Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Truth's Beaten Path in Retreat

Narcotic sleep aids are okay, I guess, but I prefer just turning on the television and waiting a few minutes for the inevitable drift-off. My favorite shows (I won't disclose their identities), of which there are very few, have dropped off one by one, but that's an advantage because I've less opportunity to be swept up by "news" shows that depend upon TV dramas to lead viewers into the sheep herd.

Nevertheless, one night this week I did wake up long enough to flip channels and stumble upon some PBS program concentrating upon the disappearance of veteran journalists. I perked up, knowing that, at least for the next several minutes, TV wouldn't lie or bedazzle me with meaningless glitter. Some members of the press interviewed, in fact, used to be reporters for my local TV stations, good ones, too, until the way-higher-up corporate mindset chose glamour and tinsel over hard news, and exemplary services were no longer required.

Instead, all over the country, the older men and women, veteran TV journalists with experience no modern journalism school can impart, began losing their jobs or, sensing the writing on the wall, leaving them, as lawyers and the big money crowd bought in and moved in with nothing on their minds except turning a profit. Nothing wrong with that, but solid investigative reporting was often sacrificed for fluff and "news" that isn't. As one former TV reporter put it, the trend was toward news directors who were also financial managers, thus assuring that news program viewers got what kept them glued to the screen via titillation and shiny objects, rather than the facts they desperately should have received through courageous and truly informative reporting.

And, as never before, extraordinary efforts were directed toward never reporting on anything offensive to sponsors or investors.

I don't mean to condemn TV alone, as many factors come into play, but the "bottom line" concerns have done more to transform the TV news business into entertainment-like pap in recent years than anything. Newspapers, of course, also faced with plummeting circulation in the face of the Internet, shorter attention spans, rising costs and, frankly, a declining population of newsprint readers, dwell in a similar boat, and a tragic case may be made that the newspaper business spawned the best journalists of all time.

No matter. Much of what passes as journalism now depends merely upon stories fed to media outlets by corporate public relations departments, and as TV stations hire very young people just out of college, lacking experience but looking sensational and well-tanned on the screen, the trend veers away from hardcore investigations and toward spot news pieces buffered by fluff 'n stuff.

Don't expect anything better from TV network level mindsets than from local affiliates. ABC + Disney = the news? Really? The White House + its own news section = the pure facts? Really?

By the way, how are those UFO petitions to the White House going for ya? Worth a TV hour? Maybe ABC-TV or NBC-TV will honor us with another nonsensical UFO "special" someday soon, or CBS-TV could just dust off that sixties Walter Cronkite extravaganza, "UFO: Friend, Foe or Fantasy" for prime time laughs and "truth in reporting."

Meanwhile, back at the digital TV news photography ranch, national cameras were herded to a small town in Ohio to waste time and coagulate upon yet another teen-on-teen gunshot tragedy, as Hollywood script writers say hmm, maybe we could write a . . .as Iran looms threateningly and official Washington burns hot with corruption or freezes with complacency .

Anyway, while we may find it difficult to discern TV news from entertainment, we still have the Academy Awards, and again I'll say thanks for nothing to its organizers, consistently making no provisions in any way to thank members of the U.S. Armed Forces, whose hazardous duties assure to the best of their abilities that artists all over the world can create magnificent visions in safety and peace. Maybe next year.