The cable guy came this morning and took away I don’t know how many worthless channels we never watched, dozens probably. It will save us seventy bucks a month and I don’t know why we didn’t do it a long time ago — inertia probably. The instance of must-watch TV — the Super Bowl, the Oscars — dwindle, or maybe it’s my flagging interest in the ephemeral and inconsequential that mortifyingly I have retained to rather late in life. Whichever it is, I’m glad to see all of that mind-cluttering junk gone from the house. I didn’t even keep the basic program as I did the last time I was disgusted enough to rebel against the trite formulas of the content providers.
The day of the gatekeeper happily is coming to a close, as Brian Williams’ disgrace neatly illustrates. Walter Cronkite used to sit behind a desk to give us the news, stacking his papers at the end and taking off his horn-rimmed glasses to signify that’s the way it was. The guys on the other two networks pretty much agreed because all three and every major newspaper in the country were guided by what the New York Times decided was newsworthy. That appears to be a law much like gravity.
One of the supermarket tabloids had a headline yesterday that said Williams is “suicidal.” It is no doubt untrue, but who could blame him if he was? He was somebody who could joke about his daughter’s bestiality scene on some TV series and nobody turned a hair because he was Brian Williams. Now he is a punch line and his daughter’s handlers say she will have no comment about his fall from grace. Dan Rather was too cunning to be caught out like Williams; you have to give the man credit for that. It took a crude forgery to bring Dan down. His was a classic case of overreach. If he could have nailed George W. Bush as a shirker he would have ascended to the very pinnacle of news anchor greatness. You can look up the details.
Rather made his bones standing chest-deep in water as he reported on some natural disaster, which set the template for involvement in the news that the other Big Foots had to follow. It was no longer enough to report the news from afar, preferably the hotel bar in the tradition of the print guys, you had to be in the action. Reporting live from under a bed in a high-rise hotel while missiles flew in Baghdad as Bernard Shaw did for CNN lacked… flair. But cringing under fire as any reasonable person would is not involvement involvement, as Whoopi Goldberg might say as she did about Roman Polanski and the young girl whose experience at his hands did not qualify as rape-rape.
No, greater danger must be courted. You may remember Bob Woodruff, the ABC anchor whose career ended when he suffered a head injury from a land mine in Iraq. That must have been a teachable moment for Williams and the others. Better to invent a story with a humble role that put you near enough to see and hear shot and shell but not actually in the line of fire. It was only natural and probably unavoidable that his stories would expand and the recollected level of danger balloon as time went on.
A call of nature during World War II kept LBJ off a bomber shot down over New Guinea. He was a young Congressman inspecting the Pacific Theater of Operations at the time. His bowels restored to order, he boarded another bomber which turned back an hour from the target with engine trouble. Somehow or other Johnson convinced the Army he was entitled to a Silver Star for bravery because he could have been on the downed bomber. He wore it on his lapel for years afterward until the complaints of the bomber crew forced him to return it before it became a really big deal. Stolen valor they call it today. Hillary spoke of the sniper fire she came under in Serbia only, upon reflection after questions were raised, to say nothing like that happened. Another few years uncorrected and the story would be she returned fire with her sidearm as bullets kicked up dirt around her.
The cable industry sees the trend lines and despairs. There will always be some sort of audience willing to be stupified by the flood of trash pouring from the small screen – and not so small these days – but they won’t be the people advertisers are interested in. They want those who walk around bent over their smart phones and tablets.