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March 5, 2008


Crying Wolf (Blitzer and the newshounds)

One of the funniest things to emerge from this year’s election campaigns is the sight of cable “newscast hosts” staring helplessly at the camera, completely baffled that their predictions failed to materialize.

It happened again on Tuesday night. The image may be unfair, but given the context, the failed prognosticators came across looking like complete misogynists, puffing themselves up like scorned mating pigeons and stamping their feet because Hillary Clinton refused to accept their decision that she was supposed to lose.

By the next afternoon, however, they had moved beyond pouting at the impertinence of an uppity woman who wouldn’t give up. Inspired by the suggestion of a joint Clinton-Obama ticket, they soared off into an unreal world all their own. On MSNBC, for example, the text and subtext — based on nothing but wishes and dreams — went like this:

[I can see into the future and] it’ll never happen.

[And furthermore, let me tell you that] if Obama gets more votes and Clinton gets the nomination, African Americans will bolt.

When Alessandra Stanley said in the New York Times, “It’s official: the networks no longer cover news,” she was referring to the networks’ new practice of continuing their regular programming during high-profile events like Tuesday’s primaries and simply running the results as a crawl at the bottom of the screen. Viewers seeking more substance “were relegated to cable news,” such as CNN and MSNBC.

Stanley didn’t add, although she might have, that the cable “news” they turned to has become a joke. In part, it’s a problem of having too little material and too much space. (Someday it might occur to some smart person to send out a few more reporters to cover a few more stories.)

But the real problem lies in the presenters — not only the Bill O’Reillys, but the Wolf Blitzers and the Keith Olbermanns as well — who seem to be reading their own programs’ press releases… and believing them.

Once upon a time, long long ago, in a very backward era, news commentators commented on news after it happened. Now their pontificating mumbo-jumbo gives new meaning to Marshall McLuhan’s statement that the medium is the message.

But even that early medium, the Sibyl of Delphi, would have turned off her psychedelic vapors and smashed her crystal ball if her pronouncements had been as irrelevant as the ones produced by these modern oracles.

       — Copyright Betsey Culp 2008