02/08/2008 04:52 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Mystery Machine: Why Can't TV News Get Enough of Natalee Holloway?

I had been in New York City for all of a few days when it became clear
that even a disaster of inconceivable proportions couldn't dull the
finely honed cynicism of the average television news producer.

I was wandering the halls of MSNBC like a lost puppy -- the lack of
familiarity only reasonable given that I was in Miami at the time of
the of the 9/11 attacks and had been summoned north to my new
assignment with almost no warning -- when I came across a couple of my
understandably shell-shocked and bleary-eyed co-corkers. We struck up
a conversation, the three of us doing our best to prop each other up
in the wake of an event that was simply beyond comprehension, when one
of them began complaining about the admittedly inhuman hours we had
all been forced to work since the attacks. Maybe it was the lack of
sleep having its way with me, the result of that 24/7 schedule, but I
suddenly found myself biting my tongue to keep from doling out a
verbal beat-down in the face of what seemed at the time to be the most
horseshit sentiment I'd ever heard.

"Are you kidding me?" I said. "This is what we all signed up for -- a
story that actually matters. We're doing something worthwhile here,
something we can take pride in, instead of the usual baseless crap we
spew out over the airwaves."

I reminded them and myself -- each of us a member of the domestic
producer corps -- of the endlessly looping runway walk of a
frighteningly clownish JonBenet Ramsey, the constant coverage of Gary
Condit's daily microphone duck, the perpetual parade of loathsome,
opportunistic degenerates we would gladly cede the air to in the wake
of one or another insignificant but sensational story -- all in the
name of the almighty Nielsen point. I evoked memories of a time, just
a few short weeks prior to 9/11, when there seemed to be an
industry-wide effort in television news to convince America that it
was about to be eaten alive by sharks.

What this kind of idealism was doing coming from someone like me, I
still to this day have no idea. Like I said -- I needed sleep.

I do know, however, that in the days, weeks and months following the
September 11th attacks, there was a mandate from audiences and within
newsrooms across the country-- one which seemed to herald the death of
stupid news.

That lasted, what, about a year-and-a-half or so?

I bring up that all-too-brief return to noble and dignified form in
television news because, according to her space on the network's
website, Nancy Grace will conduct what I have to assume is her 1,254th
interview with the mother of Natalee Holloway tonight on CNN's
Headline News. The one-on-one, which I suppose could be called
"exclusive" if you stretch the meaning of the word to include just
Nancy and every other willing news organization on the planet, will
allow prime-time cable's most feckless creature the chance to pick Beth
Holloway Twitty's brain in regards to the latest development in the
case of her missing daughter; that would be the re-re-re-interview of
the Netherlands' answer to K-Fed, Joran Van Der Sloot, in response to
the airing of a videotape on Dutch
TV which shows Van Der Sloot admitting that he disposed of Natalee
Holloway's body not long after she literally died in his arms.

Please understand, I in no way mean to diminish the death of Natalee
Holloway; no one would argue that it's unfortunate and tragic. What
I'll gladly diminish though is the amount of network airtime that's
been devoted to Holloway's disappearance, as well as the absurdly
gargantuan level of import placed on the case that's followed it. I
would expect rabid, ambulance chasing dingbats like Nancy Grace and
her slightly more cosmetically enhanced but no less reprehensible
counterpart on Fox News Channel, Greta Van Susteren, to sniff out
every insignificant nugget of this nonsense. The fact that one missing
blonde girl has been afforded such an appreciable amount of coverage
during network "on-hours" however, although not surprising these days,
is just damn ridiculous.

Scooby-Doo and the gang don't get this fired-up about a mystery.

In the few short years since 9/11 and the quiet recommitment to
quality news that immediately followed it, we've witnessed hours and
hours of airtime being hijacked by relative triviality -- from Anna
Nicole to Britney Spears to, yes, even Natalee Holloway. We've watched
Larry Birkhead, Sam Lufti and Joran Van Der Sloot become
pseudo-celebrities -- TV-canonized pop culture idols in the church of
the utterly inconsequential.

It leaves me with a serious longing to feel pride again.

And it'd be nice if it didn't take another monumental tragedy to make it happen.