Thursday, June 10, 2010

Smerconish drives Campbell Brown's waaaaaahmbulance

Here we go again with the whole media polarization is ruining America crap.
Any conversation about political polarization would be incomplete without a look at the media's role in shaping opinions. From my view on the front lines, I have seen a rapid escalation of extreme dialogue -- sadly, something sure to guarantee high ratings. Indeed, Campbell Brown's departure from her CNN show last month marks another tombstone in the graveyard of moderate, thoughtful analysis.

Why does this matter? I'd argue that the climate in Washington is being shaped by an artificial presentation of attitudes on cable TV and talk radio. To view and to listen is to become convinced that there are only two, diametrically opposed philosophical approaches to the issues.
The ratings for any news programs--even the ones doing well on Fox--would make the producer of "How I Met Your Mother" put a bullet in his head. The only people who care to spend their evenings watching the news are people who have skin in the game--even if it's just the symbolic skin of their beliefs. Add in a right wing movement that believes Hollywood is immoral and they're the only sane people in a world gone mad and you can see why Fox's ratings are so high. It's porn for the pissed off right-winger.

MSNBC saw this and added the lefty equivalent in the evenings, though far more explanatory and cerebral, just like liberals like it.*

But, if you're trying to drive down the middle of the ideological road like CNN, you have to realize that by the time evening comes everyone has heard about those five or six stories you're about to report. It popped up on their iPads or cell phones or laptops or whatever and, if they care to hear anymore about it at all, they want to see it from a different angle. People who do care about the news hear about a major event and they think, "I can't wait to see what Olbermann (or Maddow or O'Reilly or Colbert) has to say about that later." And it's not simply ideological. I'm a lefty, but sometimes I simply have to see what nutty take Bill O'Reilly will have on something.

Here's the truth Smerconish and Campbell ignore: There is no one who has ever seen a major story break and then thought, "Wow. I'll bet Campbell Brown will have a fascinating take on this tonight."

* Which, I have to say, is one of liberals greatest failings. It's not that they like smart and thoughtful, it's that they don't realize smart and thoughtful isn't enough. If you don't believe me, listen to the showmanship in Rush Limbaugh's voice sometime as he says some inane thing about how Obama's trying to bring down the country. Then listen to Ring of Fire, an undeniably intelligent show featuring Robert Kennedy Jr. as one of its hosts. Kennedy sounds like a sickly 72-year-old woman and can't seem to find anything that affects him enough it changes his inflection (see Tom's comment). If you want to drive the debate, folks, you first have to get people listening. There were some obvious exceptions but nearly every show on Air America seem to be hosted by a Mo Rocca clone and/or your buddy's mom, the social studies teacher.


Blogger Tom Betz said...

While your remarks about Robert Kennedy Jr are on the mark from a showbiz standpoint, from a humanist standpoint you should understand that he suffers from (and has done a remarkable job of overcoming) spasmodic dysphonia,a condition that also afflicts NPR radio host Diane Rehm.

I also think that you'd agree that Rachel Maddow has done a pretty good job -- even more so than Olbermann -- of making "smart and thoughtful" entertaining as well.

7:22 AM  
Blogger Nitpicker said...

Well, knowing that about RFK, Jr., makes me feel like an evil asshole. It also seems like the perfect proof of what I'm saying. If you believe politics is an important undertaking and can make the world a better place, then you should hope those on your side are choosing their teams based on whose the best person for each position. Putting RFK Jr. on radio is like hiring Mike Krzyzewski not to coach but to play center.

I do think Maddow and Olbermann have done a pretty good job. I have theories about why they don't do as well as the Foxholes, but that's for another post.

9:39 AM  
Blogger LizaTraveler said...

um, you're so ridiculously spot on, it's amazing. Thanks.

2:50 PM  
Blogger Tom Betz said...

You should probably also know that the person who hired Robert Kennedy was, um, Robert Kennedy. He and Papantonio were big investors in the late, lamented Air America Radio, and they produce the show gratis. AFAIK, it airs these days on maybe four stations, two of which are in California. I record the Green 960 stream (Monday 3AM to 6AM eastern, the only time all three hours airs) and cut out the commercials to listen to it every week. I should probably spring for the podcast.

5:22 PM  
Blogger Nitpicker said...

Yeah, Tom, I figured as much.

5:27 PM  
Blogger Schuyler =^oo^= said...

The quote "Add in a right wing movement that believes Hollywood is immoral and they're the only sane people in a world gone mad and you can see why Fox's ratings are so high. It's porn for the pissed off right-winger." is a juicy little eye-opener for me, as it could be for anyone. Simply well put.

The latent functional definition "Porn" being what it is; any shiny thing one stares at in thrall (, Engadget's "nerd porn", etc.), it certainly goes both ways, with Rachel and Keith simply presenting with calmer music and polysyllables.

So the kicker for your piece - for me - was this: "The only people who care to spend their evenings watching the news are people who have skin in the game."

You reminded me that I read some blogs, catch a headline, see a snap of a tarball or a dead turtle, and I immediately think it's a conservative horror; yet I haven't seen or heard more than two seconds of O'Reilley, Beck, or Limbaugh in the last six months, and frankly I spent more time watching Stewart get hammy than any other news anywhere. And still I bitch about "them". I seek a different shiny thing.

TL;DR - Thanks for not being as lazy as I am.

7:42 AM  

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