Crimea river

April 15, 2014
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CONTINUOUS NEWS CYCLE: CNN has been running nonstop coverage of the ill-fated flight

I get it. I really do. CNN sees an advantage and they’re squeezing it for all its worth. Ratings are up now that the venerable all-news station has decided to change its format to the all Malaysian Air Disaster news channel. But their gain is our loss. The opportunity cost in opting for wall-to-wall coverage of a non-news event is a less-informed public. We all fall prey. I too check in now and again to hear another talking head speculate and commentate with meaningless insights such as, “We really don’t know. We’ll have to wait and see. That’s the real mystery here.” And I am growing tired of all of the rationalizations, for example:

Rationale 1: The Malaysian airline is a real mystery on par with the disappearance of Amelia Earhart.
The reality: No it’s not. It’s unfortunate. It’s tragic. But in the end, it will come down to a mechanical failure or pilot suicide. Not much of a cliff hanger there.

Rationale 2: It plays to many people’s deep-seated fears of flying.
The reality: Here’s a real fear: That Putin’s move into Crimea and his trouble-making in Ukraine will set off a war in Eastern Europe that will compel the U.S. and our allies to act, once again putting our men and women at risk and costing us more as a people and nation.

Rationale 3: It’s a big international story that needs to be told.
The reality: One of the least-covered international stories right now is the unrest in Venezuela and its significance to our neighbors in Latin America. This story is at least in our hemisphere, and involving one of our country’s biggest gadflies of the past 20 years. Yet still no coverage.

Rationale 4: It’s indicative of a slow domestic news cycle, what with a lame duck President and far-off elections.
The reality: The Kansas City hate-inspired shooting raises serious questions about the state of tolerance in America. The Nevada cattle standoff has all the elements of Ruby Ridge, which triggered decades of domestic terrorism. Surely, there’s news value in both of these stories.

Rationale 5: So much of the news is now feigned political outrage—Bill O’Reilly huffing and puffing about Benghazi; Rachel Maddow’s machine-gunning Chris Christie for remembering that he ate raspberries at a meeting where he can’t recall the conversation. We’re just exhausted and need real news.
The reality: Hey. This explanation actually makes sense. But still, the Malaysian airline disaster isn’t real news. It’s a ratings play.

In the end, CNN’s decision to go with non-stop coverage of the Malaysian air disaster is a desperate attempt to manufacture interest that so far is winning viewers and ratings. But long-term, fake news is to a healthy mind, what bon-bons are to weight loss. Capable of distortion. CNN would better serve its loyal viewers by staying within the rumble strips of what is and what isn’t real news.

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