It’s Nerd-TV, and I Like It

NEW SLAUGHTERI really didn’t need that annual “State of the News Media” Pew survey a couple of weeks ago to tell me how badly TV has fallen out of the news business.

If you missed it, the gist is this: “In local TV, our special content report reveals, sports, weather and traffic now account on average for 40% of the content produced on the newscasts studied while story lengths shrink. On CNN, the cable channel that has branded itself around deep reporting, produced story packages were cut nearly in half from 2007 to 2012. Across the three cable channels, coverage of live events during the day, which often require a crew and correspondent, fell 30% from 2007 to 2012 while interview segments, which tend to take fewer resources and can be scheduled in advance, were up 31%.”

Like I said. Pretty much what you already know. Only with hard-edged percentages.

Local TV news was particularly notable for a substantial reduction in government reporting and a heightened emphasis on “live reports” which translates into “stuff we can shoot this afternoon and have on the air tonight”. What has been sacrificed is dissection and analyses of what government and business news actually means to viewers.  (No wonder you thought that Vikings stadium funding package was such a wonderful idea, if all you know about it came from TV).

To follow this devolution in “community service” to its natural conclusion, restaurant reviews and Lindsay Lohan sideboob will soon replace what is left of relevant civic issue coverage.

The cable story was notable for MSNBC being declared the clear leading perpetrator in the cheap and easy “interview” segments that have replaced what we used to think of as “news”. Why? Because actual reporting, international style, requires reporters and crews on airplanes and in faraway hotels running up a tab that diminishes shareholder value.

The shot at MSNBC is legitimate … as far as it goes. Never mind that MSNBC never was much a competitor to CNN, much less NBC News, (which seems to spend more money on medical segments for geezers and women than rattling cages on Capitol Hill).

But the Pew survey played in the same cycle as MSNBC was rearranging its primetime line-up (again), and this time for the (much) better.

Unless and until the USA adopts a BBC model to properly finance actual news, the trends Pew highlighted this year are only going to continue. Namely, fewer actual reporters, more “stories” (i.e. visually impactful stuff that can by grabbed off YouTube or shot in their backyard), less enterprise work digging through boring documents and grilling possibly nefarious characters with friends in high places … and more ditz, (lifestyle inanity, sports, water skiing squirrels). Given the profit-making/taking demands of commercial news, the best you can hope for is that the cheap and easy interview substitute stuff is intelligent, factually accurate and not entirely beholding to pack group-think’s story-of-the-day.

This is a long way of saying that replacing Ed Schultz with Chris Hayes is a remarkable upgrade.

When MSNBC got into the game of competing with FoxNews (still #1 in cable “news” after 45 straight quarters), the assumption was that liberals wanted the same heavily antagonized bluster, controlled rage and partisan venom as Roger Ailes’ dream team. But as time has moved on the real sweet spot for MSNBC is … nerds. Rachel Maddow is the channel’s unquestioned star. Lawrence O’Donnell, his Donald Trump obsession aside, is far more deeply comfortable (and credible) discussing congressional protocol and policy than slinging cheap invective and the young Hayes, along with semi-regulars like Ezra Klein and Melissa Harris-Perry, could be teaching a grad school course in history or economics.

Beyond casual/irresistible mocking of the latest counterfactual conservative obsession — “more guns make safer schools”, “getting the government out of health care will reduce costs”, “Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi”, “not intended to be a factual statement” … and on and on, MSNBC’s nerds have very little if any affinity for Ed Schultz’s old school talk radio-style bluster. And thank god.

Their game, and it is clearly by network design, (most likely clued by the potent, extraordinarily loyal and educationally upscale audiences for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert), is for thoroughly to obsessively researched dialogue and debate. Hayes may not yet be a silky smooth TV performer (lord knows he’s no Sean Hannity) but the guy really is like the daunting polymath, this close to  overpowering every other argument in class.

