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NASA channel

Television | Watching unedited video like the NASA channel or CSPAN reminds us just how much regular news is edited, packaged, and spun

Issue: "Beyond hate speech," Aug. 20, 2005

Viewers of cable or satellite TV can watch liberal news on CNN or conservative news on FOX. Or sometimes they can watch news without filters, just the straight footage of events as they happen.

CSPAN is the pioneer of unfiltered news, filming Congress, policy seminars, and political conventions in real time without commentary. But a more dramatic example was recent coverage of the space shuttle flight on the NASA channel.

As part of its public information mission, NASA operates three digital channels-for the public, for schools, and for the media-all picked up by many cable and commercial satellite systems. (The NASA feed is also available on the internet at nasa.gov.)

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When a spacecraft is aloft, as in the space shuttle Discovery mission, the NASA channel shows raw video feed from space, chatter between the astronauts and mission control, and engineers tackling problems-the stuff of real-life drama.

In that first shuttle flight since the Columbia disaster, viewers could listen in on tense questions from the crew, asking about the unrehearsed space walk necessary to repair the gap-fillers dangling from between the tiles. They took part in a press conference, as engineers demonstrated the hacksaw-with its bent blade, Velcro, and duct tape-rigged to make the repair. Then viewers, made fully aware of the danger of something bumping against those delicate tiles, could see the floating astronaut yank the things out.

Some might consider such unedited video boring, filled as it is with long silences and small actions whose significance is unknown. But reality is like that: lots of routine interrupted with moments of high drama. But watching it reminds us just how much regular news is edited, packaged, and spun.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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