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A whole lot of media clucking going on

Half of it is Ted Turner's fault. And what he did that put us all in our present pickle, he did out of idealism.

Blame the other half on Rupert Murdoch, not one of our notable idealists.

What Turner did when he invented CNN -- the progenitor of the 24-hour news cycle -- was to make the medium for news more important than the news itself. Something had to fill up 24 hours a day on an "all-news network" and if it meant calling a whole lot of stuff "news" that was nothing of a sort, so be it.

Add world-conquering Australian tabloid baron Murdoch to the American mix and it was only a matter of time before the world would be full of serious reports from Down Under. Exhibit A of that, at the moment, is the presence or non-presence of Britney Spears' undies as a semi-serious subject on the informational agenda.

You wonder sometimes now if anyone has any idea at all what matters anymore.

We are inundated with inanity that, more often than not, doesn't even have the good grace to be entertaining.

And we are just as inundated by the constant clucking sound of media disapproval, which I suppose is the whole give and take of gossip in the first place. (Cole Porter: "Have you heard about Mimsy Starr?/ She got pinched in the Astor bar./Well, did you evah?!")

Take this season of "Survivor" which ends this evening with the usual CBS marathon episode-plus-reunion.

It went on the air accompanied by a chorus of so much media clucking that you might have thought every red hen in Rhode Island had taken up Thursday night residence on CBS. The clucking, you remember, was occasioned by the eventual non-story of Mark Burnett having the not-so-bright idea of dividing up his reality game contestants into ethnic groups -- African-Americans here, Asian-Americans there, Hispanic-Americans yonder and pasty old white folks squabbling and sunning themselves somewhere else.

He could have just quietly upped the diversity quotient among his contestants -- which he always said was his intention -- but what fun would that be? Burnett is not a man who likes to work without an accompanying chorus of something or other and if it must be a chorus of clucking, that's fine with him.

The result was short-lasting and inconsequential.

What followed was the easiest "Survivor" to avoid in years. When I checked back into the show after the Thursday night "October Surprise" turned off my TV for 11 days, I was surprised to find one couple necking and a guy named Jonathan (called "a writer" naturally) who seemed to have just about everybody on the island clucking.

Which is when I realized -- stay with me now -- that one way to watch "Survivor" is as a parable of 24-hour news in America.

Like so: you've got contestants trapped on an island, just like employees at CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. Real news arrives, just like contests to be engaged in, rewards to be enjoyed on "Survivor." But even when it doesn't, the contestants constantly manufacture news by pretending minutiae matter and by rubbing up against each other in ways great and small. And they cluck at and about each other.

A lot.

And every episode, at "Tribal Council," everyone who hasn't clucked enough for the camera is encouraged by Jeff Probst to cluck disapprovingly a whole lot more.

Which, as you can no doubt plainly see, is a perfect illustration of how the Cluck News Network, and its offspring, now works.


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