Monday, October 7, 2013

No other way to say it—this is bullshit.

I would like to make a prediction. This may happen in five years, maybe ten, maybe never.

Anyone who's ever queued up at a grocery store checkout line, whether for just a pack of chipotle e-smokes or lugging a cart filled with enough stuff to get the Ingalls' covered wagon from De Smet to Walnut Grove, has passed that densely stocked tabloid section. It's usually wedged somewhere between the Five Hour Energy and last chance Super Size Kit Kats.

Leading the pack is the bastion of bastardization, The National Enquirer, but always trailing in close pursuit are pubs like The Globe, Weekly World News and OK! Oh, but things are hardly okay in the tabloid universe. With the consistency of an A-Rod fib, these rags spell out doom and divine intervention in equal helpings. Here are a few headlines I wouldn't be surprised to see next time I hit Safeway:

Miley and Billy Ray secretly wed. In legal ceremony, happy couple proud to call Tennessee their home.

Woman finds hair clump in her calzone and discovers the face and beard of Jesus. Crowds flock from all corners of Tennessee.

On visit to Tennessee, Bill Clinton discovers second penis inside his nose. Can't stop blowing it.

Anyway, back to my prediction. I submit that, before too long, video screens will accompany the printed pages along checkout row. Sensational headlines will beckon us to their broadcasts and websites.

And anything goes. Saturday night, I got another whiff of the bitter stench of tabloid journalism. I don't know about you, but I find local news insufferable—the ridiculous banter between the flirty weather guy and the sexy anchor in her shellacked hair and one-piece Nancy Reagan clown dress, stepping all over each other's weak jokes, then chuckling anemically before snapping into "serious mode." Time to talk about some more car wrecks.

I try my best to avoid local news, but sometimes it's just a wrong-place-wrong-time type situation, and such was the case Saturday. As the concluding credits rolled up on a college football game, the pulsing headline titled, "Only on KIRO 7," filled the screen. The broadcast led with the horrific assault of a security guard in Seattle's Westlake park back in July. Instantly plastered in high def were the name and a Facebook image of a thirteen-year-old boy identified by the guard as one of the youths who beat him to unconsciousness as he attempted to prevent the group from stealing a backpack. Not until he'd recovered three months later was the guard able to label the boy as one of his assailants, someone he'd seen on numerous occasions hanging out in the park.

But it didn't end there. The story cut to a reporter standing on the front porch of the alleged perpetrator's mother's apartment. She quickly shut the door without comment, yet she wasn't swift enough to avoid her image being beamed across western Washington. Apparently, KIRO 7 takes no prisoners. If it bleeds, it leads.

I think we've all grown fairly callous regarding "infotainment," the new face of broadcast journalism. We're used to the rapes and murders and fires that dominate our headlines. 

This is different. While Seattle's online newspaper, The Post-Intelligencer, chose to run the same story with the same facts, they also opted against naming or picturing the accused boy. Of course, KIRO could have also done that, but that wasn't quite enough red meat for a ratings-starved station that consistently finishes last among Seattle's three predominate news channels. KIRO chose to put a face to the story, to erect a lightning rod to absorb our fear and prejudice. 

Look at this kid. He's thirteen, but he looks about nine. It sounds like he's going down the wrong path, and if he did what they say he did, he needs to be punished. 

But that's not the point. It's one thing for a television station to prematurely condemn an adult, but a child? Would KIRO do the same if a white kid were involved, or would they be wary of the legal ramifications brought forth by a family with more substantial resources? I think we all know the answer to that. 

To KIRO's credit, the headline projects a rare bit of insight:

"Only on KIRO 7."

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