I am probably one of the few remaining people on the planet who watches the evening network news with dinner. It is a sorry habit ingrained in my youth when watching Walter Cronkite deliver the day’s events from a behind a TV tray in the living room (I’m behind the tray, not Walter) was the best way to keep a watchful eye on important things. And back then, things were very important. The world was always on the brink of some historical event, when it wasn’t busy coming to an end. Walter let us know if the Russians were coming, which world leaders were being cut off in their youth, when the National Guard would strike innocent students next and whether or not we made it to the moon that day. The moon, for god’s sake!
Well, things on the news front have definitely changed. And not for the better. Walter is gone from TV, of course, as have all people with any credibility and gravitas. Now I sit at the kitchen table with my husband, the saint, who suffers and groans through countless ads for ED and prostate troubles, rapidly losing his appetite for his pasta carbonari (we are on the Mediterranean diet). Eventually, a perky (her word, not mine) Katie reappears briefly, to inform us that we, as a nation, have voted for a story on a dog with no back legs, and we settle back, mouths agape, to watch him fetch his way into our hearts, balancing daintily on his two front paws.
I suppose this national voting for what’s “news” is a desperate attempt by TV news producers to involve the audience in what is, nowadays, mistakenly called ‘interaction’. I call it: ‘losing whatever is left of your journalistic integrity’. This kind of thinking also panders to that whole ‘feel good’ supposition that audiences will only watch what makes them feel better. If it makes you feel better to watch a canine tippy-toeing around on its forepaws, tail-up, with a ball in its mouth, you are on the wrong anti-depressants. For me, it’s not such good news. Stuff like that is better left to the you-tube quickie fix, which is the place where the audience that appreciates this kind of story is fixated. Those ‘folks’ will never devote their precious dinner table conversation time to watching network news.
Oh sure, I know all newshounds can’t wait to pounce on the latest disaster. It’s money in the bank. Ratings soar and so do donations. And, let’s face it. The opportunity to dispatch their most expendable reporter, to cling desperately. by his fingernails, to a palm tree during a hurricane, comes too infrequently, even in this age of global meltdown. Major upheavals are even rarer. How often does the chance occur to helicopter Katie, herself, to a visit a shambles, devastated by an earthquake, to pat a suffering child, (who will be, we are later informed, airlifted to Miami, to join the majority of its population on the critical list)? Misfortune like this simply cannot be counted on, on a daily basis.
I expect more from my typical evening update. A little factual information, some journalistic investigation, a hard-hitting interview with questions more probing that a polite request for a reading list. I can’t help it. I was brought up on Watergate! Something must be going on in between the RLS attacks, COPD and Sally Fields futile attempts to ward off the inevitable osteoporosis she inherited from her brittle mother. No, Sally, you are not going to tell me something about my bones that I don’t already know. But I do like your dog. And the green screen shot of the ocean behind you. Nice touch. If I take Boniva, do I get to sit around in the sun on a dock throwing sticks for my retriever?
So what do I learn from watching the nightly news? I learn that news directors are a lot less squeamish about showing piles of bodies littering the streets than they used to be, especially during the dinner hour. I learn that I am not less squeamish and that I get the point without the pictures, thank you. I learn that someone decided that Katie would look a lot less perky if she chopped off her bob and went for a ‘helmet-head’ look. (I don’t ever remember noticing what Walter was wearing or what his hair looked like, if he had any). I learn that I can do a much better job at eye makeup than whoever is painting her fresh face with that “I’m an angry teenager so I’m going to outline my eyes like a raccoon”-look. I learn that if I switch to Diane Sawyer, I can only tolerate her condescending tone and sugar blonde locks for so long. I know she is going home to Mike Nichols, the funniest man ever. I know she used to write speeches for Richard Nixon! Why should I believe anything she says?
Most of all, I learn that aging is no picnic, what with all the breaking and the shaking, not to mention the gasping for oxygen and constant nighttime peeing, and that I’m going to age a lot faster if I continue to watch network TV news with my dinner.