Thursday, April 22, 2010

Friday Media Rant: Talk Shows are NOT the NEWS!

I had some fun stirring the local media pot again this week. On Wednesday, the State Journal printed my letter to the editor about the difference between talk shows and news. And again, I heard from a lot of my friends in the media, but this time, unlike my rant against the extremes of the local weather mavens a week ago, they were unanimous.

People just don’t know the difference between news and opinion any more.

In the Saturday State Journal, there was a letter to the editor from a Verona man who was annoyed that Sly was loudly heckling Tommy Thompson’s speech at the tea party event, and the man wrote “how can we trust his reporting?”

Sly’s “REPORTING”??????

My old pal Sly is many things…rabble-rouser extraordinaire; bad-boy; road-rager; and the most enduring talk-show host this market has ever known. But I know Sly well enough, after having sat across the glass from him in an adjoining studio for over a decade, to know that not even Sly would call himself a “reporter”.

So I wrote a letter to the editor of the State Journal pointing out that there used to be a fairly bright line between talk show content and news content, but blowhards like that braying ass Limbaugh, who egomaniacally calls himself “America’s Anchorman”, have dimmed the line. There’s a big difference between talk shows…which are entertainment and opinion….and news, which is fact-checked journalism.

Before you call me a hypocrite, please bear in mind that for all the years I was on WTDY, I was careful to label every one of my newscasts “news and comment”. And the newscasts I did for decades on Q-106, Magic 98, The Lake (rest in peace), and other Mid-West stations, were straight-down-the-middle reporting: no slant, no comment, nothing but facts, written and delivered in what I’d like to think was a lively and conversational fashion, but totally free of opinion and comment. Even when I would pinch-hit on JJO, doing news for Johnny and Greg, it was lighter stuff appropriate to the audience, but not commentary or opinion.

After the paper ran the letter Wednesday morning, my e-mail in-box started to fill up with comments from many of my friends in the local radio and TV news biz, agreeing heartily with what I’d said, and decrying the corruption of “news” by outfits like Fox. Some writer pals of mine on Linked-In sent messages commenting positively on my letter, and some Facebook friends sent messages saying, in essence, “Amen”.

Is there a liberal bias on network TV news? I think so. Dumb Dan Rather did a lot to drag down the credibility of network TV news in his tenure at the anchor desk.

But to think that Sly, Vicki McKenna, or Mitch Henck, all of them friends of long-standing, are doing “reporting” or “news” – please. Every one of them clearly shows their bias day after day on the air, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s ENTERTAINMENT. And every one of them is really good at it. Vicki and Mitch both have a solid background in news, and they’ll be quick to identify the difference between what they’re doing now, and what they used to do.

It’s just that so many people are so lazy, or just plain stupid, that they don’t know the difference.

That’s why we have the kind of politicians we deserve.


  1. >> Sly, Vicki McKenna, or Mitch Henck ... every one of them is really good at it. <<

    Give Limbaugh his due, Colonel: he's really good at it, too.

    >> It’s just that so many people are so lazy, or just plain stupid, that they don’t know the difference.

    >> That’s why we have the kind of politicians we deserve. <<

    I have a slightly different take on it.

    I am constantly amazed by friends of mine that have a far deeper knowledge of current events than I do. For example, when the earthquake devasted Haiti, a Florida freind of mine -- who has a prodigious and aggressive intellect -- found a number of comparisons between the history of Haiti vs. the Dominican Republic. That bit of background helped to explain the type of government Haiti has been saddled with.

    Another Florida friend has very interesting takes on Florida politics based on his voracious reading and news watching. My hat's off to both of them.

    What I'm driving at is this: for any story that is at all complex, there is often very little by way of background material. I'm talking about your garden variety newspaper or on-line news story. Space restrictions or word count restrictions mean that there isn't much depth to be found. News magazines or the New York Times, say, will devote more space to background...but it doesn't appear with every complicated story as it develops and I don't read the NYT every day.

    People turn to news commentators -- and Limbaugh is the principal exemplar of the breed today -- because they don't have the time or the talent to dig up additional information to help explain seemingly inexplicable events.

    Is that lazy? I suppose so in some cases. But you'd have to admit, wouldn't you, that there is such a blizzard of news content today that it's easy to get snowed under unless you keep up with it every single day with a considerable investment of time. News commentators help digest the news...and, since they all have their own points of view, listeners will gravitate to simpatico commentators.

    Again, does that mean they're intellectually -- or otherwise -- lazy? I haven't watched a TV news or commentary show at home for over 10 years. I far prefer the GoreNet because I can sample many stories from multiple providers in a very short time. I've seen Hannity and Olberman at odd times over the years...I wouldn't watch either one of them given my druthers.

    So my point is this: I don't believe that people are so lazy that they don't know the difference between news and commentary; they've simply found agreeable commentators who give them the news (Limbaugh, for instance, covers a broad range of news stories complete with audio clips) and then voice their viewpoints which, for the most part, match the viewpoints of their viewers and listeners.

    You are one of the exceptions in that I know that you listen to Limbaugh frequently even though you despise him.

    The political discourse that we hear -- the lion's share of it -- is also commentary, talking points, gotchas, tarring with the same brush, guilt by association, spin, oversimplification, demonizing, scare-mongering, demagoguery, knocking down straw men, and on and on...

    So how is it possible for anyone to get the "straight scoop"?

    The Town Crank

  2. Agreeing with The Crank...

    I would postulate that 'we have the governance we have' because of those voters who do NOT pay attention, to either the news OR to the opinion-makers.

    Seriously. Could you elect this bunch of clowns if you actually KNEW and READ stuff?

    (That's a bi-partisan rant, btw....)

  3. Crank - and Dad29 - again, the author stands by his comments. Far too many people are abysmally ignorant - AND, they vote! Spring election day caller after caller to Vicki's show asked her to look up where they should go to vote..and asked her to tell them who to vote for. County supervisor races, but the parade of idiots was endless.

    I agree with Dad - it's a bi-partisan rant. Clowns on th left; jokers on the right.

  4. >> Clowns on th left; jokers on the right. <<

    Here I am, stuck in the middle with you!

    The Town Crank