"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 19 May 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Out to Pasture



In Chicago, the news has become

news. A recent brief battle over

tabloid journalism and its

opposite (whatever that is these

days) was waged between local

news anchor Carol Marin - who

has three fistfuls of Emmys -

and loutish talk-show host Jerry

Springer. Marin resigned in

protest over Springer's

appointment to the nightly news,

where he provided commentary in

a segment entitled "Another

Point of View." In her swan

song, Marin decried the current

state of news coverage and

stated that she could not allow

a man who hosted such shows as

"Women with Watermelon Breasts,

and the Men Who Love Them," and

"My Brother the Pimp," to share

her airspace.



Nothing draws a crowd like

controversy, and it is no

surprise that this boob-tube

brouhaha occurred during this

month's "sweeps." In the thinly

codified world of TV, "sweeps"

has always been synonymous with

"sleaze." After all, sleaze

equals ratings, which equal ad

dollars, which equal profit, so

why not give the people what

they want? Or at least what they

can't ignore.



The local news has been sliding

down the slippery slope to the

tabloid trash heap for some time

now, and few people on either

side of the camera have mustered

much of a protest. In fact, a

recent Media Studies poll

indicated that local boob-tubers

generally behave with a docile

bovinity. Still, if a red flag

is waved in their faces with

sufficient force and frequency,

they can become raging bulls;

and in this case they stampeded

against the smug Springer.



Some might confuse this popular

uprising with a rise in popular

consciousness, but lashing out

at Springer only proves the

crowd is cowed. Is it news that

news has become little more than

a half-hour of hustle and

hucksterism, employing such

tired tactics as bait-and-switch

(the "lead" story being a tease

for a story buried later in the

broadcast), or simple baiting?

Or that in-depth analysis of any

given news item has been

sacrificed for sensationalism

and shock value, dangled at the

end of our God sticks? Anchors

have become little more than

carnival barkers, calling a

crowd into the freak-show tent,

where they parade of variety of

criminals, deviants, and geeks.

Each broadcast is crammed with

so many bells and whistles

trying to get some

Pavlovian/Nielsen response that

most viewers have become

desensitized to the shrill

drone, so cotton-mouthed that

they can barely chew their cud.


News programming has become

nearly as debased as the talk

shows, devoid of significance

and presented as a sideshow of

local curiosities and

grotesques. It is a public peep

show, casting a lecherous eye on

the rabble and rubble of the

American landscape. On national

and local stories alike, anchors

are trying desperately to catch

our attention by exposing

someone else's villainy,

vulnerability, imbecility, or

falsity, rather than examining

or explaining the facts.


This practice was aimed against

Springer, who in his opening

salvo on WMAQ-TV rambled about

the time when he was the mayor

of Cincinnati and had to

struggle with the First

Amendment in signing a permit

that would allow Nazis to march

in his town. Never mind that

Springer's feeble, flawed and

circular logic had him comparing

himself with the Nazis, or that

he succinctly and

single-handedly made a better

argument against tabloid news

than the entire cast and crew of

Natural Born Killers, the "real"

news (real "news"?) was that

Springer had misrepresented his

role as mayor in his initial

commentary. The ensuing squabble

and finger-pointing over what

Springer said and what he claims

he meant were nothing but a sad

diversion from some of

Springer's more sensible

statements. Springer had argued

that he was a victim of "elitist

snobbery," that the local news

had been so thoroughly knocked

from its precarious pedestal of

respectability that even a

vulgar wretch such as himself -

a man who had once lost a city

council seat after writing a

personal check to a prostitute -

could now claim equal footing

with the teleprompted talking

heads at 10 o'clock.



With sweeps approaching and the

local pissing match grabbing

national attention, WMAQ-TV's

president and general manager,

Lyle Banks, was more than happy

to cut loose his trusted anchor

Marin and set sail with failed

councilman, failed mayor, and

failed country singer Jerry

Springer. His real tack, of

course, was to chum and catch

commerce, and move his station

into the top ratings spot. The

Chicago Sun-Times reported that

Banks was so confident of his

sweeps week wager that he told

advertisers to expect a 22.0

rating for Springer's inaugural



Chicago is a city legendary for

its horrible horse trading (just

ask any Cubs fan), and the

spouting Springer became one

commercialized shipwreck that

nearly sank without a trace. Not

only did Springer's

self-aggrandizing sound and fury

fail to fulfill his employer's

expectations, he failed to draw

half the audience who watched

Marin's farewell broadcast. Of

course these were the same

viewers who had quietly

witnessed other affronts to

their intelligence, and only

tuned in and turned on to Marin

once the Channel 5 newsroom door

was slamming shut on her.


[Jerry Springer.  He's kinda cute.]

The public outcry might have been

too late to save Marin, but

other doors will certainly open

for her. Springer's free speech

failed to sell at his idealized

"marketplace of ideas" and he

was fired (some reports

preferred the popular euphemism

"resigned") after two pointless

proofs of his incompetence, but

he will simply slink back to his

pandering daytime playground.

And Lyle Banks can second-guess

his blundering grab at the brass

ring of ratings and stare at the

vacuum he has created at 10

o'clock every night. Viewers, of

course, are left with little

more than an insincere

invitation to stare into the

abyss of local news, but many

will surely find themselves

going from channel to channel to

channel, trying to distinguish

the wheat from the chaff, until

the cows come home.

courtesy of The Hanging Judge

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