I can’t hold it in any longer. I’m bursting at the seams with frustration at what passes for the news on the evening news programs (save PBS). Tonight, I had to leave the room to escape the melodrama being acted out on The CBS Evening News with Norah O’Donnell. Every evening, we are told there is “breaking news.” And every evening, it sounds like the world is about to end, based on the tone of the reporters’ voices.
CBS News was once the province of Walter Cronkite, who was the “most trusted man in America” in the 1960s-70s. I know that I trusted him. He populated his sentences with everyday words and voiced them without effect. You knew that what he had to say was important, not because of his inflection but because of its content.
This, of course, was before news turned into entertainment.
CBS News was the last holdout (again, excepting PBS) in over-dramatizing its reporting. ABC and NBC had adopted the flashy-graphic, tabloid-inspired “what you should be afraid of now” formula years before CBS succumbed. But the fait is now accompli. Uncle Walter gets another shovel of dirt tossed on his journalistic grave every time Norah begins a story by breathlessly telling her viewers, “This is important!”
And don’t get me started on how each CBS broadcast begins with 80 seconds (minimum) of fluff designed to tease and fear-heighten the upcoming news content. That’s 80 seconds of program airtime that is not devoted to news reports — precious airtime that has already been squeezed to its profit-making minimum by prescription drug ads.
How I miss Walter! The news today may not be fake but it is certainly too Shakespearean and, like everything else, targeted to reach the lowest common advertising denominator.