In some ways we are living in a Golden Age of TV. “Breaking Bad”, “Mad Men”, “Game of Thrones”, “Homeland” and “Justified” (I’m told) are among the best dramas the medium has ever produced. They exist of course in stark contrast to what for lack of a better term I’ll call The Hillbilly Carnival of manic-depressive hoarders, storage locker raiders, swamp coots, duck-lipped “real” housewives, bratty boo-boos, chefs with stage-directed anger management issues, pawn shop shysters and detention documentaries, (a weird, lingering MSNBC fascination).

I’ve often argued that the cable channel I’d love to have (and would happily give up 60 or 70 others) would be something like NPR-TV.

Give me the video version of the breadth and depth of subject matter I hear there (with more skeptical bite) and I’d be a happy, loyal audience. This latest “new MSNBC” isn’t going to get into the expensive proposition of creating visuals for reports on Syrian massacres and the Hadron Collider, and it won’t stray far from politics, but with the primetime lineup it now has, Hayes-Maddow-O’Donnell, you can’t watch it and make a credible argument that it is, like FoxNews, nothing more than dime-deep partisan polemics.

54 thoughts on “It’s Nerd-TV, and I Like It

  1. PM says:

    One of the things that fascinates me is the difference in temperament between Fox and MSNBC (which is highlighted by the departure of Schultz). Is there some particular affinity between conservatives and anger? Why is it that everyone on Fox is angry and yelling all the time? Why are they always yelling at each other, having shout-fests, etc.? I mean, these are not rational arguments and discussions. There is no apparent attempt to get things right–just to have the last word, to talk over your opponent. To feel like you have won.

    And i agree–I’d also like NPR to be more skeptical. There are plenty of liberal pretensions waiting to be popped. This is one of the things that you have to give Jon Stewart credit for–he has been quite willing to go after liberal icons as well (including the president). It is just that the right is such a target rich environment…..particularly over the last 10 years or so.

    1. Erik says:

      We’re basically talking Hannity and O’Reilly, and those shows are very formulaic. Thing is, old people watch those shows. I don’t think generally there is a temperamental difference between conservatives and liberals….except…. old people don’t grasp detached, sardonic irony. They do get ‘outrage’.

      I think it’s a solid assertion that there’s plenty of no-bowel control outrage on MSNBC. That’s what Schultz was.

      1. PM says:

        more than just those 2–there is Cavuto, The Five, Greta, even gorgeous Megyn gets her knickers in a knot pretty often. Shepard Smith is the only one (imho) who doesn’t descend to the faux anger/outrage depths. And that morning show is simply imbicilic. Steve Doocey…need i say more? (and Gretchen is a disgrace to Minnesota).

        But you are right on about the aging demographic that Fox has captured. I have never seen so many ads for gold and scooters in my life!

        So maybe it is an age thing instead of liberal/conservative thing. but age (as well as race and religion) seems to correlate with the liberal/conservative split pretty well….

      2. Erik says:

        I’m still saying the ‘you are right’ part over and over in my head.

        In some ways I’m as much of a crank as anyone. But fact is, I’m under 45 and I do not have hours to spend watching cable infotainment.
        And so yes…insofar as age correlates to conservatism, Fox draws an audience that likes the shouting match. For otherwise shy old folks, it must be like bad manners porn.

      3. PM says:

        And sometimes they even get mad at each other:

        Seriously, there are so many clips of various Fox people looking stupid that this is easy. Ever see the one with O’Reilly talking about the tide coming in and out?

        But you are right–picking on hannity and O’Reilly is going after low hanging fruit. (of course, back when Glenn Beck was still at Fox…..)

  2. Erik says:

    MSNBC more than dime deep partisan polemics, sayeth the man who’s partisanship won’t be breached by objectivity.

    This smacks of the classic Lambo gambit, IE, critique something as smartly done, and it will reflect on me, the reviewer, for noticing it and being a consumer of it.

  3. Erik says:

    Lambo I coulda swore you were a big proponent of the Pravda model rather than the BBC model. Is there a big difference?

    1. PM says:

      If you don’t know if there is or is not a difference, why would you assign him to one over the other?

      just askin…..

      1. Erik says:

        It’s a joke. Lambo is a commie. Har har. Did you see he’s now cross posting his posts to a communist blog collective, Opine Season?

