Friday, April 3, 2009


Before I start bashing some of our most highly rated talking heads, let me just say this: My goal here is not to badmouth right wingers. No, all I’m doing here is pondering: Why are some the most politically conservative on-air personalities so LOUD and over the top? Why is there so much ranting and raving and yelling and talking over each other and verbal mayhem? Have you met the latest of these media darlings? He’s Glenn Beck. He currently has his own talk radio show, as well as one hour, five nights a week on FOX. He yells a lot. He interrupts his interview subjects a lot. He cries real tears routinely. He’s dramatic in a sort of bad dinner theatre way. He makes proclamations about issues he seems to know little about. Two years after Hurricane Katrina decimated the Gulf Coast, this was his take on the rebuilding of New Orleans:

At various times he has called himself an entertainer, and even a rodeo clown. Call me a dinosaur, but whatever happened to the David Brinkleys and Walter Cronkites and Eric Severeids who once provoked thought among Americans? What happened to good grace and dignity in the public discourse? When did we dumb down American media to a point where a tearful, melodramatic former top 40 DJ interprets the critical issues of the day for the masses? What happened to intellect?

This past week we have heard much about Bill O’Reilly’s eight-year reign at the top of the cable news heap. Scroll down and you can watch O’Reilly and Letterman verbally duke it out on Late Night, even as O’Reilly enjoys the highest ratings in the history of cable news and a book that has sat on the NY Times bestseller list for more than six months. Yet, on-air, in front of his record-breaking audience share, Bill O’Reilly regularly chooses vitriol over decorum, and consistently demonstrates what not to do, if you label yourself a journalist. See for yourself:

This, of course, brings us to Sean Hannity, who in the following clip will say (with a straight, determined face) that the economy’s in pretty good shape and the war is going well. This he said in September, 2008. Hannity’s rants, while sometimes a wee bit better informed than O’Reilly’s, still tend to go extreme when he senses he’s losing an argument, and still often become too loud, too emotional and certainly way too adversarial to qualify as journalism. You be the judge:

To the cable talking heads who seem to believe that the louder and more histrionic their delivery, the more effective they will be, I say this: Your message is getting lost in the mayhem. In creating long-term credibility, often less is more. Understatement causes the listener to tune in, think critically and perhaps even align his or her thoughts with yours. Your objective should be to contribute mightily to the public mix of ideas, but your ideas cannot add up to much if your performance is all that is noticed. Glenn Beck, stop crying – really. Bill O’Reilly, take it down a notch and lose the F word. Every time you tell a guest to “shut up,” you demean yourself as a “journalist.” Sean Hannity, listen more, speak less. And when you do speak, focus on substance.

Substance – now there’s a concept, right?

1 comment:

Joan Eisenstodt said...

Thanks for all you wrote, Paul. What scares me more is that the audience for this is so large. Granted, some may be those who disagree and 'need' to watch/listen to know what these hate-mongers are spouting. None-the-less, we need more people who are going to talk reason. Maybe you should have your own show.