Earlier this week, Mark Cuban, billionaire owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks went on ESPN's sports talk show First Take, and lacerated the sports media for their constant use of "generalities" over facts to avoid making concrete arguments. He claimed that members of the sports media, in particular ESPN's Skip Bayless, try to make statements "nobody can question," and in turn, avoid the nitty gritty details that explain why teams really win and lose (thereby saving themselves from having to construct and/or defend an in-depth argument).
Similarly, in HBO's new show, The Newsroom, which depicts a cable news show trying to break free from the standard, safe model of news today, creator Aaron Sorkin argues that the news media has abandoned "facts in favor of 'fairness,' which is troubling." In an interview with New York magazine, Sorkin claims that CNN "tries very hard either to not be anything or to be both things," while Fox and MSNBC are "on either side." But Sorkin could have taken his argument further: Fox and MSNBC aren't really taking risks, either. Sure, there are exceptions to the rule -- like Chris Hayes' increasingly popular new show Up (which is on from 8 to 10 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, times when almost everyone is asleep), but in general, even shows on partisan networks avoid taking real leaps. Instead, they stick with, to use Mark Cuban's word, generalities: "Obama supporters are all socialists," "Republicans all don't care about poor people," "Raising taxes would definitely kill the economy," "Raising taxes is a sure way to save the economy," etc. -- generality, generality, generality.
And the worst part is that, ostensibly, MSNBC and Fox don't have any reason to go beyond these overly simplified broad statements. Those two stations are killing CNN in ratings because we, as audiences, like easy arguments to cling to. There will always be people who agree with everything Hannity says and those who feel the same way about Maddow. But what is missing in primetime cable news is exactly what both Sorkin and Cuban are calling for: someone who really talks about issues and focuses on facts rather than storylines. The only way a show hosted by someone who cares first and foremost about making honest arguments could possibly air on a major cable news network is if we, as viewers, make it clear we want to watch a news show whose goal is presenting the facts. I know this is naive, but I think a bit of naivety is what is called for in such a cynical world. So, I am demanding that everyone, liberals and conservatives, stop watching cable news until one of the three major stations (MSNBC, Fox, and CNN) puts on a generality-free show focused on presenting viewers with honest arguments.
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