The Chris Wallace/Bill Clinton throw-down on Fox News Sunday this past weekend has the bloggers buzzing. I read a comment this morning on Thinkprogress.org that called Chris Wallace a “disgrace” and wondered what his father thinks of him. Chris Wallace’s father is legendary 60 Minutes contributor Mike Wallace, whose shoes would be too big for his son to fill even if Chris wasn’t a smarmy little prick. To be fair to Chris Wallace, however, there are few, if any, journalists on television who aren’t a disgrace.
They’re not all on Fox News. We love to shit on Fox because they’re always the first in line to suck George W.’s cock, but things are just as bad all over the dial. Networks aren’t satisfied with having news divisions report the news; they want ratings, they want to make some money. So the news departments at the big broadcasters compromise, they report the stories they think people want to hear rather than the stories they need to hear. ABC gives George Stephanopoulos two or three minutes on Sunday morning to show the names of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and then shuts up about it. No one wants to hear about that. Too depressing. The Bush administration declares that pictures of coffins returning to the States from Iraq are forbidden, and the media barely puts up a fight.
NBC pays far more attention to its glossy newsmagazine Dateline and its worthless Today show than to Brian Williams’s Nightly News. ABC drove the excellent Ted Koppel off of Nightline, the show he created, in favor of a newer, hipper format co-anchored by BBC celebrity interviewer Martin Bashir. CBS, with new anchor Katie Couric, has retooled its venerable Evening News, once the domain of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, into 30 minutes of cotton candy. I remember when Couric was first announced as the new anchor, the big question was, “Can Katie Couric handle hard news?” The answer, clearly, is “she won’t have to.”
Finally there’s Fox, which has no regular network newscast but Wallace’s Fox News Sunday, but whose cable outlet is populated with quasi-journalists like Bill O’Reilly and Brit Hume, and openly partisan commentators like Sean Hannity and former Republican Congressman John Kasich. Fox News Channel also gives an hour a night to Neil Cavuto, as pompous and slow-witted a human being as has ever been on television.
So the networks and Fox News Channel are a complete loss. The other cable channels aren’t much better. MSNBC gets a few points for having Keith Olbermann on nightly. I like Chris Matthews, but I’d like him more if he actually played hardball with his guests on Hardball instead of just saying he does. CNN is like a black hole. They seem to be aiming for an amalgam of Today’s affable vapidity and the new Nightline’s vapid affability. And is there a more useless hour anywhere on television than Larry King Live? CNN’s Headline News channel also gives Glenn Beck an hour a night; fuck water-boarding – let the CIA force captured terrorists to watch Glenn Beck for any length of time, and they’ll tell us anything we want to know.
It’s all about the money and the ratings. The problem is that the news shouldn’t be concerned with the money and the ratings; the news should be concerned with reporting the fucking news. Objectively, or as objectively as possible, anyway. The reason Fox News does so well in the ratings is that people have been told for years by the Rush Limbaugh’s and Sean Hannity’s of the world that the media is politically biased against conservatives and Christians, and a lot of conservatives and Christians think that since Fox News is instead biased toward them, it is inherently better. But the news shouldn’t be biased toward or against anyone. There should be no political agenda. I understand why some newspeople want to smear and discredit George W. Bush and his merry band of cronies, but, really, isn’t that just wasted effort? Report the plain facts and eventually Bush will hang himself . . . or in Cheney’s case, shoot himself in the face.
The way to rehabilitate network news is just to remove it from the commercial market, for the networks to just throw in the towel on making a dime off of their news departments and let them be journalists working for the public good. That won’t happen. Judging by last year’s great film Good Night and Good Luck, it never happened. Luckily, all of these issues don’t really become relevant unless the news is of a political nature. If you want to find out about trivial stuff like tsunamis or hurricanes killing thousands of people, or terrorists flying planes into skyscrapers, one channel’s just as good as the next.