As a high school student with serious interests in journalism and politics, cable news has fascinated me for quite some time. Some of what we see on the news has merit, but most of it I find far more disturbing than informative.
Now, I am a fairly liberal guy. I wouldn't consider myself a "radical," but I'm plenty liberal enough for Bill O'Reilly to consider me a "loon."
And therein lies what bothers me most about this cable news culture that I've grown up in and been exposed to all my life. I was obviously not around back in the early days of television news, but could anybody imagine Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite calling people they disagree with "loons" or "pinheads" on live television? Heck, I could hardly picture Howard Beale or Ron Burgundy lacking that kind of simple decency in the pre-cable news era.
Unfortunately, the shortcomings of modern news don't end at Fox. With a quick turn of the dial, over to the left-leaning MSNBC, I still see things night in and night out that make me shudder.
Full disclosure: I'm a huge fan of Keith Olbermann and I share many of his political viewpoints. His special comment on prosecuting torture was one of the most well thought out, informative, and well-researched commentaries I've ever seen on television. Aside from the news, I also share many of his personal interests. I, like him, also happen to love baseball, read the Huffington Post, and spend way too much of my free time on Deadspin.
However, Olbermann is guilty of nearly as much self-promotion, and unconstructive drivel during his broadcasts as his foes over at Fox. He is practically shoving down the bar for civil discourse when he displays that cartoonish figure of Bill O'Reilly with an oversized head up on the screen and reads his quotes in an almost clownish voice.
While it's good to call the other side out on their lies and misinformation, there has to be a way to do it without stooping down to their level. The more the left continues to blur the line between news and entertainment, the less credibility they have. When that happens, they just begin to look like a mirror image of the very networks they are denouncing.
Since the days of Murrow and Cronkite, the news has turned into a for-profit business, and the profit motive has poisoned the content. It's easy to see why this happened: more controversy and screaming means more viewers. More viewers mean more advertisers. More advertisers mean more money.
But how do we fix this and break the cycle?
Unfortunately, I don't have a simple 10-point plan to offer to the media establishment. All I know is that if you put smart and entertaining hosts on television, they can get plenty good ratings without stirring controversy and making themselves look like fools. Rachel Maddow is a great example.
This is why, despite all of the craziness, fear-mongering, and name-calling that dominate today's most popular news shows, I'm hopeful that this trend can eventually turn around. If it does, people may just begin to get more informed, and our country will be much better off for it.
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