Dropping the (Soccer) Ball

CJR Daily frequently laments the state of the morning network news shows. And just when we think these shows have hit bottom (remember Toilet Seat Man?), we tune in and are promptly proven wrong.

A sampling from this morning: ABC dedicated what felt like half of “Good Morning America” to “reporting” on the Country Music Awards, which aired last night on — shocker — ABC. CBS’s “Early Show” ran a two-minute teaser of an interview with one of the Menendez brothers (they murdered their parents in 1989) which will run in full tonight on CBS, and brought us the latest on the American Girl doll boycott (not to be confused with the equally important Aruba boycott, which is all Fox News’ story). On NBC, “The Today Show” took four minutes to unveil People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” (which, now that we think about it, should actually be CNN’s story) and another three minutes recalling the past two decades’ worth of “Sexiest Men” — and still found time to air a two-minute segment on teen boys using scented body sprays.

In defense, it would seem, of this sort of daily abuse of airtime, ABC’s Diane Sawyer recently wondered aloud: “Is morning — with the kids, with trying to get dressed and trying to get breakfast and worrying that you can’t fit in that skirt again — is morning the place that you can absorb a comprehensive look at a complicated issue? Is morning the place to ask a really smart question?”

Those were rhetorical questions, really, because everyone knows that “morning” is the “place” for infotainment (and, whenever possible, the promotion of other programming on the network), because the makers of the morning shows are convinced that harried soccer moms everywhere will click away in droves if “morning” strays too far from soft-serve news.

And so convinced are the networks of this, so accustomed are they to leaving the “hard” stuff to the evening news, that they all missed a bit of “hard news” last week that even someone busy “worrying that [she] can’t fit in that skirt again” could — and, we dare say, might want to — “absorb.”

It was a story tailor-made for morning TV: A 67-year-old Harvard-educated woman appears to have been elected president of Liberia — which would make her the first female leader of an African nation — beating out a young male soccer star for the job. So many soccer mom-friendly ingredients were there: a female protagonist (of a certain age and with a fancy American education); drama and eventual triumph over adversity; even the word “soccer” itself. How often does international news — out of Africa, no less — read, at least on the surface, like a feel-good Lifetime movie? The morning shows couldn’t have scripted it better themselves.

Where in the world was Matt Lauer?

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.