Hard News as Soft Entertainment
Updated: Feb 10
A WEEK IN AMERICA - A weekly column for 'Downtown in Business' by Martin Liptrot
America’s is set to do what she does better than anyone else.
She is about to reveal her remarkable ability to merge hard news and soft entertainment. To take a story of devastating horror and turn it into 24-hour rolling news, the fodder of chat shows and supermarket tabloids, and create household names out of people whom you’d never heard of just a week ago.
The circumstances are already a global phenomenon.
It was the social media video seen around the world. A nine-minute recording of then police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of a handcuffed man as he gasped: “I can’t breathe.”
Reported to have handled a fake $20 bill, the man, George Floyd, later died.
Now, nearly twelve months later, the trial of the former officer starts after a difficult jury selection.
The prosecution will say Chauvin’s actions directly contributed to Floyd’s death.
The defence will say they were reasonable actions to restrain the man and it was a combination of his heart condition and the fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system which ultimately killed him.
America watches and waits. This one will be no different than the other horrific cases which have unfolded across our screens in recent years, but this one is also playing out across an already tinder-dry racial landscape.
And for ‘Big News’, it couldn’t come at a better time.
The election is over, Post-vaccine COVID stories are losing their potency, Trump has temporarily retired to the wings of politics and, consequently, viewer figures have plummeted for the networks like FOX and CNN.
“The Chauvin trial has everything” says Mark Feldstein, chair of broadcast journalism at the University of Maryland — “murder and racism, drama and spectacle –so it’s an obvious ratings-grabber, especially since TV cameras are recording and broadcasting it live.”
It is, of course, hoped that justice is also done.
It reminds me that while our UK broadcasters and tabloids get a tough time for their reaction to the rather more trivial matter of the housing choice of the sixth in line to the throne and fake outrage at the fate of pensioners returning from Costa Bingo – we have, so far, managed to preserve the line between tittle-tattle and real news.
Speaking of important news – Money. Even police brutality and racial injustice don’t grab US headlines like when the middle class make a quick buck or lose a fortune.
This week, Americans are waiting for important economic news and what it means for their retirement plans and savings. Despite the pandemic and job uncertainty, 2020 saw strong gains in stocks and share prices, meaning those with broker accounts or investments saw good gains, on paper at least.
This week we will see the latest Employment Report, and the markets are expecting to see positive gains spurred on by the roll out of the vaccine, thousands in personal stimulus checks arriving in the bank accounts of every American, and the positive news that in some states like Texas and Florida restaurants, hotels and airlines are re-opening.
Employment is still a long way behind its record high 12 months ago, but the markets respond to trends and direction, both of which are good for now, and with trading platforms like Robinhood and Charles Schwab offering no-fee transactions, many of those stimulus checks meant for main street will be winging their way to Wall Street instead.
And finally, it wouldn’t be a Week in America without sharing how our little island is viewed from this side of the pond. The announcement that Liverpool is to welcome commissioners from Whitehall to help run the council caught my attention, and the reaction of residents in the forthcoming local elections will be of interest.
Likewise, the news that Scottish Nationalists are fleeing to join Alex Salmond’s Alba Party indicates a fracturing of unity amongst the separatists north of the border.
And finally, speaking of breakaways, I was amused to hear talk of a Northern Independence Party – surely a spoof - run from a bedsit in Brighton with a tag line ‘About Bloody Time’, and a whippet as the logo. Policies include ‘Clogs for All’ I hear.
It just shows that the federal system of a United States which we enjoy here still has a long way to go before it catches on in the not-so-United Kingdom.
Martin Liptrot is a writer and commentator on public affairs and politics based in Florida.