Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Anna Nicole, O.J., and a galloping case of hiccups

Posted by metaphorical on 22 February 2007

If this were a game of Jeopardy, the question would be, “What’s wrong with the media?”

I don’t believe the country is rising up and demanding to know more about this woman’s sad life (well, maybe just the involvement of Zsa Zsa Gabor’s husband), and it’s not much of a newspaper story. But the dynamics are classic cable TV. In a Pew survey, 61 percent say the Anna Nicole saga is being overcovered, but 11 percent say they are following it very closely. Cable is catering to that 11 percent. (In fact, MSNBC has been covering the BREAKING NEWS of the latest court hearing pretty much continuously today.) In cable, you only need an extra half-million or million viewers to produce a serious spike in the ratings, and that’s why Anna Nicole, nearly two weeks after her death, is still sucking up plenty of cable oxygen.

That’s Howard Kurtz, the Washington Post’s astute media columnist, back on Tuesday.

(Thank-you to Al Romenesko of the Poynter Institute for links to the two stories discussed today.)

Kurtz is right as far as he goes. But the problem with the current cable channels isn’t that they cater to that 11 percent, but that no one is catering to any 11 percents of the people who want serious news, who, for example, would rather hear about whether Congress is going to stop funding the war in Iraq or perhaps even take charge of it themselves.

If we had 6 or 7 cable channels that weren’t obsessed with Anna Nicole Smith, we wouldn’t begrudge the two or two that were. Lest you think the news on the broadcast channels is any better, by the way, I guess you haven’t heard about their current obsession with hiccups.

Yes, hiccups. It seems a 15-year-old girl in St. Petersburg, Florida, “started hiccuping four weeks ago today and has yet to stop,” according to a story in the local paper there.

The competition for her story became so frenzied over the weekend that NBC’s Today show changed Jennifer and her mother’s New York hotel after another network’s exhaustive attempts to get an interview. …

Representatives from ABC’s Good Morning America called Jennifer’s home 57 times on Sunday and slipped notes under her hotel room door, her family said.

If three or four broadcast networks want to spend all their time on hiccupping, that would be fine, if there were 30 others that didn’t. The problem is that we don’t have 30 others, and that there a limited number of advertising dollars out there to support news-gathering operations.

To ask broadcasters to behave more responsibly is as futile as asking people to turn their sets to a different channel. Still, it’s fun to dream of a world where everyone has the same sense of honor as my friend Clay Shirky, who once said, “As a service to my country, I live my life as if I may at any moment be called to be an alternate in OJ’s trial, and am thus scrupulously careful to avoid contamination by the media.”

One Response to “Anna Nicole, O.J., and a galloping case of hiccups”

  1. I join. And I have faced it. Let’s discuss this question.

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