NON-FICTION
CNN’s Gratuitous Use of BREAKING NEWS: Is Its Real Purpose to Keep Wolf Blitzer Awake?
Duane Hawkinson

Pop Quiz. Answer the following question: “BREAKING NEWS is to CNN what a shiny new red Corvette is to . . .” (fill in the blank).

Back to that later.

It’s obvious by now that everyone—including those good folks over at FOX—is sick and tired of CNN’s incessantly running banners screaming BREAKING NEWS. It reminds me of a neighbor who habitually yells at his barking dog so that the yelling and not the barking becomes the source of annoyance. You secretly root for the dog to break its tether and sink its teeth into the neck of your obnoxious neighbor.

In short, presentation is the problem.

Let's face it, short of life-altering bad or good news (such as “Trump Impeached”), using a screaming banner is nothing more than a marketing/ratings gimmick, and when you see how often it's used, you know that CNN has a bad case of BREAKING NEWS-itis. CNN indiscriminately uses that banner for stories that are (1) sometimes more than a few hours old, (2) sometimes more than a few days old, or (3) sometimes on something as trivial as BREAKING NEWS, we're back from a commercial break. It may be CNN is so thrilled viewers hung in there through the commercial break, it rewards them with a fresh BREAKING NEWS.      

I'll know when BREAKING NEWS has gone completely bonkers, requiring three-day-a-week counseling sessions and a prescription for the latest anti-depressant. Keep an eye out for this: BREAKING NEWS Wolf Blitzer's Beard has Lost Three Whiskers. Custodian Discovers Them in Dustpan. DNA Testing Corroborates Findings. Is a Bald Face in Wolf’s Future? BREAKING NEWS updates at the top of the hour! A panel of experts will discuss his prognosis . . . (Cut to commercials for facial products.)      

And that gets to the heart of the quiz question: CNN’s overcompensation is progressing into a clinical disorder. This once-venerable institution may need to be institutionalized, even straitjacketed, if any of these symptoms occur: CNN bellows BREAKING NEWS to announce it has no new BREAKING NEWS, makes desperate plea for viewers to phone in BREAKING NEWS. It cries BREAKING NEWS as a test of its BREAKING NEWS banner. It tries to take over a test of the EBS, the Emergency Broadcast System, to ensure that it's prepared in the event of a severe weather change from sunny to partly cloudy skies. Or—God forbid—it screams BREAKING NEWS of an incoming nuclear warhead from the Great Clips despot in North Korea, just to see whether viewers are paying attention. How needy. CNN needs therapy.

Under close examination, the current use of BREAKING NEWS betrays what can be boiled down to a single serious psychological/ratings problem within CNN: It has an inferiority complex. So the folks there use that old banner ruse because, well, let's face it, their inferiority complex is not totally unwarranted. They don't have the best ratings--or even very good ratings, not to mention so-so ratings. But c'mon, is that the best they can do to improve? It's like a naked man screaming from atop a roof--using a cheap and tawdry gimmick to attract ratings. After a quick peek of his sagging ratings, people just grow bored, then resentful, then full-on disgusted. Speaking of disgusted, they might even switch to the “fair and balanced” FOX news outlet—assuming their remote doesn’t explode in their hands first.

Now, if the executives had cutie Kate Baldoun prancing naked on a roof and screaming BREAKING NEWS, well, they might have something there. You can just see it: BREAKING NEWS Kate Baldoun takes off her sweater! She already tantalizes her viewers with those sleeveless outfits--and all that skin on her bare shoulders. Oh, boy. All she needs to do next is follow the Russian style of journalism, fully endorsed by Putin, of the new news, getting the skin on the skinny, going all curves and no content. She could arouse sleepy international affairs with a hip thrust; with a wink and a shoulder shrug, she could revive Chinese currency manipulation into something downright mouthwatering. As co-anchors, she and Ana Cabrera could really steam up the anchor desk, pumping up CNN’s ratings to new Viagra-inspired highs! That’s the kind of BREAKING NEWS that will glue eyeballs to “this just in!”

And, this just in (or is it a viewer fantasy?), it appears a hacker, who goes by the name of Eugene the Terrible, broke into CNN’s BREAKING NEWS graphic generator and disabled its ability to BREAK news that’s not really broken, much less timely, urgent, or altogether interesting. Unless his ransom demands are paid, Eugene the Terrible tweeted, the best CNN can hope for from now on as a substitute for BREAKING NEWS is “and now for our next story . . .” The horror!

And now this update . . .

BREAKING NEWS Wolf Blitzer’s beard loses another whisker.  His self-esteem plummets. He’s distraught, inconsolable, out of sorts--friends and colleagues concerned. Around the clock surveillance. He’s even thinking of announcing his retirement.


Duane Hawkinson is a native Minnesotan whose primary energies are focused in the world of education. When he's not watching cable news, he's out riding his bike, clearing his head of cable news. It's a balance.