Michael Smerconish, a radio host and newspaper columnist in Philadelphia, has an op-ed in the Washington Post today about how the political center doesn’t have a voice in daily American media — at least on the 24-hour TV news networks and talk radio.
It’s a point I’ve been making for years, my 80/10 principle, in which we have 10% of the populace at one extreme shouting at the 10% of the populace at the other extreme, while the 80% in the middle are ignored. It has only gotten worse in recent years as those ten-per-centers have not only gotten louder but also more access to the cameras and microphones.
In Smerconish’s piece, he talks of being contacted by producers from TV news shows who want a pundit who will take a pre-determined point-of-view on an issue so there can be a face-off with someone with the opposing view. Too often these issues are not real issues, but made-for-TV arguments that any high school debate coach would disqualify as irrelevant and trivial. Thus, rather than searching for people who can offer insight and solutions to today’s problems, you get a day-long debate about the off-the-cuff comment Carly Fiorina made about Barbara Boxer’s hair.
This forms the outline for what passes for news coverage all day long on CNN, FNC, and MSNBC. There’s no interest in digging into the truth of a story, just in getting two people who disagree to shout at each other. It doesn’t even matter if one of them doesn’t know what they’re talking about, as long as they’re vocal in their opposition. Often, the hosts themselves aren’t fluent enough with the story to call out anyone who lies or exaggerates — there’s no referee on the field. Truthiness, as Stephen Colbert calls it, rules the day, so facts and cogent analysis have no place on the air. On talk radio, it’s less than that — one person shouting into a microphone without even a phony propped-up opponent to voice the other side.
Yes, these shows get ratings, and those which report the news without the dripping bias of O’Reilly, Olbermann, Beck, Hannity, etc. don’t do as well, which is why CNN is struggling in primetime. Still, that doesn’t accurately indicate the desire of the American public for more of these shout-fests, because even at their peak, none of these shows gets as many viewers as the lowest rated sitcoms or dramas.
Why? Because most people don’t care about those non-issues elevated to faux importance. They’re too busy trying to pay the mortgage, get the kid to piano lessons, get the lawn mowed, fill the gas tank without going broke, and not get killed on the way to work.
Their days already have enough stress and shouting.