Friday, November 16, 2012

Why Petraeus is a big story and Benghazi is not... yet

The big stories of the past few months tell us a lot about viewers and their interests.

Imagine you're doing a man in the street interview, and you have two questions:

-Who is David Petraeus?

-What's going on with Benghazi?

Thanks to the revelation of Petraeus' sordid affair in the past few days, you'd get a pretty high percentage of people who could answer the first question.

The second question? Half the people are more likely to think "Ben Gazzi" owns the pizza parlor down the street.

Ironically the first story is about to make the second story the bigger one. All because of that one intangible that makes viewers stop what they're doing and watch: a sex scandal.

The Petraeus story is a made-for-supermarket-tabloid tale. This isn't just a guy cheating on his wife, this is also a wife cheating on her husband. It's become an affair that tests your knowledge of geometry, going from a love triangle to a polygon at the Pentagon. Throw in a book title that's a hanging curveball over the middle of the plate for any comedian, and you've got a story that isn't going away for awhile. The public can't get enough.

Ironically, it's taking a sex scandal to get the bigger story rolling. Let's be honest here, Benghazi is bigger than Watergate, and Watergate was huge. The big difference? Nobody died during the Watergate burglary. Americans were murdered in Benghazi. Somebody screwed up, and it shouldn't take this long to figure out who.

You can argue why Benghazi hasn't taken off as a story. One argument is that the story was buried before the election. Another is that Americans don't care much for foreign affairs news. It could be a little of both. But now you tie in a guy involved in a racy affair, and Benghazi suddenly becomes more relevant, because you've added spice to the story. Did a General's "distraction" cause Americans to die? Now Benghazi trumps Watergate.

It's sad that a sex angle is needed to gain interest for a story, but that's the culture in which we live. It's too bad that so many journalists didn't see Benghazi as the huge story it is now destined to be.

Remember, there are no such things as boring stories, only boring reporters. If you have a good story, you have the ability to make it interesting, despite what you perceive as a lack of interest from viewers.


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