The New York Times has a fine story about tv “news” that’s good for eliciting both tears and laughter. It concerns the plight of American cable tv outfits, who now face a dilemma. They want to cover the presidential campaign, but really only want to show Trump. What is one to do?
This story offers a nice glimpse into just how bad tv “news” has become. Actually covering a campaign at a basic level – you know, what we expect journalists to do – has now become a risky move, one well worth avoiding. Not committing journalism would make all kinds of sense. After all, the dollars are clear:
Prime-time advertising rates spiked at the major cable news networks in the first quarter of the year, rising 45 percent at CNN and 23 percent at MSNBC, compared with the same period the year before, according to Kantar Media, which tracks ad spending.
The tv people are pretty clear about their professional/existential problem. For example, “[Bret Baier, the chief political anchor at Fox News] said that producers are ‘really trying to think outside the box’ to balance Mr. Trump’s ubiquity onscreen.” That’s right, actually reporting on other candidates, like Trump’s November opponent(s), is now “out of the box” thinking.
Similarly, tv “news” outlets are struggling with problems high school newspaper writers solved in 10th grade:
Some network officials concede that Mr. Trump can be an unreliable narrator of his own campaign, reversing himself on policies from one interview to the next. But they also say that Mrs. Clinton — who has been even more reluctant to give interviews to print outlets than to television — is notably less comfortable interacting with the media, sometimes keeping her out of the daily conversation.
Yes, it must be challenging to report on a politician who changes their mind. Good lord, must a reporter actually – gasp – report?
Similarly, the article invites us to hear the immense challenge of covering another candidate who isn’t frantically calling tv shows on a daily basis. Must these “news” outlets actually have to do some journalism? I suppose we are expected to express some sympathy for their struggle, especially in response to bleatings like this:
“There’s always a challenge if you have one candidate who is not very cooperative, and isn’t interested in going appearance for appearance,” said Chuck Todd, the moderator of “Meet the Press” on NBC.
It must be hard to report on a candidate who isn’t the easiest to approach. Poor, poor babies.
In interviews, more than a dozen anchors, executives and news producers displayed admiration for Mr. Trump’s facility with their medium. Some expressed a bit of soul-searching, admitting unease at the unfiltered exposure he has received…
“has received” is a very delicate phrasing. It’s much more polite than, say, “the unfiltered coverage gleefully festooned upon Trump by these very same anchors, executives, and producers.”
Here is what we have come to expect:
Last week, none of the three major cable news networks — CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC — carried Mrs. Clinton’s speech to a workers’ union in Las Vegas, where she debuted sharp new attack lines against Mr. Trump.
Instead, each chose to broadcast a live feed of an empty podium in North Dakota, on a stage where Mr. Trump was about to speak.
Whatever you think of these candidates and their respective merits (for the record, I’m a Sanders supporter), this kind of coverage is outrageous.
Speaking of what we’ve grown accustomed to expect, here’s another screenshot of CNN.com’s headlines. It really is a fine mix of crime, Gothic horror, and fear:
As I’ve said before, American tv “news” is a disaster. Until it changes, we have to stop consuming it, and help other people avoid it. This is a task for educators and our culture.