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Letter to the Editor: What is Television’s Ideology?

November 12, 2009


I received this letter from Cas Balicki, one of NewsReal’s regular commenters:

Sometime around 1993 I gave up television. I came home from somewhere I no longer remember, sat down remote in hand and began clicking through the channels. The next thing I knew it was after 11:00 pm., which meant that I had been channel surfing for well over two hours. I cancelled my cable subscription the next day and have lived without television since. All of which brings me to NewsReal. Being a political junky I feel I must stay in touch with the doings on TV, and that is what NewsReal does for me in that it gives me a sense for what’s happening on TV while relieving me of the necessity of watching the train wreck in progress.

One thought that has been gnawing at me lately is political ideology as it relates to television, or more specifically: Is there an ideology that attaches to television? Admittedly, not being a television watcher, I may not be the writer to discuss this topic, but contrary to that objection, perhaps it is my remove that allows me to form the question.

What NewsReal projects is a left-right view of television that I accept almost too willingly given my own lack of personal knowledge. But that view does not, in my opinion, go far enough. Why this two-camps vision doesn’t go far enough is it does not attempt to project an ideological end-game. This is not meant as criticism, because I love NewsReal and return to it often and read almost all of its posts. What I aim to communicate is that all ideologues — from Karl Marx to Ayn Rand — project some end, a political utopia that votaries of their ideology strive to attain. So what is television’s political utopia?

The facile answer may be that television or those deemed its spokespersons are only a conduit for the political ideologies of the parties with which they are allied. From the outside looking in this would make Rachael Maddow a Democrat and Glen Beck a Republican, which, quite frankly, renders the impulse to taxonomy too Procrustean to be credible especially in light of trying to assess a public rather than a private persona. Also, it would render these individuals automatons with no vision of their own to peddle. To be credible to their respective audiences Maddow and Beck must believe in something or they would come across as hollow.

An additional complication flows from the ideological impulse to political correctness so much on display since the Fort Hood shootings. The problem with political correctness on television is not its espousal per se, but the purposeful ignorance it forces on those espousing PC positions. Here irony rears its ugly head in that those showing purposeful ignorance in the name of PC thinking will move from a Fort Hood story to a Pelosicare story knowing that the segue itself must wash away their purposeful ignorance. What gives certain anchors the confidence to move from garish ignorance to instant credibility if not some overarching and deeply held ideological belief? This ablution of ignorance by segue, in my view, is far more important than is generally allowed, as a news-anchors’ positions rest on a foundation of credibility even if their audiences are deemed too credulous by political sophisticates. All of which makes the political correctness game a treacherous play for the news anchor, as one whiff of incredulity is sometimes enough to end a career, a la Dan Rather and the Texas Air National Guard.

A third difficulty in suggesting that television presents without some innate ideology is trying to explain away entertainment programming. Recently I had occasion to watch a box set of Boston Legal, I found some of the episodes so insufferably political that I was moved to fast forward through the polemics. But that was not the half of it, what really irked was that conservative opinion was almost always, no, make that always, dismissed as one very small step above pure lunacy that no right thinking person could willingly own. How would David E. Kelly, the producer and principal writer of Boston Legal, know that conservatism was lunacy if he did not have some vision of a sublime utopia bouncing around in his head?

So I ask, what is television’s vision of utopia and how has it changed over time? Supplemental questions would be: How is that vision presented? and to what end? Why these questions are important is because television has the ability to construct in half-hour segments utopias that portions of its audience can buy into. Once the audience is on board the news and opinion broadcasters get to reinforce the entertainers’ efforts and vice versa. All of which paints if not a Goebbels- certainly a Riefenstahl-esque picture of television, and we know the utopia that these two propagandists helped manufacture.

One sentiment from Cas’s letter that I want to comment on: the phenomenon of NewsReal readers who don’t watch the cable shows is hardly limited to him. One of my dear friends who can’t stand political television has told me before how much he enjoys NewsReal.

