Chris Powell: Weather instead of news; hypocritical pope




While "global warming" hasn't changed Connecticut's climate that much, local television news here lately seems to be much less about news and more about weather.

To people who try to take local TV news seriously, this is sometimes comic, as when the forecast for the week ahead is essentially uneventful and unchanging but is belabored and repeated. The local TV news format of weather emphasis suggests that most of the audience goes through day after day without access to a window.

But taking local TV news seriously is probably a mistake. The TV stations themselves must know better; they have market research. If people really wanted to know what was going on around them they'd read newspapers, from which a big part of local TV news is taken anyway without the courtesy of attribution.

So instead local TV news viewers, who generally constitute a statewide rather than merely local audience, are told at great length about things that are relatively far from them, have no impact on them, and about which they can do nothing -- a fire in Meriden, a fatal traffic accident in Waterbury, a holdup in Norwich, a shooting in Bridgeport, a hit-and-run in Norwalk, a flasher in Bristol, a drug bust in New Haven, and a molestation arrest in Putnam, the latter complete with five minutes of interviews with people on the street who know nothing about the case but are willing to speculate on what should be done with the defendant if he's guilty, or even if he's not.

Then in the 10 seconds remaining before the next installment of the weather forecast (which is the same as it was minutes earlier), viewers might be told that the next state budget is coming up a billion dollars short, indicating lots of tax increases and spending cuts affecting everyone, but about which viewers will be left to guess, unless they want to bother with the papers.

Yet as life gets harder, real incomes and living standards fall, voter participation collapses, literacy fades, and college degrees signify less learning than high-school diplomas once did, why should anyone care? Few people are slogging home through rush-hour traffic thinking: "As soon as I get inside I'll be able to read about public policy!" Of course, most are thinking only of dinner and getting away from the grind for a few hours before having to return to it.

The musicians Donald Fagen and Walter Becker of Steely Dan saw it coming 40 years ago in "Only a Fool Would Say That":

The man on the street

Dragging his feet

Don't want to hear the bad news.

Imagine your face

There in his place

Standing inside his brown shoes.

You do his 9 to 5,

Drag yourself home half alive,

And there on the screen,

A man with a dream.

The old complaint is that everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it. But if anything ever could be done about it, it might disappear from local TV news, having become a matter of public policy requiring the greater expense of journalism.


Trying to make nice with Muslims, who lately have been getting some bad publicity, Pope Francis remarked the other day that people shouldn't insult or ridicule the religion of others. But that would be to change the rules in the middle of the game while one is ahead.

After all, Judaism, Christianity and Islam didn't ascend by being respectful to what the Book of Daniel recalls as "the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone," the old idols. Those gods are out of business precisely because the pope's predecessors insulted and ridiculed them, and worse.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.