In 5 minutes I will turn on ABC’s This Week, a one hour talk show about the news. I used to enjoy this show tremendously. Sunday mornings are a good time for news, especially since the daily Sunday newspaper seems to have disappeared. (The Sunday morning newspaper is all I need, but you can’t subscribe only to that).
This Week seems to have declined in quality because their discussion group is so calcified. George Will uses every topical issue to inject a swipe at liberal ideology. Cokie Roberts pretends to have an opinion, but in fact has no opinion other than the need to avoid controversy and be skeptical of anything smacking of progressive politics. (Both went out of their way to express alarm about how the radical left-wingers might sabotage the inevitable–and highly laudable–march to war). The round table features one or two other guests, and that is usually the only part of the mix I like. Farheed Zakaria is an intellectual heavyweight and effortlessly disposes of any tripe line George Will delivers (that is fun to watch). Robert Reich/Paul Krugman/William Kristol/Katrina Vanden Heuvel are the token idealogues and Sam Donaldson is the maverick reporter who is skeptical about anything. If anything redeems the show, it’s that the only right-wing panelist they have besides George Will is Bill Kristol, and both are relative lightweights, intellectually speaking. Far more worrisome is ABC’s tendency to invite political operatives rather than intellectuals as guests. Although they may possess more insider’s knowledge than insight, they pull the discussion away from issues and towards handling.
My main news comes from the PBS News Hour, which covered the cyclone extensively on Thursday and Friday, devoting almost half the program to it. But Friday night on PBS is when the news becomes excellent. Washington Week in Review has informed analysis by inside-the-Beltway journalists who actually know what they’re talking about. They don’t bloviate but describe what their journalistic instincts tell them. I watch NewsHour’s Friday analysis with Shields and Brooks. Even though I cannot stand David Brooks (he deals way too much in generalities), Mark Shields is a wonderful color man about American politics. Later in the evening is Bill Moyers who provides an intellectual perspective. (This week the topics were the torture lawyers and activism by nurse unions in California). Also, PBS Now which had a half hour about privatized prisons, with a special emphasis on CCA. Finally at 11:00 PM is McLaughlin Group. Upon first glance, it just seems like a lot of blowhards blowing smoke, but they cover a lot of issues in depth as talking points. Truly it’s a yellfest, but the moderator picks 4 topics and they battle it out. Bill McLaughlin actually is a good bellwether of things and identifies lots of unknown issues. Example: did you know that if the US abandons NAFTA, Canada would no longer be obligated to sell oil to us at preferential prices and would be free to sell it on the free market (where prices would be doubled)? Wow, why don’t we ever hear about that? Even the curmudgeon Pat Buchanan seems to have mellowed in his old age. Still yelling but no longer so attached to ideology when the reality runs so counter to it. Two other guests are a billionaire and a right-wing radio show host. This radio show host is one of the most annoying women I have ever heard. She speaks with vendettas and certainties about certain issues (such as the corruption of the Clinton administration). Nonetheless, it is mildly interesting to hear what’s rattling around the right-wing echo chambers. The yellfest is not supposed to deliver insights or genuine arguments, but somehow a few points manage to slip out due to McLaughlin’s egging questions.
Although I really enjoy the progressive politics of Friday night on PBS, I miss intelligent right-wing pundits. Paul Gigot, for example, had nuanced opinions, and lots of business reporters have useful perspectives. I really don’t mind hearing right-of-center analysis, but currently there is a shortage of that. Instead we have a glut of idealogues whose agenda seems highly suspect.
This weekend, there is almost no presidential news to report. Clinton/Obama….over! McCain? Nothing interesting. Here is the first chance in a long time for ABC to cover real news for a change: the cyclone, Russia’s new president, Gitmo and Supreme Court, ethanol/gas prices. Optimistically, I would expect presidential politics to occupy maybe 5 minutes of a 45 minute news show. Let’s see if my predictions bear out.
Sunday Afternoon Update: ABC This Week spent the entire hour talking about presidential politics. Namely:
- who will be the vice presidential candidate for McCain or Obama?
- Will Hilary exit gracefully or will she destroy the party by staying in the race an extra few weeks? (My thought: why is it so important not to hurt Hilary’s feelings?)
- Does John McCain really have a temper?