Ken Tucker worries that the hockey dad coverage shows we're returning to the crime and scandal mongering of pre-Sept. 11 newscasts
Credit: Thomas Junta: Steven Senne/AP/Wide World

Is TV news becoming too sensational again

We’re witnessing a transition right now: TV news is in the process of inching its way back to what we might call the Condit Era. Remember just last summer when the indiscretions of Rep. Gary Condit dominated the news, especially cable-news talk shows such as the Fox News Channel’s promenade of finger-pointers? After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, such stories were abruptly placed in their proper context — that is, relegated to the back pages of newspapers, or somewhere in the middle of a newscast, somewhere between reports on a big fire and the sportscast.

Since the attacks, TV news has, to a great extent, righted itself, by which I mean its editors have regained the power and permission to cover international news in a way that was impossible before. Budgets had been squeezed; foreign bureaus had been, disgracefully, shut down. In the months following Sept. 11, however, correspondents were hurriedly dispatched around the globe; purse-strings were opened for the public good (indeed, in part for public safety, since it was imperitive for us to know as much as possible about the threat we faced, and still face). We suddenly saw the world again on news broadcasts, rather than the latest Washington scandals or some sensationalistic American crime that had been committed.

But I think the past week’s intensive coverage of what’s been dubbed the ”hockey dad murder,” that sorry fellow who killed that sorry coach over some pathetically minor children’s athletic competition, is a clear step backward toward junk-news — that is, stuff we don’t need to know every detail of, stuff whose court proceedings don’t need to be aired live, with breathless commentary and analysis.

Of course, a complaint such as mine can be misconstrued as a plea that we only cover events of national or international disaster to the exclusion of other kinds of stories. The only unfortunate thing about the news media’s ongoing coverage of Sept. 11 is that examination of some other hard-news stories has been slighted — which is why the collapse of the Enron corporation and its executives’ financial ties to both Republican and Democratic government officials has caught the media flat-footed. There’s a scramble now to dig up Enron details.

In other words, once again the media is undergoing a shift. Let’s hope this one doesn’t result in a narrowing of news focus. Less sensationalism, more information, please.