Monday, February 1, 2021

What Happened to News?

 I was thinking back on this while trying to fall back asleep.  Newspapers have always been partisan institutions largely funded by ad revenue.  While some showed great courage and public interest, such as Harper's Weekly's campaign against the Tammany Hall corruption, there was plenty of very degraded journalism as well that only sought morbidly curious readers.  I remember reading a biography of Hearst, that mentioned his New York City paper focusing on details of the underwear of a little girl who was raped and murdered.

Newspapers suffered a great dying after World War II as television replaced it.  It was easier to get information that way.  For many, even then, reading was hard work.  Television and radio stations operated news as a loss.  The FCC required broadcast stations to provide news and educational materials as a condition of use of the public airwaves.  I can just barely remember in Los Angeles in the early 1960s, Sunday evenings would have 15 minutes of local news starting at 7:00 PM, and national news from 7:15 to 7:30.  (Sundays had little news, apparently.)  

The networks made and ran documentaries that today appear on PBS and cable or Internet channels.  CBS, in particular, I remember running the National Geographic documentaries because they had to produce and present material in the larger public interest.  They were informative and entertaining (at least to me as a child). 

 When TV stations ran editorials, or news that expressed a controversial point of view, they were require to present opposing points of view.  Some of these were well presented; some were not, but at least more than one point of view was presented.  This lasted until 1987.  It seems in retrospect a darn good idea; it made it possible to break out of the echo chamber that is now national news.

Unfortunately at about this time in  the late 1960s, a form of propaganda begin to appear on KNXT, the CBS affiliate.  They hired an environmental reporter.  As time went on and I became more adept at analyzing news reporting, in spite of my strong sympathies for the environmental movement, the more it became apparent that he was presenting a very biased version of these issues.  I think this is the point where I began to become skeptical of news media.

At some point the FCC dropped the public interest requirement, and broadcast news became a profit center.  This, in my memory, was about the time PBS and NPR received national government funding.  I think many of what became PBS TV stations had enjoyed local funding as educational television for kids as an alternative to the Saturday morning cartoon ghetto of kid-targeted ads (toys and sugary cereals such as Lucky "magically delicious" Charms).  I think KCET, the Los Angeles PBS affiliate picked its call letters from Children's Educational TV.

Serious newspapers, such as the Los Angeles Times, into the 1970s would print the entire text of speeches by the President, although usually in smaller type than the articles.  If you wanted to know what he said, it was there for those who cared.

Sometime in the 1960s, the FCC decided that national broadcasting of the evening entertainment (some of which was actually serious news documentaries: CBS Reports, NBC White Paper) was too national and left too little room for local stuff.  What had been national starting at 7:00 PM, usually the network's evening news broadcast, followed by some often very good entertainment (Mission: Impossible, The Name of the Game, Star Trek, Combat!, The Twilight Zone, the Outer Limits, Columbo) and a lot of predictable dreck (Bewitched, That Girl, Occasional Wife, Gunsmoke, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Lost in Space, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Hogan's Heroes, It's About Time, F-Troop, a few of which I watched and enjoyed until I turned about 12), was now confined to 8:00-11:00.  I do not know what other cities did, but the only particularly good use of this local programming time that I remember from Los Angeles was Ralph Story's Los Angeles.  It was light and fluffy, but provided often interesting bits of local history and culture.

Something changed in the 1970s.  A co-worker many years later told me she started at Duke's Journalism School in the early 1970s because she had no idea what else to do.  Woodward & Bernstein had received somewhat undeserved accolades for bringing down President Nixon for his crimes; Judge John Sirica and the Ervin Committee's investigation of the allegations were vastly more important, in my opinion.  But suddenly people were coming to Duke's journalism school "to bring down governments."  A profession that had patted itself on the back for public service started the transformation into a political institution.  For many Americans like myself, watching this transformation from ostensibly fair news coverage to a tool for going after Republicans was what started us down the road to cynicism.  The disasters of Vietnam and Watergate certainly contributed.

