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Nonfiction in Brief

EYEWITNESS A California Perspective by Bill Press (Redwood Press, Inverness, Calif. 94937: $7.95)

March 06, 1988|ALEX RAKSIN

Broadcast news, which can sound concise and coherent when delivered with authority and resonance, often appears choppy, absent-minded and discursive when seen in print. This isn't just the journalists' fault--they're only trying to mimick human speech, which is rife with loose associations and convivial nonsense. It is possible to be cogent as well as conversational, however, as Bill Press shows in these essays, first delivered on KABC-TV from 1981-86. Press, who is now running for U.S. Senate, isn't especially brilliant or funny, but he does have a bag of effective rhetorical tricks. One technique is surprise, statements like "President Reagan is against old-fashioned American values . . . fundamental values we grew up believing in . . . Where is America's soul when we accept lying as the norm in the White House?" Another trick is balance. Press knows not to become too staid in a medium that loves color. When a group of leftists picketed outside KABC in 1986, for example, claiming that Press was "too moderate," he departed from his usually patient reasoning: "They say hire a radical. And I say, drop dead! They may have my attention, but they'll never have my job." This versatility is Press' most valuable skill. On one day, he'll write playful doggerel to satirize Prince Charles and Lady Di; on the next, he'll put social contradictions in California into perspective: "Our water and politicians are in the north; our people and votes are here in the south. Agriculture is our number one industry; yet most of us have never seen a plow or touched a cow."

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