So there I was last
weekend, watching Sunday morning television, attaining a new level
of annoyance with the kind of media that assumes its audience has
the attention span of goldfish.
I don’t recall when it
began, the assumption during newscasts and political talking-head
shows that I couldn’t just watch one event or follow one
conversation, but needed more information scrolling across the
bottom of the screen. For years it was only winter school closings
there, which was fine, and then the stock market, and the weather,
and now they’ve added promos for coming items on the news while I’m
watching this one. One fourth of the screen is filled with things to
distract me from the reason I’m watching it!
With talking heads, it
used to be an interviewer and an interviewee; lately management
seems to assume that just listening to a conversation will bore me
at my kindergarten brain level, so it splits the screen between the
interviewee and some dramatic video that may or may not have
something to do with the interview.
Some of the radio news
moves so quickly that before one has heard and registered the news
item, the script is on to the next one with hardly a comma between
them, and then on to the next. Things are so tightly scheduled that
they may suddenly, without warning, interrupt a news item or
interview with a commercial; more incredibly, business-model-wise,
they will interrupt a paid commercial with the next news item!
So, I was watching WCVB’s
Sunday morning “On the Record,” which had an interesting interview
with Treasurer Deborah Goldberg about the state pension liabilities.
Host Ed Hardy asked her what she thought of the idea of hiring a
consultant to make sure taxpayers won’t be left holding the bag.
Goldberg looked puzzled and asked “left holding the bag on?” Hardy
replied: “The Olympics!”
Was someone talking about
the Olympics? No, Harding had just moved on to the next subject in
his own head, without notifying Goldberg or the audience. It was
funny/bizarre — maybe more so because it had followed a typical
incident on “This Week,” where Martha Raditz was filling in as host.
I first met her when she
was local reporter Martha Bradley; she has become a very serious
journalist who can be seen covering some of the most dangerous parts
of the globe. Last Sunday, she interviewed another ABC reporter in
Yemen, from which the last American troop had just been withdrawn,
leaving an extremely dangerous failed state.
This terrible situation,
along with potential Iranian nuclear weapons, was being discussed by
her panel when, expecting a commercial break, she introduced the
weekly panel quiz. During the commercial, the normally dignified
panel members have to write their secret answer on a chalkboard, for
flashing when the show returns. Apparently Prince Charles and his
wife Camilla were visiting Washington, D.C., last week so the quiz
question was “The first time Prince Charles visited Washington,
President Nixon tried to fix him up with whom?”
In case you don’t know, if
was Nixon’s daughter, Tricia. Then the conversation turned to
Hillary’s emails, which may be about to deep-six her presidential
Seriously. Is it possible
that people like me won’t watch unless we are amused by an
irrelevant quiz in the middle of it? On the Record also has a “pop
quiz” in the middle of its interview show every Sunday: serious
guests ranging from governors to congressmen to mayors must
participate, even though the questions often have nothing to do with
why they are there.
Radio used to have quizzes
for listener participation, which was OK when we had to actually
know the answer and call in with it before anyone else did. Now we
don’t have to know anything; the winner is the listener who can find
the answer first on his Internet device. What’s the point?
OK, so I sometimes know
the answer without looking; that’s kind of fun. I don’t know how to
text it to the show, though, so I never win a prize. Must admit that
today I didn’t know where Meg Ryan was born.
Then there’s the “if it
bleeds it leads” syndrome. If we tune in to the news to find out
what’s going on nearby, we will hear about murder, rape,
family-destroying fires in our local area; of course there will also
be pleasant stories about pets, rescues and other good deeds as
well. But why do I need to hear about the murders, rapes, and
family-destroying fires in faraway states?
I understand we need to
know about the war, famine, and weather-related destruction
happening across the world, just to keep us informed about
geopolitical issues that could affect America’s foreign policy. But
sometimes I ask myself, what would life be like if I turned off the
television and radio, and just read this newspaper — learning what I
need at my own pace, without the moving visual drama?
Am I the only one who
feels this way, like dropping out, asking the world to stop so I can
get off, or at least moving to a cabin (with indoor plumbing) in the
Of course my cabin must
have access to the Internet so I can send in my columns about living
a simple, deliberate life.
Barbara Anderson of
Marblehead is president of Citizens for Limited Taxation and a Salem