I am part of the problem, I should stay away. But I can’t. 24-hour news is a morass of fear mongering and finger-pointing. No information is given. No issues are resolved. Yet, I consume a good deal of it in my daily TV gorge. I have previously discussed Fox News’ Red Eye and MSNBC’s Morning Joe. These shows sort of know that they are in the muck and mire of the never-ending news juggernaut and get through their respective programs with a wink and a smile. Most poo-poo cable news as its widest audience comes from out-of-context Daily Show clips, but I have endured wide stretches of such infotainment. For the most part, the rest of day, the genre is overwrought jargon, jingoism and partisan clap-trap. And I love it. This is partly from my love of pro-wrestling, distinct lines of good guy vs bad guy. Wrestling is the last great burlesque, aside from cable news that is. The hosts of these shows are experts on everything: Immigration, Ebola, Aerodynamics. We can dismiss this as the death of actual news, and be highfalutin, but I celebrate this unique forum. I could go on about the hosts political leanings and partisanship and what qualifies as news but that to me is boring and has been beaten to death. I would rather nitpick the people that decided to or got roped into this world.
The most popular show in cable news for over a decade has been The O’Reilly Factor. A fascinating, if not always factual, show. I always enjoy older newspeople when they are dealt the hand of participating in the modern culture. My go-to pop culture references are either Simpsons quotes or 90’s pop rock. Bill goes way back as I have heard him reference Leslie Gore on many occasions. Yes, “It’s My Party and I’ll Cry If I Want To.” That song. That is his go-to pop culture reference. So when he is shown a Beyonce video, we get a good two weeks on the death of American culture. He is labelled right-wing and is but I don’t see that as his ideology so much as it him being a crusty old man.
An equally crusty and old (but not as right-wing) version of Bill O ‘Reilly has popped up on CNN. They kind of gave up on news at night. Anthony Bourdain brought his travel and food themed culture program to CNN as Parts Unknown. It’s a good show. A look into the ceremony and glory of rural Quebec maple syrup making is great TV. But CNN is cheating. Cable news must have people yelling and or being content with themselves.
On the left-wing of the spectrum I contend that most left-leaning cable news hosts want to be John Stewart. He gets the glory and money. It must be somewhere in their mind that they are of the same political leanings. And he just makes a joke, that’s easy–little skits. And so it goes that there are plenty of attempts at the Daily Show, without the writers, studio audience, comic timing or even production quality. Rachel Maddow, who is very bright and has been part of some vigorous, yet civil arguments with Pat Buchannan, falls victim to the Stewartization of news. The halls of academia or the campaign war-room can give some folk various talents, but not the ones that come from the years of sloughing the clubs and being an MTV-slacker talk show host before his current Daily Show run.
Canada is not immune. Ah yes, good ol’ Sun News Network – known for having “hard news and straight talk”. If you have checked it out recently they have pushed the talk over the news. Its daytime programming is very talk radio-esque. My favourite character (yes, I look at news pundits as characters – like wrestlers, they may use their real names but are versions of themselves with the volume turned up when on the air) Faith Goldy is trying to be the Canadian Ann Coluter. She is a quite a gorgeous young lady, complete with her flawless skin and trendy glasses. Few people can shoehorn biblical references and scripture into news reports as she can. She recently hosted a special on Ebola, calmly titled, “Global Hot Zone”. Faith didn’t interview but interrogated physicists and doctors on the strain. Belligerently discussing the possibilities of the virus mutating, being calmly steered away from that line of thinking by the expert only to have another fearful claim made next. And this game of fear mongering volleyball continued for an hour. I watched fascinated. I hope that if you cornered Faith away from the studio she would acquiesce to science they way she would not on air. In the same way that if you presented superstar wrestler Randy Orton the opportunity to kick his rivals wife in the head, he would not – but would for purposes of the show.
Aside from the circus, in the midst of the pandemonium there are also some bright, interesting folks who succeed in spite of the vessel they toddle around in. Shepherd Smith is a Fox News anchorman. A big square head that is a little more leathery than Anderson Cooper. He looks little older, ergo you take him a little more serious. He is on for an hour everyday at 2 p.m. He actually does news, but does so by eye-rolling at partisanship and fear tactics. Mutters under his breath when some thing is flat-out dumb. His only weakness, if you could call it that, is to show off his gift maybe a little too much. Like a gentleman with abs who is too often shirtless, Shep loves broadcasting car chases. And dammit his is the best car chase broadcaster on God’s green earth. Never overwrought, he admits that this is silly, but still compelling. “I’ve done these since ’96, never seen a guy get away”, he muses in his Mississippi tinged drawl.
Quietly, Steve Kornacki has become a favourite. Her hosts a quiet, very early morning weekend roundtable show that has the excellent tone of quietly rousing you out of your slumber if you are just getting up; or gently laying you to bed if you are just getting in. He loves him some charts and stats and won’t so much as raise his voice to a guest, almost like he knows that might wake you if you dozed off with the volume on. That’s not a knock, that’s a compliment.
That is just a smattering of what happens all-day, everyday in this provocative field. Bursts of mayhem are steady from leftist commentator Ed Schultz using the term “slut” gratuitously and improperly to Sun News Contributor Ray Heard, sort of blaming Anne Frank’s death on Trudeau. Which one? We’ll find out after the break. The whole experience is fascinating but ultimately unsatisfying. 24-hour news leaves with you with the feeling you get after taking a Mennonite lass to cotillion or perhaps reading this entry. Small pockets of hope that you might experience something new, but settle for something that you convince yourself is good enough.
Raphael Saray has met TSN reporter John Lu and has former TSN Reporter Wray Morrison’s phone number. But is too chicken to call.