Worse Than Overcovering Anna Nicole: NBC Invents the News
I've mostly got two big peeves as a critical media dude: When journalists inappropriately make themselves the story (think stories about getting tasered or escaping from some calamity), and when news organizations manufacture news stories.
That's why I hated NBC's To Catch a Predator series so much; it was journalists going out into the community and ginning up troublemakers instead of doing the much tougher job of simply observing more coventional efforts to apprehend them.
And my pals at Dateline NBC are back at it again, premiering a special called "Breaking and Entering" at 7 p.m. Sunday that features the Today show "security consultant" Bill Stanton breaking into a car, a home and hotel room in broad daylight, also luring kids to his car playing in the park.(Stanton's done such stuff before)
Ostensibly, the purpose of this is to teach viewers how to deal wth these situations in real life. The real purpose is to get sensational footage of Stanton breaking the law under incredibly controlled conditions.
My how most newsmagazines have fallen: once upon a time, these shows were where we learned about the plight of the Vietnamese boat people or the abuse of mental patients in New York state hospitals.
In contrast, Friday's 20/20 was an expose by host John Stossel, "Scared Stiff: Worry in America," about why we're so worried. Of course, on Friday he didn't talk about war in Iraq, or growing international terrorism or global warming or increasing pollution or America's vanishing heavy industry jobs. Stossel took on reports about Mad Cow disease and failed water heaters (he also took time to swipe at one of ABC News' biggest competitors, NBC's To Catch a Predator, with a segment on the unlikeliness of child abduction).
His big finish: donning a wig to see if car drivers gave more space to women than men (after all the fanfare, Stossel couldn't tell). Anyone who watches 20/20 regularly knows this is hardly an atypical night.
More than journalists gorging on Anna Nicole coverage, this trend angers and disappoints me as a critic. Because the devolution of these shows means that, no matter what may be in the news on a given day or week, viewers are going to get pre-digested, video-friendly pap disguised as magazine-length reporting.
You Mean, He Hasn't Announced Already? That was my reaction after hearing John McCain had announced his candidacy on David Letterman's show yesterday. Hasn't this guy already done just about everything a candidate would do, including fund-raising?
My fave quote: "“Well, you may remember that in the last election there was some conversation about me being Vice President of the United States, it wasn’t clear which party,” which garnered laughter from Letterman and the audience. “And I was on one of the shows and the guy said, ‘Well, what’s this about you being Vice President of the United States?’ I said, ‘You know, I spent all those years in a North Vietnamese prison camp, kept in the dark, fed scraps – why the heck would I want to do that all over again?’”
Didn't He Realize a Dance Competition Would Be, Um, Physical? My reaction upon hearing that Vincent "Big Pussy" Pastore concluded after one week of training that he couldn't do ABC's reality hit Dancing With the Stars. The guy is 5', 10" and at least 350 pounds -- he must have missed the tapes of Jerry Springer sweatin' to the oldies on the last season (the competitor with a prosthetic leg, ex-Mrs. McCartney Heather Mills, is still in the running).
UPDATE: My fave quote from Ms. Mills, delivered courtesy of work pal Colette Bancroft: "It's very unlikely my leg is going to fly off, although it would be quite funny. I'll have a strap on which I wouldn't normally in every day life."
Can't wait to see the publicity photos on that one...