The Answer Is Not On CNN
I don't watch TV very often. I managed to wean myself off of my television addiction years ago after noting that there was nothing new on TV anymore, and that which was presented was done in a more ignorant way every time. The humor became less than sophomoric, the content was subverted by special effects, and "action sequences" became the plot development. The characters might as well have come from Anime - like the dialog did.
But for a while, I still watched the news on TV, noting occasionally the spin that was used to present a specific angle on a topic. This changed, however, once the Internet revealed the rest of the world to me. The more I read the views from foreign lands, the more I could see how the American Media is the Corporate Whore of Republican Babylon USA. I refuse to be a Stepford American.
Due to my current employment situation, I was staying at a motel near my place of employment with nothing to do until the sandman arrived but stare at the tube or read fishing magazines. I don't fish, but I did find the magazine interesting briefly. Inside, they were decrying the government policies that were going to wreck fishing as they know it - and they are urging their readers to write the government and protest. This from an otherwise politically conservative publication! Good news indeed!
But once past the gorgeous photo essay on fishing opportunities in the Florida Keys, I had nothing but Philo T. Farnsworth's Frankenstein for company.
I'm amazed that the remote didn't run screaming to the office, complaining about the abuse I would subject it to each time another channel irritated me to the point of changing to another. I only had about 24 channels to select from (Hey - I am not a World Traveller like Billmon! I don't get to stay in high-class places like Davos!), two of which were CNN.
I watched the Headline News channel for a while, until I noted that everything they were presenting might as well have been read by Scott McClellan from the White House at a news briefing instead of the attractive blonde talking head who I watched. (Note to guys - notice how more and more attractive women are all over the TV, in news, sports, weather, business, etc.? If your straight libido is anything like mine, you could be affected not to think too much about what they are telling you! Coincidence? WE THINK NOT! And you not thinking is the whole idea behind the strategy.)
Sorry, ladies - I got distracted for a moment. Otherwise empty motel rooms have that effect on me - one of the reasons I got out of the music business years ago.
But getting back to my topic, because I wasn't getting sleepy, I kept at it, jumping across the spectrum, until I came across NHK news from Japan. I watched, initially out of curiousity, with my interest growing the longer I watched. It wasn't that the content was so stimulating, but there was something about the newscast that screamed "Different!" and I wanted to know what it was.
It was while watching some village conducting a tug-of-war to determine if this year's rice harvest would be a good one (A Japanese version of a Tractor Pull at the Nebraska State Fair?) when it occurred to me - there was NO HYPE!
The attractive young Japanese woman (Sorry again, ladies!) who spoke a fair version of idiomatic American never once got excited over the news stories, unlike the newscasters in America who can't seem to yell loud enough over the latest "revelation" from Kobe Bryant's trial. She just read the news under the video, very matter-of-fact and professional, allowing the news to carry the viewer's interest instead of her delivery of it. There were no car chases, no over-exuberant sports reporting, no self-promotion for the station and its programming every 30 seconds or so.
But as all good things come to an end, so did NHK's news. As I was seeking news by this time, I went around the spectrum again, pausing long enough on the two CNN channels to note that it was still "Same GOP BS - All The Time". This time, however, I stumbled across a news show from Beijing.
As I've written before, China is an up-and-coming nation in so many ways! It's obvious that they modelled their news show on CNN slightly, utilizing an intelligent, attractive young female as the presenter (Honest, ladies! I only watched her for her mind!!!). This one, who must have studied English at university to get this job, wasn't as confortable with idiomatic American as was my previous Japanese newscaster. Her delivery was a bit stiff, as if she was unsure of herself and afraid of making an error.
But again, NO HYPE! I only saw about 5 minutes of this news before they signed off, but I got a feel for what passes for news in China, as I did Japan earlier. They present the facts (as they see them, of course) without a lot of "interpretation" by "experts". This is what news should be - a real version of FAUX News' famous tag line - "We report - you decide!"
