Friday, June 27, 2008


The first sign I noticed was the guy with the shaky head.

CBC Newsworld was covering the flooding of Cedar Rapids, Iowa and either unable to send their own reporter because of budget cuts or in need of American instruction on how you cover a major TV story these days, they opted for a live feed from NBC News.

The NBC Reporter was parked on the banks of the once placid Cedar River with the flooded city in the background looking suitably dour as the CBC Anchor intro'd him. But as she asked her first question, he began shaking his head in that classic bad actor "I've just never seen anything so bad" mode. Never mind the massive flooding CBC had just been covering from China or the Monsoon death toll in Bangladesh, we had basements underwater here and city records getting soggy.

He even quoted Linn County Sheriff Don Zeller, "We're just kind of at God's mercy right now, so hopefully people that never prayed before this, it might be a good time to start."

Wow -- not two minutes in and we're already suggesting devastation of Biblical proportions requiring intervention from a Deity. This guy was a really good Cheerleader of Doom. No doubt he's destined for a big future at NBC, which is becoming known for its own disasters.

"Oh -- the Humanity..."

Now, I'm sure the folks of Cedar Rapids weren't enjoying their ordeal, but seeing their discomfort milked for every ounce of suffering was a little much. Especially since I'd just seen a Vancouver reporter for Global looking uncomfortable as the "flood ravaged" farmer he'd phoned refused to get any more emotional than farmer nonchalant.

No matter how many suggestions the reporter offered on how devastated the farmer must be, he just -- wasn't. "Nope, it's been flooded worst hereabouts a few times". And, "Well, we're makin' coffee and sittin' her out." Even the dire warning that he'd lost his crop and faced financial devastation was met with, "No, we got insurance."

Damn! Will nobody accept that the Apocalypse is upon us? Doesn't anyone but a seasoned network Anchor know a rabid mob of Zombies when they see one?

A couple of months ago, CBC hired an American consulting firm, Magid and Associates, to "pep up" their newscasts. Ratings were sliding against CTV and (God, forbid) Global.

And rather than explore whether that might be because their newscasts were on when nobody wanted to watch them, showed a little too much enthusiasm for the Federal Liberal Party or that the lead-in programming had failed to draw a crowd in the first place; the Mothercorp decided to toss generations of reliable and reasoned news coverage for the American "Chicken Little" approach.

As first reported by The Tea Makers about a year ago...

"Frank Magid is called 'The Maggot' in the United States because he is loathed and despised by pretty much anyone who wants to be, or is, a serious television journalist. He is loved by ratings-hungry station managers and blow-dried airhead anchors."

'60 Minutes' producer Don Hewitt dubbed Magid's formula "Ken and Barbie journalism" while Walter Cronkite denounced the reporting concept as " perversions created from outside."

CBC won't say how much they paid Magid and Associates for their consultations. But since he charges $28,000 US for each tiny market US station, I'm sure it's a whack.

Gee, first we get Toledo Affiliate programming with "Jeopardy" and "Wheel of Fortune" and now we're watching their version of the News. "Cows loose on I-90! News at Eleven-- er, Ten, uh, 9:30 in Newfoundland." God, DMc, can those cops of yours on "The Border" defend us from nobody?

This Approaching Apocalypse version of journalism has been creeping onto CBC for a while now. No story on disgraced ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs Maxime Bernier is complete without the now months old clip of his former paramour's cleavage combined with a complete lack of real coverage of that story.

If Bernier left secret NATO documents under his gun moll girlfriend's bed that's certainly worth investigating.

But you had to giggle at CBC's blustering over the last couple of days when Bernier suggested she'd "stolen" them from him and he'd been "set up". Because it wasn't "we got a lying politician" bluster, it was clearly pique at having somebody think up an even better plot twist than the tired old sex and power melodrama they'd been serving.

"The Horror...the horror..."

Last night, the "Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid" reporting style was all over a lengthy CBC report on the impending collapse of society as we know it because of higher oil prices.

