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We’re playing right into his hands. Does anybody get that?
August 19, 2005 6:54 PM   Subscribe

Jack Cafferty pulls a Jon Stewart --Cafferty, CNN's resident curmudgeon, goes off live on the coverage of the BTK killer. (video here at Crooks and Liars) ... This is a ghoulish exercise on the part of the news media and if ratings are the reason, then I’ll say it again, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves. There was no reason to give this guy a platform to talk to everybody in the country ... With cameras in courtrooms almost everywhere nowadays, what is the media's responsibility?
posted by amberglow (82 comments total)

 
I whole heartedly agree! This has got to stop. (he said as he downloaded the video and scanned the transcript)
posted by hal9k at 7:10 PM on August 19, 2005


HOORAY FOR POKEY!
posted by TwelveTwo at 7:13 PM on August 19, 2005


"There was no reason to give this guy a platform to talk to everybody in the country about thanking the cops and all this garbage that he spewed.

I watched it for two hours."


Okay...
posted by hal9k at 7:15 PM on August 19, 2005


This is the first I've heard from this view point, and I agree. It's just a shame that this BTK shit-bag won't/can't/couldn't get the DP (Death Penalty). I'm sure though, that he will get the other DP while in prison. The effing bastard.
posted by snsranch at 7:16 PM on August 19, 2005


Wasn't court TV set-up so this crap wouldn't displace real stories in the main stream media?

I love how Blitzer uses ratings to justify the coverage. The reverse of the argument being that something that has low rating doesn't deserve coverage. Maybe he's right, that whole gerrymandering thing a few years back hasn't impacted my life at all.

The only thing worse than a politician is a journalist.
posted by 517 at 7:20 PM on August 19, 2005


Blitzer really is a tool. If one of the BTK murders was filmed, he'd be fine with airing it, i bet.
posted by amberglow at 7:23 PM on August 19, 2005


So if the ratings are that high, people must like hearing about the attrocities.

In the introduction to "It's a Man's World", Adam parfrey talks a lot about how those 50s men's pulps, with the all the covers of Nazi's torturing women in their skivvies, are some of the best glimpses into the psyche of the masses. They like to relish in their deviancy while condemning it.
posted by destro at 7:32 PM on August 19, 2005


I used to watch Cafferty when he anchored the local news on WPIX in New York. He seemed pretty decent back then, so I'm glad to see there's at the very least a light of sensibility in him still now that he's gone network.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:37 PM on August 19, 2005


I grew up watching him on Live at Five for years and years, XQUZ -- he's always been outspoken (i think that's why they took him off CNN's morning show)
posted by amberglow at 7:46 PM on August 19, 2005


destro, you're right about that, but the media is the gatekeeper, deciding to show us one thing and not another. This is in a way like the missing pretty white women and shark attacks stuff. What are we not seeing/learning about because this is what they're showing?
posted by amberglow at 7:48 PM on August 19, 2005


Adam Parfrey is a genius.
posted by bardic at 7:51 PM on August 19, 2005


I didn't mind them broadcasting his statement. It was interesting in a way, in showing us a bit of the mind of someone who could do the things he did.

The part where I changed the channel was when they were airing the official statements of all the families. I couldn't help but feel they deserved a certain amount of privacy when expressing that level of grief. But that just may be, I'm very private about such things.
posted by obfusciatrist at 7:54 PM on August 19, 2005


Suppose the BTK sentencing (and indeed, the whole case) had happened in 1955 instead of 2005. I bet a newspaper reporter who wrote about it, in all its grim, weird, awful detail would have been a serious contender for a Pulitzer prize. But we didn't have that layer of separation between us and the event- we saw it unfold in real time, without commentary, and were left to form our own opinions about what just happened.

I'm GLAD I got to see that evil motherfucker yesterday, because honestly, if I'd read about it in the newspaper, I'd never have believed how evil this person really was. I would have been sure that the reporter was embellishing it somehow, making him more appalling than was really possible for schlumpy middle-aged midwestern guy, and I would probably have given Dennis Rader some small benefit of the doubt.

But instead of hearing about his sickening, self-centered ramblings, I SAW it. I HEARD it. And it was worse, on a human level, than I think any description could have done justice. You know, I've read about Ted Bundy, and Zodiac, and John Wayne Gacy, but they've never been quite real to me, whereas BTK was horribly, undeniably real yesterday afternoon as I watched him and fucking trembled with anger.

Likewise, seeing the family members of BTK's victims confront him before the sentencing affected me emotionally in a way I don't think I'll ever forget. I'm not usually a fan of having the victims of a crime be part of the sentencing, but in this extreme case, I think it was totally justified, and I hope those people got some small bit of solace out of it. Again, reading about this would not have been nearly as powerful as seeing it while it happened... that woman Beverly Plapp (?), Nancy Fox's sister, was a biblical force of vengeance. She made a damn serial killer cry! That was a sight I'll just never, never forget.
posted by BoringPostcards at 7:55 PM on August 19, 2005


Wichita needs the business. Some of it was pure grandstanding... DA Nola Foulston requesting that BTK not have access to crayons or drawing materials so that he cannot glamorize his actions on paper to relive the excitement... Nola has been a longtime decade+ excellent DA for the city, some of the BTK stuff was over the top just for the sake of coverage.
I expect local Wichita news anchor Larry Hatteburg will have a book out soon, and with a portion of the profits going to next of kin of BTK victims; which is nice, but also equals another tag line on evening news broadcasts.
posted by buzzman at 8:02 PM on August 19, 2005


"Blitzer really is a tool. If one of the BTK murders was filmed, he'd be fine with airing it, i bet."

While I agree with your sentiment about Blitzer, do you doubt for a moment that the majority of the country would be fine, if not excited about watching such a thing?

