Let them entertain you: We don’t know if we’ve even seen such an undisguised evening of Gossip TV.
The featured news report on page 1 of today’s New York Times concerns a startling event. Essentially, the national Republican Party is refusing to fill empty seats on our nation’s most important courts.
“Senate Republicans on Monday blocked President Obama’s third consecutive nominee to the country’s most powerful and prestigious appeals court and insisted they would not back down, inflaming a bitter debate over a president’s right to shape the judiciary,” Jeremy Peters writes at the start of his front-page report.
This time, the rejected judge is named Robert Wilkins. We just entered “Wilkins” into the Nexis search engine. The name wasn’t mentioned, not even once, on cable “news” channels last night.
What names were mentioned on cable last night? Which names drove the gossip? The names included Rob Ford, Mary Cheney, George Zimmerman and Alec Baldwin. On MSNBC, Willie Robertson was named by Lawrence and by Chris Hayes.
Robertson is the star of Duck Dynasty. Rachel discussed that program too, although she skipped Robertson’s name.
(Rachel, in a wonderful moment: “If you haven’t watched it, you owe it to yourself to watch it, just so you understand your country.”)
Who broke the coffee table at the home of Zimmerman’s girl friend? Lawrence opened his program last night with a segment on that topic. On CNN, Anderson Cooper opened his 10 PM program like this:
COOPER (11/18/13): Hey, everyone. Welcome to AC360 Later.It’s a conversation starter! All last week, we were asked to consider who said what to whom for what reason in the Dolphins locker room.
Tonight, Oprah Winfrey's allegation. She says no one ever says it, but everybody is thinking it. President Obama, she says, is being disrespected because of the color of his skin.
Agree or disagree, it's quite a conversation starter. We will take her up on that.
Also, the Cheney family feud over same-sex marriage. And Alec Baldwin's eruption. We begin, though, with Toronto's crack-smoking mayor, Rob Ford.
If you are extremely gullible, you may believe that this constitutes an attempt at reporting the news. We’re inclined to see it as something else—as the flight of multimillionaire TV stars into “conversation” and gossip.
Can we talk? They don’t give a good goddamn about topics affecting millions of people. Why have they been peddling Rob Ford in giant doses? Two weeks ago, Chris Hayes blurted:
HAYES (11/6/13): People around the world are finding out what we already knew, admitted crack-smoking mayor of Toronto Rob Ford is endlessly entertaining after his wild press conference yesterday.It’s endlessly entertaining! One week later, Lawrence blurted too. “Coming up, the latest, and we hope the last, performance by the most entertaining mayor in North America. Toronto’s Rob Ford is in the spotlight tonight.”
Let them entertain you!
If you’re highly gullible, you may believe you were handed last night’s menu for reasons which extend beyond entertainment and the stoking of tribal furies and pleasures. If you choose to believe that, let’s consider the quality of analysis you get when these topics are examined.
Consider Frank Bruni’s column today about those “Cheney family values.” As he starts, we ask a basic question. Is this a discussion of news? Or is this dick-tugging and gossip?
BRUNI (11/19/13): If Liz Cheney, whose bid for the Senate has always had a stench of extreme opportunism, wants to discuss traditions and values, I’m all for it. Let’s start here: Isn’t there a tradition of close-knit family members’ taking care not to wound one another? Is there not value in that?Question: Do you understand why you’re being asked to ponder the “long shadow over the Cheneys’ holiday” plans? Why is anyone supposed to care about that?
From the moment that Liz decided, from the perch of her longtime home in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, to act the part of an honest-to-goodness Wyoming resident and challenge an incumbent senator (and family friend) from that state, she must have known that the issue of same-sex marriage would come up. It is, after all, a prominent thread in the news. It’s also a prominent thread in stories about her family, given that her father, Dick, bucked his party to become an early Republican supporter of same-sex marriage, and given that her lone sibling, Mary, has a female spouse.
