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Lessons of the Chilean rescue: This global village has some idiots

We could start today's epistle on things learned from TV coverage of the rescue of the Chilean miners by going on at length about the CBC. But let's just say the CBC was a tad slow on the matter. As the first miner was reaching the surface, I was watching CP24 here in Toronna. I switched to CBC NN and there was Pastor Mansbridge talking to Claire Martin about the weather in British Columbia, or something. When I checked a bit later, it was still a Chile-free channel. We'll leave it at that.

It is estimated that one billion people around the world watched at least part of the rescue. Little wonder. It was a rare, live and all-encompassing good-news event offered on TV. We can garner a lot from what we saw.

Yes, as we were reminded often, TV coverage made the rescue a "global village." That's nice and all, but, whether global or not, this village has some idiots in it. Here are some observations on one special TV event.

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One: Television is better at delivering horror than joyous news. All-news TV, its reporters and producers tend to do their best work when confronted with what terrifies viewers: the wrath of nature in hurricanes, the stupidity of humans in allowing toxic spills and the unsettling mystery of plane crashes. Most reporters, across the channels last Tuesday night, were rendered inarticulate in the face of the life-affirming facts of the rescue.

Two: It was all too obvious that many reporters and anchors on U.S. and Canadian TV couldn't find Chile on a map. They struggled to give a clear sense of the country and appeared to know almost nothing about its society and culture. Chile has a rich literary culture, with Isabel Allende being one of the most read authors in the world today. Her work, like that of other Chilean and South American writers, has elements of "magic realism," an overused phrase to describe the tendency toward heightened, fantastic versions of reality. The story of the trapped miners and the rescue is like something lifted from that tradition. Somebody could have said so, and given a brief explanation. Context, you know.

Three: Larry King was way the heck out of his depth on CNN. He seemed doddery and made outlandish interruptions of reporters, barking questions about "the shock" the miners would suffer.

And then there was this:

King: "We're joined now by Mike Rowe, the host of Dirty Jobs. The new season returns to Discovery on Tuesday. He was trapped once, by the way, in a cave in Kentucky. He might have some interesting thoughts on tonight's events. Mike, you host Dirty Jobs. I guess this is a good example of the result of dirty jobs, isn't it?"

Rowe: "This is the mother of all dirty jobs. I can't even believe what I'm looking at. And thank you for bringing me in here because I think you were right before. There's landing on the moon. There's this. I mean, there's a pretty short list of events people aren't going to forget watching, and I think this is probably somewhere near the top."

King: "You were trapped in a cave for how long?"

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Rowe: "Well, I was trapped for maybe 20 seconds."

Four: Nobody knows when to just shut up and let the images do the talking. There was a camera offering extraordinary, ghostly images from the depths of the earth. No channel that I watched just let that run for a while and allowed its power to emanate. The knee-jerk impulse was to prattle on about the wives and children waiting for miners to reach the surface. To go for the cute, not the emotionally powerful.

Five: If in doubt about the various cultures and traditions of countries around the world, best ask a soccer expert. When the second miner, the very giddy Mario Sepulveda, emerged and presented his bag of rocks to the people on the surface, he ran to the security barriers and started a fist-pumping chant with the guys there. It was a call-and-response soccer chant. Nobody on TV seemed to know what was happening. Chile plays fabulous soccer, by the way.

Six: This sort of thing costs money. According to several news accounts, the BBC has spent so much money covering the rescue that coverage of upcoming events, including a G20 Summit and the Academy Awards, may be in jeopardy. On the other hand, it was money well spent and much more thrilling that the awful Academy Awards.

Seven: The impulse of TV news anchors and reporters to be philosophical should be curbed. Kerry Sanders, an NBC News correspondent who was covering the story on MSNBC, pronounced: "You know what? I think we need this as a world. I think we do. We need this."

You know what? That's deep, really deep.

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