I’ve long had a beef with the trend in 24-hour cable news coverage that enshrined hyperventilation, faux-urgency, and screens flashing the words “breaking news” as standard operating procedure.
It’s not that some news — much news — isn’t genuinely earth shaking, it’s that gravity is no longer allowed to logically emerge from the magnitude of an event. News has to be hyped and flashed and yelled and screamed, as if some viewers or listeners might somehow have missed the seriousness of a terrorist bombing.
One result is that those first, few moments when we learn of an event has become absolutely polluted by hasty news judgments, spreading of rumors, and speculation about facts that virtually no one could actually know.
And when the event is truly traumatic — when the public is desperately struggling to understand something that seems to defy explanation — all this babbling and speculating can only increase widespread feelings of dislocation and disorientation. The world – already heading to “hell in a hand basket “ – can only look more confused and unpredictable.
So what else is new?
News delivered in the form of screams and shouts is old news. The frenzied attempts to be first that recently led CNN into a series of major blunders is now routine. One wonders if the CNN brand can even survive the string of embarrassing and inaccurate “scoops” that have turned out to be so completely and unambiguously wrong.
What is news is that – amidst the tragic events of the last week – one calm, brilliant, judicious voice could be heard almost non-stop — rejecting rumors, waiting for confirmation, dismissing publicized inaccuracies, and slowly – with impeccable news judgment – piecing the complex story together. It was a virtuoso display of what can still happen in the digital age when one person’s supremely sound judgment and sense of fairness are allowed to trump all the bells and whistles and urgent music that too often passes for substance on the networks.
So let us praise and honor the work of NBC correspondent Pete Williams, who needed only a few phones, a chair and a table to find truth in a flood of fragments, half-truths, and rumors.
Any one of the hundreds of careful, declarative sentences Pete delivered this week was almost certain to contain more confirmed truth than any randomly selected hour of the crazed, over-caffeinated, circus now performing at CNN.
I have seen the news, and it is Pete.