The events of the last week or so have me longing for the time when each day's news was actually news. That is, it brought a summary of what the new major events of that particular day were. There's a coup here, a celebrity death there, a hurricane brewing in the South Atlantic, a serial killer apprehended, a new bill passed by congress, an auto worker's strike underway, a cabinet post resignation and so on. These were the days before "news cycles" was even a phrase and when each evening's summary ended with "Goodnight, Chet...Goodnight, David," or "And that's the way it is." OK, relegate me to the fossil pile, but am I the only one who thinks what passes for news in the new 24/7 internet/cable/media blogosphere din is mostly repetition, opinion, and mere blather?
Last week's deluge can be summed up in two words: Jackson/Palin, with assorted minor footnotes like the Honduras coup, and the Madoff sentence (staler than a week-old baguette) hovering at the bottom of the page. And those two words generate a cacophony of responses from "pundits" of various stripe and from people like you and me who now have access to pages like OpEd news and can live out our NY Times op-ed fantasies. We too can opine just like David Brooks and Maureen Dowd, with the minor exception that they get paid for it.
But if you would like to gain some income from your opinionating, there's a place you can go. On this week's CBS show, "Sunday Morning," the reporter Susan Spencer interviewed a man named T.J. Walker, a former radio commentator who now has found a much more lucrative career running a school for pundits. He charges students $7,500 (that's not a typo) for his services. Walker tells us that punditry is as old as humanity and pundits have a very exalted pedigree: ""Socrates, Plato, Buddha, Jesus. What are they doing? They're giving their opinions about the world, about how the world should be. . . ."The idea of trying to shape public opinion - that's something that has been around since the beginning of time." Ah, no wonder he charges so much. He's going to teach people how to be as influential and Buddha and Jesus. But what Walker actually teaches is how to pretend to be an expert on anything.- Look the camera in the eye, sit up, don't slouch in your chair, never seem uncertain or doubtful, say things with assertiveness and force. What you say, whether you're right or wrong, means much much less than how you say it and how you look. It's the same kind of advice political consultants give candidates: don't look at your watch while your opponent is speaking; it could cost you an election. (Sarah Palin certainly could have used a session at T J's school before her incoherent babble of a press conference last week).
Well, let me backtrack a little. It's fun having new venues to express your opinion; I certainly appreciate it. But I'm more concerned about pundits taking over television newscasts-not only on cable where punditry has thrived for a long while, but on the network news (that apparently only people over 60 watch anymore) where each segment is more and more followed by an expert on this or that who "interprets" what you've just seen. With each newscast the list of possible reasons for Sarah Palin's resignations gets longer and longer, and the list of possible causes of Michael Jackson's death expands.
Human beings like to gossip. And in one sense, that's what the nightly news is: gossip from the global village. It's what people are talking about on any given day. But in another sense, the point of the news is to give us a kind of kaleidoscopic view of the day's events, and to show us the distinction of one day from the day before it. Ezra Pound used to say that the function of artists was to "make it new." Isn't it a reporter's function to "make it news" rather than opinion?