April 29, 2008
The emptiness of TV news shows
As I have repeatedly said, I rarely watch TV anymore, and don't have cable at home, still using rabbit antennas to receive a few broadcast stations on the rare occasions when I want to watch. The one exception is when I am traveling. Since I initially feel disoriented and lack access to the books, magazines, and normal activities I have at home, and since I initially find it hard to read or write in the unfamiliar surroundings, I tend to turn on the TV and flip through the vast number of stations. And each time, I am amazed that despite the large numbers of channels that there is so little I want to see.
A few months ago, the day after the 'Super Tuesday' primaries, I flew to San Francisco for a conference. Arriving at the hotel, I turned on the TV to CNN to find out what had happened in the elections. Wolf Blitzer was on in The Situation Room and the 'news' consisted of the endless repetition of half-baked analysis and idiotic speculation about what it all means and what might happen in the future, mixed in with advice on strategy for the candidates. It essentially consisted of one pair of commentators after another coming on to say essentially the same things. The commentators were carefully paired as 'liberal' and 'conservative' or 'Republican' and 'Democrat'. The reason for this careful labeling is that it is not what these so-called Villager commentators and analysts actually say that is important (in fact it is mostly inane speculation, pollspeak, and gratuitous dispensing of advice to candidates), but these labels give the viewer guidance on what the allowable range of 'respectable' opinion is and discourages them from thinking outside those boundaries. I think that the more you listen to such shows, the less likely you are to think independently.
Glenn Greenwald picks up on one of the most infuriating aspects of the Villager media that I have also noticed. "The single most dishonest and propagandistic tactic of establishment journalists is to take their own opinion and assert as a fact that "most Americans" agree with them, even when that assertion is indisputably false. David Brooks [of the New York Times] is probably the single most frequent purveyor of this deceit, but the bulk of establishment pundits regularly deploy the same method -- simultaneously holding themselves out as Spokesmen for the Regular People while showing complete contempt for what they actually think by lying about their views."
Greenwald goes on to describe the Villager mentality:
What the Beltway Establishment believes more than it believes anything else is that the U.S. should continue to intervene in other countries, dominate the Middle East, and rule the world by superior military force. Thus, no matter how many Americans come to reject that mindset, affirming that mentality will remain a prerequisite for Seriousness and for being approved of by the Beltway class. Any politician, Democratic or Republican, who rejects these basic orthodoxies, no matter how unpopular the orthodoxies become, will be relegated to "cuckoo land."
The real goal of the Beltway class is to eliminate all real differences, all meaningful debate, on these central questions. The Beltway class demands bipartisan agreement on the most important issues. Along with the belief that crimes committed by the revered Beltway elite should never be investigated and especially not prosecuted, they venerate this harmony above all else.
What amazes me, apart from the inability to of the hosts of these pundit programs ask these people on what basis they claim to know what "most Americans" think, is the vacuous nature of the commentary. Can people actually watch this stuff for more than, say, 15 minutes without throwing something at the TV? Thank goodness for the internet where I can get just the information I want without also having to listen to the drivel of the so-called political analysts.
POST SCRIPT: Torture
Tom Tomorrow's cartoon captures the vacuity of the news programs in the way they have ignored the big story: that officials at the highest levels of this government knew and approved of the torture program.