Saturday, November 27, 2010

The O'Reilly Factor

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about the tone of discourse and punditry in the media today. Many rightly feel that there is a distinct media bias in the coverage of news these days, and that this is in some way a dramatic change from the past. 

I would argue however that the plethora of news sources out there has simply made the playing field so diverse that the ability of one organization to point out the failings others only highlights the slant and selective coverage of both. I would further point out that the number of bloggers out there serving as an alternative 'amateur' news source also serves to point out the glaringly apparent shortcomings where both print and broadcast media are concerned. 

Information shows have seen a change however, and not necessarily for the better where the interview and news-talk shows are concerned. This began perhaps with the descent of weekly news shows like '60 Minutes'. This show at some point went down the dark path not only in the choice of the stories that it covered, but in the editing of the interviews in order to drive home the particular point of view of the segment producer. Good guys and bad guys were decided by camera angles, lighting, and the careful cutting of even more carefully worded questions and responses. A predisposed bias was subtly and effectively promulgated in what was sold to us as hard-hitting investigative journalism; but in fact was a careful blending of ambush and editorializing. 

Next came the the plethora of news shows with live interviews, where both hosts and guests quickly discovered that in order to play the game effectively, one had to be 'prepped' by increasingly more professional handlers. Being visible on such shows was important, but more important was having the required clever lines and talking points memorized. It didn't matter if the questions were hard-hitting, or the answers had anything to do with them, as long as those answers were part of a biased message that the guest was trying to deliver. 

Hosts of these shows became frustrated, since they attempted to play by the rules while not antagonizing guests; and the guests refused to follow their lead. The visiting team had a distinct advantage by playing the game it wanted the way it wanted to, while the home team looked mostly irrelevant. There was no longer information being sought and explored, but instead a disjointed and fractious competition where the winner had already been decided. The level of discourse and interviewing used today has become little more than a meandering diatribe followed by non sequitur. 

Nowhere is this more personified than on one of the more popular of the purported news commentary shows, 'The O'Reilly Factor'. Now for those who don't or haven't watched this show, Bill O'Reilly is someone who has been part of journalism for some time. As well as spending time as a legitimate reporter, he also spent some time on the tabloid side while hosting shows like 'Hard Copy'. 

Since 1996, he has hosted a show on the Fox News Channel (perhaps its most popular) in which he combines the worst of both of those worlds. This has nothing to do with Mr O'Reilly's opinions, which I may or may not agree with, but with the level that such discourse has sunk to in the process. Mr O'Reilly seems to personify the current concept of political punditry, which has become little more than hosts saying 'look at me'. 

Interviews normally begin with him expressing an opinion and then asking the guest to tell him where he's wrong. If the guest agrees, he get 20 seconds to do so before being interrupted to confirm the host is right and move on to the next host opinion/question. If he disagrees, he gets half of that time before being called out as foolish or misinformed. 

In fact while I haven't timed it, I think a comparative analysis of microphone 'time of possession' would find Mr O'Reilly holding the field of play better than 75% of the time. This begs the question that if you are not going to let a guest answer the questions posed, why bring them on at all. 

Bill O'Reilly is not alone however. Rush Limbaugh forgoes interviews on his 3 hour syndicated show 5 days a week, but finds a different path to the same goal. While saying that he doesn't want to talk about himself, he instead spends much of each hour sharing with us what others have said about him, as if that's all that's going on. 

Sean Hannity spends probably more of his time on his radio and TV show telling us about the personal appearances, book signings, and things that he will be talking about later than he does telling us anything else. Glenn Beck is equally busy promoting books, personal appearances, movie theater broadcasts of personal appearances; and less so in informing us of information that he claims is vital that we hear and understand. 

Media stores and subscription websites can do little but prove to us that such labors are exercises in capitalism rather than information. (And for those of you who believe that I am attacking those on the right without due consideration to the panderers on the left, let me state that my failure to comment on Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, or Rachel Maddow is only because their efforts so nauseate me that I cannot stand to subject myself to such punishment long enough to properly critique them.)

Unfortunately, lost in all this self-promotion is any legitimate news or insight that any of these pundits might offer. Picking the nuggets of truth and information from the overwhelming barrage of self-serving nonsense is difficult at best. Even when one concedes that these are potentially intelligent and well-read individuals, the constant self-promotion leaves one too tired to retain the carefully winnowed rewards. 

The few legitimate news and opinion offerings out there are drowned out by egotistic tabloid punditry. And while everyone has a right to try and make a buck, it's unfortunate that we've turned news and opinion into little more than a traveling medicine show. It's likewise unfortunate that at a time when so many are looking for unbiased facts and answers to vital questions in society, all we are offered is the equivalent of entertainment at the intellectual level of the WWE. It's sad to me especially that at a time when this country would be well-served by reasoned Conservative voices, all we are offered is little more than hucksters and little better than the O'Reilly factor.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thanks amigo! great post!.