Watching the News

Yesterday I quoted Robert Reich about the mainstream media — his issues were that they favor the status quo; they lack discussion of critical public choices; and they indulge in false equivalences — and ended by remarking that what I see as the major flaw in journalism is ignoring long-term trends. But I thought about it more overnight and have some more thoughts. Again, as I said yesterday, this isn’t about mistrusting the media so much as understanding what they are trying to do, and what influences go in to what we see or read.

I’ll bulletize.

TV News

  • I try not to watch too much TV news, but I grew up in a household where the TV was on all day, and news on from 5pm onward. Even now, my partner routinely turns on the TV at 5 pm to watch the local news. Three times over three successive half hours. So of course it’s repetitious. Too much is trivia, too much is about local events — e.g. car crashes and freeway backups — that are of no lasting importance. (If it bleeds, it leads, is the standard policy for local news.)
  • The network news is better; best are probably the half-hour nightly news broadcasts on the three networks, which cover the major topics of the day and take it seriously. Worse are the morning shows, like Today and Good Morning America. I’ve long been an NBC/Today Show partisan (perhaps only because my parents watched it, for whatever reason), but even the Today Show begins, at 7am, with 20 minutes or so of seriously news, before turning into more of variety show in its second half hour, then in its second hour, its third hour, and I believe there’s even a fourth hour. And the last 10 minutes of each half hour consists mostly of commercials, with a minute of so of headlines from the local network station in between. And the commercials repeat endlessly.
  • Part of what we see on the news, especially on TV, depends on what the news organizations have available. Live reporter accounts wherever the networks happen to have gotten on-site reporters. So you see some news live from the scene on some networks, but not others, but not because the events are more important. But an egregious example of this was last week, Thursday perhaps, where despite war breaking out in Ukraine, the Today Show took time in the first half hour to interview the widower of the cinematographer who was killed in the accident on the set of “Rust” (the movie starring Alec Baldwin) last year. His story was sad, certainly, the interview compelling, but was it really more important than the latest from a just-breaking war?? But of course–they’d already filmed the interview. They’d been promoting it for a couple of days. They had to use it.
  • And of course what we see on any TV news program is only what they have available. It would be best for a TV viewer, who really wanted to watch a couple hours news every day, to switch channels between the networks, and PBS and BBC perhaps, to get different perspectives. Not political perspectives — we trust these sources to be centrist and matter of fact and trustworthy — but just to see how their inevitably different perspective provide complementary results.
  • With that in mind, above is the latest “media bias” chart from ad fontest media. I’ve mentioned this before. The news sources I look at range from the top middle to down the left side about as far as Rachel Maddow (who is brilliant), Daily Beast, and Salon; and almost never further right than an occasional glance at WSJ. Because, as also mentioned before, reality has a liberal bias.
  • (For what it’s worth I recall how Connie Willis, the esteemed and beloved science fiction writer, adored CNN and would watch it continuously in her hotel room at conventions. I was at an event with her, way back when, when she reported news from CNN that Princess Diana had just been in a car crash.) I’ll discuss magazines and newspapers in a future post. I do not look to Facebook for news, and no one else should, either.

And now, as I wrap up my daily post by 5:30pm or so, I will go join my partner around the hearth, er, before the TV, to watch a couple half hours of local news. I busy myself with things during this time — taking my daily vitals; reading a book; glancing through the mail; and sometimes fixing dinner (which I usually do on weekends).

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