Thursday, January 15, 2009

CNN: A Slightly More Polished "LetMeGoogleThatForYou.Com" That You Can Also Watch on the TeeVee

In 1967, actor Patrick McGoohan created The Prisoner, a seventeen-episode sci-fi series that has never since left reruns, furious internet debates, the nerd consciousness and the intelligent pop-culture consciousness. Its meditations on identity, authority, individuality, dis/misinformation and the ever greater loss of liberty and self at the hands of more pervasive surveillance and recording technology have only grown more poignant and chilling with the passage of time. From shows like The X-Files and LOST to the conduct of the Bush administration, eerie callbacks to McGoohan's series can be seen everywhere.

Which is why this CNN obituary for McGoohan, who died yesterday, is especially pathetic. This paragraph particularly deserves contempt:
The Internet Movie Data Base Web site says the "mysterious final episode caused such an uproar that McGoohan was to desert England for more than 20 years."
I realize CNN was probably trying to rush to post the news first — you know, to really scoop them ink-stained scribes over at and grab the "octogenarian Irish actor fan" market — but they could have omitted the paragraph until they got a source more substantive. It's not like CNN doesn't have the cash or the ability to send some intern to fuckoff down the road to the public library to look up "McGoohan" in some abstracts to see if they could get a citation that seems slightly more dedicated than half-wittedly slapping some letters into a Google search and hoping "authority" would strike. At the very least, they could have displayed journalistic discretion and a love for their craft and paraphrased the information instead of directly quoting such a torturous and unpleasant sentence doubtless written by some quasi-literate fanboy.

Maybe the citation seems particularly awful because I have a personal stake in this. Not only does IMDB allow agents and publicists to update information on their clients and puff up their resumes, they let anyone do this. I know because until I was banned, I was fond of updating celebrities' biographical and trivia sections to include increasingly more bizarre phobias. I know because my middle-aged, paunchy Jewish journalist friend is credited as making guest appearances on scores of 1980s TV shows, as an adult, portraying characters with definitively WASPy names. I know that one friend who's worked in Hollywood for years has but two or three lines of credits, while a guy I know who still lives in my town and who I've seen paint doorjambs while baked out of his fucking mind has a score of credits and a fangirl-ish biography.

This factoid about McGoohan probably isn't untrue, and its presence in the obituary certainly doesn't signify the downfall of modern journalism. However, it's unsettling to see a news agency becoming comfortable with relying on a resource that, like Wikipedia, lets you alter nearly any bit of information to add the word Fart. I sat through the Bush administration's fiasco of a campaign for the war in Iraq: I don't need to open up a future newspaper to find out that their reporters' due diligence never went past a search engine — meaning we're now going to invade another country because of newly discovered supply depots filled with weaponized boners, dutch ovens for the "queer" population, and an autocratic government ruled with an iron fist by Bonglord von Rad.