Watching the uncritical and grossly ignorant reporting of "assault weapon" bans 1989-95; climate change throughout the 1990s and 2000s; the repeated character assassination of Reagan (who even some Democrats later admitted had played a part in breaking up the Soviet Union and its Empire), then Bush the elder, Bush the younger as "literally Hitler!" (showing the increasingly illiterate state of America's self-imagined elites) left me utterly unprepared for the sudden collapse of serious journalism during the Obama years.  A few journalists asked hard questions, such as CBS' Sharyl Attkisson and her exposure of the clearly criminal and political "Fast & Furious" effort.  BATF told gun stores in Arizona that were expressing concerns about some questionable, perhaps unlawful gun purchases to go ahead and let them happen.  BATF's goal was to smuggle guns into Mexico for use by the cartels, thus providing an excuse for gun bans in America.  Even in an area where self-interest might logically have caused journalists to be skeptical of the Lightworker (aggressive prosecution of leaks to journalists) produced nothing but adulation.


  1. I had a similar thought while watching a video on YouTube, thinking "What is the point of this information being provided as a video?

    The common denominator is television. Cheap visuals, even if in the form of the top third of an attractive human's body, has something that entices humans to watch rather than read. It's easier to sit and be informed without the effort of reading, which is why TV/video appeals to so many. Low-effort thinkers tune in for information and are uncritical about what is presented, so this in turn rewards propaganda. Better thinkers go with the flow because watching is easier than reading and thinking, but sometimes they stop buying the narrative.

    Higher thinkers see past the crud and are there for the visuals. TV news (in places like LA where there is a lot of time and money spent on gathering GOOD video—I'm looking at you Vegas and Reno TV news—) provides great images that you can't get in the paper. When it comes to video, great moving pictures showing what happened or the president's speech live from his mouth have immense value.

    Back to YouTube, I'm watching a well-animated video while some guy narrates about obscure X history thing in quality detail. The visuals are great in a lot of cases of these videos. However, there is a problem I'll get to in a second. Other videos have something great to SAY, but are filled with stock footage or a man/woman standing there reading a script.

    Yes, sometimes it's nice to have a "personality" deliver information to you like an in-person lecture, but most of the time the good looking guy or woman with nice cleavage is there to supply the visuals. It's a distraction; the neat animations of ancient Rome don't tell me anything visual, it's so my eyes pay attention. Stock video is the same thing; here eyes, see something, engage eyes and ears.

    What I'm getting at is most of the videos on YouTube are like much of the news where there is a boring video of a police car parked funny in the road, not the bloody crime scene. The video portion does not convey information, it is merely a way to engage the eyes while your ears listen to the actual information transmission.

    How did we get information before TV/YouTube? Radio/first person telling or READING. If you turned off the video or the TV news, how much info would you be missing? We did just fine for decades with radio and AM news talk does good today. Podcasts are great, but again, these are the modern-day substitute for reading.

    In earlier days, news would be delivered through the paper. These YouTube videos would be essays in magazines or books. Which sucks for people like me who would otherwise be churning out much more writing. Much of the visual stuff is a total waste and way to catch our attention. So in order to succeed, TV/YouTube is the way to go when reading is a heck of a lot faster.

  2. The Cambridge Five had infiltrated academia and government in the UK beginning in the 1930's. There is great plausibility that the very same thing happened in even broader scale throughout those same institutions in the U.S. The widespread Marxism throughout U.S. government and private education system did not happen by accident or happenstance. Designs evince a designer.

  3. TV news was always biased to the Left. FDR made sure the radio networks were on his side when the FCC was created in 1934.

    "In the public interest" meant in the interest of the FDR administration. This made certain the networks were packed full of Progressives, especially after 4 years of censorship during WWII.

    The radio networks became the TV networks. The news was not required to make a profit, so it could be as partisan as they thought they could get away with.

    Walter Cronkite was a communist. We did not find out until after he retired.

    Your comments about the newspapers are generally correct.

    We would be much better off with partisan media. What we have is media which is ideologically one-sided partisan, where anyone outside the ideology is pushed to become part of the Borg or to be deplatformed, as in Parler.

    AS a check on my premise, consider: when was the TV news media ever positive about the Second Amendment?