. In reading his book, I found his description a bit fuzzy, my interpretation here follows.
To do so, I'll make up a news item, and show how it would probably undergo this cycle. To do so, I'll dip into three sources: my knowlege of my native city, New Haven, and two pop songs from the Seventies. However, this is totally fiction and any resemblance between these characters and anyone I ever knew is purely coincidental...athem....
As you will see, there are two stories here: the coverage of a murder, and the competition between various media outlets for surpremacy as they mine seemingly endless hours of airtime and miles of print out of very little data.
- News Breaks
Let's say a shapely young blonde is found dead in Westville Cemetery near the caretaker's shed, a graceful Art Nouveau-styled building. Near her body is found a curious item - a pair of tweezers set with clear, sparkling gems, soldered to the handle. Police have found similar pairs of tweezers on four similar bodies.
An autopsy of her remains shows she died of probable asphyxiation and/or drug overdose. A toxic screen shows a full compliment of party drugs in her system. Her fingerprints match an SCSU student known to moonlight in for-play fellatio, Molly Malone a/k/a Tiffany Kristalle. A Cadillac was reported leaving the gate.
Now this is just fine. If this were all, we'd have a nice little local shocker. But let's turn up the heat. Let's make it a full-tilt news phenom. The first question is, why?
Well, she's white, pretty, and young. A middle-aged overweight black man of no special looks or background will hardly raise a ripple. Charisma has its benefits, even after death. A young woman, even if nothing else is known about her but college attendence, lends itself to boilerplate about a life of promise cut short.
Drugs are involved. 'Nuff said.
Westville Cemetery is owend by Temple Mishkan Israel, and lies between the poor, black Whalley Avenue neighborhood and a relatively affluent Jewish one. The burial ground has seen its share of crime before, particularly by young hooligans who believe that the shed is some kind of religious structure.
Lastly, there's the chance of a Jack the Ripper like serial killer --- and what's up with those tweezers?
- The Feed Frenzy
There's not much to report, but there's a lot of time and space to fill. Reporters, therefore, spend a good deal of time and space filling out the story with every and any kind of background.
Pictures are taken of the shed. Two local older women, one Jewish and white, one black, are interviewed for ain't-it-awful sound bites. When Molly's mother, Mary, and her last known roommate, a retired stockbroker turned mover and furniture dealer named Dill Boriss, turn up, they're asked for photographs, and are interviewed. Her classmates weigh in: pretty girl, didn't know her well.
Any and every rumor is mined for content. A tall black man in a long coat was seen buying several pairs of tweezers in a nearby Walgreen's. A short Asian man was seen at the Diamond Exchange (down the street) buying up small, unset stones. It's anti-Semitic: some skinheads were seen buying a soldering iron at a craft store. It's an attempt to smear Jews with the Blood Libel. A circle of small rocks was found near her body. The Cadillac was a white stretch limo, a grey vintage convertable, from the Sixties at least. All the other girls who were killed came from the same class at SCSU. Skull & Bones is involved somehow.
Now, it does not matter in the least if any of this is true. What does matter is that the media outlet in question gives out with the most details. Otherwise, there's really no news on the case other than the obligatory "A College Mourns" shot of other attractive young women holding candles, flowers, and stuffed animals, and reassurances from the police that they will do what they can to find the killer.
- Issue Retractions
No, there was no circle of stones. The Cadillac was an Escalade. The stones in the tweezers were cubic zirconia. The other victims were black and/or Hispanic, of various ages, and (mostly) other hookers. No, no college fraternities were involved...
And so on. This is to make a) other news outlets look like they're rumor-mongering (unlike the one you're hearing) and b) to make this one look like their fact-checkers are hard at work. At this point, there is a decision to be made: is Molly a heroic victim of the streets who fought and failed to escape her lot through education, or a victim of the drug culture that menaces young people on college campuses everywhere? The former makes for a nice, but limited story: after being sexually abused, she fled her family, found a life worse than what she'd tried to avoid, and worked her way into going to a local college, only to backslide into her old life, which proved to be fatal. So far, so good, but most of the readership can only sympathize at a distance: "view from the bottom" stories are a hard sell. However, fear of having your college-age child fall in with the wrong crowd while away is universal among parents, so even though Molly's mother Mary may well have set her up in the business, and most prostitutes tend to favor drugs as part of the lifestyle, this will most likely be the tack that future stories about her will take.
