Friday, July 17, 2009

Vanity of vanities

I knew this 30 years ago. No, really.

When you read the emails by Gregory, King, Stephanopoulos and others, you start to understand why most major network interviews with politicians tend to be a lot less hard hitting than they need to be to really hold their subjects accountable. The politicians themselves have the power to make or break the networks, by granting or withholding access. That ends up meaning that, consciously or not, the networks soften their approaches -- both in their pitches, and in their actual interviews -- in exchange for that access.

That's how the world works, and it's hard to know what to do about it.
It must have been in Harper's Magazine, which I was reading devotedly at the time. I was also watching "This Week with David Brinkley" as if I were an acolyte in the Church of News. Then I read this article pointing out that none of the journalists (or George Will) ever asked sharp questions of the "guests" because they would lose all access to the politicians who are the only reason anyone tuned into those shows on Sunday morning. And this, of course, was back when most people were in bed or in church on Sunday morning, and the Sunday morning talk shows were A) a snoozefest that B) nobody paid attention to.

Before McLaughlin, in other words, changed the TV landscape forever, and ushered in the era of Cable News as we know it today (i.e., before CNN was Fox-ified).

There is indeed nothing new under the sun, and even the advent of the Intertubes has not made us wiser. We're just re-inventing the wheel and re-discovering fire at the same pace we were before. Americans really do have the worst inter-generational transfer of knowledge on the planet. It must be something unique to our culture.....


Walter Cronkite never did a Sunday morning show with "guests." When he talked to politicians, he was still a journalist. He reported the news of my childhood: the death of Kennedy; the Democratic Convention in'68; the moon landing.

God be with you, Mr. Cronkite; and with your family.

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