Although long in the brewing, today Gail and I finally pulled the plug on DirecTV altogether. The main reason is that cable news coverage in general and that of election 2016 in particular has deteriorated to a point that it has become literally unwatchable. Reporters and pundits, especially those on NBC, MSNBC and CNN who seemed somewhat credible in earlier times have now become happy talk apologists for corporate power and willing shills for Donald Trump, despite their well-rehearsed posturing as thoughtful, critical journalists. Their knee jerk maneuver is to hold high the banner of “both sides do it” false equivalency, giving cover to each and every lie, misdeed and failing of public figures, encouraging viewers to abandon the idea that underlying truths might be discovered with a little more searching, attention to evidence and reasonable conversation. This media posture has become more obvious, less credible with each passing day. TV talking heads now go miles out of their way to avoid asking the most important, most troubling questions of the political figures they interview. Frankly, we’re done with this ongoing dodge.
While the particulars here are too numerous to list, three stand out as patterns too often repeated to be mere glitches in programming. One was the preference for showing – often for hours on end – the empty podium where Trumpy was expected to speak rather than telecast even a small segment of speeches by Bernie Sanders and other candidates running for office. By some estimates the value of free TV coverage for our now Confidence Man Elect eventually totaled $2 billion – a lavish gift from networks supposedly licensed to serve the public interest.
Another telltale sign was the utterly negligible amount of time devoted to substantive issues in the presidential campaign broadcast by nightly news programs on ABC, CBS and NBC. According to the Tyndall Report, an organization that has tracked network news coverage for decades, the total for months from January through October came to 32 minutes total. Even more astonishing, no attention at all was given to what is clearly the most crucial issue facing the nation and Planet Earth: climate crash (often politely called “climate change”). Not ONE minute. Pathetic.
Finally, I’d note the glaring lack of diversity among the voices and perspectives of those asked to speak even on the paltry range of issues, rumors and scandals that nowfill the screen 24 hours a day. With a little work, the cable channels' election campaign coverage might have found any number of articulate people from across the broader range of American opinion – women from different points on the economic spectrum, African Americans, Muslims, Latinos, millennials, blue collar workers, farmers, leaders in small business, climate activists, Native Americans, techies, labor union officials, notable social scientists, etc. Instead what we were invited to hear was very short list of talkers – the usual suspects, most of them white – comprised of “conservative” blowhards, Democratic “strategists,” Bush administration retreads, and a stable of amiable dimwits invited to try to get a word in edgewise over the obnoxious shouting of Chris Matthews.
While I regret to say it, particularly annoying to me in recent months has been the once engaging presence of always chipper, always bubbly, compulsively enthusiastic Rachel Maddow. Yes, the content of her evening show is often solid in its history and analysis. But the mood in which she probes the disasters unfolding these days often seems simply fatuous. “We’ve got a great show tonight!” she exclaims as the litany of horrors unfolds. Hey, what a fabulous spectacle American public life has become! Golly Gee! It’s also obvious that some topics are strangely off limits for Maddow’s intelligent probing, for example the syrupy right wing propaganda dished up each day by of her officemates in the Comcast office suites. While it may be unfair, it occurs to me that Rachel and her colleague Chris Hayes are just too nice as people to seriously confront the ghoulish, destructive forces now looming in the U.S.A., global economy and biosphere.
Fortunately, there are fine alternatives: reading books, following serious websites, pulling down video news clips from the Net, talking with family and friends over dinner. It turns out that local TV news is readily available to us via our (slow rural) Wi-fi. And, hell, I’d pretty much given up on watching pro football anyway, acknowledging what I know now about long term health problems that confront NFL players.
Hence we’ll spend some of the $90+ a month satellite bill to support intelligent podcasts -- The Majority Report, Professional Left, Radio Ecoshock, and Best of the Left along with other good programs and causes. Most of all we’ll be relieved of the agony of trying to pretend that cable and satellite TV offer a serious, reliable source of news and commentary about the world in which we live.