Switch Channels When the Helicopter Arrives

12/10/2007 08:25 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Buying a helicopter in television news changes the way we look at things.

There's an old saying that if all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. That's what the chopper does.

Suddenly, those traffic jams, freeway chases and back-yard fires are a lot more accessible. Because they are accessible and "live," they can make a three-car-pile- up seem like a hostage crisis. The boys in charge of news are buying their toys. They are not paying for the investigative reporter who walks the beat and enlightens viewers.

The "reporter" inside the helicopter, if there is one, is often the weakest of the litter. Usually, the guy who does the traffic reports in the morning. As a result, the chopper shots provide little or no context, no sense of proportion or applicable knowledge, and the noise and intrusion a helicopter often creates adds more chaos just by being there.

In local news, helicopters are all the rage. They fool viewers into believing they are watching something that matters. This phenomenon began with O.J. and his attempted freeway non-chase. Hordes of Americans watched. Consultants took note and began singing and shouting out loud in unison. "Get a helicopter, Eureka! That's the ticket! America will begin watching local news again!"

Los Angeles newscasts take this to such extremes producers and news directors would interrupt "The State of the Union" for a good helicopter shot of a fleeing robbery suspect. If a lie detector test between the president and the other criminal were involved -- I might even be tempted to watch. Now THERE'S a Murdoch moment. But enough about criminals and deception and back to the helicopters that bring you the "news as it happens."

Begin counting the number of helicopter shots in your local newscast. Make a list and then jot down where the camera points its lens. It's usually something of little consequence, and it usually does not deliver knowledge of any substantial meaning. "Boy oh Boy" the anchor gushes, "That grass fire sure is smoky!" No reporter on the scene, No live van, No editing, No play back machines No producers. It's cheap -- it fills up the never-ending news hours -- and most of the time, that's why helicopters are used.

Eventually the helicopters take on a life of their own. They are named like children, and anchors become their advertisers. (Promoting-doting parents.)

Imagine what it feels like to be a 49-year-old anchor woman, who remembers when she use to do real journalism, forced to utter words such as, "As you can see from chopper two, three or four -- that traffic's something! Don't expect the spouse to be home for dinner any time soon." I always pictured five-year-olds in The Bay Area running to their television set salivating and pointing. "Mom, hey Mom, the helicopters on!" I wonder how the media-corporation measures that demographic? Chopper four is brought to you by the latest transformer toy and pampers! Truth is, the media corporation does not care if you are informed, it only cares the television is on. That means ratings and that means advertising dollars.

Where are you Ted Koppel? Can't you grin and poke fun and say in your trademark way, "With all due respect, the American people are getting bamboozled?" Nope, you and the other great ones are gone. Too tired, I guess, to fight the consultants and salespeople now running the Murdoch news. Funny thing about helicopters and high definition and all the toys -- something had to be subtracted to pay for it, and it was investigative reporters who kept the country safe, loved their viewers like neighbors, and took pride in warning them of potential danger. Those few mega-media-corporations who own all the nations conduits of information today, with a few exceptions, cater to commercial interests only. When that happens, the media corporation cannot offend anyone who might buy one of those commercials. My, we are certainly in a mess. This democracy is fragile, and those who decide what Americans should know don't want them to know it, or won't spend the money to provide it.

Who are the heroes in today's self-destructive media -- besides the helicopters? The anchor who can fill 20 minutes with meaningless grass-fire-helicopter-banter. Hum let's see --Ted Koppel or an air-brushed babbling anchor person who earnestly believes the grass fire on the side of the road effecting no one is news.

The bar is now so low, a snail with limbo skills might have trouble sliding under it. Perhaps local news slogans should be "how low can we go and still make money?"

There's a national tug of war for the nation's airwaves, and the good guys, the few newsrooms that hold out for real journalism are losing. Reporters who ask tough, socially responsible questions are often considered pains in the ass by management, sometimes demoted, sometimes fired, and even ignored at press conferences that these days are apparently often faked anyway.

The Rupert Murdochs of this world are controlling what you and your children put in their minds...the king of the reality show who teaches the masses to connive, manipulate, steal, and lie their way to unearned recognition holds all the cards. Perhaps he will buy more helicopters! The forth estate is bankrupt.. Chez Panisse is now McDonalds...and the helicopter shots are just more empty calories.