Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

Sunday, April 21, 2013

His Girl Friday vs. CNN: Boston Edition

The turbulent, tragic events in Boston this past week created a curious time ripple in our 24 hour news channels, and they may never recover. The internet has taken the lead now, and by the time CNN catches up, whatever they caught up to is old news. Watching TV at home now is like being a grandpa; your iPad's telling you some serious shit is going down and you turn to CNN, presuming they'll have up-to-the-minute details. You trust them to be on the ball, and they're still playing regularly scheduled programming, still playing the stuff they fill in time with while waiting for real news to break.

Some of this reticence might be explained by the ribbing they were getting by John Stewart, who pointed out how many times CNN had announced the terrorists had been identified and/or arrested, and so on, leading to boy who cried Blitzer confusion. For what it's worth, at least one CNN source who spoke with Business Insider seems to agree with Stewart. "As I think everyone knows, we really fucked up," the source is quoted as saying. "No way around it. "

I mean this as no disrespect to the survivors and victims and heroes of the hour, please believe me. This is a criticism solely of the newscasters, for whom babbling about the (very real) courage of Boston with a gleam over sad music in the background was the new black, to the point they couldn't stop doing it even when real shit was breaking.

Here's some REDDIT thread compilations from the same time period the TV newscasters were busy babbling and re-playing past moments of triumph and sadness and horror in Texas and Boston:

EDIT 12:41 EST: MIT updated their emergency site again. The shooter remains at large, police continue to search the campus. Please REMAIN INDOORS until further notice.
EDIT 12:49 EST: Shots fired in Cambridge. Shots and Explosions in Watertown.
EDIT 12:50 EST: Shots fired. Grenades spotted.
EDIT 12:51 EST: More shots, explosion. Grenade went off.
EDIT 12:55 EST: Officer down. Explosives at scene. 94 Spruce Street??
EDIT 12:56 EST: Reports of a stolen state police truck. Black, 4 door.
EDIT 12:57 EST: Second officer down. Hand Grenades...automatic weapons fired.
EDIT 12:58 EST: Spruce (sp?) and Lincoln
EDIT 1:00 EST: Dexter and Laural. Suspect injured. Explosives in the area.
EDIT 1:01 EST: Officers ordered back.  HYPERLINK ",+Watertown,+MA&hl=en&sll=42.367813,-71.171703&sspn=0.00352,0.004823&oq=94+spruce+street&t=h&hnear=94+Spruce+St,+Watertown,+Massachusetts+02472&z=16" Map of area thanks to  HYPERLINK "" /u/rm-rf_ 
EDIT 1:01 EST: Suspect is on foot.
EDIT 1:02 EST:  HYPERLINK "" /u/iBrave sent me another  HYPERLINK ",-71.170791&spn=0.004635,0.00655&sll=42.377822,-71.153287&sspn=0.004635,0.00655&t=h&gl=us&hnear=Spruce+St+%26+Lincoln+St,+Watertown,+Middlesex,+Massachusetts+02472&z=18&iwloc=A" map
EDIT 1:03 EST: Bomb Squad on their way.
EDIT 1:05 EST: Officers asked to power off phones/leave them in the car to prevent explosions.
EDIT 1:06 EST: 2 explosives confirmed. One near down officer. Robot in area to diffuse.
EDIT 1:09 EST: Suspect car still in the area.
EDIT 1:09 EST:  HYPERLINK "" Parameter from unnamed source.
EDIT 1:10 EST: Watertown not answering phones. Suspect in ambulance, one at gun point.
EDIT 1:11 EST: They are taking one of the suspects to Beth Israel (hospital). (Thanks  HYPERLINK "" /u/TheVacillate)
EDIT 1:12 EST: FBI on scene (thanks  HYPERLINK "" /u/bnjmn556)
EDIT 1:13 EST: Roll call to make sure everyone is okay/accounted for.
EDIT 1:17 EST: MIT updated their site: Suspect remains at large.
EDIT 1:19 EST: 2 in custody.
EDIT 1:19 EST: Another guy down?
EDIT 1:20 EST:  HYPERLINK "" Photos and Videos
EDIT 1:22 EST: Reports of suspect heavily armed in backyards.
EDIT 1:23 EST: MSP called for K9 unit.
EDIT 1:25 EST: May NOT have second suspect!!!
EDIT 1:26 EST: Reports of pressure cooker bombs!!!
EDIT 1:29 EST: Active shooter. audio noises
EDIT 1:29 EST: CNN has footage of suspect at gun point.
EDIT 1:30 EST: No report of an active shooter at this time. 40 police cars on their way to Watertown.
EDIT 1:32 EST: Second suspect reported to be in custody. No active shooters. No shots fired.

