Monday, September 20, 2010

"They're Not Talking To You - Take Two"

I already wrote this once. Now I'm trying to do it better.

I don’t have a stopwatch or anything, but it is my strong impression that MSNBC spends more time talking about Sarah Palin than Fox does.

I’m no expert in these matters, but it seems clear that if cable news stations of whatever persuasion excluded all inveighing against the other side, their shows would be over in eleven seconds.

Every cable news show has to fill an hour’s worth of time. The shows need content. Apparently, after weighing the alternatives, it appears a decision has been made that, rather than trumpeting the ideas and accomplishments of their ideological allies, the cable news outlets will instead devote the majority of their airtime gleefully battering the opposition.

I understand why they do that. What I don’t understand is why do cable news anchors act so shocked, surprised, outraged and distressed by the pronouncements of people who have contrary beliefs?

Consider this.

If a non-Christian heard some Christian religious leader preach, “We’re going to heaven, and everyone else is going to hell”, rather than thinking, “That’s crazy!”, they would simply shrug and think,

“They’re not talking to me.”

If a Christian heard that God’s countenance will never shine upon a person who eats pork, rather than thinking, “That’s an odd thing to believe”, they would think, once again,

“They’re not talking to me.”

If a wife is not a member of a religion that says, “When the husband dies, the wife gets cremated along with him”, she can breathe easily, remembering,

“They’re not talking to me.”

Every group has its own beliefs, which, to the people who don’t share those beliefs might, in the extreme cases, sound insane. The only thing worth saying about that is,

“They’re speaking to their believers, and I don’t happen to be one of them.”

After that, it’s no longer worth talking about.

And yet, you replace these religion examples with political examples, and that’s pretty much all cable news stations ever talks about.

I mean, “They’re not talking to you.” End of story. Wouldn’t you think?

That does not seem to be the case.

Keith Olbermann continues to excoriate every new Palin “tweet”, bellowing,

“That woman is an idiot!”

Chris Matthews bleats, “I don’t understand that guy”, after a guest insists that the President is a Muslim.

Commentators on Fox respond with alarm and incredulity to a Nancy Pelosi utterance they consider to be rampant Socialism.

That’s the whole show. That’s virtually all they do. And the audience continues to watch. They can’t be watching to learn anything. There’s nothing there to learn. Except that when people you don’t agree with express claims and opinions you find totally incomprehensible,

“They’re not talking to you.”

And you only need to learn that once.

So if there’s nothing to learn, there’s must be another reason people tune in.

A personal digression, which, I hope, makes the point:

I was participating in a writing session in a fancy hotel’s hospitality conference room. I was chewing on a fingernail, and – I have no excuses for this – I absently dropped it on the carpet. Moments later, a colleague discovered it, and immediately began to complain,

“Look at this! It’s a fingernail!”

“I’m afraid that’s mine.”

“They put us in a room with a dirty fingernail!”

“I just dropped it. It’s mine.”

“This room is filthy!”

“I just dropped the nail.”

“We ought to complain to the manager.”

“It’s my fingernail. I dropped it. Just now.”

“This is entirely unacceptable!”

“The fingernail? It’s mine. I just dropped it.”

Why didn’t my repeated admission of the facts make a difference? The guy didn’t want to hear it. He was having too much fun.

As are the people watching cable news.

The way I see it, cable news is divisive, an impediment to the country’s ability to solve its problem, and potentially harmful to its citizens.

But maybe there’s a simple explanation for that

They’re not talking to me.


Kathryn Hartog said...

Last week on The Rachel Maddow Show, Rachel interviewed Vice Prez Joe Biden. He said that if the Democrats want to minimize loss of senate seats in the mid-term elections, Democrats have to approach the campaign as strictly us vs. repubs and not "how did we do?". Because the thing is, Obama is not perfect and he can't do everything he promised in just two years. However Obama IS sane, at least relative to the other team. On Liberal news. I really don't know how the other guys see it.

It has to be us vs. them or the message loses weight. "He hasn't screwed you over (yet)" is a lot less convincing than "look how much THAT GUY would screw you over".

I think this is why your metaphor of politics and religion doesn't fly for me. You can't just ignore politics like you can religion. Politicians affect everyone, whether you like it or not. And if you don't like it, there's a politician to represent YOU, too. If someone else chooses a crappy religion, it's their choice. But if you walk away from politics and all the other guys vote for an unsavoury politician, you have to live with it too. Politics is always us vs. them, and the nature of cable means "look, our team is trying its bestest" will always be pushed behind "gee, that Christine O'Donnell is a wacky nutjob" or any other variation of "look how screwed-up that OTHER GUY is".

I'm very sorry for all the quotes.

PG said...

I, too have gotten tired of all the ranting on MSNBC. Indignation has a short shelf life, even when it's righteous. Even Rachel has worn me out with her permanently knit eyebrows.
Not to be outdone, up here in Canada, they are trying to drum up a 'Foxish' news cable channel. For the righties. It seems to be taking a long time to get on the air. I wonder who they'll get to rant and then, of course, who will want to switch from the hockey game to the ranting?
If to lead, it must bleed, then what can one do?