Best TV of the '00s: News Events
More of our best of the decade coverage, which started on Tuesday. You can read the other posts at the link above. We finish up the series by talking about some of the news events that defined the decade, and how TV covered them.
It seems odd to call the news events of the 00's a "best" list. As we started the 21st century, America seemed to have a different tragedy happening at every twist and turn. There was the Year 2000 bug followed by 9/11 followed by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan followed by Hurricane Katrina followed by the worst recession since the Great Depression. We've also had various celebrity deaths recently including the iconic and controversial Michael Jackson.
The tragedies of the decade were accompanied by revolutionary change. America elected its first African-American President. New forms of media such as social networking arose like a phoenix from the ashes of the old media.
The decade was filled with many ups and downs, possibly more downs. The full repercussions of the events won't likely be acknowledged or analyzed for years or decades to come. Wherever we end up, it will have been one hell of a ride.
The Election of President Barack Obama
Allison says: It's really something when you know that you're living through history in the making. From Senator Obama's unlikely victory over Senator Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Primaries, through the summer of campaigning against Senator John McCain and the surprise emergence of Governor Sarah Palin, then the economic collapse in September 2008 that shaped the final weeks and finally, ultimately, the election in November.
It was the most exciting time I can remember in the past decade. And it all happened on television. TV brought it up close and personal, it made Barack Obama a star. It was part of the history it was recording.
Joel says: It's hard to talk about something that horrific as one of the decade's "best" examples of news coverage. But the attacks on New York, Washington, DC and Shanksville, PA proved that a big enough story will not only bring the country together, but bring out the best of what the networks' news departments had to offer. They were all over the story, from how the attacks went down to how the victims' loved ones were affected, to how the United States responded.
Of course, with great coverage came great problems: lots of speculation on 9/11 itself led to news being reported that didn't need to be (car bombs going off, other attacks that never materialized), 24x7 coverage in the weeks after the attack led to a scared and paranoid populace, and the advent of the news crawl at the bottom of the screen plagues us to this day. But overall, it was a good indication of how well our news organizations do when disaster strikes.
Bob says: When the first plane hit the World Trade Center, I was at a Barnes & Noble in Peabody, MA. A woman getting a coffee in the cafe told me that a plane had just hit. I wasn't sure if it was true or how serious it even was, so I walked across the street and went to the Sears so I could watch the coverage on the TVs in the home electronics section of the store.
A group of people were gathered around one of the big sets watching the news coverage of the attacks. While the events of that day were horrible, they also gave people a communal feeling, a feeling that we were all in this together, even if we were all just watching it all play out on television. And the news networks, even though they often get things wrong, especially with breaking news, they really handled things well that day (and in the days that followed).
Isabelle says: I was in a computer classroom when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. In minutes, the teacher had found a TV for us to watch live coverage and every student was surfing the web to find the latest info. It was the first time in my student life that classes were paused for us to watch the news unfold on TV. Even if I live in Canada, I can tell you that the tragedy, shown for weeks on both Canadian and US channels, affected us a lot too and, as Bob and Joel pointed out, we were scared, we were paranoid, and we got closer as a community.
TV-wise, it was impressive to see how fast the news and updates were coming to us. I was most impressed with how fast we got footage from the crashes, the streets, etc. This rapidity in coverage was also seen throughout the world -- I had access to practically the same live information in Canadian-French and in English (both US and Canada), which showed us once again how fast news -- sadly, especially tragedies -- travels around the globe and how easy it is to get minute-by-minute information in practically any language nowadays.
Kona says: Even though, by 2001, network news was on its way out, 9/11 showed how important news anchors were. With a tragedy of this magnitude, every network was a 24-hour news channel, and it certainly wasn't Wolf Blitzer who I wanted to hear from during those first few days after the attacks. I turned right to ABC and Peter Jennings. I needed to be calmed, to be reassured, and Jennings could do that. Sure, CNN or FOX news is great when you want to argue, but when you just want a port in the storm, the networks' coverage of 9/11 was where you needed to go.
John says: While it admittedly got in just under the wire in 2009, and lacks the obvious gravitas of 9/11 or the aircrash in the Potomac, no event this decade demonstrated the bear traps an overeager media can stumble into in the age of immediate news coverage. Once a rumor got out that a kid was helplessly airborne in an experimental balloon, every major news agency devoted every available resource to the story. When it turned out to be a hoax, those same media outlets looked like idiots. And, it's all because no one took a breath, stepped back and asked, "Guys? Who the hell actually believes there's a kid trapped inside a floating pan of Jiffy Pop? C'mon!"
The Writers Strike of 2007-2008
Michael P. says: This has no levity against the weight of the 9/11 attacks or Hurricane Katrina, but it was interesting to watch television networks struggle with a labor union. CBS airing Big Brother and The Price is Right to fill gaps. Seasons were shortened, delayed completely, or just were canceled. Would a low rating show like Journeyman or Bionic Woman survived longer without a strike or would they have been given a second chance? We'll never know.
