August 12, 2007 - August 5, 2007
Commander Drudge seems to be taking some delight in reporting on
the ratings race sparked by the launch of Katie Couric's CBS Evening News Today show. He
links to a Variety
article that analyzes the latest numbers.
Drudge's headline features the
ratings slump, but he appears to have missed the most shocking part of
the story, buried in the tenth paragraph:
Come again. Couric had 19 minutes
of hard news? That's less than four
minutes per day and only half
the time viewers are subjected to commercials in a half-hour
newscast. This means the CBS news audience will, on average, learn
twice as much about floorwax, hemorrhoid remedies, and fast food
alternatives than they will about what happened today in the world. And
Les Moonves expects us to take him seriously as a news executive?
ABC and NBC aren't much better, averaging barely 9 minutes a day each of hard news, which is just about a minute more than the time allotted for floorwax and hemorrhoids. For this we have to endure the slick sanctimony of Brian Williams? If this truly is the financial reality of network news, shouldn't he discard the Savile Row suits and opt for one of those porkpie hats with a card reading "Press" stuck in the brim? And maybe he could also be honest enough to return to those thrilling days of yesteryear and read the ad copy himself while holding up an oversized pack of Chesterfields. That would at least be entertaining.
Still, we are bamboozled with columns by media journalists analyzing whether or not Katie Couric has the starpower to save the genre of nightly network news broadcasts. The answer is no. No one can save a format so utterly empty and bankrupt. You can get more hard news than that between calls on your cell phone.
The options are few and stark. The networks can go burlesque, or they can turn out the lights and go home, because nobody will be watching.
This sounds like an opening for a show by Randi
definitely knows how to do the obscene, scatological name-calling that
all men prefer in their political analysis and,who, let's be honest,
may just possibly be in need of employment sometime during the next few
I know I can't wait to feel the warm waves of feminine intelligence oozing from the radio on a regular basis. I had a tiny taste today on the Rush Limbaugh show when a cultured, highly educated liberal woman called Rush to show him the error of his ways in sponsoring the evil people who are determined to destroy our great nation by warring against muslim fanatics. It was a joy. She was articulate, forcible without being loud, and it took her a full 45 seconds to get around to comparing his powers of perception with his total hearing loss. When it comes right down to it, everyone must concede that women are just nicer all around than men.
And their promotional merchandise is always much more exciting too.
So it's been exactly five years since we all turned on the TV to watch
that second plane strike the second tower and begin the 21st century in
earnest. Where were you at that moment? And what were your immediate
I know there have been a lot of weighty analyses of the fifth anniversary of 9/11 and its meaning. I heard one Saturday on the radio, hosted jointly by NPR and the BBC, with listeners from all over the globe solicited to call in, collect, to offer their own perspectives. Frank Rich was a guest and seemed impressed enough by the dignity of the venue that he actually tried to restrain his Bush hatred and affect an objective point of view. Dorothy Rabinowitz was also on hand as the lone defender of (outmoded) 20th century traditions like patriotism and national security. Whenever she made a point the BBC hostess didn't like, a caller was summoned from the queue to provide an anecdotal rebuttal. The foreign callers were identified by nation of origin -- France, Britain, etc -- but they were invariably muslim and offended to the core by the fact that the U.S. would seek to defend itself against muslim terrorism by scrutinizing muslims more closely than Indiana housewives. The BBC hostess was enjoying herself immensely until Rabinowitz had finally had enough and pummeled the BBC for its venomous anti-American propaganda, which caused her to lapse into relative silence.
Still, it was interesting to hear the American pundits trying, for once, to be less partisan and more reflective about the difficulties America faces in trying to fight a war on terror in the current international climate. Even if it was all for show, the prospect of Frank Rich declaring that the policy decisions were extraordinarily difficult and unavoidably controversial was like the experience of rain after a long drought, almost palpably life-giving. What would the past five years have been like, I couldn't help wondering, if debate and criticism had proceeded atop the civil platform of agreement that the President was really trying to do his best in a terrible crisis that almost no one had anticipated? Imagine that everyone had been sober and serious all along, as if the responsibility were theirs and not someone else's. Imagine that the opposition to the administration's policies had been more substantive than personal, focused on alternative proposals rather than autopsies of irrevocable decisions past. Imagine that all of us were dealing with today's reality instead of pet grievances from months or years ago. Isn't it possible that the critics might have had more impact on events, that the defenders of American policy might have listened and responded more thoughtfully?
You can decide all these questions for yourselves, but I know I would have been more open to opposing views if their proponents had not insisted that doing the right thing required a first step of denouncing the president as a fool, a liar, an opportunist, and a closet tyrant. If I put aside the partisan emotions such postulates inspire, I have enough breathing room to perceive that my own views have changed again and again over the past five years. On September 11, 2001, I wanted to nuke Afghanistan, I wanted the world to tremble in fear of American military might, I wanted to go Roman Empire on the whole smelly, barbarian world. I wanted bin Laden and everyone he had ever met vaporized into a radioactive cloud. But Bush did not launch the B-52s and ICBMs. I was irate when I asked the question a lot of people just like me were asking at the time, "What is he waitng for? Just go DO it."
But you can't nuke a country of 15 million people because some of its residents killed 3,000 Americans. I would have recognized that fact if I had been the one making the decisions in the Oval Office. But I wasn't. I had the luxury of not being responsible for how the nation responded to an act of ultimate depravity and viciousness. Indeed, we have ALL had that luxury. All of us, that is, but the most vilified man on Planet Earth, the one man who has had to be continuously responsible for protecting the United States of America throughout each of the 2,628,000 minutes since the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center.
In honor of the fifth anniversary of 9/11, I propose that all Americans perform two exercises. The first is to compile a list of notable public examples of the luxury of not being responsible for protecting the nation. The list should take in the full five year timeframe, and it should be written down to make it official. I'm offering a sample here, just to illustrate what I mean, but yours will, of course, be different.
Well, I could go on, but you get the idea. As I said, everyone can draw
up his own list. There are absurdities on every side, and I'm sure that
those who are so disposed can find laughable examples that suit their
own political biases. My overriding point is that all of our positions,
causes, pet peeves, and raging hatreds are luxuries. Only one of the
300 million people who live in America wake up every day to a briefing
from the nation's intelligence agencies about what threats might become
reailty today. That's a fact. The man's name is George W. Bush.
I'm NOT saying this makes him immune from criticism. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Forget all the invective about his cowardice or shirking of military duty when he was a twenty-something. Five years of such briefings would be enough to give most of us Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It's probably the case that the President of the United States has been damaged by what he's been through. It's the most obvious explanation conceivable for why the White House seems so slow to respond to the daily firestorms the mass media engender. My guess is, not too many of us would want to be living inside George W. Bush's head right now. It's too much. For anyone. He needs advice and constructive criticism and thoughtful opposition. But who -- and I'm including all of you in this -- is served by characterizing the advice, criticism, and opposition as the obvious response to a criminal idiot?
But that's right. You, me, all of us, we're so much smarter than the oil monkey who's been getting the daily briefings for five years. That brings me to the second exercise. Make a list -- and write IT down too -- of the extreme positions you have taken personally over the past five years, beginning with 9/11. What are the worst things you have thought? What are the wildest positions you have espoused in your times of greatest personal weakness, disgust, anger, fatigue, despair? Measure them against the imaginary state in which you are responsible, day after day after day after day after day... Define loneliness. Could you bear it?
Now. That done, how would you really go about discussing your differences with the President of the United States? If you answer this question truthfully, I'm sure he'd be prepared to listen.
UPDATE. Thanks to Glenn Reynolds and to all the commenters who have been so kind.