The current state of television news

Published 2:57 pm Friday, February 23, 2018

By T.J. Ray

“Don’t touch that dial!”

Are you old enough to remember hearing that on your radio? Or black-and-white television set?

Email newsletter signup

If you heard that before a news broadcast came on, the next face you might have seen was that of Walter Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow or Eric Severeid. Quite likely no one rushed to the tv set to change the channel.

When viewers turn on their sets to watch the latest news, their choice of stations is already set. Politically liberal folks probably tune in to CBS, NBC, MSNBC, or CNN. Their counterparts with a conservative outlook on the world might pick OAN or Fox.

If you recognized the three news reporters above, see how many of these you can identify: Wolf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper, Rachel Maddow, Chris Cuomo, Jake Tapper, Chis Matthews. How about this gang: Liz Wheeler, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, Lou Dobson, Graham Ledger?

After watching programs by any of those people, a viewer needs to rush to his optometrist or psychiatrist because his world must look distorted or he must be having delusions of disaster. After all, mouthpieces for both sides of the political “aisle” offer hour after hour of distortion.

I set myself the task of locating a television channel that dished up a neutral picture of our world. There probably is one on a remote island near Borneo, but I had much difficulty finding one in the States. There is, of course, BBC, which doesn’t offer as much about the U.S. as the other big networks do, but what it shows seems to be fairly even-handed.

The only other news channel with a semi-neutral perspective is One America News. I say “semi-neutral” because a large portion of its broadcast strikes me as fairminded – until about 8 at night when the loud, obstreperous conservatives get the microphone.

From then on one watches a parade of people ranting about the mess the Democrats have created, totally appalled that the world has not given President Trump the key to Fort Knox.

The liberal networks don’t seem constrained to air any “straight” news, all of their production being aimed at the President and folks who support him. One must be careful not to judge liberal or conservative stations by their local affiliate if they have one, where news is usually dished up raw (without obvious bias).

A game I play is to turn to one of the news channels about 9 o’clock at night, not caring which side of the war it speaks for. Watch the first fifteen minutes and then turn to one of the fountains of vitriol on the other side of issues. The who, what, when, and where is pretty much the same from Rachel Maddow or Tucker Carlson, but the spin each puts on the facts is mind warping. And the longer you watch their shows, the louder they argue.

Two things are predictable: One is that they regularly invite guests to appear to discuss national events and end up debating issues, always having the last word. The other usual factor is that they may have a panel to support them in their diatribe.

Such panels and guests produce some insane moments. At one time the other night, four people around the fancy table were talking, no one listening to anyone else.

The sheer rudeness of the whole mob is enough to reach for the dial. Listening to the way news is created before one’s very eyes is shocking. Mouth One throws out a line such as this: “The President might have told the Attorney General to sell the acre of the moon we own.” Immediately that gets amplified.

By the end of the hour, it has probably been picked up by the opposition folks and is now established fact. Just who the devil does the guy with the golden locks think he is, selling our moon without a referendum? He should be impeached!

If there were any neutrality on college campuses, it would be quite instructive to air competing presentations of hot political issues from both camps and sort out the lies and the facts. In the meantime, us old codgers can relish the memory of our dads coming in from work, sitting down to watch Cronkite catch them up on the state of the world.

Ah, the good old days!

T.J. Ray is a retired professor of English at Ole Miss.