The news media gets no love these days.
Conservatives endlessly complain that virtually the entire news media, save for AM talk radio and the FOX News Channel, are infiltrated by liberals seeking to brainwash the masses. On the flipside, liberals are saying the opposite about the news industry, and that AM talk radio and FOX Noise are just agitprop trash.
What do I think? I don't see the legit news media, which consists of television, print and radio, as being overly biased one way or another. Oh sure, FOX Noise is basically nothing but conservoporn, a whitewashing of the news to make it seem more palatable to whiny conservative hotheads. And conservative talk radio is really just a bunch of phony disc jockeys reading GOP talking points and acting outrageous in order to pad their affiliate base and get ratings.
In general, I see them as dumbing down the news. Let's face it, the news media in America these days really does truly suck. Putting out a legitimate news product is not a priority. The goal is ad revenue. It's about cutting costs (particularly in newspapers). It's about ratings.
This is why CNN, MSNBC, CBS, NBC, ABC and even FOX are more obsessed with tragic blondes, helicopter chases, real-life soap operas, bizarre stories and celebrity gossip than real stuff that affects our everyday lives. Thanks to 24/7 cable news, for instance, we can actually stalk Paris Hilton's house as we see the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department extract this dangerous fugitive from justice from her home to take her to jail over traffic tickets. We can look down at crime scene investigators scour over a field in Ohio as they remove a young woman who was brutally murdered, though ignoring the fact that this type of stuff, unfortunately, happens more frequently than they would lead us to believe.
And cable news gives valuable face time to know-nothing pundits like Ann Coulter, who pisses and moans because one of the targets of her venomous tirades calls her on her hateful rhetoric. Ooooh, a catfight! Now this one is utterly ridiculous. The outrageously creepy Chris Matthews of MSNBC's "Hardball" had this vampire on the show for the whole hour, allowing her to spout her usual ill-informed insults and violent rhetoric (see the video here). For some reason, the "Hardball" staff felt that Coulter, who the day before expressed her wish that Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards be "killed in a terrorist assassination plot," was important enough to devote the entire show to. They went so far as to set up an outdoor town hall with an audience and even took viewer phone calls. Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, decided enough was enough, and called in to MSNBC during the show, politely asking Coulter to knock off the personal attacks and cheap shots and just stick to the issues. You can read the entire transcript at the "Hardball" blog.
Of course, there's much divided opinion on this little scuffle, most of it anti-Coulter. Even right-wing stalwarts such as Pat Buchanan and Armstrong Williams have no real respect for Annthrax Annie's evil ways. However, Coulter's few defenders are, as usual, shifting the blame, with the oft-whiny Brent Bozell-owned Newsbusters going so far as to point the accusatory finger at a former blogger on Edwards' site, who was let go months ago. In addition, they're beating the same dead horse of liberal bias in the media, blah blah blah.
Brian Maloney, the Radio Tranquilizer, is crying that Coulter was blindsided and that Edwards' phone call was a set-up to ambush the Queen of Mean. Never mind that in recent months, Maloney has become even more irrelevent than before, having been reduced to merely being Rush Limbaugh's ass-kisser and overall suckup to right-wing pundits. In this instance, he has made an even bigger ass of himself. No, Coulter was not blindsided. She was told of the possibility of Edwards calling in prior to the airing. She knew. Besides, someone who has built a career out of spouting as much vile, hateful and insulting rhetoric as possible should have the foresight of being prepared to defend it, and be ready for blowback. Live by the sword, prepare to die by it, as the saying goes.
But I've gone on way too long about Annthrax Annie. The intent of this article is to question why Coulter and her ilk often get so much attention from our so-called mainstream news media. And I think I have the answer.
News coverage in days gone by was not profit-oriented. It was considered a public service. And the various news divisions in the media were run with the utmost integrity. Earlier, I posted excerpts from an interview Mike Malloy did with Buzzflash. The most interesting parts of the article were about Malloy's time as a newswriter at CNN back in the Ted Turner era. According to Malloy, "News writing was very restrictive... Again, this was back when CNN was run by Turner, and it was run as a news organization. It is not run as a news organization now. But it was very restricted back then. Our senior editors, senior producers, supervising producers, would tell us repeatedly they did not want to find even a nuance of opinion in what we wrote, to the extent that it became a game." The same, sadly, cannot be said today.
What happened? News these days has become a profit center for broadcasters. The television news operations (and I'm using them as an example in this case) are all about shock and titillation. They evidently feel that a real, honest, serious debate won't go over as well as stalking Paris Hilton does. Or bringing on gasbag pundits to scream at each other.
