MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
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The Washington Post is so enamored of inside-the-Beltway, self-anointed pundits (which include a great number of WP columnists and reporters) that it published an inadvertently revealing April 20 article about pretentious Sunday morning political talk shows. The Post article implied that the falling ratings of David Gregory on "Meet the Press" could be related to the real objectives of these pustulating programs with blathering poobahs: advertising and DC access for the three major non-cable networks.
The article, curiously posted in the "Lifestyle" section of the Post, begins with a breathless portrait of David Gregory, who infamously asked Glenn Greenwald last year - in an example of the uniform mindset shared by the government and network news - "To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn't you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?" The Post portrays Gregory as follows:
If "Meet the Press" moderator David Gregory were a guest on his own show, he knows the kinds of questions he’d be asked.
Why have your ratings been falling? Is the show in trouble? Is your job in trouble?
"I get it," says Gregory, the face of the longest-running TV program in American history (founded in 1947). "Do I want to be number one in the ratings? Every week I want to be number one, and we fight like hell to get there. And it’s tough right now. It’s a fight.”
He adds, “I’m not just trying to sell you - well, I am trying to sell you - but I’m not going to B.S. you, either. Yeah, it’s hard. I see what our challenges are. But we’re going to fix our problems."
The main problem: The great-granddaddy of Sunday-morning Beltway blabfests isn’t just not No. 1. It’s No. 3 and in the midst of a three-year slide. During the first three months of this year, the NBC program finished behind perennial rivals "Face the Nation" on CBS and "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" on ABC, despite being helped by two weeks of Winter Olympics hoopla. In the final quarter of last year, viewing among people ages 25 to 54, the preferred group for TV news advertisers, fell to its lowest level ever.
The Post later notes about the windbag programs that center on self-inflated discussion of political process, rather than information on public policy: "The relatively large and affluent audiences they attract make them magnets for corporate image advertisers that pay premium prices for airtime. [Tim] Russert’s dominating position helped NBC earn a reported $60 million from 'Meet the Press' in 2007."
Russert (now deceased) was the apple-cheeked interviewer who never prodded a DC power broker or pundit with a more challenging question than, "Do you drink one or two cups of coffee in the morning?" However, he was beloved by the DC elite and NBC because he was immensely affable - and he was money in the bank for the network.
Remember that television programing is what happens in between the real reason for a network's existence: profit through advertising. This explains Gregory's babble about the new format of "Meet the Press": "We’re thinking about who the real influencers are in this country."
Does he mean that the Koch brothers will be making regular appearances now? Who knows. One thing you can be sure of is that David Gregory and his competitors on Sunday morning will not be exposing any viewer to the dangerous challenge of actually thinking about public policy, or learning anything about it.
What Gregory, George Stephanapoulos (ABC) and Bob Schieffer (CBS) concentrate on is the opinons of the ruling elite and incestuous echo chamber of DC. The advertising context of their programs dictates that news is talking about political conflict rather than policy substance. They focus on individuals in the political and ruling elite rather than systemic challenges.
In addition, they cannot offend corporations; if they do, they will lose advertising. Besides which, the programs are broadcast on networks that are mega-corporations themselves.
In short, David Gregory and his colleagues solving the formidable problems confronting the United States and the world would be like a quack curing cancer.
If you want to know what makes the Sunday morning news shows such unrelenting pablum, just follow the money to the advertising.
Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.
Also read Walter Brasch's "Mainstream Media News Is a Tragedy Because It Doesn't Report the News That Matters," on BuzzFlash at Truthout.