Remember..people really get off on getting outraged in this country. Now -that- gets ratings :P
posted by zerokey at 8:03 PM on August 19, 2005


You know what? After reading the comments by obfusciatrist and BoringPostcards, I've changed my opinion. I don't think it's the media's job to shelter us from the evil that exists in the world.

We need to know our enemies.

The fact that this human filth likely took gratification from the broadcast of remarks is regrettable, but at least he can no longer cause any real harm.

As for the argument that he could inspire other attention-seekers to plunge to his depths of depravity, the optimist in me would like to believe the opposite: that anyone so inclined would instead be deterred by seeing in Rader a mirror image of themselves.

And the bottom line is, we're rid of him, and getting Dahmered would be a more appropriate punishment than even a seat in Ol' Sparky.
posted by evilcolonel at 8:11 PM on August 19, 2005


I agreed with Cafferty; I also oppose having victims' families confront the killer in this and all cases. It's pure emotion, and while I appreciate how cathartic it may be for the families, it doesn't belong in a court of law.

Wolf Blitzer, in a recent interview with Bill Clinton (my emphasis):
That's my job. I'm a newsman. That's what I try to do, is make news. And you try to avoid news. That's your job.</blockquote.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:27 PM on August 19, 2005


Isn't Serial Killer behavior unique in that attention to the crime and notoriety are among the goals of the killer? Thus publicizing it is almost the same is helping the fucker accomplish his goals.

I'm not saying these situations aren't newsworthy. I am just saying that when someone wants to draw national attention to themselves through deadly shocking behavior, maybe the media should not aid the criminal in this goal. Even more to the point, maybe the media should drop the coverage once the threat to the public has been removed. Giving this sort of post-arrest coverage does nothing but increase the mythology of the Serial Killers and potentially inspire another to take up arms.
posted by aburd at 8:36 PM on August 19, 2005


I also oppose having victims' families confront the killer in this and all cases. It's pure emotion, and while I appreciate how cathartic it may be for the families, it doesn't belong in a court of law.

What is law if not to provide a catharsis for crimes committed? Frankly, in the measure of his misdeeds the only suitable catharsis would have been to witness the families stoning him to death in a pit.
posted by semmi at 8:47 PM on August 19, 2005


Ok, I agree that it was a circus, but with the media asleep at the wheel, blinding Americans with the news equivalent of a Big Mac while their government operates in the shadowlands of basic decency, is that all he had to say? So, if CNN continued with programming as usual, he'd be peachy? You run with the scum for a living, Jack. Your tantrum is a step in the right direction, but like the BTK killer's tears, it ain't earning you a spot in my good books.
posted by ori at 8:59 PM on August 19, 2005


We need to know our enemies.
posted by evilcolonel at 8:11 PM PST on August 19 [!]


If CNN covered a theft from the cookie-jar instead of this murderer, would you thank them still? The severity ratio between a stolen cookie and a serial killer is roughly parallel to a serial killer and your government's international exploits. Rumsfeld never gets 48 hours in the spotlight. He still poses a threat. This guy doesn't.
posted by ori at 9:04 PM on August 19, 2005


Jack Cafferty = [(Bill O'Reilly + conscience) + (Andy Rooney - rambling)]/ 2
posted by jonp72 at 9:15 PM on August 19, 2005


There might have been some value in letting Americans see what a twisted screw-bag BTK is. The might have been some value in airing it live.

But this, shark attack coverage, Michael Jackson day-to-day, car chases, etc. ARE NOT NEWS. None of this will ever be in a history book. None of it will impact any decision your city, state or country will one day make. None of it matters to any degree beyond morbid curiosity.

News channels need to look in the mirror and say WE ARE NEWS CHANNELS. We are not E! We are not Court TV. They need to ask, for everything they put on air, is this worthy information, or is this merely entertainment. I think BTK was on the air for our amusement, not for our education. And that IS sick.

Especially when you consider how much truly important stuff is underreported in mainstream news.
posted by JWright at 9:21 PM on August 19, 2005


People are fascinated by serial killers. There's something about human nature that makes go "Wow. Huh." when someone offs several other people. I'm reminded of Eddie Izzard's bit about how if you kill one person, you go to jail. If you kill ten people, you go to Texas and they hit you with a brick. If you kill twenty people, they put you in a big room and stare at you through a tiny glass window. And if you kill hundreds of people, no one can deal with it. It's almost "You killed eight million people? Well done, you!"

People can't fathom how this happens, which is why we're drawn to it. I'll admit to being attracted to the press that BTK got when he was arrested and read more than was probably necessary to try and somehow grasp the situation. But this... this media circus is too much even for me. My husband had the CNN coverage on for a while and I couldn't stand to look at it. Seems to me that this is the modern day equivalent of dragging the criminal out to the town square and reading out his crimes to the waiting throng. And it's just as disgusting.

I wonder how this is going to play out in terms of "serial killer lore" - are BTK's fifteen minutes of fame going to be over quickly, or are people still going to be interested in this in a hundred years a la Jack the Ripper?

Seems to me that having all the information on TV 24 hours a day takes away a lot of the mysterious element that attacts people. There's certainly enough to go for months, but this guy's not going to get any sort of lasting fame because people aren't going to be interested in what they've already heard.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:22 PM on August 19, 2005


evilcolonel: I don't think it's the media's job to shelter us from the evil that exists in the world. We need to know our enemies.

This is my feeling exactly. Even if Rader wanted attention, that's irrelevant- he would imagine himself at the center of attention even if he were locked in a casket. Fuck him. We have to do what we have to do as a society to inform ourselves and therefore, hopefully, protect ourselves. It's a cliche, but I totally believe in it: sunshine is the best disinfectant. I know we'll never be able to predict the behavior of diseased minds like Rader's, but maybe hearing a monster like him talk will remove the naivete of some future victim... when a man is gagging her family and saying "I won't kill you," she'll know better.
posted by BoringPostcards at 9:33 PM on August 19, 2005


As long as CNN is the topic, anyone notice how since a worm screwed up all their computers and prevented them from airing their regular programming, they made the minor worm outbreak that got them the breaking news instead, for hours.

