Boy, do I hate TV news.
I happened to watch Barack Obama’s speech
last night. It was purely by accident — I was watching “Jeopardy,” and the speech broke in as breaking news — but I was extremely glad I did. My support of Obama is not unmixed, but I found myself surprisingly moved and inspired by his speech, and I haven’t felt that way about a politician in a long, long time. And I’m enough of a bleeding- heart liberal to feel a thrill of pride at the fact that America is nominating an African- American as the nominee for President in a major party. It was an historic moment, and I was glad to have witnessed it. (I’ll feel a lot more pride if he gets elected in November.)
But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.
I was watching the speech on ABC News. Again, simply by accident: I’d been watching “Jeopardy” when it came on, and just kept it on that channel. The first part of the speech wasn’t very substantive: fairly typical Obama stuff about hope and the future, unity and healing, the wonderfulness of the American people. Inspiring, some of it, and it certainly seemed heartfelt… but there wasn’t a lot of there there.
But then he started talking about John McCain. He started talking about the specific, significant ways that his policies and proposals differed from those of McCain.
And at that point — roughly half a sentence into Obama switching from vague hopeful platitudes to specific policies — ABC cut in.
They kept the speech on. But they turned down the volume, and put George Stephanopoulos and some other yahoo on the screen. They switched over from airing Obama’s speech… to airing ABC’s commentary on the speech, with the speech itself burbling along in the background like Muzak.
I was furious. I sat there stunned for a minute, waiting for them to shut the hell up and get back to the speech. And as soon as it became clear that they weren’t going to do that any time soon, I frantically scrambled for the remote, and switched over to CNN as fast as my fingers could fly. I was so glad I did, of course: it was an amazing speech, and it did, in fact, go into quite a few specifics about what Obama cares about. And — whaddya know? — a lot of what he cares about are the things I care about. Education; global warming; health care; science; an end to the war in Iraq. And he spoke about these things with both intellect and passion — a combination that is way the hell too rare in American politics. I still have a few mixed feelings
about him, I still don’t think he’s the second coming of John F. Kennedy, but I am now totally on board.
But the more inspired I got by his speech, the angrier I got at ABC News.
What the hell were they thinking?
The tinfoil- hat conspiracy theory part of my brain kept asking: Is this deliberate? Are they trying to play the “Obama is inspiring but doesn’t have any policy specifics or detailed plans” story, and the “here is precisely where my proposals differ from those of my opponent” part of Obama’s speech doesn’t fit into that narrative… so they edit it out?
Or — and in many ways this is worse — are they just totally tone- deaf? Do they really think that their talking- heads analysis of Obama’s speech is more important and more interesting than the speech itself? Do they really think that this historic occasion — what amounted to the acceptance speech of the first African- American major- party candidate for President of the United States — deserved, at most, a couple/few minutes of sound bite, before the really
important business of George Stephanopoulos gassing on?
Did they really think that, at this moment in history, what George Stephanopoulos had to say was more interesting and important than what Barack Obama had to say?
I don’t know how long they kept it up. Like I said, I switched over to CNN as fast as my fingers could get me there, and I stayed there for the rest of the speech. But I don’t care. The fact that they did it at all, even if it was just for a minute or two, shows an insensitivity so appalling that it verges into flat- out racism. And it was a pitch- perfect example of what is wrong with political discourse in this country. Political news in this country consists largely of brief, sound- bite snippets from the actual candidates and newsmakers and people in government… sandwiched in between endless hours of yammering from reporters and pundits and opinion- makers, until the meta-news, the news about the news, becomes more important than the news itself.
And yes, I’m aware of the irony of me gassing on about this, engaging in this sort of meta-commentary and acting as if my opinion is important. True, I’m not interrupting a broadcast of a major speech to tell you what I think about it, but still. So you know? Go watch the speech
. It’s much more interesting, and much more important, than anything I have to say about it.