Sunday, September 9, 2007

I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore

What ever happened to TV news? You know, those trustworthy, distinguished, slowly graying Network gentlemen like Brokaw, Rather, and most especially Cronkite. Those were men that you trusted enough to let into your house every night, men that radiated professionalism and Journalism with a capital ‘J.’ They were men that you could watch while eating dinner without getting heartburn, no matter how terrible the story. They were men that wore ties. Cronkite was the anchor at CBS News for nearly twenty years, not once in all that time were his viewers ever exposed to his chest hair. That’s the real reason he was called “the most trusted man in America,” no exposed chest hair. Cronkite talked us through ten years of Vietnam and he guided us through the moon landings. I’m pretty sure it was his voice alone that brought Apollo 13 home safe and sound.

The next generation, the Cable News channel generation, wasn’t quite as good at the whole calm, slightly graying distinguished thing, they were a whole lot younger for one thing – and some of them were even women. In the 80’s and well into the 90’s, Cable News was news. Period. You wanted to know what was going on in the world? You watched CNN. If you didn’t have a lot of time, you watched CNN Headline News. People actually got cable just for CNN. Hell, Tom Clancy, in his novel The Hunt for Red October specifically mentioned that the book’s hero, Jack Ryan, had cable television installed in his house at Peregrine Cliffs just so he could watch CNN News. Everybody knew Tom was talking about himself, and if it was good enough for Tom, it was good enough for the rest of us. For ten years I got my news every day from Lynn Russell at CNN Headline News. She wasn’t any Walter Cronkite, she rolled her eyes when she was forced to report on somebody doing something stupid, she laughed out loud upon occasion, and she was much more human, and attractive, than those stodgy old men that had come before her. But, the news was never about her, she reported the story, she didn’t grandstand – in other words, she was a professional, and so were her fellow reporters, just like Cronkite had been before them. I trusted her, I would have let her in my house (you bet I would). CNN brought us the first Gulf War in 24 hour, real live streaming video as Coalition forces surged into Kuwait. The coverage by CNN actually had an impact on the course of the war; Saddam himself screamed and raged and watched CNN in his Palace as his shattered army retreated up the Highway of Death, dragging what was left of their sorry pillaging asses home. CNN was on the video walls in the White House and the Pentagon Situation Rooms. CNN was the best source of real time Military Intelligence. Generals watched CNN before making decisions. The CNN effect it was called.

Oh how the mighty have fallen. Something changed in the mid 1990’s. I first realized that something was wrong, when in 1994 CNN went to full coverage on both channels to chase down OJ Simpson and his famous white Bronco. It’s not that they were reporting the chase, which was news; it’s that they were so dammed excited and gleeful about it. This for me was the first little sign of the coming insanity. But the first real major, full-blown, batshit crazy symptom came two years later, when the actual Simpson trial began, CNN covered the travesty 24 hours/7 days a week – if the court was recessed, then they got Larry King to interview some stoned Hollywood houseboy about the day’s events – at the exclusion of all else, up to and including some of the biggest news in the history of mankind. It was four days past the announcement by David McKay, that the possibility of life on Mars had been found in a meteorite called ALH84001, before CNN broke into its All OJ, All The Time programming to mention it in passing. Life on another world, some guy who maybe killed his ex-wife – hmmm, which one will history remember? Yah, OJ. And things just kept getting worse from there, right up to today where the faces of CNN are Glenn Beck and Nancy Grace. It’s exactly like watching someone you know and love descend into madness and acute incurable alcoholism. You have to wonder just what Time-Warner was thinking when they hired Grace (just a bit of Irony in that name). Honestly, I can not hear her voice, and NOT think of tractor-pulls, NASCAR, and cheap beer in plastic cups. Grace was a former lawyer; by most accounts, a shitty lawyer, prone to twisting facts and prone to shady courtroom practices – Georgia’s Supreme Court called her on it, twice. In fact, facts apparently are not something Grace has much use for. And there it is, the once professional face of reporting, “The Most Trusted Name in News,” has become little more than big-haired tabloid journalism – and the more lurid, trashy, and freakish the better. A perfect compliment to Grace’s Queen of the Trailer Park routine is Glenn Beck – who’s news show is billed as a “news talk show for people who can't take the news anymore” by Beck himself. Let’s review: A news show, on a news channel, during the prime news hour of the day – for people who can’t stand the news any more. Both Grace and Beck are the antithesis of Cronkite, or even Russell for that matter, they make not even a pretense of professionalism. The story is always about them, they are always the center of attention on their shows, the story is almost incidental. Insanity, stark staring, drooling, insanity is what it is. Exactly what demographic is CNN trying to reach with these two dancing monkeys?

