An Inconvenient News Special

And you thought the economy Was bad.

ABC News has found a novel way of getting people to forget about how bad the economy is: Give them something far worse to contemplate.

In an ABC News special, Earth 2100, ABC News’ Bob Woodruff, with the help of “world-renowned scientists”–outlines a “perfect storm” of growing population, decreasing resources and climate change, whose result could be horrific droughts and famine, massacres and a civilization crumbling with only traces of modern human existence left behind to read blogs like these, though they may have to be carved into the bark of blighed trees with a sharpened latte spoon.

“Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln.”

There even seems to be some White House imprimatur on the potential doomsday scenario that is projected if these shadows remain unaltered by the future. ABC’s release quotes Obama science advisor John Holdren as saying that “If we continue on the business as usual trajectory, there will be a tipping point that we cannot avert. We will indeed drive the car over the cliff.” (It probably won’t be a Chrysler, however).

I guess there is value in this “Scared Straight” approach, particularly if the predictions are right. But the trailer for the show features no viewpoints to balance a parade of doomsday projections about a tragic and desolate place, capped by the following from a Harvard professor: “Humanity could very well be in hell, where hell is defined as ‘truth realized too late.’  Now, that would be inconvenient.

The news special has been created in part out of viewer Web videos on what it would be like if all this bad stuff actually happened.

That extends from folks individually pretending they are giving first-hand accounts of water rationing and bankrupt school districts, to slickly produced faux reports–think CBS News Presents: War of the Worlds–of terrorist attacks and flood-ravaged cities. There is even this declaration, something I thought I would never live to hear if I made it to 2100 myself: “I’m luckily in the central inland part of New Jersey.” OK, New York is under water, but even then I think ‘luckily” is extreme.

Some of the viewer contributions, as the executive producer says on the ABC web site, are indeed “extremely cool” and imaginative. But is it news? I’m told by someone at ABC that the special will not include as many viewer submissions as originally planned.

It seems to me that prime time news shows on networks are now the province, principally (60 Minutes excluded) of tabloid fare calculated neither to X-ray nor enlighten, but to draw eyeballs with relatively inexpensive reality programming. Not that the latest cheerleader abduction or double murder or UFO exploration isn’t interesting, it’s just not news.

PS: If the show turns out to be enthralling and entertaining and incredibly informative, I will take this all back. Except for the part about New Jersey (just kidding).

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.