Ordinarily, I get my daily world news, my sense of living in a "real world" (those two words my Cottey students used to denote that fabled place to which they were headed from this monastery, after graduation), by skimming through this almost-daily newspaper, reading selected articles in Time and Newsweek, and watching the "NBC Nightly News, with Brian Williams."
TV evening news is only half an hour long (expanded by 15 minutes from the quarter-hour it used to last when I was a kid). And not even all this is what I'd call "hard news": NBC, trying to ward off viewer complaints that everything they report on is so "depressing" and "negative," has tried to end their programs with a "positive" or "up-beat" kind of coda: a news snippet, for example, of a retired man in Delaware, Ohio, sewing kids' leather first-baseman's mitts back together free of charge; a Utica, New York, woman's club holding a bake sale to raise enough money to buy a teenage blind black girl a pocket-size, designer-style container of spray mace; or a Keokuk, Iowa, real estate agent traveling to Sioux City, at his own expense, to return to the man whose address he'd found therein a money-stuffed wallet he'd found in the restroom of United flight 94, headed for Detroit. That kind of thing.
With this type of TV (or radio) format, I think, it's sometimes possible to be misled -- or to mislead oneself --into thinking the world's just humming along at a comfortable and comforting pace.
This past Monday evening, however -- partly because one of the sons of my "best man" works as a special assistant to the Fox reporter Bill O'Reilly, in New York, I turned, for the first time, really, for my daily TV news fix to the Fox TV station.
What a jolt! The Fox TV newsroom seemed all atwitter, as if an A-bomb had been rumored to be dropped on mid-town Manhattan shortly before midnight! Let's say NBC's Brian Williams delivers the news at approximately 8 words each second and CBS's Katie Couric delivers it at 6 in the same time. Well, Fox reporters, who I'm sure aren't nearly as familiar to us as those stars, must speak at nearly twice the speed. With the result that I found my heartbeat increasing and my eyes opening to stare-mode. Well, I thought, their higher-ups must have instructed them, upon penalty of firing if they disobeyed, to do that, as a way to increase viewer ratings. Yes, I found myself paying more attention to Fox reporters than to Brian or Katie.
Probably one of the results of the increased tempo of Fox hosts O'Reilly and his Fox ilk. is that in interviewing people like Barack Obama, O'Reilly sometimes comes across as a rude and thoughtless boor, interrupting the interviewee time after time after time, like a loaded dump truck, honking, then plowing the Chevy ahead of him off the road at a Stop sign.
O'Reilly, it appears, doesn't really care for what the other fellow has to say, he cares only about what he himself has to say, and the high marks he receives for shouting down his guests. It's not really an interview; it's a yelling match.
But it's not only the words that tumble over each other on Fox, it's the news stories themselves. Yesterday, the main story seemed to have been the government's take-over of AIG, and the effects that might have on the public's understanding that there'd be no more buy-outs after Bear-Stearns. But the experts' discussion of that was interrupted by news that OJ Simpson's trial (part II) was beginning. And that, in turn, was interrupted by ghastly videos of the night-before's tornadoes and floods that struck everywhere except here in Nevada. Those videos, in turn, were displaced by videos showing the horrible California train accident apparently caused by an engineer sending a text message.
I thought I'd stumbled onto the Old Testament channel!