When and why did it all go wrong? It probably started one night in 1994 when every news channel and network outlet in America showed helicopters following O.J. Simpson's white Ford Bronco around the Los Angeles freeway system. Is the flash n' trash approach created by FOX Noise Channel a few years later also to blame for why our news media sucks? Perhaps. I am of the rare opinion that FOX is not necessarily bound to a political philosophy. Sure, Rupert Murdoch has made gaining political clout a goal in various media endeavors, particularly with his purchase of the New York Post in the 1970s. As Time claims in a recent issue, Murdoch has a stubborn populist streak, going so far as to publicly voice his approval of assertive moderate power players like Tony Blair and Hillary Clinton, and his populism finds an outlet on Fox News, a channel that gives voice to angry middle-aged white guys. Piling it on a bit thick, Murdoch dismisses the idea that FOX is basically a right-wing agitprop outlet. "If you look at our general news, do we put on things which favor the right rather than the left? I don't know... We don't think we do. We've always insisted we don't. I don't think we do. Aw, it's subjective. Neither side admits it." So is Fox News an expression of his political views? "Yes! No! Yes and no. The commentators are not. Bill O'Reilly certainly not. Geraldo Rivera certainly not. But Brit Hume and his team on the nightly news? Yes. They play it absolutely straight!" Okay then.
So, am I saying that FOX Noise is not all about carrying GOP water? I am of the opinion that cable news outlets are in the business of making money, first and foremost. And FOX found a gullible demographic to accomplish just that. Basically, they zeroed in on a target audience (whiny conservative hotheads) and milked them for all they could. Sure, FOX is a complete joke of a news channel, but I don't consider them to be news anyway. FOX Noise is an entertainment channel, putting out slanted and gussied-up news and loads of celebrity gossip and other crap that allows simpletons to just turn off the brain for awhile. It's merely just tabloid TV.
Unfortunately, the other news channels have tried to emulate this approach. Rather than hard news, it's non-news stories, dead blondes, screaming pundits, celeb gossip and silly lifestyle stories. And at least some newsreaders have finally had enough of this shit, particularly MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski, who went so far as to say on-air that she would not lead with the Paris Hilton story. She even tried to burn the copy with a lighter on-air before feeding it to the shredder. You go girl! And to his credit, CNN's Lou Dobbs has been adamant in allowing no mention of Hilton on his show.
This morning, I decided to take a little online stroll through our news media. Gleaming the web pages often gives a pretty good glimpse of what it is they're covering (aside from helicopter chases and stalking Paris Hilton's house). Of course, the websites tend to emphasize real news more than their on-screen counterparts do. I decided what I felt should be key components of a news website, particularly a mix of real news events, political news, and even some watercooler stuff (like Paris Hilton), kept to a minimum, of course. Sports coverage is always key as well.
Of the various media outlets and cable 'news channels' (and we're suspending belief here for a minute and classifying FOX Noise as a 'news channel'), CNN looked the most pathetic at the time I checked. Here's what "The most trusted name in news" deemed noteworthy earlier today:
- Hilton talks about drugs, jail and God
- Immigration bill faces make-or-break vote
- Eleven dead in Texas floods; more rain expected
- Firefighters make headway in battling Tahoe blaze
- Police: 20 decapitated bodies found near Baghdad
To be fair, I kept returning to the CNN page, to see if anything was updated (i.e. the subpoenas) and to give themselves a chance for redemption. I wasn't holding my breath.
MSNBC did a slightly better job on their front page this morning. They featured much more 'real' news than CNN did. Someone could actually have the chance to learn what's going on in the world by gleaming the top headlines, while, of course, getting all the Paris Hilton news they can really handle:
- Texas to get more rain; 11 dead
- Israeli president resigns, no jail time
- 20 beheaded bodies found in Iraq
- Security workers killed in Afghan blast
- Hilton says jail was 'traumatic'
- Scoop: Heiress may sue lawyer
The latest on THAT ex-jailbird
Meanwhile, over at FOX Noise, the New York cheerleader thing got more play (they assume Americans are overly obsessed with tragic stories involving young, pretty girls). They feature the immigration bill, and there is even an orange breaking news banner about the subpoenas. Ideological slant is somewhat evident as well (note the Elizabeth Edwards headline, emphasizing the fundraising talking point forwarded by Annthrax Annie):
- Texas to Get More Rain; 11 Dead
- Israeli President Resigns, No Jail Time
- Benoit, Wife Feuded Over Child Care
- Tahoe Blaze 55 Percent Contained
- Israeli Troops Battle Fatah in West Bank
- Former Leaders of Ex-Gay Ministry Apologize
- 2 Teens Busted After Body Found in Desert
- Edwards Fundraises After Fight With Coulter
Desire hard-hitting news from CBS? Keep dreaming. After all, this is the same network with "Katie's Half-hour o' Fluff," a.k.a. what loosely passes for the "CBS Evening News" every night. No subpoena story as of yet, but CBS tells us that our president believes that we need to get more excercise. That's the top headline. They do, however, deliver a graphic about the Iraqi beheadings. Immigration and the storms in Texas are also prominent. Oh yeah, Paris Hilton gets big play here. Ick. Just plain ick. A terrible website for seeking out news. What would Edward Murrow or Walter Cronkite say? We already know what Dan Rather thinks.
