It’s not that often that you know the exact time a news story breaks. Obviously, massive acts of nature or great violence (earthquakes, bombings, etc) generally become information almost within seconds. However, many news items enter the media stream at a carefully chosen day and hour. After all, the news is first and foremost a “product” these days, and news providers, news makers and anybody with a hot tip all have financial and political interests to consider when letting a news story out into the wild.
An interesting case study might be former Presidential candidate John Edwards’ public confession the other day. I thought it was interesting that how the story was released to the world precisely at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time (or maybe 2:58).
Everybody paying attention knows that late summer 2008 has three major events that are going to be big news and generate lots of stories around the world. Of course there’s a big presidential election going on here in the states, but it’s not until the party conventions are over and done in early September that the campaign warfare and election media overload really begins. Meanwhile, the other BIG news event began on Friday the allegedly cosmic 08/08/08– The opening ceremonies in Beijing.
I'm not much for spectator sports. Even the Olympics. But I did catch some highlights of those ceremonies. Wow. As big and amazing as anything I've ever seen. Lots of pomp. Yet disturbing, at least to me. And our President himself was there for all the fireworks.
But it was BIG. The Olympic opening had been the single most anticipated event around the world for weeks. And nobody's surprised at the estimate of roughly a billion people who tuned in for the TV mega-pageant. All in all, it was an opportune time to get the least bang for the bump for a major news event– like invading a neighboring country or explaining to a national TV audience why you've been lying about your sex life.
So the reason I'm wading into this sordid media quagmire is because I have radio moment of sorts to share– the sound this big news story actually breaking, live, on WABC here in New York. Although Disney sold off their talk stations recently, their ABC News network is still intertwined with the format of the former ABC stations for ten years as part of the deal.
WABC – Breaking News at 3:00 – 08-08-08
This clip begins just before 3:00 p.m. on WABC. It’ the official hand-off time between Limbaugh and Hannity, where the right-wing radio rocks of Gibraltar almost touch. And as the media storm sweeps over the horizon, the thunderclaps begin. Boom! Rush Limbaugh emerges with just enough time to dish the dirt. Then, boom! Sean Hannity kicks in on cue, barely more prepared than Limbaugh: “All right, we’ve got some breaking news… “
Although the story is barely a minute old, Hannity promises to get to the “bottom line on that.” (After all, if anybody's going to go straight to the bottom of a story, it’s Sean). Despite the hot Edwards story, Hannity promised to hit hard on some Clinton non-story anyway. (Beating up on Bill Clinton? It's all they really know how to do when they're not being fed any juicy red meat from Republican headquarters that day).
And then– Boom, boom, boom-boom– ABC News with Bob Schmidt. A media cloudburst begins… As newsrooms around the country are suddenly scrambling in preparation to have the story by their next newscast, ABC news hits play on a breezy Barbara Britt piece on Edwards' predicament. If you know anything about this situation, you know the version (his version) of the story as it went out that Friday. This is followed by what would have been the lead story, the Olympics are underway!
So why the story launch at 3 o'clock? Well apparently the interview was conducted late that morning. ABC wouldn't need much time to slap a web item and a radio piece together and it was hours before the nightly news. But Edwards certainly would want to have himself, his family and Ms. Hunter secure when the story went out, and to have certain people in his circle informed before they heard it on the news. So while every mention of Edwards confession in the media that day would be a de facto promotion for Nightline that evening, the network probably agreed to give Edwards a head start to prepare for the media fallout.
And while I'm apt to add that the timing would also bump the story into Saturday's newspaper, which is as Rachel Maddow always says is the skinniest and least read edition of a weekly paper, I think that 24/7 cable news and the constant web news stream trumps the print reality these days.
The Nightline interview itself was a sad exercise. For such a full-throttle effort to get in front of a story, Edwards certainly seemed less than candid all through the thing. And what's worse, is he couldn't get out of "campaign mode," going as far as thanking Bob Woodruff for showing up to grill him (like he was invited to a TV debate or something). And why does the supposed fact that he had the affair while his wife's cancer was in remission. And why is important to me or anyone besides his wife if fooled around with Rielle Hunter (i.e. Lisa Jo Druck), but didn't actually love her. And yeah right, the baby's not his. Sure. It would probably be easier to get to the truth if the lady in question would come forward and spill the beans. But apparently she's hiding… somewhere. (The Virgin Islands?)
OK, I gotta admit it. There deeper you go into this story, it just gets dumber and creepier. And like so many sordid airings of celebrity dirty laundry in the public square, once you get a whiff it's hard to turn away. I really brought the whole thing up here blog because I was fascinated with the precision clockwork of the news cycle caught in a few minutes of radio. But I ain't proud that I ended up spending hours researching the kind of stupid celebrity scandal crap that clogs up the works of the news industry with indulgence, lifestyle porn and tragedy. So I'll cut off this discussion of the fall of John Edwards by leaving you with a few links of interest, if you need to know more.
This Newsweek writer's piece on his casual friendship with the lady in question during the Edwards affair speaks volumes. And the youthful shenanigans of Ms. Hunter (Druck) in downtown NYC in the crazy 80's was immortalized in some infamous and trashy fiction titles you may know. And lastly, if your really want to get a fly on the wall flavor of the last temptation of John Edwards, take a gander at the first "Webisode" Hunter produced. You can easily see (and hear) why they were taken down once he was busted by Mrs. E. Watching them may make you wonder how they ever ended up there in the first place. More Edwards dirt can probably be found at this trash compost than anywhere else, starting here and here. And there's more on the way…
And, I'm sorry to page six on you like this…
As far as the other big news of 08/08/08, besides the Olympics… the ongoing situation between Russia and Georgia (and NATO and the former Soviet satellite states and the U.S. and E.U…. everybody else) looks like it's going to get ugly. And that mess just adds more sorts of complexities and variables to an already unpredictable and turbulent (and corrupt) international situation that always seems to be on the verge of turning into something far worse. And something strange.
If you do own a shortwave radio, keep in mind that your connection to the rest of the world is less vulnerable to a cyberattack. And as far as keeping informed, the U.S. and most EU countries may have cut way back on shortwave broadcasting to the west, Russia and many of the states within its historic sphere haven't given up on old fashioned world broadcasting yet. And when the world's on fire, it's always best to not to trust any one version of current events, or recent history.
And then there's China. Proving every day that they can filter all the news and all the information (and entertainment) and suppress all the dissent AND be super-fantastic all at the same time. That really is incredible. I didn't see much of the Olympics, but it looked incredibly colorful and everybody seemed really happy.
Next week the Democratic convention in Denver. John Edwards won't be there. Last month his name was still mentioned as a possible VP pick for Obama. Instead, he may be trying to figure out if he's still married.