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Bombshell Over Baghdad On The 'Evening News'?

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Back in March, Arianna Huffington wrote the following:
It says everything you need to know about the current state of TV news -- indeed the current state of our media culture -- that on a day that saw Iraq moving closer to all-out civil war, with at least 76 Iraqis killed and 179 wounded in sectarian attacks, the CBS Evening News devoted one minute and thirty-nine seconds to coverage of Iraq... and one minute and fifty-six seconds to coverage of Anna Nicole Smith's appearance in front of the Supreme Court. (ellipses in original)
Well, Anna Nicole is back, thanks to a Supreme Court decision in her favor, and Arianna is thus once again assessing "Evening News" coverage of "the Bomb vs Bombshells balance." Writes Huff:
CBS' update of the Smith story was given another minute and fifty-eight seconds of precious air time -- two seconds more than last time -- while its coverage of Iraq lasted two minutes and ten seconds. Aha, you may say, that's 12 seconds more than they gave Anna Nicole, and a 31 second increase from the last time the two stories went head-to-head. True, but Monday was also the third anniversary of Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech -- a fairly significant news peg, wouldn't you say?
Huffington deems the relative coverage between Smith and the war "seriously out of whack." Now, this is a news judgment question, so I'm not going to bother asking anyone at the "Evening News" about it – all they would likely say is they felt that the Anna Nicole story was an important one. And, well, it is: a victory for federal courts over state courts, a ruling that means federal courts can get involved in these kinds of probate cases, as CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen pointed out. That said, had the Trimspa spokeswoman not been involved in the case, it's safe to say it would not have garnered the same kind of coverage.

All this ultimately goes to one of the oldest issues in media criticism: How to balance giving people what they want with giving people what (you think) they need. Huffington seems to want to see the "Evening News" stay away from fluffy stories, and it's hard to disagree with her, though your definition of serious stories might differ from hers. But let's be honest here: The prospect of Anna Nicole Smith at the Supreme Court is, well, pretty damn hilarious, and since there's a viable news peg, it's hard to blame the "Evening News" for covering the story. I like to think of myself as a serious news consumer, but, well, I do want to see footage of Smith at the Supreme Court, along with Bob Schieffer's "droll commentary" on the matter.

There are lines here, of course, and news outlets routinely go lose their perspective in the chase for ratings, as the tragic case of Natalee Holloway has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. But I have a hard time siding with Huffington on this one. Of course the war is a far more important story than the Supreme Court decision. But the war is also a story we're all intimately familiar with, and the fact that it's the third anniversary of Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech doesn't change that. Is it so wrong to devote a couple of minutes to one of the few more-or-less legitimate stories to come along in quite a while that might actually make us smile?

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