Saved by the Birds?

I thought we no longer had to worry about terrorists because The Birds were going to get us first. Should have listened to Alfred Hitchcock way back when. Now it’s bird flu, of all things. Fact is, CNN needed something new to wear into the ground, and so they got it with the birds and were doing an admirable job of it.

Noticing that they were being outdone, at least in air time, the terrorists got inspired to act up again, and there went the bird story–sort of. Then the news channels were torn. Where to spend their time? Birds or terrorists? Terrorist birds?

But wait, New Orleans police to the rescue this time–by beating up an over-60 year old man. Unfortunately for us all, and as we all know too well by now, that beating was recorded on video tape, and we were forced into watching it each time we turned on the news over the next five days. How many times could we watch this same video tape of the beating without being incited to beat up on something ourselves–like the producers responsible for this relentless repetition? It was nearly as bad as having to hear about the verdict of the Michael Jackson trial for weeks upon weeks after the verdict was announced.

But all of that–except for the Michael Jackson business–was last week. This week, it’s back to birds and terrorists–neither having done much of anything, but having nothing better to report, today’s news is now about what might happen–and who’s to blame if it does.

A friend just e-mailed his news report of the noontime news: “The bird virus is going to mutate! The bird virus is going to mutate! The dam is going to burst! The dam is going to burst!” And after that, “The terrorists are going to blow up the harbor tunnel! The terrorists are going to blow up the harbor tunnel!” Not a single piece of news of anything actually having happened, just battalions of helicopters poised to watch the dam and the Baltimore harbor (not the flu-y birds). Press conferences had been called and officials and esteemed senators were all talking of the horrors of when this or that might happen. Reporters were asking “Who is to blame for this?”

Chicken Little redux. So, still a bird theme–at least in part.

Did you notice that during the coverage of Hurricane Katrina that the war in Iraq ceased to exist? Really. There was no mention of it at all. It was as if it never happened, which many of us wish were the truth. The news is funny like that. It is also dangerous. It defines our views of the world just by what it shows us–even of what hasn’t even happened–what we don’t see can’t hurt us? Right. If only that were the case.

I remember once a couple of years ago all the local Atlanta TV stations suspended network news programs (it was during the early morning national news programs, therefore committing the ultimate crime of interrupting my watching of the Today Show) so that we could view a traffic jam on I-20, near the airport, where reportedly a small private plane had crashed. No one knew who was in the plane or where the plane had come from, or for that matter, exactly where the plane was at that point in time. From the camera’s vantage point, amidst the traffic jam, the only thing we could see was backed-up lines of traffic. And that is what remained on air for more than an hour–on all local stations.

There was nothing more to report, there was nothing to see–except the traffic jam, and most of us don’t need to watch TV to see one of those. What was the point? We will never know, just like we will never know why local stations pre-empt all programming to show us car chases. I suspect this may be a guy thing, as I remember one TV announcer, so excited with the car chase he was reporting–he thought it was better than Nascar, and said so on air. To quote Dr. Phil, “What the hell was he thinking?”

And now trying to get us all up in arms and rallied around some imagined happening–like the bird flu mutating (should be some exciting video footage there) or the blowing up of the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel–as if acting like it has already happened, when it hasn’t, is helpful.

I can just hear tonight’s news now. “The sky is falling, the sky is falling,” as reported, of course, by one of the birds.

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