Why is Some of This “News”?

Terry H. Schwadron

June 7, 2018

You have to steel yourself to listen to television news and cable talk shows about politics. The idea of just checking in to see if America has started a trade war with its allies or just testing whether there are developments that will shape your day are gone.

In there place are the ash heaps of culture wars, in which no statement by any political figure on any position on any conceivable public interest topic can be taken at face value. Instead, what we have are stick-figure spokespeople stuck out before the cameras either because they look good in the glare of lights or are unrattled by questions uttered almost before they can be thought through to produce spin that passes for news.

It was “news” yesterday that President Trump is forgoing mastering much of the detail of nuclear weaponry development because “attitude” is more important than a true grip on the facts that will be twisted and re-twisted to gain advantage in the talks. It was a perfect encapsulation of our times. It’s about appearance of mastery, not actual mastery.

Those various news surveys that are seen from time to time to measure “negative” or “positive” views of the president’s time in office, for example, are not really measurements of “news.” Rather they are measurements of the amount of time that stick-figure heads bob up and down or left and right to fawn over the person who is president or to abase his flaws.

I think it would be healthier for all of us if cable news were simply to ignore Rudy Giuliani for a week or two at a time, until he finally had something to say that represented an actual development in the legal team on behalf of his client, the president. And a day without lawyer Michael Avenatti opining about the universe on behalf of his client, Stormy Daniels, would be a godsend.

The bad habits of offering opinion in place of actual news unfortunately are growing broader and more commonplace. Even sports commentators feel a need to over-explain with their own points of view rather than just tell us what is going on with the interpretation of a game regulation, say, one that we might not know about ourselves.

How it is “news” that Rudy Giuliani has an opinion about whether women who work in porn, like Stormy Daniels, are to be valued or not? Yet, this discussion must have gone on for more than an hour as I went about my household chores.

Dear cable folks: Please regain focus on what is news and what is simply you blowing your way through tons of fog about what you think we should believe about society.

When former President Bill Clinton came away ham-handed about his televised responses this week to obvious questions of his behavior when viewed in the context of the current #MeToo movement thinking, it was clear that Clinton has not fully evolved. We heard it. We saw it. We don’t need it repeated a thousand times over to make sure we heard it.

So, too, for the silliness of President Trump asking the Canadian Premier Justin Trudeau whether “you guys” once tried to burn down the White House well before Canada was a country during the War of 1812. This is news?

It was news that Trump is on an intentional defensive warpath against the Special Counsel’s investigation, it was news that Trump canceled and then pursued the talks with North Korea, it is news that the FBI raids on Michael Cohen’s office, home and hotel have resulted in tons of non-protected, non-legal correspondence, phone calls, texts and other information that likely will not help the president’s cases. I’ll even accept that it is news that the president disinvited the champion Philadelphia Eagles from a celebration that they did not want, but showing the president not remembering the words to God Bless America in the anthem celebration that replaced it was not.

Making it worse is my obsession with turning into the White House news sessions with Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who has proved masterful at saying virtually nothing about almost any issue of note. Tweets are weird, but fine, I guess as presidential statements, but these by Donald Trump are consistently misleading, if not outright lies. You need someone like Sanders to acknowledge what is and isn’t meant.

It is bad enough that you specifically have to pick a channel to hear pro-Trump or anti-Trump news. I’m still enough of an information nut that I’d rather just hear how many jobs the economy was able to produce this month without all the covering lace to praise or attack the president. The president, in fact, has pretty much little effect over the actual creation of jobs, but our insistence on pushing people into left and right teams everyday on every issue is annoyingly consistent

As news consumers, we understand by now that we must triangulate among the various sources to get a sense of what actually is happening.

But the news media can make it awfully hard to remember which issues matter and which do not, which is too bad: That skill is at the heart of the journalistic effort.

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