Weapons-Grade TV

The medium isn't just the message anymore.

In late August, Walter Shapiro of The New Republic decided he’d watch the Fox News lineup for nine days — a 50-hour “eye-glazing” marathon, as he called it.

What he witnessed was remarkable: the disappearing of Michelle Bachmann. Fox News created the Tea Party, but now that Tea Partiers were getting behind Bachmann and her candidacy was taking off, somebody upstairs didn’t like the looks of it.

“I was braced for a bacchanalia of Michele Bachmann coverage,” Shapiro wrote. “But I had failed to appreciate just how quickly the enthusiasms of Fox News would shift. … Bachmann was almost entirely absent, like a Red Army general excised from the Great Soviet Encyclopedia after being purged by Joseph Stalin.”

By the end of her blackout week, Bachmann showed up in a Fox News poll with just 4 percent support — which was then reported by Fox News as proof of her fall.

Apparently Rupert Murdoch’s “We Report, You Decide” slogan needed simplifying; Now it’s just “We Decide.”

Which leads me to Ted Koppel. “The commercial success of both Fox News and MSNBC is a source of nonpartisan sadness for me,” Koppel wrote in the Washington Post last year. “The trend is not good for the republic. This is to journalism what Bernie Madoff was to investment: He told his customers what they wanted to hear, and by the time they learned the truth, their money was gone.”

The former anchor of ABC’s Nightline is in the Inland Northwest this week to accept the Edward R. Murrow Award from Washington State University, Murrow’s alma mater. And like so many previous Murrow winners, Koppel isn’t happy about the state of journalism. If you go see him Friday in Pullman, he may let you know what he thinks about a network choosing a presidential nominee instead of just reporting on it.

At the end of his career, Murrow warned of the power of television. In his “Wires and Lights” speech in 1958, Murrow called TV a “weapon” that could prove decisive in America’s battle “against ignorance, intolerance and indifference” waged by those who would “distract, delude, amuse and insulate us.”

Fifty years later, as Murrow predicted, TV has become a weapon, but instead of using it to “teach… illuminate … and even inspire,” it more often is keeping us intolerant of different points of view.

A few years after Murrow’s speech, Marshall McLuhan famously said, “The medium is the message.” If people don’t wake up to the warnings of the likes of Murrow and Koppel, the new reality may be that “the medium is the master.”

Ted S. McGregor Jr. is the Editor and Publisher of The Inlander.

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About The Author

Ted S. McGregor Jr.

Ted S. McGregor, Jr. grew up in Spokane and attended Gonzaga Prep high school and the University of the Washington. While studying for his Master's in journalism at the University of Missouri, he completed a professional project on starting a weekly newspaper in Spokane. In 1993, he turned that project into reality...