Sunday, November 23, 2003
I saw something on television this week that has been bothering me for several days, and I thought this might be a good opportunity to get it off my mind, and let it fester in your noggin for a while. I came home for lunch one day this week and turned on MSNBC, expecting to see an update on the terrible suicide bombing in Turkey, or perhaps coverage of the president's visit to London. It's not that I expected coverage of those news stories to aid in the digestion of my leftover turkey, cranberry relish and mayo sandwich. But they are events I care about -- unlike the event I wound up watching.
The image on the screen was an aerial shot of a very small corporate jet taxiing seemingly endlessly on the tarmac at the airport in Santa Barbara, Calif. For a time, it appeared the pilots of the little jet would attempt to taxi all the way to Oxnard as they cruised down every available patch of asphalt at the airport. All the while, news reporters breathlessly speculated on the possibility that this was the plane in which Michael Jackson was a passenger. Jackson was on is way to turn himself in to the sheriff.
When the plane came to a halt, a man got out. Then the plane resumed taxiing. Still, the cable news network stayed with the helicopter shot. I changed to another cable news channel -- same coverage, even though it was immediately apparent to anyone who pays attention to supermarket tabloids, that his eminence, the King of Pop, would never allow himself to be transported in such a modest jet.
Sure enough, the jet that the helicopter-borne camera stayed with for so long was either an anonymous business aircraft or, more likely, a decoy. For soon enough, a gleaming Gulfstar approached the airport, made its landing and parked with its nose buried in a hangar.
Later in the evening, I watched the late news as a helicopter followed a black Lincoln Navigator from the courthouse back to the airport. We got to watch, transfixed, while the cameras captured every left-turn signal the former King of Pop's driver made as he delivered him back to his Gulfstar, which was waiting to take him back to Henderson, Nev. Later, news cameras followed another black Lincoln as it made a bizarrely triumphant tour of the Las Vegas strip. What was that all about?
I wouldn't argue for a second that Michael Jackson's arrest wasn't a news story. Nor do I want to seem callous to the trauma that the victims of alleged crimes go through. But I figure this story was worth about 20 seconds during a newscast.
And I have similar reactions to so many of the stories that cable news programs become fixated with and consequently attempt to sell to their audience.
Is Scott Peterson's preliminary hearing a big news story? Not really. And I don't understand why national news organizations are pumping every lurid detail they can out of a California murder case. Is Kobe Bryant's preliminary hearing a big story? Actually, there has never been a preliminary hearing that constituted a big story. Certainly when Bryant goes to trial, it will be a big story. But maybe not a story that deserves endless hours of earnest analysis by former prosecutors and defense attorneys seeking career building face time in front of the cameras. I don't care why J Lo and Ben broke up. I don't want to know the unknown allegations by Prince Charles' butler, which he is denying even though he won't acknowledge what they are. Why would any American news organization devote even 60 seconds to a story about the British monarchy? I'm not interested in Rosie O'Donnell's spat with her publishers over a magazine that was a misguided monument to her considerable ego in the first place.
I'm really interested to know if Martha Stewart will still be baking individual pumpkin cheesecake tarts for her dinner guests Thursday, and what the centerpiece on her lace tablecloth will look like. I'll bet she makes it herself. However, I really have only a passing interest in Martha's misadventures in the stock market and the related court proceedings. Let me know when there's a verdict.
If you are fortunate enough to get a couple of days off this holiday week, stay away from cable TV news if you can. Instead, take a minute to say a prayer for the boys coming home from Iraq minus one or two limbs. Go skiing to clear your mind and lift your spirits. Indulge in television -- watch the Lions and Packers, or the Buffs and the Huskers. Stand up for your right to snarf a turkey drumstick. And give thanks.