Mad as Hell at the News

Remember when the evening news actually included news? Nowadays it's largely filler and feel-good pieces wedged in between hemorrhoid and heartburn commercials. Could it be that the world is just plain boring these days, unlike years ago when the world seemed to be on the verge of ending at any moment?

This is how tonight's ABC World News with Charles Gibson played out (note, Gibson had the night off, so Elizabeth Vargas was at the anchor desk):

Story #1: Hurricane Dean - Okay, major story ... I suppose. Category 4+ hurricane bearing down on Cancun, Mexico, causing authorities there to evacuate all bottles of Tequila from coastal bars. But let's face it, after Katrina, hurricanes less than Category 5 have become rather passé.

Story #2: Midwest flooding - It's always sad to see working class folks losing everything they own to some Biblical flood. In this case, the cause was Tropical Storm Erin. Which leads me to question - why does the Hurricane Center begin each new hurricane season with the letter "A"? Why not start at "Z" once in a while and work backwards. I want to see a Hurricane Zeus, or a Hurricane Xena, or a Hurricane Wanda, or Yoko, or Veronica.

Story #3: Michael Vick - My dog, Lucy, says she wants two minutes alone with him ... just two minutes, that's all she asks.

Commercial break: About a half dozen commercials, including Kellogs All Bran cereal to keep you regular, Murine to combat earwax build up, and Bayer aspirin (billed as the wonder drug!).

Story #4: A report on toys manufactured in China - The concern being the lead content in these Chinese-made toys. Did you know there are 10,000 factories in China producing 80% of the toys purchased by US consumers? Who knew? China was in the news earlier this year with the tainted dog food scare. I think it's a communist plot. First they attacked our pets, now they're after our children. Next, it'll be circus clowns and mimes. Perhaps there is some truth to the domino theory!

Another commercial break: Another half dozen commercials, including a product called Spiriva to help you breathe better (with a long list of side effects), Nasonex for allergies, Catrate to keep your bones strong, Zantac for heartburn, and Preparation H for ... for you know what.

Story #5: A touching story on the Virginia Tech survivors - Interviewed by Bob Woodruff, who was himself severely injured in Iraq, adding to the sense of poignancy.

Story #6: A brief story on the death of Leona Helmsley - Zzzzzzz....

Yet another commercial break: A handful of commercials -- Centrum vitamins, Bayer's Contour meter for diabetics, and CVS pharmacies. With all these health-related commercials directed at world news viewers, it's a wonder any of us are well enough to make it to the end of the broadcast.

Story #7: "Chicken Busters" - The final story is a fluff piece about a work crew in Miami that rounds up chickens running loose in the city. I'm tempted to say that this report is for the birds, but that "for the birds" line is so overdone.

And so ends the ABC World News for August 20, 2007. These seven stories -- sprinkled between commercials for hemorrhoid cream and heartburn medicine -- are, apparently, the top seven newsworthy stories from around the entire world! The entire world! Nothing on the fact that the space shuttle is going to attempt a risky landing with heat shield damage. Or the latest report on the trapped miners. Or the fact that President Bush, Canadian Prime Minister Harper, and Mexican President Calderon are meeting at a North American summit in Canada.

Nothing on the candidates. Not even on Hillary. Nothing on the fact that a key economic indicator was released today showing moderate growth of 0.4% in July, up from a 0.3% drop in June, perhaps signaling an upward swing in the economy. Or that gasoline prices are falling. Or that the stock market was up 42.27 points to close at 13,121.35 (perhaps I missed it ... although I was taking copious notes during the news broadcast).

Nothing from Europe. Nothing from Africa. Nothing from the Middle East. Nothing from Russia. Nothing from Asia (except that Chinese toy story). Nothing from Australia, or New Zealand, or the Arctic Circle.

No mention that there was a bombing in Iraq today that killed another provincial governor. Or that in Iraq over the past week, 18 more US servicemen have been killed (bringing the total to more than 3,700).

To sum up, the evening news has become rather lame. It's a half hour of sound bites and feel good stories wrapped around hemorrhoid and heartburn commercials. Rather than hearing about chickens running loose in Miami, I want to know what North Korea is up to. Rather than hearing about Michael Vick or Leona Helmsley, I want to know what's being discussed at that North American summit. Rather than hearing a fluff story on Chinese toys, I want to know what our soldiers are doing in Iraq.

As the character Howard Beale yells in the movie Network, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take this anymore! ... Things have got to change!*"

See what I've done ... I've made myself so upset I've given myself heartburn! Now where did I put that blasted bottle of Zantac?!

Jack Sheedy

PS: "I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell* ..." AE** Coffeehouse coming in September!

* From the movie Network.      ** Autumnal Equinox

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