Hazelton: Cable news is highly deluded — and it is mostly our fault

Paul Hazelton

Over the the break I watched four straight hours of cable news. I began watching at 10 a.m., started taking notes around 11 and didn’t stop till 1 p.m.

What can I say? I’m from Colorado Springs. There’s nothing to do there. I was bored and my parents have the basic package.

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I stuck to three channels: CNN, MSNBC and Fox News; it was excruciating. Afterward my head ached like Kurt Cobain’s a millisecond before his death and I’m fairly sure I lost almost as many brain cells. Here are the highlights:

Fox News’ segment “Outnumbered” aired at 10:53 a.m. This show’s main draw seemes to be that it features one man and four women. They’re talking about how a White Socks player retired recently because the team limited how often his son was allowed in the clubhouse. Was it an attack against family values? Was it professional to bring his son to work? Who cares? 

I switch to CNN’s “The Legal View” with Ashleigh Banfeild. Despite the name, they’re not talking about legal anything — instead their covertly hawking the second season of “The Wonder List” (another CNN show) as Ashleigh interviews its host Bill Weir.

CNN’s next show, “The Situation Room” pops on screen and there, centered in the middle of the frame is my favorite robot, Wolf Blitzer. He talks about Trump and how the Republican establishment plans to block his nomination at the convention with a panel of experts. Around 10 minutes go by with nothing but opinion and anonymous sources. I learn nothing.

Then its time for Fox News’ “The Real Story” and thank god because I could use a real story. They don’t deliver. They’re talking about Trump.

The mind numbing yammering subsides and now they report something original. Some school building somewhere collapsed. No one’s hurt but otherwise they offer very little detail. Then the coverage switches abruptly back to in depth reporting about Trump and his delegate counts. The school is never mentioned again.

MSNBC’s “The Place For Politics” is the next wave on my channel surf and big surprise, they’re also talking about Trump.

I”m back to Fox and a video of a couple convicts dangling off the ladder of a stolen helicopter graces the screen. The news caster tells me that guards at the prison sat helpless as the convicts escaped. This lasts literally five seconds before it’s back to Trump.

Next, MSNBC shoots “Breaking News” in flashy text across the screen. I’m intrigued until the coverage is on Obama’s Press Secretary reaffirming what everyone’s known for months: Republicans will block Judge Garlin’s SCOTUS nomination. Seconds later, Harry Reid reiterates, and a second after that, I change the channel.

Fox News is after that, and there are about twenty seconds detailing what various politicians are doing on Saint Patrick’s day. Then it’s back to the Flint water crisis. Then it’s back to Donald Trump and whether or not he’s a bigot. After much deliberation, it seems he might be.

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Later in the day, MSNBC’s “MTP Daily” is on and playing Star Wars-esque music to clips of a congressional committee ripping into the Flint Michigan governor and EPA. It’s the same clips I’ve been seeing all day and kinda reminds me of a Judge Judy montage. Next, says the anchor, they’ll talk about Trump. 

Are you seeing the pattern here? The only subjects covered at length where the Flint water crisis, ISIS, the Supreme court nomination and, of course, gratuitous Donald Trump. They neglected to mention the political protests in Brazil, the FIFA scandal, Turkey’s degrading democracy, how a Chinese journalist poofed out of existence or anything else of news merit.   

But why? Well, maybe it’s because they want to inform audiences just tuning in about the most important news of the day. That’s probably part of the equation but this can happen for months and often does. Much more likely, it’s because of ratings which ultimately affect funding. 

Les Moonves, the head of CBS, said in regards to why they cover Trump so much that“It may not be good for America, but it is damn good for CBS … The money’s rolling in and this is fun. I’ve never seen anything like this, and this is going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.” Nice, CBS. Real classy.

And that’s not all, these channels also routinely misrepresent issues, sensationalize stories, claim frauds as “experts,” and generally manipulate public opinion seemingly with with intent.

That’s not to say that all broadcast journalism is guilty. PBS, Bloomberg, 60 minutes and ViceLand all do a great job. But for those who don’t, this degradation of journalistic quality is  shameful.

These shady, profit-driven practices are irreprehensible in a democracy where the public is meant to be and needs to be informed accurately. According to a Gallop poll published in 2013, the majority of the citizenry looked to television to acquire this information and this likely remains true today. With that in mind, cable networks in particular have an obligation to cover more than four or five topics a day, to do it accurately and without bias when it comes to news coverage.

This is usually the part where I tell you how to change the trend and present a peep-hole of hope. But I don’t have one this time.

The primary reason behind those networks’ content is money, which largely depends on viewership. Those networks are part of our morning routines, they keep us semi-informed and they’re enjoyable junk food for the brain. This is just too tempting for many of us, and with any other genre, this wouldn’t be a colossal deal. 

I mean, I watch Ancient Aliens all the time and it doesn’t affect how I vote or my conception of important issues. But this isn’t the History Channel and if we continue to allow ourselves to watch (and therefore drive) this brand of faux-news, that is all we’ll continue to get. And honestly, its all we’ll deserve if we continue to tune in.

Collegian Columnist Paul Hazelton can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @HazeltonPaul.