, among other venues.

Still, as far as its clairvoyance is concerned, CNN is on the right track: despite mangling the causal mechanisms, its prophecy will almost certainly be fulfilled.  Now if we can only know when and how the Gaza war will end; or whether Caroline Kennedy will be named Duchess of Empire State; or who will win on Sunday, CNN would be doing us a real service.


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