I hate the use of undated footage, especially when it's two or three days old, that runs as "video wallpaper" as the anchors talk about looting, the breached levee, death, destruction, or what have you. It's TV news if it's live or happened recently or is placed in context. But if I have to look at that shirtless guy with the extravagant butt-crack trying to shatter the store door one more time, I'm going to fly down to New Orleans and arrest him myself. Likewise the footage of the rescue helicopter blowing roof shingles into the air.
I offer this easy remedy: If the talking heads need a visual backdrop, let them run the footage as they gab. But all footage that's not live or taped "today" should be date- and time-stamped conspicuously.
Why won't the networks do this? My friend Mark Feldstein, a recovering broadcaster who now teaches journalism at George Washington University, explains that this video ambiguity is deliberate.
"Labeling the video as a few days old draws attention to just how stale the most dramatic shots are and thus makes it harder to hype for ratings," he writes in e-mail. While undated footage often confuses viewers about the who-what-when-where-why basics, it helps the news networks by concealing how much of their "coverage" consists of cheaply produced talking heads in New York studios speculating on what's happening, rather than more expensive in-the-field reporting, he continues.
Another thing I noticed while reading the leftist news weekly known as Newsweek on the plane ride home yesterday: people complain and complain that the federal government was not able to immediately swoop in with overwhelming quantities of supplies and cops, rescue everyone, have hot meals ready, and enforce order. The same people who complain about all of this howl about such innocuous things as the Patriot Act, and should the government ever create a law enforcement and logistics organization ready to handle all of this at a moment's notice, why, then, they'd be complaining that we're living under a fascist dictatorship run by Chimpy McHitler.
Regarding Katrina (and true to form), Newsweek was full of barely veiled assertions that more socialism is the answer to our woes...