Wolf Blitzer: "Don't open an attachment called boat-zor dot exec, that's "b-o-t-z-o-r.exe"; "Microsoft is calling this a 'low risk' threat, we don't know what exactly that means..."
posted by abcde at 9:43 PM on August 19, 2005


There's no need for cameras in the courtrooms at all. There's a big difference between keeping tabs on what the judiciary is up to and having available every salacious detail. Added to which, few non-legal persons seem to know what to make of many details of court, from rules governing testimony and evidence to prosecutorial conduct -- and everybody thinks they do, so this probably does even more to throw (without justification) the administration of justice into disrepute.
posted by dreamsign at 9:57 PM on August 19, 2005


Hear! Hear!

Thank you Jack Cafferty.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 9:58 PM on August 19, 2005


This would be as good a place as any to ask:

Why the fuck do people encode things in Windows Media Video format? Is there any REAL reason they do this, sadism? What is it!?
posted by odinsdream at 10:05 PM on August 19, 2005


What I found fascinating and disturbing is the part where he made corrections and thanked people, as if he were still chairing a church council meeting.
He still doesn't get it. And I'm glad he will be kept in a cell for the rest of his life, because his execution would be a chance for him to take the spotlight one more time.
If he dies an old man in prison, he'll rate a paragraph on page 5 and sink into obscurity.
posted by 2sheets at 10:07 PM on August 19, 2005


I hate acceptance speeches.
posted by iamck at 10:18 PM on August 19, 2005


CourtTV exists for this sort of thing. That's its purpose. Was CNN short of other things to run that day?
posted by clevershark at 10:22 PM on August 19, 2005


The severity ratio between a stolen cookie and a serial killer is roughly parallel to a serial killer and your government's international exploits. Rumsfeld never gets 48 hours in the spotlight. He still poses a threat. This guy doesn't.

Just thought this beared repeating.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:31 PM on August 19, 2005


Put me in whatever group it is that thinks that CourtTV should air this shit, and everybody else should just say "the BTK killer was sentenced to ____ today."

A confessed murderer's sentencing hearing isn't news. I don't care how fucked up he is, or how compelling it is. It isn't news.

Lost is pretty good television too, and it probably gets good ratings, but it sure as hell doesn't belong on CNN. I see no difference between airing episodes of Lost, and airing court porn.
posted by mosch at 11:09 PM on August 19, 2005


It appeared that people actually watched this, hence Wolf's question re: ratings etc. Did anyone commenting here watch the sequence in question as it was broadcast?

I ask this because I'm not in the habit of watching CNN and it didn't make the news where I live in Canada; I'm wondering about the impact of the orginal broadcast and whatever rebroadcast occurred on the local six o'clock news.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 11:23 PM on August 19, 2005


Some of it was pure grandstanding... DA Nola Foulston requesting that BTK not have access to crayons or drawing materials so that he cannot glamorize his actions on paper to relive the excitement... Nola has been a longtime decade+ excellent DA for the city, some of the BTK stuff was over the top just for the sake of coverage.

i'm a bit late saying so, but buzzman nails the reason this happened. but the real question is, why did we watch it?

i think grapefruitmoon hit that one pretty squarely. i admit that i read some of the CNN.com stories on the guy and felt a little weird doing so -- just like i always feel when observing acts of complete, senseless depravity. (i'm sure i'm not the only 24-year-old who had no idea who the Manson family was until i took it upon myself to Google it, and then ended up reading the whole horrid saga.)

i think that there's a lot of reasons why we read and watch this stuff -- speaking as a culture, whether we approve of viewing it or not -- and won't waste time speculating on it.

but i agree with Cafferty. a serial killer website is fine. that lets me get some insight that i think is pretty important -- for the same reason that i would suppress histories of Nazism. i think that people need to confront evil face-to-face.

that said, this whole media circus was fulfilling this guy's sick fantasies. the reason i felt really guilty and dirty watching it wasn't just because i was sickened by it like i was when i read about the Manson family -- i could tell, palpably, that by participating in the spectacle, i was doing what Dennis Rader wanted. my fascination viewing him was part of his enjoyment of murdering those people in the way that he did. that made me complicit.

really, i feel that i should have had the personal wherewithal to just turn it off and surf to another site. and that's my deal. but Cafferty is most definitely right. the media could have done better than to give this guy a stage to grandstand on. it was wrong. disgusting, revolting -- flat out wrong.

not that i'm the least bit surprised. it's not as if disaster porn is a new thing on CNN or anything.
posted by spiderwire at 11:59 PM on August 19, 2005


**wouldn't suppress histories of Nazism. (so sue me, it's late.)

PS - dynamic preview sucks because it makes me lazy.
posted by spiderwire at 12:00 AM on August 20, 2005


I watched it for two hours. It's nonsense. It doesn't belong on television.

Irony of his misspeaking aside, I agree with him.
posted by sourwookie at 12:39 AM on August 20, 2005


Cafferty's general sentiment is absoloutly correct, but dosen't anyone else think that he sort of undermines his own point when during his rant about how wrong it was to make the BTK dude the centre of attention, he asks viewers to respond to an online poll about how Rafferty should spend his days?

And for that matter, dosen't posting a link to Metafilter, arguably one of the most widely read sites on the internet, about this BTK moron and his need for attention, do exactly the same thing?

Ultimately, I suppose that it is hard to draw a line between what is in the public interest and where the public interest can de-evolve into morbid entertainment, but clearly given the nature of this case, less would surely have to equal more, no?
posted by Effigy2000 at 12:47 AM on August 20, 2005


but the real question is, why did we watch it?