Being afraid of jumping the gun and confirming faulty information on air isn't really an excuse to let yourself be scooped by social media. I don't think it's the whole story, either, though they made it seem that way once they finally switched over to live coverage and immediately set about rationalizing their tardiness as concern for the facts, and not the false rumors and misdirection that the police can sometimes put out to convince the criminals to let down their guard, and so on.

What was most mind-boggling is at the same time all this was happening, TCM's was showing one of my all-time favorite movies, HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940), introduced by Robert Osborne and Cher. The tale of two reporters going all-out to scoop the other papers on an escaped prisoner, meek homeless killer Earle Williams, in a high profile capital punishment case. So we were watching my girls' choice: CNN while "Hallelujah" kept playing over slow-mo montages of survivors as big news broke on Twitter, and mine: Rosalind Russell hiding Williams in a roll-top desk and keeping him quiet so they can get an exclusive extra out exposing the current sheriff and mayor as self-serving imbeciles was a perfect analog synchronistic mirror to what was going on over on mainstream news channels right that very second, which was enough to make any newscaster a star, but once they finally woke back up these reporters didn't snap into the spirit of the thing, but rather resumed treading water with a nonstop freestyle extemporaneous blather.

Of course there are major differences in the film and the coverage, but synchronicity is God's way of showing you that things bear scrutiny. Take this HIS GIRL FRIDAY moment of overlapping contradictory reports from the reporters all gathered in the press room, phones to their ears, watching the drama unfold as cops surround the rolltop desk with drawn guns. In the real event, the roll top is rolled up and Earl Williams weakly shouts "Go ahead, shoot me!" and he's hauled, exhausted and half-dragging his feet, from the room.

Reporter 1: Williams was unconscious when they opened the desk!
Reporter 2: Williams put up a desperate struggle but the police overpowered him!
Reporter 3: He offered no resistance!
Reporter 4: Tried to bust through a cordon of police
Cary Grant: - Duffy, the Morning Post turned Earl Williams over to the sheriff!
(sheriff slams down phone on Grant, cuffs him)
Reporter 2:  The sheriff is tracing a mysterious phone call which led to Williams' hiding place!

 This all happens so fast it takes several viewings to soak all the way in, but I mention it to point out the remarkable way ain't a damn thing changed. Why else was I confronted with such a monstrous coincidence as the film playing on TCM at the exact same time all this was breaking? What's awesome is that if the TV news couldn't wise up to the power of social media, the cops could. Instrumental, perhaps, in cornering him, was the cops announcing at a press conference that they would be pulling out of the Watertown neighborhood the killer was last seen in, knowing the media would leak it back to the suspect, from every possible direction, over and over again, and result in the hiding killers letting down their guards.

Getting news faster, and from a variety of simultaneous sources, and letting the public see it all as it happens and draw their own conclusions, not just rambling about whatever comes into your should be the number one goal of any TV broadcaster at this time. In 1940 breaking news had to be sent in via phone from a reporter, typeset and rushed through the printer to beat out another paper in an extra edition; even if they only had an hour or so ahead of their rivals, it was a major victory. Reporters were made or broken by such scoops. And on this past Thursday night, cable news channels got scooped. Outclassed. Turned into dinosaurs. Until CNN wises up and gets an intern to monitor cop radios and Twitter feeds, or scrolls tweets from a pool of on-the-spot names constantly onscreen, then instead of giving attention-hungry reporters enough on-air rope to hang themselves, then HIS GIRL FRIDAY will have the real news, and Earl Williams will go to die and in the process a light will go out in the eyes of Molly Malloy, as she loses the one friend she ever had, and all the while good people at CNN will be running another episode of Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown, and quietly working on their resumes.


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