A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sound and Fury

In addition to multiplying the number of commentators, cable news channels restricted the scope of commentary to two subjects: immediate reactions to breaking news, and "who's up, who's down in the polls" handicapping. In this age of narrowcasting, the news junkies who follow cable TV and the blogs define politics as partisan gamesmanship. They don't want to know whether the healthcare plan makes sense or not. They want to know whether its passage will help or hurt Democrats in November. For these viewers, politics is a game, as the stock market is for the viewers of Bloomberg and CNBC.

In this new media universe, where cable news channels are forced to fill up an entire day of programming with talking heads between news segments, the producers and bookers naturally turn to experts in daily polling — the dreary, interchangeable "Democratic strategists" and "Republican strategists" who populate cable news and the equivalent blogs. I don't blame the producers. They are trying to make money for their corporations in a battered and declining industry. Having lost the general audience of yesteryear, they are feeding their smaller, more homogeneous audience of political junkies the drugs that the junkies want.

For economic reasons, then, genuine public intellectuals like Buckley and Galbraith probably could not get on TV today. Bill Buckley was fond of quoting the philosopher Eric Voegelin to the effect that liberals were trying to "immanentize the eschaton." Use six-dollar words like those on TV today, and you'll never be invited back. And I can only imagine the icy silence that would have followed, if a chirpy news anchor had asked Professor Galbraith what he thought of the latest poll in the Massachusetts Senate race.

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