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Television | Howard Rosenberg

The End Is in Sight (for Election Coverage, That Is)

November 06, 2000|Howard Rosenberg

Impressions from the rambling man. . . .

The election is Tuesday, and I've been taking inventory. First, I learned last week how terribly much I'd missed Ross Perot. The year would have been much more memorable with the little guy.

Caught him on CNN with Larry King last week, and could you dig it? Talk about someone hermetically sealed inside his own mansion of mirrors. Like Gloria Swanson primping for her close-up, he actually thought he wasn't extraneous and that Americans were breathlessly awaiting his presidential endorsement. Enforcing that impression, King absorbed every word as if hearing Moses twang out the Ten Commandments.

What I really missed was Perot's appearance with Larry in 1996 when Al Gore took him apart like Play-Doh. Now that was TV violence I'd like to see more of in prime time. So naturally I was surprised to hear Perot this time endorse Gore for president.

Wait just a minute. It wasn't Gore he endorsed. It was George W. Bush. Or was it Snoopy? How do you like that? After watching the entire hour, I still can't recall which candidate he supported. I was too engrossed in the comic theater.

Which defines much of this year's election coverage, right?

What I've learned, also, for example, is that the C in CNN increasingly stands for Cockamamie. Take last week's tremor about Bush pleading guilty in 1976 to driving while tipsy. Now there was a baton for CNN to run with. To hear it hyperventilating, you'd have thought Bush had just crashed a Sherman tank into CNN and taken out its 242 election pundits as they were snoozing with their feet on their desks.

Even most Democrats publicly ran from this, but not CNN. The 24-hour monster had to be fed. You should have seen its baggy-pants minions fall all over themselves Thursday and Friday hoping to air-pump this drivel into a major story. It was like watching a dozen clowns trying to push a feather up a hill with their bulb noses.

And here came ABC's "Nightline" doing a half hour Thursday, even grilling the reporter who broke it as if she had launched the iceberg that could sink Bush's campaign. Only if media keep harping on this, as some did during the weekend, and the story assumes a life of its own far beyond its news value.

Well, 1986, maybe. 1996, definitely. But 1976? If we're to be held accountable for what we did 24 years ago, well, geez. In 1976, I was still cross-dressing.

I've learned, too, to disbelieve the Fox News Channel when it boasts of fair coverage that nobly lets "you decide." Right, the way citizens of autocracies get to decide in elections with one candidate. There was Fox Friday, for example, again carrying a GOP water bucket when spewing wild hypotheticals about the "motive and timing" of the Bush "revelation" first reported by a Maine newspaper.

The implied zinger was that Democrats were up to "dirty tricks," one Gore-targeted headline reading: "Desperate Measures?" And another: "Sleazy Politics?" But you decide.

I don't know what's been more banal, by the way, the Fox News Channel relentlessly clubbing Gore with a steel spike of commentary or the "balance" of CNN and others that pair off "strategists" from each major party to assess the performances of the Democratic and Republican candidates. What does a "strategist" do, anyway? Sit in a room and plot until the call comes from Tom Brokaw or CNN?

This dueling spin has become a TV anthem. Predictably--duh--the Democrat likes Gore, the Republican likes Bush. How dumb is that?

So what's the purpose? The purpose is to fill space. Yes, that monster must be fed.

That happened especially after those three vaudeville acts otherwise known as televised debates. Talk about cross-dressing. What I've learned this year is that entertainment and elections are now in a sense androgynous, so thoroughly Cuisinarted into a puree by the master chefs of TV that one no longer stands out from the other.

Print inevitably skips along behind trying to catch up. Yet it's TV news that sees just about everything as entertainment, the concept being that if we aren't amused or diverted by electioneering, democracy just isn't working.


Poor Gore, blowing kisses to everyone on TV but Homer Simpson. Could he help it if he was less presidential than Martin Sheen, who plays the chief executive on "The West Wing," when both visited Jay Leno on NBC Tuesday? And poor Bush, every bit the deer frozen in the brights of David Letterman's gaze on CBS recently, as well as apparently flunking even his recent Leno test.

The latter news came in a story in The Times Saturday reporting that about two minutes of Bush's taped appearance on last Monday's Leno show were edited out, but not to censor him in a way that would either harm or help his cause. What do you think Leno's people are, party moles? Heavens no. The Bush minutes were slashed reportedly because they weren't good TV.

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