August 02, 2007

Bridge to Nowhere


Here we go again. Yesterday, a bridge collapsed in Minneapolis. At least four people were killed, scores were injured, and a number are missing. It was a horrible accident and we all feel sympathy for the victims. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families. But why are the cable television news networks devoting every moment of airtime to this story, at the expense of everything else?

This reaction by the cable news networks is reminiscent of other stories, including Baby Jessica (who fell into a well twenty years ago to become the first major story of this type on cable tv), O.J. Simpson, Chandra Levy, the Runaway Bride, Anna Nicole Smith, Paris Hilton, Natalee Holloway (quick, did you even remember her name?), Lacy Peterson, Michael Vicks' dogfighting, and many more. Of course, families who may have loved ones involved in the Minneapolis bridge collapse have a direct interest in knowing what is happening minute by minute. But for the rest of us, once the Department of Homeland Security reasonably established that the bridge collapse was an accident rather than a terrorist attack (and honestly, who thought that a bridge in one of our less populated cities would be the first U.S. terrorist target after 9/11?), the Minneapolis bridge collapse became a more local story.
I am not trying to say that the bridge collapse story is equivalent to the drug habits of celebrities, only that the reaction by the cable networks is similar. Unfortunately, the bridge collapse story has several elements in common with these previous stories: (1) they are human interest stories (2) which cause an immediate visceral reaction, and (3) which make for dramatic television pictures. In this case, those television pictures include emergency activities, such as loading injured people into ambulances and looking for submerged cars. Everyone should ask himself or herself, why would I want to watch such a thing, at the expense of everything else that is going on?

Important news stories affecting all of us have been crowded off the cable networks to make way for the Minneapolis bridge collapse. How many people know from watching cable tv news that six Congressmen have introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives to require the House Judiciary Committee to consider the impeachment of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales? How many people know that this impeachment resolution is part of a Constitutional crisis that threatens to shake the very foundations of the Republic, as President Bush has ordered Executive Branch officials blatantly to ignore subpoenas from Congress, stating that the White House is immune from Congressional oversight? How much cable tv news coverage has there been about the people being raped and killed every day in Darfur, or the tragedies being suffered every day by the people of Iraq? Wouldn't we all be just as compassionate if we suggested that the cable networks break away from the bridge collapse for just a few minutes to let us know what else is going on in our world?

I find myself reluctantly returning to this topic again and again. I guess that's because, like a new born baby and the news, it just happens every day.

7 Comments:

At 3:19 PM, Blogger Aileen said...

I'm not sure the bridge story is the equivalent to any of the other stories you compared it to.

It truly is a tragedy. And much more news-worthy.

The more substantial stories you quoted probably would not have had widespread coverage (or, unfortunately, appeal) even if the bridge hadn't collapsed.

Sad.

 
At 5:00 PM, Blogger media concepts said...

I wrote in the post that the stories are not equivalent in importance. If the other stories would not get widespread coverage no matter what, I'd like to know why. I think it has to do with the 3 factors that I listed. Today the Associated Press is running the following headline under its Entertainment (!) section: "CNN Gets Beat on Video of Collapse." The story can be found here:http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070802/ap_en_tv/bridge_collapse_video_3;_ylt=Ah6g4.7NwwanVzdneUoH_vgE1vAI
Here's the first half or so of the article:

" NEW YORK - CNN scored a coup Thursday when a tipster leaked security camera video of the deadly Minnesota bridge collapse.

The stop-action footage — taken by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — showed a middle section of the bridge breaking apart and rapidly plunging into the Mississippi River, raising a cloud of white dust.

It was the most arresting early image of the disaster, along with the pictures of a school bus teetering on a crumpled section of pavement.

CNN has aggressively sought amateur news footage from viewers, and had many shots from the immediate aftermath of the collapse. But on a story like this, the most sought-after footage is the event itself."


Now that is something to be sad about.

 
At 8:12 PM, Blogger Barbara said...

Like the economy, news is simply a matter of supply and demand. The public want to read about tragedy, let's face it. And every day the news agencies are doing their best to serve them up the best tragedy they can find. Yesterday's bridge collapse will probably be the top story for 3-4 days until all the vehicles have been pulled from the river. Then there will be fresh blood spilled somewhere else to take its place.

Ironically Iraq, where there is plenty of fresh blood spilled every day, has taken a backseat because the public appetite for the war has diminished.

 
At 8:30 PM, Blogger media concepts said...

Have the cable networks reported today that Baghdad has run out of tap water? They already have almost no electricity. It's 117 degrees there and now they have no water! Is that tragic enough for the cable networks? Probably not, unless they can get good video footage.

 
At 7:30 AM, Blogger Ghetufool said...

that's a common ailment with media these days. trp rating is what keep them busy.

no doubt, any kind of accident is tragic. but there are always other, more important news to beam for the masses.

i absolutely support your view.

 
At 8:10 AM, Blogger HomeImprovementNinja said...

Great news for Bush though. Only 5 people dead and it's on all the stations, distracting people from the dozens dying every week in Iraq.

 
At 10:23 AM, Blogger media concepts said...

Ninja -- I noticed that Bush came out within hours this time, saying that it will be the federal government's responsibility to get these people, their familiies and the City of Minneapolis back on their feet. That must have had conservatives cringing, but I guess Bush learned his lesson from Hurricane Katrina.

 

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