Who says television news doesn’t fall under the entertainment category? The psychology seems to be identical in both divisions. You know the syndrome: for weeks before some special event or broadcast, a network will hype the upcoming show, hoping to tease such great expectations out of viewers that not one of them and his sister will miss it. But by the time the show is being shown, the network couldn’t care less about it. It’s already busy hyping some new upcoming spectacular. Needless to say, any viewer who got taken in winds up feeling used. Which explains why TV is our leading producer of cynicism.
So it was last night on ABC’s News World Tonight with Peter Jennings. Earlier in the day the Senate had passed campaign finance reform, culminating years of media-approved efforts to use the oversold cause on behalf of and against the usual sets of suspects. It was always John McCain can do no wrong, and Mitch McConnell should be jailed. Anchors like Peter Jennings earning millions a night and correspondents like Linda Douglass spending that much alone on their hair each day were always decrying the awful corruption money brings to politics.
So like the spoiled rich everywhere, once they got what they wanted they immediately became bored. Last night’s brief report on the Jennings news was amazingly anticlimactic. It came well after the lead stories, and betrayed about as much excitement and drama as closing time at a saloon where the bartender’s last duty is sweeping up the worn linoleum floor. It almost made for an objective, worldly-wise report. The theme might have been: What reform?
There was nothing celebratory about the report, no soundbite from soft-speaking Abe Lincoln McCain, no hasty questions thrown at McConnell as he disappeared behind the tinted glass of his car door. Instead it emphasized the rush now on to raise as much soft money as possible before the ban kicks in next November.
Douglass mentioned President Bush has raised millions for Senate candidate and that Democrats three weeks ago “took home $6 million in one night.” But then a clip ran of Tom Daschle saying that night: “This is the most successful dinner I believe we’ve ever had.” Can you believe that? A Democratic leader made to look worse than the president?
After more talk about the “fundraising binge to scarf up big contributions from corporations and labor unions while they [sic] are still legal,” Douglass let it be known that opponents of the new law argue it “will not stamp out big money [but] simply shift political influence to a new set of power brokers,” a point reinforced in a soundbite from Republican Sen. Don Nickles. She went on to mention that groups like EMILY’s List will become “more powerful than ever,” and said not an approving word about this pro-feminist development.
She ended on a knowing note: “And tonight, Peter, the campaign lawyers are scrambling for ways around the new law, and they are confident that they will find them.”
To which Peter replied, “Thank you, Linda. Linda Douglass.” Then he said something about the “worst floods in a generation” coming up next. Maybe after those floods recede we’ll hear from Peter and Linda about the need for a new round of campaign finance reform. For now, though, they seem all reformed out.