U.S. News Networks Are 'Lost'

Article excerpt

A few weeks ago, I flipped on the TV in mid-morning, something I don't usually do. Egypt was on the verge of a coup, and I was in need of an update. I turned to CNN, where I worked for 17 years, and saw wall-to-wall coverage of the George Zimmerman trial.

Fox News and MSNBC offered the same, and the broadcast networks offered me The View, Doctor Oz and The Price Is Right.

Mind you, obsessive coverage of show trials is nothing new. The O.J. Simpson case hijacked the cable newscasts (then only CNN) nearly 20 years ago and held them for more than a year. But the Zimmerman trial, on the heels of the Jodi Arias trial, the Casey Anthony trial and dozens more mark a real turning point.

U.S. news networks have lost their way in covering news. The day for cable news playing a constructive role in reporting truly important human events is over. They're now competing to amuse you and me.

The amusement takes many odd forms, from a show trial, to a car chase, to iPhone video of a parking-lot slugfest, to royal babies and the Kardashians.

And it isn't the least bit funny. Neither is it news. It leaves us less informed. It's no coincidence that the decline of U.S. media, from reality TV to brainless news to shrinking newspaper staffs, is on a parallel path with the declining quality of government.

TV news executives are terrified of the future they face. The average cable-news viewer comes in at just under 60 years of age -- if you were wondering about the profusion of ads for Viagra, denture adhesive and motorized wheelchairs.

Younger audiences tend to prefer the fake version offered by The Daily Show and Colbert Report, or they eschew news-viewing completely. So their base isn't just shrinking, it will soon be dying.

The solution they've mapped out for this is to stay the course, even as both viewers and journalistic integrity slip away.

When a bright, shiny object like the Zimmerman trial comes along, the cable-news nets take a news vacation and compete for their one-third of a single story.

There's no denying that the elements of the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case have great social relevance: guns, personal safety, profiling and myriad aspects of race relations. But something's wrong when everything from the national debt to national health, from North Korea's nukes to climate change, from the roiling Middle East to failing public schools suddenly aren't worth mentioning. That brings us to a point where calling cable news "news" is almost as unforgivable as Fox News branding its brazenly partisan offerings as "fair and balanced. …