The No Spin Zone.
That was the catch phrase for the number 1 rated show in cable news, year after year, with an average of 2.8 millions viewers per night in 2016. A corporate cash cow too: in its twenty one year run on the Fox News Network, this program generated upwards of $1 billion in profits for 21st Century Fox. It was the crown jewel in a media empire and TV network that revolutionized how Americans get their news.
And now it is gone, over, finis. Pull the plug. Roll the final credits. Write one last check for $25 million to the host, as he exits, stage right.
Until “The O’Reilly Factor” was abruptly cancelled last week, I’d never watched it and not because of some ideological bias. I’ve also never watched O’Reilly’s media twin, the super liberal Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. Nor do I watch CNN or NewsMax or “The Daily Show” or most any other network or local “news” show anymore. I’d much rather read news online or in print, where I can quickly turn the page. Or listen to the news and switch to music if necessary. Anything but watch the news. For TV “news” is now a misnomer. “News” is instead the interpretation of facts; is spin, is analysis, not straight up reporting. “News” is entertainment delivered through an ideological filter. Fox to the right. CNN to the left. And so on….
I still recall the evening thirty six years ago that Walter Cronkite signed off of the CBS Evening News, as 25 million folks watched, and he said one last time, “And that’s the way it is.” Maybe that was the moment the news died, news in a traditional sense. As in dog bites man and then reporter reports: “Dog bites man.” When Cronkite told us “And that’s the way it is” most Americans actually believed him. The news he reported as “the most trusted man in America” wasn’t flashy or packaged or slanted left or right. Wasn’t repackaged as comedy or satire. Wasn’t fawningly self referential.
The news was…the news.
You read it or watched it and then as an informed citizen, you actually were expected to then draw your own conclusions. Certainly didn’t need an overpaid talking head or self important anchor or well coiffed “expert” (likely a political lobbyist or pseudo academic or recently defeated office holder) telling you what to think.
So I won’t miss “The Factor” nor the star who hosted it.
Not just because his firing was the result of five women accusing him of sexual harassment, charges he denies. Not just because $13 million in settlements were distributed to keep things secret and behind closed doors. Not just because his former boss at Fox News, Roger Ailes, was also let go for sexual harassment accusations and given a $65 million golden parachute.
Call me a cranky old school journalist but if I had the chance, I’d cancel every single slickly packaged cult of personality “news” shows. If the host imagines themselves more important than the actual news he or she reports, get rid of them. If the anchor regularly appears at glittering red carpet events, makes millions of dollars while acting as if they are on the side of “the little guy”, or kisses up to the powerful, unmask that hypocrisy. Name it for what it is. If a news network is more concerned about profits than a workplace atmosphere where female employees are subject to cave man behavior, change the channel. Better yet, just turn it off.
Let the news be the news. I don’t want or need anyone’s help in figuring out what to believe or what opinion I’m supposed to adopt. That’s my job alone, as a citizen and a thinking human being. Just give me the news, okay? Please.
Where have you gone, Walter? I for one really miss you. I miss the news too. And that’s the way it is. No spin.