Is it just me? Seriously, am I the only one who thinks this is just plain bug-eating crazy? Do you trust these people, would you let them into your house? I sure as hell wouldn't, I keep a shotgun at hand just in case dangerous wildlife or people like this show up on my property unannounced. Is it just me who thinks that it is long past time for an intervention here? It’s time to get out the butterfly nets and the straightjackets. And ties, because I’m dammed sure sick and tired of seeing chest hair on CNN – and I’m talking to you, Nancy.


  1. Hear, hear!

    Being a liberal, I blame the right wing propaganda machine that gave us Rush Limbaugh and Pat O'Reilly, otherwise known as the "All-Me, All-the-Time Twins."

    Being intelligent, though, I know it's not a right-wing conspiracy. I think T.V. news channels are competing not with each other, but with on-line news sources. If they can't titillate and scandalize, they may lose their audience to an on-line source that isn't bound by the FCC. A viscous circle, I fear. Sigh.

    I still like Anderson Cooper and Christiane Amanpour, though. Both of them have made a decent effort to focus on stories that matter, and have been unafraid to name names, regardless of "political" consequences (Cooper in the case of Hurricane Katrina, and Amanpour in the case of AIDs/Terrorists). The fact that I didn't have any clue that Cooper was a Vanderbilt until I saw him and his mother on Oprah also speaks to his desire to focus on the story and not on himself.

    I can live with that.

  2. Janiece, I agree with you. And I think Christiane Amanpour is the last true professional on CNN - lately she's started to get this haunted look in her eyes, I'm thinking that's her self respect talking. I doubt she'll last much longer.

    I could go on at endless length regarding this subject. I am a news junkie, but I'm a junkie without a fix these days. I can barely stand to watch HLN's gum snapping bimbos yabber on about Britney or Paris' latest social blunder. The less said about the Neocon public relations channel, Fox News, the better. And I really don't know what MSNBC is doing, its like the little bastard brain-damaged CNN wannabe.

    Guess I'm going to have to go clean.

  3. MWT, I think Wikinews is an interesting experimental information construct, as are all wikis. I also think that it is an evolving construct - and very much in the early stages of it's evolution. In other words, the rules that govern the acquisition, validation, correlation and analysis, and finally editorial selection and integrity are not defined well enough to make the Wiki concept reliable at a high enough confidence level, yet. These criteria are not unique to wikis, of course, they are the minimum requirement of any construct that is designed for the accurate and timely processing and dissemination of information. Understand, I am not saying that this in any way invalidates the experiment, or that ultimately the wiki concept will not mature into an an accurate, timely, and validated source of information.

    One thing that bothers me about public databases like this is that there becomes a number of uncontrollable biases in the system - for example, placing a "post an opinion" option on each story, might drive posters to make the stories maybe a bit more interesting, or more shocking, or more humorous, etc. Without rigid controls, I suspect that wikis will become a strange form of popularity contest. There are already people who determine self worth by the number of wikipedia posts they have made, or the number of wiki posts they have blocked, changed, or deleted.

    Of course, news organizations suffer from these same problems in various degrees, and always will. Many used to have very rigid editorial controls for just this reason. The point of my rant, was that more and more organizations have just given up on it altogether.

