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What CNN Headline News looks like before the election

Here’s an amazing comment on a Washington Monthly thread about cable TV news. I am reprinting it in full:

On Nov. 1, the day before the election, I spent an hour watch Headline News and making a record of how much time they spent on each story. Here is what I came up with:

Commercials 17:30
Cargo Terror Incident 5:15
Negligence lawsuit against 4-year olds 5:00
Calif. Law Against Violent Video Games 4:30
Local Story – Early Retirement Scams 4:30
Jim Leyritz Trial 3:45
Gonzalez Murder Trial in Florida 2:45
Bret Favre 2:45
Teasers 2:30
Elizabeth Smart Case 1:45
“Off the Beaten Path” 1:45
Clark Howard Advice – Car Service 1:30
Election – only about the CNN poll results 1:00
Parents leaving kids in casino parking lot 1:00
Suicide following Webcam Incident 0:45
Arizona Immigration Law 0:30
Airbag Malfunction 0:50
Randy Quaid 0:40
Lancet Study on Alcohol v. Cocaine 0:40
Space Shuttle Launch 0:20
Steam line explosion in Utah 0:20
Indonesia Volcano 0:20

Note this was the day before the election. The ONLY political story involved CNN’s own poll of the President’s popularity and the generic ballot. And they did a 30 second spot on that every half hour.

I would submit that none of this is "real news," except, perhaps, the coverage of the "cargo terror incident," which by then had happened 3 days earlier, and the coverage consisted mainly of experts relating how many holes in our security there are when it comes to air cargo.

Note that the commenter is talking about CNN headline news, not the "real CNN." CNN Headline News does shorter segments which are repeated endlessly. Aside from the context of watching it on the airport or the dentist office or elevator, I don’t think anyone would go out of their way to watch it. The real CNN does have legitimate in-depth shows. It has some recycling and entertainment news, but if you watch long enough, you can find some good in-depth analysis about the Scandal or Disaster of the Day. I particularly recommend Fareed Zakaria’s GPS Podcast.

Related: Jon Stewart and cohorts once  did a hilarious satirical look at what the schedule for a 24 hour news network looks like.

Anecdote: I personally cannot stand these headline news channels. Besides being shallow and repetitive, they have an unusually high amount of advertising. When I lived overseas, they had something equivalent called EuroNews which provided nothing but fancy graphics, weather reports and bland  multilingual headlines. It was mind-numbing and borderline torture.

At a previous job  they had a crazy arrangement where the company cafeteria had TV sets playing headline news (either Fox or CNN) continuously. It drove me crazy! Oddly, the TV audio was piped into the restrooms right across the cafeteria. It was disconcerting because you heard the same story over and over during the day to the point where you could almost recite it. I got to know way more about certain topics (like the Wynona Ryder trial) than I ever wanted to.

We soon  became  used to hearing silly news on the TV whenever  we took a leak or ate lunch. Then a strange thing happened. Real news started to happen. The Iraqi war delivered constant headlines. Yes, the headline channel  blandified everything (you had to, or you couldn’t run commercials for cars and mutual funds), but still it was unsettling. A little  later, Katrina earthquake caught the restroom goers by surprise;  during restroom breaks and lunch hours, we were seeing live feeds of utterly crazy things: helicopters flying over stranded homeowners, African-American residents  accusing the government of indifference.

Suddenly the peculiar fact that the company left the TV on in common areas now became a source of constant stress. I’m sure I was not the only one who wished the TV could just be turned off. Permanently.

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