Because it was suddenly on channels that my digital guide said should be other things. When I realized what it was, I turned the frickin thing off.
posted by dreamsign at 1:31 AM on August 20, 2005


Those who are outraged by the media should realize that they get what they pay for. As long as you're willing to mooch free broadcast news coverage off of corporate advertisers, or accept whatever default news channels that the cable company throws in with basic cable, that's what you'll continue to see. You can berate the media for not doing their job, but "their job" is whatever their employers tell them it is. Freedom of the press is for those that own one.
posted by robla at 1:35 AM on August 20, 2005


CNNMSNBCFOXNEWS sucks. They haven't cared about the public service aspect of their mission for years. Cable news is a wasteland of lies, bluster, and government-approved deception. Broadcast news doesn't even exist anymore. If Cafferty meant what he was saying, he'd do a Novak: take off his mic, call the whole thing bullshit, and walk away. (Just like what I did with my television a few years ago, sans the mic part.) I am always amused when they try to distinguish between business as usual whoring and more pornography. And the Rumsefeld comment was spot on.
posted by realcountrymusic at 3:17 AM on August 20, 2005


When the reporters are too lazy to research a real news story, they investigate themselves and report on the reporting. It doesn't mean anything. They don't care what people think, they only care what people watch.
posted by Jatayu das at 6:31 AM on August 20, 2005


I didn't watch any of it, myself. I had other things to do.
posted by jscalzi at 6:35 AM on August 20, 2005


We have to do what we have to do as a society to inform ourselves and therefore, hopefully, protect ourselves.

This sounds a great deal like Durkheim's explanaton for the 'expiation' of crimes that fall into the taboo category, but I am not sure that coverage of this sort provides anything like the deterrent effect you seem to be hoping for. Not that I am a strict Durkheimian, but like him I think it is more likely that this kind of thing has a social function of encouraging the solidarity of the rest of society. Nonetheless, I can't reallly see how this atrocity exhibition helps any except those immediately affected by the crimes. What do people a thousand miles away get? We know serial killers exist and that their crimes are horrible, but there are all sorts of horrible crimes committed every say that hardly draw our attention for two hours, let alone two minutes. I tend to agree with Cafferty that this is simple goulishness, whatever positive spin you might want to put on it.
posted by Dr_Johnson at 6:54 AM on August 20, 2005


I lost respect for TV news when I spent an hour at a relative's house watching Peter Jennings report over and over again that there were no new developments in looking for Kennedy Jr's plane. I felt sorry for the poor guy spending his afternoon interviewing everyone who had ever written anything about the Kennedys.

How did the Eddie Murphy "The death of Buckwheat" SNL sketch go?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:21 AM on August 20, 2005


Do we really need wall-to-wall 24-hour outpourings of sensationalistic crap pandering to our deepest fears and basest instincts masquerading as news? I include this and the entire sensationalistic genre of missing white women, etc. ad nauseam. Is this appropriate fare to be in prime time news so that we can riddle our kids minds with horrific nightmares? People thought Janet Jackson's tit was traumatic and troubling for their kids, but this crap is ok?

Sure people are often curious about some of these stories, I sometimes am too. I would be fine with optional news specials or documentaries that included some thoughtful coverage and analysis. Put these stories on Nightline, Primetime, 60 Minutes, Court TV, or a late night special. But this baseless diddling of our raw emotions in the precious little time allocated to news programming is irresponsible. What Ori and JWright said in spades. Crime porn - the new opiate of the people.
posted by madamjujujive at 7:45 AM on August 20, 2005


I am sick of hearing my colleagues repeat details of serial murder around the water cooler and loudly condemning criminals. Gosh, people who rape and kill are bad? Duh.

This fascination is just blood lust, and I find the excuse, 'I'm just learning about the enemy' pretty lame. What exactly are you learning? What can you do about it? Did you think these people might just be misunderstood?

The job of news isn't to show the public what they want, it's to show the public what is going on in the world. You can report the BTK trial without revelling in it and ignoring things like, say your government lying to you in order to start a war.
OR, perhaps, the growing civil war in Iraq. But that's not sexy. Where's the masturbation in that.

I know I sound like a troll, but the fascination with this guy seriously creeps me out. Thank you for not telling his victims' last words, how they suffered. It's just one more violation.

Can't we just remember victims as people?
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:53 AM on August 20, 2005


And for that matter, dosen't posting a link to Metafilter, arguably one of the most widely read sites on the internet, about this BTK moron and his need for attention, do exactly the same thing?
Well, that's why i didn't link to CNN's coverage of him or their transcript of the coverage of him (or Cafferty) speaking or their video. I tried to keep it away from the killer himself and his words, and away from CNN so they wouldn't get more hits/ratings bec of it, which would bolster their case--something i didn't want.

I don't know why violence/sadism/murder is ok as viewing entertainment--it's been that way for a long time with regular tv, but not news. I don't even know if CNN ran a warnng or disclaimer about the guy, like they did whenever they showed Abu Ghraib images.
posted by amberglow at 8:16 AM on August 20, 2005


ori got it. The reason we are fed this stuff is that Megacorpnews (which includes every single "news" outlet on TV) does not exist to inform us about stuff we need to know. Its mission is to tell us what Megacorp wants us to believe, while feeding us advertising for stuff they want us to buy. Some newspapers are very slightly better. As far as news outlets go, the spectrum is very narrow, and weighted heavily to the BS end of the scale.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:20 AM on August 20, 2005


Coming in as someone in journalism school, you guys are hilarious. First off, the new "pulling a Jon Stewart" is pretty funny (woulda been a Network "Mad as hell/not gonna take it anymore" reference).
Second off, this whole "Why do they even show this to us" hand wringing and moaning is great. You guys do know that local news (and national news) is a saturated market that has to compete with an ever more fractured entertainment environment, and that the ubiquity of information has led to its cheapening, right? So what's a news station gonna do? They're gonna run yellow, and count on the fact that the condemnation from the punditry will raise awareness of their programming and "outraged citizens" either aren't the ones watching or are watching in secret.
But hey, continue with the "I hate the mainstream media" circle jerk. It warms my heart.
posted by klangklangston at 9:03 AM on August 20, 2005


It's ok with you that news even thinks it has to compete with entertainment? and does?

nice words from a future journalist--i won't look to you to investigate misdeeds or expose wrongdoing, or even to inform the public--Al Capone's vault is your future i guess (and ours), sadly.
posted by amberglow at 9:11 AM on August 20, 2005


also, TimeWarner owns CNN--it should be a loss leader, not competing with the entertainment channels also owned by them for viewers. It's idiotic--you might as well kill it off then entirely.
posted by amberglow at 9:14 AM on August 20, 2005


Costas Refuses to Host Show on Holloway , film at 11.