        The point was about NPR, I guess. Thing is, NPR is ‘properly financed”. To what extent NP does ‘actual news’ is another thing.

        Sure, I’m curious what state ownership of the news disseminating machine might entail. Pravda isn’t a poor comparison.

          1. Public Broadcasting costs roughly $1.30 per citizen, per year. If it received BBC-like funding it might stop whoring for GM and various oil companies. But echo chamber conservatives never cease looking hysterical screeching about “government-supported propaganda”, usually when NPR or someone dares run a piece on climate change or the reasons behind some man-made environmental disaster.

          1. It’s Matt Peiken’s idea. I told him I still hold out hope of a joint lefty/righty blog site. The first thing we need is a righties who can make an argument without self-acclaiming themselves as “smarter”,”truth-driven” and such. The public will pretty well decide how smart you are.

    2. To me, MSNBC primetime is about 60% commercial talk radio in tone (i.e. bombastic, immature and distrespectful) and 40% Huffington Post/ in tone (i.e. wonky, cheeky, and evidence-bound). I like the 40% part much more, so the move away from Schultz and Obermann to Hays, Maddow and O’Donnell is welcome, though those folks often sound pretty talk radio. Much more watchable than CNN, Fox or PBS though. I’d like to be able to say I like CSpan and PBS, but I just don’t. Booooring.

      Local TV news just has very little’t for me. The weather, traffic and sports coverage is better online (and on-demand). The crime and lifestyle news isn’t usually of interest. The anchor banter is too cutesy. It must be what a lot of people want, though, because I know they do lots of market research. Fortunately, there are alternatives.

      1. As I say, I’m not turning to MSNBC for news. Not much CNN, either. Although I know if there’s an earthquake Anderson Cooper will be there. But the local stuff … a few days ago one of them followed a piece on an abused dog — awwww, sad AND cute … with another two-minute-plus piece on “the Homer blanky” for the Twins opener. Even Rod Burgundy would blush in shame.

  4. PM says:

    More on Conservatives and anger, from this article:

    “…But I’m also pretty convinced that, at least politically, conservative America truly is an angry, defensive place. Let’s take California. I am constantly asked about California. Whether it’s the liberal judges, or the tree-huggers, or Berkeley, or Hollywood, Midwesterners make comments about California all the time. California is the Death Star, this giant enemy trying to crush the innocent underdog—all that is good and righteous. (Hyperbole, I know. My apologies.)

    And yet, while I lived there, Californians voted against legalizing marijuana and against gay marriage. One California state senator, a man named Roy, voted against gay rights legislation even though he is gay. Said he knew that’s what the people of his district wanted. I’m not making the argument that California is as conservative as Kansas, I’m saying that most people have the similar fears and struggles and hopes. Most of us aren’t that different. It bothers me that middle America seems to be in a very us-against-the-world place not necessarily based in reality.

    Liberals can’t just have a different political philosophy, they’re out to destroy America. All of them. On purpose. They want to take over….

    …but something is different now. I hear people call the First Lady fat. I’m not talking about the emotionally unstable or those who’ve made politics their only hobby, I mean people who I consider respectful, intelligent adults. People at the grocery store. Calling the president’s wife fat. Well, you should hear what the other side says. You should hear the hate that liberals spew. Maybe they do, but that’s the ‘he hit me first’ defense, which has been discouraged since any of us could talk. The conservatives I knew were above that.

    Again, I’m not talking about the tiny percentage of crazies that often get labeled as mainstream. I’m talking about a shift of average people. For instance, crazy people think President Obama orchestrated the Sandy Hook school shooting so he could take all guns from Americans. I’m not sure what Obama’s next move is in the theory, but I’m sure it involves white people as slaves in Kenya. You may recall the conspiracy theory people from Bush and 9/11 or Clinton and the Oklahoma City bombing. It’s a fun crowd. No, I’m talking about the number of people who believe Obama is probably OK with Sandy Hook, or even glad it happened, because it serves his greater goal. I have no idea what those poll numbers would be, but I would be terrified to find out…..