ABC News has a pretty good reputation for playing it straight in their news coverage. They do own a 24/7 news channel, ABC News Now, that does not get the exposure that CNN, MSNBC and FOX get. You can find them on satellite, some digital cable systems and on a few HDTV side channels. To their credit, they don't bombard audiences with shrill talking heads screaming talking points at each other. They don't go out and get some think tank goons or half-assed radio talkers' opinions on every issue. They basically just read the headlines. And their web page is pretty much a mixed bag of the latest stories, in addition to the stuff they think people are talking about (i.e. Paris Hilton). The breaking news banner is about the U.S. Supreme Court blocking the execution of a mentally ill Texas inmate (though that never stopped Dubya in his governor days). The storms in Texas are getting big play here, as are the immigration bill, the New York cheerleaders, the Edwards/Coulter brewhaha, the tragic story about WWE wrestler Chris Benoit and his family, and something about Mitt Romney strapping his dog to the roof of his car (WHAT???). All in all, a typical mix of news water cooler talk. No mention of the subpoenas as of yet, though.
I go back to the CNN site. Still the same. No subpoenas story.
NPR's front page is pretty serious stuff. They have the subpoena story up front. Also highlighted are the storms in Texas, the removal of the bald eagle from the 'threatened species' list, and the immigration bill. Entertainment coverage is pretty highbrow. Links to profiles of Miles Davis and Joni Mitchell. Not a single mention of Paris Hilton or the Spice Girls.
I decide to go international. BBC has a phenomenal news site devoted to very hard-hitting news, much of it international in focus. Prominent is a story about the Libyan man convicted of the 1988 Pan-Am bombing over Scotland. He just got a chance for a second appeal. They're covering the subpoenas story from across the pond. They also break down various headlines by continent as well. So as not to ostracize casual news readers, they do have something about Paris Hilton. And since this is Great Britain, there is a Spice Girls story.
Up north, CBC and its privately-owned rival, CTV, are, not surprisingly, very Canada-centric in their coverage. Not a whole lot of United States stuff here, but for Canadian news junkies, they're pretty serious. Paris Hilton and the Spice Girls do get a small mention, though.
The old gray lady, the New York Times, is pretty hardcore in their approach to the news. Very in-depth, very highbrow. They are often regarded as talking a bit over many readers' heads, which is probably why they are criticized so much as being 'elitist'. Hey, if conservatives are too stupid to understand it... Nonetheless, there is definitely a place in this world for really serious news, minus most of the fluff. Or anywhere. Hell, take a look at their top headlines. The White House subpoenas, tainted Chinese toothpaste, immigration, the Iraq War are the big stories here. And they are the only site so far mentioning a Supreme Court decision regarding race and public schools. Some human interest stuff is included, such as a story about a teenage girl and her 7000 horsepower jet tractor. Well, that's different. And, for some strange reason, there is a link to a Paris Hilton story in the Arts section. To their credit, the Times pushes this way down on the page.
I go back to the CNN page, to give them another chance. The second headline is about the subpoenas. They've also got a news alert about the Supreme Court decision. Paris Hilton now exists on page one as a ridiculous poll question, asking readers if she will 'fix her image'. Oh brother!
Fast forward to this afternoon, and I check back with CNN. It looks like they've cleaned up their act somewhat. Paris Hilton must finally be old news, as she is shoved down the front page. I wish I could say the same about the subpoena story. It's gone. In its place is a lot of fluff, such as a story about a 7-year old girl trapped in a boy's body, a case of face-eating bacteria and an expedition to search for Bigfoot.
So here ya go, America. This is your news media. I am curious to know if we are really as concerned about Paris Hilton and whatnot as the news media seems to think. I for one could give a rat's ass. And I could certainly care less what someone as nasty, ugly and misinformed as Ann Coulter thinks about anything.