Remember when public radio played only classical music? Before they talked? When it was dull? Dull was good. The problem with most radio and television news now is too much talk. Blah, blah, blah. All day, all blah, blah, blah, all the time. It’s not news, either.
An organization grandly calling itself (drum roll, please) The Project for Excellence in Journalism (how’s that for optimism—or malapropism?) says that only 14 percent of the last presidential campaign coverage counted as actual news. Most of it was opinion!
We have too many opinions in this country. Maybe we need to export them to opinion-deprived nations. Chad? Burkina Faso? Nauru? Could we not send some of our extra opinions overseas along with blocks of government surplus cheese and prescription drugs? The State Department could dispatch prominent Americans with opinionitis abroad. Rush Limbaugh, for instance. Rush could bring his own drugs, too.
I don’t like daytime radio with its teams of announcers, one of whom is always nicknamed Grease Gun and one of whom is always a girl who is either mean, stupid or a tart (often all three). There is something cruel about daytime radio. Plus, it’s obvious that all those secretaries who call in are not concentrating at work.
I don’t do drive-time, either. What does it matter if Detour Dave says there’s a 19-mile backup on the outer loop of the Beltway? If I’m on the outer loop of the Beltway, it’s too late. If I’m at home, it’s someone else’s problem.
The lure of talk radio is not rocket science. It’s cheap and easy to produce. Plus, Americans, unwashed and untutored, love the sound of their own voices. It requires no talent for Dale in Crownsville or Crystal in Perry Hall to call in. They’re angry, not too bright and they have cell phones. When I worked for the Associated Press we believed that only the mentally disturbed wrote letters to newspapers. But the criminally insane call in to radio talk shows.
Talk radio and television are the intellectual equivalent of Big Time Wrestling, a steel-cage death match of bullies driven by “personalities.” Lusty Bill O’Reilly; Ann Coulter, the Fascist lap dancer; George Will impersonator Tucker Carlson. (Anyone who’s ever gone to a private school has met him. He was a weasel in sixth form and still is.) Then there’s Billy Bob Thornton-look-alike contest winner James Carville and Larry King Live. What are they going to do when Larry King is no longer alive? Reruns? Larry King Dead? In a country with no taste I can see that happening.
These people are not journalists; they’re the national noisemakers. I used to write rip-and-read (that’s broadcast news copy) for the AP in the middle of the night so that our clients could sound as if they knew what the hell they were talking about in the morning. To pass the time we listened to Larry King. He was on the radio talking to some woman who was having a Martian’s baby or a guy with a theory about the Texas book depository or a guy who had seen a Martian at the Texas book depository. Larry ran a freak show then. Now he’s an elder statesman of broadcasting.
Larry King is not a journalist, even if he plays one on TV. Recently he interviewed Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is NOT a governor. That’s the level of national discourse. But then what do I know? I’m just a girlie-man.
I used to believe that none of the people on National Public Radio were real. I thought a couple of out-of-work actors were in a sound booth someplace creating the illusion of NPR. They had all these foreign correspondents with names that sounded too much like Monty Python characters. How could that guy be in Bombay on Monday and Buenos Aires on Tuesday? And what about the guy who reviewed a book every day? How was that possible? That can’t be done. If you read the book.
I thought “All Things Considered” was radio theater, kind of like Orson Welles and “War of the Worlds.” I figured Susan Stamberg was a female impersonator. A good one, too. But you could hear it in the voice—that was no woman. Bob Edwards and Noah Adams and the rest of the gang, like Andrei Codrescu, a dead giveaway, had to be actors. The things Andrei said were patently absurd, the accent comically broad. It was obviously a send-up. And the endless drone of “I need a hug” personal essayists, each one sensitive and sincere, breathy and deadly—cruel spoofs.
But they were my imaginary friends. Say what you want about NPR. They may be lily-livered liberals. They may have no moral values. They may eat tabbouleh. They may believe that God made Adam and Steve, not Adam and Eve. But they never yelled “shut up.” I liked that.
In the end, the politics don’t matter. Marc Steiner or Ron Smith, Juan Williams, Diane Rehm, Imus in the morning or Tavis Smiley any time of the day. What’s the difference? Talk. Talk. Talk. Talk of the nation.
I hear America talking. I wish America would stop talking. Silence is golden.