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Immediate Media Remediation
April 10, 2001
by Susan Sigandres

What is going on with the US news media? Why are there so many stories about George W. Bush? Yes, yes, he's rolling back environmental regulations, he's abandoning worker safety rules, he's building new bombs and rockets, he's bankrupting the government, he's giving a tax cut to the rich, he's transforming democracy to theocracy, he's working to overturn Roe v. Wade, he's enraging our allies, emboldening our enemies, passing our high-tech secrets along to foreign countries for his own profit, refusing to help earthquake victims here and abroad, and letting his big oil friends enrich themselves at California's expense. But we knew Bush would do this kind of stuff. It simply is not news.

It's baffling to me that news executives are scratching their heads trying to figure out why their ratings are dropping faster than the NASDAQ. Hello?! Why don't you talk about things we don't already know? Lack of "news" is driving away your audience. Well, that's not entirely true. Obviously, not many viewers can stand more than three seconds of Brian Williams or Brit Hume. More on how to deal with the problem of unappealing "news" personalities later. The point is, if TV news coverage does not include news, then TV stations should just put up a test signal with their logo and leave it at that. They'd probably get the same audience numbers.

I want news stories to be more original. If today's so-called journalists cannot bestir themselves to dig up news, why can't they just use that old fall back: Human interest stories? There's nothing like voyeurism to raise the old Nielson rankings. For example, I would be interested in knowing Tony Scalia's credit card numbers, Charlton Heston's advance itinerary, Dan Burton's home phone number, Ken Starr's personal e-mail address, and the social security number of every republican on the House Banking and Financial Services committee.

I want more international coverage. US reporters should be routinely sent to other countries to practice unbiased reporting. Why can't Fox send Newt Gingrich to Paris, London, or Baghdad, stick him on a street corner and have him conduct live interviews with random passers-by. He can begin the interviews by asking the following open-ended question: "What do you think of Bush?"

I want live coverage of media employees conducting opinion polls. Then maybe we'll believe the polls. These shows should start with someone from a credible, independent organization walking into the studio and distributing a list of names and phone numbers to the interviewers. I nominate Amnesty International for this role. Then I want to hear the conversation between the interviewers and the ordinary Americans at the other end of the line. The people being surveyed can remain anonymous, of course, but there's no reason why such things as state of residence, job category, income range, and political affiliation can't be put up on the screen. Maybe newspapers can include "polling scorecards" so viewers can tally the results themselves as they watch the show.

Perhaps the media moguls are afraid that such shows would not get them the ratings they are so desperate for. In that case, why don't they have stories confirming or debunking rumors that are running rampant among the populace? Does John Ashcroft, in fact, have a venereal disease? Is it true that Laura Bush is legally blind? Is Bush buddy and fellow Texan Paul O'Neill really a necrophiliac?

With respect to the deteriorating quality of news "personalities," the fault lies at the top. The media moguls are accountable for inept hiring decisions. So let's ask the tough questions about Rupert Murdoch, head of Fox, and Bill Gates, co-investor in MSNBC.

First, Murdoch. It's clear that someone has to get this guy's fifth grade class picture and send it to DNC headquarters for verification of authenticity. Until this happens, we must continue believing either that (a) the Rupy we see is a reality-based fiction created by CNN executives to give the illusion of competition in the all-news channel sphere or (b) Rupy somehow morphed from pond scum into his present form and thus is not human at all. Until we know otherwise, we should continue petitioning the FBI to investigate where Rupy actually came from and where he finds Fox "news" personnel. We should also keep up our efforts on the environmental front, pestering the INS until it agrees to deport Rupy on the grounds that he is non-native toxic waste.

Bill Gates should be held personally responsible for the ludicrous outfit calling itself "MSNBC news." Sure, sure, GE owns NBC, but Jack Welch has always had his head up an electric socket. Gates should know better; he has all these smart folks working for him at Microsoft. How can he allow people of such obviously questionable intelligence as Brian Williams and Tim Russert to go on the air?

The US news outfits will simply not win back their audience until they provide information that is not already known, diversify their coverage, and lose the clowns they put in front of the camera. In its present form, US television news will not be able to compete with other choices open to American viewers, such as doing the dishes and putting a load of laundry into the washing machine. Until they clean up their act, let 'em run test signals. At least we'll know one thing for sure: The part of the electromagnetic spectrum associated with the channel number is still real.

 

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