It’s true that I hate the fickle and changeable nature of the news, but you know what. Sometimes I love it too. After all. That’s the point of the news isn’t it. Reporting on events as they happen, supplying present tense intelligence and only dwelling on past tense events as new angles or analysis emerges. That’s the news as it should be. Fast flowing and up to date. Oh… and accurate! Well two out of 3 isn’t bad is it?
So on Sunday night I went to bed spitting blood and bile about when this never-ending coverage of the royal wedding would end (never) and on Monday morning the press were acting as though it had never happened. Like some big mind rubber had come down and erased it all. BRILLIANT!
Not only that, but there was some REAL news being reported on too. The kind that is ACTUALLY relatively important and relevant. The kind you WANT to read about in the press. Osama Bin Laden. Found and killed after a decade of evading the US. Exciting shit and, more importantly, an end to the eternal loop of royal wedding coverage on offer. Well almost. The papers all going to press the night before were still peddling out royalist headlines, mixed in with some stuff about cancer, pensions and Britain being forced to merge with France by the EU (I despair, I really do). When I checked the days front pages online only the Sunderland Echo managed to report on OBL’s death…. Go Sunderland!
But Breaking news is great. It’s what the media were made for, while those without TVs still thought Kate looked lovely the rest of us were plugged into 24 hour news and ‘teh internets’ mainlining real-time updates on the breaking news as it broke! It took no time at all for the first Bin Laden jokes, fakes and conspiracy theories to do the rounds.
But there is a problem. Breaking news is just that. It’s still happening or has just happened. News reporters have a responsibility here to filter, investigate and analyse this news and ensure that what they then report accurately and critically. In a previous post I went all sanctimonious about the principles of journalism. But checking sources and reporting accurately are surely the first pillar of being a journalist. Once upon a time the news was on at designated times in the day. This meant that, like yesterdays papers, it might have felt very dated very quickly if a big thing happened. But equally, it meant reporters were forced to spend some time actually making reports, checking sources, asking those critical questions… you know, doing their fucking job.
With 24/7 instant coverage you gain and lose. You gain the instant hit of hearing about stuff as it happens but you lose any pretence at meaningful quality control or analysis. Nowadays when there is breaking news they don’t bother with any of that – they just regurgitate everything verbatim like Mr Creosote when he’s really fucking stuffed on after eight mints. They don’t need to sit down and thinkabout what to say, what questions to ask – they’re on 24/7 they can just keep talking shit in the hope that something meaningful comes out – dragging irrelevant “experts” out of bed who are probably interrupting a big bank holiday hangover to state the very very obvious but with the kudos of a job title that sounds vaguely important.
Watching breaking news, especially when the release of information is being tightly controlled as was the case with Bin Laden, is like watching the theory of monkey’s typewriters and Shakespeare in action live on TV. A presenter just splurges out whatever comes into their heads, proving their own idiocy backed up with whatever rank speculation and hypothesis the internet throws at them.
Relieved as I was to see the Royal Wedding loop cut down in its prime I was quickly despairing again. I wanted to know 3 things: What exactly happened? What evidence is there that this story is true? Is there a moral or ethical problem with this operation? Instead I was greeted by Sky news pundits genuinely debating whether or not the American authorities had informed the royal family and planned the raid around the wedding so as not to disrupt proceedings. I’m not joking. Maybe they thought William had to return to work early so he could fucking lead the operation too. He is a highly decorated Colonel after all!
What about the facts? Well it’s emerged that there were apparently 5 people killed in the compound: Osama, his youngest wife, his son, his “courier” and someone else. So why did I distinctly hear a news presenter mumbling something about 300 casualties? I double-took not believing my own ears – but he said it. It doesn’t matter though – ‘cos it was live and when the news changed they just reported it like it never happened.
Want evidence he’s dead? Well with the US government being tight-lipped why not circulate a well documented fake from 2009 – a fake so bad that it looks like a special effect from the original terminator film – but that fools (lets see) the Mail, The Sun, The Mirror, The Telegraph AND Sky fucking NEWS.
The clueless panicked way the media report on breaking news is just ridiculous. They know that the only news they have is this: Obama announced US forces killed Osama. That’s only six fucking words. How can they stretch this out to 24/7 coverage? This is how. They run dull library footage of OBL on a loop along with any emerging footage they scratch around for. So visually, we get to see one of the most recognisable faces in the world in some of the most familiar footage known to man on a ten second fucking loop. I KNOW WHAT HE LOOKS LIKE. IS HE DEAD? Then they broadcast disturbing footage of Americans crowing and chanting U-S-A from New York and Washington as though they were somehow morally more righteous to do so than the Palestinians who were condemned for similar disturbing celebrations on September 11th 2001. Finally they looped through footage from Pakistani TV showing bloody bedrooms and a burning building.
Over this visual dirge they dig up everyone they can with a vaguely interesting sounding CV to ask them stupid questions and explore their own ignorant theories until another titbit comes out – which they leap on like starving dogs. Forget facts… Forget thoughtful analysis. They need to fill airtime. This is live TV – ANYTHING will do. So the questions about invading a foreign country for a state sponsored assassination became secondary to producing a flashy graphic about how we went in an killed this fucker… Hollywood style! (One celebrator interviewed commented that he hoped the Marine had said a few choice words before putting two bullets into Osama’s head).
That’s the problem with breaking news nowadays. How on earth can you get a 5 word statement like “Osama Bin Laden is dead” and stretch it out to infinity without throwing critical, accurate and analytical thinking in the bin? Answer – you don’t!