I was wondering how I might package this, once I got some time (I have to return to Slumberland once I finish this as I'm not done with my employer obligation yet), when I came across this commentary:
Saturday, January 31, 2004
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer's participation in the "By the People" experiment -- encouraging citizens to expand their information horizons beyond TV news -- is highly commendable and may the gods bless. But with television overwhelming the country's -- and the world's -- politics and culture, the mission, unfortunately, is like tossing a sandbag at a tsunami. The participants are only the tip of the multimillion-viewer audience who leave the evening news assuming they know all they need to about the day's events.
The poll finding that 70 percent of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was in on 9/11 -- despite all evidence, and Bush's admission to the contrary -- remains the most startling recent example of the information gap.
"Anyone who gets most of their news from TV is not well-informed."
Media critic Av Westin was ABC's news boss back in the early '70s when he said that, answering a question about the latest poll showing that the majority of Americans were getting most of their news from television. Mike Wallace, still a "60 Minutes" anchor, suggested that TV news "points the way to further reading." Meanwhile, sales of books, magazines and newspapers since 1990 are down 28 percent.
My son works for Barnes and Noble. His reports from the Book Selling Wars tend to support this contention.
Democracy -- "popular government" -- works only with an informed citizenry, the Founding Fathers warned, and assuming that CNN and Fox fill that need is a dangerous illusion. Karl Marx called religion "the opiate of the masses," but that was before television, and studies of TV addiction revealed a disturbing parallel.
TV news is a blur of headlines, 10-second sound bites, symbols, buzz words, promos, crawls, mesmerizing graphics and visuals, the latest Hollywood/sports scandal and about 10 minutes of craftily designed commercials per half hour. For TV, the "image" is everything, with flight-suited George W. Bush declaring victory on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln being the textbook example. (Maybe it's a coincidence but 14 years earlier, in April 1989, George H.W. Bush used a similar photo op on the carrier America and promised to "wring the last drop of waste and mismanagement" out of the Pentagon, another scandal at the time.)
Television's images are aimed at the gut, and complex issues are simplified into black-and-white conflicts. Television news thrives on traumatic or scandalous events -- wars, fires, floods, storms, the Michael Jacksons and Kobe Bryants. Entertainment, propaganda and news fuse in a kaleidoscopic wonderland, inducing what some studies call a "teletrance." The commercial for a 10-gallon-a-mile Hummer H2 segues into the image of the burned-out Humvee in Baghdad. Television slowly is blurring our distinctions between reality and unreality, author Jerzy Kosinksi said.
This was what I was NOT seeing while watching NHK and the Beijing news. Nothing was overwhelming my ability to think about the news being presented.
The local news shows too often pad their 40-minute hours with plugs for network shows, cute kittens, bits from around the country with gee-whiz visuals and Family Circle-like "news you can use." TV ratings and "focus groups" show no viewer appetite for in-depth reporting or examining complex issues, so there is precious little. TV has shrunk viewers' attention spans. Said media critic Danny Schechter, former CNN and ABC News producer and author of "Embedded: Weapons of Mass Deception": "When you have a situation where people don't have a context and don't have background, it makes it much easier to manipulate their emotions."
And as most of us know, once emotions enter the picture, logic flees. THIS is how the American news media assists the Arbusto PNAC Gang with their campaign of terror war for world domination. THIS is how Rush keeps the Dittoheads in line for the GOP.
Compounding the problem is media's propensity for merging into bigger and bigger conglomerates, like all global industries, concentrating the control of information in fewer hands. Rupert Murdoch and his News Corp./Fox and Italian media mogul/Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi are the most unabashed at using their communications empires to further their own agendas. The media conglomerates' boards of directors are interlocking daisy chains of Fortune 500 companies, all naturally seeking income, not illumination. A newsie at NBC, for instance, pushing for an investigation of GE Pentagon contracts probably wouldn't get very far.
