Here’s what counts as TV journalism in this age of infotainment. The interviewer asks a question, the politician delivers her stump speech, which has nothing to do with the question being asked. The interviewer asks another question, and she responds with whatever stump of her stump speech that remains. Or, if she’s exhausted it, she repeats the first stump speech. The dead giveaway for the latter is the prefix, “Well, again …” This goes on for the allotted four minutes, then a commercial break, and then the next guest.
If pressed, the interviewer would no doubt shrug, “What more can I do?” But I want to argue this is not a rhetorical question. Here’s what he can do. He can ask the same question, in precisely the same words, three times, making it clear that if she doesn’t answer on the third iteration she’ll be taken to have explicitly declined to answer the question and the interview is immediately over, and she’s henceforth, at least on that network, deplatformed.
I’m guessing very few politicians would be willing to consent to such an interview. But though the program in question would get no takers, a competing network would be happy to take up the slack. So for my proposal to work, CNN, MSNBC and Fox would have to make this a joint commitment. Which, needless to say, they won’t.
So what service exactly do they take themselves to be offering the viewing public? I think it can only be this. The role of the interviewer – and it’s the role he accepts – is nothing more than to prompt the guest’s stump speech. This is why CNN invites only Democratic spokespersons, and Fox only Republicans. If CNN, for example, nonetheless wants the pretence of ‘balance’, they just make sure the interviewer is Chris Cuomo, the Great Interrupter, who has yet to let a Republican finish a sentence.
People want their views reinforced, and they pick the network that offers that service. I see nothing wrong with this. But I’m curious. What kind of market share could a program command that subscribed to my proposal? Are there not a few politicians who’d take it as a challenge, and more than a few voters who would reward her for her chutzpah? I don’t know the answer to this question, and I suppose we’re never going to find out. But “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for?”