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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Media Should Take a Break

We all have our complaints about the media, so let me share some of mine with apologies to Andy Rooney.

Have you ever wondered about the absence from the national evening news of interviews with wise older people with a life-time of experience like George Kennan or ex-Senator Mike Mansfield or John Kenneth Gailbraith? In their place are selected those fast-talking slicksters in their middle age from some Think Tank or consulting Institute. I asked some tv producers why: their answer -¬≠they talk too slowly and look too old — “to be honest about it.”

Don’t you think that citizens should have the opportunity to ask some questions at government press conferences? Right now, only the accredited reporters can ask Governors, Cabinet Secretaries and Presidents the questions. Reporters are supposed to be observers and uncoverers of events; they were never meant to be exclusive shapers of what is discussed or responded to at news conferences. But they are.

Have you noticed that the sound bites on the television news are getting shorter and shorter. Actually, they averaged about 18 seconds in the early Seventies, went down to about 9 seconds in the early Eighties and now are 4 to 6 seconds in the Nineties. They are so short and abbreviated that often there is no time to put the name of the person speaking on the screen for the viewers. Be content, for what may be coming in the next decade after the sound bite is the sound bark — a subhuman grunt of assent, delight, disgust or dissent.

Why do street criminals, sexual abusers and drug dealers make so much more of the local evening news than people who do outstandingly good works that often have their own drama and human interest? Don’t you think the local “police blotter” evening news day after day distorts any semblance of what is going on in your community? Why do you feel so powerless to do anything about it?

Ever get tired of the same columnists twice or three times a week, or the same talking heads on the Sunday network news talk shows, and wish they would step down for new heads or at least take a year’s sabbatical. Gary Trudeau of Doonesbury fame felt he was burning out in the early Eighties and stopped his cartoon column in 600 newspapers for 18 months while he wrote plays and refreshed himself.

Considering the service, cost and content of your monopoly Cable Company’s channels, have you ever wished for an organized Cable Viewers group stimulated by mandatory daily notices on the channels that invite you to join and control, with other members, an association that could negotiate better Cable programming and pricing? Wouldn’t channels devoted to workers, consumers, students, citizen advocates and other constituencies be an inspiring relief from the proliferation of home shopping, movie reruns, sleazy peep shows and other similar fare. After all, the industry tells us that 500 channels will soon by available.

You probably have your own suggestions that are worth considering. Send them to your local television, radio, cable and newspaper outlets. After all readers, listeners and viewers are the media’s consumers.