    If it feels like I’m picking on one side, I am. This isn’t about liberals. I’m sure Jesse Jackson is doing something self-serving as we speak. No, I’m making a plea to a political movement that I once found appealing….

    I want my conservatism with at least a side of compassion. As a red state native, I know the answer to that. Liberal activism isn’t compassion. It’s fake. It’s a tool to gain power and reelection. I know that explanation, but to these untrained eyes it looked like you’re hammering a guy who saw a problem and had an idea. You cannot be anti-people-with-ideas, even if you disagree with those ideas, and wonder why a nation doesn’t rally behind you. I want a conservatism that believes in personal rights, but isn’t overwhelmed by the ‘my big gun and my big drink and my big country’ crowd. Conservatives have gotten really good at firing those people up while everyone else snuck out to find a quieter gathering.

    Maybe it’s just the negativity. All the anger makes me uncomfortable. I’m a voter with a Sunday morning buffet of opinions, but I’d be willing to give you another shot. I really would. I’m a Kansan again. I’m on your turf.”

    On second thought, let’s wait and see if I’m still allowed in the state after this.

    1. Erik says:

      I’ve been bewildered that Mrs. Obama is insulted as fat or ugly, for it ain’t reality. She’s a smoking hot woman. Gorgeous.

      1. PM says:

        I agree with you. i think that the criticism is simply irrational. I’m not certain if it should be ascribed to inchoate anger or racism or what,

    2. Erik says:

      Good link, I read his entire article, and I have perhaps a temperamental kinship there. But my other reaction is…meh.

      He’s ignoring the left’s culpability. The left despises the middle class / middle America. And this goes back to the Road to Wigan Pier and then Marx before that. But in this day and age, you have the douchebags like Maher, Moore, et al, and their act is to constantly recite how dumb the American people are while you all laugh along.

      In the old days, this might have been more or less an inside joke among the precious urbane, but we do have Limbaugh and Hannity now.

      1. PM says:

        Actually, that is not correct. He is not ignoring the left in any way–what he is doing is saying that you can’t use that as an excuse for the boorish behavior of conservatives. He is saying that false equivalencies are not an appropriate or valid excuse for acting in a childish fashion, and that conservatives like to think that they are grown-ups, but the reality is that they not only act like children, but use childish excuses (“but they did it first!”) as a justification for their childish behavior.

        1. Erik says:

          He’s got to be wrong then. There’s no false equivalency, and / or, he gives liberals a free pass for 100 years of trafficking in vulgarities about middle America.

        2. PM says:

          He is telling conservatives to grow up and stop making excuses for acting like children. “they did it first” is childish behavior and no excuse for being a prat–as you no doubt have told your own children.

          1. A bit like conservatives constantly self-ratifying their “smartness”, a discerrning public quickly notes the irony of the crowd trumpeting it’s adulthood while running around like Chicken Little over the “Ground Zero mosque”, voter fraud, the death of Christmas, the global warming “hoax”, violent criminals crawling in their suburban windows … .

  5. bertram jr. says:


    Sir, Bertram was right with you in this thread, until you revealed your either poor eyesight, low standard of the “smoking” threshold (and I realize we all have our Threshholds), or that you’re being facetious.

    Which izzit, sir?

    1. Erik says:

      This is beyond subjectivity. I deal in truths. What’s true to say, using any standard, is she is real good looking.

      To say otherwise, your perception is being distorted. Not by RACISMMMMMM, I don ‘t think. But something.

  6. bertram jr. says:

    Oh, and Lambo, speaking of “local news”, please decipher CJs screed on the KSTP guy who was just booted. Apparently, one of his fellow reporters asked him “what are appropriate questions to ask a gay couple”. And he answered!

    Oh, this is a field day…..once again, RIP journalism, killed in cold blood by political correctness!

    1. Are you accusing the Hubbards of political correctness? I noted they still haven’t apologized for that “Smiley Face Killer”monstrosity of a few years ago … .

  7. bertram jr. says:

    @ Erik

    What are you trying to say – that if one does not think someone is “real good looking” that they are…. a racist?

