I don’t know why I’ve been watching as much TV news coverage of the Republican Party contest for the presidential nomination. I avoid Fox, but even on CNN and MSNBC and what we used to call the “network news” the reporting is staggeringly shallow.
All the talk today, and this extends to public radio broadcasting, was about Newt’s “fury” last night in batting back a question from the debate moderator when John King of CNN asked Newt to respond to his ex-wife’s statements about their marriage or lack thereof. This was considered the top story of the day and the indignant reply was supposed to demonstrate Newt’s power as a political figure, I guess. It was good theater if you like that kind of thing. More interesting to me has been the red-meat audiences in the GOP debate halls this week. It was like the Orcs in “The Lord of the Rings” saying the Age of Men (read: Romneyites) is over. King, himself, was an embarrassment to the profession as he sat and took the tongue-lashing without pressing his right to question Gingrich on this “values” issue. Consider the difference in the following encounter between CBS newsman Dan Rather and President Richard Nixon during the tumultuous 1970s:
Because of his aggressiveness and effectiveness as a reporter, Rather was not well-liked in the Nixon White house. He was a controversial figure for television viewers, as well. News watchers either loved him or hated him, depending on which side of the political fence they sat. During this period, Rather made news himself thanks to an exchange he had with Nixon during a press conference at a National Association of Broadcasters convention in Houston. When Rather rose to ask a question, colleagues spontaneously reacted by either applauding or booing him. The surprising display caused Nixon to ask him, “Are you running for something?” Rather quickly replied, “No, sir, Mr. President. Are you?” Many saw that as a demonstration of inexcusable arrogance. CBS even considered firing Rather. (Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/dan-rather#ixzz1k3VrDjRn)
The reporting on Stephen Colbert’s mock rally in South Carolina that was somehow linked to the disgraced but chuckling Herman Cain took the whole business over the absurd cliff. One broadcaster said the 3,000 people in Colbert’s crowd was bigger than he had seen for any of the actual candidates. This is what we get in a democratic republic. It’s a free-for-all. That’s OK, but I still expect the “press” or “media” to do the reality check and sort out fact from fiction. Too often it seems that the political reporters are simply paraphrasing what has been said. Even commentary programs like Chris Matthews’ daily grill spend too much time on distractions. They show up for the show instead of revealing an alternative narrative that might explain why the voters are either satisfied or not with what is going on. They accept the unreality that Trump and Cain and Gingrich represent as fuel for the fire that they want to keep us watching. I’m not happy that they get me over and over when I should know better.