Tag Archives: Barack Obama

News? Don’t talk to me about news. I mean it.

With the death of curmudgeonly Walter Cronkite last week, I notice that a poll has now nominated Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s Daily Show, to be the most trusted name in news. But of course. He’s the only one who doesn’t lie to us: he actually admits that what he’s doing is a put-on.

Unlike Fox News, for instance.

The day Fox changes its name to something more reflective of its content – Fox Propaganda, Unfair and Biased – is the day I might start watching it.

Not that I follow this stuff too closely. On the contrary, I try to avoid the news as much as possible. Same way I avoid sports, and performances by Sarah Brightman.

To me, it’s a no-brainer. Yet, apparently, not being plugged into the news cycle is quite a bold stand to take nowadays, viewed by many as the height of adult irresponsibility. Then again, who says my aim is to be a responsible adult? I might have other plans.

“But how do you know what’s going on,” friends ask me, “if you don’t watch or read the news?” To which I respond, “Why do I need to know what’s going on? If it’s that important, I’m sure someone will tell me. Otherwise, I’m happier not knowing.” To which they respond, usually, by sighing and walking off in exasperation. Because deep down they sense a real truth here, they just can’t go along with it: that the news makes you miserable, fearful, skeptical, unsettled, and ultimately stupid. Why fill your mind with that? Better to be ignorant and a free-thinker if it means being happy too.

Don’t forget, I’ve worked in newsrooms for years, both here and in Britain, and I was never impressed.

By the time what’s laughingly called “TV news” reaches the public attention, it has already been analyzed, filleted, filtered, censored, and neutralized to death by a stiff hierarchy of editors trying to shape it to a particular viewpoint or agenda. In the end, what you’re getting is not news, but someone’s interpretation of events, shaped in a way they’d prefer you to see it. You have to differentiate news from the truth. The two are very different.

For a long time, I’ve had the privilege of contributing to a wonderful public radio news show in the States.

When I joined years ago, it was a scrappy, crazed animal, with every edition a wild ride produced by a bunch of young maniacs in a dingy, claustrophobic bullpen at the University of Southern California.

Reporters and editors back then were opinionated, intellectual, and in some cases obnoxious firebrands who’d fight and hustle and drive everyone crazy in their efforts to get their stories on air. There was a real sense of fun and excitement and purpose to what we were doing, resulting in frequent tantrums and displays of indignation, born of sheer passion – a passion to package vital information in an interesting way and get it off the wires and out into the public arena where it belonged, asap.

Alas, that’s no longer the case. Walk into the show’s new, modern offices today, and that loud obnoxious vibrancy has gone. Sometimes you can barely hear yourself think for the blanket hush that fills the place. Morgues are more exciting.

The people working there – the ones I know anyway; it’s the same show, but the staff has multiplied, I can’t keep track – are still bright and intelligent, though in a different, more subdued way.  More noticeably, the open and free expression of passion has largely evaporated. The dismal climate of fear that rules our times has seen to that. Everyone’s too scared of losing their job to be too innovative, too loud, too outspoken, or to take risks. Result: instead of soaring majestically, setting our sights ever higher, we coast at a low altitude, hiding our light.

Additionally, the recruiting guys made the mistake, in my opinion, of hiring print people for key positions instead of radio people, something I would have discouraged. Inevitably, it’s a long, slow haul to get newspaper journalists to understand the potential of sound. They think  in words only. Lots and lots of words. Facts. Data. Statistics. The old way of presenting information. Which is why newspapers are dying. And radio is so much more than boring old print. Or should be.

Maybe I’m being too harsh. I love this program. Always have. It still manages to be a superior piece of radio, some of the best out there. Perhaps inevitably, with maturity, it’s simply settled in, turning a wild adolescent into the very creature it used to poke fun at: a slick, glossily produced, critics might say overly-edited, and very, very grown-up corporate enterprise. Examples:

  • When you’re given a piece to do in radio now, a computer sends you an email to tell you so. Years ago, people used to do that.  There was actual human contact. Imagine.
  • Also years ago, the topics we covered were beyond exciting (“Hey, d’you want to go train as a cosmonaut in Russia?” – was one of the most interesting questions I’ve ever been asked). Compare this to a recent subject I was given:  items placed in public storage, and what happens to them when they’re auctioned off. Yawn.
  • At the start, my pieces went out on air with the minimum of scrutiny. They were fun, light, irreverent, edgy, filled with raw, dangerous moments. The result was exciting: there were countless complaints from listeners, even a couple of death threats. Now, though, there’s none of that and I miss it.
  • A two-page “script” for a radio feature is analyzed word by word, line by line by an editor, the way scientists scrutinize test-tubes, always with a troubled look on his or her face, busily figuring out if it breaks the rules or causes offense on any level. Words are replaced, interview clips removed, new thoughts inserted.
  • During this autopsy, which can take up to an hour, the cadaver of originality is frequently picked apart wholesale before the script is shunted off to the next stage of the assembly line: the studio, to be recorded.
  • Now, once the piece has been recorded, that should be it, ideally. You’re done. But no. Later on, the report is picked apart a second time by someone higher in the editorial chain and often recorded again. Doubtless a good move from the “monitoring content at all times” standpoint, but artistically stifling, no matter how good the editor might be. And these people are good. Almost too good.

