Tuesday, March 2, 2010



For five weeks American TV has washed over me as I shivered in Florida. Its glory days are now just a distant memory, destroyed by interminable political coverage, blatant flag waving and parochial homerism that would make ordinary souls wince with embarrassment.
The depths were reached during the Winter Olympics. American gods competed with anonymous stumblebums from a few foreign countries, at least when you watched on NBC. (I never thought I would long for the CBC.) . I was amazed afterwards to discover that Canadians had won more gold medals than the American giants of snow or indeed anyone else.
For example, we heard all about the American four-man bobsled team and how the driver had rescued his career by having an eye operation. (It really wasn't that difficult an operation, but anything to goose the tale of another American hero.) So the NBC talking heads kept yammering about their gold medal. Some time later, we found out who the other medalists were, and that the Canadians had finished third.
The Americans boasted on American TV that they won the most medals. True, but then the country has 10 times the population of Canada, and one American won more medals than anyone else by just skating in a circle over various distances. Hardly versatile! One would hope the IOC would reconsider the number of those races. It's as if the Summer Olympics had a dozen races of the Australian crawl over various distances.
The blatant pulling by NBC for American competitors was unbelievable. Of course, in all major sports these days, the home-team announcers root for the local boys in a fawning style that would have got them fired only a couple of decades ago.
When I was an editor on the old Toronto Telegram, our publisher, Big John Bassett, owned most or all of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Argonauts. God help you if the Tely was scooped on any news about the Leafs or Argos. But you were also expected not to root root root for the boss' team. In fact, the people who got promoted were those who knew how to dance along the high wire while being hit by the winds from the boss and the rabid fans, and the public who demanded a little objectivity.
Sounds rather quaint now, doesn't it.
In the biggest game of them all, politics, the media are being ruined by the jackal pack approach of Fox. Fox is so virulent in its hatred of the Great Satan, Barack Obama, that it has become a caricature. Thank heavens for the humourist/commentators like Jon Stewart who feast on the Fox excesses. But the damage has been done because this approach has spawned a rude world of bloggers who obviously feel that if Fox can get away with its malicious contempt for reality, then so can they, and the more profane and vitriolic they can be, the better.
And the politicians wilt and the polls show that most people say they really don't want any change even though they don't like what they have.
Now we have a paralyzed American political process. And the Canadian in Florida finds that what passes for TV news every day is acres of talking heads and armies of bureaucrats all speculating on the latest burp inside the Washington Beltway. (You know. Like if the president just frowned, was it the most important frown of this administration, or is he just getting a headache?)
The 24-hour news cycle was supposed to be wonderful. But it's burning everyone out because there just isn't that much new news. So we're told constantly that Joe Doe died when we didn't know Joe Doe and don't care. And when we flee for relief to sports, it's better to watch with the sound off so all the homers masquerading as announcers and colour men can't ruin the game completely.
No wonder so many have fled to their computers.
I remember leaving China and Russia after three-week visits when no news penetrated there. We would hunker down in Helsinki or Hong Kong with beer at hand and watch CNN for hours to find out what had been happening in the western world. Now CNN would fill those hours with tedious discussions about the Administration. And when disasters like Haiti strike, American TV fall on the stricken like wolves on a fawn because, thankgawd, we actually have something new to report.
So the poor Canadian freezing in Florida upgrades his TV package for $35 or so a month so at least he can do something in the evening other than grouse about the temperature. And he gets 90 channels or so. On lucky nights, he finds one or two shows worth watching. No wonder so many of us end up watching Lost, even if it stopped making sense years ago.

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