The Real Horror

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 8.442% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

So there’s been a big shooting in a theater, and nobody knows anything yet.  You’re a cable news reporter.  You have an ugly choice.
If you just run the news as normal, then you miss out on ratings.  Because if you bring it up at the top of every twenty minutes, like normal news cycles, then you look out of touch.  This is the biggest news!  People are shocked by it, hungry for information!  If you don’t have it up every five minutes, then people risk turning away as you go to the usual political stories.
So you have to keep rolling it, infinitely.  The same news.  Over and over, because your new viewers haven’t heard about it yet and they need to – because with a story this big, they’ll stay tuned to find the details.
Except you don’t have details.  You don’t know shit, it’s hardly been eight hours since this happened.  So you keep repeating the same details over and over again, a mantra of terror, in an attempt to fill air space.  Repetition isn’t going to keep people tuned in, so what do you need to fill these gaps?  Speculation!  So to keep people hooked on the line, you bring in talking heads to discuss what might have happened, people to debate what this means, folks who will tell you what this means for the upcoming election.  It’s not news, but your goal here is not news.  It’s ratings.
After a while, some of the speculations start to take root, because it sounds good and people are responding to it and hell, let’s just say it again, that seems reasonable.  So the speculations furrow in.  And you still don’t know more than a handful of facts, but you’re tapdancing to keep the viewers engaged, and because lots of people can’t draw a distinction between “Someone on television is reporting facts” and “Someone on television is killing time,” that shapes the narrative as we start to know things we don’t actually know.
A month later, it turns out much of what was said was wrong, and maybe foolish, but hey.  That’s not going to matter the next time.  Because you want to hear something, anything, on those cable news stations, and they’re there to keep you tuned in.  Nothing more, nothing less.

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