Casual Pepper Spray Guy has met his match, in the form of the dude from MSNBC’s Gaza conflict B-roll, which played over Chris Hayes’ brief commentary on the newest ceasefire in the most recent Israel-Palestine flareup. While everyone else in this clip is hitting the deck behind a concrete shack, watch what Casual B-Roll Dude, in the black shirt, is doing:
Now, aside from the fact that this clip proves the inconvenient fact that smoking does, indeed, sometimes make you look cool, it illustrates a pressing need for cable news to establish some rules for b-roll. The selection of clips that producers play as wallpaper to commentary, panel discussions, phone interviews, and the like has gotten out of control. The first rule ought to be that if your b-roll is more interesting than what you are saying, you should stop saying what you’re saying and explain what we’re seeing. Casual B-Roll Dude deserves that much.
When you’re talking about ISIS, you’re allowed to show these jerkoffs doing doughnuts and rolling coal in a tank exactly once, unless you’re doing a report about the United States’ plan to deploy a Truckasaurus to the region. You’re not allowed to use footage of ISIS guys hitting a dude in the head as they’re marching him off to his death as B-roll.
In fact, please stop using various other forms of snuff porn as background noise to your foreground noise. Don’t show Eric Garner being choked to death on a loop as you banter about the story with your panel, don’t show a computer animation of an airliner being shot down by a missile over and over again as you chew over the “optics” of a presidential vacation, don’t show the sun-baked, blood-trailed body of Mike Brown while you’re talking about anything other than the fact that his body was left in the street for four hours. These are not visual elevator music, they are tragic images of lives lost, and they should be treated with respect.
In the 24-hour news cycle, B-roll is a necessary evil, but it doesn’t have to be a punishment for viewers. Less repetition, a little bit of information, and a modicum of respect and decency would go a long way.