And confession time: I, the editor of a blog devoted to the cable shows, certainly am not a fan of the medium. If it was not my job to deal with this stuff I’d probably read news online, read The Economist, and just read a blog to find out what Keith Olbermann, Glenn Beck, and Rick Sanchez were saying. It’s just an irritating medium — and that’s apart from the ideology of the participants.

I might enjoy the acts of writing and blogging, but rarely is the TV watching much fun. In other words: barbecuing the cow is fun. Slaughtering it is not.

So I pose the questions to NewsReal’s readers: do you watch the cable shows that much? Do you enjoy them?  Or do you just read NewsReal, find out what the pundits are gabbing about, and then actually get your news elsewhere?

  1. Kai permalink
    November 12, 2009 6:27 pm

    I don’t have cable, either. So this is pretty much it for news for me.

  2. Readtheredwords permalink
    November 12, 2009 6:48 pm

    I can hardly stand watching TV anymore either. I DVR Beck everyday and otherwise catch a few minutes of local or national news, and on rare occasions a little Hannity or Cavuto. I gave up on MSNBC and CNN a couple years ago. NewsReal reminds me everyday why I don’t watch them.

  3. John Davidson permalink
    November 12, 2009 8:48 pm

    I do watch certain shows to get a perspective regarding the issues we face. What I have found, though, is sometimes the moderators “Bloviate” a bit too much and you know where I got that term from, but some of the messages have merit. I think, like David Horowitx, Dick Morris is a recovering addict (Politically speaking) and his insightss are interesting and based on facts. I find Glen Beck has moderated his style and this approach lends more credibility to his platform: scares the hell out of the lefties, too.

    All too often, guests are touting their latest expose which becomes boring most of the time, but I suppose it saves the networks money by helping to promote repetitive diatribe.

    Later in the evening, I retire to watch fairy tales to relax my brain and avoid hysteria.

    • F. Swemson permalink
      November 12, 2009 8:56 pm

      That’s interesting..

      Believe it or not, I watch old MASH reruns whenever I want to relieve the stress of current events.

  4. Jack Hampton permalink
    November 12, 2009 10:18 pm

    I started complaining 25 years ago that telivision programing including the news had a political and social agenda. I watch Cavuto and some news on FOX and sports. I will not even watch Sunday night football because it has Olberscuz participating. I will not watch a movie with Fonda or George Clooney, Spicoli, or Mork from Ork, I will not watch anything with Garfalo or Madcow or any of the leftwing trust. I try not to by anything sponsered by them as well if I am aware. I got fed up long ago with left wing bias the day Walter Cronkite lied.

  5. Marylou permalink
    November 12, 2009 10:38 pm

    I don’t think this is as idle a question, or as simple, as one might first think somehow…but I don’t know. I have wondered this myself from time to time.

    My strongest leftist influence (I have since returned to my senses) back in the 1960’s used to say, almost ominously, The medium is the message. I could never get that far into Marshall McLuhan’s material but it seems there is a connection with the idea that we are all watching it and so we are under its spell.

    Apart from the obvious propagandizing nature of it, what would it be saying to us? Hmmm.

  6. November 12, 2009 11:46 pm

    I was a big TV fan growing up, but stopped watching decades ago when too many programs, even ones made for kids, seemed to be derived from some alien culture. I’m surprised that anyone who values liberty and personal responsibility can tolerate any of today’s TV programming. Or that any thinking person can stomach the grotesque tabloid infotainment disguised as “news”.

    What’s worse, TV has become ubiquitous – you end up watching even if you don’t want to. They’ve putting TVs into restaurants, lunch rooms at work, airports, malls, service stations and medical waiting rooms to beam their crap into your head.

    Why does no one object? In Heinlein’s “The Puppet Masters”, the author makes the point that your physical animal body isn’t happy with a disciplining sapience and is relieved to be free of it. TV seems to fill that purpose.

    • John Davidson permalink
      November 13, 2009 7:24 am

      And if they put them in restroom, the content will not have far to go…the toilet.

