Cable TV Or Not TV? (A Conundrum)

Cable TV Or Not TV?

 

Arthur Solomon, Public Relations Consultant

It’s no surprise to anyone who has read my writings about cable TV political coverage that I believe to call it “news coverage” is an oxymoron. That’s because cable TV hardly ever – maybe a teensy weensy once in a while – breaks any news. What cable TV presents, disguised as news, are panel discussions. And most of them are a waste of time for anyone who wants to hear facts, not opinions.

(Cable also presents what they call “news interview programs.” A more truthful description of the interview programs would be “onomatopoeia” programming, because they all sound the same. More on this later.)

If I was still a reporter and editor, as I was prior to becoming a PR practitioner, there is one question that I would make it mandatory to ask of defenders of President Trump, as they attack Democrats for blocking the wall.

The question is: “Why didn’t you pass legislation allocating money for the wall during 2017 and 2018, when the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress as well as the White House?” Of course, that would put the programs’ guests on-the-spot, something hardly ever done on cable TV. Because without guests given the opportunity to propagandize issues, there would be no programs.

(Listening to the cable talent pretend that they actually know the details of what they say makes the stock market pundits on CNBC seem as if they really know what they are talking about.) 

Even worse than the a.m. and afternoon shows are the early evening and prime time programs hosted by Ari Melber of MSNBC and Chris Cuomo of CNN, both of whom give an open mike to GOP spokespeople who seemingly have the Trump Disease, the inability to tell the truth. (I am opposed to censorship of all type, as perhaps Melber and Cuomo are. Why else would they continuously turn their programs into a propaganda forum for known liars?)

Of course, not all Trump supporters on Melber’s and Cuomo’s programs are outright liars. Some just do, sadly, what many people in our business do and defend their client – the president – by talking around reporter’s questions or question the reporter’s premise.

On his January 14, program, Cuomo provided an open mike to two Trump apologists – Congressman Chris Stewart and former Senator Rick Santorum. If viewers expected them to be negative toward the president they probably believe in the tooth fairy. What they said might make a graph in a respected print pub; on Cuomo’s program they were featured.

Cuomo’s colleague Don Lemon also has guests who compete with Pinocchio. But to give credit, Lemon always calls a lie a lie and interrupts fabulists in mid-sentence before they can complete the falsehoods, as cable interviewers should always do, but rarely do.

The best of the news interview programs, unbelievably, is on Fox. It is Chris Wallace’s Sunday interview program, during which he asks tough questions of both Republican and Democrat guests. No softball questions from Wallace. If you prefer softball to hardball, tune in Chuck Todd, host of NBC’s “Meet the Press” and “MTP Daily” on MSNBC. His questions to guests are so soft that they make questions asked by Howard Kurtz, host of Fox’s “Media Buzz,” to his conservative guests seem tough, which is almost impossible to do. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer is also a skilled interviewer, although he and many others on cable TV should be sued for false advertising by claiming “Breaking News.” Of the none-cable network Sunday a.m. political shows, in my opinion the only host that acts like a reporter is Wallace. Too often, Todd and George Stephanopoulos, of ABC’s “This Week,” act as if they’re members of the political tribe and ask politics 101 questions. (So as not to upset their guests, who they probably socialize with in the symbiotic media/political Washington establishment?)

(Fox News’ morning, afternoon and evening opinion shows are not included in this analysis because I prefer non-fiction programs, although I do admire the independence shown by a few, especially Wallace and Shepard Smith, occasionally Brett Baier, and lately 

Brian Kilmeade, a co-host of “Fox & Friends,” whose program’s commentary usually seems as if it receives the seal of approval of Sarah Huckabee Sanders.)

After years of cable TV’s wall-to-wall coverage of President Trump demanding money for the wall to prevent terrorists, criminals and dope smugglers from destroying our country, on January 11, Trump said he would delay declaring a national emergency regarding the wall, which must be upsetting to dictionary publishers, who for generations thought that an emergency meant a situation that needed immediate attention (like eating ice cream before it melts?) While they’re updating the dictionaries, the lexicographers should also include the current definition of “Breaking News,” which ever since the creation of cable TV political programming began in 1980 means, “We’re back from a commercial break.”