Annie says: The terrible effect of Hurricane Katrina and the ensuing aftermath are topics for endless analysis and personal stories, but keeping in mind that this is a television blog, I'll focus on that. Katrina was a major point in the field of television journalism in the '00s. People like Anderson Cooper were suddenly opened up to a wider audience when they started providing insightful, heart-wrenching commentary straight from the scene in New Orleans.
In fact, at a time when it was difficult to get in or out of the area, it was all a lot of people could rely on for a look at the situation. This, in addition to the swiftness of overwhelming celebrity on-location reaction, also prompted criticism of the government's own response time. It was a strange time, when media exposure and celebrity had such a huge overlap with a disaster of this scale. Even someone like Kanye West felt the need to throw in his two cents during a live telethon with those now infamous words: "George Bush doesn't care about black people."
Danny says: Every decade has its tragedy and trying to compare the heaviness or fear they produce in the human body varies depending on who you ask. Objectivity is a noble effort when weighing the impact of such incidents, but it's impossible to completely erase from the human psyche short of some kind of spiritual soul sand blasting. For me, watching the events of Hurricane Katrina unfold like some tragic pop-up book hit home because New Orleans was my home.
I was born and raised in the Crescent City before making that big move to college and many family members and close friends had to haul ass in the final hours before it touched down leaving them as confused and grasping for answers as I was on safer ground. In the ensuing days as the images of places I grew up with peeking over an never-ending lake of tragedy, I went through the entire spectrum of human emotion from anger to the political backtracking both the local and federal government did to save face to downright sadness.
My personal flood gates broke when my TV showed me an image of an armed soldier standing waist deep in a puddle of brown water in front of the Superdome. It changed things in ways no one in and around New Orleans thought would be possible and the images I witnessed still have me wondering if we learned anything from them.
Jason says: It's impossible to not pick 9/11 as the key moment in news for the decade, but it almost transcends a list like this. And, somehow it still felt less tragic in ways than the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. As horrifying as the collapse of the Twin Towers was in New York; we quickly began the process of rebuilding and going to war. I was in New Orleans exactly one year prior to Katrina, and the footage of what that great city looked like weeks and even months afterward (hell, even now!) is just heartbreaking.
The poor response time by FEMA and the fact that people were living in this deplorable anarchic disaster zone, dying at home or in a football stadium for lack of drinking water, food, or protection from one another, is just unfathomable. The video footage of the flooded streets and wandering vagabonds in something that looked more like a war-torn region than the Big Easy. What was this place? Who were these people? Why was no one helping them? It was a stark reminder that America is no better prepared to handle a massive disaster than any other country, and we're just as capable of the grossest inhumanity as anyone we condemn all over the world.
The Death of Michael Jackson
Brad says: It shouldn't be surprising anymore when a music star dies younger than he or she should. It shouldn't even be surprising when drugs are involved. Nonetheless, Michael Jackson's death was a surprise. Despite the controversy that embroiled his later years, he is the quintessential pop star that rose out of the MTV generation. One could argue that his mega-success using the new cable television medium defined later television programs such as American Idol.
I wasn't that big a fan but I was raised in the '80s when Michael Jackson was at his peak and it was easy to see his influence all around in which his face was constantly on television and his albums seemed to constantly be at the top of the charts. It was only equaled by the media coverage of his death and the inevitable controversy that surrounded the aftermath, which in retrospect is how his life went as well.
The Presidential Election of 2000
Allison says: When I referred to watching history in the making regarding the election of Barack Obama, I also have to speak about another election that changed the course of America. In 2000, the contest between former Texas Governor George W. Bush and incumbent Vice President Al Gore was a hotly contested race that was still undecided on election night. The networks were anxious to call a winner, to read the exit polls state by state and determine which candidate won which state. NBC's Tim Russert and his white-board became part of pop culture as he kept track of electoral votes the old-fashioned way. The country was divided into red states and blue, thanks to the TV maps sorting it all out.
Our nation was so evenly divided that the results came down to the electoral votes in the state of Florida. In their haste, the networks named Al Gore the winner, only to rescind their announcement when the numbers were in dispute. What about absentee ballots, military votes, contrary voting machines that were not counting some votes and double counting others? We learned a new term -- hanging chads.
The election was not decided that night, and thereafter, the networks had to rethink how to broadcast election results. The State of Florida was thrust into the national focus as a recount was order by the State Supreme Court. Then it was stopped. Then it was started again.
Ultimately, the Florida Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, declared Republican George W. Bush the winner. In question remained thousands of uncounted or lost votes. It didn't matter. On December 12, the United States Supreme Court weighed in and George W. Bush was declared the winner. The course of America was determined in the most controversial election of our lifetime, and television had brought it all into our homes as never before in political history.