If there were any real standards in the news media, Andrea Mitchell and her MSNBC show 'Andrea Mitchell Reports' would be taken off the air immediately for interrupting a serious political interview with news regarding the arrest of a pop singer.
But real standards in the American news media don't exist, so cutting former Congresswoman Jane Harman (D-CA) mid sentence to report on the arrest of Justin Bieber is deemed part and parcel of 'reporting' on a supposedly serious show.
Here's the moment it happened on the Wednesday edition of the program:
Why did Mitchell and MSNBC allow this astonishingly embarrassing debacle to happen?
Quite simply: ratings.
The news of Bieber's arrest had the entire media industry buzzing, with editors and producers eager to get their share of page views and eyeballs on the admittedly hilarious story. MSNBC isn't alone in this - CNN aired an hour-long special report titled “Bieber’s Troubles,” a show one might expect from 'Access Hollywood', not 'The Most Trusted Name in News'.
But MSNBC has tried in recent years to become a real news network with actual substance, hiring talents like Chris Hayes to provide genuinely interesting analysis of current events, and investing in real reporting for their website, MSNBC.com, so it's particularly sad when a supposedly serious reporter like Andrea Mitchell makes what should be a career ending blunder and no one bats an eyelid.
This is a seriously worrying feature of the news industry in America, and one that warrants a great deal of scrutiny. The long term effects of a major news network prioritizing news stories according to their virality is particularly toxic. Followed to its logical extreme, in a few years no one will be reporting on anything serious at all, and we'll be stuck in a nightmarish cocoon of listicles and cat stories. Just look at Buzzfeed - the prototype of the modern media company that exist solely to create viral content. Sure, it's hugely popular, but then so is Justin Bieber, and that doesn't make it any good.
A healthy press makes for a healthy society, or at least one that has the ability to self-correct. That means editors and journalists making intelligent and reasoned decision on what to report on, and not putting gossip stories ahead of serious issues. Journalism and the news industry should exist to keep the public informed on matter relevant to their lives, like corporate abuse of power, poverty, economic and political corruption, etc etc. It's a quasi public service that should be protected at all costs, even if it means bad business in the short term. In the long term, putting Justin Bieber ahead of real news is bad for business, because some day, no one will take MSNBC seriously anymore.
Sadly, that day may well be here.