Thursday, April 10, 2008

"Uncle Grumpy on: Cable News (Continued)"

Back again, at his own request, my prickly but lovable Uncle Grumpy.

Summarizin’ from yesterday, I watch cable news and I hate myself for doin’ it. I want it to be better, so I can hate myself less.

Other than for straight reporting – which we used to have to wait till dinnertime to watch – cable news is a great big waste of time. It’s all filler and fluff. A soap opera with actual people, passin’ as news.

No “scoops” on cable news. That’s not what it’s for. What is cable news for? My cousin, Harry, was a pharmacist, and his son once asked him, “What do vitamins do?” Cousin Harry replied,

“Make money for the company.”

That’s all those yakkety-yak shows on cable news do. They make money for the company.

And there’s no darned accountability. They get things wrong, and back they come the next day. If they really screw up their predictions, do they fold their tents and slink away? No-ho-ho-ho! They put on a show called, “How We Got It Wrong.” Those varmints can’t lose. They’re right, they’re wrong – they get a show out of it either way.

Credibility? Don’t make me laugh. One of those shows – it might have been Hardball – had the Reverend Al Sharpton on, talkin’ about the president. Why did they have him on for that? I have no idea. Could be he’s on retainer for semi-regular appearances, could be they just like his style. When it comes to pundits, they never say why someone’s on. They’re just there.

So Reverend Al’s yammerin’ on about the president holdin’ firm on some issue or other, probably Iraq, and he finishes with this:

“The problem with this president is that he’s a man who never admits when he’s wrong.”

I hear that, and I start countin’: One…two…three…

Nobody says a word. They just let it pass. I’m sittin’ in my chair, waitin’ for the host – Chris Matthews or whoever – to say, “Hold on, Reverend Al. Aren’t you the guy who’s never admitted he was wrong about Tawana Brawley?”

Nothin’. Not a peep. Everyone watchin’s screamin’ “Tawana Brawley!” in their houses. It’s the obvious next thing to say. Not to the host. He lets it go.

And the show’s credibility flies right out the window.

Why didn’t it happen? Because the Reverend Al is a guest, and you don’t “show up” a guest, especially if he’s on the payroll. It’s Good Manners 101. A good host never calls a guest on their hypocrisy. A good newsman, on the other hand…


Another regular guest. Pat Buchanan. He’s on TV three, maybe four times a day. Why? He wrote for Nixon. So what?

As far as I can tell, Pat Buchanan lives in the studio. He’s always there. I get the feelin’ he’s got an apartment upstairs, and whenever they need him, they hit the ceiling with a broom handle, and Pat puts on his suit jacket and comes down. If he’s busy, he sends Bay.

Lately, Buchanan’s been holdin’ forth on the “truth” about blue-collar, white men, and how they’re likely to vote. From the way Buchanan describes them, blue-collar, white men seem to be frozen in 1968. Haven’t changed at all – same prejudices, same opinions. Like their experience over the last four decades had no effect on them whatsoever.

Haven’t changed at all? It doesn’t seem possible to me. Leadin’ me wonder if it’s the blue-collar white men who are frozen, or Pat Buchanan.

Other regular cable news show guests? Retired colonels. I don’t get it. If a man’s a colonel who fought in Viet Nam, why does that make him an expert on the war in Iraq? Is he just invited on because once, he was a soldier? Is this a new job for former military personnel? Cable news guesting?

Is there a division of the William Morris Agency now that only handles retired colonels? Do they have to audition?

“Could you be a little more colonel-like?”

“I’ll try.”

Do the retired colonels go to their barbers and say, “I’m going on television. Give me my old haircut.” Or do they hold onto those “flat tops”, hopin’ they’ll be called in as experts in the next war?

I know my thinkin’ here is wrong-headed. I’m still thinkin’ they’re doin’ the news. As I said yesterday, cable news is not news; it’s a television show masqueradin’ as news, lookin’ for ways to maximize its entertainment value.

Ergo, Bill O’Reilly.

Remember the movie Little Shop of Horrors? The plant needed to continually be fed blood or it would die, and the shopkeeper would go out of business? Same deal here. O’Reilly’s the shopkeeper, the audience is the plant. O’Reilly’s job?

Keep feedin’ it blood.

That’s his entire format – skewerin’ the guests and feedin’ ‘em to the audience. It’s commentary as a blood sport.

I hope to stop watchin’ cable news, someday. In the meantime, Cable News, could you please make your programs just a little less shameful?

Here’s a suggestion. How about an “overview” once in a while? Instead of only coverin’ the passin’ frenzy, what about a thoughtful, heavily researched feature on, say, where blue-collar white men really are today, compared to 1968?

Is Pat Buchanan right? Have they not changed at all? And what’s up with that? Who knows, maybe a deeper exploration will discover they have changed, in which case, what’s up with Pat Buchanan?

Here’s another one. How about a “mix” on the panel? Not just “experts” and younger “experts.” Instead, sprinkle in some “civilians”, folks who don’t know one Big Shot in Washington but are thoughtful and observant and have a fresh “outsider” angle on the issues.

Hey, how ‘bout puttin’ me on the show? Give me a chance to do more than just yell at my television. It doesn’t have to be me – I’m not really keen on leavin’ the house – just someone who’s less like a slick professional and more like the people watchin’ the show.

Why not, say, once a month, toss out the “regular suspects”, and replace ‘em with regular people? Not those “agenda” people, we’ve heard enough from them. People with open minds.

Look, you don’t need my ideas. You’re the “pros” here. With this extended campaign goin’ on, you’ve been doin’ the same show for two years. You know it’s stale, and you know it needs a change.

Whattaya got?

Odds are, I’m gonna die in front of the television. Have a heart, Cable News. Don’t make me go out watchin’ crap.

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