What is it about TV-news people?
I just watched Keith Olbermann's show, and I'm afraid I'm disappointed in our pal Keith. The crisis in Haiti is story of the day, and the apparent cost of being a TV star became evident in Keith's evident lack of decent judgment about covering it. As if the human tragedy did not present enough drama by itself, Keith had to go fishing for more. Not once, but twice, he went beyond the facts of the story in a sad, transparent effort to drum up even more high drama and doom than the more-than-ample supply of tragic facts warrant.
In the first instance, he had a live on-site report from Haiti featuring Brian Williams, Ann Curry, Al Roker, and NBC news correspondent Kerry Sanders, all together at the airport. Between the four of them, they did a good job of describing what they knew of the dire situation, including death, destruction, chaos, and the several impediments to effective emergency response. However, the sad facts of the situation evidently were not enough for Keith. He had to try to drum up more. After saying he did "not want to try to create a problem out of nowhere, but..." he proceeded to do exactly that. He asked if perhaps things were not only terrible but were also about to become far worse, with desperate people trying to force their way into the airport, creating an even more terrible situation by adding violent rioting to all the bad things that actually have happened. What then transpired was all too predictable: the TV-news people were eager to follow Keith's lead and pile on. First Brian Williams chimed in, commenting that Haiti is about an inch "from spiraling out of control". Anne Curry couldn't wait for Brian to catch his breath before she chimed in, amping up her so-called reporting about the "real risk" of Keith's doomsday scenario becoming true, adding that there "is an expectation here that that could happen". Roker had no chance to further spike the drama before Anne pressed Kerry to add to the sense of impending doom. He did so immediately by talking about "a sense of anarchy beginning to set it". Now, keep in mind that none of the on-site TV-people had mentioned anything of the sort before. There was no reason to think it was on the mind of any of them, but prodded on by Keith to make things sound worse, they eagerly jumped on the bandwagon of impending doom. No matter how bad it is, it's about to get worse. So, stay tuned. At the end of the segment, Keith congratulated his pals on doing such a terrific job. As we know by now, if there is one thing TV-news people like to do, it’s to tell each other what a great job they’re all doing.
Apparently, one round of this did not sate Keith's appetite for manufacturing additional high drama from a situation that already provided more than plenty, so he kept at it with the next on-site report. This time it was not a member of the American TV-news club, but rather a reporter from Reuters who had recently motorcycled around town to eyeball the situation. Ben Gruber, the Reuters reporter, did an admirable job of doing what reporters are supposed to do, which is to report on what they actually know. As in the previous segment, just the very tragic facts were not enough for Keith, he had to press for even more drama regardless of whether it was true or not. So, once again, Keith went fishing for a story of impending doom. He asked if there was "any sense of desperation taking over"... a "fear that this night, if there is not a rapid escalation of the relief effort, that things will get out of hand tonight". Now, please be aware that he asked this after it had been clearly established that circumstances precluded any chance whatsoever of a "rapid escalation of the relief effort" tonight, so the real question was quite clear: Keith pressed the Reuters reporter to tell him if all hell was about to break loose within hours. To his credit, Mr. Gruber refused to bite. He did what any responsible reporter would do, which is to say that he could not speak to matters he had no knowledge of, he could only report on what he knew to be true. Faced with a reporter who was responsible enough to stick to the truth, Keith pressed again. This time, he asked Gruber to guess about the national death toll. Keith did this after Gruber had described the things he knew and the things he did not know, but Keith wanted more-than-news regardless of the facts. Again, Gruber refused to play the TV-news game, and calmly repeated the gist of his previous answer: that he could only report on what he knew, that he had no way to judge what the national death toll might be, but he did estimate the number of dead he himself had seen to be about a hundred.
So, to review, Keith and his pals from NBC were happy to go beyond the truth to discuss dire hypotheticals, based on nothing in the way of substance or facts, just feel, while the one real reporter, the guy from Reuters, stuck to the truth.
Here's what I want to know: What is it about having a job on TV makes the people of so-called TV news become shameless drama hounds? In this case, Keith and his NBC colleagues were not content to report on what may be one of the most grim and tragic natural disasters know to us. The dire facts were not yet in before they speculated about impending doom, caused not by natural disaster but by civil disorder, despite the fact that the Haitians appeared to be not acting poorly so far. They did this only after being prodded from New York by Keith to do so. Why is it that dire tragedy is never quite bad enough, no matter how bad it is? Why is there some evident desire to talk about it getting worse, regardless of how bad it is already? Why is that? It's certainly not endemic to journalism. After all, the guy from Reuters knew where the line of responsible journalism is, and he refused to cross it, despite twice being invited by Keith to do so. The Reuters guy was able to do the right thing. But the crew from NBC couldn't. Nor could Keith refrain from pushing again and again for irresponsible journalism. Is there something about being on TV that makes otherwise good people act like this? Is there something about being on TV that causes them to think that no amount of tragic truth is ever tragic enough, that there is always a need to drum up drama about everything getting worse? In the same way that no amount of profit is ever enough for Wall Street, it seems that no amount of bad news is ever enough for the people of TV-news. It's like the "greed is good" mantra that led Wall Street to excess has been adapted to TV: "Tragedy is good. Give us more, more, and more. And if you don't have more, well, just speculate some extra tragedy into existence anyway". Is there no limit to this? Has everybody on TV lost their mind?