Tuned In

When Bad News Stories Happen to Bad Videos of Bad Things Happening

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Continuing with the theme of my last post: maybe people get such a thrill from watching YouTube videos of bad things happening to TV news reporters because TV news gets such a kick out of endlessly replaying videos of bad things happening to other people. I’ve had cable news on in the background all day while taking care of other business, and I must have seen the constantly looped footage of this teen beating played a dozen times if I’ve seen it once.

Now, I’m not going to say that this is entirely unnewsworthy. There’s a whole genre of YouTube and MySpace videos of teen-violence videos posted by the perpetrators themselves. (The attackers here reportedly had planned to post the video online.) And I could see the interest, say, in a story on the psychology of this: why violent teens are willing to incriminate themselves this way, the lure of notoriety, the out-in-public culture in which even assault becomes performance, how police are using YouTube and MySpace to investigate crimes—whatever.

But I don’t see much of that, besides Nancy Grace’s reflexive righteous indignation, in the CNN story I linked, nor any of the cable reports I’ve seen. It’s just a story of a horrible attack on a private citizen, made national news simply by virtue of the fact that there’s a video, and we can show it to you. “This is just really hard to look at,” Susan Candiotti says, almost sheepishly, in talking to Grace. Nonetheless, cable is determined to make it as easy as possible.

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