Guest Post: Breaking News, Breaking News by Gene Goldfarb

costa rica

If you are unfortunate enough to find yourself with nothing better to do during the election season than tuning in for some news, you might end up at CNN. This is not a recommendation, far from it. I propose to walk you through one of the most inane displays of culture in American history. My purpose? To amuse and educate you a bit to the hopeless confusion and deep hypocrisy of the fourth estate. We used to call it the “press,” but nowadays it’s termed the “media,” as much of the printed media has already disappeared before our eyes.

Some basics. You will need a TV set or computer, access to the CNN station, and a comfortable seat. You will also need some free time.

The head honcho, that is to say their senior anchor, for news and commentary on CNN is Wolf Blitzer. CNN aficionados might deny this and claim Jake Tapper, Anderson Cooper, and Erin Burnett have their own news shows and are of equal status, or that the estimable and genial Fareed Zakaria kowtows to no one (except perhaps his guests, who are frequently major international figures). Still don’t believe these Wolf doubters. Nope. Wolfie (I like calling him that) is the capo di capi, the grand old man, the whatever.

He looks like an owl with a beard. I used to find him even handed, incisive and interesting, but the ravages of time have shown him to be tiresome and mediocre, who, as John Oliver points out, has a habit of punctuating his verbal observations with “obviously.” A while ago I saw him interview a general who had served a number of tours in Iraq. Instead of learning what was going on in Iraq and finding out what the security situation was in Baghdad, Wolf kept boasting about the fact that he (Wolfie) had been to Iraq a number of times himself. I will get off the old man’s lawn for the moment.

When CNN is not selling drugs with a numbing scroll of possible side effects during its extensive commercials, it sells dubious financial products, frequently through washed-up actors, and of course cars and other sundries. Still, the amount of prescription drug ads is awesome and frightening. It restores my faith in the healthful effect of a glass of water.

You may also notice CNN has adopted an on-screen countdown clock. It displays the clock for certain important stories. Not to be outdone other news stations have imitated this device. I’m sure CNN with the days, hours, minutes and even seconds insists that no one else does it better. Depending on the event and its supposed importance, the countdown clock may start days before. I suppose it’s a way to teach kids how real time works, and how it’s unforgivable and used up on all kinds of silly things. Actually, it seems to have a hypnotic effect, making you want to watch it hit round numbers (like on those long trips up to the mountains in your uncle’s car, where you fought the boredom by watching the odometer). On election night you will suffer the additional on-screen bombardment of the statistical screen carousal of voter return stats and background info, and of course the perennial crawl, making for an extremely busy, multicolor screen.

Also, to emphasize the earth-shaking quality of every cat crossing the road, CNN has adopted the screaming banner, “Breaking News.” Its anchors are required to bellow the same phrase. In sum, it’s as if these anchors are saying, “Aren’t you excited? Oh, get ready for this.” Aping their lack of imagination, CNN’s competitors have followed suit and adopted similar screaming banners, also requiring their anchors to trumpet the same ridiculous term. CNN has gone one better, by having a secondary news flash banner, when there is no news at all. This is the “News Alert.” It means the anchor or a correspondent is about to point out something that you should be aware of that’s been creeping up. For instance, on election night if one candidate has maintained, even increased what was a modest lead into an impressive one, you will be alerted, with the warning that “nonetheless, it is still too early” or “too close to call this one” for the leading candidate.

Before any real tidbit of news, Wolfie will tell you to hold on as a real “break” is coming up, namely another slew of commercials hardwired into the broadcast and about as welcome and unstoppable as a freight train roaring through your town carrying a thousand tons of fresh manure. If, indeed, this stuff has already been reported Wolfie will blatantly shill for the advertisers by saying, “Plenty more after this” or some equally mendacious come-on. Remember, the competitors are just as bad, especially in using narrative hooks to keep you tuned in. This is the big-network equivalent to the local news always breaking up the weather and sports into several pieces to sandwich in a few commercials. Meanwhile, the internet will tease you with an “awkward” moment.

On primary night when the countdown clock is used to tell you when polls close in states west of you, the news becomes a mélange of reportage and commentary. Anderson Cooper, with that shock of white hair, will play the innocent conducting two panels of talking heads, three on each side. These “contributors,” as they’re frequently called, are usually made up of big party hacks, media politicos, and columnists, and a lawyer or two from the world of politics to round out the gang. (I especially enjoy Jeffrey Lord, who is usually able to trot out an explanation for racist or xenophobic behavior as being the product of reverse racism or xenophobia—amid a clamor of accusations that he himself is catering to racism. I wallow in the eruption of irascibility by the other panel members.)