    Et tu?

  8. Dennis Lang says:

    Since we’re on the subject of journalism (excuse slight non sequitur), anyone have an opinion on the direction Vice Media is heading, notwithstanding the Rodman/North Korea stunt? Looking at a couple of their online documentaries, titles like “Slaves of Dubai”, “Teenage Heroine Epidemic”, and “Interview with a Cannibal”, I haven’t decided where the exploitation leaves off (like a 21st century “Mondo Cane”) and what a journalism Prof. once said to me as a worthy aspiration: “Turn over the floorboards and reveal something we wouldn’t have known unless you revealed it”. Thoughts anyone?

  9. Dennis: I actually kind of like the direction Vice TV is taking. yeah, it has its roots in the callow frat boy/laddie mag culture, but it shows awareness of news that the traditional media routinely ignores. Every year you can read the list of the Top 10 underreported stories and see a trove of editorial material someone could make much more out of. Dennis Rodman in North Korea is bizarre … but is it less relevant than another five, six, ten channels of hillbilly hoarder/duck callers?

    Have you seen this?

    1. Erik says:

      The guy is not a right winger with penis anxiety Lambo. Which is probably the least significant detail that you’ll fail to comprehend about this story. He’s a Chomskyite, a no hierarchy anarchist / communist. An occupier, in spirit at least.

    2. Dennis Lang says:

      Fascinating and frightening video. Cody Wilson, obviously very, very bright (although I can’t for the life of me begin to wrap my brain around this obsession with personal artillery). But even aside from its content the notion of rogue documentarist/journalists digging out the stories mainstream media no longer has the resources or inclination to tackle is exciting and tremendously informative. I read in the “New Yorker” how Vice Media becomes monetized with bureaus all over the world, multiple platforms and a deal with HBO. Is this the futrue of journaiism? And how fast it’s moving….

      1. Dennis: The fact that the guy defies normal caricaturing — a “mainstream” standard — makes this a good example of what Vice is willing to do — at length, that “real journalists” shy away from. The world is full of unnerving, classification-defying nuance, and there’s an appetite to explore it. Moreover, as a platform for ambitious documentarians, you can see why it has built a world-wide network.

    1. Jim Leinfelder says:

      You’re a devout believer, Erik. Read the Scripture: Genesis 4:9-16

      That’s pretty much all she’s articulating, we are, all of us, our brother’s keeper. This is nothing new in that promo. Many of us feel this is not a responsibility left only to the collection plate, but also to the secular governments at federal, state and local levels.

      Here’s a thoughtful piece from a guy about whom I know nothing. But I agree with the interpretation. He seems to be an enlightened Evangelical, from whom more should be heard rather than the crazies who get all the coverage.

      “Then the Lord said to Cain, Where is your brother Abel? I don’t know, he replied. Am I my brother’s keeper? (Genesis 4:9).
      Cain’s insolent and arrogant response to God’s question is a sign of his inward, unacknowledged guilt. This is always the way of guilt—to disclaim responsibility. Cain replies, My brother? What have I to do with my brother? Am I my brother’s keeper? Is it my responsibility to know where my brother is? The hypocrisy of that is most evident. Though Cain could disclaim responsibility for knowing where his brother was, he did not hesitate to assume the greater responsibility of taking his brother’s life.

      “We have heard much of the same thing in modern times. When Martin Luther King, Jr., was murdered in 1968, many were saying these same things. It’s not our fault that Dr. King was killed. Why should we suffer for what some fanatic did? It’s not our responsibility. Soon some were saying, He ought to have known this would happen. After all, if you stir up trouble, sooner or later you will pay the price for it. No one can deny the logic and truth of a statement like that. Yet it is very obviously incomplete. There is nothing in it of facing responsibility and no honest answering of the terrible question from Cain’s lips, Am I my brother’s keeper?