Futurists who seemed to have a weak grasp on tomorrow's weather pontificated on our return to feeding ourselves on what we could grow at home, that air travel would be a thing of the past and implied that millions of jobless automakers and former Motel 6 employees would roam the country in packs, rampaging through the few remaining Tim Horton's Drive-thru's at will.

My favorite was an "expert" from the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce literally rolling his eyes and perspiring in panic as he described how much we just don't get the complete devastation we're facing. It made me realize that CIBC isn't collapsing because it stupidly dumped Billions into the sub-prime mortgage market. It's because idiots like this guy have executive positions at their soon to be defunct bank.

Although, I have to say, he was positioning himself well to be the next doom and gloom forecaster on Fox. Peter Mansbridge might be heading there too, because he seemed tickled pink at all the bad news he's got coming down the pipe.

Or maybe he just enjoys the feel of a new puppetmaster pulling his strings.

Look, I know the planet is confused and difficult right now. And items reported on newscasts are usually there because they're more serious than normal events to begin with -- Presidential blowjobs and baby Belugas aside.

But I expect journalists to give me the whole story, or at least as much of it as they can dig up on a deadline, instead of just trying to scare me. Like most people, I already have enough problems in my own life and don't need to be endlessly spooked.

I mean, I'd like to make a difference in Darfur and Zimbabwe as much as the next guy, but I need at least a suggestion that it's not all hopeless and pointless over there.

I'm not asking for "feel-good" stories here, I'm asking for some balance, some suggestion that somebody is trying something to fight the darkness.

Sure the airlines are in trouble. But yesterday Pratt & Witney debuted an engine that uses 20% less jet fuel and carriers like Westjet who employed some forethought in their business planning are reaping huge quarterly profits.

How come that never gets mentioned?

The world never stops changing. Dinosaur industries will always die around us, just like some guy with a gun will eternally lose it at the post office and once trusted public officials will forever turn out to be liars and thieves. That's life. I know that part of the story. Tell me the rest of it. Because if you don't, I'll find it somewhere else.


And if you journalists want something to be really scared about, consider this: The first suggestion debt counselors make to people squeezed by rising costs and threatened earnings is to get rid of cable television. It not only saves them $60 a month. It reduces their stress and aggravation so they can better address their situation.


Anonymous said...

Co-incidentally to this, I heard the most interesting comment on a talk radio this morning, and it rings true: In the past, "news reporting" meant that anchors and reporters would report on what happenED or what was happenING. These days, seventy-five percent of the "news" stories are about what WILL happen. Instead of the journalists telling you what is going on, they have morphed into prognosticators. Instead of doing their jobs of fact-finding, they are speculating.

Brandon Laraby said...

... And the problem with speculating is that there's so many people hedging their bets on things going to shit that they're almost wishing it would happen.

Lookk at oil prices right now - there's just as much oil (if not more) coming out as there ever was yet gas prices are going nowhere. Why? The market is entirely driven by speculation right now.

These people are trying to inflate the price as high as they can before the market just refuses to accept it anymore. And when it pops, when the market starts to right itself, there's going to be a lot of pissed off people.

See, I can speculate too!

Mark said...

The use of fear is so effective it's, well, frightening. I watched the dvd 'Children of Men' last year and found the extras to be wonderfully ironic. The filmmakers were painting an apocalyptic future and in one of the small documentaries they talked about the conservative right wings use of fear tactics to make the masses conform. I thought that it was incredibly hypocritical as they were using the very same tactics to try to get the audience to conform to their views.

We seem to be in a frenzy these days and many natural occurrences are being wrongfully attributed to 'climate change'. It's mass manipulation and it is going to have an effect on the economies of nations and the lives of people. The frenzy is fueled by a drama hungry news media (and some wily politicians and interest groups).

A few weeks ago there was a story on the GM layoffs and there was a doom and gloom story on CBC radio that sought to confirm the notion that Ontario's auto manufacturing industry was becoming extinct. One pundit pointed out that despite the layoffs there was actually an increase in auto jobs in Ontario (due to Toyota and others) and the statistic was quickly buried in favour of the negative impact angle. Since then, I haven't heard anyone mention the positive numbers. it's a sad sad state of affairs.