BREAKING NEWS: cable news sucks. It’s the worst 6 plus hours of my day. I keep it on in my office, droning at low volume as I write. Generally CNN or MSNBC. Occasionally Fox, if there’s the slightest chance coverage will be unbiased — or if I’m planning on replacing my monitor soon anyway so it doesn’t matter that a keyboard gets thrown through it. Here are a few of my pet peeves. See if I included yours.
First off, it can’t all be OMG! BREAKING NEWS! all the time. You guys’re playing a losing game as you have to come up with ever more elaborate graphics/music/effects to convince viewers that the next five minutes are genuinely more important than the last five were. What do you plan to do when something really crucial? Trumpets? A chorus line? Reanimate Walter Cronkite and have him read the teaser? Quick rule-of-thumb: by definition, nothing that happened YESTERDAY can possibly be considered breaking news.
Too many talking heads! What’s with all these segments with so many people on them — sometimes as many as 6 or 8? I assume they’re trying to make sure there’s always at least one person up there to appeal to every possible segment of the audience, but this is rapidly approaching the ridiculousness of many of your own ads: Our pill has THREE pain relievers, not just ONE! Our pizza has FOUR cheeses, not TWO!
Stop making arguments by anecdote. Sure, for every point of view there’s an intimate personal story that can be presented which appears to back it up, but arguing from the specific to prove the whole almost always results in lopsided, emotional conclusions left to TV shows or movies, not to supposedly fact-based news.
Provide context! Stop citing statistics without giving us a sense of the entire picture. Sure, a 500 point drop in the Dow is never good, but it’s still only a couple percentage points. And provide a sense of proportion. Yes, a billion dollars is a lot of money but relative to America’s $3.8 trillion annual budget … not so much. And when you show a graph, show the complete graph from top to bottom, not just a small segment usually near the top.
Drop the “daddy is angry” meme. Regarding presidential coverage, stop leading segments with “Trump blew up” or “The president became enraged.” Not only are you normalizing his aberrant behavior, you’re infantilizing your audience in the process.
Just ask the question. Anchors should stop listing possible responses to the questions they ask before they finally allow the guest to speak. It’s an interview, not a multiple choice test.
Stop allowing anchors (Wolf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper, Lawrence O’Donnell are prime offenders) to appear in fictional movies and TV shows, often with the network logo. Too many people are already having enough trouble separating fact from fiction without blurring the lines further.
Fake is fake! Fake news is a term which should NEVER be used by the center or the left (or the right either, but I give up). It’s Trump’s term, he owns it for better or worse, including when it finally blows up in his face.
I know networks generally fear that viewers will change the channel if they witness a single tawdry moment of intensity or emotion on their air but, actually, a little yelling and screaming is OK if something actually gets settled in the process. It’s often during the more heated exchanges that we see politicians exhibit their true personalities as they are forced to break away from tired, scripted lines. It’s the job of a good moderator to keep the conversation moving in a fruitful direction, allowing the occasional spark.
Similarly, the sentence, “I’m sorry, but we’ve run out of time” is ridiculous and utterly meaningless coming from any moderator at a 24-hour news channel. Strangely, it all too often seems to be said just as things are starting to get interesting. And news hosts should never do separate interviews with persons representing opposing points of view, often one following the other by seconds, sitting in the same chair. Buy TWO chairs, put them next to each other and make them SPEAK to each. Perhaps lock the doors and preempt the next show.
Of course, the solution to all this is simple and I’m here to tell you what it is: Watch less cable news. If you’re a bit of a watching-things-move-around-on-a-screen addict, like some people who I are, consider CSPAN, which eschews much of the posturing and framing. And READ more of your news, a medium in which stories are generally more in-depth and intelligently written.
Even persons who don’t watch a lot of cable news are indirectly influenced by its OCD-like demand that everything happen all the time at every moment. We would all be better off if we could learn to step back and allow our nation’s decision-making process more room to breathe.
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Many of Charles Caratti’s stories, articles, and essays have been published nationally. In the fall his work will be included in the textbook “America Now” published by Bedford/St. Martin’s/Macmillan Learning. Contact him at charlescarr.com. Charles’ past Southpaw articles are archived at charlescarr.com.