  7. jimdouthit permalink
    November 13, 2009 5:17 am

    FCC censorship and politically-correct /socialist philosophy have turned TV entertainment into valueless slop. (TV news-media is clearly leftist/socialist, as noted in comments above). Sitcoms, with their canned laughter, are one result of this censorship. Conflict is the essence of art, but you can’t have conflict without presenting values, i.e., without presenting right and wrong, good and evil, i.e., with making judgements. But in our socialist climate, if you make judgements, you are discriminating (against Blacks, gays, minorities, the poor, immigrants, women–everybody on the planet except, of course, white males), or you are racist, or you are a redneck, or a bigot, or a right-wing extremist…
    Sitcoms erase values. Seinfeld actors even bragged that their sitcom “was about nothing.”
    The few police/detective type shows that try for conflict still remain solidly politically-correct. You can’t have any bad guys who are Democrats, socialists, liberals, Moslems, gays, Blacks… In an episode of “Numbers” a couple of days ago, a terrorist in the plot was an Israeli ! Those Israeli terrorists are a real threat to civilization..
    This is a lengthy topic. I remember the first James Bond movie: good guys, bad guys, strong plot, right and wrong, intelligent opponents. Then, when it was obvious that people hungered for good conflict, Hollywood turned James Bond into a clown. The Bond movies became idiotic and valueless, with impossible stunts, car chases, things being blown up… Even sex in this milieu becomes boring. Instead of being a “celebration of life,” as Ayn Rand noted, sex in TV and movies has become a car-chase like diversion.
    –more later. jd

  8. John L Work permalink
    November 13, 2009 5:20 am

    I have watched very little TV since the jihad attack at Ft Hood, because there has been so little discussion of the Islamic doctrine that is behind the world-wide jihad movement. Mr. Obama tells us on TV that it was a “tragedy” driven by some “twisted logic” that somehow mysteriously remains nebulous and not comprehensible to us.

    I’ve read Robert Spencer’s work, so I can name the enemy. I can describe the enemy. I can define enemy. But the President of the United States of America cannot do so.

    I’ve pretty much given up on any TV as a source of truth.

    I watch a little bit of Hannity. He does become monotonously repetitious from show to show. O’Reilly expends so much energy sitting on the fence defending Mr. Obama’s policies from criticism, not to mention that he likes to bully his female guests, that I cannot make it through much there.

    CNN is set up, as are MSNBC, ABC, NBC, and CBS to run heavy intereference for Mr. Obama. I did like Lou Dobbs, but he’s out the door at CNN now.

    So, I really enjoy reading NewsReal now. It’s a nice change and it’s become one of my sources for keeping up with events. I enjoy some conservative talk radio. I’m reading Jerry Corsi’s latest book right now.

    I so not believe that anyone can really get a sense of what’s going on from solely watching TV, whether it’s cable or network. Gotta read, too.

  9. November 13, 2009 5:33 am

    I watch the news with Bret Baer on FNC. I also watch the History Channel even if it gets stories about Che Geuvera and The Liberty accident wrong.

    I watch the Biography channel, too. Not the most respectable activity, I know.

  10. Mr. Oldenfat permalink
    November 13, 2009 5:46 am

    I gave up on televised news a long time ago, even Fox. Televised news (either on-air or cable) is much too depressing to watch, especially since “The Coronation”. They ALL seem to gloat the the demise of our country is near; and, it’s about time, too.

    My news comes mostly from the internet, including local news (which I read mostly for the obits). I favor sites that feature many news sources. It’s impossible to screen out all of the prejudice; but, I try . . .

  11. aspacia permalink
    November 13, 2009 6:28 am


    Glenn Beck is hilarious! A great entertainer. I seldom watch television, and tend to only was Fox’s Sunday Political talking points, the battle between the conservatives, moderates and liberals is hilarious. Watching the politicians on the hot seat dance around questions is also good for a laugh.

    As for the rest, television is geared to the lowest IQ in the land, and is total nonsense.

