The Tee Vee Newsroom Race to the Bottom

The weeks of uncertainty and ultimate tragedy of Malaysian Airliner MH370 has — once again — brought into our homes the utter failure of ‘Merkin Tee Vee News. The ravenous viewing audience tuned in seeking answers. Because there were no answers, we were fed a non-stop diet of BS, speculation, and out-right crazy talk. Even worse: The ratings went up.

No real surprise, however, if you’ve been paying the least bit of attention. Every major BREAKING NEWS story in recent years has demonstrated how far is the distance is between Edward R. Morrow and Megyn Kelly. Between Walter Cronkite and Don Lemon. Between Huntley-Brinkley and Mika and Morning Joe.

Conclusive proof I worked on BreakfastTelevision because
it’s not like you could just buy these mugs at the Citytv store.

But, before I rip them all a well-deserved new one, let me put forth my bona fides: I’ve been a
professional writer for some 40+ years. I’ve been everything from investigative journalist to Queen’s Park Correspondent; from writing record reviews, to interviews with Rock and Roll Royalty, to band bios, to corporate brochures, to software manuals. I have often joked that the only writing I’ve never done is the Greeting Card.*

However, what really qualifies me as a reputable critic of tee vee news is the decade I spent as a News Writer at CityPulse, the Citytv News Room in Toronto. During that period I cycled through every news show Citytv had. At one time or another I wrote for Weekend Pulse, CityPulse at 6, CityPulse at 10, and LunchTelevision. However, my longest residency, of 8 years or so, was on BreakfastTelevision.

Tee vee news was changing during my time in CityPulse, to be sure. Tee vee news was always about brevity, but during my decade in a newsroom it became even more condensed. When I began the rule of thumb for a “clip” — whatever a person says when you stick a mic in front of their face — was to try and keep it to 20 seconds. If it was a really good clip, you might be able to stretch it, but you better get permission from a producer first. When I left a decade later, clips were deemed best if they clocked in under 10 seconds.

Scripts also became shorter. One morning I was assigned a story on Israel. “Give me 60 words!” demanded my producer. But, a lot of things had happened in Israel overnight. I summed up the skirmishes with 20 seconds of choppy language. Like this paragraph. The rule of thumb: anchors average 3 words a second, only the rare anchor speaks faster.

[That paragraph was 60 words.]

However, no matter how short scripts might get, truth and honesty were still the pillars that held up the entire structure. We didn’t speculate.

I’m using this New York Post front page not to
illustrate a Not Now Silly post about tee vee news.
That would be silly. I’m doing it to promote my daily
look at the headlines called Headlines Du Jour. And,
because the Post is owned by News Corp.

These days tee vee news has become a Speculator’s Market. We only need to go back 11 months, to the lock down following the
Boston Marathon Bombing. All the stations filled endless hours with the
rankest of fear-mongering and speculation. Having to fill vast amounts of time without any concrete
information creates a syndrome in which the anchors’ mouths detaches from their brains. You never know what crazy shit might tumble out of their mouths.

Under the theory
that even a stopped clock is right twice a day, it was inevitable that
with so many conspiracy theories some were right. Then came more fear-mongering and speculation about the lives of the accused terrorists.

exact same thing is happened with the Malaysian airliner. Worse yet, once Malaysia announced the plane had gone into the ocean with no survivors, the speculation and fear-mongering only continued: WAS IT TERRORISM?!?!?! And, if that turns out to be the case, these MoFos will use that to continue to fear-monger. It’s the vast circle of life.

However, I don’t want to make it seem that this all just started yesterday, or last year, or the year before. If I were forced to peg a date on when the Tee Vee Newsroom Race to the Bottom™ began, it would be October 7, 1996, the day the Fox “News” Channel went on the air. Prior to that CNN, with Darth Vader’s voice, ruled the airwaves as far as 24-hours news channels go. It had become staid and square. But, it was the most trusted name in news, as its slogan told us.

The Tee Vee Newsroom Race to the Bottom™ really started the day Australian press baron Rupert Murdoch married Roger Ailes and the worst of their DNA birthed the Fox “News” Channel. By then Murdoch already won the race to the bottom among the British print medium. Ailes, on the other hand, was a political animal, for the most part, but he understood the power of television to shape opinion. He helped Richard Nixon get elected and was a long-time GOP operative, whether he was actually on the GOP payroll, or not. And, he was during a lot of that time.

IRONY ALERT: Now pollsters say Fox “News” is the “most trusted name in news” with CNN the least. Proof of the efficacy of what’s described in the next paragraph.

Fox “News” started its operation by spreading lies. One need not examine the news stories for the lies. It’s all in the framework constructed. Start with the empty slogan “Fair & Balanced.” Thinking people still laugh over that. Also laughable is the next lie: “We report, you decide.” Since all stories are massaged, you get to “decide” based on the half truths and outright fibbing presented. The next lie in the framework? The rest of the mainstream media are left-leaning; Fox “News” is the antidote. (Which reinforces the fact that “Fair & Balanced” is just an empty slogan.) Want another? How’s about the one that says, “We’re they only station telling you about this,” when “this” is total bullshit? However, the biggest lie Fox “News” ever cocooned itself within is its victimology: How it’s just this little, upstart, beleaguered tee vee station, fighting for Mom, Apple Pie, and the ‘Merkin Way™ against the vast onslought of the Evul Librul Left Wing media that won’t tell ‘Merka the truth about this Socialist President from Kenya.

Thinking people laugh, out loud and everything, but all of that mendacious victimology spoke to a certain segment of the country, those who considered themselves under the thumb of Big Gubmint. Those MoFos ate it up like flapjacks on Pancake Tuesday. During Nixon’s (Ailes) day they’d be called The Silent Majority, but there was no name for the future Fox “News” audience in 1996. With the benefit of hindsight, it turns out the Fox “News” sheep were just nascent Teabaggers. Once Fox “News” realized this was its core audience, it heavily promoted Teabagger rallies on the channel, until they started to turn ugly. Then Fox defended them.

A gratuitous eye-catching headline to remind you about
Headlines Du Jour, available daily on your browser.

There is no denying that Fox “News” became a ratings juggernaut, when compared to other 24-hour news channels. When compared to SpongeBob SquarePants, not so much. But, there’s no sense comparing apples to oranges because CNN and MSNBC are the only stations comparing their ratings with Fox. It’s been a race to the bottom ever since because RATINGS!

So, CNN and MSNBC started trying to outdo Fox “News” in making the news about the news and not about the news they were supposed to be covering when covering news. And, that accounts for The Tee Vee Newsroom Race to the Bottom™. It didn’t happen overnight, but the Malaysian Airliner tragedy is a new low for them all. Until the next time, of course.

It’s far too simplistic to blame Fox “News,” or MSNBC, or CNN, or even SpongeBob. However, it’s not simplistic too blame YOU, the viewer. If you stopped watching that crap, they’d stop producing it. The only thing these stations are truly committed to — once they decided that actually informing viewers was so old fashioned — are bums in the seats. RATINGS!!! If they thought they could get ratings with a live camera feed of a drinking fountain, you’d be seeing that 24 hours a day.

* Something that qualifies me to criticize Fox “News,” even though it’s ‘Merka’s favourite parlour game, are the years I wrote for NewsHounds, the motto of which is “We watch Fox so you don’t have to.” Here is a compendium of my posts, written under the nom de plume of Aunty Em Ericann.

About Headly Westerfield

Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.

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