Saturday, June 11, 2011

TV Journalism as Entertainment

As much as I disdain the nightly network news, I still find myself watching it by default while my wife and I have our evening cocktail and dinner. I don't know why I continue to subject myself to this media abuse, it's lack of substance aggravates no end. Often not for what they report but for what they neglect.

For example, several important still-ongoing stories have dropped out of the media consciousness. They had us trembling in fear over that radiation from the damaged Japanese nuclear plant was wafting over the continental US. As far as I know, the the problem persists. We also know nothing of what is going on in Iraq, and meager discussion of Afghanistan only resurfaced due to the killing of bin Laden. And in spite of record tornadoes, record heat, warming of the gulf, Global Climate Change is apparently a dead issue to the media, as are jobs, or the lack thereof.

On the other hand we are continually treated to the blather of Sarah Palin. She holds no political office... remember she QUIT her position as governor. Yet the media seems to be stumbling over each other thinking she has something significant to contribute to public discourse. The news described how the press was "chasing to keep up" with her latest bus tour - why? I would love to see the press ignore her, but then it's kind of like when there is a car wreck on the freeway... you simply can't NOT slow down and look.

I have always believed that the continual coverage of the Tea Party "movement" gave legitimacy to what would in the past (and higher journalistic standards) have been disregarded as the lunatic fringe and largely ignored. In Portland, "Hands Across Hawthorne" drew HUNDREDS of people to protest the attack of two homosexual men on the Hawthorne bridge; elsewhere in town, TEN people showed up for a Tea Party rally. Guess which stories received news coverage and which one ignored! I am not sure precisely when being stupid became in vogue.

Continual news coverage may even be harmful to one's health. One of my good friends was advised by his physician to limit his viewing of cable network news where every story is presented in "immediate crises" mode 24/7. He was having trouble sleeping at night.

I used to watch the CBS program "60 Minutes" regularly but I am seriously thinking of tuning in "America's Funniest Videos" during that time slot. Hmmm, I'm under enough stress already.
The following likely would never be produced in the US as it doesn't involve someone getting hit in the groin - leave it to the Brits to come up with a scathing critique of todays television journalism. Enjoy.


Antares Cryptos said...

Robert, THANK YOU for this fantastic find!

I have heard too many times that investigative journalism has ceased to exist, from journalists themselves.

I used to rely on the news as a quick source of facts (without opinions) on what is going on around the world. These days it's worse than a reality show.

I can't remember which news station recently complained that they used to have scientific advisers on staff so that the anchors could get their information right.

crnelius said...

While I think it is easy to characterize news as entertainment, I also think you should consider your argument about bias in scientific endeavors, and apply here. In much the same way bias has become pervasive in the news, and now it has even become part of it's agenda. News organizations shamelessly affiliating themselves to left or right. I think this is partly because of our insatiable appetite for it, but also because it has proven so lucrative to attract those viewers that lean one way or the other. The problem with this is that it has become politics masquerading as news. It is ironic that in a world where there is more news available to all of us, it's become almost impossible to find any truth or balance in any of it. It really seems that everyone has an ax to grind (which perhaps has always been the case, but seems more apparent to me than ever. ) and it has made me highly skeptical of anything being reported. I am constantly attempting to see the other side of any story, or segment, even when I am in full agreement. However, I am watching less and less actual news. The nightly news used to be part of the culture, and certainly was part of my house hold growing up. But now with 24 hours news, blogs, tweets, texting, smart phones etc. By the time the news comes on, if it didn't happen in the last 5 minutes, I probably already know about it... Perhaps that's why it's morphing into entertainment, and politics, instead of being actual news.

Paul said...

Robert my brother watches no television news. He says that it is not fair and unbiased so he stays away from it. Media today is about entertainment and ratings. Palin produces ratings. She should be on "American Idol". The fact that she is a beautiful woman doesn't hurt her.
While covering Palin and Wiener and that ilk real news goes lacking in coverage. Try TCM (Turner Classic Movies) and the History Channel. They do it for me. :-)

Anonymous said...

You took the words right out of my mouth. My husband and I were just bitching last night while watching the never-ending saga about Sarah Palin, a f***ing moron as a matter of public record. It is inexplicable that she gets any airtime.

And Weiner's wiener ... please ... can we please talk about health care instead? Taxes? The nuclear crisis in Japan? Afghanistan?

Excellent video.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Cryptos News seems to be focused on "what do you think will happen next?" and "do you think someone should get fired?" They seem to do a lousy job of of stating the facts.

The video lampoons one of the most annoying aspects of broadcast news, interviewing neighbors or passers-by for their uninformed opinion. Of what use is that?

Crnelius Indeed, bias in reporting is rampant. One of the most blatant bias': government is always bad, corrupt and inefficient all of the time. The run-up to war after 9/11 is another example, no news organization said "hold on, wait a minute... why are we attacking Iraq again??" They were afraid of being unpatriotic and all joined in lockstep to ramp up for attacking Iraq. I find myself reading news online more now to attempt to get the full story.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Paul You are probably right about Palin garnering ratings. Unfortunately I have "basic" cable so it's either network news, PBS or the Home Shopping Network. Yeah, the "off" button seems my best alternative.

Dissenter I am so sick of Palin Palin Palin, and this is NOT Fox news I'm talking about. I brought up the Huffington Post on my i-pad and there is Palin's face on FIVE separate stories. Nobody gets that much exposure on Huffington, not even the president. I wish they would stop.

billy pilgrim said...

when i turn on the news and am subjected to the crap i always ask myself are they broadcasting this stuff in response to what the average viewer wants to see or are they broadcasting fluff to in response to what their commercial sponsors are willing to support?

or is it just a lot cheaper to spend 10 minutes on sarah palin than sending crews to cover real news?

