Below Average Medium

TV News is a never-ending source of embarrassment for the viewers. The practitioners never seem to get the joke, despite the fact that Jon Stewart has made a career out of making them the butts of his.

Recently it was announced that the smug and incompetent David Gregory was walking the plank at NBC, having taken “Meet the Press” from first in the ratings on Sunday to dead last. He will be replaced by Chuck Todd who should have had the job when Tim Russert died suddenly six years ago.

Why? He was Russert’s hand-picked protege, a world-class political junkie with encyclopedic recall of the faces, facts and figures. He came to TV with six years experience as editor-in-chef of Washington’s inside-baseball publication “The Hotline.”

He has been NBC’s political director for seven years, with responsibility for analysis and polling, White House correspondent and host of the least tendentious and most fact-based show on MSNBC, “The Daily Rundown.” He’s a probing, but not adversarial interviewer and an enthusiastic, amiable guide to all things political.

So what took the suits so long to get the message? No doubt the usual suit-like reasons. He came from print. He had less on air experience than behind the scenes time. He hadn’t slowly worked his way up the greasy pole, wore a goatee, had chipmunk-like teeth and was losing his hair. Whereas Gregory, though he grinned like a Jack O’ Lantern, had excellent hair. Unfortunately, he was also a hopeless lightweight.

While the suits were canonizing Russert they apparently forgot he was anything but telegenic. Nor was Walter Cronkite or many of the greats of broadcast journalism. But tarting up while dumbing down news is all in a day’s work for network executives and right-wing stormtroopers like Rupert Murdock. The product has been debased to a level once only imagined in the satiric fever dream of Paddy Chayefsky’s “Network.” Apparently, however, Gregory’s ratings got so low that the suits were prepared to roll the dice with knowledge and talent, even if they didn’t come in a package as comely as the average weather girl.

Speaking of weather, a TV doofus this week spoke of the “highly unusual” weather conditions on the Plains where over 4,200 lightning strikes had been recorded. This excited patter was accompanied by video showing spectacular examples.

However, Tornado Alley is notorious for summer storms and this was most likely not promoted as news because it was actually news. It was deemed to be news because smart phones allow a lot more people to take a lot more pictures of photogenic weather than previously, and because Big Data technology allows for a more comprehensive real time tally of almost everything than ever before.

This is undoubtedly the same phenomenon behind a lot of heavy breathing about supposed epidemics of ADHD, Lyme disease, shingles, whatever the disease du jour. Often, one suspects, the spike in reported cases is not the result of more cases but of greater skill at identifying them. That is, better tests and measures. But TV news doesn’t care as long as it can say words like “lightning” and “epidemic” and show cool, scary pictures.

Even more embarrassing has been the orgy of coverage of the hacker theft of nude celebrity photos. More TV news manpower (and time) has been thrown at this story in the past week than at ISIS, Ukraine and the economy combined.

Why? Because hard news is hard to cover and can be hard to explain, but naked pictures are titillating and self-explanatory. You could tell the news folks, while shedding crocodile tears about the invasion of privacy, had salivated all over the photos in private and that they yearned to be able to flash them for the home viewer.

Debarred from passing on the porn, they did the next best thing. They talked about the cruel invasion of privacy that extremely attractive women had suffered and accompanied their discussion with pictures of those same woman as scantily clad as the networks would allow.

Ringing calls were made on tech titans to fix the problem of hacking so Goddesses could continue to self-produce soft core porn without the risk of it leaking out. Only rarely did someone sensibly suggest that only idiots would photograph themselves unclad on a hackable device and then compound the error by entrusting the results to The Cloud, whatever that is.

Such killjoys were quickly shushed, however, and told they should be ashamed for blaming the victim. Goddesses surely should have the right to photograph their private parts in private and decide whether they wanted to share them with the rest of us. (Oh, please share them.)

Wherever they’re watching from, Edward R. Murrow, Uncle Walter, David Brinkley, Tim Russert must be proud that TV News continues to live up to its potential.

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