In its January 12 edition, the New York Times ran a detailed story about how conservative media is not in lock-step with Trump regarding his government shutdown strategy.

The article referenced Kilmeade’s January 10 remarks that Trump declaring a national emergency “would be a disaster…” and show the word that we are unable to govern. Late last year, Kilmeade faulted the White House decision to remove troops from Syria and Afghanistan, despite the reporting largely missing from his station’s coverage when it was initially announced. (A break in the Trump wall, perhaps?) 

The article also noted the hard-hitting questioning by Wallace on his January 6 “Fox News Sunday’” show of White House flack Sarah Huckabee Sanders, during which Wallace pointed out the inaccuracies (lies?) of Trump’s and Sanders comments that thousands of terrorists were entering the U.S. because there was no wall.

Wallace’s’ pull no punches interview style, with follow-up questions, highlights what experienced print reporters know is wrong with cable political interviewing (with few exceptions): The lack of follow-up questions by TV interviewers who stick to their scripted questions regardless of the answers to previous questions. That’s worse than burying the news. It’s ignoring what possibly could be major news.

REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST (with apologies to MARCEL PROUST) My first public relations job was with a political PR firm, were I worked on local, statewide and national campaigns, including  presidential ones, where I had direct contact with a vice president and presidential candidate. Although I enjoyed politics, and am still a political junkie, after a few years I decided that I didn’t want to make politics my career, even though I could have gained a position in Washington on a congressional staff. There wasn’t cable TV political coverage in those days and you had to create legit or creative news-making events to gain coverage in major print pubs or on TV news programs. If cable TV was around during my political PR days, I could have gained national exposure for candidates by simply announcing that they were thinking of running for president, (or having them say something controversial about present office holders) and, presto, a little known governor, mayor, House or Senate member would immediately receive coverage on the cable networks. Things were more difficult for PR people who represented politicians before the advent of cable TV. Today, PR people who represent politicians don’t know how easy they have it. The cable networks are desperate to fill their 24/7 slots, and as devotees of cable news know, the quality of the news no longer has to meet a high standard. Note to readers: If anyone wants to start a presidential exploratory committee for me, feel free to do so. I’m probably at least as qualified as others who will announce and not as egotistical. 

The need for discussion subjects on 24/7 hour cable TV paves the way for little known politicians like “Beto” O’Rourke to become a person of interest to the pundit community. O’Rourke’s claim to relevancy? He lost, didn’t win, a Senatorial race to Republican incumbent Ted Cruz, who pundits continually said for years was the  most unpopular person in the Senate. Also, if you’re a good dancer, as is New York freshwoman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, cable TV will make you an instant star by reshowing and talking about your artistic ability to frolic in a manner reminiscent, some said, of the dance scene in the movie, “The Breakfast Club.” (Devotees of Fred and Ginger, Susan Stroman, Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse already are touting her as a presidential candidate, although fans of Gene Kelly, George Balanchine and Agnes de Mille are still on the wall.)

There are occasionally – way too few – bright spots in the 24/7 hours of cable news political reporting. In general, the content appeals to viewers, who like homing pigeons, return to the same programs daily berceuse they agree with the political leanings of the programming.

The motto of cable news should be, “Breaking News? Where? Certainly not here.”

Or maybe cable TV programming should have a warning saying: “The comments expressed here are not necessarily the truth.”

And maybe cable TV shows should have running ads in “The Hill,” and “Roll Call,” reading, “Openings for political advisors whose candidates have lost. Must pretend they’re experts despite past performances.”

There’s some good programming on cable TV. Unfortunately, not on political programming. And that’s a problem that can affect people’s vote.


 Cable TV Or Not TV? About the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com and artsolomon4pr (at) optimum.net

 

 

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