June 28th, 2010 23:01 EST
Television News is An Antique: There Are Better Ways to Get the News
Is it possible we`ve outgrown our politicians and their media cronies? Is it possible they`ve died and don`t know it?
I have a hunch, based on the kind of casual conversations we all have from time to time, that many of us are fed up with the kind of gotcha politics that cable news feeds on like vampires. Cable news didn`t invent gotcha politics, but pervasive cameras have made it as harmful to our health as fast food.
So Republican Joe Barton, an influential Texas congressman, says we should apologize for strong-arming a $20 billion escrow fund from BP. Then, when Democrats dump on him, he apologizes. Then fellow Republicans, fearing the Democrats are making hay, dump on him some more. Is this waste of time good for anybody?
Ho hum, the guy`s been a stooge for Big Oil throughout his career. What`s new? What will this do for the Gulf clean-up?
President Obama remains cool and the uncool and uncollected press fear the man is way too cool for their ratings war. God forbid we should have a thinker in the White House. The press prefers nastiness, sturm und drang. But that`s them, not us. We have to live with each other, and we know damned well the gotcha game doesn`t play for those of us who have to make an honest living. If our world were like the world the press presents us, civil order would break down. And therein is the real disconnect, the reason television news is an antique "the world it tries so trickily to foist off on us has little relationship to the world in which we daily strive. We know we can`t behave the way the cameras encourage our leaders to behave, and the more dignified President Obama is, the more he behaves like most of us, the more he frustrates the press.
Here`s an example of the heated atmospherics in which the press immerses us. Some Gulf politician tells a reporter he doesn`t know who`s in charge, BP, the Coast Guard, the President "who? Then Admiral Thad Allen, the Coast Guard commandant and the national incident director, explains how he has dispatched Coast Guard liaison officers to all the local governments. His statement got short shrift in the news instead of being followed up to see how it worked.
So does the press ask Admiral Allen to explain why this isn`t satisfying the local politicians? No. Does the press push the local politicians to explain why their Coast Guard liaisons are leaving them in the dark? No. But what the press does do is go on reporting that nobody knows who is in charge, because that`s a sound-bite easy to convey, even if it serves no one but the press.
Finally, The New York Times, whose job sometimes seems to be to clean up after the rest of the press has dropped the ball, tells us that Louisiana, which has been complaining bitterly about BP, the federal government and the Coast Guard hemming and hawing, hasn`t even instituted its own long-standing oil spill program "in fact hasn`t funded it properly. Without a basket of good newspapers "fewer every year "the rest of the press wouldn`t even know what good reportage is all about. That was not always the case in America, and we are paying a huge price for our diminished local press.
Again and again the cameras indulge the posturing while the real work, the peoples` work, languishes because no political capital can be made of it.
What this means is that the press is in charge of the narrative, and the narrative is untrustworthy. In other words, we`re not getting the straight story, we`re getting the story the press thinks it can get the most mileage out of.
This government by gotcha and commentariat is not serving us well. In our neighborhoods, in our daily lives, we solve problems all the time, and often we help each other, and we don`t demand to know each other`s politics. We`d kind of like this sort of government instead of the damned-fool gotcha game that we watch on TV until we gladly, happily watch repeats of Bones or NCIS or anything that gives us a moment`s relief from the tawdry circus government has become.
We didn`t elect these turkeys to pocket all the corporate money they could get and then act like the kind of bullies we were glad to leave behind when we graduated from high school. And as for acting, well, the pols aren`t going to win any Oscars. I`d rather watch a beautiful starlet say nothing or say something delightfully dumb than I would watch Joe Lieberman act as if he had ideals.
Did you see those congressional hams question Tony Hayward, the BP CEO? Not an intelligent question in the bunch, just predictable harangues for the cameras. No light shed, no discourse, just mugging for the camera, one-upsmanship and gotcha. And as for Hayward, well, he doesn`t have the kind of plummy British accent that might have let him get away with saying nothing or even lying well. He was made to be their stooge.
We need light-shedding, reasonable, problem-solving leaders, not cable news flibbertigibbets. If we had a Red State/Blue State military we`d be somebody`s colony in no time. There`s a time to state your case and a time to sit down, make nice and solve the peoples` problems. We admire our military for many reasons. One big reason is that we know that if our military behaved as our politicians do we`d be speaking another language. And that`s a bigger problem than it seems to be "as we`ve just seen in the Stanley McChrystal debacle "because it breeds contempt in the military for our damned-fool civilian leaders. Our soldiers have a right to assume they`re carrying out the policies of grown-ups.
But our politicians don`t get it.
Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.
His book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction in 2008. His poems have been published in The American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, poemeleon, The Same, and other journals. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999. He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.
Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal LattÃ©`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com