Snowbrush said...

You didn't mention PBS as a possibility. That said, I watch the NBC news sometimes because, as with you, it's on at a good time. As for ABC and CBS, they apparently brought in their present (women) anchors because they wanted to attract the touchy-feely crowd by having news anchors who shake their heads, make an editorial comment, and look like they're going to cry after every story. Did you happen to catch the ABC story a few weeks ago about the "debate" between Hawking and the nine year old boy about the existence of god? Well, Hawking never even heard of the kid I'm sure. The kid had a NDE, and then his father wrote a book about it, and that WAS the story. The segment ended with a quite from the Bible that goes: "a child shall lead them."

Whoopee, what reporting!

Robert the Skeptic said...

Billy I believe you are right on both counts. Besides many of these news organizations are owned by corporate parent companies who I am sure exert some level of editorial control.

Snowbrush PBS is an exception, although they sometimes go "in-depth" into some stories in which I am not that necessarily interested in. Yes, the old fogies at CBS thought that by hiring Katie Couric they would attract the "younger" demographic. WRONG! She was gone after her contract was up. The younger folks don't watch network news... it's too slow.

The debate between the kid and Hawking... I'm glad I didn't see it, I would have probably thrown something at the TV. The Europeans must just laugh their heads off at us. They would love Utah television, where they routinely report the "Mormon News" along with the rest of it.

Jayne said...

Robert- Excellent post--all of it spot on. I have to admit I don't watch nightly news. I think I boycotted it at about the same time I became aware of how sensationalized everything sounded--all presented with such sense of urgency. It's overwhelming, and as you pointed out, most of it is not really news.

And the papers! It's amazing how much journalism reads editorial these days.
Sadly, even some of the documentaries on more respectable networks (History, Nova, etc.) seem to be sensationalized, lately. Whatever happened to the calm, trustworthy narrator?
I pick and choose what I want/need to see on the internet--it's the only way to avoid Palin. (Oh how she loves her attention.) ;)

Orhan Kahn said...

That is exactly why I consult as many news sources as possible on a daily basis. Then again, Australian news and journalism is far more liberal than your own, so its not hard to get a few differing opinions, angles and coverages on the same event.

Paul said...

Maybe we should all have a wek long boycott of television Robert ??

Robert the Skeptic said...

Jayne Yes, even print journalism reveals it's bias, one has to accept that openly when reading a story in say The Wall Street Journal versus the Huffington Post. My worst nightmare would be a Nova documentary on Palin.

Orhan You are fortunate in that respect, although occasionally one of your more radical conservatives manages to grab a headline here or two.

Paul I didn't watch ANY news during the 10 days we were in Hawaii and I didn't miss it. Since our return I notice that I am less drawn to the TV, perhaps it's the warmer weather giving me other diversions.

Nance said...

I'm with you, buddy. I love my nightly doses of Lawrence and Rachel, but I don't think it's helping my blood pressure, so I've started re-focusing on BBC America and the streaming of really good British television series. Masterpiece Theater and carefully selected indie films. And I'm sick of reading books about Wall Street. I'm re-reading David Copperfield.

There'll be plenty of time in about a year to tune in and be overwhelmed. Meanwhile, I'll get my news online increasingly.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Oh, the hilarity. What a clip. Sometimes I am sucked in for a quick look at the weather...which, of late, is pretty inaccurate here in LA. One cannot even imagine how something they dare to call news could become more trivial. Many years ago I worked for a newsman named Clete Roberts who had been a war correspondent, local reporter and anchor and I can imagine what he would have to say about the state of things. I am so weary of how such a big part of the agenda seems to be about keeping us terrified.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Nance I'm going to need to come up with a strategy as things will only get worse, news wise, as we ramp-up to the election and the Republicans get screwier as their desperation rises.

Marylinn Keeping us terrified equates to keeping us "tuned-in", which gets ratings and advertising dollars. I find myself drifting more and more to online journalism (when I can find journalism, that is).

Dawn @Lighten Up! said...

Top story on my the other day? "Kim Kardashian Cuts Her Hair. You Like?" True story.
Oh. And we do watch "America's Funniest Home Videos" . Don't hate. It's the one show all four of us enjoy. Everybody loves to watch a good ball-sac kick. ;)

Robert the Skeptic said...

Dawn I must confess, I am not so highbrow that I don't crack a smile at seeing a well-placed ball whack on occasion.

So do you suppose that if Sarah Palin had HER hair cut, the news would break into regularly scheduled programming to report?

Kiwi Monster said...

That clip is wonderful. News is dead. I haven't been able to watch mainstream news since 9/11/2001. I used to get some of my news from the Daily Show (yes, I know). But now I wonder if even having a laugh about how crappy the mainstream media is still serves the same icky purpose - namely, to distract us from what's really going on in the world that is worth knowing about. I have even observed NPR jumping on the same stupid bandwagons as the other media outlets - like running stories predicting the outcome of polls, elections or meetings, rather than telling us what is happening RIGHT NOW. It's not news anymore, it's pre-news. Yuck. And sometimes I wonder how much of that prognosticating actually determines the outcome. Like Dustin Hoffman said in Wag the Dog - "It must be true; I saw it on TV."

KleinsteMotte said...

Perhaps the internet will allow a better selection of news?? LOL
I think that a dish with hundreds of stations is what quite a few locals do here and what they watch are the news from their native land. Multiculturalism allows this and the people live hear in body but not always in mind.
Then we have the Christian 100 Huntley Street that report daily. It's hard to figure out where reality lies but for sure the dollar runs everything.
Best is not to take anything too seriuosly and just enjoy dinner with Nancy.