Sunday, November 28, 2010

RIP Cable News: 1980-2010

If there was one unintended casualty of Tuesday's artillery duel between North and South Korea, it was the idea of cable television news. Fox and MSNBC may have already traded in their news credentials, maintaining only a veneer of “news” coverage in the late mornings/afternoons as cover for their respective political agitprop positions, but CNN kept plugging away in the news business, albeit as a shell of its former self. At least until yesterday.

The Korean cross-border skirmish is arguably the biggest international crisis of the year – two South Korean marines and two civilians were killed in the fighting, while South Korea is ominously warning of dire retaliation if the North strikes again. I woke up at 5:30 on Tuesday and listened to a half-hour of solid coverage of the Korea situation on the BBC World Service; at 6 I turned on CNN. To their credit, CNN led with the Korea story and brought in Jill Dougherty, one of their senior foreign correspondents for some analysis. This lasted about three minutes before CNN was onto the next story, that Will and Kate at picked a site for their wedding. At 7, CNN dedicated about two minutes to Korea before returning to the Will n' Kate story. To top it off, at about 7:15 CNN cut in with “breaking news”, which I assumed would be a development in the unfolding Korea story (silly me), instead it was to announce that Will and Kate would be married at Westminster Abbey – note to CNN: if you've already been reporting it for more than an hour, by definition it is not “breaking news”.

On Tuesday morning it was clear that the folks on CNN would much rather talk about fluffy stories like Will and Kate, or the upcoming “Dancing With The Stars” finale than the situation in Korea; it was an unmistakeable sign that CNN had gone from being television's premier news provider to just another peddler of infotainment. To make matters worse, if you ever happen to see their global version, CNN International, it's clear that the folks in Atlanta still know how to do quality, serious news programming, sadly they just don't choose to share that expertise with an American audience. In a more globalized, more interdependent world, it is more critical than ever to have access to sources of quality news. But just when the need is the greatest, the “news” networks decide to feed the viewing public a diet of nonsense.
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