Tom Shales: News is HAAAAAAAARD

God, Mom, I’m bored. There’s nothing todooooooooooooo:

Coverage of the BP oil spill has certainly reached marathon status, the
kind of thing still likely to lead on the evening newscasts — so
likely that the networks risk evoking “oh not that again” reactions
from viewers. It’s an unhappy fact of TV news life: the bigger the
story’s significance, the longer it rules the newscasts — and the
greater the danger the public will tune out.


One of the unkinder peripheral ironies of a calamity like this one: The
longer it goes on, the more likely public outrage will turn to jejune
ennui — what infuriated people when they first learned of it has
devolved into a pesky inconvenience; of course, this is only true of
those experiencing it vicariously — even if on high-def TV.

People who experience it that way, which is not really experiencing
it at all, might stop seeing it as a menace to the environment and
begin to view it as — mad though it sounds — an impertinence that
disrupts their escapist TV-viewing. As such reaction escalates, blame
shifts from the company that should have prevented the spill to the
media companies whose employees dutifully report on its virulent

Shales goes on to blame the coverage of Obama’s emotional temperature or whatever on the terribly important need to keep viewers from getting bored by the boring story that is boring about all the boring people and animals and fish that are dying because of the horrendous fuckups made by British Petroleum, which is British and therefore double-boring.

And OH MY GOD does this make me crazy. I hate this dodge, like, the press is all-powerful and all-knowing and sets standards for our national conversation, except when it’s totally powerless and at the whims of the ADD American public, who will stop watching after X number of days. In an amazing coincidence, that attention span lasts EXACTLY until the moment coverage becomes inconvenient and/or expensive. It’s so funny how that always works. You’re always able to pick a moment to convince yourself nobody gives a shit anymore, and that moment always corresponds to when you want to go home. It’s nice, in a way.


This solipsistic asshole actually brings up the Iran hostage crisis, as if Ted Koppel would be Ted Koppel without having had the balls to stick to a story for a long goddamn time instead of wittering off whenever his bosses said they were tired of it. There are ALWAYS forces within and without a news organization telling people to get off stories they should stay on, and the greatest moments in American journalism have come when some courageous reporter says fuck you, I’m not leaving. You know, I read wanking day after day after day about the importance of the national press in framing our discourse and raising the critical issues of the day, and then I read shit like this, and nobody seems to understand you’re supposed to be the wind and not the weatherman.

If you as a journalist believe a story’s good enough to stick with, and you want people to pay attention, then you MAKE THEM PAY ATTENTION. You shove an issue in their faces day after day after day and you tell every caller who says he or she is just so tired of oily pelican pictures to shove it up their asses. You don’t want to stop covering the story? THEN DON’T STOP COVERING IT JESUS GOD. Fuck your focus groups. Fuck
the “jejune ennui” of the people you imagine don’t care anymore and
want to go back to American Idol. Fuck story fatigue. For once in your lives stick to the ideals you’re always bagging on bloggers for not having.

Sack up, and stay with the story if you want to stay with it. Or don’t, and at least have the courage to admit it wasn’t the viewers’ fault, that you just didn’t wanna anymore.


x-posted at Tbogg.


14 thoughts on “Tom Shales: News is HAAAAAAAARD

  1. How odd. Ted Koppel literally made Nightline a household name through a story that, by definition, had almost no new news for virtually all of the 444 days of captivity of the Iranian embassy hostages.
    Now, with BP, the damage to the Gulf, the spread of oil throughout the Gulf Coast, the ongoing technical difficulties, the political implications to the White House and to a fistful of policies, this is a story that begs to be put to death?
    Doesn’t compute.

  2. Hmmm…there wasn’t any “economic/business” pushback with the Iranian embassy hostages. Just a bunch of unlucky folks who apparently “asked for it” by hanging out in the US Embassy there. Much more fun to go on and on about the crazy Iranians.
    But I can’t possibly believe anything so crass as $$$ could influence news decisions.
    (BTW, nice to see you over a TBogg’s, too.)

  3. Ya gotta remember, these turkeys have institutionalized ADD as the standard, Athenae.
    “Novel” is what they care about, not “newsworthy”.

  4. People who experience it that way, which is not really experiencing it at all, might stop seeing it as a menace to the environment and begin to view it as — mad though it sounds — an impertinence that disrupts their escapist TV-viewing.
    Maybe we need smell-o-vision. Or them new 3D sets.

  5. Or maybe they need to listen to Rachel Maddow instead of Tom Shales? (Is that what he’s afraid of, losing his audience / relevance / authoritah?)

  6. why didn’t obama hug somebody??? georgee FED US! obama makes us werk. an and that stupid dutch guy killed a peruvian. WHERE’S OUR JAZZ HANDS?!?
    if only we could put booms around the gnews.

  7. Well, most real world problems in the land of reality don’t run their course in less than a week.
    If so, we would have solved poverty centuries ago versus “the poor you will have with you always”.
    And how long have we been working on healthcare?

  8. The Oiltastrophe is the biggest story since the invasion of Iraq. It has national and international implications. Tom Shales seems to have gotten a bit dotty of late viz his column about Christiane Amanpour and This Week.
    Tom should some weed or drink many adult beverages and chill out. Oops, I forgot to say man. I just did, man.

  9. If you’re tired of this story as a journalist, then you’re either seriously burned out or dead. Really.

  10. @The Other Sarah, “Or maybe they need to listen to Rachel Maddow instead”
    Ab.So.Lutely. There are reasons Shales is NOT consulted on matters that matter.

  11. “Jejune ennui,” yet. Usingeither one of those words earns you a place in hell.

  12. Gosh. I knew it was rather a weak column but I didn’t think I was committing a capital crime. But when a columnist follows up a piece with a “what i meant to say” defense, the column must be adjudged, alas, a flop. Even so, in my solipsistic stupor I imagine it might help to say: I thought I was complaining about, among other things, the ever-shrinking attention span fostered by TV news and the way show-biz standards are applied to “journalism”– two very old arguments but that’s part of the point, that old bad habits die hard. I think the networks have largely done a solid, conscientious job on this story, but some of the old bugaboos are still around. As for “jejune ennui,” that was intended as SELF-mockery. I wish the column had been better. I am saddened that after 30 years of being derided as a “liberal,” I now find liberals my harshest critics — sometimes as nastily hysterical as the far-right’s nuttiest nuts.

  13. Ted Koppel was an agent of the GOP and he single-handedly wrecked Carter’s re-election chances. He was no journalist, he was a shill for the corporatists and it’s his goddamned fault we’re in this fix after 30 years of Reagan/Bush/Conservadems. If people had listened to Jimmy Carter we wouldn’t need to be drilling for oil at all. Koppel can kiss my hairy ass.
    Oh, and Shales is a whiny little girl.

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