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Chuck Todd of MSNBC closed his Sunday feature news program this morning by thanking the audience for watching his “show.” This grates me no end. To me, he is degrading an important news program by referring to it as a simple entertainment — a “show!”

Semantics matter, even in this world of reality TV and Trumpness.

A program implies, to me at least, something of importance. A show is just that, some Barnum & Bailey entertainment.

So, let’s call a spade a spade, and let’s call news by the name “programs,” and comedies, etc. “shows.” Such respect of semantics might help us begin to define the difference between the two terms in our contemporary lives, where, thanks to the one who calls himself “the President who is making America great again,” a meaningful “program” has often been denigrated to a mere “show.”

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Why are the so-called Presidential debates more of a grab-ass sideshow than a discourse on the issues? It is the overarching commitment of the mainstream and cable networks to what has become known as “infotainment.” Old fashioned “news” has become totally polluted with entertainment value, in the quest to make news shows generate substantial ratings and be profitable. Back in the days when there were fewer news choices on TV, and in the era of public television, the news programs were not known as “shows” and ¬†could stand on their own. Now the formula must contain fun and blatantly heartwarming segments, in addition to the sensational “if it bleeds, it leads” content on disasters, fires and mayhem. The hell with issues that a democratic society should care about, such as economics, education, jobs, legislation, et al.

These so-called televised Presidential debates, of course, are not debates at all; they are “showcases” for the potential candidates, and at the most, political forums. The interviewers focus on provocations and personal attacks, and not on straight forward exploratory questions on the main issues. They seem designed to take of time and space, and sell commercials, rather than provide useful information. Yes, the audiences are probably larger than they would be if boring “issue” questions predominated, but thoughtful viewers are left with a thin gruel of content.

What is needed? Separate “information” from “entertainment,” subsidizing the “news,” to the extent necessary with profits from the entertainment divisions of the media. If the journalists and the journalism are of a high calibre, the news does not have to be boring, even it it is substantially devoid of laughs and sensationalism. And please, a debate should be about two people being challenged to discuss their views on real issues. Anything else is not a debate. Maybe a “showcase” or maybe a “forum,” or maybe just a free-for-all. Just call it a “reality show,” and put “infotainment” where it belongs, and stop wasting our attention span on political trivia.

Williams is an excellent and committed journalist, who is also clever enough to see the irony (read: comedy) in life. What he did was nothing of significance, and those who want to make this a rorshack (sp?) test on television journalists know where they can put it. Williams is much more of a journalist than some of the ciphers on CNN and FOX and elsewhere, who barely qualify as “news readers.”

Let’s get over this, NBC, and move on.

November 2017
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