Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Obama's School Speech - A Made for Cable TV Story I've often thought that if the occasional Michael Jackson funeral or Mark Sanford hike on the Appalachian Trail didn't materialize to help fill the "news hole", the "main stream media" - particularly cable news - would literally need to invent such stories in order to sustain the 24 hour news cycle. The President's post-Labor Day speech to American school children was such a story. The "controversy" generated by the mere thought of the Obama speech - the allegation was that he would use the speech to spread liberal (or worse) political propaganda to impressionable students - absolutely dominated the Labor Day weekend news. News organizations spanning the spectrum from Fox to NPR reported the speech controversy as if it were on par with Iranian nuclear weapons development or the worsening situation in Afghanistan. The story kept feeding the cable beast over the long weekend. And the speech itself? Well, when all was said and done, Idaho's conservative Republican State School Superintendent Tom Luna pronounced it, according to the always reliable Betsy Russell of the Spokesman Review, as "appropriate and timely" and Laura Bush and Newt Gingrich weighed in with an actual endorsement of the president's talk. Turns out the speech wasn't about socialism after all, but more like the talk my dad used to deliver on the first day of school - "work hard, don't get discouraged, be responsible, school is important." If you missed the talk here is the full text. On the other hand, if you miss the next (or the last) 24 hours of cable news will you have missed anything at all? Debatable. Here is a general rule: if an instant political controversy seems just a little to contrived, a little too "made for television," it probably is. The "editorial function" - independent judgment applied by journalists to verifiable facts - used to operate to reduce the impact and intensity of contrived controversy. No more. These days we frequently need to be our own editors.