Wednesday, August 4, 2021
Aug. 4, 2021

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Collier: Cable news is forced to use fear

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The inventory of fairly useless labels in modern journalism is both robust and accessible, labels such as “deep dive,” which, translated literally, means “look out, we might actually spend more than a minute or two on this story.”

Journalists designate a “deep dive” at their peril, of course, because many consumers of news still prefer the shallow end of the info pool, while the rest simply don’t have time.

It just so happens the term deep dive is now hopelessly misapplied. The real, tangible, measurable deep dive is in cable news ratings, which began to crash soon after the November elections and haven’t really stopped.

One industry tracker gauged Fox News viewership down 42 percent for the second quarter of 2021, MSNBC’s down 36 percent, and CNN’s down 57 percent. With deep dives like this, these networks might soon find themselves unable to afford any deep dives.

Cable news apathy is no one’s idea of a crisis. It’s probably closer to cathartic. The problem is that the decline in ratings is generating a proportional spike in scaremongering. Depressingly enough, it makes perfect sense.

After the coronavirus vaccine rolled out in earnest in January and COVID cases began their own deep dive, Americans stopped obsessing on medical updates and started looking for things to do. Simultaneously, Donald Trump left both the White House and the majority of American consciousness, having been banned from social media platforms for the most egregious examples of the very things Melania used to pretend to care about. Ironic, right?

Seems there was but one option.

“GROWING ALARM,” screamed the chyrons across the bottom of cable screens last week, particularly on CNN, currently enduring the deepest of the deep dives.

CNN’s around-the-clock rhythm on virus coverage has become steady as a metronome. But even the experts are running out of patience. Dr. Jonathan Reiner of George Washington University, a steady voice throughout the pandemic, re-emphasized the obvious solution last week but could barely contain himself on the unvaccinated themselves.

“When you cheer for inadequate vaccination in this country, how else do these people think we’re going to get past this?” he said about a crowd at a conservative political conference cheering for vaccine resisters. “Look, we need to grow up in this country. We have a solution for this, and the solution is vaccinations.”

Over on Fox, where the owner was vaccinated before the president of the United States and the major ratings-grabbing anchors rage against the vaccine from the comfort of their fully vaccinated immune systems, they tried terrifying people with critical race theory for a few months, but that seems to have been supplanted by outgrowths of this observation I stumbled across the other day, namely that people are “putting pieces of paper under other pieces of paper so you can’t see who’s buying Hunter Biden’s art work.”

Good luck with that one.

Fox knows full well, as does CNN and MSNBC, that they won’t fully recover their winter audience unless Trump is welcomed back to the airwaves as though he were something other than a raging psychotic insurrection-staging anarchist.

From a media standpoint, that’s quite the executive decision, given everything. That’s saying, “Yes, we are going to devote air time to a man who believes that everything he says is true and that everything he doesn’t like is fake, even though we know the reality is pretty much the opposite.”

Even Fox, home of the Big Lie, had to mount an on-screen disclaimer as the former bloviater-in-chief screeched on about the “stolen” election, the one he tried to steal on Jan. 6.

Fox did it in all caps: THE VOTING SYSTEM COMPANIES HAVE DENIED THE VARIOUS ALLEGATIONS MADE BY PRESIDENT TRUMP AND HIS COUNSEL REGARDING THE 2020 ELECTION.

Let me fix that for you: PAY NO ATTENTION TO THIS MAN.

And get a vaccine.


Gene Collier is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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