The WaPo’s Tom Shales today gives the Style-ish take on the oil spill, as seen on TV. Shales argues that the reason TV reporters are focusing on Why doesn’t the president emote/Why does he seem so remote? is so that you don’t reach for your remote. (They’re catering to your toddler-sized attention spans. Not theirs.)

Writes Shales:

One of the unkinder peripheral ironies of a calamity like this one: The longer it goes on, the more likely public outrage will turn to jejune ennui — what infuriated people when they first learned of it has devolved into a pesky inconvenience; of course, this is only true of those experiencing it vicariously — even if on high-def TV….


At some stage, Ghastly Pelican No. 204, or some poor gull or fish gone stinky as well as inky…serves as the tipping point at which outrage and umbrage give way to a world-weary sense of futility.

Which comes first: viewer “ennui” or news org “ennui?” Who turns away from a slow-moving story first?

Back to Shales:

To keep the story interesting— and thus fertilizing to the Nielsens — TV news turns it into another story, or several other stories, with the gulf spill reduced to background…And so it is, too, that the spill has become another chapter in the Saga O’bama, with yet more scorekeeping of how the president is doing, and what impression he is making in this impression-crazed culture…

(It’s not just “TV news” .)

More Shales:

[TV newers] see their enemy not as ignorance but as ennui, and they see their challenge not as spreading knowledge but as preventing you from getting restless and, God forbid, changing the channel.

Who’s really getting restless here? And if it truly is viewers, isn’t it journalists’ job to jolt back those wandering eyes? Surely there are enough hard news angles and hard-to-see images to this story to (at least try) to do that? Is there the will? If not in Shales’s column, in actual newsrooms?

(Also, clearly I haven’t been really watching TV coverage: which “correspondents” wear “dry-cleaned jeans?” Coop? BriWi?)

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.