Monday, April 20, 2009

What Price Must We Pay for Their Ratings?

I had a bite to eat tonight in the hotel restaurant/lounge here in Washington and on the wall in the far corner of the room was a big flat-screen TV. Mercifully, the sound was off, but I recognized Lou Dobbs who was – I could tell, even from that distance --pontificating about whatever was pissing him off today.

Sorry, I’m really not interested.

It's a wonder to me that anyone takes Dobbs and the others of his ilk seriously, especially the loonies at Fox : Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and Glen Beck et al. (I cannot bring myself to say, “Fox News.”)

Having spent 20-plus years in and around the news business, I can tell you what goes on every day in the offices and studios at the networks that produce and broadcast the shows on which those people appear. Every morning, five days a week, the “star” sits down with his producers and writers and says, in effect, “OK, what the hell are we going to talk about today?”

Bear in mind, what they care about is not the quality of the content or the public interest. What they care about are ratings, because ratings – good ratings, that is – keep them employed and keep those paychecks coming. And the higher the ratings, the fatter the paychecks.

Every day, they have to come up with something that will first capture and then hold the attention of their audience. That’s a huge challenge for a weekly show, and it’s five times the challenge for a show that’s aired daily.

And so, ever in search of higher ratings, they pass from the stimulating to the controversial to the inflammatory to the outrageous, without regard to any journalistic standards or, for that matter, the truth. They have to … or they’re off the air.

And so they end up, as O’Reilly does, screaming at their invited guests to shut up or feigning some kind of a mini-emotional breakdown while blubbering that they love their country, as Glen Beck did.

When these clowns rant and rave that Obama is a socialist who’s secretly plotting to take us all down the road to communism, rational people don’t take them seriously. The problem – and it’s truly frightening – is that some the 40 IQs out there do … and one of them could decide to do something about it.

Been there, done that ... and I really couldn’t bear to go down that road again.



Mike said...

This is why I laugh when "conservatives" talk about the importance of education. An educated electorate would give these characters the heave-ho in short order.

Kevin Love said...

To be successful, a politician needs to get 51% of the vote.

A radio or TV ranter is a smash hit if he can get 2% of the people to tune him in.

There will always be a 2% looney fringe, so look for freedom of speech to continue to be exercised in ways that have little to do with sanity or reason.