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CNN’s Relentless Focus on Joran Van der Sloot and Natalee Holloway: Certainly Not News

For the past week, CNN has relentlessly covered a "story" involving Joran Van der Sloot, who is accused of killing a Peruvian woman, Stephany Flores Ramirez.  Why spend so much time on this –it was the first "top story" CNN mentioned at 8:30 this morning?  Well, Van der Sloot was previously "arrested and released in connection with the 2005 disappearance of American teenager Natalee Holloway in Aruba" and the traditional media treated the Holloway disappearance as if it were a pressing international crisis.

Murder is horrifying, to say the least, and I certainly empathize with the Ramirez and Holloway families.  But, unfortunately, there are many murders in the world — far too many for even a 24 hour news channel to cover in detail.  Why is CNN obsessively focusing on these?  The Holloway murder seems to have grabbed media attention because it involved an attractive young woman in an exotic locale.  I guess CNN and others decided there was something there that would entice viewers.

The question is: is this news?  In a literal sense, it’s hard to see anything "new" that has developed with regard to the Van der Sloot story since he was accused of killing Ms. Ramirez last week.  It’s also hard to see why this story deserves more attention than the two ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan–though CNN has certainly given it more attention than these wars.

Someone turning to CNN at 8:30 this morning to find out what is happening with the oil disaster in the Gulf might be disappointed to find CNN breathlessly exclaiming over the Van der Sloot non-story.  I guess CNN’s approach might be excusable if it had already thoroughly covered the many other pressing issues of the day–though even when CNN does turn to other stories, like the oil flood, it fails to do a competent job.  I’ve watched a lot of CNN (and MSNBC, for that matter) in the last few weeks and am still waiting to see some basic questions asked: (1) why didn’t BP drill relief wells from the start, so that it could activate these in the case of a disaster (2) will the government require other operations to drill relief wells from the start now–and if not, why not?  Jason Linkins at Huffington Post has raised this important, central, basic question–but CNN hasn’t found time to do so.  Perhaps they could work it in, just once, in place of the latest non-update about Van der Sloot?  If not, it’s probably time to change the network’s name to the Cable Entertainment Network.

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Chris Edelson

Chris Edelson

Chris is a lawyer and professor at American University who writes frequently about current political and media issues. His writing has also been published in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Metroland (Albany, NY), and at commondreams.org

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