All the news that's fit to wear
A friend of mine forwarded me a link yesterday, and at first, I was sure I was looking at one of those fake news sites, or maybe some scam. It didn't seem possible. But there it was, right on a CNN web address. They're selling T-shirts with headlines on them, and while that doesn't necessarily sound like a bad idea, the headline I was looking at read: Crying 4-year-old found along highway.
Then below that, in small print, are the words: I just saw it on CNN. 08:56 a.m. 4.30.08
Now there's a feel-good T-shirt if I ever saw one. I'm being sarcastic, but the marketing department at CNN, I suspect, would say that it has a positive message: The crying 4-year-old boy is doing just fine. He was found in Cleveland, Ohio, roaming near a very busy freeway, looking for his lost dog when the police and local news crew found him. It's a nice enough story with a happy ending. And should you be interested, you can buy the T-shirt for $15.
Now, I can see the wisdom in this idea to a point. I can see the humor in wearing a T-shirt that reads: Boss Rides 1,000-Pound Yak Into Office. Amusing, not offensive in the least, except maybe to yaks. It's a light-hearted little news piece about a boss who brought in his own personal yak to the workplace to promote the idea of fun in the office. And I'm sure the writers of The Office on NBC are now hard at work writing a brilliant sketch with Steve Carrell on a yak.
But then again, you can buy this lovely T-shirt from the CNN store, a T-shirt with the headline: Terrorists: Why We Want to Kill You. (That is, you could. More on this in a moment.)
So the idea is this: Numerous headlines in the section marked "latest news" on the CNN home page can be purchased to wear on a T-shirt. Just look for the headline with a tiny logo of a T-shirt next to it and click. Once the headlines are no longer in the "latest news" section, the opportunity to have a T-shirt with that headline is gone as well. (As I write this, the terrorist headline is still in the "latest news" section, but the T-shirt offer is no longer to be found, as it was last night and when I began writing this post this morning. Perhaps there were some complaints?)
Again, kudos for the marketing team (or whomever came up with this idea) at CNN for coming up with an interesting way to promote their channel and brand. But, you know what? What's good for marketing isn't always good for news, and somehow, especially when serious and grim headlines are made into T-shirts, this cheapens the news media even more, if that's possible. It's embarrassing enough that with the success of Fox constantly touting its "fair and balanced" brand, the esteemed Wolf Blitzer is always made to add at the end of every other sentence, "Best political team on television." (Shouldn't we get to judge our opinions of news channels without them always telling us what they think of themselves?)
I don't blame Wolf for this. If I were fortunate enough to have his career, I'd do it, too. It's part of the deal you get for being a highly-paid international presence on a cable news network.
But what's next? I'm waiting to turn on the TV one day when I'll see Wolf, John Roberts, Kyra Phillips and the other anchors adding: "And, incidentally, if you liked this news story, you can buy a T-shirt of it by logging onto our web page."
Geoff Williams is a business journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).