I’ve been spending this week taking care of my sickly mom and her sister who underwent surgery at the beginning of the week. Generally it’s a low demand task – getting a few meals together, making sure that they get their meds on time, and keeping the dishes washed. However, what it does open my eyes to is the 24 hour news cycle, something that I know of but rarely personally experience in the busyness of my normal work day, for the television is never off at their house and seems to stay tuned to the Today Show and CNN. As I sit in the dining room, trying to keep up with church and community work from afar, I have a clear view of the TV and it seems like every 2 minutes there is another report on the most pressing news of the day: Beyonce’s lip synching of the National Anthem at the inauguration, and Manta Te’o’s fake girlfriend. As we sit here and watch again and again and again the breathless attempts to transform these minor events into a major scandal, we all find ourselves looking at the screen and saying, “Shut up, already! Leave those poor folks alone! We just don’t care.”
Make no mistake, these really aren’t big deals worthy of hours of attention. It should be of no surprise to anyone these days that musicians often lip synch their live performances rather than take the risk of a major flub before millions (if not billions) of people. The demands of live events and television make live performance difficult if not impossible in many cases. The demands of staging, which puts the instrumentalists too far removed from the singers, often requires compromises. No one is debating whether it was Beyonce’s voice at the inauguration, but it looks like she and the powers that be decided that trying to pull this off live wasn’t worth the risk . . . a decision that is made daily by performers. So she lip synced . . . big deal! Isn’t the results of the Israeli election much more significant to the future of our lives and worthy of attention on the screens of our households?
The Manta Te’o situation is even more bewildering to me. This is a 21 year old kid who has gotten caught up in a hoax and apparently made a couple of mistakes in how he handled it. I’ve about decided that anyone’s record of stupid beliefs and behaviors before they are 25 years of age should be off limits to the press for it is the rare individual that fails to make some bad decisions during the transition from being a teen to being and adult. Yes, he may have lied to the press in a short stand-up interview, but there is no indication of a life characterized by deception, and from the cheap seats it simply looks like he made a mistake – something we all do and should be forgiven of. The story here is that there really is no story but the media continues to beat this horse until all of us want to scream.
It’s often suggested that the media only airs what the people want to see. In fact, more often than not, the 24 hour news monster encourages the media (regardless of political bias) to over report and over cover, feeding on one another’s reports as a means of filling the beast. I once worked for a religious education channel that aired 12 hours a day and I can say first hand that the pressures of filling the time meant that we sometimes put stuff on the air that was less than stellar. The clock never stops and the tyranny of time that faces most producers leads them to be on the look out for something to fill it . . . and flogging a potential scandal until it screams (whether it is really a scandal or not) is a sure fire time filler. It’s also easy and cheap to cover – something that quality coverage of substantive news items rarely is. Thus, economics and time become the drivers of these things more than the will of the masses.
Yes, I suppose that the folks who leave their TV’s on 24/7 have a short attention span and may not have the patience for longer quality coverage on difficult issues . . . but I think that is more of an assumption than a reality. I remember being told in seminary that most church members wouldn’t have the time patience or tolerance for deep and difficult bible study. However, when I got into the local church and started pulling out the harder stuff I discovered a whole pool of folks who were longing for something deeper and more substantive. I wonder if that may not be the case in regards to TV news today?
So media producers, we’ve heard enough. The Beyonce and Manta Te’o stories just don’t matter. Frankly my dears, we don’t give a damn.