Things I Don’t Like About Television, Episode 14: Cable News

I would like to begin with a little story about Entertainment Tonight.

1997 Set a Bad Precedent for Cable News Networks

For those of you who don’t know what Entertainment Tonight is, it’s a news magazine that first aired in 1980’s. I watched it at one point in my life. Although it was built on gossip surrounding the stars, it was once a pretty decent program for its purpose. There were short segments on various stars but the most important thing was that there was variety. That all changed the day Jimmy Stewart died. The actor best known for the films “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” died in 1997 and there was a marked change in the way the news was reported. Much of the focus had been on Stewart’s death, and this was especially true on “Entertainment Tonight.”

From that day on, most news magazines/programs would focus their time slots more on one story. (Local news networks had been like this for years prior.) This could be seen in the mid-late part of the 2000’s when broads like Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton were given too much attention for their antics. (This could even be seen on 24-hour news networks — and sports networks as well, which I will touch on in the next post.)

CNN is one of the worst offenders in this regard. It was the first American 24-hour news network, and one can tell when it runs out of things to talk about. That really shouldn’t be a problem considering what’s happening around the world and in the United States on a daily basis but on most days, we can see a huge focus on one story for a whole week or longer.

One factor in this — and especially in the celebutant stories I mentioned above — is the sensationalism. News organizations like to feed on people’s curiosity for celebrity gossip and stoke the flames of viewers’ various prejudices. TMZ has built its brand in this arena. Created by former lawyer Harvey Levin, the Thirty Mile Zone began as a website specializing in finding the tawdriest of celebrity news. It has grown to be its own show (live on weekdays and recorded all week) on FOX. Nowadays, there is too much focus given to the Kardashians, Miley Cyrus, and Justin Beiber, among other individuals I’m not a fan of. There was so much mileage from the antics of Hilton, Lohan, and the Kardashians are still receiving so much undue attention.


Cable News Networks Are Pretty Terrible

There is of course sensationalism found in politics.

FOX News profits from the Right. It has been called “FOX Noise” and for good reason. This “news” network has a decidedly conservative slant. Sometimes, I look at few minutes of shows on that network and see how some of its personalities rattle off talking points. I can see anchors like Steve Ducey smiling as they are criticizing a “Progressive” or nitpicking at the brand of socks President Obama decided to purchase. Then I can’t help but think, “These people have to know that what they’re saying is bullshit.” Would I have less respect for them if they didn’t? Probably. In any event, the sad thing is that most of their audience believes every word that comes out of these anchors’ mouths, which is dangerous.

There has always been a measure of acrimony in American politics, but that has only increased since the 2000 presidential election. Nowadays, we have a political climate in which the Republicans do not want to give the Democrats an inch and in which some Democrats go against their own party and capitulate to the Republicans, who then blame the Democrats for a lack of real progress. Where both sides could reach hard-fought compromises as far back as 1994, one side is especially unwilling to listen to the other. From the twisting of the President’s words, to the creation of events like Teabagging conventions, FOX News mainly serves to fan the flames and its viewers are hanging on every word.

Blowhards like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity are featured on the network. I especially hate O’Reilly’s arguments and tactics. He badgers most of his guests, badmouths all rappers regardless of their criminal records or lack thereof, and tries to speak of the black community as if he is qualified or has a vested interest in it. Anyone who disagrees with him is quickly labeled a “pinhead,” regardless of the validity of their points. Hannity plays the rule of an idiot and he likes to thumb his nose at people on the left and welcome guests he thinks may help him do the same. It kind of backfired when it turned out that Cliven Bundy, a farmer that Hannity supported in the former’s claims against the U.S. government, was an old racist who thought that blacks had it better as slaves than in current day as Welfare recipients. Bundy was arrested on February 18, 2016 and indicted for numerous felonies. Together: he, 2 of his sons, and 2 others are facing 16 federal charges.

A special mention must be made of Glenn Beck’s short tenure on the network. It was theater. Yeah, and he came from CNN Headline News.

And let’s not forget about the presence of blond women as anchors on the network. Google it. However, I must mention that more non-blond women — and token cornball black chicks, like Stacey Dash’s cuckoo self — have been featured on the network as of late.

MSNBC has a decidedly Liberal slant. While it does have a former Republican Representative in host Joe Scarborough (of Morning Joe) — and there are hosts like Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes who are more about news and policy — the channel is going off FOX News’s model is some respects, but for the Left. There is no shortage of criticisms for the Republican Party or Conservative policies. Most of the hosts cater to the Liberal mindset, and successfully I might add.

I will also say some of the vitriol aimed at the Right is unwarranted. There have been several dustups from the hosts featured on the network, namely from Ed Schultz (since strictly on his radio show) for calling Laura Ingram a “Right-Wing Slut,” Martin Bashir (since resigned) for his distasteful comments aimed at Sarah Palin (who is another idiot, but a line was crossed), and Melissa-Harris Perry, who did not initially challenge a stupid joke aimed at Mitt Romney’s family (specifically, his adopted grandson who is black).

