The news. Ostensibly, it exists to inform us. But every once in a while, it confuses us. Sometimes it enrages us. On some occasions, it hounds us to the brink of wanting to curl up in a fetal position, forever. But mostly, when the news goes wrong, it goes wrong by raising more questions than it answers. Whenever it does so, Eat The Press editor Jason Linkins and Huffington Post Comedy Editor Alex Leo will have some questions for the news.
At issue today is a report on Anderson Cooper: 360 that sought to totally expose how dangerous it was to send text messages to your friends while driving a car. Now, one would think that this is a pretty simple issue to discuss, provided that everyone knows what a car is and the physical requirements that driving demands. Somehow, CNN came up with this:
And so, questions.
Jason Linkins: Well. That was something! Something almost comically unnecessary and over the top, I think. I imagine you have questions!
Alex Leo: I have many questions, but first: CNN, are you playing fast and loose with some of the words you used to describe your findings? "Interesting?" "Mind-blowing?" Or is your life just really boring?
Jason: A good question! I might be willing to concede "interesting" -- because who knows? Maybe you could be stone-cold bored out of your skull, and this report comes on, and it's shiny, and it shakes you out of your ennui. But my mind is nevertheless very much NOT BLOWN by this report. You know why I think that is, Alex?
Jason: I think it is because these concepts are not that difficult to master. You're driving, you are supposed to have your hands at ten and two, eyes on the road, not drunk or stoned, blah blah blah. Why can't CNN just come on and do a report that reads: "BLARGH! TEXTING AND DRIVING! It's stupid! For Pete's sake, don't do it?"
Alex: I think that more than any Internet site ever could, TV aggregates. They read a story about a girl falling into a manhole while texting, a kid getting into an accident while texting and they are like "DONE. We have 6 segments to do for the next 4 days. Call the CNN graphics team and have them make something virtual so this doesn't look like a public access show in my mom's basement!"
Jason: GREAT POINT ABOUT AGGREGATION.
Alex: But here's the other question in that vein: Does the reporter know what texting is? I mean, at one point he talks about "dialing." Later he talks about "talking." Neither of those things happen while texting. Also, he's old.
Jason: Yes. He's very old! I mean, he's so old that tradition requires him to be SCARED OF TEXTING. "OMGZ, WITCHCRAFT." Here's what I can't fathom about this. They go to these lengths to road test this theory that texting and driving is dangerous. So he gets in this car, and there's a REMOTE CAMERA on the texting, and he's all "WATCH WHAT HAPPENS!" But what happens? It looks to me like he drove his car just fine! I can discern no visible effect on the driving. Can you? Because he seems particularly blown away by the results!
Alex: HAHAHA. Yes. I agree. I can't imagine this is what George Plimpton thought experiential journalism would turn into!
Jason: And after you've gone to all those lengths, why not go to an actual football field and do that second experiment, for real? I watch that part and I think, "ZOUNDS! Texting really does have a dramatic effect on CARTOON CARS."
Alex: YES! Which brings me to my next question: Did anyone ever consider that the driver of that orange cartoon car crashed not because of texting but because there was CNN/Virginia Tech writing on the windshield, obscuring the pretend driver's vision? Why was that necessary? Also, I get that a football field is an impressive distance when talking about a whale's length, but not when talking about driving!
Jason: EXACTLY. I like when the reporter shows the football field and says, "Think of how much can happen in that space!" I think to myself: "Yes! Why, ENTIRE FOOTBALL GAMES CAN HAPPEN IN THAT SPACE." But my next question is this: He makes a big deal about that road test. He texted for 4.6 seconds! Who was he texting? What can you text to somebody in 4.6 seconds? Because if he was just randomly stabbing at the touchpad, he should say so!
Alex: It just took me 10 seconds to text someone "Hi." But in all fairness, I'm pretty sure he was just talking at the phone and pressing buttons, so 4.6 seconds sounds about right.
Jason: So, okay, don't do that. DO NOT PULL OUT YOUR PHONE AND START RANDOMLY STABBING BUTTONS, FOR NO REASON, WHILE DRIVING. I think the story should be, "Do you really want to crash your car, die, and the last thing you texted to your loved ones was 'AGSHHHTTT@@12.'" People will poring over that for years! Like you muttered "Rosebud," or something.
Alex: Completely. And it's also weird that they used so much technology to do a segment on technology with a really basic premise that shouldn't need any support whatsoever: Don't look at other stuff while driving.
Jason: Yes! I have this funny feeling that CNN just requires its producers to use the magic walls a requisite number of times a day. I guess my last question is this. Anderson Cooper says, "I mean that is the interesting thing. You're only driving 25 miles an hour. Obviously, on the highway, you'd be going much faster." HOW CAN HE BE SURE ABOUT THAT? SUMMON THE HOLOGRAMS!