My memory may be faulty but as I recall the years of the Vietnam War and after for some time, you knew that in the early evening the “news” would be on television. There were, of course, only three networks but you did have some choice. My favorites were Walter Cronkite and commentator Eric Sevareid on CBS, but there were other significant “anchors” and analysts that I often chose to watch. By and large, Cronkite told you what happened that day around the world. There were news “reports” from the field often accompanied by film footage, especially during the War.
The news shows weren’t very long but you generally felt you got the gist of important developments since the prior evening. And, in the meantime, you also had access to newspapers that were published in some places twice a day or even more. In Memphis, Tennessee, where I spent my formative years, we had a morning paper, the Commercial Appeal, and an evening paper, the Press-Scimitar. The latter ceased publication in 1983, long after I had departed the city, but the Appeal still publishes seven days a week.
Cronkite and Sevareid were both news geniuses. Cronkite was considered one of the most trusted newsmen in the country, and Sevareid, in a few minutes of prepared remarks, would provide incisive thoughts to help you understand the events of the times. In later years I encountered Sevareid several times eating lunch in a restaurant near my Washington law firm’s offices. He seemed usually to dine alone and I never worked up the nerve to interrupt his solitude. I was pretty sure he was still thinking deeply about what was going on in the world.
Of course, I understand that times have changed. We have the internet and 24-hour cable TV “news” shows like CNN. And 24-hour propaganda shows like Fox News. Many great newspapers have failed as a result; all are challenged to remain viable in the era of “free” news around the clock.
What troubles me the most is that the cable news shows that you can turn to while the networks continue showing the mind-numbing garbage that they have contracted to broadcast do not report the news of the day. Instead, they seem to focus on one or two stories and repeat the coverage of them until something else they deem worthy of coverage happens. If you watch CNN on any given day, you will see that anchor after anchor repeats the “Breaking News” mantra that the prior anchors have already reported, calling on many of the same field reporters to “being us up to date on what you have learned.” There follows the same story that the prior segment covered, often involving the same questions and the same answers.
The other favorite of CNN and its competitors is the panel of “experts.” Back in the day, we had Sevareid; now we have panels of experts, again often repeated in subsequent segments. Worse yet, the cable shows appear to believe they are obligated to be “balanced” in their coverage, which has the effect of making them complicit in the false equivalencies that the Trump administration shills are pitching. Cronkite and Sevareid were interested in “equivalencies.” They saw their jobs as reporting the truth. After being fed an endless stream of lies about the combat outcomes in Vietnam, Cronkite famously had had enough and said so on the air.
It was a breathtaking moment in journalism and, I believe, in that moment changed the opinions of millions by telling the truth. He didn’t then bring on an administration shill to argue that the reports of combat outcomes were in fact correct. No panel of experts spent hours each day arguing about it. And no one like Kellyanne Conway was given a voice over the network to spread administration propaganda. A news show was about reporting news of the day, often on a variety of subjects, not just repeating the same story all day until a new “breaking news” story showed up.
So, call me old fashioned and unrealistic. It won’t be the first time. I suspect there are many like me who are sick to death of having “news” presented as a panel discussion or, worse, a “debate” with administration shills and complicit politicians claiming that down is up and lies are truth. I doubt there is any way to return to the “good ole days” of news broadcasting but I continue to hope that at least some news figures will begin calling out the lies and propaganda when it is presented.
We have an important election coming up in 2020, an election that may well determine the fate of the American republic. Meanwhile, there is going to be an impeachment inquiry and investigation of the president and his henchmen/women who have violated multiple laws and their oaths of office. It is crucial that the American people get the truth about these events. CNN, MSNBC and the others need to rethink their approach to news reporting before it is too late. If they help Trump get re-elected, by continuing to serve as vehicles for his disinformation campaign, he will turn on them with a vengeance. He will then be a lame duck and will have nothing to lose, nothing to restrain his authoritarian propensities now so fully on display.