One thing about an addiction to cable news shows is that the addiction is self-defeating. At least it turns out to be that way for me. After just a few months of paying (way too much) attention to CNN, FNC, and MSNBC, my head has exploded so often that I’m in danger of that not being a metaphor.
What’s so dismaying is the state of “journalism” as reflected by the people running and appearing on these networks. The awful irony is that many of them likely schooled in journalism and revere journalistic heroes such as Edward R. Murrow.
Who is probably spinning in his grave.
“This instrument [television] can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and even it can inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it’s nothing but wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.”
The above quote (along with similar ones below) is from the end of a speech Murrow gave to the RTDNA in 1958. It’s known as his “wires and lights in a box” speech, and it’s well worth reading if you care about television or journalism. Or society.
It’s especially worth reading in light of the current election cycle!
“Our history will be what we make it. And if there are any historians about fifty or a hundred years from now, and there should be preserved the kinescopes for one week of all three networks, they will there find recorded in black and white, or perhaps in color, evidence of decadence, escapism and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live.”
Full disclosure: this is a Friday rant-dump of head explodes notes and some observations. Think of it as an open letter-slash-complaint to the cable news shows.
One observation is that I was surprised to discover that FNC seems to have the better journalists when it comes to raw news. They seem to cover more stories and get news sooner. (One theory is that so many people hate them that their reporters are forced to work harder.)
The downside is how much you have to ignore all the spin they apply. They never miss, often really reach for, a chance to slam President Obama or Secretary Clinton (they seem to have given up on turning Benghazi into anything, so now they’re focusing on the email server thing.
Another observation: MSNBC, for the most part, is the worst of the three in terms of journalistic and television quality (and they spin just as hard as FNC but in the opposite direction).
I especially dislike the way they apparently don’t think news happens on weekends. That’s when they air prison and video reality shows (which has always given me a serious case of the WTFs).
They’re the only ones this election cycle sticking their on-air hosts in public venues, which I find very distracting. I really don’t get the value of background bystanders mugging the camera.
“One of the basic troubles with radio and television news is that both instruments have grown up as an incompatible combination of show business, advertising and news. Each of the three is a rather bizarre and, at times, demanding profession. And when you get all three under one roof, the dust never settles.”
This post’s title comes from a verbal habit people have that’s been grating on my ear for a long time. It’s the tendency to combine strong, definite words — like “certainly” — with weak, indefinite words — like “kinda” or “sort of.”
For example, regarding the coverage of a shooting incident: “I know we’ll get the all-clear soon, I hope.” So, do you know or do you hope?
Another that had me shaking my head: “I think one thing people certainly think…”
Sometimes it’s just weak words, seeming to indicate the speaker really don’t know what they’re talking about: “I guess you might say… blah, blah… sort of… blah, blah.”
This seems to come from two places: a disconnect between words and their meaning; and a growing lack of confidence in our own knowledge.
Both of those rather greatly dismay me.
Speaking of a disconnect between words and their meaning, CNN has pretty much removed all meaning from the phrase: “Breaking News” (not that the other two are much better).
They applied it to the same storm for three days. (How is something watched and discussed for days beforehand “breaking” news?)
As typically used it translates as: That thing that happened six hours ago… happened.
For many, a lack of confidence in knowledge is apparently justified. At root is our ironically growing ignorance of the world. As it all gets more and more complex, many don’t even try to keep up. Some even disdain knowledge.
Yet the interweb makes the knowledge more accessible than ever.
Just yesterday I watched CNN’s “Aviation Correspondent” demonstrate not knowing the difference between “vertical” and “horizontal” (regarding an airplane’s tail fins).
Seriously, for people whose job is making words come out of their mouths, many of them aren’t very good at it. Some are pretty bad at it despite years in the business. (Will Dana Bash ever learn to speak without stumbling?)
What’s worse is the emotional loading some use in their language. One of the reasons I can’t abide Wolf Blitzer (more so than any other) is that he fills his language with emotional loading.
He’ll talk about how much something will “concern” a campaign or how “embarrassing” some incident was to someone.
Worse is the lack of content or value in what he says. Many times during Super Tuesday, the camera pulls back from a graphic listing voting returns so he can read us those same results!
Chuck Todd (another host rising on my Can’t Stand That Guy list) recently asked a guest why he “trusted” Sanders and not Clinton regarding financial policy. As opposed to just what the guest thought of their respective positions.
For “journalists” (and I die a little inside each time I have to call them that) they spend a lot of time pushing their own views, which is bad enough, but then failing to hold their subjects to any standards of accuracy or rationality.
And that’s the real problem. That’s a complete abdication of journalism. Not only do they not analyze the news critically — a valuable journalistic service — but they apply their own coat of paint. And if at all possible, that paint contains conflict.
Years ago, Rachel Maddow spent an entire show interviewing Jon Stewart, who tried to explain to her how the cable news shows push conflict. Rachel deflected and didn’t hear the message (and she’s one of the better ones).
They never do. A number of on-air guests have mentioned problems with cable news shows (thus bravely biting the hand that put them on the air), but the hosts rarely engage on the topic (for some reason they often deflect away from it).
At the same time, they’re so lost at what they do that one on-air CNN host recently apologized to a guest for playing devil’s advocate.
Think about that: A reporter apologized for applying critical analysis to an opinion expressed on their air.
These “journalists” have been full partners in the destruction of language and the rise of Assertion as Fact and Opinion as Validity.
The talking head guests spew opinions, often completely reflecting their own interests, while the host does little to moderate or analyze.
And then they cut to commercial and the whole thing is forgotten.
The truth is it was just filler until those commercials anyway.
That’s the state of television “journalism” today.
“To those who say people wouldn’t look; they wouldn’t be interested; they’re too complacent, indifferent and insulated, I can only reply: There is, in one reporter’s opinion, considerable evidence against that contention. But even if they are right, what have they got to lose? Because if they are right, and this instrument is good for nothing but to entertain, amuse and insulate, then the tube is flickering now and we will soon see that the whole struggle is lost.”