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.


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.


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I can only agree with you. It feels like commercialy funded News was a bad idea from the start.

People like Wolf Blitzer and O'Reilly is constantly confirming this.

Posted by US Geographic on May 1, 2008 09:23 AM

If you (i.e. anyone reading Mano's post) can get past the irony of watching a TV Show about how TV Shows are a waste of time, you might want to check out Charlie Brooker's special on news programs. Here's a link to the first section:

A word of warning: some of the language and humour in this show is quite coarse. Also, as it's a British show, some of the references might be obscure to viewers in the US or elsewhere. However, if language and British references don't bother you, there is some interesting insight here about television news from a bit of a TV-insider point of view.

Posted by Elizabeth on May 1, 2008 09:22 PM

Its amazing really. With the thousands of different networks and all of the programs out there the percentage of good programs is very small. But there are some gems out there and with the growing ability to watch TV online, you may come across a good one.

Posted by Watch TV Series Online Free on July 7, 2008 03:10 PM

Since the internet, poeople can now just watch all the tv they want online for free. I think that is where it will be going in the future. Tv's will be hooked up to the net and stream!

Posted by Seinfeld TV on May 13, 2010 01:05 PM

I think the term "lowest most common denominator" comes to mind when watching these commercially funded TV/News stations.

I was in the US a few years back and I totally agree with Mano Singham, there's only a certain amount of that dross one can tolerate and the worst thing is, this mindset has been gradually creeping into British television.

I hope the BBC will remain steadfast and true to its' traditional high quality reporting ethics.

Ver TV Online

Posted by Michael Maynard on March 27, 2011 09:25 AM

Wouldn't this only be relevant in America?

Posted by cairns on March 28, 2011 03:59 PM

The view from Australia is the same.We have added numerous free to air stations in the last few years and instead of more programs, this has resulted in less. Instead we get numerous repeats of old shows and promotions dressed up as news. This is the biggest lie, as I am sure that many people do not realise they are being sold something when it appears on a "news" show.

I write a blog on Australian TV shows and have covered this subject in these articles
Channel 11 Australia


City Homicide

As I say in one of those, the Boss, Bruce Springsteen said it best in his song "57 Channels and Nothing on"

Posted by MaxP on May 29, 2011 07:23 AM

I remember the day tv was informative and entertaining without all of the bad language and x-rated shows. Now, I agree that watching tv is becoming more unnecessary as you can find the information you need on the net without putting up with all of the garbage on the tube.

Posted by RandyF on January 6, 2012 12:21 PM