Part 4—On the case for the full hour: Last night, at 11 P.M. Eastern, CNN found its latest way to avoid discussing real news.
For two solid hours in that slot, the so-called news network aired its latest CNN Film, Sole Survivor. At the site devoted to this new group of films, this synopsis appears:
CNN SYNOPSIS: There have been 14 major airplane crashes with a sole survivor in the history of commercial aviation. Most of the lone survivors are dealing with debilitating guilt that few can understand. These survivors have never met each other, until now. "Sole Survivor" premieres on CNN on January 9.Hurrah! Instead of presenting the boring old news, CNN found a way spend two hours asking plane crash survivors how they feel. In this way, the network increases its search for ways to avoid traditional news.
(Last Thursday night, the adorable film, The March of the Penguins, aired in the same time slot. Other films pimped at the CNN site: “Unreal Dreams: Wrongly imprisoned for wife’s murder.” Also, “Blackfish: Do killer whales belong in captivity?” This is good solid stuff!)
In this instance, CNN’s timing was extremely poor. Damn! Over at MSNBC, a succession of Inspectors Poirot spent the entire evening last night staging their own versions of Masterpiece Mystery programming.
Hurrah! In place of discussing the boring old news, these liberal hosts had spent their full hours exploring the world of Chris Christie. “We are, of course, going to refer to this as Bridgegate,” Gail Collins had correctly announced.
In fact, a few people have started to call it Bridget-gate, a tribute to fired Christie aide Bridget Kelly. She helps the programming succeed by being youngish, blonde and conventionally good looking.
But whatever! You can call the story whatever you like, even Johnson! Within the world of so-called news, this scandal will serve as the three millionth way to avoid discussing an array of substantive but boring topics.
It isn’t that this ridiculous conduct shouldn’t be investigated, since of course it should be. It’s just that the scandal culture infesting our news has served, at least since Watergate, as a way for bored journalists to gossip about personalities and discuss “true crime” instead.
Last night, none of the Inspectors Poirot discussed anything but the new scandal. Just a guess: Their ratings will bump as viewers flock to the story-driven excitement.
Over at CNN, the worried suits were cursing their luck as the evening unfolded. They were stuck with two hours of airplane crashes on a night when the gods of scandal events had granted cable stars a natural reprieve from the fate of discussing traditional news.
As with Watergate and “that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” this detour will last for a very long time. As TV stars kill oodles of time and string out their mystery stories, the following things will occur:
The letters page in the New York Times will fill with highly predictable letters. Joan Walsh will rush into print at Salon. Her piece will include an impressive string of misstatements.
Previously bungled misleading claims will be deftly rolled back. See upcoming post.
More significantly (at least in theory), serious news reports will disappear from the air. Similar reports will be bumped deep inside our major newspapers as front pages fill with analyses of how Christie seemed when he said the things he said.
(This is significant only in theory, for an obvious reason. Our news orgs would have found ways to avoid or downplay such serious topics with or without the new scandal.)
In this morning’s New York Times, a lengthy report about unemployment benefits gets bumped to page A13, inside the National section. And let’s consider that other report, the one which appears on A12.
No one is going to hear about that! For example, it will never be discussed on the “liberal” news channel.
In fairness, that isn’t Bridget-gate’s fault. The liberal channel never discusses such topics, no matter what else has occurred.
But on page A12 of today’s New York Times, buried beneath the Bridget-gate onslaught, a reader can learn that President Obama has said that “the government w[ill] begin helping five economically hard-hit communities fight poverty and assist children...the five areas w[ill] become ‘Promise Zones,’ where federal agencies will cut through red tape in an effort to give struggling residents a chance at better lives.”
A photograph shows some very impressive-looking kids from the Harlem Children’s Zone Promise Academy. One of these very good-looking kids is shaking hands with Obama.
We see such impressive-looking kids every day here in Baltimore. On the liberal cable channel, the various millionaire hosts would rather jump off the world’s busiest bridge—top deck!—than discuss such children’s lives and interests.
