Throw Cable TV News Off A Cliff

I’m a news junkie. That doesn’t mean I want my news to be junk, but the obsessively needy feed-trough of cable TV news demands 24/7 of solid content.

Apparently, that’s impossible.

The current political cycle is evidence, causing an implosion of sensible, decent reporting as cable news attempts to provide around-the-clock coverage on the candidates.  Without a constant stream of new facts, the rolling out of information can be measured in dog years as it painfully limps its way to the next real event.

When nothing new presents itself, the length of Donald Trump’s nasal hair or the size of Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits might easily become fodder. The dimensions of one candidate’s hands in relationship to another body part can have its moment in the campaign sun.

Through what filter does this pass?

As repugnant as some of our politicians can be – or have always been – can we pinpoint where it became acceptable to breach our better sensibilities to raise the curtain on a candidate’s privacy?

Was it Bill Clinton’s 1994 glib response on an MTV Town Hall meeting to the pressing question: boxers or briefs?

(To those who might not remember, it was usually briefs).

Or perhaps the widespread coverage in 1992 of Barbara Bush holding a napkin over George Bush’s face after he vomited on the Prime Minister of Japan.

(He had the flu).

Or do we jump back a few decades to Marilyn Monroe’s salacious rendition of Happy Birthday, Mr. President to Jack Kennedy, at Madison Square Garden in 1962.

(To be honest, I wouldn’t want to give that one up).

Is it, in fact, the job of media to balance the output?

How much do we need conjecture, caveat and cliche before real facts begin to thread their way through the narrow eye of the news needle?

The New York Times masthead reads, All The News That’s Fit To Print. Considering the girth of the publication, pundits long-ago modified that moniker to read, All The News That Fits, We Print.

This has largely become the mantra for cable news.

Stuff it all into the cycle. The good, the bad, the ugly, the rumored, the mostly true, the sometimes true, the blatantly false until proved not to be.

Caveat Emptor. Thankfully, the Internet is only a few keystrokes away.

Here’s a recent breakdown of the average daily news audience for the three major cable news agencies for the third quarter of 2016.

Fox News – 1.41 million

CNN – 787,000

MSNBD – 676,000

Based on the recent census from 2015, putting the total population of the United States at 318.9 million, viewership represents less than one-half of one percent.

A recent survey by Ipsos, the renowned global information and analysis company, tells us that 51% of occupied houses in our country have cable television. With 2.8 people average per household, that puts the potential viewership north of 150 million people.

To throw another stat into the mix, over 80 million people watched the first Presidential debate on September 27th. Obviously there is an audience for current events.

Tremendous upside from a marketing perspective, yes?

So why hasn’t cable news figured out that their current modus operandi is broken.

I recall the legendary news talent, Walter Cronkite, who – upon hearing of the assassination of JFK while on the air – took off his trademark black horn-rimmed eyeglasses, looked at a stunned nation through the camera lens and informed us of the President’s death. As it had not been officially confirmed yet by a major new source like UPI, Cronkite took a calculated risk. By that time he’d been giving us the facts since 1935. He had honed his instincts.

For decades he would be called the most trusted man in America.

Which cable news network anchor would you nominate for that position?

I can’t think of one. Can you?

So, as Walter Cronkite would end each broadcast, I say –

That’s the way it is.

7 thoughts on “Throw Cable TV News Off A Cliff

  1. Constance Parrott October 3, 2016 — 12:29 am

    Spot-on assessment of the current cesspool of news coverage, Howard. I was distracted by the realization that I actually remember watching Marilyn Monroe sing to President Kennedy. Even at the ripe age of ten, I recognized that ‘Happy Birthday’ was NEVER sung that way around our family birthday cakes. Thanks for the memories?

  2. I know. X rated in those days.

  3. Provocative thoughts for provocative times. The 24/7 news feed has not made the population more informed, it’s made us crazy though–presenting, as you point out, fodder that is tangential and totally unrelated to the facts of a story. Walter Cronkite was a respected authority. New anchors today are more like celebrities, and the machines behind them that drive the cycle keep demanding more original content. In this election season that seems to be the normalizing of beliefs and behaviors that were once thought rude, crude or crazy. I too am a news junkie and I resent having to wade through the BS to get to the substance…when there is any. Nice post. Very timely!

  4. You nailed it. You’ve stated so eloquently what any reasonable person must feel about the state of today’s cable news output. I have spent many hours watching cable news in the past few years, but my distaste for the output has been growing exponentially. I have great disdain for both of the current candidates, but I don’t allow myself to
    consume the muck and mire being put out as newsworthy items about them. Oh, Walter, how you are missed!

  5. I want to stay my age but go back in time to appreciate the “greats” even more.

  6. Cable news isnt broken, imo. The premise that news rreportig should be, well, newsworthy, calls out for exaination. News is marketing.

  7. There is a difference between Cable tv news and network news. I agree with what you are saying that Cable news is marketing. I’m watching Face The Nation now. They are interviewing Biden. The questions are well developed and because they are and because the intelligence of the moderator is so evident, the responses have greater depth. Solid information can be obtained by the audience. However, there are, undoubtedly, marketing decisions made at different levels by the networks, too. It’s challenging.

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