The State of Television News: This Is ‘Choice?’

Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 08:37 PM

Thank God for the electronic revolution, cable and satellite tv, and all the other modern inventions that have given the public such an incredible range of choices. Right?

I have a mid-level cable television package, and I can tell you that, except for network and local television news, which is increasingly cobbled together from newspaper and wire stories, my news choices essentially come down to frighteningly shallow (CNN), frighteningly slanted (Fox) and frighteningly skimpy (MSNBC).

Fox speaks for itself. Literally. It just presents the view that Murdoch/Ailes favor and calls it "news." Over and over and over and over.

MSNBC tends to rely on shows that cover only selected pieces of news (Olbermann, Maddow, etc), with an emphasis on commentary and critique. I like those shows (though I can’t get them anymore on Comcast, which has moved MSNBC to its "Digital package" without lowering my price to account for the loss of a channel; good thing cable isn’t really regulated any more, huh?), but they aren't really news. If it's a couple of hours of broad news coverage without the commentary thrown in that you're after, you won't find it here, at least as far as I can tell.

CNN’s current idea of news can be so superficial and "chatty" that it’s hard to keep lunch in its proper place. Just in the last 24 hours I’ve heard CNN anchors and/or reporters:

  • Reassuring viewers that, despite the focus on the negative, there are jobs out there; people should realize that some companies are hiring. Their list of the top 10 companies had Wegman’s supermarkets at number five.
  • Concluding that Obama had demonstrated that he was not going to be as "bipartisan" as he had claimed during the campaign, by the mere fact that, in his meeting with Eric Cantor, Obama supposedly told Cantor that ideological differences existed on the bailout and the economy in general, and that Obama would be following his own opinion on what was best.
Any jackass knows that some jobs are available even in a major depression. If Wegmans is one of your top hiring employers, isn’t that a sign of how bad things are, rather than how good they are? And exactly how is the reporter’s opinion on the economy "news?"

As for "bipartisanship," that term doesn’t mean you get together with your opponent and automatically split the difference between your opposing positions. That’s called mandatory compromise, and results in both sides taking ever more extreme initial positions so that the compromise ends up closer to what they really wanted.

I think that if you go back and read what Obama said during the campaign, he was really talking about two things: (1) ensuring that he received opposing viewpoints before making a decision, and (2) trying to bring nonpartisanship to decision making. In other words, getting rid of the knee jerk opposition to anything and everything proposed by the other party, and, instead, basing support or opposition to a given policy on whether individual lawmakers felt the policy was good for America.

It may be difficult for today’s CNN crews to comprehend, but simply opposing a policy offered up by the other party because you believe the policy is wrong for the country is not "partisanship," it’s principled opposition—whether we're talking about Obama or about Eric and the Cantorettes. Opposing it because it was offered by the other party, and you want the other party to look bad, is partisanship. And—this is important to the situation today—opposing a policy based on principle, but doing it in a way that misrepresents the policy, or which unwarrantedly attacks the motives of the policymaker in order to pander to your own base, is also partisanship.

Add in CNN’s incessant small talk and sad attempts at humor (so pervasive that it truly seems like it’s a policy dictated by management), with almost every report prompting attempts at "good natured" kidding and camaraderie, and it’s "where’s a vomitorium when you need one?"

Not long ago, some very misguided pundits pitched the idea that we had reached "the end of history." They were wrong, very wrong. We may, however, be rapidly approaching the end of that elusive commodity that should be prized by any democratic society, called "the news."


Any attempts to derive meaningful news from TV emanating from the USA is doomed to failure. The Interpipe is a far better medium where you can ignore local news entirely and check up on international news.

True. But think about what that means for society. Television news is available to anyone who can click a remote or, God forbid, the actual "power on" button.

Internet news, especially via the better sites, is available only to people who (a) have a computer, (b) have and can afford an internet connection, and (c) know how to use the internet. And for younger, less experienced people, sites like NewsMax appear to be legitimate attempts to provide news.

If the internet becomes our only, or even our primary, source of news, there are a lot of people who are going to be left out. And they will be the people already toward the bottom of the information chain. The people left out will also be a lot more susceptible to propaganda and misinformation.

I think we can add an information gap to our list of growing social gaps.