Friday, June 16, 2017

News Personalities

When did the news become more about the person reading it than the news itself?  A long, long time ago!

Fox News announced it is retiring its "Fair and Balanced" Trademark - the last cynical legacy of the Rodger Ailes days (other than the Fox News employee sexual harassment policy).  Their Trademark Registration is still active, however, and it is illuminating to read it:

Word Mark

Goods and Services IC 041. US 100 101 107. G & S: entertainment services in the nature of production and distribution of television news programs. FIRST USE: 19961007. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 19961007
Mark Drawing Code (1) TYPED DRAWING
Serial Number 75280027
Filing Date April 23, 1997
Current Basis 1A
Original Filing Basis 1B
Published for Opposition March 3, 1998
Registration Number 2213427
Registration Date December 22, 1998
Owner (REGISTRANT) Fox News Network, LLC CORPORATION DELAWARE 1211 Avenue of the Americas New York NEW YORK 10036
Affidavit Text SECT 15. SECT 8 (6-YR). SECTION 8(10-YR) 20080823.
Renewal 1ST RENEWAL 20080823
Live/Dead Indicator LIVE

According to the Patent & Trademark Office, the "goods and services" for news programs is considered an entertainment service.  I am not taking a piss on Fox News, as the same holds true for other news organizations and television stations.   The News is not a fact-based reporting service like an encyclopedia or a dictionary or other reference book, it is an entertainment designed to amuse or horrify you, just like a comedy or horror film.   Or maybe to just get you outraged.  If it was a book, it would be categorized as fiction not non-fiction.

A lot of people think otherwise.  They think the "news" is some sort of public service and a means of communicating factual information to "keep people informed".    But of course, these days, it is anything but, as hyper-partisan news sites and channels (and papers) pitch you only one side of any story.  And other sites distort the news or take things out of context to present an utterly warped view of reality.   This of course, lead to the creation of fake news - which is just stories that are made up, often for political purposes or just to generate click-through revenue.

But when did the personality delivering the news become more important than the news itself?    Alex Jones, host of the fake news site Infowars (which blends news, distortion, conspiracy theories and just made-up shit) argued in his divorce proceedings that his on-air persona was just a "character" he played.  Seems his wife wanted to use his bizarre rantings as proof he was an unfit parent and not entitled to custody of his children.

In a way, his admission is like the Trademark Registration of Fox News - an admission that it is all fluff and nonsense - for entertainment purposes only - oddly enough, the same disclaimer that many "fake news" and parody sites now append to the bottom of their pages.   Don't take this shit seriously, folks, it's just for funsies.   And that is probably good advice.

But when did the newscaster become more important than the news itself?   It turns out, it goes back, a long, long way.    During World War II, Edward R. Murrow made a name for himself - and became a household name - with his wartime broadcasts from London during the blitz.  Until then, news announcers were just that - somene who read the news on the hour, between entertainment bits.   Broad-casting created the modern celebrity - somene who could be lauded and admired by millions.  And people in the news business, like anyone else on radio (and later television) became celebrities, too.

And while we didn't have Infowars or Sean Hannity back then, we did have odious broadcasters and columnists who dredged the underside of humanity for ratings.  Gossip-monger Walter Winchell could destroy a career with a single broadcast or column.   The same was true for Louella Parsons.  But their milieu was the bitchy world of Hollywood Gossip, not necessarily the rough-and-tumble world of politics.

During the 1950's and 1960's, more news personalities emerged.   "Uncle" Walter Cronkite, often called "the world's most trusted man" took us through wars, assassinations, and the moon landing, his voice a calming reassurance that all would be well in the end.   Dan Rather, on the other hand, gave off a vibe of paranoia that kept all of America on edge.  With one raised eyebrow, he could change the entire tone of a story.   What's the frequency, Kenneth?  Courage.

