21 July 2010

Larry Ray : Hitting the Pause Button

From the land of the 'oil geezer':
America's round-the-clock 'churnalism'

By Larry Ray / The Rag Blog / July 21, 2010

GULFPORT, Mississippi -- This column has been on pause for almost a month.

The disgust and distraction from smelly, greasy petroleum pollution rolling onto beaches and marshes just a mile or so from my home has been mostly responsible for the hiatus. But the general roar of background noise from today’s “news media” is more disgusting, distracting, and off-putting than the BP oil well blowout itself.

Immediately dubbed “the oil spill,” it is not a spill at all. It is a runaway blown-out oil well almost a mile beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico that has been pumping an estimated 40-60,000 barrels of oil a day into the Gulf for almost three months. It is a very complex story that requires at least a basic understanding of high school physics and knowledge of basic geology to discuss it in any sort of meaningful way.

It also helps to know something about hydrocarbons and the advanced technology used in oil and gas drilling and producing deep ocean oil wells. But those basic requirements don't stop pretty news faces from blathering on, basically clueless, reading teleprompter tripe or swapping fuzzy speculation amongst themselves.

The plight of gulf coast residents is heralded by local politicians and a few, including a morbidly obese New Orleans area parish president, have become regulars on national newscasts as they growl and repeat their attacks on BP and the U.S. government. Not that there isn't plenty to growl about, if you like to listen to it over and over.

In May, immediately after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded and plunged to the bottom, the short, hyper, bald headed afternoon CNN ringmaster exclaimed breathlessly that they had just discovered a “geezer of oil” coming from the sea floor. And that was before the reporting got really bad.

Nightly stories with video of oil soaked birds and massive pollution of sensitive marine marsh lands requires only a video camera and a talking head reciting the lines of the generic “Gee isn’t this a shame” news story template. Works equally well for earthquakes, floods and raging forest fires.

Mix in the soap opera of BP CEO, Tony Hayward, with his passive Lemur-like gaze and terminal case of foot-in-mouth disease (it has just been announced he is leaving BP in a matter of weeks), then add grimy pre-November election political dirt, tea party racism, and General McChrystal’s inglorious cashiering for trash talking his Commander in Chief, and Arizona's Nazi immigration law and viola... non-stop, 24-7 all American “churnalism.”

That churnalism, mixed with endless side-effect warnings of 4-hour erections, rashes, and diarrhea from the drug commercials that dominate the evening news and the off switch is the best bet. The New York Times and a cuppa coffee in the mornings along with a visit to the BBC and a couple of Italian major newspapers seems to provide an adequate news balance.

With the dog days of summer spreading record breaking heat and humidity across much of the nation and the threat of an above average hurricane season here where Katrina tore us up almost five years ago, I will probably just keep the pause button pressed and plan to be back, intact, by Thanksgiving or maybe before, hopefully.

[Retired journalist Larry Ray is a Texas native and former Austin television news anchor. He also posts at The iHandbill.]

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