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Non-Exploding Toe Suckers on Video

I made the mistake last night of not diving for the clicker when "Law & Order" ended. Within seconds, the gibbering chimps of the local NBC affiliate oozed into my living room to dispense the "news."

Unlike cynics beneath contempt who have abandon any sort of faith in the notion of traditional journalism, I still believe in that good, solid traditional reporting has a place in the New Media world. While the institution seems to be a little too eager to be led around by the nose (or, alternately, any other forward-protruding appendage), there is still value to be had in objective, inverted-pyramid news.

Unfortunately, Paul Moyers doesn't know how to spell "journalism," much less execute it.

Paul, whom the Los Angeles area got to see in jacket, tie and shorts after the Olympic bombing, is an actor, and a bad one at that. Instead of just delivering the news, he sees fit to subliminally underline each sentence that he parrots off the TelePrompTer. Is the story perky? Then Paul's perky! Is the story sad? Then Paul's sad...

Is the story a follow-up -- a freakin' follow-up -- to a non-story about a man arrested for sucking women's feet? Then Paul looks bemused -- "Gosh! There sure is a lot of wackiness out there!" As of Paul wasn't a closet foot-sucker himself. One wonders if the prompter text includes notes on what expression he should use.


The next story, in some small way, was a redemption. Not only was it read by Colleen Williams -- I have a dim recollection that she used to be vaguely respectable -- but it actually had some relevance to the lives of people in Southern California. It was, in a word, news.

It was thirty seconds of news, of course, all eight sentences of it. It's not like it was about a foot-sucker. I mean, sheesh.

Two local grocery stores had received bomb threats, and shoeboxes were found hidden in their aisles. The bomb squad was dispatched but each box was found to be empty. Everybody's OK.

That was the story. It lasted about that long, and if you forgive the production overkill -- one can only guess that the helicopter was dispatched because the news director was hoping for an explosion -- it might actually approach what could be called third-grade journalism. If you squint hard enough.

But then, for those who didn't have the attention span to absorb the entire thirty second story, Ms. Williams helpfully added: "In summary, two stores, two bomb-threats, no bombs. Back to you, Paul."

Upon its return to Moyers, the newscast descended so quickly back into pap that I got a nosebleed. In their ever-expanding quest to by-pass the forebrain and jump directly to more visceral centers of the collective mind of the audience, the news gibbons at NBC have decided that "If it bleeds, it leads" results in news that's too cerebral for the masses. Instead, they now chant the mantra, "I don't give a shit if it's not in any way relevant for a local newscast, it's good video."

What goes a bank robbery in Reno have to do with Los Angeles? Zip? Well, not if the accused managed to get himself on a video camera before he held up the joint! Paul looks earnest -- "Justice triumphs!"

What does the weather in Phoenix have to do with Los Angeles? Squat? Well, not if you've got a murky mini-tornado on tape! Paul looks amazed -- "Isn't that weather stuff weird?"

Los Angeles is the second largest city in the country, a teeming metropolis of millions and millions of people. Each of them had something happen to them the day this newscast aired; presumably, some of those things were of general interest. Maybe the city council held a session and decided something important. Maybe the mayor visited a hospital and pledged more funds. Maybe the police arrested a murderer.

I only watched the news, so I wouldn't know.


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