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Friday, April 18, 2008

Where's Howard Beale When We Need Him?


So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"
--Howard Beale, Network


The ABC News-sponsored Pennsylvania Democratic debate would probably be better described as the "ABC News-sponsored Pennsylvania Democratic debacle." The questions were dominated by asinine BS and sensationalist crap. We're fighting two wars, our economy's in the tank, and the vast majority of Americans think the country's headed in the wrong direction. Given these pressing issues, ABC moderators Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopolous decided that the questions that America needed answered involved stupid-assed lapel pins and people Barack Obama met once or twice. It's not a word you'd expect to use to describe a presidential debate, but nothing fits so well as "irresponsible."

I've already written about Tom Shales' brilliant take in the Washington Post and there's no way I could put it better than Shales, so I'm not going to spend a lot of time on just how awful it all was. Suffice it to say that if you had the misfortune of watching it, ABC News owes you an apology -- it was so uninformative that you just might be dumber now because of it.

For their part, ABC News is trying to laugh the whole thing off. In a piece titled "Many Viewers 'Bitter' About ABC Debate," ABC tells us that people think they did a bang-up job. And the insertion of the word "bitter" in the headline is an attempt to blame the bad reaction to this nightmarish offense to democracy on Obama backers. Everyone else, apparently, are just happy as freakin' clams about it.

The subheader tells us "Blogosphere Buzzes With Both Criticism and Praise for Line of Questions." Yeah, I haven't seen any of that "praise" and ABC seems to forget the subheader in the piece -- there are no examples of blogosphere joy. Instead, they cite viewer mail and blame hate mail on Moveon.org. The suckitude of their debate isn't ABC News' fault, it's the fault of liberal whiners.

And there seem to be a lot of liberal whiners out there. Reader comments to the piece number 632 as I write this and the dominant theme is "you suck!" ABC News is called a "Right Wing Nazi Propaganda Outlet" by one commenter, another says it was "DISGUSTING!" and asks, "How dumb do you think we are?"

The best comment I came across in my brief scan of the hundreds came from a reader with the nick "oneurth":

This is potentially a crossroads election. The candidates offer the electorate a real choice in their vision of America and its role in the world. Most Americans are deeply concerned about where we are, why we're there, and where we're going, as a nation and as a people. All three remaining candidates are qualified. To question the patriotism of any of them is an insult to them and the electorate. To measure patriotism by whether one wears a lapel flag is egregious stupidity. To elevate such nonsense to prominence in a critical Presidential debate is simply incredulous. The Presidential candidates, the American electorate and the entire system of political selection deserve better. A grand opportunity to help Americans get an honest feel for what each candidate offers as answers to the myriad of complex challenges facing us was wasted by this inappropriate and senseless focus on tabloid trivia. I join the majority of respondents here in voicing my deep disappointment. I hope the moderators of future debates think more deeply about the impact they might have on the outcome of the election and the future of our world.


Amen, buddy.

But the problem is that ABC News won't "think more deeply about the impact they might have on the outcome of the election and the future of our world." The reason for this is that the fourth estate is very, very sick. The internet is cutting into newspaper sales and some are being forced to make drastic changes. For example, my hometown paper, The Capital Times, is coming as close to shutting down as you can without actually shutting down. It'll become a bi-weekly tabloid and a Raw Story, Drudge Report-style online news outlet. After 100 years, one of the few truly progessive and campaigning papers left in the nation will pretty much cease to be.

And, as more and more newspapers lose the war with the internet, network and cable news begin to take up the slack. The future of our democracy is reflected in Gibson's and Stephanopolous's pandering attention to gotcha politics and sensationalist fluff. Substance is slowing leaking away, replaced with the murder of the moment or celebrity scandal of the day. It shouldn't surprise anyone that ABC News did no better than Entertainment Tonight would've. The surprise is that other media-sponsored debates -- which have been pretty mixed, Wolf Blitzer has asked some pretty stupid questions himself -- haven't all been so blowful.

As much as I'd love to, I don't think we'll be able to save the newspaper in the long run. The big boys, your New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal will probably live long into the future, even if, like TCT, they exist in drastically altered forms.

Short of saving the newspaper, which is hands down the best source of news (along with wire services), all we can really do is demand better. We need to remind the networks that the press's motto is "to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted." When some anchor wastes your time with a drug-addled pop star or a sensationalist murder, bitch about it. Go to their website and comment on it. Send angry emails. Do what those people commenting at ABC News have done -- give 'em hell.

I think I probably had my Howard Beale moment a long time ago. If you haven't, this should be yours. We're wasting our democracy on scandal-mongering, celebrity-worship, and appeals to the lowest common denominator.

And it's partly our own fault for taking it.

--Wisco

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1 comment:

Nate said...

That debate was the last straw for me. I had been hanging by a thread for quite some time and it finally frayed and sent me into a joyous
freefall. I can't even look at any of the news networks without a healthy dose of contempt and disinterest, anymore. I'm done.

To paraphrase that gal who had the flag-pin question for Obama, "I'm not trying to question your patriotism, news networks, but I want to know if you truly believe in our country."