TV news turns into a joke

October 18, 2013 

Remember the greats of TV journalism: Edward R. Murrow ("Good night and good luck"); Huntley and Brinkley ("Good night, Chet. Good night, David.); Walter Cronkite ("That's the way it is.")? When they spoke -- for 30 minutes in the evening -- everybody who had a TV watched and listened. Their speech was polished, inflected, metered, and what they said was important.

The Watergate hearings of 1973-74 poisoned the well. Sam Ervin, Howard Baker and others were eloquent, but the hearings were broadcast all day, ran 278 days and were hugely popular. TV news people didn't miss the point: Give the public real-life drama and you'll hold their attention not for 30 minutes but all day; meanwhile, bushels of ads.

CNN started the first 24-hour news station in 1980. Others followed. Then came the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995. Nobody was eloquent but the nation was riveted for 252 days. TV news journalism was badly trivialized.

Now we have the final debasement. For weeks the House and Senate have fought within and between their chambers over the 2014 budget (shutting down the federal government) and the federal debt limit (threatening a mass destruction catastrophe per Warren Buffet). TV journalists highlight playground-appropriate threats by the president and members of Congress, and Armageddon predictions by everybody with a microphone.

I know not what course others may take but as for me, give me Stewart and Colbert or give me Abbott and Costello.

Eric Weidmann


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