A Fistfight (or Two) a Day

A week after the midterms and it's back to business on cable news -- the business of hyping fluff, that is.

A week after the midterms and it’s back to business on cable news — the business of beat-downs, that is.

It’s a fistfight a day on CNN, which has “covered” (i.e., run incessant video footage of, coupled with mock-shocked commentary from anchors) two “brawls” from assorted corners of America in the past two days. Even more thorough? Fox News, reporting on three videotaped fisticuffs over the past three days.

Since Tuesday, both CNN and Fox News have provided viewers with multiple opportunities to view video of a fracas at a peewee football game in Corpus Christi, Texas. No matter that the fight happened ten days ago when there’s Adults Gone Wild-style footage — a coach punching a referee, parents piling on — to accompany the stale, local-news-worthy (at best) story.

Here’s how CNN’s Miles O’Brien teased the “story” yesterday on American Morning: “Happening this morning in Texas, they love their football. Sometimes they get out of hand. Check out this peewee football game turned mêlée … Ridiculous is a good word.”

Not so “ridiculous” that it didn’t merit another look on American Morning. Here is Soledad O’Brien’s play-by-play for the video, which led the “In America” segment later in the program: “In America, tempers flaring at a peewee football game. Take a look at this videotape. This is just crazy. Coach argues with a ref. Then the coach punches the ref, knocks him out, knocks him unconscious. The parents come in. You can see them all running in now, right? ‘Call the cops,’ he says. Someone comes in and — yup, yup — kicks, just, a bystander. Another parent kicks another parent. This is not the 5- and 6-year-olds who are playing. It is the grownups. That is ridiculous.”

Also “ridiculous” was CNN’s re-airing of the video throughout the day. For example, it prompted this banter between Tony Harris and Heidi Collins yesterday on CNN Newsroom:

Harris: Not exactly a lesson in sportsmanship here. A brawl breaks out at a peewee football game in Corpus Christi, Texas. The November 4th fight captured on amateur video. Police say a coach attacked an 18-year-old referee who had ejected him for swearing. The referee was briefly knocked unconscious. Parents from both teams rushed the field. Most tried to …

Collins: [unintelligible]

Harris: Heidi, this is serious.

Collins: It’s disgraceful.

Harris: It’s outrageous. Most [parents] tried to break things up but some got in a few shots. There’s a woman here who kicks another woman on the back side!…

Collins: Charge them all.

Harris: There you go.

Collins: It’s ridiculous.

And Fox News? They had the “footbrawl” story back on Tuesday, when Dayside’s Martha MacCallum compiled a panel of experts to examine the problem of “child violence” — in part by running the football fistfight video over and over. Fox’s Greta Van Susteren saw the video as the perfect way to wrap her show, On the Record, Tuesday. Said Van Susteren: “Now to Texas. Roughing it up at a peewee football game, leads to a brawl… The brawl got bigger and the referee was knocked unconscious. Charges are pending against the coach. Thank you for being with us.” And Shep Smith made the video one of his top five stories on Fox Report, teasing it as follows: “Smackdown at a football game for 6-year-old children!…We’ve given you glimpses of this. [Yes, three, before the “story” aired in full] Wait until you see this!”

Yesterday’s Fight du Jour on Fox? “Junior Ghetto Fights,” as the video was dubbed on MySpace — heralding, purportedly, from St. Petersburg, Florida and granted multiple screenings on Fox.

This was Shep Smith’s enthusiastic intro for “Junior Ghetto Fights,” in which two young African-American boys duke it out as adults cheer them on: “Profanity and racial slurs coming out of the adults while fighting goes on like some sort of spectator sport or somethin’ or other!” Cue the footage in full —sweet relief after Smith had teased viewers with “a taste of” the video here and there throughout the program.

Later in the day, Fox’s Sean Hannity played “Junior Ghetto Fights” for his viewers and offered this proud preface: “We continue to bring you the most shocking video on the Web. Take a look at this one, it might be the worst yet…” Hannity’s guest, a psychologist, offered insights such as “chances are [the kids’ parents] drink, do drugs, may not be working” as the video repeated over and over, and Hannity lamented, “It’s almost like they are doing it for some really perverted sick entertainment, you know, not thinking about the impact that this is going to have on these poor children…”

Which brings us to today’s mêlée.

On CNN this morning, Soledad O’Brien managed to find yet another punch-out video to include in her “In America” segment — this one from a courtroom in Ohio. Again, O’Brien offered the play-by-play: “This morning, a brawl broke out in an Ohio courtroom. Take a look at the pictures. Yeah, that’s a fistfight between a murder suspect, Howard [unintelligible] and family members of the victim. The suspect is accused of killing his girlfriend and three of her children. The cousin and the brother of the girlfriend is the guy who’s lunging at Howard, punching him, as you can see in the videotape over and over again.”

Fox News, too, covered the “Disorder in the Court” video today, with Martha MacCallum inviting viewers to “take a look at this amazing video that was caught on camera…”

The scorecard as of 4 p.m.? CNN had mentioned and/or cued the video for the “Courtroom Brawl” at least five times — and Fox News, ten.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.