A mini-course (four points) for watching network evening news. Pay attention because each point is essential in order to wisely view newscasts. Ignore any one item and you will be greatly misinformed. Not only misinformed but badly informed. It was Thomas Jefferson who said that in order to have a democracy you need an informed electorate. So, pay attention —
RULE ONE: Never believe the first report. Why? Because the reporter, rushing to beat the competition and/or the deadline, has probably gotten the facts wrong. After the dust has settled is the time to put credence in the “late breaking news headline.” How long? May take several days, or as long as a month.
RULE TWO: If a reporter rattles off about a thousand words per second, gasping for air as he spews syllables like a machine gun, turn to another channel immediately. Such a news dispenser is attempting to take an ordinary story – say, of Widow Smith’s cat that is stuck a tree and won’t come down — into a piece deserving the Pulitzer Prize for journalism. Be warned, the world is not going to end because that silly feline won’t descend from the tree.
RULE THREE: The more shocking the headline, the less you should believe it. TV news business is based on ratings and demographics. Increase the viewership and you increase the bottom line. News networks have learned that “shock and awe” is money in the bank. Without a doubt, The National Inquirer proved that the public loves gore – the redder, the better. So, this above all, give them gore.
RULE FOUR: Never conclude after watching the evening news that “this is the way the world.” It isn’t. The report you viewed gives a glimpse of how the bad part of the world is. The good part is usually ignored. Examples: the story about the mother in Virginia who goes without several meals so her daughter in college can buy the book she needs for her English class. Or the father in Ohio who works three jobs in order that his son can stay in college. The only way either of the mentioned parents can get on the evening news is to plunge an icepick in their children’s brains. If the two become murderers, they will be mobbed by reporters. Sad but true.
Summary: the next time you view a network news report, take it with a grain of salt. No, a box of salt (iodized or un-iodized, doesn’t matter). Better still, a mountain of salt. And oh, yes…a smile and a sense of humor. Otherwise you’ll end up ranting like reporters that” the sky is falling and that life as we know it will end at any moment –‘ but not before this commercial for Uncle George’s Magic Foot Lotion Rub, a miracle in a bottle’”
CALVIN DAVIS IS ALSO THE AUTHOR OF THE PHANTOM LADY OF PARIS.