So Long To MSNBC

I’ve been noticing lately how much I don’t miss MSNBC. I was in the habit of catching Nicolle Wallace’s show every weekday at 3 PM (Central Time). She was one of the last on-air hosts I could stomach. (Chris Hayes is okay, and Rachel Maddow can be very good when I’m in the mood for that level of earnestness.)

But I’ve long thought Chris Matthews was a brilliant jackass in love with the sound of his own voice. And don’t get me started on Brian Williams, who, no, I do not forgive for besmirching journalism. He should retire and find other work.

But I thought Nicolle Wallace was okay.

And, yeah, I won’t lie, some of it is sexist. She’s easy on the eyes, and I like her voice. I especially like her intelligence, education, personality, and worldview, but I have to acknowledge the gender-attraction aspect. Definitely a part of the draw.

For many months now it’s been hard to ignore that MSNBC, from when Wallace’s show airs at 3 PM (my time), until Brian Williams wraps it up after the 4, 5, 6 (used to be Matthews), 7 (Hayes), 8 (Maddow), & 9 (O’Donnell), o’clock hours — eight hours of regular weeknight political commentary — is essentially the “Isn’t Trump Just Awful!!!” show.

Which, yes, absolutely he is, three exclamation marks worth, but god damn it gets old listening to. Because it’s basically just a bitch-fest with no one doing anything about it.

(I can’t even say, “Spare me the labor pains, show me the baby,” because these folks have no intention of making a baby or anything else other than a buck broadcasting this crap.)

What really turns my anger crank is that, with all their bitching, they’re feeding the monster. They’re giving that corrupt excuse of a human being exactly what he wants — what he needs. How have they not figured out that Twitler thrives on the controversy he intentionally generates.

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The trick to P45, it seems to me, is to mock him and ignore him.

That’s his kryptonite. Treat him as the massively ignorant, incompetent, petulant child he is. Laugh at him — it drives him crazy. Remember the Correspondent’s Dinner?

Being outraged by him just turns him on. It’s exactly what he wants.

§

Especially once this coronavirus thing started, and it was all anyone talked about (without actually adding much to the conversation), I found myself turning off the show a lot.

Sometimes within minutes, sometimes after watching for a while, but rarely beyond the 20-minute mark if I stopped watching. I just had no stomach for chatter with no real information content.

This started before the outbreak. It’s been going on for months, this dissatisfaction. In retrospect, there is some lingering outrage at how they used to focus their cameras on the empty podium where the Pumpkin Goblin would be making an appearance. Sometimes hours — fucking hours — of camera time devoted to an empty podium.

And they’d cover each speech from beginning to end. All that free air time. It was grotesque and a very clear indication of what these so-called news outlets are really in business for. (Let me stress those last three words: In. Business. For.)

These are commercial ventures selling a product, and it turns out to be a product we’re addicted to. In fact, there’s a lot of addictive behavior going on.

The cable “news” channels are addicted to what Spray Tan Sally does for their ratings. We all want to get in on the outrage; it’s the latest American industry, our outrage. (And we’re getting really good at it.)

Katy Tur once mentioned how the “air crackled” when Cheeto Charlie entered the room. No, Katy, you poor soul, you’re suffering from Stockholm Syndrome from having been trapped on the road with this psychic rapist for all those months. A mental abuser who often singled you out publicly.

The air, and let me emphasize this, does not “crackle” when any human being enters any room. That’s in your head. It shouldn’t be. It’s PTSD.

§

Which I think we’re all suffering from at this point. I’ve seen reports that even our pets are acting strange. They’re not used to having us around all the time. (You’d think they’d be thrilled, but it interferes with their secret plans. The cats are especially unhappy.)

I realized it was something of an addiction for me, watching my Nicolle Wallace every day at three. Almost like an old person and their soap operas. It was a habit, part of the daily security blanket I wrapped myself in.

When several days went past, and I turned off the show almost immediately each day, I decided it was time to stop. At least until the coronavirus thing ended and people talked about something else.

It was weird for a few days, felt like something missing, but as time went on I thought less and less about it. The last week or so I realized I’m over my addiction. I thought about watching yesterday, just because it had been a while, but the idea of watching Wallace’s show, or any MSNBC show, was repugnant to me.

I just don’t want that vibe anymore.

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It’s funny that, as much as I love TV (I’m certainly a child brought up in the TV era), there’s some part of me that’s always found it both too passive and too fixed (for lack of a better term).

I mentioned recently how seeing the Lord of the Rings movie fixes Elijah Wood as Frodo in your mind forever. But in just reading the book, Frodo could be anyone you imagine.

So there’s always been a Yin-Yang thing with TV for me. Being a TV era child also brings the various cautions from “bad on your eyes” to “bad on your brains” along with “why don’t you go outside and play” (and “go ask your mother”).

