MSNBC and Prison Reality Programming:” Or How Did “Lockup Raw” Get On a News Channel?

 My love-hate relationship with 24 hour cable news continues.

I’ve admitted it before: None of my  criticism of 24 hour cable news – including what I have to say here – can hide a simple fact: When all hell breaks loose, or when an event occurs that is important to me, I am tuned in for the wall to wall coverage like any other news-loony.

The problem with MSNBC, CNN, and FOX is that they are responsible for news holes too immense to fill and too costly to fill with in-depth reporting. So they each rely on all sorts of  filler — talking heads, re-runs of regular network magazine shows, and reality shows from independent producers – to fill the schedule. Of course, this is a tacit admission that they are simply unwilling to spend the resources required to fill the hole with serious news or analysis.

On MSNBC, for example, we are treated to such unrepentant claptrap as Lockup Raw and Caught on Camera, and, reaching even deeper into the cultural garbage bin, re-runs of To Catch a Predator.

Believe me; I am sure that they would rather fill the hole with enough truly cataclysmic events that they could keep “BREAKING NEWS” flashing on the bottom of the screen permanently. The problem is that, by mercilessly hyping any remotely interesting news story, they have raised the catastrophe bar so high that a war between India and Pakistan might not even make the cut unless one of the countries loaded up the nukes.

OK, so I exaggerate.

But barring a world that doesn’t come apart 24 hours a day, they each look to trashy programming as filler.

And this is where “Prison-P–n” comes in. One of MSNBC’s most popular fillers is Lockup Raw, which offers hours of riots and fights inside prisons backed by a soundtrack of screaming and yelling and all-around mayhem. We learn nothing about the causes of prison conditions.

But we do learn the profound and shocking lesson that inmates occasionally beat the hell out of each other. Brilliant. And deep. Very deep.

Normally I wouldn’t waste keyboard strokes about “Prison P–n” programming, but last week I heard a feature on NPR’s All Things Considered about the inhuman conditions in California prisons, including crowding, disease, and sexual assault. As I listened, I was struck even more how garbage like Lockup Raw, with all its screaming and bleeding, is too mindless to offer even a slightly provocative insight about why prisons are the way they are.

They keep it quite simple: Prisoners are animals. Prisons are zoos.

Please check out the extraordinary report by Laura Sullivan on overcrowding at San Quentin that was broadcast July 7th on All Things Considered. No video. No blood. No prison p–n. only a brilliant and chilling story about what happens when two inmates occupy a cell built for one; when the barbaric view of the human being as animal is formalized in a state’s public policy and practice.

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5 thoughts on “MSNBC and Prison Reality Programming:” Or How Did “Lockup Raw” Get On a News Channel?

  1. It’s voyeurism, pure and simple – and it’s very worrying. It’s like those shedloads of books we now see in the shops cataloguing childhood abuse stories – why would anyone want to read all those? Well, OK, I have one friend who has adopted a damaged child from just such an environment and she’s read quite a few in an effort to understand him better. I guess that’s reasonable thinking … but for entertainment? I just don’t understand it.

    But you know what I don’t understand about 24-hour news channels? They ALL cover exactly the same things and they do them to death. At the same time, we only ever get the major stories. Things happen all over the country, all the time, and I KNOW it’s not the case that there is no other news.

    Personally, I’d like to see a few more of the human interest type stories. You know, the local stuff. The fairly unimportant-in-the-grand-scheme of things but still fascinating and even (sometimes) uplifting. But, see, that would mean the news channels actually paying journos to go out collecting such stories, and your Prison Porn is just sooo much cheaper. 😉

  2. I can’t watch these “shows”, though not for lack of trying. I just don’t see the appeal. There’s enough reality in my life that I don’t need more!

    I do love NPR’s All Things Considered and catch it whenever I can.

  3. “Prison Porn” – it is sordid voyeurism, kind of like looking at a friend’s travel photos from Thailand.

  4. I hate the news channels. Thats the best way I can state it. Its never a full story at all, come on. its your job to report the news and you probably get paid very good money for the story. why don’t you get out there and take pride in your job and give us, the american public, the best darn story you can, chalk full with details and maybe actual reality. and then there are the filler stories that people don’t need to know about like which dog took best in show because frankly its useless information. Why can’t news channels actually provide us with adequate news?

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