Tuesday, April 22, 2008
"Theater is Life. Film is Art. Television is Furniture."
I don't watch much CNN anymore, or TV news in general for that matter.
I figure since there's no longer a steady paycheck to provide the requisite level of incentive, there's really no need to subject myself to most of the horseshit the networks try to pass off as legitimate news these days. The average human digestive tract can handle only so many breathless reports on the latest missing blonde girl or bombastic warnings about the threat posed by plastic water bottles before it goes all Lovecraft and starts trying to force itself out of any orifice it can find. I'd like to believe that joining the ranks of those who play 24/7 watchdog to the news industry -- the ones attempting to quixotically stand against the tide of daily abuses -- will make some kind of difference, but I'm just not sure that's the case. As much as I want to feel otherwise, I don't think organizations like Media Matters really, well, matter. They're fighting the good fight and bringing the power of new media to bear against a previously unchecked leviathan, sure -- but there are times when I can't help but believe they're stoically trying to empty Lake Michigan with a spoon.
I realize that this kind of thinking stands in sharp contrast to some of the antagonistically insurgent, all-or-nothing statements I've made in the past. But when a discordian convergence of the magnitude that we've witnessed in the past few days occurs, it makes me just want to throw in the towel, take my Paxil and let the chemically-induced somnambulance wash over me like a warm bath.
It started last week, at the annual National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas. The event's keynote speaker was none other than actor, activist and slightly pompous ass Tim Robbins; he took the opportunity to verbally scold America's broadcasting community while simultaneously calling upon it to remember its responsibility to the public, reinvest itself in quality product and turn away from celeb-fellating, political ass-kissing, ratings-driven nonsense. Needless to say, Robbins received a warm reception and a staunch chorus of amusingly indignant "hear hears" from the crowd, which then dispersed to head back to the bar, then to the casino, then to the panel discussion entitled "Tits and TV: How To Make a Freezing Cold Air Conditioner Work for You," then to the Cheetah lounge.
Given the amount of lip service paid to Robbins's noble but perfunctory attempt at forcing change from within the industry, you'd figure on at least a minor grace period of self-reflection and soul-searching from America's broadcasters before completely disregarding any half-drunk vows made in Vegas to clean up their act.
You'd of course be wrong.
Sure, executives say they want to see integrity and honor restored to television and radio -- particularly when it comes to news. But here's the thing: Each person sincerely believes it's the other guy who's to blame. Finding a news or programming manager who'll say that he or she is even partially responsible for inundating the airwaves with crap is like trying to nail down Warren Jeffs on Father's Day.
These people are like addicts: They'll never admit they've got a problem.
Which is why, just one week after Robbins's verbal beat-down and the obligatory head-hanging and hand-wringing it produced, two of America's most powerful television networks are still doing what they do best -- and that's whatever the hell they have to do to get ratings, regardless of how shameful an abandonment of their responsibility to respectable broadcasting.
Last night, NBC's strangely successful game show Deal or No Deal was visited -- via a satellite image displayed on a huge, somewhat Orwellian monitor -- by George W. Bush. The president was on hand to lend his support to a contestant on the show -- a captain in the U.S. Army who pulled three tours of duty in Iraq and whom dingbat host Howie Mandel referred to as "the ultimate American." (As Mandel is Canadian, who knows whether he was being slightly facetious.) The surreal image of a giant George W. Bush head doing its self-deprecating "aw shucks" routine while wishing the best to a man who's spent the past few years dodging bullets and picking sand out of his ass in the name of a war Bush himself started was almost too much to take. All that was missing was a final Vaudevillian mug to the camera and a hearty "Sock it to me!" Despite Bush's on-air joke that he's "happy to be anywhere with good ratings," however, the numbers for last night's Deal or No Deal actually mirrored Bush's own anemic approval rating these days: The show matched its lowest Monday night numbers ever.
Incidentally, the president's support didn't do much good for the contestant either: The Iraq war vet went from banking around $140,000 to just a little over $25,000 before finally recouping some of his losses -- which makes this just the latest instance of a U.S. soldier being fucked by George Bush.
While there's technically nothing wrong with giving the president a forum on a harmless game show, NBC has spent so much time over the past several years pandering to this administration -- going along with it in the name of condescendingly appealing to the GOP's cheerleading base -- that you'd think by now the network would want to draw a very distinct line between itself and the unmitigated controversy that is the Bush White House. This would be particularly important given the criticism NBC News -- and to be fair, most other news organizations -- was forced to endure from those who say the network gave Bush and company a pass during the lead up to the Iraq war.
But, once again, network executives aren't interested in legitimacy in programming or news -- they're interested in being able to promote appointment television. In their eyes, that's what Bush's appearance on Deal or No Deal was (although the audience apparently knew better and believed otherwise).
Likewise, NBC saw nothing untoward about handing off an entire hour of Today to first lady Laura Bush and her twin daughters this morning. It may seem innocuous at first glance, but really, think about it: The wife and daughters of a low-rated and staggeringly divisive president, taking the reins of a network news show -- even one as toothless as Today.
It's a jaw-dropping violation of the fragile but sacrosanct Rubicon dividing the government from those whose job it is to police and maintain an adversarial relationship with it.
Murrow would've quit before allowing something like that to happen on his watch.
But if you think that's bad, it's a journalistic parking ticket compared to what CNN just did: It hired former White House Press Secretary and Fox News shill Tony Snow. I've had plenty to say recently about CNN's comically inept attempts at proving to the Fox Fans that it can be trusted with their viewership; the network has basically bent over backward and spun itself into one ethical pretzel after another trying to gain momentum against FNC's ratings juggernaut -- abandoning every principle it swore to uphold at its inception and napalming the very last vestiges of its journalistic credibility in the precious name of ad revenue. CNN has been as guilty as anyone of not holding the government accountable for its offenses over the past several years; although not the blatant mouthpiece for the White House that Fox has been, CNN in some ways abandoned its post in an even more egregious manner. No one with a brain ever expected Fox to tell the truth, not with Republican interests at stake; CNN had a responsibility to be the necessary beacon in the night -- to balance out the bullshit -- and instead, it drank the Kool-aid, hopped on the bus and did exactly what it was told to do by people like, irony of ironies, Tony Snow. In some ways, it only makes sense that the circle is now complete and the chicken hawk has come home to roost -- but it damn sure doesn't make it right.
CNN, in its relentless pursuit of Fox's audience, has just closed the White House's deal to buy the media outlet that should've been standing against it all along.
It really is enough to make even the staunchest defender of journalistic independence give up once and for all.
Malcolm X once famously told a crowd, "You've been hoodwinked; you've been had; you've been took; you've been led astray; you've been bamboozled."
Turns out, he was only half-right -- because when it comes to today's broadcast media, you're still being hoodwinked, took, led astray and bamboozled.
And I'm not sure there's a damn thing that can be done about it anymore.