How is this news? It's just hurting humanity.
posted by Balisong at 9:36 AM on August 20, 2005


Cafferty rocks, always has.

I only regret having to listen to Wolf Blitzer AT ALL. That whiny hysteric pompous gasbag continues to waste the electrons that transmit his hideous narcissism.
posted by reality at 9:55 AM on August 20, 2005


What amberglow said. It's like saying that screwdrivers should have to compete with iPodlings, or motorcycles compete in the same market as family station wagons. Since cable has eliminated the constraint of space in the market, it's now possible for networks to compete within a given market segment rather than accross market segments.

Personally, I don't hate mainstream media. I hate the way in which television news has abandoned accuracy and analysis for ratings and scoops. But then again, this is nothing new: Billy Wilder hit it with Ace in the Hole more than 50 years ago.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:58 AM on August 20, 2005


Aside from the election results, I haven't watched the news since 9/11. There is no reason to; TV news exists solely to make the network money through selling advertising. That is it. It is not to inform (Jim, I'm standing here in the middle of the storm and as you can see it is really coming down now!) or educate (Learn the 10 ways your family dog may be killing you!) or even to provide you with news (Next up we'll show how an Iowa Farmer turned 30 years worth of pennies into a pacemaker for his mother.)

I get all the news I need from the newspapers, magazines, and the internet. TV "news" is a joke.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 10:09 AM on August 20, 2005


" It's ok with you that news even thinks it has to compete with entertainment? and does?

nice words from a future journalist--i won't look to you to investigate misdeeds or expose wrongdoing, or even to inform the public--Al Capone's vault is your future i guess (and ours), sadly."
Why? I'm not in broadcast. I'm part of the dying gasp of print journalism. Look to me for breathless exposés completely obscure portions of municiple code.

Look, I realize that you get off on being willfully naive, but no one does journalism for free. So, your options are to fund it through the government, which gives us Pravda on one side and the bland stylings of Ken Burns on the other, or you're going to fund it through the private market. Since the value of any one bit of information is so low (especially with the "information wants to be free" crowd), you're going to need to get people to pay for your newsgathering.
Any funding brought into the journalism business is going to distort the type of journalism going on. The forces that motivate TV stations (to deliver the most eyeballs) are the same ones that motivate them to show you ten household products that may eating your children from inside out.
And the "Well, things certainly have changed!" refrain about how much worse things are now takes an amazing ignorance of the past. I mean, hell, newspapers started the Spanish American War. (While it's possible to argue that similar thigns happened with Iraq, the overt intent was really different).
And the fact that you're on this website, which aggregates news stories from all over, essentially free-riding on the mainstream media for a good number of stories, whil simultaneously decrying the sensationalism of the news is fucking ridiculous.
"It's ok that news even thinks it has to compete..."
I understand where you're going. But see, it's voluntary to watch the news. Being informed is like taking civic medicine, but a medicinal model of information distribution fails when you realize that most people don't like the taste of medicine. You show me a model where the news doesn't have to compete with entertainment for dollars, chief.
It's an old target, it's an easy target, and it's not one that you're doing any great justice to. It's like arguing that people should have to drive tiny hybrid cars everywhere. It might be better for the environment, but hey, most people want SUVs. How are you going to keep companies in business, employing people, if you say that they can only make things that are good for people, not what people want? The veniality of those desires is completely secondary to the fact that Ford's gonna make SUVs because that's where the profit margin is.
posted by klangklangston at 10:45 AM on August 20, 2005


On Preview: Expanding on klangklangston

This fascination is just blood lust
and
It's ok with you that news even thinks it has to compete with entertainment?


All private broadcasting is supported almost entirely by selling advertisements. (With the exception of subscription channels, of course). So, in order to keep your network running, you've got to be sure that your airtime has enough value to pull in substantial advertising dollars. For example, look at the difference between daytime and primetime advertising. During the day, lawn mower, commemorative coin collection, home loan, and veterans prescription plan ads run almost constantly. And these ads tend to have a low production value. As the day goes on into prime time, the production value of the ads increases in relation to both the desirability of the airtime and the wealth of the sponsors. New cars get advertised during prime time as well as the slick and flashy ads for alcohol. The ads that make people giggle and ooh and aah, the ads with the most production value are broadcast during the most valuable airtime. But this is obvious. We're all familiar with the "best ads during the Super Bowl" syndrome.
But, this is all only a reflection of who's watching TV at a certain time. If every network could come up with material of interest for afternoon timeslots, they'd be able to make more money. That is, they'd be broadcasting material that people would be sure to watch and, since people are watching, they'd be able to mark up advertising time.

