August 13, 2010

Turn Off the Talk Show

Posted in Social Commentary tagged , at 9:55 am by Doug Brockway

I was struck by the focus of a morning talk show on local radio this morning.  They tee up subjects in 15 minute, sometimes half hour segments and at 7:10 the two hosts were having “a discussion” about Rand Paul’s non-kidnapping escapade and Ben Quayle, son of the former Vice President, who is running for Congress in Arizona and apparently has some sort of history as a soft-porn actor.

It got me wondering if these two items were getting much play elsewhere.  I have studiously avoided cable “news” for a couple of years so I can’t comment on the Beck/O’Reilly/Olbermann directly, but if you google any of their names and “Rand Paul kidnapping” you get LOTS of hits.

I decided to look at the “lame-stream media” and do a quick look on these “important issues of the day.”  Looking only on-line I found that the New York Times has nothing on these items in today’s paper and a handful of references to comments made about it elsewhere.  They have no articles on it.  The same is true about the Washington Post on-line and Google News.  From the other side of the aisle the Wall Street Journal Online also has a handful of links to posted-elsewhere gossip and some commentary quips, but no news at all on these items.

On the talk shows its important stuff and its stupidly presented.  Since both “bad-actors” today are conservative the one host was universally aghast and the other universally dismissive of the trivial nature of the acts.  On other days when people like Charlie Rangel or Elliot Spitzer are involved the roles are reversed.

With the talk-show format, where the important ratings driver is the intensity and emotion of controversy it takes a while, just listening, to get to any material clarity.  In these cases, as I understand it, the Rand Paul thing was an indiscreet, no one harmed, college prank, over 20 years ago; a classic “youthful indiscretion.”  I’ll make you a deal; I won’t tell you about mine if you don’t vote based on “news” of this sort.  Ben Quayle has bigger issues.  His acts are current (3 years ago), done as a formed adult, and are relevant as indicators of his perspective, insight, judgment and personal values.

There is nothing about the talk-show format that’s going to get you to this point of view without listening very carefully and editing out much of what is said and the emotion with which it is said.  It’s a lot of work.  But more importantly, its almost universally about small things in a world of big issues.

Maybe this is the stuff of talk shows because voyeurism equals ratings.  Maybe its because thinking deeply and talking carefully about taxes, wars, global warming and the economy are hard.

Regardless, I have a suggestion.  Turn off the talk show.