Why Watch Cable?

November 28th, 2009 at 9:46 am David Frum | 12 Comments |

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As a sometime talking head on CNN, I’m arguing against interest here – but Friday was a day that fully drove home the uselessness of cable news.

All day long, cable breathlessly reported the Tiger Woods story, while managing totally to ignore what had actually occurred. It asked viewers to believe that a non-drunk Tiger Woods had taken his car for a 2 AM drive on the winding streets of a gated community – that he had crashed into a fire hydrant with enough impact not only to injure himself, but to entrap himself in the car – and that his wife, a woman who weighs less than 120 pounds, had used a golf club to smash open the car windshield and drag him to safety. Obviously untrue in every detail, right?

And yet this absurd cover story was repeated over and over again for hours. People who wanted to know what was really going on crashed the servers of the celebrity website TMZ, which had the real story.

But at least that story was unimportant.

Much worse was the coverage of the Dubai default.

Dubai, a hedge fund masquerading as an emirate, owes its creditors $80 billion. Even in these trillion-dollar days, that’s a lot of money. Now it cannot pay.

All day long, the cable networks trotted out “experts” to insist that this default was no big deal, a purely local matter. Not one of them seemed to consider: Hey what happens when Dubai’s creditors begin dumping properties all at the same time, in the midst of the worst commercial real estate slump in a generation or maybe two? What does it mean that the emirate’s landholdings inside Dubai – which helped to secure its huge borrowings – have tumbled to worthlessness? What if Dubai drags its main creditor, HSBC, down to ruin with it?

No, it was all pooh-poohing happy talk.

Only today, with the Thanksgiving holiday behind us, are the major media reporting the anxieties that have gripped market players for the past 72 hours and more.

So much for the 24-hour news cycle.

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12 Comments so far ↓

  • Grizelda

    Unfortunately for your argument, the talking heads you reference got the Dubai situation RIGHT – $80 billion is chump change, and more importantly, western banks, including HSBC, hold only 1/7th of it. The European stockmarkets, which were open on Thursday, digested all the news and ended the day on Friday UP – with a haircut for HSBC but none for Standard Chartered, which has the 2d largest exposure.

  • seeker656

    I agree wholeheartedly. I gave up watching cable non-news months ago and rely on the web, blogs, and books for most of my information. A side benefit is the reduction in anxiety, anger, and cynicism that I feel.

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  • openhand

    I get a sense that David is asking the correct questions, he just is unable to connct the dots. Is he floundering in the dark for a sign that says unfettered commercialism isn’t in the consumers interest?

    You mean news for news sake might not really be news. Are you now going to agree with Greenspan that the market doesn’t self regulate, that your media market doesn’t either? Are you going to imply that the media has a responsibility to inform over it’s responsibility to it’s creditors. This is heresy, David you are scaring us.

  • BoolaBoola

    Who watches cable for the news???

  • Socrates

    when you are bored and have nothing else to do

  • ottovbvs

    …….Just discovered that much of cable content is baloney David?……..you forget the other nonsense story that fascinated the cable networks…..the non story about the party crashers who are now apparently peddling their story so no doubt we can look forward to breathless “interviews” on all the cable networks……..the Tiger story was also total hogwash……..as H. L. Mencken observed… “No one ever went broke underestimating the ignorance and stupidity of the American people.”……..I seldom if ever watch cable because it’s junk……but in fairness the main network news was just as fixated on this twaddle

  • PracticalGirl


    Don’t forget the reason for the season…News outlets have a vested interest in keeping any real, economic news that might cause any consumer to think twice about closing their wallets on this, the biggest shopping weekend of the year. This is the season that their retail advertisers need to make up ground in an otherwise dismal year, thus raising enough capital to continue to advertise with the cable networks in the upcoming year.

    Let’s see- It’s Black Friday and you have a choice of running stories about reality show hopefuls and a famous golfer who turns out not to be such a good driver after all VS real econmic news that might cause consumers to think twice….Not a surprise at all that we got what we got.

  • Brad DeLong

    Cheer up! John Judis has a nice piece about how the *Washington Post* was just as bad on Dubai…

  • Toddtheconservative

    Tiger is just lucky the cops didn’t taser him. You got to read this disturbing link:


  • DFL

    How would we find out whether Brad Pitt is back with Jennifer Anniston or Angeline Jolie this week or next? The supermarket rags? That’s too downgrade but for the lowest of the low bored grannies.

    More seriously, David Frum is smart enough to know that cable television is entertainment that caters to the lowest common denominator. In the United States, that is a very low bottom. In contrast, magazines that explore ideas- Right, Left and Center- sell less than 1 million issues per month in a nation of 300 million. From Mother Jones, New Republic and the Nation to National Review, The Weekly Standard, Chronicles and The American Conservative, magazines of thought are a drop in the bucket of national tastes. That is why democracy is a bust. Most Americans want to be entertained. They not only don’t want to think very hard, they don’t want to think very often.

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