Strictly entertainment networks like TNT, USA, and the like are basically stuck with rebroadcasting shows like Law and Order during the day. The only kind of network that commands a 24 hour audience, the only kind of network that people tune into during work hour (at work, even) are the news channels. Places like large offices and airports often have one or more televisions tuned into a network like CNN. But for most of the day, it's usually just the stock-ticker and the day's top headlines. But, since advertising is sold in advance, even if some major news breaks during the afternoon schedule, you're still likely to see the lawn mower ads and the home loan refinancing commercials during the breaking planecrash/earthquake/bombing coverage. However, there are instances when breaking news can be scheduled. Like, press conferences, presidential speeches, the Jackson trial, and this BTK hearing. If a news network can say, "We'll be covering something that everyone will be watching during the afternoon" they can make more money.
This isn't, nor should it be, really shocking. Television, despite whatever mask it might wear, is a strictly money-making endeavor. And, really, it always has been. The only reason that any "news" is on TV is because people will watch it and it'll make some money. I mean, the only reason there are newspapers is because people will buy them. Of course, there are a few free newspapers here and there but they rarely have the scope and coverage of a major subscription/fee service. Our money (or our interest translated into advertising dollars) empowers news agencies to acquire the material we want with the depth and scope that we want. ("We" as in a larger demographic. Not "we" as in the MetaFilter audience)

Film and television have poured more fiction into the world than likely has ever existed before and with a broader scope. The consumption of this century's fiction requires little or no intelligence or literacy. Just turn on the TV or go to the movies and you're supplied with an entertaining story. We've become utterly saturated with fiction. I'd guess that the critical saturation coincided with the reality TV boom that started a few years ago (and can definitely be traced back to the emergence of game shows). So much of our culture had become defined or identified with whatever brand of fiction we subscribed to that we developed (or became reinterested in) a thirst for some sort of authenticity. But not any sort of genuine authenticity, like dealing with actual horror in the world, rather an entertaining authenticity that doesn't challenge or burst our bubble of fictional entertainment. Nowadays, we prefer our fiction a little grittier, maybe a little more shocking, and with a twist of accuracy or realism (but certainly not real), and marginally more complex and "human" characters. (Once, it was the good Hero doing good things, but now it's become a Protagonist who we're not sure we really like all the time who does the right thing, usually). And while media based on fiction can certainly provide for these tastes, in forms like Reality TV, COPS, and any other movie or series that has that taste of grittiness, the networks and mechanisms that are established for News broadcast is in a perfect position to offer up these new tastes and preferences without the expense of fabricating sets or hiring actors. All that the News has to do is go out into the world, record its activity, and sanitize it just enough that we can ingest as entertainment.

The News provides us with the "unreal realism" that we've grown to expect from our entertainment. Like any reasonable business interested in acquiring a large market share, they've adapted to the public taste. The only problem we have with that is the mask of journalism they wear and the conflict that arises from that.
In general, I'd guess that the MetaFilter community seeks out alternative or non-commercial News, realizing that commercial news agencies only really operate under a strict truth-to-entertainment ratio. But the larger public seems to have little problem with the conflation of journalism with entertainment and doesn't realize that they've transformed the kind of power that a major news network has. A journalistic endeavor like Watergate can't happen nowadays not because the government has learned its lesson and is more careful, but because the public has come to desire the safety, reassurance, and unreality of entertainment that it does from its News sources. The media won't give us a Watergate until it'll get the right ratings. It wasn't some vast right wing conspiracy that got Clinton impeached. It was the fact that sex sells. There were naughty details to be sold, and tawdry encounters to be exposed. It was a plot twist in a soap-opera.
This BTK killer is another villain in our favorite series. We've got a few more major characters out there but he's a sort of side story, a miniseries break from our usual conflict.

Utimately, we're not victims of some massive mind control conspiracy perpetrated upon us by corporate media and the government. It's much more disheartening than that. The public has done it to itself. The collective taste is being given what it wants and it's really nobody's "duty" to change that. The duty of commercial media is to give us what we want, just like a restaurant serving food.
posted by Jon-o at 10:55 AM on August 20, 2005


Before I saw this thread I had never heard of the "BTK" killer.
posted by notclosed at 11:05 AM on August 20, 2005


klangklangston: It might be better for the environment, but hey, most people want SUVs. How are you going to keep companies in business, employing people, if you say that they can only make things that are good for people, not what people want? The veniality of those desires is completely secondary to the fact that Ford's gonna make SUVs because that's where the profit margin is.

Certainly, Ford makes SUVs. It also makes minivans, compact cars and fleet vehicles because it knows that the market is not just SUVs. If there is a market for the Weather Channel, then certainly there should be a market for good news reporting in the public interest.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:06 AM on August 20, 2005


How would a subscription-based news channel do, anyway? If HBO can kick the ass of all the rest of television with a fraction of the budget but without being behollden to advertizers, could a news channel do the same?
posted by Space Coyote at 11:14 AM on August 20, 2005


Then why is it that there used to be separate news divisions at networks and now they're just part of the entertainment divisions? what happened to the idea that it really was civic medicine, and added class to a network, and that they had a responsibility to the public? What about broadcasting rules and laws that brought us things like a mandated amount of public affairs programming and some set time for children's shows, and family-friendly programming? TV news was different, and it's changed not to serve the public but to serve the owners (having serious news used to serve the old owners well--see CBS). Ted Turner as well knew he was serving the public with CNN. It's a fool's game to compete with entertainment, and even Fox only averages a million or 2 viewers during prime time. (and Cafferty wasn't speaking on prime time, but during the afternoon block)
posted by amberglow at 11:18 AM on August 20, 2005


Thursday's cable news ratings

who do they think they're kidding? they know they can't compete with entertainment eyeballs--either in primetime or during the day. Seinfeld reruns and Wheel of Fortune do better than all of them combined.
posted by amberglow at 11:21 AM on August 20, 2005


amberglow: I think a part of that "public service" directive was in part due to the fact that networks "leased" their bandwidth from the government. A part of the strings attached to that included some obligation to public service programming. These days we are lucky if a local radio station will pre-empt programming for weather warnings.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:36 AM on August 20, 2005


grapefruitmoon:
'People are fascinated by serial killers. There's something about human nature that makes go "Wow. Huh." when someone offs several other people. I'm reminded of Eddie Izzard's bit about how if you kill one person, you go to jail. If you kill ten people, you go to Texas and they hit you with a brick. If you kill twenty people, they put you in a big room and stare at you through a tiny glass window. And if you kill hundreds of people, no one can deal with it. It's almost "You killed eight million people? Well done, you!"'

