Like many news addicts, I keep the cable TV stations on during the day while I go about the more mundane aspects of running the Cinema Retro "empire". Yesterday's miraculous landing in the Hudson River of an airliner that suffered the loss of its engines after striking a flock of geese, was truly a head-turner. The networks, both local New York affiliates and national cable stations, appropriately reported on every second of the breathtaking event. The captain of the stricken craft had managed a truly spectacular water landing in the shadow of where the World Trade Center once loomed and, equally impressive, a Dunkirk-armada of disparate rescue boats managed to get all 150+ passengers evacuated from the plane within 90 seconds. The only thing that would have made it more riveting is if we found out Karen Black had been piloting the plane a la Airport '75. However, as the minutes turned to hours, the networks fell back on their reliably lazy and pandering methods of showing endless loops of the same footage, interviewing and re-interviewing the same passengers and aviation experts even as it became clear no remarkable or new information was forthcoming. As compelling as this story was, it was still mostly relevant to New Yorkers - after 9/11, the prospect of any airliner flying at an abnormally low altitude over the city would be of great concern. However, the incident occurred so quickly that there had been no panic or even speculation about what was happening. If you lived in Des Moines, Iowa and finally wanted to get some international news, you were out of luck. The networks were giving you wall-to-wall coverage of a story they decided was so compelling that the outside world would not exist. This is usually the same treatment afforded cases pertaining to missing sexy, white teenage girls.
Think I'm being too harsh? Well, I like a heart-warming story as much as anyone - and this one not only provided some real heroes but the all-too-infrequent happy ending because all of the passengers escaped without life-threatening injuries. However, at what point does coverage of a feel-good story become excessive and find the networks abdicating their responsibilities to report on what is happening elsewhere in the world? Consider just what else was occurring yesterday:
There was a contentious senate confirmation hearing for Eric Holder, who stands to become the most powerful law enforcement official in the United States.Want to know where he stands on the important issues and how he would run the department differently from the Bush administration? Well, if you didn't see the hearings when they were broadcast live in the morning, you were out of luck as far as cable news networks went.
Both Senators Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden gave their farewell addresses to their colleagues before assuming their new positions as Secretary of State and Vice-President.
The battles in Gaza saw the worst day of violence so far and a UN building was shelled.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Fuggetaboutit! Journalists are risking their lives to cover these conflicts, but they seem to get as much airtime as the battle of Gettysburg.
Finally, President Bush gave his farewell address to the nation, though it was clear the networks only reluctantly afforded him 13 minutes of precious "non-news" coverage of the airliner crash. Depending upon where you stand on the President's performance, the speech was either moving and gracious or delusional and arrogant - but there was little air time afforded to discuss these issues or debate the significance of the speech, though MSNBC did allow its hosts to dwell on it a bit before resuming the "All Airliner, All the Time" coverage.
Late in the evening, and hours after the last relevant news had been released about the incident, I turned to the BBC to find out if there were any other human beings left on the planet who were making news. Alas, it did not appear so. How about Nightline for analysis of the Holder confirmation or Presidential speech? Nope - it was 100% airliner news - and included an entire segment on the bird menace to airliners. There were so many of these stories about feathered fiends that aired last night, I thought Hitchcock had risen from the grave to direct them.
This morning I turned out CNN in the vain hope the airliner story had been placed in proper context, but no such luck. In spot-checking the network, it's been hours and I haven't found a single story that wasn't related to the rescue. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Paddy Chayefsky's Network now seems like a documentary instead of a comedy. I guess the airline rescue story will be omnipresent on the news shows - at least until the next sexy, white teenage girl goes missing.