As a result, low-income schools and low-income children get discussed in highly dumbnified fashion. A quick summation:
Mainstream journalists recite an array of scripts which fly in the face of the most basic data. A rising star writes a ballyhooed book in which she disappears two-thirds of those basic data.
And not only that! Our leading liberal voice on such topics offers an assessment like the one below. It appears right at the start of her new book, Reign of Error.
MSNBC won’t discuss her book because its subject bores the young upper-class elites it is trying to attract, ratings- and ad-rates-wise:
RAVITCH (page 11): Along came the George W. Bush administration in 2001, which proposed sweeping federal legislation called No Child Left Behind (NCLB). On the campaign trail, Bush spoke of “the Texas miracle,” claiming that testing and accountability had led to startling improvements in student performance. He said that test scores and graduation were up, and the achievement gap was narrowing. We now know that there was no such miracle; Texas made some increases on federal tests, like many other states, but its students register at the national average, nowhere near the top. In 2001, no one listened to those who warned that the “Texas miracle” was an illusion. Congress swiftly passed the law, which dramatically changed the federal role in education.In part, no one listened to those warnings because Ravitch was telling them not to. Setting such snark to the side, let’s consider the claims which appear in that passage:
Using the Nexis archives, we find no sign that Candidate Bush ever referred to “the Texas miracle,” even in the fall of 1999, when he gave three speeches about education. If readers get a different impression from that passage, that impression would seem to be wrong.
Bush did make claims about improvements in Texas schools. But uh-oh! When he referred to those “federal tests,” his claims seemed to be accurate, even understated:
BUSH (9/2/99): In Texas, we are proud of our results. We have more than 7,000 public schools as diverse as any in America. Since 1994, the number of minority children passing our state skills test jumped from 38 percent to 69 percent. Between 1994 and 1999, Hispanic eighth graders posted a 40-point gain on our math exam. African-American fourth graders have better math skills in Texas than in any state in the union.Bush was understating a tad. On the 1996 NAEP, the most recent federal scores available, white fourth-graders in Texas led the nation in math too!
A lot of people deserve credit for this success. Of course, the students, the parents, the hard-working teachers and the principals and legislatures. And I'm proud of my part.
(On the 2000 NAEP, whose results were released in 2001, black students in Texas finished first in the nation in fourth grade math. White students and Hispanic students each finished second.)
Meanwhile, Ravitch is flatly misleading her readers when she says that Texas students “register at the national average [now], nowhere near the top.” Sorry:
When Ravitch wrote her book, the 2011 NAEP provided the most recent data. On those tests, white students in Texas scored third in the nation in Grade 8 math. Black students and Hispanic students each scored second.
Presumably, Ravitch bases her claim that Texas students score “at the national average” on the aggregate scores for the state, which has a very large number of low-income and minority students. As we suggested yesterday, Ravitch tends to disaggregate scores when it helps the case she wants to make. In cases like this, she tends to mislead and misinform readers by using aggregate scores.
(Her work has much to recommend it. We wish she’d stop doing this.)
If the Fort Lee matter turns out as it seems, it gives us a bridge to the seventh century, when invading armies would sack the towns of infidels. Our dumbnified discourse tends to work in similar primitive ways.
All over the press corps, our “journalists” adopt ludicrous scripts and invent bogus facts, baldly misleading us the rubes in the process. A similar process of dumbnification is involved in CNN’s emerging love for two-hour films about penguins and whales—and in the way cable loves to puzzle about a good mystery story.
What did he do and when did he do it? Your favorite cable TV stars are going to waste a mountain of time pretending to puzzle that out. In their heart of hearts, they will thrill to the way Scandal TV lets them skip all those boring news topics, including the interests of those kids, who they don’t find real impressive.
In fairness, they have ratings to obtain, salaries to justify and increase. As their Masterpiece Mystery programs unfold, other scribes will pound fake facts about the kids on A12.
In fairness, some of those writers have books to sell, ditto-heads to retain.
Still coming: Reliable Sources