The problem with cable news: Cable news

(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Someone at CNN last Friday decided there was a possibility that the at-large bombing suspect could well be tuned in to cable news.

CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin, for example, corralled an old friend of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. This exchange took place:

BROOKE BALDWIN: Finally … if he is watching, we know apparently he’s taken to social media. I want you to look in the camera and give him a message.

FRIEND: I mean, all the people from Cambridge, all his friends and everyone, they know he’s a nice guy.
I just want, you know, like if he has a gun or anything on him right now, I want him to drop the gun, come forward, and you can resolve the situation, you know. You don’t have to take it the wrong way. Just come forward.
Everyone loves you. Everyone here in Cambridge, they love you. He’s a great guy.

Earlier in the day, host Jake Tapper chatted with another friend, Eric Machado:

TAPPER: Eric, this must be a profoundly bewildering and horrifying turn of events for you. I have to say Dzhokhar is still a fugitive. He is out there. We have no idea if he is watching us right now. If he is watching us right now, what do you, as a friend of his, want to say to him?

MACHADO: Man, Dzhokhar, I just hope that whoever — I mean, I hope — I hope that whoever kind of led him in this direction, I don’t believe it was his own thinking, you know, he was clearly pressured into this. Man, just don’t do anything stupid. Turn yourself in if you are still out there. It’s not really worth it at this point. They are scouring everywhere.
I mean, I really just — I hope he takes into consideration the families that were hurt by this and really considers his actions at this point. I mean, it’s just terrible to see the tragedy that everybody has been faced with in the last couple of days, and kind of the emotion that the whole nation is kind of under. The scared emotion that everybody is — Army — everybody walking around. And not something that people want us to feel in their every day lives. People want to be able to carry on and do certain things and things like this only bring fear into people’s lives. It’s terrible.

The Erik Wemple Blog heard at least one other CNN scenario — an interviewer awkwardly asking some guy to speak directly to the world’s most-wanted man.

Alas, on Friday evening we learned that Tsarnaev may have missed all those messages, unless that Watertown, Mass., boat was equipped with cable TV.

Friday was a strange day for cable news. On the one hand, there was tons of news to pore over: Authorities just the previous night had engaged the Tsarnaev brothers in a shootout in Cambridge, Mass., a confrontation that resulted in the death of 26-year-old marathon-bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Police officers were moving from one house to the next in a manhunt for the younger Tsarnaev, who had survived the previous night’s encounter. Boston was on lockdown.

So that was some stuff. By around midday, however, nonstop coverage of Boston seemed to be running out of fresh material. Sure — reporters were getting moved around some, police vehicles were zipping back and forth. But fresh developments were scarce, as the suspect remained at large. In a much-retweeted comment, Anthony De Rosa noted:

On MSNBC, reporter Kerry Sanders reported at one point that officials were eating and drinking, taking a lunch break. CNN, meanwhile, plowed forth with experts, on-the-scene reporting and those requests to speak directly to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. On Fox News, host Megyn Kelly drew some attention for this little bit, which Deadspin called “quality manhunt coverage”:

Media reporters from David Carr of the New York Times to Paul Farhi of The Post to Howard Kurtz of CNN have examined the mistakes of the past week — particularly CNN’s — and what they mean for the country. If anything.

One suggestion: The mistake is cable news itself. Since it’s been around, for upward of three decades, rarely do we stop and consider whether there’s enough news of national import to break, distill, chew on, digest and analyze 24 hours a day. There isn’t now. There wasn’t when cable news was founded. And there won’t ever be.

Had the nets realized just how much time they had on their hands, perhaps they would have devoted greater attention to the fertilizer plant explosion that had occurred days earlier in West, Tex. The Erik Wemple Blog had trouble finding updates about that calamity on our TV dial. Cable news rule: Never interrupt manhunt coverage!

The very idea of covering news every second of the day till the end of the world forces its practitioners to find and tout breaking news all the time, even when it’s not breaking. And long after it’s breaking. The result is occasionally pure glory, occasionally error and always a surfeit of blabbing. Never has cable news’s content problem been more apparent than it was last week, especially Friday. Media watcher Michael Wolff noted:

Of course, millions tuned into the tedium.

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