Ted Turner was right! The country can handle a 24-hour news station. The problem is that the country can't handle eight or ten television and radio stations that do nothing but news. The advent of the 24-hour news stations may have been the genesis of the slide to a world of the dreaded "analysis paralysis." In an effort to find a way to fill countless weeks, days, hours and minutes of airtime on all news networks, we are now bombarded with irrelevant and unrelated information anytime a new issue hits the airwaves. The process that evolves after a news story breaks immediately starts to deteriorate into a feeding frenzy similar to what we see when blood is poured into the water while filming another spot for SHARK WEEK.
In an attempt to help the public better understand issues and news events, the media searches high and low for all of the experts. After all, seeing that we are well informed is their job. In an attempt to stretch the news coverage, they often find themselves using pseudo-experts. Sometimes the need to stretch news stories is so great, they need to resort to the last and most offensive path which involves interviewing the personal contacts of criminals or victims from twenty years prior to the event.
We have all heard the typical interviews:
Reporter Biff Timefiller- "I'm Biff Timefiller reporting to you from Nowhere, Nebraska with old quasi-breaking news on the Fussmucker murders. By now, since it happened 14 years ago and we are still trying to report about it, the whole world knows Jimmy Fussmucker, age 63, murdered his three neighbors because their dog woke him from a power nap. We are here talking with Jimmy's 98 year old, first grade teacher, Mrs. Noclue. Mrs. Noclue, can you tell our viewers what you just told me about the incident in first grade?"
Mrs. Noclue- "Well, Mr. Timefiller, I think it was back in 1942 at Abe Lincoln Elementary school right here in Nowhere. The class was napping and Johnny Tickmeoff intentionally dropped his reading book- no, it might have been his history book- I can't be sure. Johnny was a real troublemaker. When Johnny dropped his book.... Now that I think about it, it was his math book. Anyway, when Johnny dropped his book, Jimmy jumped up and popped him one right in the nose. I guess we shouldn't be surprised at what he did to his neighbors."
Biff- "There you have it. It appears that Jimmy Fussmucker might have just been a time bomb waiting to explode. This is Biff Timefiller reporting from Nowhere, Nebraska with some non-information on a slow news day. Have nice day!"
This process was a minor annoyance until that fateful day when the world stopped to watch that slow speed chase pitting a white Bronco against 4,021 police cruisers. You might ask, why didn't you just turn it off? I did as often as possible. I turned off the television or switched channels and I put in a CD instead of listening to the radio. I averted my eyes as I passed newspaper stands. I even found myself looking to the left if I was passing a Ford dealership on the right. Even with all of those evasive tactics, I could not escape the constant chatter. "Did you hear what OJ's third cousin, twice removed, on his mother's side said today?" After months of continuous coverage and the four trillionth time I saw the slow-mo chase video, I snapped. I found myself on my knees praying for a change of tragedy. I know it's little sick, but a human being can only take so much of anything.
The problem is not limited to news stations. There is now more coverage of poker on ESPN 2 than all the other sports combined. I hope we will soon be able to get one of the sports networks to cover CANDYLAND and CHUTES AND LADDERS tournaments.
The concerns I have with the constant dissection of the world around us start with the fact that there is no end. News reports focus on what is wrong, who is wrong, what went wrong and how wrong it was. We see very few reports about what is right or ways each of us can help make it right. Though I admit it is a half-hearted attempt, I will make an attempt to be tasteful by paraphrasing the famous quote, 'Opinions are like anal apertures, everyone has one.' The need to fill time turns many news reports into bitch sessions for people with axes to grind. This occurs most often in the political arena, but I point once again to the way the Katrina/Rita coverage played out.
With everybody and his brother spouting off, the coverage of news stories, politics and other issues becomes like the game telephone (maybe ESPN could pick that up). By the time all of this information goes through the system, much of it has become biased, twisted and often wrong. And of course, retractions are on the twelfth page right next to the ad for that ever-elusive free vacation in Florida.
The second problem I have with this challenge is that as we wait, poised for the next piece of misinformation, no action is taken and the problems get worse. The media's job sometimes seems to have deteriorated into a competition to see who can paint the most horrific picture. The more horrific the picture, the longer they can capture the public in an almost hypnotic trance. It creates a state of inaction. This thirst or addiction for even the most useless and senseless information that is being generated by the media is creating a generation of professional spectators. How many times does a problem or challenge need to be "analyzed" before we are motivated enough to take corrective action? At this point the only limit seems to be when the next news or non-news story breaks.
I am ready to do something about this issue. I am proposing term limits. Not term limits on politicians holding office. I am proposing limits on the amount of time politicians, reporters, sports figures, Hollywood personalities, and the media in general are allowed to bitch and complain without offering up and/or participating in solutions. For every hour their mouths are open, for every hour the news stations report, they will only be able to bitch for 50 minutes. I don't think I am being unreasonable. I'm not asking for much. All I am asking for is 10 minutes out of each hour. I know we have more than enough laws, but we really need this one. We need to pass legislation that addresses some of the constant bitching, complaining, finger pointing and just general filling of the airwaves with mind-numbing garbage. While we are at it, we might even want to include a paragraph in the legislation that prohibits Al Sharpton from speaking in public at all...
Even as I am finishing my tongue-in-cheek thoughts, I can hear the cries. "It is our RIGHT to bitch as much as we want." There is no doubt that is our right. However, certainly as important and maybe even more important, we have a RIGHT, coupled with the RESPONSIBILITY to work for a better country, a better state, a better city, a better town and a better community. As a participatory government and society, we are the keepers of the solutions to every problem. It is our energy, our initiative, our passion, and participation that will strengthen our country and the world, not our bitching.