There are two great short essays in the Columbia Journalism Review that explain perfectly why the instant cable coverage of sudden catastrophes is often so astoundingly misinformed and incompetent.
To watch talking heads, lacking much if any authoritative information, coming to instant, facile conclusions about suspects, motives, and details is not to watch journalism. It is the equivalent of attending a seance or meeting with a psychic. Armed with little knowledge and even less common sense, these hyper-ventilating bloviators fill the air with conjecture that is so uninformed, so embarrassingly foolish, that the only thing clarified is their incompetence. They will dispense psychiatric diagnoses, forensic theories, and all sorts of other expert opinions when the only thing they lack is — whoops — expertise.
I am going to start to cite specific examples so I can then provide names. All I know is that, if there was ever a time when 24 hour cable news performers showed any journalistic restraint and skepticism, that is now history.
One laughable example is a CNN reporter who not only freely offers his strange guesses about what might be going on and compares one incident with another he may have covered a few years back. He also asks questions of witnesses in which he coaxes them, not to inform, but to guess, to imagine, to hypothesize. After what I saw during the Ft. Hood coverage, I am now on a mission to bring you specific examples of just how speculative a talking head can be when hyperventilation rather than reporting is the goal.