Messin’ with the news

I may not be as old as television, but I’m at least a decade older than Seattle-area broadcast television. I don’t remember when we actually got our first TV, and I have no idea about how it is that we could have afforded one — Mom was a single parent; Grandma lived with us, and she liked the telly. Grandma regularly watched the Gillette “Blue Blades”-sponsored Saturday Night Fights, but her favorite program was wrestling. Her favorite: The Masked Marvel.

I didn’t realize it then, but today’s “reality TV” could well trace its nascence to the televised wrestling of the 1950s. Even today, wrestling, whether it be mixed martial arts or caged battle-royals, appears phony; but ya cain’t beat its entertainment value, can ya?

As a communications medium, TV came along at just the right time, perhaps. FDR’s eloquent, lilting Fireside Chats on the radio gave way to Truman’s matter-of-fact, buck-stops-here monotone, and the Eisenhower/Stevenson campaigns and the McCarthy hearings were of interest to a new, national audience.

Gradually, the news became a regular, thing-to-watch program. There were the Edward R. Murrows, the Walter Cronkites, various “war correspondents” and the occasional voices and faces from the BBC. But what one didn’t hear, early on, were what we today call “spin doctors,” those self-aggrandizing, opinionated news personalities who grace the screen with little apparent journalistic training and who rely on their vanity and idiosyncratic interpretation of events to advance personal agendas. Most of the early news anchors had boot-strapped themselves up from radio to television with credibility and ethics, and the news they reported was based on actual events. Opinions were clearly identified and placed outside, as it were, the broadcast page.

As television matured, local (“Mabel baked Apple, Brown Bettys today”) items gave way to tough, frightening, relevant stories: school integration, race riots, the lawless ’68 Chicago Democrat convention, anti-Vietnam War protests, senseless IRA bombings and the even more senseless assassinations of too many cultural and political icons. The medium of television shrunk the world as we had known it, and the news became more immediate, more important. There was no longer a I-hadn’t-heard-that mentality as the 24-hour news cycle crept into our lives. Today, that cycle is instantaneous: our pocket computers even alert us to “breaking” news.

But there is a price for this immediacy.

Ted Turner almost did a good thing when he created CNN: to provide a trusted and genuine news platform with worldwide access and reach. The Wolf Blitzers, the Anderson Coopers and the Christiane Amanpours brought us insightful glimpses into our shrinking world. And, for a while, it was good. We learned important things about ourselves and the world in which we live.

Increasingly, though, information has given way to entertainment. All major networks have fallen prey to this trend. NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN (even FOX) have their reporters, anchors and guests spin things to get just the “right” sound bite, vying to entertain and capture that 5 o’clock audience watching from our collective couch. We may want to be well informed, but our 45-second attention spans demand sexier, bloodier news bites: the more sex and blood, the more we like to un-like it. (Nothing fake about that.)

Bob Folkers is correct (viewpoint, June 12 edition of the News-Times): Presidents come and presidents go; just hang around and deal with it. What Mr. Folkers fails to reckon with, however, is that our current president is his own (best?/worst?) spin doctor, manipulating his own news cycle, often in contradiction to earlier, self-originating Tweets — not the most “presidential,” but he’s entertaining, I guess.

Our current emperor is not, though, a danger to our society. (He may be dangerous to the world, but that jury is still out.) In my opinion, the most dangerous person in America is Brad Parscale, Mr. Trump’s 2020 re-election “manager.” Parscale distills, spins, re-spins and tailors the news to fit (or mis-fit) the “Likes” of millions of individual voters. (So sad, that’s how the game of modern politics is played.)

Goods news, Bob, Brad predicts an electoral landslide. I wonder how the spin doctors will react. I plan to hang around, Bob, but I may need more NFL (football’s real, isn’t it?).


Cris Torp is a resident of South Beach.


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