Recently, Jane Harman, former US Representative from California, was on MSNBC discussing a task force recommending that the NSA stop collecting phone records. Important stuff, right? Everyone in this country should be concerned about privacy in light of recent revelations regarding our government's blatant misuse of power. Literally, while in mid-sentence, Ms Harman was interrupted by the interviewer (Andrea Mitchell) for "breaking news". To stop a Congresswoman in mid-sentence, speaking on such an important topic, one would think that war had broken out or the President had been shot. No...
The "breaking news" was that Justin Bieber was appearing before a judge for his recent arrest. Not that he was arrested - that was old news at this point. But that he was appearing before a judge.
We should be horribly ashamed. How can we expect the rest of the world to take us seriously when a teenaged celebrity is more important news than the NSA and their collection of citizens' phone records? Or more important than the words of a former Congresswoman?
September 11, 2001 was when I stopped watching news produced in the United States. When the Twin Towers fell, I was on foreign soil, watching from thousands of miles away. I had the choice of three news outlets: CNN International (which was, essentially, just playing CNN Domestic's feed), BBC International, and local Dutch television. I started watching CNN and occasionally flipped to BBC, since that was also in English. Within an hour, I had completely stopped watching CNN whose coverage had devolved to nothing but a series of weeping people intercut with replays (endless replays) of the planes hitting the towers and people falling/jumping from heights too far to survive. It was an exercise in pain and self-pity. It was hopeless and helpless. Within an hour, the BBC had a panel of world leaders discussing the attacks - what they meant, if they were an indicator of something worse. The BBC began exploring how we could prepare in case there were more attacks and the political implications of the US response.
This was the news I needed.
No one would argue that I'm a pragmatist. I'm not terribly emotional and my response to tragedy is usually to look for ways to fix/understand what happened. So, the BBC delivered the kind of news that appeals to me. All the wailing and gnashing of teeth doesn't do anything but allow us to wallow in pain. Now... I've been taken to task for having this opinion and am willing to admit that many people NEED to grieve in this way. However, I'm still going to argue that our grief doesn't need to be played out on our national news.
So, I don't watch or read US produced news anymore. I get most of my news from bbc.com, which does a nice job of covering the world's big stories. And, lately, I've found myself reading more from Al Jazeera America which promises "fact-based, in-depth news".
At the end of the day, getting real news that's not adulterated by the personalities of the people who own or run the outlet or by the advertisers who pay their bills is getting tougher and tougher. And, frankly, I think that the US news outlets have fallen prey to these influences faster and farther than any other. If I never hear another story about Bieber, it'll be too soon.