Today I Weep for Journalism

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Coliseum with Row of Columns

Last night I watched "Scarborough Country." I don't expect anything like unbiased reporting from the former Congressman turned "news man." Sad enough that he is featured prominently on a "news" network. Sadder still to hear him lament the sad demise of esteemed broadcast journalist Barbara Walters's reputation. Saddest of all to acknowledge that he is right.

SCARBOROUGH: Matthew, explain to people, if you will, that only know her through “The View” and through those interviews that she does on ABC—I guess “20/20” she‘s been doing for years—explain to people what a trailblazer Barbara Walters was and how hard she worked for her reputation, that Rosie O‘Donnell tatters every time she does something like this.

FELLING: Absolutely. It has been a shock to me that she‘s been putting up with this for this long. She is the patron saint. She is the woman that all female journalists since the ‘70s looked up to and said, “You know what? She can do it; I‘m going to do, too.”

She was perfection. She was the gold standard with regards to female journalists through the ‘80s, into the ‘90s. And now she‘s doing this Faustian bargain, where she‘s willing to put up with it, but only so far. And I do really think that Rosie‘s days are numbered.

I hate "The View." I've never understood what the seasoned news woman thought she was doing when she launched this show. For the trail-blazer who broke through the glass ceiling and proved that a woman could deliver news with the same sense of gravitas and dignity of her male counterparts, to be associated with a format that sounds more like a coffee-clatch than a news show, has always struck me as the ultimate come-down. "The View" seems almost designed to prove that women are biologically determined to be gossipy, shallow, and unserious. And now the show has reached a new low. Rosie O'Donnell's public feud with Donald Trump is playing out with all the dignity of professional wrestling.

Sadly this makes Rosie only slightly more ridiculous than the crop of talking heads scattered across the cable dial. Anchors no longer deliver news. They bloviate. From Bill O'Reilly's projection about everyone else's bias, to Tim Russert's pandering/badgering intensity, to Chris Matthews bullying and obsequious "I agree with you" brown-nosing. And while the left has its intellectually satisfying Keith Olbermann diatribes, one could hardly confuse his pontificating with objectivity. Wisdom and surprising literacy, but not objectivity.

The whole of broadcast news, which once held promise as a medium for disseminating information, has devolved into self-parody. It's a cheap carney side show which I half expect to start featuring geeks biting the heads off live chickens.

Fox News has gone through the looking glass with grammatically challenged spokesmodels, spouting McCarthyesque agitprop:

GRETCHEN CARLSON: You talk about the hostile enemy, obviously being Iraq, but hostile enemies right here on the home front. Yesterday Senator Ted Kennedy, proposing that any kind of a troop surge should mean there should be congressional approval of that. A lot of democrats not coming to his side on this. But obviously this is not going to be an easy sell on Capitol Hill, even if it’s not an easy sell to the American Public.

But tragically the rest of the industry has followed it through to the Red Queen's court.

None of this is news to blogosphere, I'm sure; which functions as one of the few watchdog venues for an industry which seems to have no adequate check or balance. But lately I find myself thinking back to the early days when a much missed Media Whores Online began its crusade to remind the Fourth Estate of its proud heritage. Watching Scarborough last night I came to the sad realization that the wreckage of Benjamin Franklin's legacy has declined still further and shows little hope of regaining the high ground.

Americans across the political spectrum confuse what can only be described as self-righteous indignation with refreshing honesty. Who wants the dry, impartial reporting of a Walter Cronkite or a young Barbara Walters, when they can get their factoids from carnival barkers and blond chippies in push-up bras? I'm left waxing nostalgic for a time when the empty-headed Bill Boggs and the crass Morton Downey Jr. represented the lunatic fringe of a profession yearning to be taken seriously. Today their antics seem tame by comparison.

What accounts for broadcast journalism doesn't belong on a "news" channel. It should be fought out in the Roman Coliseum, awaiting the thumbs up or thumbs down from Emperor Bush. Entertainment for the hoi poloi to distract them from our crumbling empire.