4/25/03 Brooklyn, NY
When we first got cable TV, it was 1979 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a town that was a frequent test market for new services. At first, we got about 14 stations, which was quadruple what we’d received via antenna. WGN was on a lot (making me a temporary Cubs fan) as well as WTBS, the “Atlanta Superstation.” When CNN came to cable, the first thing I thought was, “24-hour news? How on earth can they fill up that much time? Does enough happen in the world each day?”
I was used to Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather, gruff 30-minute newscasts that gave you the basics and then shuffled you off to the Love Boat/Fantasy Island 2-hour extravaganza. Nightline came on when the Iranians took Americans hostage, but I was pretty sure that show would be short-lived. I mean, how can you possibly have enough news for it to never end?
It turns out that 12-year-old Ian was right. There is no way. CNN, a station I respected in the early days of Ted Turner’s reign, providing that amazing 1991 coverage of the first night in Baghdad, is now so salacious and stupid that I have taken it off my “favorites” for both TV and the web. Other outlets are such embarrassments that they don’t even require mention in any serious media analysis (except for, perhaps, their wantonly destructive effect on this country’s interior populace) but CNN actually pretends to have their shit together.
Yes, I know they tried to be Fox for a while and it backfired. They shitcanned “Talk Back Live” because they found out that average Americans can hardly think their way out of a hot bathtub. Then they sacked Connie Chung, who tried to charm her way through horseshit stories of the Gary Condit variety, but mostly looked like she had Bell’s Palsy.
But don’t kid yourself; CNN has put a coat of spackle on a crumbling wall. Their recent full-scale, breathless coverage of the SARS virus is shameful pandering at its most nakedly desperate, and this Laci Peterson story is just unadulterated crap. CNN should be honest with itself and abandon the barrel-bottom scrapings and brain-dead jingoism; let the other guys have it. They should get their core, educated, better-off viewers back who can actually afford the Mercedes their advertisers want to sell.
Second, they should fess up just and say it: There isn’t enough news for 24 hours. There wasn’t enough news for 24 hours even on September 11, ostensibly the biggest news day in modern history. We were forced to watch those planes hit those buildings an average of 450 times each. Revelations took weeks, payback took months, ramification took years. The problem with real life is that it moves too slowly.
And while we’re on the subject of fallen institutions, what the fuck happened to Dennis Miller? He used to be the funniest thing on television, and his rants – on tape – kept me awake for three days across the desert Southwest. His views on abortion, foreign policy, racism and sexism were not only progressive, but hilarious.
After seeing his latest HBO special, however, I’m through with the bastard. For someone so clever, I’ve never seen anyone so quick to abandon higher principles for a cheap laugh. One such tiresome joke was that he didn’t think global warming was such a big deal because the average temperature of the earth has only gone up 1.8 degrees in a hundred years. Why, he could fiddle with the thermostat in his hotel room and not tell the difference! Yuk, yuk, yuk.
What he fails to grasp is that the temperature has gone up very quickly in the last two decades, and that even a difference of 3 degrees celsius could melt enough ice caps to augur the end of every coastal town in America and Europe. He also said he didn’t care about his descendents, because he’ll never know them. Yuk, yuk, yuk!
He continued on about how we should bomb the hell out of Baghdad until the sand turned to glass… but the coup de grace came when he announced how glad he was that Clinton was out of office (to thunderous applause). After watching Dubya playing t-ball on the White House lawn with kids, he sanctimoniously announced that Bush has brought Dignity and Respect back to the White House. More thunderous applause. I mean, WHAT THE &@#%#*&^$%# ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?
Screw Dennis Miller. Maybe after his ousting at Monday Night Football – for being a smartypants – he feels a financial need to court the late-night cable audience by dipping his wick into angry, simpleminded populism. As for me, I fully admit to being a hotheaded, whiny, needly liberal with a touchy streak – but this is a guy who has always been respected by thinking, sensitive Americans, and I’m horrified that he picked a time like this, when the world is so unbelievably fucked up, to make it a little bit worse.