In 1975 on Saturday Night Live, Chevy Chase would report each week, "Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead." This "news" was reported faithfully on the show's "Weekend Update" segment through early 1977.
SNL was onto something. It has taken 40 years, plus the advent of all-news programming on cable television, but the show's genius has come to full fruition. For more than a month, cable news broadcasts have been consumed with reports that have gone beyond the tragedy of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. They now spend substantial portions of each hour on what is not known and what is not being discovered. What Saturday Night Live once did as a joke, cable news has adopted as a business model: Report not just the news, but report that nothing is new - in other words, non-news.
Indeed, one major cable news network (which I will not name by its initials) introduces the non-news story every 15 to 30 minutes with the announcement and special music that signifies "BREAKING NEWS." I fully expect soon to see a bulletin stating that the robotic explorer also has failed to find Atlantis or a mermaid. This is not to diminish the tragedy of MH370 or of similar stories, but the evolution of broadcast journalism from focusing on news to emphasizing non-news is noteworthy.
George Orwell would marvel at this accomplishment of turning non-news into "BREAKING NEWS." Such "newspeak" surpasses giving the title "Affordable Care Act" to a statute that mainly increases the cost of health care.
We who watch mainly cable news have suffered through the endless repetition of significant news stories long past the time when they really are news. Remember Gary Condit? The lingering death of Michael Jackson? The acquittal of George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin case? With the transition into endlessly repeating non-news, imagine the possibilities.
Cable news can devote large segments of time to legislation that Congress fails to consider each day or judicial vacancies the president has not filled or nominations the Senate has failed to consider. Indeed, entire news cycles could be filled, without repetition, on stories generated by the many days that Congress actually does nothing. Foreign correspondents can focus on disputes the United Nations fails to resolve. In Pennsylvania, we could have coverage of criminal cases that our attorney general fails to file.
There are endless examples of governments and politicians failing to do important stuff. And as networks complete their transformation into mainly non-news networks, there will be no need to repeat non-stories. Everyone can have exclusives by focusing on breaking non-news.
I offer this modest proposal not for personal gain, but to save broadcast journalism by helping it to evolve to its logical next step.