TV Attacks Elections

When contemplating the current state of affairs (election year), one wonders how an invention as wonderful as TV could be so damning. It corrupts virtually everything it touches…from sports (those agonizingly long commercials interspersed by football) to campaigning (titillation as substance). While some claim the country is on its way to hell, others tsk-tsk about the e-mail of a pedophile and claim it proves the whole party of the pedophile is perverted, perverse, and pernicious. The spin-doctors go into high gear when such titillating stuff is abroad and by the time the dust settles profound truths (terribly unflattering) about the imbecilic spinners is outed and becomes the only outcome of the whole mess, to wit, that they are either as dumb as a gourd or have found the easiest way to make big bucks without working.

The culprit engaging this mishmash of lunacy called electioneering is TV. Radio was/is the much better medium for campaigning since it disallowed(s) the constant mugging of candidates for the cameras and the consequent substitution of appearance for brains. Radio speakers didn’t have to bother with layers of makeup to fool people into thinking they were younger than they were, meaning they actually considered what they said to be important, instead of how they looked. The subject matter in any campaigner’s TV pitch these days does not evoke thought, even at the rare times it actually makes sense; rather, the viewers discuss how much Botox has gone into the candidates face. Everyone looks for the concrete-smile and the stretched jaw and the un-batted eyelid…with nary a wrinkle to be seen. Weird!

Radio reporters with tape recorders followed candidates around in the old days, but they were not as off-putting as those with a cameraman in tow now and they were much more civilized than to constantly be playing “gotcha,” the prevailing mode today. Senator Kerry learned the hard way. He was so rattled when the cameraman caught him the other day, forcing him to consider immediately his tonsorial/cosmetic condition, that he misfired completely and said spontaneously what he actually thinks – a no-no for any politician. That’s the old appearance-before-brains thing kicking in. So…he – unbelievably – reckoned that only the dummies of the nation were stuck in Iraq. There went all his hopes for 2008…and all because he was worried about his hair.

In the radio days, news broadcasts even about elections just contained news. Not so in TV-world. Actors are needed now, folks who can stand in a downpour in front of the White House, look serious while inwardly cursing, and give the news with a commentary of what it actually means, and then sneer or grin on cue, whichever is decided appropriate by the producer. The “anchor,” back in the studio unless something is happening somewhere else that’s too important for an ordinary reporter to cover it, furnishes the proper body language to punctuate the item with the network’s bias, calls in a well-coifed expert to explain matters to the great unwashed, and expresses his thanks for such erudition. Great theater!

Even in radio days, there was bias by the major networks, but it never seemed to matter much because there weren’t that many programs designed to advance an agenda. Not so anymore. With TV have come all kinds of talk-shows carried out by “professional” poll-watchers and prognosticators, most of them with an agenda. Example: The McLaughlin Group appears on PBS-TV on Friday nights. McLaughlin is a rabid Bush-hater, but the participants are made up of Pat Buchanan, libertarian and sometime presidential candidate for whatever party he can hijack; Eleanor Clift, far left; Tony Blankley, token conservative; and a guest, usually a liberal.

On the last program, the guest was Lawrence O’Donnell, senior something-or-other at MSNBC, the least-watched of the cable networks, who pathetically tried to explain that Kerry had departed from his script (a script for a spontaneous press conference?) when he was caught wondering about his hairdo and meant to say that Bush got the uneducated stuck in Iraq. He knew better, of course (unless he’d been in a cave all week), but tried to fool everyone else, who also knew better. It was hilarious.

It’s all showbiz, of course. Just a look at the gyrations invented by players in the NFL furnishes abundant proof. The celebrations, taunting, trash-talk, general superego-trips reminds one of the Three Stooges or the Keystone Kops of yesteryear, caricaturing their profession. The elections are just part of the show…and the beat goes on.