I am working from home today which has given me the rare and entirely unsatisfactory opportunity to watch the lunchtime TV news in the United States of America.
People often say that the news in the US is terrible – and it is, it is appalling. But it hit home this lunchtime when I flipped between different news channels while eating lunch. CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and god knows how many other channels. And all of it absolutely dreadful. I know for example from listening to the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme first thing this morning that one of the world’s most wanted war criminals Radovan Karadzic was arrested late last night. I also know that a possible huge breakthrough has been made with prostate cancer.
What else do I know from this morning? Well, that India’s government may have survived a vote of no confidence; that Mugabe is talking with the Zimbabwe opposition about possible power-sharing. I know there has been some kind of attack in Israel.
Having watched an hour of lunchtime TV news in the US I know that: there are two US presidential candidates and one of them is abroad at the moment; that people have made video parodies of the two candidates and posted them on the Internet; that a TV news host appeared on a TV chatshow last night; and that someone made a stupid comment about autism on some other TV show.
Gossip and impersonation
It’s not even the absolute dearth of real news. What is all the more disturbing is that the news that is presented isn’t news but mindless, misleading gossip. The clearest example of this is that nearly everyone that appears on TV provides “analysis” of short clips that comprises of them talking with the assumed voice of the person in the clip. So, for example, Barak Obama gave a press conference having met General Petraeus in Iraq yesterday. A tiny clip of what he said is shown and then the TV studio people take over.
“So what he’s saying is ‘Hey, I’m the guy in charge here – I’m the person who decides what to do, not you.’ Is that right [name of so-called expert]?”
“I think what he was saying was: ‘If I become president, then I’ll be the person that calls the shots.'”
This goes on and on with people making up dialogue and pretending to be Barak Obama (or General Petraeus, or whoever they decide to impersonate) rather than actually playing what was actually said.
It gets worse:
- The analysis of what someone says is clearly bent by the reporters themselves along political party lines
- The media reports constantly on itself – constantly
- The focus is entirely on the back story, and the actual story itself is given lip-service
- There is never a neutral statement – it is always an extreme perspective provided in a third-party voice with a question-mark stuck on the end to suggest impartiality
- There is absolutely no effort to provide historical context
- The coverage is deeply cynical in the sense that people are assumed to have a hidden and planned agenda even when the connection drawn would have been impossible to predict as it doesn’t follow logical reasoning
- There is no effort to reach a greater understanding, instead the sole intent is to provoke disagreement and partisan perspective – with the anchor used solely to egg on disagreement
It is, in short, unwatchable. I can pick up more real information in five minutes online than in an hour watching television. I am seriously thinking of cancelling my cable subscription. What’s the point?