Can I Get an Amen?

It’s not even 8 in the morning and there already seems to be a lot of news to catch up on.  Obviously at the top of the list is what’s going on Iran.  We’ve been pasted to the computer for the past two days trying to get news — mostly to the Huffington Post and occasionally to Andrew Sullivan — because, unfortunately, cable news has really not been up to snuff with their coverage.  This from Robert Farley:

So, I’m trying to find out something about what’s going on in Iran, and on CNN I can watch a rerun of Larry King interviewing several gentlemen without shirtsleeves who apparently assemble choppers. On Fox Mike Huckabee is trying to explain why Jesus hates credit card relief. MSNBC is rerunning something about a prison in New Mexico. CNBC is evaluating whether college students should be able to afford Chanel tote bags.

We actually flipped to Huckabee for ten minutes on Saturday and saw the segment about credit cards.  It would be funny, of course, if Mike Huckabee wasn’t supposed to be a credible Republican, cable wasn’t our nation’s first source of news, and there wasn’t a deadly serious potential-revolution going on in Iran.

One would think the cable channels would have preempted all of their regular programming in order to cover the post-election events.  In the same way written news (print and online) have done.  No such luck.

Last week Jason Zengerle posted a snippet from a Daily Show sketch interview with the Times’ Bill Keller, which today seems quite timely:

JJ: Does it [the New York Times] make Huffington Post money?

BK: I don’t know how much Huffington Post makes.

JJ: A lot.

BK: The last time I was in Baghdad I didn’t see a Huffington Post bureau or a Google bureau or a Drudge Report bureau there, because there isn’t one and there isn’t going to be one.

JJ: Why?

BK: Because it’s expensive, because it’s dangerous, it’s a lot easier to stay home and riff on the work that somebody else does.

Except I think Keller has it wrong.  Maybe the Huffington Post was “riffing” on the work of others initially, in its earliest stages.  But for quite some time now it’s had a group of strong reporters, more so since the election, and has even begun it’s own investigative journalism group — and that has pushed papers like the Times to make their own Web sites better, to improve their round-the-clock coverage.

And online media is a natural outgrowth of a new social medium — Keller and others were silly to think people weren’t going to come along and find a way to build internet-only news sites that would manage to make a lot of money (if they did, I don’t know; certainly reports indicate that the editors at the Washington Post were extremely hesitant to believe you could do online successfully. That’s how they ended up losing folks to Politico).

But what seems obvious today, looking back on this weekend’s coverage of Iran, and even further back through the first few months of the Obama presidency and the coverage of the 2008 election, is that news’ real enemy isn’t online jouralism.  It’s not Arianna Huffington or Andrew Sullivan.  It’s cable news.  Because only cable news, day in and day out, give Americans reporting that is at best routine and at worst asinine.  It’s the same old fights between the same two people, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  And yes, there are some great bright spots on cable news (Rachel Maddow being one), but it seems Rachel is an antidote to a disease our news culture has had for a long time.

When we recognize that we live in a world where it’s okay for Bill O’Reilly to act this repugnant towards a guest on his show (and I know his treatment of Joan Walsh isn’t anything new), or for a former presidential candidate to use his faith, and an audience of believers, as a means of opposing the current president’s credit card reform, it’s time to reevaluate our collective intellectual capacity.

Surely I’m not pointing out anything we don’t already know about cable news, but I am hoping that eventually the message actually reaches its intended recipients.  Perhaps this recent upheaval in Iran will result not only in changes for the better to their political system, but also to a conversation about just where we should be getting our news.


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