by Susan Sigandres
What is going on with the US news media? Why are there so
many stories about George W. Bush? Yes, yes, he's rolling
back environmental regulations, he's abandoning worker safety
rules, he's building new bombs and rockets, he's bankrupting
the government, he's giving a tax cut to the rich, he's transforming
democracy to theocracy, he's working to overturn Roe v. Wade,
he's enraging our allies, emboldening our enemies, passing
our high-tech secrets along to foreign countries for his own
profit, refusing to help earthquake victims here and abroad,
and letting his big oil friends enrich themselves at California's
expense. But we knew Bush would do this kind of stuff. It
simply is not news.
It's baffling to me that news executives are scratching their
heads trying to figure out why their ratings are dropping
faster than the NASDAQ. Hello?! Why don't you talk about things
we don't already know? Lack of "news" is driving away your
audience. Well, that's not entirely true. Obviously, not many
viewers can stand more than three seconds of Brian Williams
or Brit Hume. More on how to deal with the problem of unappealing
"news" personalities later. The point is, if TV news coverage
does not include news, then TV stations should just put up
a test signal with their logo and leave it at that. They'd
probably get the same audience numbers.
I want news stories to be more original. If today's so-called
journalists cannot bestir themselves to dig up news, why can't
they just use that old fall back: Human interest stories?
There's nothing like voyeurism to raise the old Nielson rankings.
For example, I would be interested in knowing Tony Scalia's
credit card numbers, Charlton Heston's advance itinerary,
Dan Burton's home phone number, Ken Starr's personal e-mail
address, and the social security number of every republican
on the House Banking and Financial Services committee.
I want more international coverage. US reporters should be
routinely sent to other countries to practice unbiased reporting.
Why can't Fox send Newt Gingrich to Paris, London, or Baghdad,
stick him on a street corner and have him conduct live interviews
with random passers-by. He can begin the interviews by asking
the following open-ended question: "What do you think of Bush?"
I want live coverage of media employees conducting opinion
polls. Then maybe we'll believe the polls. These shows should
start with someone from a credible, independent organization
walking into the studio and distributing a list of names and
phone numbers to the interviewers. I nominate Amnesty International
for this role. Then I want to hear the conversation between
the interviewers and the ordinary Americans at the other end
of the line. The people being surveyed can remain anonymous,
of course, but there's no reason why such things as state
of residence, job category, income range, and political affiliation
can't be put up on the screen. Maybe newspapers can include
"polling scorecards" so viewers can tally the results themselves
as they watch the show.
Perhaps the media moguls are afraid that such shows would
not get them the ratings they are so desperate for. In that
case, why don't they have stories confirming or debunking
rumors that are running rampant among the populace? Does John
Ashcroft, in fact, have a venereal disease? Is it true that
Laura Bush is legally blind? Is Bush buddy and fellow Texan
Paul O'Neill really a necrophiliac?
With respect to the deteriorating quality of news "personalities,"
the fault lies at the top. The media moguls are accountable
for inept hiring decisions. So let's ask the tough questions
about Rupert Murdoch, head of Fox, and Bill Gates, co-investor
First, Murdoch. It's clear that someone has to get this guy's
fifth grade class picture and send it to DNC headquarters
for verification of authenticity. Until this happens, we must
continue believing either that (a) the Rupy we see is a reality-based
fiction created by CNN executives to give the illusion of
competition in the all-news channel sphere or (b) Rupy somehow
morphed from pond scum into his present form and thus is not
human at all. Until we know otherwise, we should continue
petitioning the FBI to investigate where Rupy actually came
from and where he finds Fox "news" personnel. We should also
keep up our efforts on the environmental front, pestering
the INS until it agrees to deport Rupy on the grounds that
he is non-native toxic waste.
Bill Gates should be held personally responsible for the
ludicrous outfit calling itself "MSNBC news." Sure, sure,
GE owns NBC, but Jack Welch has always had his head up an
electric socket. Gates should know better; he has all these
smart folks working for him at Microsoft. How can he allow
people of such obviously questionable intelligence as Brian
Williams and Tim Russert to go on the air?
The US news outfits will simply not win back their audience
until they provide information that is not already known,
diversify their coverage, and lose the clowns they put in
front of the camera. In its present form, US television news
will not be able to compete with other choices open to American
viewers, such as doing the dishes and putting a load of laundry
into the washing machine. Until they clean up their act, let
'em run test signals. At least we'll know one thing for sure:
The part of the electromagnetic spectrum associated with the
channel number is still real.