Debra J. Saunders

It doesn't speak well for the TV news business that at noon California time, CNN made a top story of the charge against Utah's Mark Hacking for the murder of his missing pregnant wife, Lori -- in the middle of the Iraq war and a contentious political race to win the White House.

 Even Internet columnist Matt Drudge hadn't rushed to report this item. The Hacking story wasn't on the Drudge Web site at noon, although Drudge did see fit to feature such headlines as: "Police drug-sniffing dog dies from overdose," "Cruise ship catering to eco-tourists spills 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel," and "Iran allowing sex-change operations."

 Fox News ranked the Hacking story as its top Web site report, as CNN advertised that Monday night's "Larry King Live" would air the latest on the Hacking case.

 Here we go again.

 Another beautiful young white woman missing and another hinky husband -- add them together, and you get another murder-trial media circus.

 The same faces are back to comment. You met them at the O.J. trial. You saw them again when Chandra Levy disappeared, then Laci Peterson. They were on the case when authorities indicted Michael Jackson for child molestation and the feds accused Martha Stewart of insider trading. I don't need to name them -- you know who they are.

 Now, they are elbowing each other to be the next breathless expert to tell America "the latest dramatic new development" (in CNN parlance) or "shocking new lead" (in Fox News speak) in one of the oldest stories in the world.

 First, let me say this: The news business always has traded in silly items, lurid tales and salacious stories, and it always will. Newspapers aren't the Magna Carta; hence they make room for astrological forecasts, comics, commentary on sports figures and crime stories that fascinate readers because the suspect is a heel or the victim was attractive, or one of the figures is a celebrity.

 Many journalists hate working on these stories. At the Ronald Reagan burial at his Simi Valley, Calif., presidential library, I remember hearing one TV camera crewman quip to another: "Hey, did you hear Scott Peterson is coming today?"

 It's not so much the story that grates on some journalists but the hype, the over-coverage, the pretense of news when there is no news. If there's a small development, television channels tease viewers with a big new development.

 The worst of it is that cable news focuses more on the suspect than the victim. A lovely young woman is dead, but she quickly becomes old news.

Debra J. Saunders

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