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Bob Franken: Fill in the blanks

Posted: July 22, 2014 - 3:03pm

It’s a journalist’s worst nightmare: We discover that nobody cares about our stories because they’re predictable and boring. That certainly seems to be the case for those of us here in Washington, but it’s true throughout our industry. We keep on regurgitating the same stuff and spend a lot of energy doing it. Face it: It’s the same bit, different day.

It’s time to save time, to say nothing of big money. So, as a public service, let’s concoct reports where all you have to do is fill in the blanks. For example:

“Medical researchers at (institution) have discovered in (animal) a (protein, enzyme, stem cell) that causes (disease). If confirmed in a larger study, the scientists will apply for authorization to conduct human trials that could lead to a better understanding of (disease) and possible new protocols. They emphasize that any advances in treatment will take five to 10 years to develop.”

How many times have we seen minor variations of that one?

Or in the business section: “(Airline) announced today that it will now be charging a $25 fee for passengers’ (essential travel item). Other carriers quickly stated that they would follow suit. One executive was overheard saying, ‘Why didn’t we think of that?’”

And this one has become routine: “(Federal agency) has agreed to a settlement with (bank), which will pay $(number) billion in fines for fraudulent mortgage practices during the period leading up to the 2008 financial collapse. Under the terms of the deal, (bank) does not admit wrongdoing. A (bank) spokesman issued a statement saying that it only decided to go along ‘to avoid any further distraction from time-consuming litigation.’”

Wherever you look, you can find examples, from the lifestyle sections and fluffy celebrity magazines, where (contrived reality star) was spotted holding (body part) with (rapper), or on the sports pages, where (jock) tells reporters: “My individual performance doesn’t count. What’s important is that the team (won/lost).”

But nowhere is this paint-by-numbers coverage more prominent than in the wild and wacky world of politics. On any given Sunday, the evening newscast will feature a story on the crisis and hostilities in (country name), quoting Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., appearing on (“Meet the Press”/”Face the Nation”/”This Week”/”Fox News Sunday”/”State of the Union”/wherever). McCain always says the exact same thing: “I think we should send in troops. President Obama is wimpy.” Meanwhile, from one of the other shows, there will be a sound bite from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., that goes: “I think we should send in troops. President Obama is wimpy.”

Some of the various personalities who prowl the political world have become so predictable, the reports about them have turned into cliches. I’m thinking of you, Ted Cruz, with your “shut down the government if Obamacare isn’t repealed,” and you, Rand Paul, for your “who needs government anyway?” mantra, and you, Michele Bachmann, for your “who needs facts?” comments, and you, Hillary Clinton, for your milking the suspense act.

Let’s face it, Barack Obama has become same-old, same-old and even sadder so has the incendiary vitriol that is relentlessly spewed at him. Quite frankly, the politics of hate has become run-of-the-mill and has paralyzed our country.

Is it any wonder that we so often see this story: “A new study, ranking the nations of the world in (health care/ nutrition/obesity/economic fairness/education/infrastructure) show that the United States is trailing the pack. ‘The solutions are obvious,’ said (government official or designated expert). ‘We need to spend more money. But in the current environment, no money will be approved. For anything.’”

How pathetic our routine. If we don’t get our act together, the story will read “On (fill in the date), the United States of America ceased being a superpower.”

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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