(Somewhen around now the first tweezer joke will be made. By a pre-teenager, perhaps, or a drunken madman. It will be a crude thing, and die before daybreak.)
- The Experts Weigh In
There's still no breaking news about the case, so the void is filled by experts talking the available data to death, while media outlets vie for the most experts weighing in. We have a Serial Killing expert, an Adult Child of Substance Users expert, a Drug Abuse expert, a college counsellor, and a rabbi. Nowhere is there to be found the common-sense observation that she was an empty-headed party girl who could probably have avoided being killed by Not Taking Drugs and (most likely) Not Streetwalking, and by having values and goals incompatible with drug-taking and prostitution.
Instead, Prostitution (and drug-taking) is spoken of as if it was a lurking, alien force that somehow takes a hold of people like the Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and her case only one example of a growing social problem, that threatens your child. (Translation: if you're not alarmed by now, you're not a good parent.)
The rabbi speaks about the history of the blood libel, and avers that this may well be a case of anti-semitism, and will recount the history of the Westville Cemetery's woes. Another expert will weigh in on how white flight has changed the face of many American cities such as New Haven.
The serial killer expert will talk about how how typical a victim she was, the adult child expert will talk about how she was led into vice by childhood trauma, and there are as many new angles as there are experts, while the actual news anchorpeople take a breather. A sharp-eyed news producer notices the phrase "zircon-encrusted tweezers" and "the Cadillac drove into the graveyard" and so we're treated to Dweezil Zappa being interviewed ("Do you think that your late father would have been shocked at this development?" "Gee, Katie, I guess so...") and the haunting riff to Television's Marquee Moon being used as a sound bite. Shock jocks will begin making tweezer jokes to an audience of irate callers. SCSU students will be interviewed about the new "culture of fear" around the campus, and a policeman will tell everyone not to panic, but to not go out alone at night, or to at least use the escort service.
Just about now, in the real world, Tom Verlaine will weep...all the way to the bank. Dill Boriss uncovers a cache of snapshots, and sells rights to them to Fox, putting his money into stock in companies that produce cubic zirconia. Mary Malone is interviewed by Oprah Winfrey, and looks appropriately weepy, while cashing in on her fifteen minutes of fame. Blogs feverishly discuss conspiracy theories. That Saturday night, a few girls consciously dress like Molly to go out clubbing, while someone uploads a Molly graphic to Cafepress for a T-shirt. The local Macy*s will publicly take cubic zirconia off its displays, and local schoolchildren will go on local TV, vowing not to use drugs . SCSU students will go back to class, despite it all.
There's still nothing to say, but you'll see (and hear) about little else for the next few days, as they rehash all possible angles of the case. By now, images of Molly have shrunk to two "iconic" images: a dewy-looking high school photo and a snap of her playing with Dill's dog, Zeus. Also much reproduced will be a picture of the shed. Letterman and Leno will make tweezer jokes, as well as Comedy Central. On one hand, the outlets can't find anything new to say. On the other, letting the story go would mean admitting that it's really not the hugely important story they've made it out to be.
Some downtown designer will come up with a "Pimps & Whores" theme for their fall collection, based on Molly's slip dress and high heels. Molly T-shirts sell well. Dill Boris will sell his cubic zirconia stock, having made a good hunk of change as cubic zirconia jewelry enjoys a surge in popularity. Mary Malone will be approached to write (with a lot of help) a book on "Keeping YOUR Child Away From Drugs" (although it can be argued that she knows almost nothing about the subject): it will sell well. "Marquee Moon" and "Montana" by Frank Zappa are reported as selling well through iTunes. Law and Order will produce a "ripped from the headlines" episode about someone kind of like Molly.
- Has the Media Gone Too Far?
Having exhausted all possibilities for making this item into a subject of serious commentary, the outlets will now turn to accusing each other of pandering to the American public. No, this outlet did not join in on the bloodlust and glorification of the worst of urban living of the last few weeks, but other outlets did. They endlessly critique (without naming names) the way that the press goes overboard in covering such events, while the real news gets sidelined, etc.
With that, the cycle is complete. Major fall designers will refer to their Molly-styled dresses as their "urban" look, you might see a made-for-TV movie or two, but within a few days, you'll never hear another word about Molly Malone until the year-end wrapup.