Tuesday, July 31, 2018

TV: The Chat and chews are high in fat and low in information

Donald Trump said this! Rudy G said that! And a thousand ‘reports’ and ‘analysis’ spring to . . . well, let’s call it life. You’ll see them chewing on this topic on WASHINGTON WEEK and all the chat & chew programs. Chewing it. Mouths open. Chewing and re-chewing. Crumbs around their mouths. Spittle dripping down their chin.

That’s all they’ll offer. Mainly because that’s all they know. All they know is what someone else wrote. They’re not breaking any stories. They’re just shooting the breeze.


But, you say, Ava and C.I., that's how it's always been.

First off, "how it's always been" is no excuse and no solution.  There's "always been" racism and that doesn't mean we accept it.  There's "always been" rape -- and not just at the CBS network -- but that doesn't mean we accept it.

Second, no that's not how it's always been.  The longest running chat & chew is MEET THE PRESS (radio 1945, television 1947) and it had no roundtable.  The press didn't consider itself personalities or celebrities.  The press appeared -- multiple panelists -- for the guest to "meet" -- hence the title.  Instead of a roundtable, the members of the press asked questions of the guest.

Multiple people asking questions can be a big improvement.

Currently, George, Margaret,Chuck, et al interview a guest and it's rarely hard hitting or newsworthy.  Just a basic question and a couple of softballs.  With a group of three or four journalists asking questions, there's a better chance of a Helen Thomas-esque question arising -- a common sense question that everyone avoids but one that obviously needs to be asked.

That was the format.

That format is gone because that's not what they want.  It's not just that they want a cheap (and tacky) product   It's also that they don't want to make waves or really deliver any news.  They want to be a closed playground and the "stay out" signs are all over the place.

For example, when WASHINGTON WEEK fired moderator Ken Bode, spokesperson Elise Adde declared it "a private personal matter" and would not discuss it.  Bode had no problem discussing it, to be clear.

Grasp that.  Public broadcasting fires an established host of their popular program and they will not defend the firing, they will not explain the firing, they just dub it "a private personal matter."

It's public broadcasting.  There is nothing private about it.

When you beg the public for money and when you take the people's money via Congress, you give up the idea that you are not answerable to the public.

More to the point, you are journalism and you're refusing to be open.

You would attack anyone else who pulled that but you carve out a special cone of silence for yourself.  Not unlike Leslie Moonves making CBS female employees sign non-disclosure statements.

The chat and chews have become private playgrounds where like-minded meet and offer nothing of importance or first-hand.  In other words, inviting your neighbors over for coffee will produce a higher level of conversation and interaction than you will find on your TV screen or whatever streaming device.

The chat and chews serve up gossip from people pretending they are informed but who, in fact, don't know anything you haven't already seen just from scanning the headlines.  Diane Rehm did chat and chews for two hours every Friday on her long running program (she now does a shorter program once a week, FYI).  The thing that saved her roundtables from being tired gossip was her listeners.  She took calls.  They pushed the journalists to think a different way, to examine some facet they'd overlooked, to bring up a topic that actually mattered.

Without that ingredient, the press is left to its own circle jerk.  Surely, everyone can find a better form of porn to pass the time with.

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