A new form of news
Broadcast television is responsible for fake news, too
By Marc Katz
My 27-year-old son quit his job with NBC News because he did think the election was rigged, and in the wrong person’s favor.
It wasn’t just that Donald Trump won the presidential election. I think Alex could live with that. It was how he beat Hillary Clinton, and even though Alex’s job was not making decisions, just carrying them out as a part of NBC’s Today and Nightly News graphics teams, he felt somewhat culpable in how the election turned. And this had nothing to do with the Russians.
He felt like he was helping Trump open a whole new news category, adding made-up news to real and fake news and presenting it in a real way. Every network—not just his—seemed to chase everything Trump said, true or false. If a legitimate news anchor did that, he’d be gone in a short period of time. Hello, Brian Williams.
As a person who was in the news business full-time for 44 years, I could tell something was wrong for months, but couldn’t quite figure out what it was.
Some athletes used to tell me it didn’t matter what I wrote about them, as long as I spelled their names correctly. Trump played that theory brilliantly.
Alex knew almost from the start what was happening. He was, “growing increasingly concerned that the way we chose to cover the election would play a strong hand in the outcome.” Every time Trump released a tweet or opened his mouth, it was news, not only at NBC, but everywhere, even on the cherished satire shows.
The Friday prior to the election, Alex met with his boss and told him if Trump won the election, he was going to leave the network. His boss chuckled and offered him the choice of two promotions, starting after the first of the year.
Alex worked from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. on election night, and when it became clear what was going to happen, and there was a break at about 1 a.m., he called his boss in the room and told him he was through, except for the holiday shifts he had previously agreed to cover. He didn’t want to leave NBC short-staffed.
He cried when he left work, and not because he wasn’t going back. He absolutely felt like he was partially to blame.
The stuff Trump was doing on Twitter seemed like news, but it was always very shallow news. The bigger, more important stories—harder to write and much more difficult to present in a televised format—were sitting there out of the way.
Alex, who began a career in television in sports at CBS, switched to NBC news in January for a job offer he couldn’t refuse. He quickly discovered—and was appalled by—how the day’s news is shaped by the people announcing it. News—even in sports—can be sexy and exciting, or it can be boring. Substance can be boring.
Alex was shocked that seemingly everything Trump tweeted or said was broadcast—or appeared in The New York Times—leaving little time or space for Clinton.
Even when there were big, horrible news stories on shootings and bombings, there was always time for something Trump, from how much one of his beauty pageant queens weighed to what Bill Clinton was doing in the Oval Office 20 years ago.
“The whole concern about leading with Trump begs the question of, ‘What’s news versus what’s balanced?’” Alex says.
Trump said Hillary Clinton was a corrupt liar almost daily. That’s what she became. He had little regard for the truth, telling Fox’s Bill O’Reilly he didn’t tweet outlandishly inflated statistics concerning black-on-white killings, he “re-tweeted” them.
“Am I going to check every statistic?” Trump asked.
“You’re running for President of the United States,” O’Reilly answered. “Don’t do this.”
Trump shrugged and said he liked tweeting, “because I can also get my point of view out there.”
O’Reilly continued the interview.
It also burned Alex that Trump was able to mitigate stories, like the one about being fined $25 million for running fraudulent Trump University, while the media mostly trailed his tweet after the Broadway cast of Hamilton addressed guest Mike Pence from the stage, imploring him to work for all people in the country. Trump thought the cast was rude and demanded an apology.
“My feeling is if you are covering a national presidential election,” Alex says, “you have a duty to report from both sides of the aisle. Look at the Presidential debates. I heard from a number of pundits Hillary won the debates. That was the last I heard anyone mention her name on air. The rest was Trump interrupting, Trump sniffling, Trump saying he has the greatest temperament…”
Alex wanted to stay in television, but in sports or entertainment, not “news.”
News is news, not a diversion from something that is real news. And if you’re going to run news shows 24/7 and not have enough real news to fill the time, quit making up stuff, as Trump did, and does.
In sports, there are scoreboards. At the end of the day, the winners and losers are clearly marked in glowing lights. You don’t have to make up things. The truth goes into the record book… at least until the next drug test is revealed.
Even in sports, there are some fake stories. Alex is taking his chances with those. He’s back at CBS, in sports.
The views and opinions expressed in On Your Marc are the views and/or opinions of the author and do not reflect the views and/or opinions of the Dayton City Paper or Dayton City Media and are published strictly for entertainment purposes.