CNN, FOX, NBC and The Rise of the Spectacle

Glendale, California
Saturday, June 17, 2017



CNN, FOX, NBC and The Rise of the Spectacle

When you consult psychoanalysts, you receive a unique kind of information. Ideally, you also achieve transformation. You learn about your unconscious belief systems, emotions, relational patterns, and other aspects of your subjectivity previously outside of your conscious awareness.

You obtain such information regardless of why you consult depth psychotherapists. You might be seeking help for a mental disorder, like major depression or generalized anxiety disorder. Or, perhaps you just feel sad. You might be concerned about a propensity to be abusive, or to enter relationships in which you are abused.

Regardless of the reason you seek help, you learn a great deal about yourself, including how you treat others.

Hopefully, you also change for the better.

When you turn on television news at night, you also receive information. Sometimes, it can be transformative.

Most often, it elicits emotional pain.

The major news channels, namely CNN, FOX, and MSNBC, offer essentially nothing. 

Here, I refer to evening programs only. And, I mostly comment on CNN and MSNBC because I used to watch those before I awoke from a television-induced hypnotic state. I offer observations on the shows Anderson Cooper, Don Lemon, and Rachel Maddow host.

Why are they so problematic?

First, these programs fail to attend to extremely important international events, contributing to the ever-increasing sense of American isolation. The other night, I spent three hours watching these shows. I never saw a single mention of the Syrian civil war. Nothing was said about the multiple other civil wars in the middle east — more than at any time since the year 1000AD.

Although parts of Africa face famine that could kill millions, none of the commentators made mention of such news. Even for your isolationists, US troops fight in conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere. Again, no mention is made of these conflicts on these programs.

Second, these programs engage in gossip. I am as interested in anyone in the possible links between the Russian government and the 2016 elections.

But do I need to hear excruciatingly boring and repetitive details of it every single night?

Of course not.

Watch any of the programs I mentioned, and you’ll see the same thing. The host introduces a new rumor, and then the camera operator pans to a panel of talking heads — sometimes numbering as many as eight or more.

If we use a disabled ship as an analogy, the panel will feature every conceivable angle on the ship. An expert on shipping will appear. Another will display a graphic detailing the damage. Yet another will speak about the risk of damage to other ships.

Just when you become nauseous, another expert provides a statistical analysis of the risk of related dangers to other ships. The producer then introduces a professor from somewhere, via SKYPE. You can tell from the blurry picture and the bookshelves in the background. The academic will review the history of shipping accidents — limited to those in the US of course.

The experts inevitably interrupt one another.

Sometimes they argue and shout.

Third, what is up with the ever-present BREAKING NEWS? This has apparently become some kind of branding. Continuing with my analogy, the ship’s damage, the optics of it, the risk of it occurring in other ships, the history of ship accidents, and the risk of future incidents are carefully dissected — all as BREAKING NEWS.

I sympathize with the newscasters I just mentioned. They likely feel ashamed. They have studied journalism. They understand they play into the spectacle now replacing literacy.

(For more on this, see Hedges’ Empire of Illusion.)

My advice?

Boycott these news programs.

They hardly qualify as news.

Watch BBC or PBS news programs. Still flawed, and attaching the phrase BREAKING NEWS to every tiny event, they at least attempt to portray developing stories from around the world. They analyze these events.

And, they leave room for their viewers to think for themselves.

I also recommend The Economist. I read it most weeks. I never took a single class in economics, but you don’t need to have taken one. The Economist reads like a Time Magazine for those interested in news, not spectacle.

Meanwhile, I hope Anderson, Don, Rachel and their colleagues find well-qualified psychoanalytic psychotherapists with whom to work through their feelings of sadness and loss. I hope they can feel less ashamed. Even better, I hope they find other venues for their journalistic skills.


Hedges, C. (2009). Empire of illusion: The end of literacy and the triumph and the rise of spectacle. New York: Basic Books.



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