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Laugh-In Looks at the News:

Time and nostalgia can sometimes make things seem more interesting in hindsight. Maybe this describes the antique business, or at least the market for old school lunchboxes. It also seems to work for television, as witnessed by the success of TV Land and reruns of very old sitcoms. Put another way, in ten years, this will be one of my “classic” columns.

So I guess it would be okay to invoke the old comedy show “Laugh-In” and recall the lyrics of one of its theme songs. When comedians Rowan and Martin were about to launch into jokes about current events, we’d hear a badly sung jingle that went something like this: “What’s the news across the nation/ We have got the information / In a way we hope will amuse you / We just love to give you our views / Ladies and gents, ‘Laugh-In’ looks at the news.”

Never mind nostalgia, how about being prescient?

“We have got the information, in a way we hope will amuse you.” That’s pretty much the mantra of any network news organization these days. Then, “We just love to give you our views…” Whoa! The perfect slogan for FOX News.

Last week the LA Times reported that CBS News President Andrew Heyward has directed staffers to come up with pitches on ways to “favor more of a storytelling style” on the “CBS Evening News.” Sources indicated that Heyward was looking for ideas and additional material that would allow the evening news to explore “various styles of storytelling.” While those pitches are yet to come, Heyward cited two examples of what he was talking about: Images of correspondents making phone calls, and more on-screen graphics. You know, “In a way we hope will amuse you.”

Now meld this to the current state of “reporting” on CNN, “the most trusted name in news,” where you can get more background on the disappearance and kidnapping of young white women than you can on the insurgents in Iraq. I don’t disagree that a family’s pain is a “story.” I do disagree that it has to be “Our top story…” and I can’t help thinking that the parents of long-missing African American children must be seething every time another one of these ‘pretty white girl gone’ stories begins anew.

The Times article reports that CBS’ Heyward has proposed in meetings that the evening news would dispense quickly with the news of the day and focus on deeper investigative and feature stories in the style of “60 Minutes.” Well, that might actually add to understanding. However, not every important story is rich with human interest. A lot of what we should know does not necessarily shape into compelling narrative lines. For example, wouldn’t it be great if the news did a series fully explaining all those charges and taxes on your phone bill? But they won’t, unless stripper Mary Carey becomes a comptroller for Verizon.

You might ask, “Where does all this gnashing of teeth about news media get us? People yammer about how crummy ‘the news’ is, but I don’t see news getting any better or more intelligent.” Yes, exactly. Which indicates that we need to be louder about this.

A little more nostalgia: My father had a simple reason for insisting that everyone exercise the right to vote. He would say, “Once they get you to believe voting doesn’t matter, they will take voting away.” Today he might add, “Or rig Ohio so it looks like Bush won.” Apply that line of thinking to the free flow of information about our government. Imagine that we voluntarily give up wanting that information, so that we can have snappier graphics and more regional kidnapping accounts. “Our top story tonight: ‘Laugh-In’ Wins!”

This Week’s “Know Your News” Quiz

1) The LA City Council enacted new

(a) ethics standards.

(b) attendance awards.

(c) guidelines on “nap time.”

2) Martha Stewart has an interview in

(a) Scott-Free Digest

(b) Vanity Fair Magazine

(c) Vanity Fair, Wealth More Fair Monthly

3) Bush arrived in Denmark to

(a) protest and a chilly reception.

(b) “get delicious breakfast rolls!”

(c) “the home of ABBA!”

Answer Key

1) (a) “Now, who’s taking all the pens?”

2) (b) “I found prison confining…”3) (a) “And these are my allies…?”

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