Procrustean news patterns

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  • The “daily news cycle” killed twentieth century journalism. It drained meaning, the life blood of news dissemination, from the stories we needed to hear. The artificial constraint of deadline driven journalism forced journalists and news-makers to collude in an elaborate ritual more suited to ancient Greek dramatic arts than to newscasts or newspapers. Nine years ago, when it was clear that the President would take advantage of the then recent tragedy to engage in what he called the “first war of the 21st century,” the nascent antiwar movement rose up to encounter the havoc of what would surely be another failure of American foreign policy. They tried to leash the dogs of war and they failed.

    The activists organized anti-war rallies. The rallies were choreographed to meet production schedules for the nightly television news. The cameras and reporters appeared right on time. They shot enough video and recorded enough voice over to prepare a thirty second spot and then the news producer presented that brief piece between the latest criminal mayhem and whatever legislative scandal had appeared. Cut to commercial and on to the weather and sports.

    Meaningful engagement on the part of the activists was limited by their desire to finesse the news cycle, and the meaning of that engagement as reported was narrowed, any detail sacrificed to editorial guidelines and production constraints. And so with clockwork regularity another evening news cycle would contain another march for world peace, a fireman rescuing a cat from a tree, cut to commercial and on to weather and sports. If the peace activists sought to inform people, to rally them to oppose war, and to capture political influence, they failed. Part of their failure can be blamed on the Procrustean nature of the news cycle and their inability to break out of that mold.

    The activists failed and so did the journalists. Their inability to break out of the editorial control of businesses with vested interests in the success of what we now can see as failed foreign and economic policies wreaked havoc on our culture, twisted the values of many to align with the values espoused by mad men and narcissists, destroyed the faith in our democracy of many more, and prised professional broadcast journalists from their chairs to be replaced by rank propagandists.

    All of this is obvious, redundant at best. I share it here as a prologue, an introduction to a couple of posts I’m writing. Last week in Orlando, I had the great good fortune to use press credentials to get close to a couple of people who have important roles in the continuously unfolding drama of American politics: Newt Gingrich, James Carville, and Rob Reiner among others. Sharing the messages they presented at the AARP convention without background and without a lens that focuses on their interests would be to do them a disservice. So rather than hack together some posts that parroted their words from the stage, I decided to take some time and add a little background, to break out of the Procrustean news cycles and hopefully to underscore the meaning behind their appearances in Orlando.

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    1. Don Harvey
      Posted October 6, 2024 at 5:09 | Permalink

      Newt? Please Frank, do him a disservice.

    2. Posted October 6, 2024 at 7:25 | Permalink

      That was political talk for “I hope to really trash the dude while maintaining a hypocritical posture of warm courtesy and collegiality.” You know, like they do in Congress.

    3. Don Harvey
      Posted October 6, 2024 at 9:00 | Permalink

      Now I can’t wait for the post!

    4. Posted October 7, 2024 at 1:33 | Permalink

      looking forward to the posts frank. this conversation may be of some interest: John Mearsheimer: Why does a smart country act so stupid?