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Cotton on Ditching Countdown Clocks in the Washington Post Outlook Section’s Ninth Annual "Spring Cleaning" Edition

May 23, 2017

Countdown Clocks
Senator Tom Cotton
The Washington Post

Just 364 days, 23 hours and 59 minutes to go until The Washington Post publishes its 2018 Spring Cleaning issue. In the meantime, we ought to ditch the countdown clock.

These days, it seems like news channels are always counting down to something. But I can't quite agree with the networks about what's considered a clock-worthy "event." New Year's? Sure. A presidential address? Possibly. Rachel Maddow's Trump tax return "exposé"? Hardly. In fact, cable news networks use the clock to plug so much of their own programming that they end up promoting themselves far more than actual news. Consider: Last year, CNN hyped one of its presidential debates with a clock that counted down to 8:30 p.m . But just as viewers tuned in, the network aired 30 more minutes of programmed punditry - and then started the debate for real at 9 p.m. Like so many other cable news clocks, it was a countdown to a letdown.

But there's a more serious point here. A well-informed public is essential to democratic self-government. And the countdown clock reflects a frenzied, over-caffeinated news culture that ill serves a vigilant citizenry. It lowers important topics to the realm of entertainment and raises quotidian trivia to the status of "breaking news" - which is often neither breaking nor news. That makes it harder for us to think about what's going on in the world in a deliberate fashion. It plays into the hands of politicians, who benefit from a distracted public. It defeats a main purpose of reporting the news - to inform and educate.

BREAKING: And we would be better off without it.