Anyway, you get the idea. I know what I’m talking about. I’ve worked at CNN too, and in British TV, therefore I’m able to bring a hands-on perspective to the topic of news shows. The news shows I refuse to watch.

And when I do watch, I see this same sad situation magnified a thousand times. Everything being filtered, censored, monitored, shaped and molded, then presented in a corporate, orchestrated way to achieve a certain effect, reach a specific demographic, and follow a party line set in stone by a commitee.

Well, that’s not for me.  Because I’m more convinced than ever now, after accidentally switching on a TV news show this past week.

Of course, I use the word “news” loosely, because the stories were outlandish and sensational, presumably to keep viewers outraged and watching. Airtime was being given to:

  • a pitiful movement challenging Barack Obama’s citizenship of America, a fictional dispute concocted by fanatics in an attempt to keep the conversation lowbrow and irrelevant, and to throw his popularity off-track, same way the Fox News-driven tea-bag campaign tried (Dick Cheney’s daughter was given a voice on this, for some reason)
  • Republican politicians trying to shoot down universal healthcare, not because it’s wrong for their constituents – quite the reverse – but because, a) they receive millions of dollars in pay-offs from the healthcare industry, and b) it’s a Democratic proposal and they can score cheap political points by defeating it:
  • police officers arresting a black guy for entering his own home, then feigning outrage when the President called them stupid for doing so;

…and so on and so on.

Seriously, people, I don’t need to know this stuff. It’s not doing me, or you, or the country, any good. So please don’t challenge me on this. You may enjoy being in the loop, but I don’t. I’m far happier just going about my life ignorant and distant and sane, untainted by other folks’ made-up nonsense. Unless it’s Jon Stewart’s made-up nonsense, in which case I’m right there, glued to the screen.

www.cashpeters.com

Read Cash’s book, Naked in Dangerous Places, HERE.

4 Comments

Filed under Television commentary

When TV hosts attack…Star Wars…Jonas Brothers

I’m going to talk about this feud between Jim Cramer and Jon Stewart that’s all over the news.

First, though, I want to say something else. About blogging.

It’s not hard to tell when somebody is new to something. They’re very, very enthusiastic for the first couple of weeks, right? Positively brimming with fresh ideas that they’re eager to communicate to you. Not only that, but they’re willing to sacrifice a dozen other, less boring activities in order to get down and do this new special thing they’ve discovered. My dad’s passion for bird-watching comes to mind.

But then the initial burst of activity is over. What was, to begin with, fun, stimulating, and a challenge, starts turning into a small chore, and they find that the novelty doesn’t just wear off but turns yellow and gathers traces of mildew on it, like last week’s towels. That’s the critical watershed. It may take a year,  it may take only a few days to reach the damp towel moment, but once it’s happened, there’s no going back. From that point on, every time they embark on what was once such a bright, shiny, exciting new activity suddenly becomes a grind and they want to quit. My dad’s passion for bird-watching comes to mind.

His explosion of interest began the day he bought the book at the store and lasted well into the following week when he got around to reading it and discovered how unremarkable and dull birds are – they hatch, they fly, they make nests, they eat, they crap, they get attacked and eaten by cats, and they die horribly; that’s the average life-cycle. Once he knew that, he never picked the book up again and we gave it to a charity shop.

As you probably guessed, I was about to draw a parallel here between my dad’s shortlived hobbies (remind me to tell you about his clock-making binge) and writing this blog. But actually it’s not quite like that. I’m not bored with it at all. In fact, it’s been quite gratifying on one level to have so many people stop by and read my thoughts every day. It does an ego good to feel wanted and know it serves a purpose.

Or rather, it did. Until I took a look at the blog statistics and spotted something interesting.

People aren’t really coming here for me. I hoped they were, but they’re not. I get the most hits on this site, it turns out, when I mention somebody else. Anybody, it seems, will do. As long as it’s not me.

Rachel Bilson is a good example.

