The Economist quoted Keith Poole (UCSD) saying this congress will be the most divided since the civil war. Does that mean our congress reflects us? There are a lot of signs that different sections of America, both philosophically and geographically, are not speaking to each other because they don’t share the same views.
I want to talk about 24 hour cable news as an enabler for this dissolution of good will in the body politic. There is not enough news to go around. It’s like watching the news at Christmas time in Tulsa. Sometimes there isn’t any.
So television created the Tea Party, so Fox News would have something to fill their time slots and Rupert Murdoch could then get more money from advertisers. MSNBC tried to get viewers by putting people of the left on their broadcasts. CNN just decided to keep being a boring place that looks for endangered species in New Orleans.
Walter Lippmann always talked about the decline of civility, but there’s no way he could envision the world we live in today. He lived in a time when there were only three national networks, each with one half hour of news a night. There were no news outlets to make stories out of whole cloth. Everything that happened then wasn’t all that important; if you wanted to find out about something weird you bought the National Enquirer.
But today's 24/7 news networks spend time on some preacher with three followers who wants to burn the Koran. We had this brouhaha recently where a conservative got a piece of videotape in which a woman was talking about her experience with racial tolerance. He twisted it around and got the woman fired. Think of what Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy, an alcoholic bully who got professors fired in the ‘50s, could have done on Fox News. His day came too soon. With 24 hour cable news, he might have ended up President. “I have the names of over 500 communists in the State Department. One communist in the state department is too many.” When asked to provide the names he always avoided the question, because these communists didn’t exist.
That’s the danger of this organism of 24 hour news. It can make something out of nothing to fill all that time. So more and more outrageous things that good newsmen and women once wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole, are now put on the air, even it pits one part of America against the other. But it does sell ads.