    Hum, generally, reading web news from BBC, Arutz Sheva, The Guardian, The Jerusalem Post, Pravda, Ah Ahrem, MEMRI et. al provides a sense of balance and understanding of world events.

  12. David Forsmark permalink
    November 13, 2009 8:23 am

    Okay, I know there’s a certain intellectual pretension to saying “I don’t watch TV” or if you do, say I watch only news, sports, and the History Channel. Michael Medved, after about 10 years of evidence to the contrary, still maintains that the movies are better than TV. Sorry, but now TV is more akin to a novel, while movies are tidy and short.

    So, My name is David and I watch entertainment TV. Not all of the following are still on, but here are a list of reasons why.
    1. King of the Hill
    2. The Wire
    3. The Sopranos
    4. Rescue Me
    5. 24
    6. Lost
    7. The Office
    8. Modern Family
    9. House
    10. Big Love
    11. Sleeper Cell
    12. Dexter
    13. Homicide: Life on the Street
    14. The Simpsons first 9 seasons
    15. Friday Night Lights (proof that this list is NOT in order of importance)
    16. Brotherhood
    17 The Sheild
    18. Battlestar Gallactica

    … and before you start, I’ve been known to read a book or two.

  13. David Forsmark permalink
    November 13, 2009 8:54 am

    Burn Notice
    The Closer

    • John Davidson permalink
      November 13, 2009 11:11 am

      Good Lord, David you need help! Reality shows are in vogue now, especially those on the cable news channels.

  14. November 13, 2009 10:02 am

    The only programs I have ever enthused over are Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue, and some earlier episodes of House. Everything else is BS.

  15. Hamish permalink
    November 13, 2009 10:34 am

    We have never had a TV to ‘watch’ TV, only ever for watching videos.

    I did not like bringing a medium, which is generally so contrary to my values, into the very heart of our home where it demands prime of place.

    When people moan about ‘toxic TV’, or violence on the box, or political manipulation, or the utter inanity of most of what is on it, I say, “Put a hammer through it!!!!”

    And I took this stance years before I read the book by Jerry Mander ‘Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television’, Quill, 1978.

  16. November 13, 2009 10:48 am

    only have basic cable and for 3 months extended cable so I could watch Fox. Because of all guests talking at once especially on Hannity and how O’Reilly interrupts his guests CONSTANTLY, I won’t subscribe to extended cable I do watch BBC news on TV,and listen to the local Fox station on the radio (Rush from 11 to 1pm) so that keeps me up to date on what’s happening in the world and also my state. I also read Jewish World Review, David Horowitz, The Heritage Morning Bell, The Patriot US The Black Sphere, Starr Parker and Glenn Beck, . I do have to admit I watch Everybody Loves Raymond but that’s about it. I guess I AM getting old because I don’t know anything about the reality shows etc…and don’t care either.

  17. peachey permalink
    November 13, 2009 2:18 pm

    Other than selected FOX shows and limited dramas, our boob tube is black. If you want to capture a snapshot of the insanity and banality of American society, just turn on the TV. Good lord, how low can this society sink? My family actually has a life outside of the projected garbage on TV and it feels great.

  18. AuntWie permalink
    November 13, 2009 4:59 pm

    Nope. No cable. I’d get satellite if I could just get FNC, but I don’t want to pay for 200 channels I’ll never watch. There are a few things I miss, but most of them are available eventually on either Netflix or Hulu. So I see most of the really intellectual stuff. Like Red Eye. Firefly reruns. Castle.

  19. j c original permalink
    November 13, 2009 7:16 pm

    I tape Beck,Oreilly,Hannity, high school football. Enjoy listening Warroom with Quinn&Rose while on the internet from 6am to 9am I really do enjoy radio talk while researching online. Bill O’reilly does interupt when guests refuse to debate or answer intelligently and he’s extremely irritating when he acts like he doesn’t know anything much about Obama plus I understand he wants to keep his black audience.
    Sean does his homework and it shows and of course everybody likes Glenn.

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