Sunday, February 03, 2008

Another day at the races

In personal news, the chuckling household recently got cable tv. The last time we had it was about 18 years ago. The signal from the antennae had become so weak that we finally gave in. It was painful to watch the boy try to figure out what was happening to Jackie Chan beneath all of that video noise and horizontal wiggling.

We did without for all those years for a variety of reasons. Mostly it was out of a belief that if watching tv were not so difficult on the eyes we would watch a lot more of it, thus making us fatter and less intelligent. But more specifically, I was afraid that I would watch the news. Particularly cable news. I read a lot, and that's bad enough, but television news tends to make me angry (as well as stupid), not only at the content of the news, but at the terrible incompetence of the news organizations. It's not like the major print media is all that great, but tv is infinitely worse.

I've done pretty well for the most part. Outside of the regular broadcast channels we mostly watch Monk and Comedy Central, as well as the near daily re-runs of Overboard and Ghostbusters. On the negative side, there have been several occasions when we've watched CNN and CNBC to see election news. As predictable as it was, we were still a bit surprised at the staggering incompetence of the tv news creatures and we quickly got angry and turned them off.

The news media's offenses against intelligence and basic competence are many, but what stands out is their sickening obsession with race. The election night coverages we saw were all stupid race shit all the time. Given how much I read and the fact that the print media has the same unhealthy preoccupation, I can't say I was particularly surprised. My wife, however, doesn't read the New York Times and the Washington Post every day, much less any blogs, so the utter depth of the media's racial obsession like totally freaked her out. She was shocked, disgusted and ultimately angry. What is wrong with these people? she asked. After a few minutes, we changed the channel back to Overboard.

Normally, we cluck and nod our heads in agreement. Yep, them media creatures sure are stupid. Yep, they really suck. But do they? All the way up the organization? I don't doubt that the talking hairstyles really are that vapid, but what about their bosses, and their bosses' bosses, and the top executives?

Think about it. As the graphic above from Nielsen Media Research (used under the jurisdiction of the Fair Use doctrine) demonstrates, television news viewership is tanking and has been for the last twenty five years or so.

I'd wager that if it were possible to quantify quality, the quality graph would track the viewership graph pretty much peak for valley. The news department staffing chart is similar:

And anecdotal evidence also supports the point:

So why, given the significant financial stakes involved in news ratings, does quality continue to decline? Why do the talking hairpieces babble on and on about subjects that literally make millions of people change the channel? And more importantly, why do the executives in the boardroom continue to let the talking hair pieces destroy the product? The executives have something more than air beneath the hair. They understand the bottom line.

Therein lies the rub. If the top executives understand the bottom line and they allow both quality and the resulting ratings to decline so precipitously, then they must believe that they profit by having fewer viewers who are significantly less well-educated on the issues.

My guess is that they make a lot more money by controlling the government than they do by selling soap and to control government so thoroughly requires an ignorant and easily manipulatable electorate. So they propagandize the morons that enjoy being whipped up into a frenzy of hate and stupidity and encourage everyone else to watch Entertainment Tonight, or Overboard.