American television news is so over, we have to go to Al-Jazeera and El Arabia for news of our own wars

American broadcast and cable news operations don’t even bother anymore, not even in the traditional 6:30 pm network news slot, once the ‘big boy’. The final word. The program elevated by Walter Cronkite (CBS) and Chet Huntley and David Brinkley (ABC NBC – thanks Don) and someone on ABC (who was it before Birnkley moved over?).

Those shows now run perhaps 19 or 22 minutes, of which they devote a precious few to reminding us who they are and how great they are and thank each other for doing such a great job while letting us know, breathlessly, that every interview is ‘exclusive’. I even heard Brian Williams recently refer to their reporter in Libya as ‘the only network broadcast reporter in the square right now”. which meant that maybe ABC and CBS were taking a bathroom break. But no matter, heady stuff anyway – for them.

After all the chest thumping, they spend perhaps 6 or 7 minutes on the ‘news’ of the day (which this week includes updates on the trial of Michael Jackson’s doctor.) And finally, there is a ‘report’ on some new weapon or medical breakthrough or cute animal – most of these appear to be video press releases.

The cables do a little real news, but mostly they opt for that cheap-to-produce stuff featuring poorly informed – but insistent – gasbags, opining on the political matters of the day.

Today, that is what passes for the news on American television. (There are exceptions of course – PBS News Hour,  Fareed Zacharia on CNN and – only occasionally anymore – 60 Minutes. I’ll add my own local news – they often do a very decent job.)

And then there’s the BBC. The venerable British Broadcasting Company is serious about reporting and committed to informing their viewers, listeners and readers. Look at this from their website. Now that’s committment – one click brings the world to the world.

13 responses to “American television news is so over, we have to go to Al-Jazeera and El Arabia for news of our own wars

  1. Chet Huntley and David Brinkley was on NBC, Huntley in New York, and Brinkley in Washington. David left after a few years for ABC.

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  2. You’re welcome Moe. 🙂

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  3. Al Jazeera, RT America, The Young Turks, The Real News. Those my primary outlets I check out if I want a truthful report on anything.

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  4. I’ve been a BBC fan for years, given that it actually delivers news instead of human interest stories and empty commentary. To boot, it provides fairly comprehensive global news coverage, which is sorely lacking from the insulated American news media. Al-Jazeera English is pretty good too. I’ve always found it ironic that I can find better coverage of American events from foreign sources than I can from many mainstream American TV sources (!).

    There’s something ominous about an American TV news media that is so anemic. It’s the main source of news for many Americans, meaning that they’re not getting a lot of information period, much less high-quality information. How can Americans make good decisions and be good citizens of the world if they’re ill-informed?

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    • Ahab, it reflects the concentration of corporate ownership, and they’re not particularly interested in an informed electorate – would rather give us bread and circuses. Once the networks saw their news operation as ‘loss leaders’ and competed not for ratings but for quality. Now it’s just profit and ratings. Our loss.

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  5. someone on ABC (who was it before Birnkley moved over?).

    I don’t recall the order, but I think ABC featured at various points:

    Howard K. Smith; Harry Reasoner; Frank Reynolds and ????

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  6. You know your point on the old broadcasing monopoly (oligopoly really) got me thinking.

    There’s a school of thought that a lot of our current economic angst is due to actual slowing in technical change, improvement in productivity over time. This is an alternative to focusing on the all the new wealth (and maybe some of the old) going to the already rich, because the point is simply a more slowly growing pie. This phenomenom long predates President Obama by the way, just to make that clear. About 1973 or so seems to be crucial. Tyler Cowen has written a lot on this idea, and can be followed via his Marginal Revolution blog, and suggests we’ve run out of low hanging fruit in improved productivity. I recommend reading his blog and books.

    If so, though one could ask why are we out of technical improvements?
    One thought that I don’t think I’ve heard anyone else suggest is what is the effect of deregulation on technical change?

    A lot innovation came out of Bell Labs including the transistor. Bell Labs could exist at least partially because a fat and happy monopoly, AT&T could keep its profits at level below what would incur regulatory review by plowing some of them into pure research and science. AT&T’s ability to subsidize research was parallel to the network’s subsidizing of their once great new organizing. Much of that research would and did result in benefits far beyond those captured as profits by AT&T.

    In the much less regulated business world today, Bell Labs as an alternative to pure research (not benefiting the bottom line) no longer exists. Perhaps that is at least a part of what is ailing us on the economy, the decline of network news may come from the same source. Let me conclude that deregulation has I think a lot of positive effects as well, but maybe reduced subsidies for news and research is a down side.

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    • bruce, when it comes to the overall economy (and the press as well), while all that you say is true, the problem comes when we refuse to recognize a problem or recognize it and refuse to act. In the overall economy, certainly a lot of income losses come because of technology and productivity and other things. But it’s been happening for a long time and there realy have been few policies proposed to address it.

      I look at the BBC and ITN and PBS and see them doing just as good a job as they’ve always done, perhaps better, even as their funding is harder to get. They take their role in informing their viewers very seriously.

      So I will continue to fault the US TV news operations. They do a terrible job. Even CNN whose primary product is news, not entertainment, does a terrible job. In my humble opinion of course. And of course the big networks could easily afford to improve their news shows. I think they just don’t htink it’s important enough.

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