Teenage Girl Hiccups for Four Weeks Straight

In Other News, U.S. and Iran on Brink of War

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Listen up. In the coming days, you'll hear about how amusing/appalling/unbelievable it is that that producers for "Good Morning America" called Hiccup Girl 57 times, lest she get snagged first by "Today."

Oh, it's amusing and appalling all right. This by-hook-or-crook booking behavior is morning TV at it's most unhinged, and whoever did this doesn't quite get the difference between perisistence and harassment. But as for "unbelievable," no. It isn't that.

Yes, there are more important things than hiccuping teenagers. The U.S. is saber-rattling towards Iran; Iran is defying the UN over nukes; the U.S. courts are denying habeus corpus rights to prisoners; New Orleans is an ongoing catstrophe and so on.

But GMA is a two-hour daily show. It has more hard news every day than "World News Tonight," and plenty of room for softer news, service journalism, celebrity crap and various other fluff.

Furthermore, aren't you curious to know what it's like to have the hiccups for four weeks straight with no end in sight? I am. In fact, 10 or 15 years ago, I traveled clear to the Carolinas to interview John Francis Crosland, who's had the hiccups for more than four decades. This was for my old feature column and a radio piece on "All Things Considered," and served no journalistic purpose beyond what they used to call "human interest."

Granted, this is the same category that a week ago caused cable news to devote literallly half of its broadcast time over three days to a dead pin-up girl, but please note ratings did not sag. The thing about human interest is that humans are interested in it. Sound editorial judgment doesn't mean never slaking the public's thirst for the trivial; it just means having some sense of proportion. Sometimes producers and editors are compared to doctors, who are supposed to prescribe what's healthy, not what the patient necessarily wants.

True enough. But they're also like bartenders, who must serve up what's ordered -- provided they know when to say, "Sorry, sir, you've had enough." In the Anna Nicole Smith aftermath, America was gigantically and irresponsibly overserved.

But that doesn't mean GMA, in its pursuit of wee Jennifer Wee, was wasting its time in order to waste ours. I can say categorically that my interview, lo those many years ago, with John Crosland yielded one of the most poignant responses I've gotten in 30 years of journalism. He told me that after decades of futility, including two unsuccessful surgeries, he no longer wished to get rid of his hiccups. And why? Because, he explained, "Done had 'em so long, they're part of me."
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