‘Rebellion of the Talking Heads’

Sunday night — a long, long time ago in the Hurricane Katrina era — I offered an obligatory scoff for the predictably breathless TV news coverage of the storm’s imminent landfall. I suggested that there might be a better way — turn coverage of such events over to the people who make reality TV. But it turns out that all it took for the TV news people to get past their trademark melodrama and cheap showmanship was to subject them to a genuine crisis for several days, with no hope of relief, right in the middle of the United States of America. Slate’s Jack Shafer had a great writeup Friday on how those covering the hurricane aftermath for CNN, MSNBC, NBC, and yes, even NPR, finally got to the point this week that they actually started demanding answers from the pols and bureaucrats they usually let smile and say nothing.

A former deputy chief of FEMA told Knight Ridder Newspapers yesterday (Sept. 1) that there “are two kinds of levees—the ones that breached and the ones that will be breached.” A similar aphorism applies to broadcasters: They come in two varieties, the ones that have gone stark, raving mad on air and the ones who will.

In the last couple of days, many of the broadcasters reporting from the bowl-shaped toxic waste dump that was once the city of New Orleans have stopped playing the role of wind-swept wet men facing down a big storm to become public advocates for the poor, the displaced, the starving, the dying, and the dead.

It’s about friggin’ time.

2 Replies to “‘Rebellion of the Talking Heads’”

  1. Amazingly, this even happened on Fox News. That right-wing asswipe Sean Hannity was trying to put a nice gloss on everything Friday evening but the facts kept getting in the way. And some reporter named Shep Smith, amid the ugly facts, was having a hard time helping Sean. Shep had reported some bleak tale and gotten slightly worked up about it. Sean interrupted and attempted to spin him toward hope, toward the idea that help is arriving, good things are happening. Shep repeated his tale of hungry, thirsty, sick and hopeless folk and the insanity of the pathetic response to this disaster — adding, in a nod to Fox’s politics, that he wasn’t “blaming anyone” — and Sean interrupted again and said, “But wait, let’s get some perspective here.” And Shep pretty much jumped through the camera and grabbed Sean — back in the air-conditioned studio — by the neck, shouting, “I’ve just given you all the perspective you need!” It was awesome. You could almost hear Sean’s brain finally churning into action, trying to process the idea that the conservative assault on the federal government’s role in the day-to-day lives of people perhaps might need to be rethought. Then it stopped. Shep was gone. We saw pictures of the Old Glory tied to a tree, flapping in the wind amid the rubble. I was half expecting Bush or Cheney to come on the air to suggest if we stay the course in Iraq, everything will be all right.

  2. Amazing. I just went and read the transcript (on Lexis — which is a law school perk). It really shows the difference between those who’ve been face to face with what’s going on since it started (though I see Geraldo was able to whip himself into a froth in just 24 hours on the ground) and guys like Hannity whose number one loyalty is to their opinions, reality be damned; because later in the show he went right back to his “let’s get a little perspective here” schtick, reminding viewers that of course no one could expect a perfect response given the scale of the disaster. Of course, perfection isn’t the issue. It’s having *any sort* organized response at all — the kind that Bush smirkingly assured people was waiting in the wings while the winds were still blowing.

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