Saturday, November 21, 2009

Breaking News!

How should the 24-hour news cycle press cover stories in which something totally predictable and expected happens?

Not a rhetorical question; I'm really not sure what the answer is.

What brings this to mind, of course, is the breathless coverage of the cloture vote on the motion to proceed today in the Senate. At the beginning of the day, here's what we knew: 58 Democrats intended to vote for cloture, and two -- Mary Landrieu and Blanche Lincoln -- had not announced their decisions. Both had been reported to have met repeatedly with Harry Reid over the week.

Now, pretty much everyone knew that Landrieu and Lincoln were going to vote for cloture. Not just because of the logic of the situation from their perspective, but because Harry Reid would have to be nuts to keep the Senate in session today unless he was certain that he had the votes on this one.

So, when Landrieu took to the Senate floor to announce her vote, it wasn't really "news" in the sense of a surprise; it was confirmation of something everyone already knew was going to happen (as I write this, Lincoln has not yet spoken). Yet the New York Times ran a "Breaking News" banner about her statement and currently is running "A Holdout Will Support Democrats' Health Bill" as their top story at

(It's a terrible headline more generally, because Landrieu hasn't committed to anything beyond today's vote, but that's a different subject).

Anyway, this sort of thing happens all the time, and I really don't know what the correct answer is. In the old days, the Times could run a story tomorrow telling everyone that (presumably) all sixty Dems broke a GOP filibuster; that Lincoln and Landrieu were the final two to announce their votes would be, perhaps, a detail within that story, but certainly not the main point. But that's not available to the online Times or the 24-hour cable news networks. The fact that Landrieu broke her silence is news of a are stories such as thoroughly predictable votes on the House and Senate floor, or in another arena candidates winning elections that polling had indicated would be landslides. It's certainly proper that they get covered; in fact, thoroughly predictable news can still be far more important than surprising news. So I don't think it's wrong for the Times to be paying a lot of attention to what's happening on the Senate floor today.

I don't have any answer here. It just struck me as odd -- not necessarily wrong, but odd -- for the Times to be giving Landrieu's statement such prominent coverage. I guess my real sense is that almost thirty years into the 24 hour (TV) news cycle, and a good decade or so into the 24 hour newspaper news cycle, these things haven't been resolved very well at all.

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