Commentary Magazine


Contentions

The Cable News Loop

Cable news is at its best during a breaking news event–and at its worst. I know, I know: not exactly a blinding insight. But it did strike me forcefully as I was at the gym on Tuesday morning (my time, because I’m in Asia–nighttime Monday in the U.S.), flicking back and forth between CNN and BBC.

The former was dividing its coverage between the birth of a royal baby in London and the crash of a Southwest Airlines jet at LaGuardia Airport in New York. The latter, as you might imagine, was all royals, all the time. I got to see an interview with a woman who makes baby furniture that is supposedly being bought by the royal household, and with a baker who made a cake with a portrait of the royal family on it.

In both cases the essential news could have been conveyed in 30 seconds or less: Plane’s nose gear collapses, passengers evacuate, a few injuries, no fatalities. Baby born to prince and princess, mother and child well, nation celebrates. That’s all that anyone really needs to know about either event unless you happen to be related to someone involved–and perhaps not even then.

The New York Times website rightly relegates them to relatively modest items on its front screen. Yet because cable news has endless time to fill, these small news nuggets were chewed over for hours from every angle imaginable–and some barely so. The TV networks are palpably desperate to wring every last bit of pathos out of these happenings, hoping that it will keep an audience that is not all that interested in world events engaged in its coverage.

I suppose the strategy works, given that Fox, MSNBC, CNN and HLN manage, between them, to generate more than 3.5 million viewers in primetime hours. But for the life of me I can’t understand why anybody bothers watching an endless loop of the same stale news.



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