For Pete's sake. How sad is it that Americans, with their hundreds of cable channels, have to go to Al Jazeera America to get international news outside of the traditional evening TV network news windows?
Cable news, which once held such promise to inform and educate, has spiraled into its own black hole of personality-driven irrelevance. This was brought home again full force Wednesday afternoon when Wolf Blitzer breathlessly reported the "Breaking News" that China had released a satellite photo of something floating in the ocean.
Like any person with a speck of compassion for their fellow human beings, I, too, hoped that this might be the break that would lead to solving the mysterious disappearance of a Malaysian jet last weekend. When a major cable news organization digs its teeth into a story like that, with a huge audience hanging on every tidbit of information, you can bet they'll pull out all the punches to keep you tuned in.
In that respect, Wolf was masterful. But, as far as informing and educating, he pretty much dropped the ball.
For starters, the image released by the Chinese was way too fuzzy for any layman to discern anything. But the Chinese did add some interesting data, like the precise GPS coordinates and some remarkably detailed dimensions of what were purported to be three pieces of debris.
Predictably, CNN ran through its Rolodex of experts, each offering a unique perspective on what could possibly, maybe, somehow, some way, some day, ultimately be some sort of breakthrough in finally solving the mystery. There were a couple of obvious questions: why is the debris so far away from the last known location of the plane and could a piece of debris 72 feet by 79 feet (or 20 percent larger than a standard NBA basketball court) have come from an airplane?
I watched for a couple of hours and never heard much about the location except that it was "in the right place at the right time." Finally, a few experts in, someone said that the dimensions of the debris, especially the largest piece, didn't conform to any aircraft he was aware of.
Even the least curious journalist I've ever met would pursue that line of questioning. Are the dimensions accurate? Could they possibly have come from a Boeing 777? I didn't hear Wolf do that, although I will confess, I bailed out soon after since he didn't seem to be advancing the story at all.
A few hours later, I gave the other of the Big Three Cable News networks a shot. MSNBC, which does precious little real news coverage anymore, preferred to fill its air time with blather from their afternoon windbag, Ed Schultz. FOX News was just as bad, offering its banal afternoon chatfest, The Five. It was time to give up.
I see today that CNN has moved on to its latest version of "Breaking News." Yesterday's Big Thing is now called a mistake, something that shouldn't have happened. Basically, the whole satellite thing was something of a clerical error.
I can appreciate that the disappearance of a huge airliner with 239 people aboard is a big story. It's also a difficult story to cover. Half a world away, conflicting information, precious few details. I get that. What I don't get is how they can justify devoting so much air time to unverified "facts," rumors and speculation under the guise of "Breaking News" when it's far from breaking and barely news. at least in the traditional sense.
Surely there's something else these networks can find that's at least as important to their audiences. And I don't mean those ad nauseum reports on the Affordable Care Act or polls about presidential elections or approval ratings.
For a change, how about reporting on some despot steamrolling into a smaller state? Or a dictator systematically slaying those who would oppose him? Maybe they could uncover a corrupt political system that has convinced a huge swath of its electorate that voting against their own self-interests is a good thing. Or, perhaps, investigate a global economy where the Golden Rule is more a cynical, sad reality than an inspirational ideal.
But, honestly,who wants to watch that kind of stuff when there's Rachel, Sean, Wolf and, now, Ronan?
Well, me, for one.