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Reporter's Notebook: News Itself is the Cure to CNN Syndrome.

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Reporter's Notebook: News Itself is the Cure to CNN Syndrome.
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By Lisa Suhay
 
THE HOMEFRONT --

Tom Ridge told me to buy the wrong kind of tape to prepare for this situation. He said "duct" when he should have said "video." I should have laid in a six-month supply of movies and comfort food to stay mentally healthy.

I am standing as I recite: "My name is Lisa Suhay and I am a war-aholic." Forget CNN Syndrome. I was a multilateral user and abuser of the news and newser: CNN, MSN, C-SPAN, CBC and even the Spanish channel which I don't even understand. I have even tracked and trawled all the streaming video on Reuters' website.

"I'm losing you," my husband said one morning as I sat in front of the computer squinting at the choppy video of Baghdad. "You have to stop. You need to get out. Go shop or run. Anything."

Shop? Who needs to shop after stocking the house for Armageddon?

Run? I might miss something.

It didn't get me all at once. I kept it down to one or two hits a day of CNN. The first few give you a little rush that sustains you, but soon you crave more and more news.

Then you realize that if you only do that morning TV fix and go out and about your daily life, you run the risk of returning home to the six o'clock news only to find huge and awesome things have happened that you missed. So you watch and scan and absorb all you can until one day you learn people from your area have become POWs. Then you are hooked. You can't imagine not knowing every crumb of news.

But then, in one day, I went from overload to blackout. It had been a news-heavy day interspersing the TV with radio and when the kids came home from school the Internet so as to spare them the information that was saturating my brain. The evening was a break. No news just Legos, book reports and reading stories before bedtime.

Kids asleep and my eyes dry from staring at the multi channeled box for an hour I was just getting ready to turn in when the phone rang and I was ejected from suburban motherhood and landed smack in the middle of the frenzy. An editor for the New York Times ringing with the urgent request for me to drive out to nearby Pennsauken and get an interview with the family of Sgt. James Riley who was among those taken prisoner in Iraq.

Glancing at the clock and seeing it was ten-thirty I thought of the people upon whose door I would soon be knocking. Ahh, to be one of the slavering media hoard on the doorstep of the grieving. And people think trash collector is a bad job.

The program in this kind of assignment is for the reporter in my spot to be the "legs." I run out and get the quotes and scenery and then call in to the New York office by cell phone, relaying it all to a re-write person who puts the story together from whatever I provide and whatever they have gathered by phone.

Off I rushed. It was going on eleven p.m. when I arrived in the neighborhood and could see the house in sharp relief as television cameras turned night into day with their halogen lights.

Weaving my way between miles of cables on the grass, around reporters doing their stand ups in front of the cameras I came to the front steps and the military liaison there to "handle" media like me.

He let me in and I spoke with the mother, father and sister of the POW. They were waiting for their first glimpse of him on the eleven o'clock news. TV cameras flooded in around me like the incoming tide as the moment drew near. The tiny room heated up from the lights of the cameras.

One by one the faces of the captives were flashed across the screen, ending with Sgt. James Riley. Then the local station cut to a shot outside the house we were in and the anchor person rattled on about the brave folks inside keeping vigil. The screen suddenly filled with the image of the family looking at the television set, the viewers at home not knowing that what they were seeing at that moment was not their son, but themselves.

Like a house of mirrors the moment stood still and surreal. Then the screen flickered to other news. The lights snapped off and the TV people dashed out the door leaving the room in shock and awe.

I spent a few more minutes talking with them and then went outside to phone in my report and shake of the pall of the reality bending minutes spent there.

Returning home my husband had coffee waiting. He flicked on the tube thinking I would be hungry for news, but I wasn't. I was full. Poisoned on it like the college kids who drink themselves sick.

In fact I think I am suffering from a news hangover of epic proportion that only a few weeks of Disney movies can cure. No action films. No thrillers. Just emperors missing their groove, cars that fly, Eddie Murphy as the occasional donkey and teacups that sing.

If you need me I'll be making popcorn and hoping for the best.