— Tom Looby (@mapocoloco) July 20, 2021
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“Jane, you ignorant slut.”
Stay with me here: there was a time, many many years ago, in the days of Studio 54 and polyester shirts, where the idea of two people dressed in business suits yelling at each other about issues that hardly mattered to anyone passed as absurdist comedy.
If you were to type that opening line into the YouTube search bar, you’d get the old clip of Dan Ackroyd and Jane Curtin on SNL in 1979 arguing about the merits of Lee Marvin’s palimony suit.
I was still very much a child, but I never imagined that when I hit middle age, this format would go from “comedy” to what actually passes as serious news these days.
As a man who doesn’t even own a television, you might think I’d be unaware of what’s happening daily on Fox News and MSNBC—but, no such luck. A person would have to be living in a cave to be safe from an industry which has all but abandoned the responsibility of keeping the American public informed for the much more lucrative task of keeping individual market segments incensed and fearful.
I walked into a deli last night and Sean Hannity’s big, square head and angry voice came blasting through the screen. He ranted about the Biden administration’s handling of inflation, employee shortages, COVID-19 lockdowns, the southern border, violent crime, Russian hacking, threats from China, Iran’s increased uranium enrichment, and the situation in Afghanistan—all in the first 46 seconds.
Not minutes. Seconds.
Sounds like patent exaggeration, doesn’t it? I wish it was. But it’s right there on YouTube under the heading “Hannity: The Biden administration is unraveling.” And even though Fox News invented the business model of addicting people to fear and anger to sell advertisement space to reverse mortgage charlatans and get-rich-quick carnies, CNN and MSNBC quickly hopped on the money train to sell the same thing to its audience.
For two years, we watched as Rachel Maddow gave us daily accounts of “Russiagate,” a spy thriller that essentially delivered the death blow to American trust in major media outlets after the “weapons of mass destruction” debacle broke its nose with a blistering right hook at the turn of the new century.
When Ackroyd and Curtin were in New York orchestrating that Lee Marvin skit, Gallup polls showed that 70 percent of Americans trusted network news. By 2016, the same poll showed less than half that percentage. This is a serious problem.
At one time, there were rules when it came to journalism. There were fact checkers, there were living and breathing sources and, most importantly, there was a sense of responsibility to be impartial and truthful. Those days seem long gone.
The biggest problem is that to people who remember when television news was trustworthy, this progression into the ridiculous has the same effect as the frog in the boiling water analogy. The difference between a character like Sean Hannity and Walter Cronkite is tantamount to the difference between Bach and Justin Bieber, but many of the Baby Boomer generation have lost sight of this. They’ve been fooled into believing that the news has stayed the same but the world is in a lot more trouble. This kind of anxiety keeps that channel playing day and night, lest they miss something as grave as Joe Biden using the wrong tense or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or AOC, saying something Marxist.
What is adding insult to this injury is that the content on these stations is so arbitrary, one might think that there is nothing more important than a former Black Panther activist being released on parole or the federal investigation into Donald Trump’s business dealings. I happen to believe that half of all global wealth being owned by one percent of the population, pesticide manufacturers spending millions of dollars on PR to hide declining bee populations, murders of environmental activists increasing exponentially in the last two years, and Japan still dumping millions of gallons of radioactive cooling water from Fukushima into the Pacific Ocean are more important stories, but really, who am I to say?
These facts, as much as they threaten human existence, don’t seem as scary as a street mural of a civil rights activist who killed a cop in New Jersey in the 70s, at least according to Fox News. The selection of stories on the more left-leaning channels isn’t really any better.
The business model seems to be “here is something the Democrats/Republicans did that should make you really mad.” It’s been working pretty well, too. Well enough to generate 500 million to a billion dollars in ad revenue per year. Everybody wins except for the American consumer. While the moguls who create this content sit on their yachts drinking martinis, the average American trudges to a dead-end job with two dollars in her pocket and an abundance of hatred for her next door neighbor.
Try to imagine two cashiers at Wal-Mart. One thinks the other is a heartless b*tch who doesn’t care that kids are in cages at the Southern border, while the other thinks the woman to her left is complicit in turning our country into a communist state. At the very least, it gives them both a break from having to think about the fact that they need to work three jobs to pay rent.
There is light at the end of the tunnel, though. Love him or hate him, Joe Rogan has the unique distinction of following no particular ideology. Much to the surprise of the Twitter-verse, he leans to the left in his beliefs, but he espouses no party line. He has been quoted as saying that Trump can “incite a bunch of morons to do something really f*cking stupid,” and that electing Biden as president would have the same effect as going for a long walk in the woods with a flashlight that has a “dying battery.”
It says a lot about the American public that 11 million people listen to each of his episodes, whereas Maddow and Hannity’s audiences are roughly three million a piece.
This alone is enough to maintain optimism. A lot of people may be taken in by the hype, but many more are still looking for a less biased take on world events and interviews with guests you’ll never see on cable news.
But let’s be honest: the fact that a pot smoking comedian and cage fight commentator is the obvious choice for a more serious look at current events should tell you everything you need to know.