RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In normal times, you'd be seeing headlines on the new criminal prosecutor appointed to investigate the firing of Justice Department attorneys. You'd find unrelenting coverage of John McCain's campaign manager's financial dealings with the mortgage giants Fannie and Freddie Mac. But as NPR's David Folkenflik reports, these are not normal times.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Never a dull moment these days for the media. And that may not be a good thing.

Mr. JEFF JARVIS (Columnist, The Guardian): I don't think anyone including the people in charge can make sense of what's happening in the country right now.

FOLKENFLIK: Jeff Jarvis is a consultant for many news companies including The Washington Post. And he's a columnist for The Guardian. He says the news media are simply overwhelmed by the news.

Mr. JARVIS: It's just too big and too complicated and requires both too much background and fundamental understanding about economics, and then also we're not sure whether we're being told the whole story still. So we need people to look into things the way journalists do.

FOLKENFLIK: What we're hearing instead is a lot of ominous headlines. In this case from CNN.

(Soundbite of CNN broadcast)

Unidentified Reporter: The nightmare on Wall Street leads to sleepless nights overseas. World markets toss and turn. Asia sees big losses, Europe...

FOLKENFLIK: And from ABC's Jake Tapper.

(Soundbite of ABC News broadcast)

Mr. JAKE TAPPER (Correspondent, ABC News): It's like Humpty Dumpty up here. All the king's horses and all the king's men are trying desperately to figure out just how to put this $700 billion bailout package back together again.

FOLKENFLIK: Over on the FOX News Channel, business anchor Neal Cavuto tried to soothe anxious viewers after Monday's record point drop in the Dow Jones.

(Soundbite of FOX News broadcast)

Mr. NEAL CAVUTO (Business Anchor, FOX News): You're going to hear a lot like, oh, my God, it's the end of the world. But in percentage terms, it's just kind of like close to the end of the world.

FOLKENFLIK: That's reassuring. All the chaos comes amidst a presidential race that seems to overshadow everything. On the night of the bailout meltdown, people were talking about this joint interview of McCain and Governor Sarah Palin by Katie Couric on the CBS "Evening News."

(Soundbite of CBS "Evening News")

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Republican Presidential Nominee): Governor Palin and I agree that you don't announce that you're going to attack another country.

FOLKENFLIK: And that means a lot of news worth knowing receives the briefest burst of attention before being dropped for something hotter. The nation's largest insurers bailed out by the government. The largest savings and loan fails. The nation's fourth largest bank was sold for a dollar a share.

Ms. ALEXIS GLICK (Vice President of Business News, FOX Business Network; Anchor, "Opening Bell"): If you talked about one of those things occurring in one year, that would be shocking.

FOLKENFLIK: Alexis Glick is vice president for business news for the Fox Business Network and an anchor on "Opening Bell."

Ms. GLICK: Those things occurred in a two-week period, completely unprecedented. Personally, for me, I'm glued to the tube. I'm glued to the Internet.

FOLKENFLIK: The accelerating story cycle reached warped speed last week when McCain made this dramatic announcement.

Senator MCCAIN: I'll suspend my campaign and return to Washington.

FOLKENFLIK: McCain said he would work to broker a bailout for the credit crunch.

Senator MCCAIN: It's time for both parties to come together to solve this problem.

FOLKENFLIK: Instead, things fell apart. And the melodrama of the campaign became part of the financial crisis. Would the plan fly or fail? Would the first debate be held? Marty Baron is editor in chief of The Boston Globe.

Mr. MARTY BARON (Editor in Chief, The Boston Globe): You know, there are even questions about how fully the campaign was suspended. And there's a question of how involved he was in helping to shape a rescue plan or bailout plan. Our capacity to fully explore every single one of those issues is limited for sure.

FOLKENFLIK: Baron says The Globe uses its Web site to relay quick news, and readers can turn to the Globe's print edition for context. But media guru Jeff Jarvis says even that model is not really enough.

Mr. JARVIS: What I need is someone to sit down and explain it to me. Maybe you come to it the first day, maybe you come to it the 10th day, but I need someone to say, here are the basics of this story. Click on this link, and I'll take you and I'll explain it to you.

FOLKENFLIK: Journalists say they're already scrambling just to keep the headlines coming, let alone the explanations. And for now, the news is outracing both. David Folkenflik, NPR News.

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