Jack Shafer is a contrarian. That usually makes his media column a valuable read. But in his latest offering, he pushes so hard against the conventional wisdom that he comes off as obstinately perverse.
Any one who has watched Nancy Grace in action knows that this is bull.
In praise of tabloid TV
If you read HLN’s transcripts from Nancy Grace’s shows about the Zimmerman case, you’ll absorb enough information about how the criminal justice system works to write a MOOC on how to defend or prosecute a murder case. Most of what a layman needs to know about police investigations, police interrogations, witness rights, evidentiary standards, jury selection, and courtroom strategy can be found in Grace’s shriekings and those of her commentators. A week’s worth of her Zimmerman coverage probably contains as much civic education as any half-dozen Frontline documentaries on PBS.
First, Frontline documentaries actually uncover and convey information to their audience. The cable tabloid shows are all about holding an audience when you have little or no information to impart.
Nancy Grace differs from her sleazy competitors only in the particular and malignant bias she brings to the story. When Grace sets her sights on a defendant, truth and fairness go out the window. The facts presented and the commentary are as fair and balanced as a Stalinist show trial.
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Jay Rosen replies to Shafer here:
Which raises a question for Comcast, et. al. Why are cable customers forced to pay for both networks when they have merge-morphed into the same channel?
CNN’s transition is now complete. The entire channel is basically a version of the Nancy Grace show.
Shafer is right: journalism is a first and foremost a business and ignoring the wants of the audience is a surefire way to go out of business. But, at some point, you’re no longer in the news business at all. And it’s quite possible CNN has reached that tipping point.