Broadcast News became a big money-maker for the networks, and most networks quickly absorbed this "public service" under the umbrella of their entertainment divisions.  The news was another show, just like Laverne and Shirley, subject to re-writes, cast changes, and even cancellation.  More news programs and even news channels came on the air.  America's appetite for its favorite situation comedy-tragedy was insatiable.   And new news stars emerged as well - and continue to do so.

Today, who is reporting the news seems to be far more important than the news itself.   Whether you get your news (and views) from Rachel Maddow or Sean Hannity colors your worldview.  The news is no longer factual and value-neutral, but then again, maybe it never was.  Even an anonymous voice reading copy on the radio has to read copy that someone wrote, and that someone has their own experiences and biases they bring to the table.

Today, however, it is more about the personality than the product.   Bias and partisanship are just assumed as background noise.   It is the rock-star celebrity nature of the person delivering this dreck that is deemed important, to both the networks and the viewers.  People decry the firing (or suspension or whatever) of Bill O'Reilley, as if no one else could deliver his form of diatribe on the news just as effectively.   And they paid him millions to do this.   I'll tell you what, Fox News, I'll do the same sort of rant for half the price.   And no, you don't have to believe in the dribble you are putting out in order to play these roles.  Alex Jones wasn't kidding - it's all an act.   And the more extreme you are, the more popular you get and the more money you make.  Just keep your mitts off the interns, and it is a good money-making deal.

Some shows even abandon the pretense of being news shows at all.   The Daily Show and its five or six spin-offs, as well as all the "late night" shows, offer political commentary and funny bits based on the news, usually with a liberal bent.   Many people get their news from these comedy programs these days, rather than from conventional news sources.    And this should scare you as much as Fox News does.

Of course, I am getting this all second-hand or third-hand these days, as I stopped watching cable television over a decade ago.   Occasionally, I see snippets of this crap on YouTube or in a bar or restaurant somewhere (you cannot escape television entirely in the United States!).  One way to unplug yourself from this indoctrination to far-Left and far-Right politics is to simply not watch it.   Yet many people do - most in fact - four or five hours a day.   They watch television and don't bother to think about the fact that someone else is filling your head with their ideas.   Television is not a place where you learn to think for yourself.

Sadly, neither is the Internet.   As I illustrated in my knitting experiment, it doesn't take much to change your "feed" to all of one topic.   Once you click on "inforwars" all you will get is more and more conspiracy theory crap, until one day you wake up in a jail cell in DC after having shot up a pizza joint.   Or, if you spend all your time on left-wing conspiracy sites, you will end up dead after having shot up a baseball game.   Same shit, different day.   The hate-filled obsession that some folks have about Trump is no different that the hate-filled obsession some had about Obama - or Bush, or Clinton, or Reagan.

Again, externalizing raises its ugly head.   Never mind that you've given up on your only source of income and are living out of a van in another State - having abandoned your wife and family.   Don't bother actually trying to figure out where your life went wrong and fix that.  Rather, you should blame all your woes on one political party, or some vague undefined group like "Wall Street" or "The 1%'ers".    As you can see, this is a loser's game.  Not only will it not fix your personal life, you may end up in jail or dead as a result.

Don't obsess about the news or politics.   Obsess about not living in a van.   Obsess about getting a job, going to work.   Obsess about spending less and saving money.  Obsess about what you can do in your personal life, today, to make your life better.   Worry less about the "larger issues" - they will take care of themselves in due course.

Will it work?  Oh, I guarantee it.   When I started this blog, I was not paying much attention to my personal financial life, other than to think about which piece of eye-candy I could buy this month.   I treated money carelessly, even as a large amount of it passed through my hands.   I was making big money - and keeping little of it.

Today, I make hardly anything at all, but am far better off than before.   Why?  I stopped worrying about things I had no control over and started thinking about the things I did have control over.

Seems like a simple thing, but there you have it.  The "news" and who is reporting it, really is irrelevant.