As the evening wears on, Wolfie, with clipboard in both hands, will literally rush over to John King for a detailed (they now say “granular”) analysis as to why certain states haven’t been called. John has a big electronic display map that can zoom in and out on states and counties. John King, who has white hair and a solid jaw, looks like a top henchman to an arch villain. He is very smart and talks very fast. For some reason people who either report news or give analysis are required to speak as fast as lightening or at least television meteorologists. Dead air isn’t the biggest enemy in news broadcasting. Slow talkers are the greatest personae non-gratae. The granular analysis is fun and informative. John will tell you where the votes are coming in and how they’re coming in. He usually backs up his geographic-demographic analysis with historical data. He will also make a modest prediction at the end of his analysis, such as, “If things keep going this way it’s going to be a long night for so-and-so, but such-and-such county, where a third of the population lives, has only begun to come-in and that’s been so-and-so’s stronghold.”

Recently John pulled a minor double gaffe. In explaining the New Mexico Democratic primary his finger pointed to western Arizona, and Wolfie (yeah, of all people) made him move his finger over to the east to New Mexico. A few seconds later John again found his finger resting on Arizona. Wolfie, with both hands using his clipboard in a scooping motion, almost forcibly nudged John’s finger back to New Mexico. John ended up pointing a third time, but this time hit his intended target, congratulating himself for having finally gotten it right. This bathetic New Mexico-Arizona fumble on map identification reminds me of the very same problem my sixth grade teacher had until I corrected her, and gained her undying enmity.

Alas, if election coverage and commentary were CNN’s only problem. Its determination to follow every missing plane that’s mysteriously and tragically fallen from the sky into the ominous seas would be commendable, if it wasn’t so seemingly futile, even comical. Other stations have moved on. Not CNN. It gathers its experts, having them explain aerodynamics, flight recorders, pings, and submersible searches, but gets no new hard info. The latest, the Egyptair downing (widely believed to be the result of terrorism) in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, looked like another dry hole for CNN. But recently both the voice recorder and data recorder were recovered, albeit damaged. Now a grinding scientific analysis must take place to find out what happened and why.

CNN will put this project on hold for the time being, and resume chasing other stories as if it were an aimless dog in the street. Got to keep the ad revenue coming in. It will try to keep its head up with its slogan, “the most trusted name in news.” If it’s comparing itself to FOX and MSNBC, it’s set the bar embarrassingly low. Meanwhile, we news watchers paddle on.


Gene GoldfarbGene Goldfarb lives on Long Island, New York. He worked as a judge over 30 years, retired and now engages in writing and whitewater rafting, hoping to emerge unscathed. His recent poetry has appeared in Cliterature, Empty Sink, River & South Review, Annapurna, Livid Squid, Lalitamba, A Narrow Fellow, Stoneboat, SLANT, Thin Air, Stray Branch, in addition to Black Fox.

You can find Gene’s poetry in Black Fox Issues 9 and 12.

5 comments to Guest Post: Breaking News, Breaking News by Gene Goldfarb

  • maxine carrizzo

    My Dear Gene

    Your use of the english language is truly a remarkable thing ,the way you describe the news makes for amusing reading. I have bookmarked your blog I am looking forward to more reporting on your part.


  • steven

    very pithy gene!!

  • Dr Brian Leviton

    A very enlightening essay on the state of “news reporting”. The news media today sets the intellectual level somewhere around an 8th grade education. Gene, you are not the audience they want. They prefer people who really do not think all that much.
    I think back to the days of what I believed to be actual news reporting, then again I was just a kid in 8th grade at the time.

  • Susanne Leviton

    Loved reading Gene’s hilarious yet sadly true account of our “News Media” social network stars and their quest to gather more social followers and fans. News used to be reported and not dramatically directed and manipulated to entertain. Bravo Gene for your wit and magnify glass on these CNN hacks.

  • enlightening essay on the state of “news reporting”. The news media today sets the intellectual level.I believed to be actual news reporting, then again I was just a kid in 8th grade at the time

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>