“Dirty little secrets, dirty little lies, we gotta put our little fingers in everybody’s pie. Love to cut you down to size. We need dirty laundry.”–Don Henley
It hit me like a ton of bricks yesterday. I was on my way to pick up my daughter from school. I like to listen to one of the sports radio stations when I travel to help pass the time. In the span of 45 minutes, I heard a loud siren go off on the radio with the booming announcer voice saying, “Breaking Houston Texans news.”
I braced for the worst. Had David Culley hired Rich Kotite as a consultant? Had Deshaun Watson been traded to the Eagles for a cheesesteak? Maybe Whitney Merciles had his leg amputated in a freak drive by cupcake wars accident. Nope, both of the lawyers in Watson’s long-going legal battle spoke today. Mind you nothing actually happened in the case. They just spoke.
That news required three sirens. That was only in the scant 45 minutes I listened on the radio. A part of this is by design. The siren went off three different times because radio people are taught to reset every conversation every 15 minutes. Most people only listen for that long. They certainly don’t listen to an entire show continuously. That makes sense.
What doesn’t make sense is the hype. Why are the comments by Tony Buzbee and Rusty Hardin breaking news? No court has made any determination. The league hasn’t issued a suspension or even made a statement. He certainly hasn’t been traded and won’t be until the issue is resolved. Talking about it is one thing. You have time to fill and you need to have a conversation. Talking about how much Eric Murray or Myles Straw suck will only fill so much airtime. It is the treatment of all news as BREAKING NEWS that is the problem.
For people in my age bracket, 24 hour news (along with talk radio and other forms of commentary) is a relatively new phenomenon. At least it popped up in our lifetime. Headline News and CNN weren’t there when we were kids. There might have been the occasional call in show with a bloviating blowhard on the other end, but it certainly wasn’t the cultural sensation it is today.
We certainly didn’t have Fox News or MSNBC to contend with. This doesn’t even mention really partisan stuff like OANN, Newsmax, and The Young Turks. When 24 hour news came out I was hopeful. Instead of tiny five minute chunks on the evening news, maybe these networks could dedicate an hour or two to do deep dives into issues.
Instead of just a casual mention of Islam, maybe they could spend a couple of hours talking the differences between Sunnis and Shiites. Maybe they could offer a tutorial on the origins of the religion and how that evolved into the factions and geopolitical strife from today. Maybe a lengthy special about the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians would be huge.
Instead of educating, the radio and television networks have chosen to incite. Of course, this is not universally true. There are people that give terrific background on key issues that could educate the public. The problem is that even with those few people, the education is used as a tool to persuade. It is a powerful tool and an effective tool, but it is still a tool at the end of the day.
Instead, the networks have chosen to amplify conflict and rotate an endless supply of trivia and minutia on a mindless loop. The effects are meticulously planned and savagely executed. Even though the typical audience tunes in for 15 minutes at a time, there is a dedicated audience and they get subjected to the amplification effect. Talk about something for five minutes and I’m informed. Talk about it for four hours straight and I’m outraged.
That’s assuming the very best. That’s assuming that as a news department I have an eye for accuracy and a desire to report the facts. If my aims are somewhat more sinister then I can fill people’s heads with bullshit and get them outraged out of thin air. So, people start raging about big government taking their guns, rationing their meat, and implanting a microchip inside of a miniscule vaccine.
Even if you aren’t peddling bullshit, you are still blowing things well out of proportion. Even the truth in excessive amounts loses context. Even something 100 percent accurate can distort the truth if the significance is overblown. Simply put, outrage and stress are drugs. Like any drug, it loses its effectiveness over time. Our body becomes resistant to it. Only more of it will make an impact. That one cup of coffee doesn’t wake me up anymore. Now I need two. The outrage at 50 percent volume isn’t getting under my skin anymore. You better crank it up to 75 percent.
To borrow from the Watson situation, I posed a question in the station forum about the need for sirens. Simply put, what is going to happen when real news comes down? Will there be a louder siren? Will there be a voiceover destined to give me heart palpitations? How will we differentiate real breaking news from the trumped up crap we have been peddling as “breaking news?” Will any of us possibly give a damn by that point?