  4. ::cough::OJ in 1984?::cough::

    But, yeah, even local news sucks. On the local news we get the "look, it's a fire, it's burning, it's horrible, it's four states away..." WTF? When I get more national news on the local news, something is wrong. Of course that would mean that stations would actually have to invest in news stories (not all of them are big shockers or corruption scandels) instead of investing in remote vans so the weather guys can travel out to Chardon (considered the snow capital of NE Ohio, although it isn't, but it looks good on camera) to stand in the falling flakes to show us how th emajority of the region is not going to get snow.

    That's why I'm an NPR and PBS Newshour junkie.

    And I agree about Christiane Amanpour. They ought to clone that woman.

  5. 1984? Yeah, how'd that happen? I warned you all about this, occasionally my hands are not connected to my brain, like say this morning where I mostly can't feel my left one. The dammed hands sometimes just type what they ssszzzzt....kill the brain, kill the brain....ssszzt want. Thanks, Steve, I'll fix it.

    I'm a big fan of NPR news. Local news here, KTUU out of Anchorage isn't bad though it can be pretty provincial. National news never shows anything to do with Alaska. Whenever anything of national note takes place, say our esteemed Senior Senior throws a tantrum on the Senate Floor, National News shows stock footage of the pipeline. Even the weather channels doesn't show Alaska weather. We're used to it.

  6. At last, someone else noticed it. That the news stopped being about the news and turned into a mound of pap about the personal lives of celebrities, politicians and accused murderers.

    I think you're right on when it slid over the cliff. I was seeing some tendencies in the 80s before the OJ trial, but the OJ trial made televised news completely lose credibility where I'm concerned. I now get it occasionally on the Internet and even more often from looking up specific stories if discussed by individuals whom I trust.

    When anything real happens I will usually find out about it fast enough through the people I know online.

    I watched 9/11 while it was happening on a British friend's link to BBC news that he posted in chat. I do not currently even use a television set and haven't sampled TV for a year, before that I had cable and enjoyed the Sci Fi channel and Discovery but wasn't that attached to having it.

    Yet I keep running into people who treat it as if the news somehow, magically, held content. I caught BBC news now and then and every time, kept seeing world stories that did not appear on any of the American news at all -- major things, oh, wars and changing governments and so on. I guess Americans don't need to know what's going on out in the world. Or they might vote against Shrub or something.

    It's one thing to discuss something in what is essentially a print medium -- put in words, ideas in words do not set up fight-or-flight responses. But as the level of content dropped in televised news, the element of TV Scriptwriting grew and grew.

    News stories began to be paced exactly like cop dramas in the fiction that followed them. You'd get the same plot structure exactly from opening clues and dramatic presentation of the Horrible Event and then go through all sorts of following investigations and they want a wrap-up at the end of the day or end of the week's plotline with a pat answer and a moral tacked on. I watched a lot of local news and national news follow this format in terms of what was presented when, exactly how they led up to gooshy pictures or revealed details that supported their conclusions... and it got so heavily fictionalized as to be predictable and terrifying. Because "guilty until proven innocent" has been the motto of television news since the OJ trial.

    During it, I kept shaking my head at it because the man was accused, not convicted, it so looked nasty and obvious, and yet I had to ask myself what it'd be like to be put through that if your wife got killed and you didn't do it. To this day I don't assume I know what actually happened because of all the hype. I don't assume that now about any accused anyone, but the cinematic presentation of all these trials and so on has led to an erosion of the principle of "innocent till proven guilty." You might as well add "at the end of the show" to that statement for all practical purposes, because they will pick up one of those if someone's name is cleared by some proof -- but the reality is "guilty until proven innocent" as the news portrays it.

    I'm fairly sure that this affects how juries look at the trials they are deciding too, and think of it as a dangerous turn in the culture at large.

    Robert A. Sloan

  7. Heh, Robert's comment makes me think of the Ray Bradbury book, Fahrenheit 451. It's why I do have such high hopes for Wikinews. I agree they aren't quite there yet, but they have a lot of potential.


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