Thursday, June 02, 2011

Does Cable Television Have Anything to Do With National Security?

By William Fisher

The Memorial Day holiday in the US gave me a brief respite from my daily scribbling and an opportunity to watch a little cable television.

I don’t want to sound like one of the elite, but I didn’t actually expect to be enlightened or stimulated or challenged by the morning’s TV fare, which I usually avoid with the exception of C-Span.

But I admit that I really wasn’t prepared for the “five minutes for the police car chase and the 30-second sound bite for the uprisings in Syria” news formula. Nor was I fully aware of the extent to which cable news simply ignored a bunch of really important world developments in favor of domestic crime stories and feel-good program–enders about pandas or teddy bears.

I left an hour of cable news right up to date on Congressional sex scandals and particularly gruesome child murders, but hopelessly uninformed about movements and actions that truly have the potential to change lives in large numbers.

And, as for the rest of cable’s daily menu, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, these channels know their audiences. And, by and large, I’m told that the people who are watching non-news (entertainment) television in the morning are a pretty good cross-section of our most challenged demographics – people who can’t find jobs, the working poor, single moms struggling to care for their kids, housewives who abandoned the soaps for Oprah, et cetera.

These are not stupid people. But politically, cable news is feeding them a highly censored smorgasbord of meaningless sound-bites combined with the kinds of stories most likely to stimulate their most prurient interests.

Between newscasts, cable audiences are being enchanted by the seemingly endless supply of reality, game, courtroom, and pop-psyche guidance shows.

Now, lest I be misunderstood, there are some mighty smart and well-informed people working for cable channels. However, I find it an unfortunate turn-off that anchors like Chris Matthews of MSNBC, Bill O’Reilly of FOX, and even Wolf Blitzer of CNN, have had to build their audiences by making outrageous hyperbolic (and usually untrue) statements, and booking guests who seem programmed to scream at (and over) one another on virtually any subject.

So what, you might ask, has this to do with National Security?

Let me state what should be obvious: Our form of government depends on the consent of the governed. When we find that our citizens are about as well-informed as Sarah Palen, we should be afraid – very afraid. Because to the extent our brains are A.W.O.L. on critical national and international issues, to that extent we give license to every demagogic politician to sell us whatever narrative he wants.

And they do. And because we are unaware we have options, politicians more often than not have their way. In the end, they persuade us to vote against our own interests.

And that makes us, as a nation, very, very insecure.

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