Yeah, I really think that we're fascinated by figures like BTK because they're "safe" manifestations of evil. We want to think there's an individual person that is typical of all the brutality, selfishness and amorality we see going on in the world.

We see how shitty the world can be sometimes, and it's stabilizing to picture an individual cartoon character like BTK or Manson, kind of like how someone around during WWII might picture the enemy as a buck-toothed, slant-eyed Japanese stereotype with a dagger behind his back, because that's easier than facing the much more complex reality.

You can focus on some atypical, over-the-top psycho like BTK and say, "Yes. That's evil." Then ignore the casual, every-day evil displayed by Afghan warlords, American politicians, CEOs, the abusive husband who lives next door to you. All that jazz.
posted by brundlefly at 11:38 AM on August 20, 2005


Kirkjob: Yeah, Ford also makes compact cars, but their model is skewed toward the SUVs. Perhaps it was a bad analogy in total, because with media you have far more choice. Don't like TV news? Read The Atlantic or The New York Times or watch C-SPAN or listen to NPR or read the AP wires off the internet. If you do like cable news, hey, there are plenty of stations that are happy to feed you your info or your entertainment news or whatever. There's a reason that A Current Affair is still on the air. And that Entertainment Tonight still kills in the ratings. Why should CNN do something that might be better for the public but less profitable? Their internal responsiblity is to make money.
posted by klangklangston at 11:41 AM on August 20, 2005


"It's a fool's game to compete with entertainment, and even Fox only averages a million or 2 viewers during prime time. (and Cafferty wasn't speaking on prime time, but during the afternoon block)"
Wrong. The reason that news channels work versus entertainment is that they can still bring in a decent number of eyeballs while being CHEAP AS FUCK to make. Viewers don't care about classy anymore. And having Douchebag and Colmes on in front of a table with some graphics costs less than scheduling reruns of The Fresh Prince of Belle Aire.
Kinda like how newspapers are one of the most profitable industries in America right now, even as they're hemoraging readers and influence. Over the last 20 years, it's gotten about ten million times cheaper to run newspapers, and people are just being laid off left and right.
Again, you keep arguing that the news should be medicine, but you're in the minority. Maybe you'll get your own station that caters to your bias, but the mainstream news that has massive influence due to its size has more interest in sensationalism than anything else.
posted by klangklangston at 11:47 AM on August 20, 2005


Cafferty is a fucking prick. He drags his decrepit old corpse up on his soapbox every morning, and with false righteous indignation, he rants like the bitter old man that he is. If he got it right on this issue, he gets it wrong many, many more times.

I only watch CCN American Morning when I'm stuck on the road in a crappy business hotel, and it's the only morning news alternative that doesn't make me completely sick. But Cafferty is a goddamn hypocrite, he rants and raves like he's above it all, but he's every bit part of the hype and "infotainment" machine that Wolf Blitzer.
posted by psmealey at 12:26 PM on August 20, 2005


they took him off the morning show, ps--they've dumbed it down even more with Miles "spaceboy" O'Brien.
posted by amberglow at 12:39 PM on August 20, 2005


I watched it for two hours. It's nonsense. It doesn't belong on television.

Um... he's a journalist. He needs to stay informed, and know what he's talking about. This is not hypocritical, not one bit.
posted by ORthey at 12:42 PM on August 20, 2005


psmealey : "But Cafferty is a goddamn hypocrite, he rants and raves like he's above it all, but he's every bit part of the hype and 'infotainment' machine that Wolf Blitzer."

Not at all. The "critical self-reflection" by the media is just the latest gimmick. I doubt he actually buys it, hence not a hypocrite.
posted by Gyan at 12:52 PM on August 20, 2005


I guess you have a point, Gyan, that it's a gimmick. But, if he's not a hypocrite, then he's just a tool.

The point others have made, and that I agree with, is that it doesn't cost him anything to be smug and say "we ought to be ashamed of ourselves." He's not really taking a stand; he's merely trying to get at that Bill O'Reilly demographic that he's paid to reach.

The Jon Stewart appearance on Crossfire is a false analolgy. Stewart took a chance by going on to a "news" show, being purposefully unfunny and risking being made a fool of. Cafferty is actually paid for saying what he said to Blitzer. So, whether you think he's being authentic or not almost doesn't matter, he doesn't have any real skin in the game, and at the end of the day, he's just playing the role he's paid to play.

He'll be back next week to be righteously indignant about something else.
posted by psmealey at 1:09 PM on August 20, 2005


I am quite amused by klangklangston's reluctance -- or inability -- to understand that there is an enormous difference between a journalist (ie, one who understands what's news and what isn't, what's interesting and what isn't, what's vital information for the public and what isn't) and a corporate person whose job is trying to push actual journalists to make more profit, more profit, more profit for the corporation

one thing is doing all one can, as a journalist, to keep one's paper -- or tv station -- financially in the black without becoming a clown in the process. prostituting your work to the lowest, crappiest common denominator because you'll get more advertising pages or spots is a bean counter's state of mind, not a journalist's. and, as I said, a perfect recipe to be seen as untrustworthy by readers and viewers.

klang seems unable -- or unwilling -- to understand that a newspaper -- or a tv network -- in their readers/viewers eyes are essentially about one thing, in the end: credibility.
klang's "money talks, bullshit walks" recipe is perfect in the very low-credibility system that right now gets very little respect from Americans, and usually deservedly so.

if you crave entertainment so much, go write sitcoms -- God knows it's a healthy business. journalists are supposed to care a bit more about out of fashion stuff like credibility, and actual news.
posted by matteo at 2:29 PM on August 20, 2005


and by the way:

Viewers don't care about classy anymore.

you have a terrible opinion about viewers, and readers. surprising for one who is so green, frankly
.
but that's probably O.K., since you think about them as customers
posted by matteo at 2:32 PM on August 20, 2005


"The Jon Stewart appearance on Crossfire is a false analolgy."