Dropping Bilson’s name, for no other reason than that she’s my neighbor and marrying Hayden Christensen from Star Wars, instantly attracts traffic from fan sites and other blogs around the world, curious to know what I’m saying about the (presumably) happy pair. And look! See what I did just then? I just mentioned Star Wars too. That’s a biggie. I can expect a huge response to that now, I’m sure. In fact, I’d better go doll myself up and put a clean shirt on. This blog’s going to be like Home Depot on a Sunday morning; I need to look my best.

Another sure-fire visitor-count winner is The Simpsons. A passing reference to them got a lot of people very excited the other day. So they stopped by as well, just to see what I was saying about Homer. Which was nothing, it turned out; I’d stuck his name in at the end of something else for no particular reason.

Oh, and let’s not forget Hugh Laurie. For some reason, House fans trawl the web at all hours of the day and night, hunting down any reference to the show or its lead, and their diligence brought them here, to the TV Swami blog, where they became instantly disillusioned to find that there was nothing of any substance about House and Hugh Laurie at all, I’d simply shoe-horned them in for the sake of it. I’m not expecting those people back again. They’re upset. We’re not speaking.

And perhaps I should also mention the Jonas Brothers and Rihannah.Y’know, just because.

The reason I’m telling you this, in case you’re wondering, is because the whole issue of how to gratuitously whip up public interest happened to cross my mind last night as I tuned in for the very public brawl between CNBC’s Jim Cramer and The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart. You probably heard about it. And how the result was not just a bloodbath, but the best TV bloodbath EVER. Or at least the best since Jon Stewart did the exact-same thing in 2004 to Tucker Carlson on CNN’s Crossfire, a show that never recovered and died soon after.

If you don’t know how we got here, let me give you a summary: Jim Cramer’s an ex-hedge fund manager who’s made it big as a crazy-shouting-manic financial advisor on TV. I’ve only followed two of his tips.  Both times I lost what was, for me, a ton of money. So I don’t trust him at all. And now I find I’m not the only one.

Jon Stewart was on fire yesterday. He blamed CNBC and Cramer for being in bed with the very Wall Street criminals they’re reporting on and supposed to be exposing. Caught in the crosshairs, unable to run away, Cramer was high-pitched and helpless. He had nothing rational to say. He was dithery, stuttery, lame. Worse, he’d made the mistake of trying to defend himself on The Today Show and even Martha Stewart earlier in the week, where he dared mock Jon Stewart for being just a comedian and hosting a variety show.

Bad move. TERRIBLE move.

Cramer was booked as a guest on The Daily Show Thursday. He said beforehand that he was nervous. He was right to be. But even then, he didn’t see what was coming. Stewart tore him apart, not only limb from limb, but cell from cell, molecule from molecule. It was horrendous to watch, squirm-making, both funny and sad, diabolical and delightful, all in one.

The bout was also peppered with commercials. More commercials than I ever remember seeing on this show. Why? Because Comedy Central knew they had a winner. The media had chattered so much and for so long about this escalating feud that it became headline news, and people who normally aren’t interested in Jon Stewart and don’t even know who Jim Cramer is, much less invested in Best Buy a couple of years ago on his advice and watched it tank, tuned in to see this contest of heavyweights.

Actually, to be fair, there was only one heavyweight in the match. The pairing wasn’t fair last night. Then again, fairness didn’t come into it. We’re in a deep recession. People have lost their savings and houses and pensions and security. They’re angry. They wanted blood. And they got it.

Now, enough about them. Famous people. Back to me.

In a simple TV blog I can’t do any of that. I can’t give you a bloodbath every day. But clearly, good writing and interesting topics alone are not enough to make this page a magnet to web traffic.

However, what I can do, I now realize, is up the ante by riding on the back of other people’s bloodbaths. I can namedrop like fury whenever the opportunity presents itself, and sprinkle famous people, noteworthy people, newscentric people, throughout the blog – Barack Obama, Katie Couric, Doctor Who; there, see? – to draw in readers.

So that’s it. From now on, this will be my plan.

That way, the blog will stay popular, new people will come constantly, and The TV Swami will stay fresh and alive and exciting, and not go the way of my dad’s momentary fascination with bird-watching. And, later, clock-making. And winemaking. And caravanning. And playing the organ. And, come to think of it, being a father.

The Daily Show showdown gets five magic carpets out of five.

TV Swami – he say YES.

The Cramer/Stewart fight is here:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/12/jim-cramer-on-daily-show-_n_174503.html

Stewart’s take-down of Crossfire and Tucker Carlson is here:

http://www.spike.com/video/jon-stewart-on/2652831?cid=YSSP

4 Comments

Filed under Television commentary