Cover image for If it bleeds, it leads : an anatomy of television news
If it bleeds, it leads : an anatomy of television news
Kerbel, Matthew Robert, 1958-
Publication Information:
Boulder, Colo. : Westview Press, 2000.
Physical Description:
xiii, 149 pages ; 22 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Reading Level:
1020 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PN4784.T4 K47 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



You've been watching television news forever. You're intimately familiar with the friendly faces and soothing voices that nightly tell you what's wrong with the world. You think you know everything there is to know about them. You're wrong. If It Bleeds, It Leads shows you why. In an unprecedented real-time look at television news shows, If It Bleeds, It Leads takes you minute-by-minute through two-and-one-half riveting hours of syndicated, local, and network information programming to uncover the truth behind what passes as news. Why is the only real difference between Jerry Springer and Dan Rather that Dan's guests usually don't need medical attention? How did a load of baking powder spark two minutes of high-strung local news coverage? It's all here: the personal revelations of talk show guests; the dangers lurking in your neighborhood; sports; sex; celebrity; power; and weather updates every ten minutes -- all real material taken from real broadcasts combined into 150 minutes of the most electrifying newscast you've ever seen.

Author Notes

Matthew R. Kerbel is associate professor of political science at Villanova University.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Kerbel, a former news writer for television and radio, provides a frank and cynical look at how television news and talk shows are produced and presented. He examines the common elements of attention-grabbing promos, the sensual and violent content, and the hyperkinetic hosts, anchors, and subjects. Kerbel takes a real-time look at two and a half hours of syndicated talk and news programming, pointing out that the formulaic approach of most shows allows people, places, and events to be easily plugged in and substituted, with little local flavor or thoughtful analysis. Kerbel compares the techniques used by Jerry Springer and Ricki Lake with those of Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, and local anchors as television news adopts a format similar to that of the talk shows. Kerbel uses material from actual broadcasts of national and local news and syndicated talk shows and provides cogent analysis of why and how the shows rely on brevity, simplicity, and shock value to entertain and inform. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

In a scathing critique of local and national television news, Kerbel slyly argues that talk show hosts like Jerry Springer, Jenny Jones and Montel Williams have much more in common with "hard" news anchors like Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings than the anchors would like to admit. Oozing compassion, facilitating the instant resolution of disputes and quickly moving on to new faces and problems, the "talkers" are, in Kerbel's formulation, the close counterparts of prime-time news anchors, who manipulate audiences by emphasizing sound bites and visuals over substance, decontextualizing events, kowtowing to the powerful, famous and wealthy and playing upon viewers' fears or outrage. Drawing on his experience as a former radio news reporter and PBS newswriter and as a political science professor at Villanova University, he alternates italicized excerpts from actual broadcasts with his own fast-paced, acerbic commentary, which is structured like an amorphous chunk of TV talk and news programming, complete with teasers, weather reports and ad breaks. Although Kerbel's critique would have a lot more bite if he had delved into corporate ownership and control of the news media, he uncannily re-creates and simultaneously exposes superficial reporting, titillation and trivial distraction in television news. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Adult/High School-From his first words, "WARNING: Everything you are about to read is true," readers know that they are in for a scathing look at television news. Kerbel deconstructs two-and-one-half hours of syndicated, local, and network information programming by analyzing an amalgam of news scripts from four of the largest U.S. media markets on a minute-by-minute basis. His tone is made clear in his Fundamental Rule of televison: "It is a pretend medium." Headlines for each news segment grab readers' attention. Kerbel gives readers a chance to put what they have read into practice by playing a game to create their own lead local story from a list of standard phrases. The author loves stock phrases, often referring to the "newswriter's bible, The Thesaurus of Clich‚s and Aphorisms." One of his favorites, "Please, use good judgment," allows weathercasters to make only slightly annoying weather conditions look dangerous, if not life threatening, to please their news directors and build their ratings. Kerbel drives home his points with a biting sense of humor. Students will look at the news with a new sophistication after reading this book.-Jane S. Drabkin, Chinn Park Regional Library, Prince William, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Disclaimer: Everything you are about to read is truep. xi
Hour 1 Syndicated Talk (The Actual Program You See Will Vary Depending on Where You Live)p. 1
Station Identification
Opening Montage (Roll Tape)
Meet the Hosts
Meet the Guests
Supply Medical Treatment for the Guests
Begin First Protracted Shoving, Punching, and Deleted Dialogue Segment Between Best Friends Who Care About Each Other a Lot
Add Fuel to Fire; Cue Second Bouncer
Begin 2-Minute 45-Second Sibling Shoving, Punching, and Deleted Dialogue Segment
Add More Fuel to Fire; Alert Hospital to Prepare for Injuries
Everyone Realizes This Is the Show
Prepare to Pay Bouncers Overtime
Hour 2 Live at Five (Dead by Six)p. 12
Inventing a Riot
A Reassuring Segue
Only Popular Restaurants Are Dangerous
Ad Time-Out: You Will Be on Television
Feeling the Barometric Pressure
What Ever Happened to the Story About the Breast Implants?
Movie--or Reality?
The Great Baking Powder Incident
Ad Time-Out: You Can Be a Newswriter
First Feature: It Could Happen Any Time Without Warning
Segue into Terrifying Weather
Air Quality
Weather Time-Out: You Can Be a Weathercaster
How Many Times Can One Car Smash into a House?
Minor Injuries, Major Pictures
Wicked Winds
Ad Time-Out: May Is the Cruelest Month. February's Not So Great, Either
Second Feature: Extreme Sex
What's Really Important in Philadelphia
Exactly Why Do They Need Weather Reports in San Diego?
Ad Time-Out: You Can Be a News Director
Now, an Ad for an Ad
Third Feature: Implants
After the Surgery
Ad Time-Out: You Can Be a Star
More Sex, Please
Dave Loves Cheesesteaks
Lock Those Doors--and Come Back at Eleven
Hour 3 Networkp. 77
War Stories
Excuse Me?
But Enough About You
Up Next
Ad Time-Out: Let's Have an Impeachment!
Al Gore Gets a Surprise Makeover
Down to Size
Ad Time-Out: Fear at 6:16, Outrage at 6:20
Scary Cars
Scary Phones
Feeling Fleeced
Ad Time-Out: Take the Fear and Outrage Challenge!
Freaky, Roof-Busting Great Balls of Hail
Fade Out
Postscript: The Sky Keeps Fallingp. 127
TV Show
Closing Commentsp. 130
About the Authorp. 135
Notesp. 137
Indexp. 145