THE REAL FAKE NEWS
In 1963, at the age of 11, I got my first job in journalism. I was in circulation for the Memphis Press Scimitar, Memphis’s evening newspaper. The Press Scimitar, like most evening newspapers, has now gone the way of the dinosaur, and I no longer have a paper route.
My job for the Press Scimitar was to pick up 85 copies of the paper each afternoon after school and deliver them to anxious readers throughout my neighborhood.
Newspapers were the principal source of news in those days. My earliest memories of my late father was seeing him at the breakfast table in the morning, in his grey business suit, sipping coffee and reading the Commercial Appeal. At night after dinner he would sit in his favorite easy chair and read the Press Scimitar.
My father seldom turned on the TV for news. Everything he needed or wanted to know was in either the Commercial Appeal or the Press Scimitar.
That same year that I started working in circulation for the Press Scimitar, the NBC television network announced that its evening newscast, the Huntley-Brinkley Report, was going to expand from 15 minutes to 30 minutes. Huntley and Brinkley were Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. Each evening newscast would begin with Chet Huntley saying, “Chet Huntley, NBC News, New York.” David Brinkley would reply, “And David Brinkley, NBC News, Washington!” Then for 15 minutes Chet and David would tell people what had happened in the world that day and show some film footage. My dad ignored it as he sat in his chair reading the Press Scimitar.
At the end of the 15 minutes, David Brinkley would close the program by saying, “Goodnight Chet!” and Chet would respond, “Goodnight, David … and goodnight from NBC News!”
And then my mother and I would watch a compelling TV drama such as Gilligan’s Island or the Munsters while my daddy kept reading the Press Scimitar.
At about that same time, the CBS network announced that the “CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite” would also expand its broadcast from 15 minutes a night to 30 minutes a night. “Uncle Walter,” as Cronkite was known, was a legendary TV journalist who dominated the news airwaves long after Huntley and Brinkley said their final “goodnight” and were replaced by John Chancellor.
I recall that when my father read in either the Commercial Appeal or the Press Scimitar that NBC and CBS were expanding their nightly news broadcast from 15 minutes to 30 minutes, he put down his newspaper and said, “That’s ridiculous. There’s not 30 minutes of news to show on TV at night.”
My mother and I laughed at my father’s comment, and then he stuck his nose back in the paper and kept reading.
For over a half century, I have often thought about my father’s comments and laughed about what I long thought was his naivety. There’s not 30 minutes of national news to show on TV at night, Dad? Get serious.
But I have now decided my father was right. We are now in an era when TV news is not broadcast 15 minutes a night or 30 minutes a night or even an hour a night. It is broadcast 24 hours a day, seven days a week by not only NBC, CBS, and ABC, but by MSNBC, CNN, The Fox News Channel, and numerous cable networks.
We are now inundated by TV news not only every waking hour of the day, but during sleeping hours as well. In fact the only way I can escape TV news these days is by grabbing my remote control channel changer and switching to ESPN.
Now that I’m drowning in a flood of breaking TV news, I have come to an awesome conclusion. My father was right. There is not 30 minutes worth of TV news to broadcast every night.
If you take the time – by and time I mean, say, 24 hours in a day – to watch TV news, you will quickly notice something. There are generally only one or two stories each day that would easily be broadcast in the old 15 minute format. Instead the same stories are covered over and over and over, ad nauseam, by panels of so-called experts, who get into heated arguments.
The truth is it only takes 15 minutes to report the news, but it takes another 23 hours and 45 minutes for the “experts” to appear on our TV screens and argue about the news and what it really means.
We hear the term “fake news” bandied about these days. But the truth is not that the stories that are being reported are fake, but that the coverage is fake in that it masquerades as coverage rather than screaming commentary.
I can’t remember Chet Huntley and David Brinkley screaming at one another during their 15 minute broadcast. And Uncle Walter didn’t even have anybody to scream at, or to scream at him. He just reported the news every night and closed the newscast with his signature line: “And that’s the way it is …”
Well, I have decided that my father was right, and that’s the way it is.
I’ve decided to turn off the 24/7 news channels and get my news the way my father did … from the newspaper, now a digital one, which by the way, you can read at night!