Several of the speakers at this year's Fighting Bob Fest, including our own John Nichols, were highly critical of the state of the news media these days, particularly television.
Not only has there been a trend in even the biggest TV markets to pass off videos produced by corporate public relations departments as bona fide news, but there's a bigger emphasis on "feel good features" and gossipy sensational stories all at the expense of what was once considered real news.
To prove a point, an Internet blog called Think Progress looked closely at the network newscasts the evening of Aug. 17th. That happened to be the day that U.S. District Court Judge Anna Diggs Taylor ruled that the Bush administration had blatantly violated the U.S. Constitution with its secret NSA domestic communications surveillance program.
It also happened to be the same day the announcement was made that Thailand had in its custody a man who claims to have murdered JonBenet Ramsey.
According to the blog, here's the score:
• NBC - 7 minutes, 39 seconds on the JonBenet story, 27 seconds on the judge's decision.
• CBS - 3 minutes, 23 seconds on the JonBenet story, 25 seconds on the decision.
• ABC - 4 minutes, 3 seconds on JonBenet, 2 minutes on the decision.
The JonBenet story, of course, went on and on for days afterward and only died after the supposed confessed killer was proved not to have been anywhere near the little girl's house the day of the murder.
The NSA story, however, after getting a few headlines (it was on the front page of The Capital Times the day the story broke, Aug. 17) virtually disappeared in a couple of days.
There are some in Congress and elsewhere who view the Bush constitutional violations as impeachable offenses - certainly more serious than lying about having sex with an intern, for instance.
But violating the very Constitution that one has sworn to uphold doesn't get the news juices flowing like a JonBenet development or sex in the White House, for that matter.
Yes, it's unfortunately true that more folks will devour those scandal stories. The news business, though, needs to remember its role in keeping America free by keeping tabs on the people's government.
If it becomes all about entertainment, we're all doomed.
Copyright ©2006, Capital Newspapers.