Thursday, September 19, 2013

It's Not Journalism, It's Info-Tainment

If there’s anything the national media should have experience in covering, it’s mass shootings.  They’ve had several chances to hone their skills in the past couple years, and yet when put to the test again in the Washington Navy Yard massacre, they came up woefully short.


I have concluded that these national outlets are aware of all the misinformation they’re spreading, and that they don’t care.  It’s now a game to see who can get the latest tweet on the air.  I believe there are enough seasoned news veterans on the staff of these national news-gathering organizations that they’re aware of one of the fundamentals of journalism, namely, that first reports are almost always wrong – and they simply don’t care about accuracy.


They care about delivering the most compelling live coverage they can muster.  This is info-tainment, not journalism, and it’s all about getting eyeballs on the screen.


There’s also an element of stupidity, which exists because of the lack of content supervision.  Take a look at the photo at the top of this post.  It’s a screen-shot of CNN declaring that one of the weapons the shooter used was an “AR-15 shotgun”.  Of course, there is no such thing.  An AR-15 is a semi-automatic assault weapon.  And, for those who need further depth of information, a gun is generally something with a smooth bore barrel, and a rifle is something which has “rifling” in the barrel which makes the projectile (bullet) spin. That increases accuracy, for the same reason that an accomplished quarterback puts a “spiral” on the ball when he throws it.


It’s hard for me to believe, as a ‘sconnie boy raised in the Fox Valley who went deer hunting with his dad, a decorated WW2 vet who rigorously inculcated his son with firearm safety training, that there is no one at CNN who didn’t catch that “AR-15 shotgun” error and pull it down within a few seconds.  You can blame some 22-year-old kid who grew up in an urban area and has never actually held (much less fired) a rifle or shotgun for creating that graphic, but is there no one at any level of authority at CNN who didn’t take a look at that graphic and correct it within seconds of it going on the air?


I guess not.


Any veteran newsie can tell you how they learned first-hand that the earliest reports at the scene of a breaking news story are almost always wrong, and that eyewitnesses are often the least reliable, but now it’s a game of following Twitter feeds. 


Here’s a screen capture of a CNN reporter’s tweet regarding that non-existent AR-15 – note the time-stamp and consider that it was more than an hour after she sent out that tweet that CNN (and all the others) finally corrected themselves.

What’s even more troubling to me is that some of print media play the same game.


Above is the cover of the New York Daily News, a publication which has a well-earned reputation for sensationalizing everything, trying to grab eyeballs (and lure purchasers) with a typically sensational cover story.  Oooh, AR-15, bad, bad! Read all about it!  Maniac! Newtown all over again!


A lot of people think this sort of stuff is part of the vast left-wing conspiracy (with apologies to Hillary Clinton) to do away with all firearms, and to empower Barack Obama’s Secret Muslim Army to come into your home and take your guns away.  It’s not.  It’s just that what used to be journalism is now, in many cases, no more than info-tainment.


One more thing: do you think Wolf Blitzer will ever learn to stop asking astonishingly stupid questions during coverage of these breaking-news-massacres?

One of the best send-ups of Wolf’s on-air ineptitude was a lampoon piece done by Jon Stewart of Comedy Central.  The screen-capture above is part of a 7-minute parody The Daily Show did of Blitzer’s dunderheaded questions, including my favorite, where Wolf said to a CNN reporter on the scene something like “we are getting word that the suspect was dressed in a black pair of pants and wearing a black top….what, if anything, does this say, in a preliminary sense, about what may have been his psychological make-up?”  Stewart ran a split-screen with Wolf on one side, and a picture of CNN’s Anderson Cooper on the other….dressed in black slacks with a black top.


Just keep this in mind as you watch the next edition of live coverage of a breaking news event involving a shooter: it’s info-tainment, it’s not news. 


And certainly not journalism.


  1. That graphic doesn't surprise me in the least. You can see errors of this type all the time online or in the local fishwrap. It is a combination of sheltered children, who grew up in urban environments that never shot, and also some people who just plain ol' don't like guns.

    I disagree with parts of this:
    "An AR-15 is a semi-automatic assault weapon. And, for those who need further depth of information, a gun is generally something with a smooth bore barrel, and a rifle is something which has “rifling” in the barrel which makes the projectile (bullet) spin."

    According to Websters, a gun is a "weapon that shoots bullets or shells" (which is stupid since a gun doesn't shoot a shell at all, it shoots a bullet or other projectile) - this makes a rifle a gun. So is the projectile shooter on a battleship.

    AR-15, while you may want to label it as an "assault weapon" is simply a .223 caliber, gas operated semi automatic rifle. Any number of hunting or target rifles such as an SKS, or 30-06 can and have been configured as semi-automatic over the ages and operate in basically the same manner.

    But I am most certainly digressing and nitpicking here and feel free to edit/delete this comment any way you choose.

  2. Thanks, Dan, but I stand by what I said. A lot of guys my age got drafted during the VietNam era, and they all came back to our communal bar in my small hamlet of Hortonville after basic combat training repeating what their drill sergeant screamed at them if they should slip and refer to their M-15 or M-16 as a "gun": "This is my rifle, this is not my gun. This weapon is for killing, not for fun".

    We can nitpick - I often do; no problem with that. But as you so adroitly pointed out, even sources like Webster are suspect if they say a gun is "a weapon that shoots bullets or shells". We can nitpick and say technically a shotgun shoots slugs or shot, FROM a shell.

    But my point is, there's nowhere near enough content management going on in nooz these days. It's just "shit out some tweet before the other guy does".

  3. No argument there, Tim.

    I have restricted most of my news consumption to the five minutes per hour that I get from Bloomberg at the top and bottom of every hour in my car, in between all of the financial stuff. It gets me enough to go by and has been refreshing to have most of the "news" just go by me like it never happened.

    I turned on the "news" during the Boston Marathon goings on and it was apparent that not much has/will change in this regard.

    1. Meant ten minutes per hour...five at the top and five at the bottom.