Having given up cable several years ago, and only missing it a few times since, I realize I’m not exactly in the majority when it comes to politics-obsessed people. But news was really most of the reason I had cable, and as time went on I realized that much of the “news” I was getting on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News wasn’t really news.
Between segments that might feed you a bit of actual unspun, educational information about the goings on around the world, it was more accurately described as thinly veiled talking points walking around, pretending to be news. The worst of this came from the shows that had interviews of politicians and other political figures – appropriately called “bobbleheads” by many people.
Politicians have gotten so comfortable with just ignoring questions they don’t like, and using every opportunity given to them to spout their pre-packaged talking points, there just isn’t much of a reason to watch them most of the time. With most of these “news” segments, you might as well just be reading the press releases from Democratic Party, Republican Party or other hyper-partisan and/or ideologue types.
Ironically enough, these thoughts came to me as I was watching a clip from CNN’s Piers Morgan on Monday. Morgan’s First point is right on the money:
[old CNN video embed failed]
When some figure comes onto a news show, the whole idea is they are supposed to trade answers to the questions people would be interested in learning about – asked by the host – in exchange for exposure to the audience of that show. But hosts almost always let dodging, pivoting and other sorts of shameful attempts to avoid telling the American people what they deserve to know slide, and the few times hosts press these politicians, they usually come up with some lame, childish reason to be offended and play the victim rather than do their duty.
Some of the questions at the recent Fox News GOP Debate in Ames comes to mind. At times, Fox seemed to actually want to give their viewers a general feel for the candidates, versus just giving candidates an opportunity to spout talking points on hot button wedge issues, which makes sense this early in the cycle.They asked some very pointed questions that visibly irked candidates, and caught some flak for it. Newt Gingrich, for instance, distracted people from his refusal to answer a question sent his way by attacking the questioner. Instead of getting booed, the crowd seemed to back Gingrich for the most part. People have apparently gotten so used to this coddling of politicians, that they don’t like it when newsmen actually do their jobs anymore.
They asked some pointed questions that visibly irked candidates, and caught some flak for it. Newt Gingrich, for instance, distracted people from his refusal to answer a question sent his way by attacking the questioner. Instead of getting booed, the crowd seemed to back Gingrich for the most part. The blind partisans these channels have cultivated have apparently gotten so used to this irresponsible coddling of politicians, that they don’t like it when newsmen even try to actually do their jobs anymore.
Morgan ties up the segment with the famous clip from a debate between Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale, where he turns a negative question asking him about how his advanced age might lead to him not being up to some of the rigors of being the President into gold. But this was no dodging. Notice that Reagan begins his answer with a short and clear answer of “not at all”, before segueing into the joke that is likely to go down in American history as the best debate answer ever.
This is how debates and interviews should go. Hosts should allow the guest to expound a bit, deliver their message and speak their mind, but we all know that isn’t what politicians do. I might actually come off the sidelines and get cable again if some network began holding itself to a higher standard in their interviews, but I wonder if both parties would start boycotting such a channel, and whether people would take offense more to politicians dodging, or journalists pressing politicians for real answers.