      “Two or three decades ago, Dr. Carl Henry wrote a book called The Uneasy Conscience of Fundamentalism, which bothered many people when it first came out. Dr. Henry pointed out that the isolationism that many Christians adopt, which removes us from contact with non-Christians, has also successfully removed us from grappling with some of the pressing social questions of our hour. We have often been quite content to sing about going to heaven but have shown very little concern for the sick and the poor, the lonely, the old, and the miserable of our world. Isaiah 58 is a ringing condemnation of such an attitude on the part of religious people. God is infinitely concerned in this area of life, and those who bear His name dare not neglect these areas. Let us be perfectly frank and admit that this is a manifestation of Christian love that we evangelicals have tended greatly to neglect.

      “The church was never intended to minister to only one segment of society but is to include all people, all classes, all colors, without distinction. These distinctions are to be ignored in the church. They must be; otherwise, we are not being faithful to the one who called us and who Himself was the friend of sinners of all kinds. We must be perfectly honest and admit that this has been the weak spot of evangelical life, this failure to move out in obedience to God’s command to offer love, friendship, forgiveness, and grace to all people without regard to class, color, background, or heredity.

      “Father, open my eyes that I might see the people around me as people whom You created and whom You have placed in my path for a purpose. Teach me that I am my brother’s keeper.”
      Life Application: The Church is to minister to all segments of society without distinction. Have we become complacent or too comfortable in our circle of influence and acquaintances?

      From your friends at

      1. Erik says:


        If she wanted to say, ‘we’re our brother’s keeper’, she could have said ‘we’re our brother’s keeper’. She instead chose the secular, dystopian language of collectivism.

        I’m not a ‘true believer’, by the way. I’ve decided that what I was and remain is a contrarian Democrat. Like John McWhorter.

        1. PM says:

          as opposed to the good language of “society”, and “community”….?

          Seriously, there was nothing dystopian about that clip, and nothing that goes beyond everyday common sense. Aren’t we all better off if fewer people become criminals or gang-bangers? Any economist will tell you that the higher the general level of education in a society, the better off that society is. That is accepted wisdom in the economics field.

          1. Erik says:

            The collectivism stuff is benign…to a point. Insofar as it’s a warm and fuzzy ad and not 1930’s Ukraine.

            But she would wish apparently to diminish the parental relationship to their own children in favor of a stronger relationship with the collective. Whatever that means.

            That’s the problem.

            1. Jim Leinfelder says:

              To borrow a colloquialism: “Baloney.”

              You find yourself in league with Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, Palin, the usual. But not, as far as I am aware, your man, John McWhorter.

            2. PM says:

              Nonsense. What she is pointing out is that selfishness (not caring about other peoples children as long as your child is OK/advantaged) hurts everyone in the long term. And lets face it, selfishness is all too often what fears of “collectivism” is all about–people who don’t want to pay taxes because they only go to the welfare moochers, the 47% who live off of the productive members of society…..and it is extremely shortsighted and self destructive of a society.

        2. Jim Leinfelder says:

          Ah, “baloney,” ok, the scales have fallen from my eyes. Thanks for the thoughtful explication. Really, how can anyone with a scintilla of intellectual integrity not admit that her remarks are merely meant to be understood as a way of AVOIDING a dystopian society. In your view, we’ve reached a point in this country where we don’t care about the opportunity to thrive for children not our own? I think I’ve answered my own question. And, “collectivism,” seriously? You’re serving up knee-jerk, heavy on the jerk, pap, Erik. Good public schools, subsidized school lunches, child protection, safe environments in which to grow up, that’s your idea of “collectivism.” Make an effort, young man.

          You’re not a “devout’ believer in the ethical demands Christianity makes on those who espouse the faith? You certainly like to strike that pose when it suits you. I guess now is one of those times when you, like a clay footed hanger on in the garden, deny any knowledge of JC.

  10. bertram jr. says:

    It is absurdly frightening.

    And the First Lady is much, much larger in the rear than the sycophantic media will allow to be shown.

    That is all. Lambert, Bertram asks again – what ARE “appropriate questions to ask a gay couple”?

    Journalistically speaking, of course….

    1. My man, did any of the eight previous Mrs. Bertrams dare carry a bit too much baggage in the trunk? And what was their punishment when they grew wider than FoxNews blonde?

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