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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Rita Cosby: America's favorite ghoul
Posted by Jill | 4:13 PM

These days it seems that watching Countdown is more important than watching the previous night's reruns of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Usually we switch back and forth between MSNBC and Comedy Central, and last night we were lucky enough to be able to see Stephen Colbert make corny beef hash out of Peggy Noonan, who richly deserved the evisceration she got. However, as soon as 9 PM rolls around, MSNBC is not allowed to pipe itself into our home, once Scratch McHuskerson, a.k.a. Rita Cosby, comes on. For one thing, the woman has become a walking Natalee Holloway joke. For another thing, there's That Voice. But Editor and Publisher reports that last night, Cosby and other ghouls in the media reached new depths of loathsomeness by crowing about the twelve trapped miners in West Virginia being found alive. Except for one problem. They were all dead:

In one of the most disturbing media performances of its kind in recent years, TV news and many newspapers carried the tragically wrong news late Tuesday and early Wednesday that 12 of 13 trapped coal miners in West Virginia had been found alive and safe. Hours later they had to reverse course.

For hours, starting just before midnight, newspaper reporters and anchors such as MSNBC's Rita Cosby interviewed euphoric loved ones and helped spread the news about the miracle rescue.

I'm singling out Cosby here, even though it's reported that even the sainted Anderson Cooper was out there interviewing euphoric family members as preliminary reports had the miers found alive, because of her relentless coverage of Missing White Women, and her evolution into a one-woman Natalee Holloway conglomerate. At least Cooper doesn't trade in death ALL the time. And Cooper is reported in this same E&P story as having

ripped the coal company at 3 a.m. for not correcting the wrong reports for so long, but did not explain why CNN went with the good news without strong and clear confirmation.

This is one of the inherent problems with "if it bleeds, it leads" journalism. It requires that broadcast networks send all their on-camera talent out to the site, in search of the best "human interest" story. On Countdown last night, Bob Hager made a valiant effort to convey the near-certain hopelessness of the situation without conveying the near-certain hopelessness of the situation. But it's one thing to allow for a sliver of hope; another to deliver miraculous good news to anxious, grieving families without knowing for certain what you're doing. This sort of journalism turns such families into unwitting reality show contestants at their most vulnerable time. I know that sticking microphones into the faces of these people is nothing new, but in a world with a 24x7 television news cycle, the stakes for careers are higher and the tactics more aggressive.

Remember "baby Jessica", the baby who fell down a well? Imagine if instead of a healthy, if bruised baby had come up, a tiny corpse had been found instead. How important would the story have been then?

I for one would not have felt my life diminished in any way had the networks waited to reveal the tragic outcome until they were damn sure what they were dealing with. Sometimes "breaking news" isn't breaking -- it's just broken.
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