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It's a clichÃ© that Israelis are obsessed with news, and that's probably why the cable packages offer so many English-language news channels. The problem, though, is that with so many hours to fill, these channels don't broadcast as much actual news as you'd expect or hope. At any given time, you get feature after irrelevant feature.
Many criticize how the international news networks cover Israel, but they should take heart, because lately, these networks barely cover any news at all. It all begins to bring to mind a line from the movie Broadcast News spoken by Holly Hunter, playing a young producer selflessly devoted to purity in TV news: "It's fun. I like fun. It's just not news."
CNN, which is probably considered the most serious news channel, has a lot of shows (particularly on weekends) sponsored by companies like Orascom Telecom, a telecommunications company that provides service to the Middle East (although guess which country it doesn't service). Orascom presents Inside the Middle East, a show that favors puffy, up-beat features about business successes and the revival of ski resorts in previously war-torn countries.
If you like puff, there's always Richard Quest's Business Travel, a show in which we get to see the quirky reporter trying out various luxury options or, occasionally, roughing it. Quest must have his fans, I suppose, but I can't say I've met any of them.
There are also programs about sailing, design and golf. Larry King may be known for getting the most sought-after guests for interviews, but when he's not talking to a real newsmaker, he spends a lot of time with guests like actress Suzanne Somers, who has developed some sort of bio-something method for older women trying to reverse the aging process. Not that there's anything wrong with that, as Jerry Seinfeld used to say. But to quote Holly Hunter again: "It's just not news."
Sky News is currently my favorite news channel because it fills up a lot of its on-air time by inviting politicians and journalists to read through the newspapers and give their thoughts on the events of the day. Whether or not you agree with these guests, they are articulate, literate and simply pleasant. I wish our local political discussion shows could be conducted with such good humor.
But most of the time, when I flip to Sky for a news update, I see a man with a trenchcoat and a grim expression standing by some police tape in front of a field where either a lovely young woman has disappeared or where her body has been found. George Orwell observed that when the English were most comfortable at home, they wanted to read about a murder, and apparently this is true of Sky News viewers as well.
This brings us to that very American news channel, Fox. Again, if you want to get a quick rundown of world headlines, Fox would rarely be the place to go. However, it does have other virtues. If a cop is chasing a speeding motorcycle through a cornfield, Fox has it live. If an alligator bites off someone's toe somewhere, Fox is there. And if Paris Hilton gets a hangnail, well, you know which channel to turn to. Of course, Fox has its serious political discussion shows from a conservative point of view, but in the day-to-day, all that earnestness is overshadowed by its hysterically thorough, pull-out-all-the-stops coverage of celebrity news, like the death of former Playboy playmate Anna Nicole Smith and the subsequent controversy over the paternity of her baby. Now, I enjoy celebrity gossip as much as the next person (more, maybe), but I couldn't help thinking after Smith's death that if Osama Bin Laden had dropped a nuclear bomb over the White House, it still wouldn't have been the lead story on the day the coroner's report on Anna Nicole's death was released.
We all know what's left: the BBC. Of course, they're newsier than Fox, but they tend to run long, long features on the origins of genius and such. And while they do restrain themselves from giving too much coverage to Paris and Anna Nicole, they spend more time than you would think a serious news channel might on cricket and the Beckhams' move to America. I do, however, recommend Tom Brooks' Talking Movies show for any film buffs out there.
And what of Al Jazeera in English? When it's not criticizing Israeli policy in Gaza, it's gotten just as puffy as everyone else. I just saw an interminable feature on the 25th anniversary of the compact disc that could have appeared on any other channel.
So if you get sick of all the puff, you can always watch the local Israeli news shows and hear about the decay of everything and everyone here. That might make the alligator on the rampage on Fox look pretty good, after all.