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The X Files
Xavier Hermosillo is the President of, a national Crisis Communications, Marketing, and Management firm he founded 23 years ago. He is a former political chief of staff, an award-winning reporter and photographer, and a former radio talk show host and TV commentator in Los Angeles. He has co-founded two publicly-traded companies where he served as a member of the Board of Directors and as the Senior Vice President of Investor Relations and Corporate Communications. He has also served as a Hearing Examiner for the Los Angeles Police Commission on police officer discipline cases, and holds degrees in Administration of Justice and Business and Communications. He can be reached at

Is the media guilty of overkill in how it covers stories? Did the coverage of the Terri Schiavo case and the increasing incapacitation of Pope John Paul go to far and too long and turn people off to news coverage? Do we really want to hear the sick, X-rated details of the perverted allegations against Michael Jackson?

It all started with a smart aleck remark from my college daughter. She wondered aloud what it was going to take to turn on the radio or television and NOT hear about someone famous slowly and agonizingly dying. And, she wondered, does a perverse interest in the alleged peculiarities of Whacko Jacko really constitute legitimate news coverage.

It’s an old issue for some of us because, except for feature stories and rating sweeps, everybody seems to cover the same stories. We apparently all look at the same newspapers in the morning, read the same budget wires, and watch the same news shows. Is it any surprise, therefore, that when you flip from one channel to the next, you’re very likely to see coverage of the same story you just left on the other channel?

Anyone who has spent any time in a newsroom knows that there are unwritten rules about what gets covered. For some editors, if a competitor is covering a story, that means YOU have to cover it or else, you’re afraid your viewers may think you’re not on top of the news. But is that a true perception of your viewers, or is it just professional paranoia?

In taking a closer look at the Terri Schiavo and Pope John Paul cases, the basic issues were the same. The sick person isn’t getting any better; the media is struggling for new angles to cover, and the story rolls into the next day with basically the same old file footage, hour after hour, and no real change.

The Schiavo case was markedly different only because every day, a new judge or court was being asked to change the rules on how to either keep Terri alive or end her misery. But eventually, even that gets old and I know that while many people felt sorry for Terri, they were tired of the story. And when viewers get tired of the same old story, even with its minor changes and updates, they tune out.

The Pope John Paul story is a long saga of an 84-year-old man, who like many men his age, is falling apart at the seams and so many of his followers seemed surprised by it all. I don’t want to give Catholics the wrong impression or be accused of being anti-Catholic. I was baptized a Catholic and although I am not a practicing member of the church, I understand and respect His Holiness’ position and the hope that he will live forever.

But no one lives forever, not even the Bishop of Rome and head of the Roman Catholic Church. As the first non-Italian pope in 450 years and the first pope of Slavic origin in the history of the church, the Polish-born Pontiff is a special man. But his health is fading and I think it is legitimate to ask how much coverage his deterioration really merits.

It has been legitimate to cover his accomplishments, the fact that he has crusaded against communism, unbridled capitalism and political oppression and that he stands firmly against abortion and defends the Church's traditional approach to human sexuality.

His 27 years at the helm of the Catholic Church have produced some impressive facts and figures. His more than 100 trips abroad have attracted enormous crowds, some of the largest ever assembled. With these trips, John Paul has covered a distance far greater than that traveled by all other popes combined.

He has beatified and canonized far more persons than any previous pope and it has been reported that as of last October, he has beatified more than 1,300 people. Whether he has canonized more saints than all his predecessors put together, as is sometimes claimed, is difficult to prove, as the records of many early canonizations are incomplete or missing.

As of last month, John Paul is in the poorest health of his reign and has been in and out of the hospital, unable to speak and at times requiring a feeding tube. However, he has continued to bless the daily crowds in St. Peter's Square. TV shots show him standing at his window, and in some cases, unable to speak to the throngs gathered below. Is that really news after the first time we see it? Doesn’t it border on disrespect and a bizarre and perverse media disease after a while?

There is already strong speculation about who will succeed Pope John and that IS legitimate, for a day or two. The names most often mentioned are Cardinals Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, and Angelo Scalo of Italy, who have been mentioned as possible successors.

You will see these factoids again when death finally takes John Paul II. The problem is that you will see them and hear them over and over and over again. On D-Day, they’ll be on every hour or so for days. On the day of the actual funeral, you’ll hear them again. News directors and editors are determined to make sure that no matter when you tune in, they will have all the stats for you. And many will just tune out.

We have seen that already with the Terri Schiavo case. I know I jump for the remote at my house. God bless her, but let’s bury her and move on.

Move on to the sick details every day from the Michael Jackson Circus in Santa Maria. One cable channel has a daily re-enactment of the court proceedings and they draw respectable viewer numbers. I would rather see that kind of coverage on cable than tie up precious news budgets with the wasteland of the Jackson trial.

The media is hell-bent on covering entertainment as news and turning news into entertainment. And it’s getting more and more boring for the audiences.

In time, the news divisions of the networks and local news operations will find their viewers have gone elsewhere for their dose of reality. It’s already happened with the reality shows. Life is truer than fiction for most of us and that is why people are turning away from news that’s not real, and turning to reality TV where they can either commiserate with the “stars” of reality shows, or laugh at the miserable lives they portray on the screen.

For many of us, reality TV has become an escape from the daily pounding of drawn-out stories of the pending or eventual deaths of people like the pope and Terri Schiavo, and the pending finalization of the sad saga of Michael Jackson. We don’t want to agonize over the details every day. We just want to see the final result.