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Can’t We Have Some Standards?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

I used to devour cable news. When I was in college, it was not uncommon for my television to have on Fox News, MSNBC and CNN every moment I was home. Now I can barely bring myself to tolerate five minutes of it.

Remember when cable news channels delivered the news? Not straight reading of scripts like the network nightly news, but reports from journalists in the field who’d actually talked with and interviewed newsmakers on the stories across the country and around the world? When was the last time you saw that on cable? I’m not counting the evening shows. Those have always been opinion – though they’ve become unwatchable as well.

You’d think with round the clock coverage at least some of it would focus on conveying information designed to educate the public. There is still some, but not nearly as much and not nearly enough.

Time once spent conveying information is now wasted on manufactured debate between two equally uninformed individuals. Debate used to be two knowledgeable individuals armed with facts and data presenting counter-arguments designed to inform and convince those watching. Now it’s two people who were scheduled ahead of time taking opposite sides of a story and giving their hastily gathered opinion on it.

There was a time, believe it or not, when journalists gave reports and anchors interviewed people directly involved in or affected by that news. It allowed for the conveyance of information, sometimes even new information, which left the audience more informed.

Cable news also would talk to lawmakers and policy experts. Imagine that: Interviewing people directly involved in stories or having people whose job it is to understand an issue completely answering questions on that issue. What a novel idea – people who know talking about what they know.

Now it’s a Republican or Democratic “strategist” yelling talking points based on their uneducated opinion gleaned from having read an Associated Press story or a 30-second package played before their “debate.”

Have you noticed how it’s always the same people on the same shows at the same times on the same days every week? Did you think they were the smartest people on the planet, with knowledge of every issue and story of the day? Or did you realize they’re booked long ahead of time regardless of the news of the day or the topic? Because it’s the latter.

The catch-all title “strategist” does not exist in the real world. It’s a media-created job title for someone willing to argue the Democratic or Republican side of an issue for five minutes on TV. They can’t have “a guy the producer knew,” “someone the booker wants to sleep with,” or “this person was available” under their names. So “strategist” was invented.

Most times they truly are people who were available, friends of the producers, someone whose ego demanded they hire a publicist to pitch them, or lobbyists. It’s the biggest myth about cable news – that someone has to be an expert or knowledgeable on a subject to talk about it on TV. This used to be the case. But now, all you have to do is know someone, kiss a little butt, speak without “ums” and “uhs” and voilà: instant expert.

Bloggers, talk radio hosts and attractive women a couple years out of college are imbued with the credibility afforded people on news shows and are shaping opinion. It’s not the blind leading the blind; it’s Helen Keller driving a school bus.

Is it any wonder why conservatives lose? The public is “informed” about conservative values and policies by people who have no more understanding or belief in them than what they think is required to get them invited back and, hopefully, a regular TV booking.

It really is that bad. But can’t we do better?

These news networks employ a lot of actual journalists and producers. They could interview lawmakers and newsmakers, people directly involved in the stories. They could report news, not some random person’s uninformed thoughts on the news.

Is it too much to ask cable news to be more informative than a conversation you could overhear in a bar? Can’t we get people who know what they’re talking about and not just people who know how to talk?

How about this: If you can’t get a guest who has direct involvement in a story, could we at least find one with a basic knowledge of the issue at hand that goes beyond having read a news story and/or who has worked in the field for some period of time? Those people do exist. They don’t go by the title “strategist.” They don’t have radio shows, and they didn’t graduate college during the Obama administration. In other words, they aren’t anything you see on TV now.

Cable news is a business, and the people who run it are more interested in making money than advancing a cause. It’s also made up of human beings, who tend to be as lazy as possible if not pushed.

So, Roger Ailes and those in his position at other networks, we understand attractive people saying things in a convincing tone may get ratings. But it also misinforms the audience. Can we do anything at all about this?

Are these news networks delivering news or loud, ignorant conversations in a bar? If they’re the former, people will run risk of being educated. If they’re the latter, I suggest we find a new table far away from this one.

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