(There have been other controversies, including suspensions of hosts due to ill-advised campaign contributions. Keith Olbermann (since fired) made payments to three Democrats’ campaigns in 2010 and Joe Scarborough donated to Florida Republicans the same year.)

In its current state, I have to say that MSNBC is absolute garbage.  The hiring of Al Sharpton should have been a clue. There is no singular blowhard on the level of Bill O’Reilly, but more and more of the anchors are slipping. I once had respect for Melissa Harris-Perry but she has lost more and more credibility, especially after her rants about the term “hard worker” and “racism” in Star Wars.

What’s that? Oh…


 

*Breaking News* (February 28, 2016): Melissa Harris-Perry has just been let go from MSNBC due to an email she sent to her staff. Harris-Perry complained about her show, MHP, being pre-empted for this year’s presidential election coverage. Now, back to the topic of this post…


Chris Matthews is hard in the tank for the Clintons and most of the anchors have been made to shill for Hillary, too. (She has the Democratic party wrapped around her little finger). Now, I still thing Rachel Maddow is pretty neat but one person can’t save an entire network.

CNN has tried to be politically neutral, but it is not without shenanigans. The network tried to re-launch its Crossfire show, but the original incarnation was rightfully lambasted by Jon Stewart. The show had two pundits — each for the left and right sides — to engage on timed “debates” on various topics of the day, all within a half-hour. A problem with a show like that is that it caricatures both sides of the political spectrum while also ignoring the moderates and not devoting enough time to any singular subject. Also, it looks like CNN fears challenging bad ideas, even if more come from one side in particular.


CNN Skewers Emotion and Controversy

Another aspect of the CNN is the stable of reporters who injected their feelings into their assignments. While it’s nice to see that journalists care about the subjects they are covering, but there is a time and a place. When a natural disaster strikes and we are looking at the aftermath, we just need the facts and to be told of ways we can help. The reporters should never take attention from the situation and place more of it on themselves.

Nancy Grace of CNN Headline News is one anchor who takes an emotional approach. She is known for automatically assuming a suspect is guilty and talking over her guests if they don’t fall in line with her opinion.

More recently, CNN’s anchors has taken this emotional reporting up a notch, with mixed results. Most notably, there were numerous complaints due to the reporting on the Steubenville rape case by Poppy Harlow. She appeared to give more attention to two of the suspects themselves and in a sympathetic way. We have anchors like Don Lemon latching onto racial topics and trolling it up.

Speaking of Don Lemon, the racial front will always generate ratings…if there is any controversy. There was so much mileage out of Rodney King’s beating, the LA Riots, the OJ Simpson trial (including the run up to it and the aftermath from 1994-1995),  the Zimmerman trial, and the controversy surround Donald Sterling in 2013. This is not a problem specific to CNN, to be fair.


Not Everything Is Breaking News

This is also a problem with all news outfits, sadly. A story could be featured for a few days, and every development will be treated like “breaking news.” Once enough time has passed, these stories will be dropped like hot potatoes. In the meantime channels will try to one-up each other with their coverage.

Add to this the other hits CNN has taken in the integrity department. In its rush to scoop other networks, CNN misreported information in the Boston Bombing case, for example.


There’s Not Much I Can Say about Business and Financial News Networks…

I would say something about the business and financial news networks had I actually taken the time to view one for any significant amount of time.

I have viewed Suzee Orman and I thought she gave solid personal financial advice. She seems to really care about her listeners.

Other than that I just don’t view programs covering the stock market. In 2008, Jim Cramer was taken to task by Jon Stewart for playing a role in deceiving investors with financial advice as part of the Mad Money program on CNBC. Shows promoting the stock market should be looked at with suspicion anyway.


All in all, these cable networks and news magazines each have one common agenda: making money. Journalism has taken a massive hit due to race for ratings, repetition, and the politics behind the scenes. Executives want to entertain their viewers, yet tell them what they should want and then market it to them.

I think that’s something they have in common with ESPN…

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2 thoughts on “Things I Don’t Like About Television, Episode 14: Cable News

  1. I also sense an east coast bias in the media. Anything happening in N.Y. gets special attention ie. Shopping , Celebrity … while little time is spent reporting in equally vibrant places like Seattle and Portland , Oregon.

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    1. Oh, I think that’s especially true about sports reporting. (I should add that, come to think of it). In college, more attention is given to teams on East Coast. The same is true for the NFL.

      Overall, there seems to be a preference for coastal cities in other sports and in general news reporting. This trickles down to the television markets. I live in Southern California, but I have to put up with more reports and focus on Los Angeles. (I don’t live there.) I can imagine the anger of people living in San Jose because San Francisco gets all the attention. And yeah, I would also imagine that other, less populous states would be peeved at the attention the coastal states get in comparison.

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