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Simple fixes for Messed Up Sunday Talk Shows

Jay Rosen has an interesting solution for the partisan bickering you see on Sunday talk shows: a midweek fact check of what the guests said on Sunday. The results of the fact-check will be posted later on the web. He elaborates:

The midweek fact check would also give David Gregory a way out of his puppy game of gotcha. Instead of telling David Axelrod that his boss promised to change the tone in Washington so why aren’t there any Republican votes for health care? … which he thinks is getting "tough" with a guest, Gregory’s job would simply be to ask the sort of questions, the answers to which could be fact checked later in the week. Easy, right?

The beauty of this idea is that it turns the biggest weakness of political television–the fact that time is expensive, and so complicated distortions, or simple distortions about complicated matters, are rational tactics for advantage-seeking pols—into a kind of strength.  The format beckons them to evade, deny, elide, demagogue and confuse…. but then they pay for it later if they give into temptation and make that choice.  So imagine the midweek fact check from last week as a short segment wrapping up the show the following week. Now you have an incentive system that’s at least pointed in the right direction.

Here’s a better fix: not watching the shows at all! (at least until they find better hosts and guests). I used to watch ABC’s This Week until I realized that there was a sameness to the coverage. I wasn’t really learning a lot about anything. Plus the constant commercial breaks reminded the viewer that the purpose of this news show was not to educate but to make you shop more. When you have one or two minute debate segments (or even three or more), nothing interesting will be said. CNN reporters do a slightly better job, but they have longer amount of time to fill.

I don’t hate pols, but I’d like to see more variety. Even better, I’d love to see politicians not appearing as guests at all. Journalists (even partisan journalists) often are better informed that the typical politician. Professors are also good too.  One thing I love about the  CSPAN radio call in show is that the telephone callers may have a few cranks, but they expose you to a variety of opinions (rational or otherwise), and the moderator cuts them off if they go on for too long.  With the Sunday talk shows, I find a sameness in the questions and coverage. I just never learn anything!

(In my media diet, I enjoy Fareed Zakaria’s GPS (available as a podcast), Washington Week in Review and Bill Moyers. Also, locally in Houston I enjoy the New Capitol Show (Thursdays at 3, with podcast available) and Red White & Blue on KUHT on Friday nights at 8. 

On Sunday mornings, I just sleep.

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