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Chapter 9
Alternate Alternatives

The Voice of Sanity Gets Its Chance

by LAURIE NEIDERGAARDEN, Alternate Reality News Service Medical Writer

The strange virus that swept across the world last month leaving politicians and pundits unable to speak has claimed a new victim: the press.

Without its usual roster of talking heads, television news has had to rely exclusively on the investigative reporting of facts. “But, we’re not set up for the investigative reporting of facts!” Monica von Aileys, Vice President, Customer Relations, MSNBC (the highest in the chain of command to still have her voice) protested.

While the illness has affected less than one per cent of the world population, the true extent of its affect on Americans is still not known. Virtually all of Washington and California while as much as 87% of New York are suspected of being carriers. Much of middle America may have been spared coming down with the disease, but, because news programmes continue to resist going there, there is no way of knowing just how much.

Different news organizations have adopted different strategies for dealing with the crisis.

Unwilling to write off the incredible sums paid to their anchors, the major networks have had them sit on camera while a series of unknowns read the news. CBS news anchor Katie Couric looked especially uncomfortable with this arrangement, although, to be fair, it wasn’t that much different from her normal broadcasts.

Fox News tried a number of approaches to dealing with the problem, with limited success. Bill O’Reilly was asked to write all his rants down on paper and place them where they could be picked up by the camera, but that didn’t accurately convey his unique brand of apoplectic absurdism. Fox asked guests to pantomime their opinions, but found that this was akin to a game of charades, only not many viewers wanted to play charades with a panel consisting of Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter and Henry Kissinger.

Their attempts to get their anchors to use sign language has brought legal action from the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association of the Deaf and the estate of the late Marcel Marceau.

Rupert Murdoch was reportedly livid about this state of affairs, but, having been quoted extensively himself before the virus hit, there was little he could do but stamp his feet and wave his fists in the air in front of him.

CNN, meanwhile, conducted a series of “streeters:” interviews with ordinary people encountered on the street. What they had to say was easily as cogent and interesting as anything the network’s professional pundits had said, and sometimes much more so. The problem was that, because audiences had never heard of them before, their opinions didn’t count for much.

The all news network thought that the solution to this problem was to keep coming back to the same people on the street to interview. The theory was that repeated exposure to a pundit bludgeons the audience into accepting their authority. Unfortunately, this theory was never put to the test: by their fourth interview, all of the streeters lost their voice.

“It was amazing,” CNN segment producer Austin Towers commented. “Halfway through the third interview, their throats would get scratchy. By the end of the interview, the subjects would be hoarse. And, if we tried again, nothing!”

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, the anchors of fake news shows, appear to have gotten off lightly. “My throat has been a little raw,” Stewart said on his show last week, “but nothing so bad I can’t live with it. And, if I ever start to slip into naked punditry, it gets worse, so I know I need to back off.”

Newspaper reporters and columnists have been spared the problems of television news anchors, but they still have to deal with a dearth of official sources, which has cut most pieces of writing by one half to two thirds. “Aha! We were there first!” said Mitch Frumian on behalf of USA Today.

In related news, General David Petraeus assured the White House that the chain of command in Iraq was fully vocal. “Most soldiers who have appeared on television and in print were retired,” he said in a memo that was subsequently leaked in a press release. “Those who are actually serving, therefore, are completely fit for command. Those few who have lost their voices, myself included, have been given PDAs with which to communicate until their voices return.”

Everybody was unavailable for comment.

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