She must also have entertained speaking out against it, because that’s what she ended up doing on Sunday, on Fox News, saying that she believed “in the traditional definition of marriage.” And she must have foreseen that this would pain Mary, who was married last year and whose two children are being brought up with the understanding that their family has the same dignity as any other.
But she plunged forward anyway, disregarding the inevitable discord. As Jonathan Martin reported in The Times, Liz and Mary aren’t speaking to each other now, and there’s a long shadow over the Cheneys’ holiday get-togethers.
Leave aside that obvious question. Instead, examine Bruni’s fitful attempts at logic.
According to Bruni, Liz Cheney “must have known that the issue of same-sex marriage would come up” when she chose to run for the Senate. At present, Cheney is fifty points behind in the polls, making us wonder why any of this is being treated as news.
Whatever! In the passage we have posted, Bruni almost makes it sound like you shouldn’t run for the Senate if 1) your sister is gay and married and 2) you oppose same-sex marriage.
Bruni knows that doesn’t make sense. And so, after making a point of mentioning Cheney’s niece and nephew in the most personal ways, he tries to reason his way past that obvious point.
His attempts at logic are very weak. This is a simple-minded attempt to disguise the culture of gossip:
BRUNI (continuing directly): Is any political office worth that? Would victory redeem the public message that Liz just sent to her niece and nephew? I’m imagining her awkwardness the next time that she goes to hug or kiss them (and I’m assuming that she’s a hugger or kisser, which may be a leap). If there’s not a knot in her stomach, then there’s nothing at all in her heart.She could have said that the issue of gay marriage wasn’t going to be part of her campaign? Really? So when Chris Wallace asked her about that topic, she was supposed to say that she won’t reveal her position?
Having a lesbian sister doesn’t compel her to support marriage equality. Having a gay relative doesn’t compel anyone to. There are earnest divisions here, often driven by deep-seated religious convictions.
But Liz’s decision to chart a course and publicize a view bound to offend her sister is entirely volitional. It’s also entirely different from airing other ideological disagreements within families. Conflicting views on abortion or the death penalty don’t challenge the very structure and foundation of a loved one’s home. Questioning the validity of a marriage does. You’re not saying that you part with the way someone thinks. You’re saying that you have qualms with who they are, and this is a statement—a sentiment—you can keep to yourself. Even once Liz had elected to run, she could have chosen to say that the issue of gay marriage wasn’t going to be part of her campaign.
Same-sex marriage remains a political issue. It’s silly to think that a candidate can say she won’t talk about it. But when the children seek the chance to gossip about their favorite bête noirs, they will say any fool thing to move the project forward.
For our money, the problem started in the passage below. Wallace had already asked about Cheney's position on same-sex marriage. He then moved on to this additional question:
WALLACE (11/17/13): You talk about your position against same-sex marriage. Your sister, married—who is married to a woman—put out this post. She said, “For the record, I love my sister”—you—“but she is dead wrong on the issue of marriage.”When did that start? Do we normally ask a candidate to state her view on an issue, then to respond to something her sister has said?
CHENEY: Yeah. And I—listen, I love Mary very much. I love her family very much. This is just an issue on which we disagree.
Wallace waved the checkered flag and set the gossips off. Basically, that’s what you get from the multimillionaires who pretend to do news on TV.
This country is spilling with real news topics—real news topics which involve the interests of gays and black kids, among other groups.
The gossip groupies don’t care about that. As we have proven down through the years, they would jump off the Golden Gate Bridge before they’d discuss the interests of black kids. They simply don’t care about people like that. They prefer entertainment and gossip.
They care about gossip—and they care about ratings. Let them entertain you!
The most ridiculous segment ever: The most ridiculous segment ever was broadcast on last evening’s Hardball. It involved Michael Dukakis’ ride in that tank in 1988—and yes, it was a full segment.
Was that segment really broadcast? Or did someone slip us some acid?
Final question: Do these people cover Rob Ford because he’s so much like themselves?