Media deregulation, spurred initially by Ronald Reagan, hasn't yet generated any disasters comparable to the looting of the West Coast under energy deregulation. But it has shredded the old standards as well as accelerated media monopolizing. Back in broadcasting's more innocent past, the airwaves were considered a public utility -- like the Columbia River dams -- and licensees (first radio, then TV) were expected to use those airwaves for the "public interest, convenience and necessity." The Federal Communications Commission reinforced the "public trustees" concept in 1949 with the Fairness Doctrine, which required stations to cover controversial issues in a "fair and balanced" manner. TV is going in another direction these days, being led deeper into the "down market" by Murdoch, with rivals CNN and MSNBC hard-pressed to keep pace.
Newspaper TV writers aren't much help, mostly gushing up the medium's entertainment froth. The political, cultural, social, political and psychological ramifications of television -- a whole beat in themselves -- are virtually ignored. Recent stories, however, have linked TV addiction to the nation's obesity epidemic.
At least television's partially informed news audience is making an effort, but there is a disturbingly vast swamp of alienation, apathy, cynicism, disgust and dysphoria and citizens don't care. Fewer than 50 percent of eligible U.S. citizens vote, compared with 92.5 percent in Italy, 84.4 percent in Australia and 74.9 percent in the United Kingdom. Polls plumbing the depths of civic ignorance find them as deep as ever, and one of Jay Leno's shticks is his stupid-answer interview.
A couple of months ago, before the Iowa primary, I stood on the porch and a guy in his 20s strolled out of the apartment house across the street. Trying to be neighborly, I hollered, "Is that your apartment with the Dean sign in the window?"
And he yelled back, "No. Who's Dean?"
Frank Chesley was the P-I television critic from 1969 through 1975.
These are deep issues, not necessarily easily absorbed by Joe Sixpack, which is why it can be so hard to reach them. I work with a lot of these guys, and they are beginning to stir up resentment against George Warmonger Bush without recognizing that they are doing so. They talk among themselves about all of their friends who can't find jobs while there's supposed to be an economic recovery underway. They discuss, in a very animated fashion, Bush's "undocumented alien amnesty" in ways that almost resemble The McGlaughlin Group, except that they refuse to cut Bush any slack over it.
We on the Left have been long hoping since December 2000 that Bush would overreach, and we yelled and screamed each time we though he did something that would shake Joe away from his Sixpack long enough to notice - and wondered repeatedly why Joe just popped another cold one and went back to watching Survivor instead.
Maybe we should have been watching the news from NHK and Beijing - and noted that the important things tell their own stories in ways even Joe Sixpack won't ignore.
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PERSONAL TO NICK DANGER
You asked for it, and you got it! I always rise to the desires of a True Pessimistune Afficianado no matter how many hours of sleep it costs me, so I hope this meets with your approval.
As always, to those who are lyric parody averse, Auf Viedersehen!
How many tales must the pResident tell
Before you can call them all lies?
Yes, 'n' how many claims must the White House wail
"Those weapons are deep in the sand" ?
Yes, 'n' how many times must the Tomahawks fly
To salvage the P-NAC-er Plan?
The answer, my friend, is not on CNN,
The answer is not on CNN.
How many times must a fact be revealed
Before one can see that he lied?
Yes, 'n' how many fears must his minions unseal
Until We, the People don't hide?
Yes, 'n' how many rights will we lose till we know
We're too late - our freedom has died?
The answer, my friend, is not on CNN,
The answer is not on CNN.
How many years can a country exist
Before it has lost liberty?
Yes, 'n' how many years till our people resist
Because they remembered they're free?
Yes, 'n' how many times can a man turn his head,
His mind emptied out by TV?
The answer, my friend, is not on CNN,
The answer is not on CNN.
Adapted from "Blowin In The Wind" by Bob Dylan
Adaptation Copyright (c) 2004 PESSIMISTUNES