Near-total lack of real news provided by media during presidential campaign

Published 9:31 am Sunday, November 27, 2016

Dear Editor,

Number me among those persons of a certain age feverishly nostalgic, especially during the recent election season, for the days when Walter Cronkite with his grandfatherly features and reassuring voice laid out nightly for everyone the singular and accurate facts of the day’s news.

During the recent presidential campaign, the television networks (Fox, MSNBC, and CNN), except for the 6:30 news, almost unerringly began with the latest bizarre pronouncement of Donald Trump — one channel to demonstrate how unfit he was for the highest office, the other to show the opposite. What to me was the real news — the fight for Mosul, the movements of China in the South China Sea, Russia’s takeover of Kaliningrad, forest fires in the west, the discovery of lead in a city’s drinking water, or the spread of the Zika virus — was postponed and/or abbreviated.

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Moreover, the networks, perhaps to fake fairness, often brought on two guests, representing opposite sides of an issue. While laudatory in theory, the device often failed miserably (and perhaps intentionally). While one guest was talking, the other could be seen vigorously shaking his or her head, making a nasty face, or actually trying to attack the other guest. Often, both guests wound up shouting at each other until the moderator finally (and perhaps reluctantly) restored order. It was as if two gladiators, armed with nets, swords, spears, or axes and having honed their deadly skills for days in advance had been led out into the arena of the Coliseum to provide a spectacle for paying customers. Perhaps worst of all, we learned during the campaign that “fake news” was dispensed to influence election outcomes.

Only the 6:30 p.m. news on most channels and PBS (BBC News, the News Hour, and Washington Week in Review) seem serious about providing sane and trustworthy information. Even the five members of the often rowdy McLaughlin Group showed respect for each other, perhaps because they were the almost always the same four people each week.

Decades ago, William F. Buckley hosted a weekly program named “Firing Line,” which featured vigorous, funny, articulate, and informative debates with more liberal opponents. Buckley almost never represented my views, but I find myself to be intensely nostalgic for such civil and informed discourse. Such may be as essential to protect our democracy as our military.

Milton Scarborough