Escaping the media echo chamber: Why is so much Obama coverage so one-dimensional?
When Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz called me for a comment on his story today about the coverage of Michelle Obama, I thought -- as usual -- he had nailed an interesting point.
But I also thought he was describing the tip of a very large iceberg.
Because what bothers me most about the coverage I'm seeing, particularly relating to all things President Obama, is an explosion of the Media Echo Chamber Effect.
It's not new, I know. The morning shows get hold of a story, flog it for hours, then the concept moves to cable TV news, which masticates over it for hours longer, and by the end of the day, network TV newscasts are covering the story because "everybody's talking about it," and newspapers get in the act the next day, often finding a new angle to spur more coverage the next day.
In the case of Michelle Obama, that echo chamber emerged sharply, I think, because so few American news outlets have reporters who could travel to Europe for the G-20 meetings, anyway.
And with the substance of those meetings mired in technicalities about the world economy -- who cares about that, anyway -- it's a lot easier to bring on fashion and etiquette experts to dissect the meaning of Michelle Obama in J. Crew or her inadvertent mistake in touching England's Queen.
The result, unfortunately, is a flood of distracting nonsense aimed at turning a momentous gathering of world leaders into a story worthy of People magazine's home page.
That's also what turned the story about the struggle to bailout mega-insurer AIG into an excuse to echo viewer rage about the sliding economy for long weeks. And what reduced reporting on Obama's appearance on the Tonight Show and 60 Minutes into stories about an unfortunate joke about the Special Olympics and gallows humor about how much people hate bailing out auto companies.
I think we're seeing twin impacts here -- the force of cable news chewing over the most obvious, attenton-getting elements of complex stories and the Web-driven desire for all news outlets to present news that resonates quickly and intensely with consumers.
But the result, while understandable, is just making it tougher for consumers to find real news in the flood of news reports they are presented with every day. at least we'll know where to buy whatever dress Michelle Obama is wearing today -- if we can still afford it.