01/06/2006 08:20 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

In the Pipeline

I was worried there for a minute. When CNN started showing live wall-to-wall coverage of landing-gear malfunctions I thought to myself, which is how I do most of my thinking: "But what about police chases? Does this mean landing-gear malfunctions are going to crowd out police chases on CNN?" I needn't have worried: the cable news net has simply moved unceasing coverage of police pursuits to Pipeline, its broadband offering. As I type this I have a teeny popup window tucked to the left of my screen showing a live, silent feed from WAGA Atlanta. It's a shot from a helicopter, or possibly a blackbird or some other large avian lifeform outfitted with a beak-cam, and it's bringing me... LIVE!!... a shot of some police cruisers parked at angles in a condo parking lot. A couple of cops are standing around. There seems to a be a guy cuffed to a gurney. Just to make sure I know what I'm seeing, or what I would have seen if I'd tuned in a few minutes ago, when there was something actually going on, it's bannered "POLICE CHASE" in giant letters. The beauty of this is, it has all the narrative incomprehensibility of a live broadcast feed in one-fifteenth the screen area, with buffering delays besides -- Wow, now how much would you pay? (Answer: $2.99 a month.) Hang on, now the shot's pulling back, which means either that the chopper pilot's got wind of a dramatic development or the bird's been distracted by something shiny. Now I'm looking at an aerial shot of some trucks. I think. They're pretty far away.

I don't want to be the one to say that Pipeline isn't worth three bucks a month, even though as many as three of its four streaming "pipes" frequently seem to feature B-roll so stultifying that even the bored, sleepy assignment-desk crew back at whatever local TV backwater is generating it probably aren't watching. (Hang on, this just in: Gurney guy sits up and looks around... LIVE!!) I mean, come on, it did feature two soundless crow's-nest views of frozen, liquored-up yahoos milling around Times Square for eight-and-a-half hours on New Year's Eve, and you can't tell me that's not good eating. But watching what's going on in Atlanta this morning, which right now consists of a series of desultory zooms in and out of a suburban crossroad, I can't help wondering about the real editorial impetus behind a service like Pipeline. It couldn't be that CNN is hoping that if it pushes raw, unedited police chases to its online subscribers, unmediated by a producer's hand or a tape delay, it may get lucky and stumble on the Holy Grail of the 24-hour news cycle -- the actual death, by car crash or shooting, of an actual criminal... LIVE?? They couldn't be that cynical, right? Because if that were true, I tell you: I believe I would lose my faith in the integrity of cable news.