Posted by psmealey at 1:09 PM PST on August 20.


I think amberglow wasn't referencing Jon's now famous rant on Crossfire but instead, his rant at the start of The Daily Show on August 18th, where he criticised the media, and specifically CNN and its Situation Room for giving six hours of coverage to this asshat.

In many respects, Jon's rant on TDS was exactly the way the mainstream media should have handled coverage of this case. Whereas the media provided hours upon hours of coverage on BTK, Jon's rant probably took one or two minutes all up. Given that the media's complacency and hypocricy is one of Jons favourite whipping boys, one could easily have imagined TDS devoting an entire segment to the media's actions on the BTK topic. But TDS, perhaps realising that doing so would have been highly hypocritical, simply mentoned the issue and got it done and out of the way in around 2 minutes.

In other words, exactly what the mainstream media should have done. BTK deserved no more coverage than the cute dog who can howl to the tune of Beethoven's 5th you usually see tacked onto the end of 'mainstream' news 'coverage'.
posted by Effigy2000 at 3:06 PM on August 20, 2005


Digby asks why sports guys seem to be the only journalists with guts. Apparently, Bob Costas refused to fill in for Larry King last Thursday when he learned the roster was going to be about Natalee Hollaway and the BTK stuff. And a few years back, Keith Olbermann quit anchoring a show a when it became all Monica all the time. Lately, he has been having to hawk that disgusting Rita Cosby tabloid show that follows him, and his distaste for the promos is almost palpable. I wouldn't be surprised if there isn't a parting of the ways there soon, and that would be a shame.
posted by madamjujujive at 3:20 PM on August 20, 2005


Matteo: I appreciate your attempts at character analysis. Too bad they're as reliable as phrenology.

"I am quite amused by klangklangston's reluctance -- or inability -- to understand that there is an enormous difference between a journalist (ie, one who understands what's news and what isn't, what's interesting and what isn't, what's vital information for the public and what isn't) and a corporate person whose job is trying to push actual journalists to make more profit, more profit, more profit for the corporation"
You don't seem to have ever worked under an editor or a publisher. You know, the people that schedule your news stories, allocate your budget and have the ability to hire and fire.
Further, I'm talking about the structural reasons that journalism is deformed from the Albert Ochs "objective" model. If you've ever been called on the carpet for writing somethign that displeased your advertisers (even though it was true and interesting), just to have your spineless editor cower, you'd have a little bit better picture of working in journalism. Hell, say you were the guy who wrote a column a week ago about how the Big Three made cars that suck. Since he was in Michigan, he got fired, and is unlikely to work again as a columnist.
"klang's "money talks, bullshit walks" recipe is perfect in the very low-credibility system that right now gets very little respect from Americans, and usually deservedly so."
Well, yeah, jackass. I was describing the system as it exists, not providing a normative prescription.
But you were too busy trying to compose half-assed bon mots about my journalistic abilites to understand that, weren't you? READING IS TEH HARD!

But hey, you don't have to make a living in journalism, so you've really got no use for perspective, do you?
posted by klangklangston at 5:06 PM on August 20, 2005


... You don't seem to have ever worked under an editor or a publisher. ... But hey, you don't have to make a living in journalism, so you've really got no use for perspective, do you?
I wouldn't assume that about matteo--at all. You'd be greatly surprised, believe me.
posted by amberglow at 5:24 PM on August 20, 2005


matteo: I am quite amused by klangklangston's reluctance -- or inability -- to understand that there is an enormous difference between a journalist (ie, one who understands what's news and what isn't, what's interesting and what isn't, what's vital information for the public and what isn't) and a corporate person whose job is trying to push actual journalists to make more profit, more profit, more profit for the corporation

I'm pretty sure that being a cog in the great corporate wheel is *exactly* what cable "news" is. And I say that as someone who's (sort of) employed by one of the big three[*]. I think it's kind of naive to expect cable news to be much else.

Klangklangston is right when he talks about the ultimate motivation of cable news. The reality is, it's really cheap to produce the average show on cable as they exist now -- get a few talking heads, a fancy set, and let 'em gab endlessly about what's happening. Rinse, repeat. The fact that there's almost no actual reporting that happens in an average 24 hour news cycle on cable has less to do with some grand conspiracy or even the ethics of the individuals involved than the reality that it's expensive. Paying a couple of cute, bright Northwestern grads to sit and talk to experts is *way* cheaper than actually sending reporters into the field. If you can hook up the occasional satellite feed from a local affiliate, so much the better.

In essence, both matteo and klang are right -- cable news sucks. The market is big enough to make plenty of money, but only if the end result is super cheap to produce. Which is why cable spends all day covering the same amount of material that Brian Williams gets through in about 19 minutes on the evening news. If you want real news, stick to print.


[*]Thankfully, I work on the web, not the vast wasteland that is cable news. It's my secret hope that MSNBC cable will soon die the slow death it's been creeping toward for years now so we can do our jobs without the stigma.
posted by jimray at 5:59 PM on August 20, 2005


Love Jack Cafferty. Did he ditch the Beaver Brown Band?
posted by flarbuse at 10:03 PM on August 20, 2005


Love Jack Cafferty. Did he ditch the Beaver Brown Band?

On the dark side... whoa oh ohhhhh.... On the dark side....

Wow, the 80s Top 40 references are so thick on Metafilter this weekend that it's getting hard to breathe.
posted by jonp72 at 10:40 AM on August 21, 2005


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