Commentary

Dear TV News, You're A National Joke

You can't make this stuff up. It really happens, day after day and night after night on TV news.

By now, almost everyone has had this experience. You're casually watching TV news on a typical evening -- maybe one of the talk shows on the news channels or perhaps one of your local station newscasts -- and you hear or see something that has you wondering if you're watching news or a satire of the news.

Frequently, the answer is: It's the real thing, but it feels like a parody. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, TV news has finally accomplished the goal toward which it has been heading for its entire history: It is now a full-blown satire of itself.

I had this epiphany Tuesday night some time between 10 and 10:30 p.m. At some point, a promo came on for one of the local New York newscasts coming up at 11. The anchorman's voice was ballyhooing the “breaking news” that someone had leaked one of Trump's tax returns. “More at 11,” the anchorman promised.

I had not heard this news until this promo. Not willing to wait until 11, I figured it was probably Topic A on the news channel chatterbox shows, so I went in search of it on MSNBC, CNN and Fox News Channel.

MSNBC was in a commercial, although I was to learn later that this is where the Trump tax return story originated -- on Rachel Maddow's show earlier in the evening (pictured above).

On CNN, Don Lemon and two guests were talking about something else (I think it was Trump and the Russians -- again).

On Fox News, Sean Hannity and two guests were digging into the tax-return leak story with a discussion that was less about Trump's 2005 taxes and more about MSNBC's corporate parent -- NBC -- which Hannity insisted was waging a war on Trump. The “Hannity” show even had a special on-screen logo produced for the occasion with the words: “NBC’S CORPORATE JIHAD.”

The problem was, I never learned what the actual story was about either from “Hannity” or from any other TV news source at that time.

After giving up on this quest, I tuned back to one of our local newscasts for more local news (it was the 10-11 news on Fox 5) just in time to hear the anchorwoman announce something like: “Have you ever seen a dog play ice hockey? Well, it's on YouTube and it's gone viral! Coming up after the break!”

It was like something you would see on the Kent Brockman news on “The Simpsons.” But as everyone knows by now, YouTube clips of ice-skating canines and cats dancing the cha-cha are all the rage on TV news -- especially local newscasts. What constitutes “viral,” anyway? A hundred views, a thousand, a million? Who knows?

Remember all the talk back in the late ’90s that the new millennium would usher in a new Information Age? Well, that didn't happen. Instead, the era we now live in is a Disinformation Age or a No Information Age.

Maddow's “scoop” was a case in point. She had two pages of Trump’s 2005 tax return. The “news” was that he paid approximately $38 million in taxes on income that year of $150 million. OK, that is something we did not know before. But at the same time, this “news” seems valueless, in fact.

But it certainly had value as fodder for Maddow's talk show and for the Lawrence O’Donnell show that came after it. Among other segments, Maddow conducted an interview with the investigative journalist, David Cay Johnston, who said he received this tax return document in his mailbox from a sender he either didn't know or won't identify (I think he's going with the former).

Far from reporting the “facts,” he and Maddow then went on to have a lengthy discussion speculating about all sorts of things related to Trump. Johnston even suggested that it may have been Trump himself who sent the tax documents to him for reasons that were not clear. Johnston and Maddow then went on to speculate that Trump is hiding his ties to unnamed Russian oligarchs. No evidence of this was ever offered.

A few minutes earlier, Maddow insisted she was not reporting “fake” news. “Pinch me, we're real,” she said, as she dramatically pinched her own forearm.

On Fox News, Hannity ridiculed Maddow. After accusing NBC News of carrying out “a flat-out conspiratorial attempt to smear the president,” he said of her: “Now, I really couldn't watch [Maddow earlier in the evening] with a straight face. It was sort of like an ‘SNL’ skit, but actually better.” He's not wrong about that, but he should lump himself into the same category.

Some time on Wednesday, it came to light that the National Weather Service realized at some point on Monday that the blizzard that had been forecast for Tuesday in the northeast would probably not occur. Instead, it would be just a regular snowstorm. But the NWS didn't reveal its forecast because it didn't want to interfere with all of the plans local governments had already made for dealing with a blizzard emergency.

So now, you can't even trust the weather news on TV. 

Oh, and just in case you haven't been in tune with international news lately, here's the top story making news around the globe: An expert on east Asian politics was interrupted late last week by his cute kiddies while appearing via Skype on the BBC. The video went “viral” (or so they say) and the rest is TV satire.

6 comments about "Dear TV News, You're A National Joke".
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  1. Spencer Gibboney from Clarivoy, March 15, 2017 at 1:30 p.m.

    Adam, you make the mistake assuming that Maddow is actually news.  She's not - her show is 'entertainment' that happens to be on a news genre network.  There is precious little 'news' out there on any side anymore.  The rest of the piece strikes a good note though...makes me remember Don Henley's 'Dirty Laundry' lyrics.

  2. Bill Burnett from Good Citizen Media Group, March 15, 2017 at 1:53 p.m.

    THIS is your scoop? That the news is weak and wimpy and frivolous?  Jon Stewart and Colbert and others have been saying and making hay out of this epiphany of yours for more than a decade. However, you've picked exactly the wrong time to epiphanize. Racehl Maddow has become the single strongest investigative journalist on TV. Several other news outlets and reporters are also rising to the challenge.  Anderson Cooper, Jake Tapper, George Stephanopolous, Chuck Todd on Meet the Press and a number of others have gone into full battle mode since a certain con man became President. And now is the time to encourage them, not put them down.  The fourth estate is one of the only bulwarks left to keep the American Democratic experiment alive.  

  3. Chuck Lantz from 2007ac.com, 2017ac.com network replied, March 15, 2017 at 2:43 p.m.


    I agree with Bill on this one.  Attacking Maddow makes no sense She has always self-identified as a political commentator rather than a pure news anchor, and her show actually employs fact-checkers.  Putting her in the same basket with those who produce fake news does us all a disservice.

    It's the same as quoting those tired old "the vast majority of Americans hate politicians" stats, which is far too sweeping and subjective to have any real value. 

  4. Michael Weinstein from ContentRules, March 16, 2017 at 11:03 a.m.

    Maddow did not create this story, or make it a big deal. Trump did. by being the only president since Nixon not to release his tax returns. The more he lies and hides information, the more it becomes a sensation when ANY piece of information is available. And the more room he leaves for conjecture, instead of reporting actual facts (as opposed to altenrative ones).

  5. Tom Tyler from GCTVTexas, March 18, 2017 at 10 p.m.

    If you think CNN and Rachel Minnow are Fake News, you should try reading the New York Times and the Washington Post. Their editorial boards and newswriters apparently invented this new genre.

  6. Chuck Lantz from 2007ac.com, 2017ac.com network replied, March 18, 2017 at 10:14 p.m.


    Tom Tyler scores an A+ for "... removing all doubt"

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