Friday, June 3, 2011

And That's the Way It Was

I suppose my earliest real memory of a newsman was Walter Cronkite.  I don’t know when I really became aware of “America’s most trusted broadcaster” but he was an icon of my youth.  He told me about the Cold War and Yuri Gargarin.  He gave me the countdown down to Apollo 11.  And on a cold November day in 1963, he interrupted my fifth grade class to inform me that the President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, was killed earlier that day by a lone gunman in Dallas Texas.
Walter Cronkite.
The very name evokes competence.  Trust. Reliability.  Dependability.  If Walter Cronkite said it, then by golly, that was it.  You could take it to the bank.  He was tough, honest, thick skinned, objective, sincere and believable.
Of course, in due time, things had to change, as they always must.  Walter gave way to Dan.  Reporting gave way to creating.  Newsmen gave way to actors who read scripts poorly, became cutesy pals with the weather men, joked with the sports guys, and smiled and tried to look serious and concerned when their co-anchor read a line from the teleprompter.
When I was a kid the news was a thirty minute event before the Flintstones, Bonanza, or the Wonderful World of Disney.  Fifteen minutes of local news, which in our case came from New York City because that was the closest city with a broadcasting tower that would reach our north central New Jersey rooftop antennae, and fifteen minutes of network news.  Short, concise reporting of real news and no fluff.  No teasers about ‘breaking stories we’re following live at 11:00’.  If it was that important, they interrupted the network programming and returned to ‘the regularly scheduled program joined in progress’.  No ticklers about important issues that weren’t so important that they couldn’t wait until the morning show.
What happened?  When did bringing the news to America’s homes become a scripted sitcom where the anchors and other talking heads were best buds all joking with each other, nodding seriously at each other, and encouraging the weather guy to please not let it rain on the parade tomorrow, as if there’s anything he can do about it?
My local news source has resorted to a redneck commentator with a catchy handle to ‘tell you like it is, because no one else will.’ Followed by a live plug for said redneck’s nationally syndicated radio show.  Huh?  This is newsworthy how, exactly?  I feel like I’ve just segued into a bit from Rowan and Marin’s Laugh-In minus the actual humor.
Big local stories in the last two weeks have included instructions on proper bar etiquette, including the recommendation that you carry cash to your favorite watering hole so you can give the barkeep a better tip.  Of course there was no mention of the possibility that flashing all that green around a bar might just make you a robbery target.  That would take the cool out of the report.  The next day they carried a detailed story on where to find drag queen bars in a local town.  The big gig this week is milking every minute they can, including promoting about five different live streams of coverage, to the bandwagon to which everyone has hitched their hopes that it will be a bigger story than Jon Benoit Ramsey.  I figure we’re a week from it hitting the tabloids, although I don’t know if I’ll be able to tell the difference.
And they’re all getting terribly PC and thin skinned.  I commented on the media circus local sources are making of the Casey Anthony trial.  The station spokesperson said I was rude.
A station where I used to live featured their ‘Six in the City’ team – a locally produced sort of clone of the nationally broadcast show, ‘The Talk’, featuring their six female anchors, two of whom have been with the station for over twenty years, dating back to the days before the station’s call letters changed to what they are now.  Beneath the photo, someone demanded to know why there were no minorities in the photo.  Note that you may safely insert the word ‘African Americans’ in place of the word minorities, because that’s what the writer was really asking.  My comment was that I thought that women technically were minorities, or does that not count since none of the women were women of color, and if so, isn’t a demand that color be a hiring consideration a tad racist?
The answer is, of course, that when color is part of the equation going either way, it is racist.
The stations response was to go PC, defend the women on the basis of their history with the station, and decry the insulting use of the term racist.  I predict that the pressure to be PC will result in a hiring change, and that saddens me.  Not the hiring of a qualified minority, but the hiring of a minority to satisfy public pressure.  A ‘token’, if you will.  And likely the least senior anchor currently part of the team will begin her transition to a wonderful letter of recommendation to another market to make room for the PC solution.
And my station will keep doing fluff stories, commentaries by Bubba the Love Sponge, and practicing their acting skills so they look concerned and involved between bubbles of cute and nodding seriously.
And that’s the way it was for Thursday, June second, 2011.  Goodnight, and may the good news be yours.
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