The all-O.J. channel

Following the downward trajectory of television news
Warning! O.J. content within.
Let's "stipulate," as Marcia Clark says, that if the media had spent as much time on what the Republicans in Congress are doing to environmental laws and regulations as they have on O.J. Simpson, we'd all be on the warpath, as we used to say before political correctness.

We could even save the rivers, lakes, forests, grasslands, and wetlands of this country from irreversible damage and ourselves from being poisoned by carcinogens. We might have taken a closer look at Bob Dole's assertion that we all hate government regulations that keep excrement off beef. We might have gotten interested enough in the telecommunications bill to keep ourselves from being ripped off for billions of dollars.

Before we go on, let's just stop and take a look at the order of magnitude we're talking about here. According to Andrew Tyndall of the Tyndall Report, the Simpson case was the Story of the Week 17 times out of 52 weeks between June 12, 1994, and June 9, 1995. Tyndall defines "Story of the Week" as that which received the most coverage on the nightly newscasts of ABC, CBS, and NBC. The Simpson story failed to make the Top 10 for the week only seven times.

During those 52 weeks, the Simpson story got 1,632 minutes (27.2 hours) of coverage--more than the second-, third-, and fourth-place stories (Haiti, Bosnia, Oklahoma City) combined. The only other stories of the week for more than one week were Haiti, Bosnia, and Oklahoma City, plus the 104th Congress, Cuban refugees, health-care reform and Rwanda. Do you have the feeling that health-care reform might ultimately make more difference in your life than O.J. Simpson? Can we safely conclude that the media are a little Off here?

Of course, the three major networks combined have not been as slavishly devoted as CNN, which carries the O.J. case live, not to mention updates, analyses, and interviews. In the case of CNN, we're talking weeks' worth of coverage, not hours. It's the O.J. channel. Are we a better nation for this?

MacNeil/Lehrer, those party poopers, have given the story zero coverage (although they did announce the start of the trial), which just goes to show what happens when you have publicly financed television. Better news judgment ensues.

Media Monitor, a publication of the Washington-based Center for Media and Public Affairs, has solemnly documented once again what everybody knows already about television news: "If it bleeds, it leads."

Now comes the happy question: Who wants a bunch of elitists deciding that health care or some snorer about the Federal Reserve is more important than O.J.? Why shouldn't the American people be allowed to watch what interests them? Everybody likes a "good murder" and has at least since the ancient Greeks.

Well, for one thing, you can see from these studies that we're on a downward trajectory here. Trash is taking over television news at a staggering rate, and the Simpson case is dragging it down like an anchor. Numero Two-o, if the nets didn't spend so much time on O.J., they might manage to figure out a way to tell you exactly how the Federal Reserve is dicking around with your life in a way that would jolt you right out of your La-Z-Boy.

The single most amazing aspect of the 75th anniversary of women's suffrage, coming Saturday, is that it occurred only 75 years ago. Although that's 3.5 generations as sociologists count, it's not only within living memory but also three years less than the average lifespan of an American woman today. Most of us will live longer than we've been able to vote.

For decades after slaves were freed in this country, women had no civil rights, no legal rights, and no property rights. Texas Governor William Hobby signed suffrage for women in Texas in 1918, two years before national suffrage, as a result of a shrewd political deal made by our beloved Minnie Fisher ("Minnie Fish") Cunningham. Hobby's widow, Oveta, herself a pioneer in women's accomplishments, died this week.

Our mothers and grandmothers can tell or recall being told the true stories of women's long struggle for the vote. In my school textbooks, this 72-year fight was described as "when women were given the vote."

Given? Hell.
Spat upon, insulted, jeered at, and thrown into jail.
The press, including otherwise progressive papers, was fond of ridiculing the suffragists in an especially nasty tone; what is striking at this distance in time is how often male editors thought that women's rights would "reduce masculinity."

It was two decades after suffrage before women voted in equal numbers to men. Now, we don't vote in equal numbers, and in so doing, we dishonor the memory of our foremothers, who fought so hard for so long.

Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Copyright 1995 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

 
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