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Beating a Dead Horse

Exclusive Report!

It turns out the marketplace of ideas is a drive-through window.

Cookie-cutter slabs of pre-digested, non-nutritional "news" are mindlessly and endlessly extruded from the half-baked raw material of wire stories, security cameras and celebrity rumor, without regard to taste or quality or common sense. And the only way to distinguish among the outlets is by the clown fronting the joint.

Last week, the entertainment industry bible Variety reported that the news department of the CBS affiliate in Los Angeles -- home of... well, nobody really -- has had trouble keeping it's competitors from walking off with stories. With week-long hype now the norm for the squishy, soft-hitting style that laughing falls under the rubric of "news," both KNBC and KABC have recently swiped reportorial thunder from the Creepy Eye network by producing stories near-identical to heavily promoted CBS opuses and airing them before the originals.

And that really pisses off out-flanked KCBS News Director Larry Perret. "I'm flattered that they think so much of our stories," he smarmed to Variety.

"Ha!" we say. And, "Shut up, you."

That Perret could think that his stories are actually worth stealing displays either a hubris that must require a dump truck to move around, or a level of pure, simple obliviousness that keeps the bridge-sellers in business. Forty-five second sound-bites on the tragi-comic, video-voyeur gore-fests that make up local "news" simply aren't stolen, fer crissakes, because nobody bothers to steal shit. I mean, really. "I left it right there, officer, right in the bowl. And somebody came and took it before I could show it to the missus."

What KCBS is upset about is that the other stations stole not its stories but its promotion. According to Variety, CBS ran ads for its exhaustive four-minute report on self-defense for "days" before the actual story aired. All that air-time -- all those staccato, pulse-pounding, menace-implying ads -- went to waste when viewers ended up not having any idea which station they were for. One has to admire the nimbleness of KNBC, reproducing the nearly half-hour of research KCBS must have put in, in less than a week. They must have snuck it into the schedule between Paul Moyers tanning sessions.

And CBS's ire only rose when KABC aired a remarkably similar piece mere hours before the Spooky Eye could broadcast its week-hyped story on the diet drug Phen-Fen. In response, News Director Parret cut loose with his grade-school sarcasm -- "I'm flattered..." -- apparently totally unaware of the fact that every newsmagazine in the country ran stories on Phen-Fen when it was actually news, a couple of months ago. One can only imagine the editor of Newsweek, learning that KCBS is swiping his big story and wondering which words they had trouble pronouncing for the theft to be eight weeks after the fact.

Somehow, an "exclusive report" that can be copied in the time it takes to go from the advertising department to the anchor's TelePrompTer doesn't seem terribly Pulitzer-inspiring. Call us crazy, but "exclusive report" should probably mean more than, "reported by people who work exclusively for us."

But Perret isn't having any of it. "I think they copied us," he said, apparently without a trace of irony. "Period," he added dramatically.

Larry, buddy, a piece of advice. Trust me on this. I probably shouldn't have to be explaining the meaning of "scoop" to a News Director here, but if you had anything of value in the first place, they couldn't have copied you.

And that's exclusive.


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