We live in an entertainment era where news is rarely news and events never see the light of introspection if they are not "interesting" or entertaining. I watch about three news programs on TV most evenings and then find I have to go online to find out what's really going on, moving through site after site to dig up what’s going on in the world. We have no Walter Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow; Wolf Blitzer is less than a poor substitute.
When I was a little kid, my mother used to turn on a newscast every evening with a woman whom I got used to watching. She was already an old lady at the time, and she sat at a desk and talked about what was going on in the world. Her name was Dorothy Fuldheim, and I learned many years later that she was considered one of the great newscasters of the day. What I learned at the time was to sit and listen to someone who knew what she was talking about; she educated an entire generation of people. We are now bereft, searching for someone who would bother to tell us what is going on. It is much harder work to make sense of things, and considering that it was never easy, it is a downright shame to have so many people obfuscate matters.
The “World News” on all three networks rarely ventures into the world unless there is something overwhelming going on in a place such as Japan or Libya; certainly the genocide and ethnic cleansings of the past several decades have made little splash on television. The other networks are no better. They all present what should be news with their own particular slant on things, as if an opinion is as much fact as anything else. Each network also makes decisions on reporting events that have an agenda with their parent companies. For example, the weekly news magazine “60 Minutes” used to be much stronger on bringing real news stories of the week, and now focuses on certain big stories of interest and more than offering news, presents a particular angle on things. Once in a great while, they do a superb job, but more often they will interview a celebrity whose book is being released by the parent company of the network, or they will deal with damage control for a related entity. The tie-ins are an important part of the package deal struck for the work.
And when tragedy strikes, television’s way of reporting on these big events is to go right to the spot. All the networks are big, as is CNN and some other cable outfits, and they love to travel to what they call trouble spots so they can have someone right where “it” is happening, particularly to interview whatever seemingly important person or eye witness they can find and, even more, to look for that human interest angle wherever they are.
Yet somehow they often forget to give you what might be described as an accurate picture of events, becoming so involved in their angle, in other words, their take on things. And, lately, even with so much overwhelming news, our networks often manage to skip the world some evenings and tell you about what some guy in Kansas did in the snowstorm, or how some young teenager raised money for poor people. It’s what some call "soft" news, and what I think of as human interest features and not news at all. With only half an hour, all three networks are now doing this because they're afraid if they don’t grab your interest and tug a bit at the heartstrings, they’ll lose their audience. They already have. Well, PBS is still taking up the burden, but they cannot handle it all, and if the Republicans in Congress have their way, they will be ever more pressed in attempting to their more serious work.