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Useful and intelligent news has long been co-opted on television by a higher power: ratings. That’s nothing new, of course. Most people seem to realize this, but for some reason they still watch.
I was reminded of this tonight by a news commercial that said, to scenes of masked men with guns running around, “Are you prepared to survive a hostage situation? Find out tonight at 11.” Ok. How many hostage situations are there in North America per year? A handful? Even if it was a few handfulls that still doesn’t justify trying to scare people into thinking they will be kidnapped or taken hostage.
The purpose of television news is to scare people enough that they stick around until the end of the show to see how to make themselves safe from whatever they pitched at the start of the show. That’s it. They give way more opinion than news. That’s why I like the web so much more as a news source. I can easily ignore the crap, and by using a “trustworthy” news aggregator like google news I hardly ever run into the garbage.
I can still remember my feelings of bewilderment and frustration after Sept 11, 2001, when Fox and CNN news were running stories 24 hours a day like “Are our nuclear reactors safe from attack? No! By taking these steps a terrorist could blow one up…” They were so stuck with a lack of actual facts that they started making stuff up. That’s why I dislike 24 hours news stations so much. The days news can be usefully summarized in about 10 minutes. The other 23 hours and 50 minutes is useless rehashing and making stuff up. And very often the made up part is meant to scare the crap out of people.
I also remember things on TV news like “Something in your kitchen right now has a good chance of giving you cancer. Stay tuned and we’ll tell you later what it is.” Would you trust a doctor that said “You have some terrible disease, but come back for another paid visit and I’ll tell you what it is.” Of course not, so why do people let a news broadcast do it?