In Defense of TV News

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JONATHAN COHN NOVEMBER 2, 2010

In Defense of TV News

Jack Shafer, in what I can only assume is a direct personal shot at me, comes out strongly against election-night TV coverage:

[Prior to] projected winners, the network talent have almost nothing to do besides stretch their thin material. They chat with one another, crochet scarves outside of camera view, and switch to those interminable "two-ways" that anchors conduct with correspondents camped out at the "victory" parties of the candidates. Worse yet, they grill their panel of pundits, whose contributions are almost always subtractive.

There's no news to be gleaned from the broadcasts before projections are made and sometimes less than no news after, as the candidate comes out to concede the race or claim victory. Personally, I'd rather be beaten with a dung-caked rake and forced to watch an infomercial about skin-care products than endure another two-way conversation, a concession speech, or a victory celebration on election night. If you watch TV coverage compulsively on election night, you must admit to yourself that it's out of habit and nothing else. If your political fanaticism was real, you'd be banging the URLs on your computer, not the TV remote.

As much as I admire Jack Shafer and his gleeful curmudgeonliness (embarrassing admission: I keep having this one dream where I hug him while he yells at me), he's wrong here. If I didn't tune in tonight, pre-returns, how would I know whether or not Americans are in favor of big, socialist government programs? Or whether or not Obama overstepped every previously agreed-upon political and ideological boundary, enraging voters in the process, by enacting some of the policies he campaigned for prior to his runaway victory? And where would I go to get Sarah Palin's thoughts about issues, people, and stuff—not to mention things?

Shafer may have the answers to these burning questions, but I do not. Does he really expect me to humiliate myself the next time one of my friends references a particularly cutting Mary Matalin election-night bon mot and I don't get it? We don't all have the social capital to overcome such faux pas, Jack.

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posted in: jonathan cohn, politics, midterm elections, jack shafer

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