Volume 75, Number 19 | Sep. 28 - Oct. 04, 2005

Talking Point

The news virus

By Andrei Codrescu

Anyone watching — and everybody is — the 24-hour news channels must be convinced that the world is at an end. For some people it is, but you won’t see them either on CNN, Fox or MSNBC. There was useful information on CNN during and after Katrina, but when Rita failed to live up to the destructiveness of her predecessor, you could sense the palpable fury of the network. CNN’s star reporter Cooper Anderson missed Katrina in New Orleans, so he made sure to be up front and visible during Rita, but the storm failed to live up to Cooper’s grandeur. In an effort to pump up the hysteria, CNN tied up a guy in a wind tunnel where they blasted him with 100 miles per hour-plus winds and then asked him question like, “What does it feel like in a 100 miles per hour wind?” The poor idiot might as well look for another day job: maybe being shot out of a cannon at Barnum & Bailey’s. Meanwhile, the real post-storm stories of the future of New Orleans and the people returning there completely escaped producers intent only on Cecile B. DeMille effects for their ratings.

If CNN managed to overdo it, Fox outdid itself in hysterical, sensationalist and downright unreal coverage. As late as Sun., Sept. 25, Fox reporters looking for bad news, reported end-of-the-world scenes that were flatly contradicted by their interviews. One anchor practically screamed at an Army Corps general, demanding to know how many people were still dying and waiting to be rescued in the Rita reflooded Ninth Ward of New Orleans, and when he said that no one was, as far as he knew, she cut him off and went on to talk about new reports of the dying. The only bad thing about these imaginary people “dying” was that they didn’t do it on camera.

Aware that storms are passing phenomena, CNN scheduled future disasters that are yet to take place, with such heavily advertised blockbusters as “The Next Disaster: Is America Ready for It?” All the cable news, as well as the networks, produced scenarios for future disasters that included earthquakes, nuclear bombs and tanker explosions in Boston Harbor. The competition for producing paranoia among the news outlets reached a kind of surrealist crescendo in which it was hard to tell what was happening from what already happened and what might happen (if the producers had their way). At times, it looked like a combination of sports broadcasting with instant playbacks and simultaneous selections from the sci-fi channels.

Weirdly enough, even people in or near the disaster areas got most of their news from these news media and often believed them against the evidence of their own eyes or the reports of people on the scene. We need news, but what these media produced were paranoia viruses that have now infected the whole country and will make positive, slow, step-by-step rebuilding even harder. The coming stories are not glamorous, but they will be heroic and spirited in ways that our history has known in the past. Who will be our real reporters then?

www.codrescu.com, www.corpse.org

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