During my brief marriage, the kids pretty much owned the TV and husbands have a HoneyDo list, so I stopped watching TV almost entirely. What I realized then is how much I actually don’t care about TV. After the divorce, it took a few years to start watching much again.

It’s its own addiction. At least, we have to be careful about it.

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Certainly some is better than others. I do think TV is the new movies. Longer stories, decent budgets, state-of-the art CGI,… we’ve come a long way from the Ed Sullivan Show.

But cable “news” is a product being sold to us. It’s really a form of entertainment for social intellectuals. Or a form of communal commiserating, ranting, and complaining.

It’s a faint imitation of real journalism.

Four years ago I said so long to CNN.

Now I’m officially saying good-bye to MSNBC.

I can’t say I’ll miss ya. (I can say I won’t.)

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One of the oldest notes I have reads:

What Would ERM Do?

ERM, of course, is Edward R. Murrow, one of our history’s great journalists. One of the first TV journalists. I wonder what he would think of this.

Well, wonder no more. Here’s what he said in his famous “wires and lights in a box” speech to the RTNDA back in 1958. I’ll leave you with a bit from the end of that speech:

This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely 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.

Words for our time, too, eh?

Stay unaddicted, my friends!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

6 responses to “So Long To MSNBC

  • Wyrd Smythe

    The movie about Murrow, Good Night, and Good Luck has a scene depicting the famous speech. Not the whole thing, but some of the best parts. Here’s a clip from the film:

    (It’s only 3:15 in length.)

  • J Ryan

    My dad called it the “boob tube” for a reason and he wasn’t referring to breasts. I didn’t realize that Brian Williams was working again. That speaks volumes about me but also makes me content with my lack of television.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Ha! My dad did, too. He and mom were pretty restrictive about what, and how much, we could watch. TV wasn’t a big deal in our house. There was some TV I could only watch over at my friends’ houses. Stuff like Hercules versus the Ant Men — kind of the Marvel action films of the day.

      And famously, my dad made me and my sister leave the room during the first broadcast episode of Star Trek when that salt-monster former-girlfriend-of-McCoy’s came on screen. Too much for our delicate eyes.

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    My dependence on cable news had been waning for years, but in the aftermath of the 2016 election, I found watching them to actually be detrimental to mental wellbeing, so I mostly dropped them, except sometimes during major news events.

    In general, I find very little real information from them. Nothing I can’t get very quickly by scanning news sites. The rest is all outrage, designed to rile you up so you keep watching. I’d prefer to make up my own mind on what riles me up.

    That’s not to say that new sites can’t sometimes be just as bad. Their goal is to rile you up so you keep clicking. But I find it easier to turn on the spigot from them, get what I need, then turn it off.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      2016 was the beginning of the end for me, too. I really hold against them all the free campaign support they gave Twitler. It made me steam then, and I’m still simmering.

      You’d think, with 24 hours to fill, they’d cover the world and the small stuff and the interesting stuff, but, especially in the eight hours of nightly political opinion, they just hammer the basic bullet points over and over and over. It’s possible to watch all eight hours and, having read a few headlines beforehand, learn nothing during that eight hours.

      Rachel Maddow gets in-depth, but she’s like John Oliver’s long in-depth segments: often about some outrageous thing so far outside my daily ken it’s impossible to care or even have much interest. People who read The Atlantic and New Republic really go for that stuff, I guess. (There’s one attribute common to every article I’ve ever read in The Atlantic: too long.)

      As you say, it’s all designed to plug into our outrage. Which is addictive.

      I’ve learned I can get a surprising amount of news just from the headlines without clicking into any articles at all, especially when reading lots of headlines in a news feed. And I’ve learned that places like Huff Post rarely offer more than outrage. (I’ve also begun to reject any article with “may,” “might,” or “should,” in the title. I can’t tell you how tired I am of scientists announcing some discovery “might” mean XYZ. So tired of labor pains, especially false ones. And the press always makes a complete hash of it, anyway.)

      Murrow’s point was that we can go this way, indulge in the flash and fancy, but the box has the power to be a real tool for society and democracy. Our not stepping up to that power is the real outrage.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    I was thinking about that paragraph from Murrow’s speech, in particular this line:

    There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference.

    And it occurs to me that we’re currently living out the consequences of having already lost that battle. It’s one of the things that really bummed me out about the twenty-teens: the realization that our culture may have peaked intellectually and is now sliding backwards into ignorance and fantasy. (It’s the very danger I’ve been ranting about since circa 1970.)

    It’s even affecting scientists, especially in domains struggling with painfully slow progress or “hard problems” — when one is stuck, one begins casting around for anything that might move things forward. It’s forgivable and understandable, but I do think it’s another sign of a culture becoming lost in dreams. (Or for the scientists, as Sabine Hossenfelder put it, lost in math.)

    For non-scientists, it’s video games, Marvel movies, and social media. In modern culture, on some level, we’ve all become lotus-eaters.

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