Saturday Single No. 471

As I write, the Texas Gal is in the living room, watching television coverage of yesterday’s carnage in Paris. After I finish here, I will likely read what the Minneapolis Star Tribune brought to my doorstep this morning and later, I will probably read more up-to-date accounts online, maybe at the sites of the New York Times or Washington Post.

It was as I wrote that opening paragraph that I realized what is bothering me this morning. First, of course, is that carnage in Paris, with more than a hundred dead and scores more injured in the service of an ideology I have no chance of understanding. As I said above, when I am done here, I will likely go learn as much as I can about what is actually known about what happened yesterday evening in a city I visited long ago and loved.

But there’s another thing bothering me this morning.

The Texas Gal and I first heard of the attacks in Paris from Scott Pelley on his evening broadcast on CBS. The reporting was sober and the analysis was careful, and the topic took up most of the program’s allotted half-hour. After that, we watched a few things we had recorded, and then I took my leave and watched a football game in my study. The Texas Gal switched to CNN to continue gathering information.

And on my occasional trips through the living room what I heard from CNN sounded shrill and breathless and sensational. I have no doubt that the same would hold true for the coverage of other twenty-four-hour news networks, Fox News and MSNBC. And that annoys and bothers me. After a massive event like yesterday’s, the truth about what actually happened, as well as the truth about who was responsible and why, rises from the chaos in its own time.

Time, however, is the enemy of any television station running live coverage of an event. When the facts available take, oh, fifteen minutes of air time and there are forty-five minutes left in the hour, then “What do we know?” is replaced by “What do we think we know?” Then comes “What do we think might have happened?” The answers to those three questions can easily become woven into a fabric of suppositions, and when that fabric is stretched to cover the time that needs to be filled, then the truth of what actually went down in Paris yesterday might be stretched as well.

There are, I’m certain, no malign conspiracies among those who work at those news networks (well, maybe except for Fox News), but reporting can be a messy and tedious business, and trying to do it live on the air and make it look polished is a risky thing. The result, as I noted above, is coverage that can sound – and does to my ears – breathless, sensational and shrill.

And those are not qualities I want in my news.

Having wandered far afield from what we usually do here on a Saturday morning, I’m in need of a little bit of mellowness. Here’s a suitable track that I heard on the CD player in the car yesterday evening as I waited for the Texas Gal to leave work. It’s Fairport Convention’s cover of “The Ballad Of Easy Rider” with Sandy Denny on lead vocal. It was recorded in October 1968 during the sessions for Fairport’s 1969 album Liege & Lief, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

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