On CBS’ “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” one of the recurring political segments involves a character known as the Uninformed Correspondent — the mother of the show’s producer — who goes to various events and makes a fool of herself. She called the North Korean leader “Jim Soo-sung” and, when asked about the president’s Twitter habits, responded “I don’t go on Twit.”
The joke is that we have an electorate that might not be entirely informed, possibly because our media isn’t doing a particularly good job of bringing them the facts.
Hey, on a completely unrelated note, CBS decided that President Donald Trump’s announcement of his decision to declare a national emergency in order to get the border wall constructed was less important than an episode of “The Price is Right.”
“CBS coverage of President Donald Trump’s televised address on his national emergency declaration ended 21 minutes before its conclusion, as the eye network opted to return viewers to game show The Price Is Right,” Deadline reported.
“All of the other broadcast and cable news networks carried the declaration and news conference on Friday afternoon to its conclusion.
“The Trump announcement from the Rose Garden of the White House was delayed from its original 10:30 AM eastern time start. Trump said he was declaring the emergency ‘because we have an invasion of drugs, invasion of gangs, invasion of people.’
“CBS News reported that the White House assured the network Trump’s speech would be no longer than eight minutes. But Trump started at 1:10 PM and finished at 2 PM,” Deadline concluded.
After 21 minutes, CBS just cut away from Trump’s speech and has gone back to the Price Is Right.
— Anthony Zurcher (@awzurcher) February 15, 2019
Insert your own “come on down!” joke here, I guess.
I understand that to most of us who aren’t political junkies, watching hyperventilating contestants lose a trip to Puerto Vallarta when the little mountain climber guy falls off the cliff because the contestant drastically overestimated how much a stick of deodorant costs is probably more entertaining than listening to the specifics of the border wall and the national emergency declaration.
However, that’s how you get people like the Uninformed Correspondent.
What happened in the White House Rose Garden on on Friday was, much like Ron Burgundy, kind of a big deal. It’s the first use of the National Emergencies Act on a project this big and should provoke debate about what the precedent will mean for future presidents.
On the other hand, it also highlighted how serious our border security problem is and how little the congressional compromise that was reached did to solve it. The declaration will almost certainly end up in court, which means knowing the basic arguments both sides are making is critical.
If your diet consists solely of CBS, however, you wouldn’t be getting both sides. What you ended up getting was both Showcase Showdowns and the Democrats’ side on the news — assuming you even watch the news. If not, you can always get your information from the very equitable Stephen Colbert.
Beyond the obligation to inform voters, there’s also the obvious fact here: This was a deliberate slight to President Trump. I don’t think anyone’s under any illusions where CBS falls when it comes to political leanings. That being said, pretty much all the other alphabet networks have the same leanings and they stayed with the president’s speech to its conclusion, in addition to the news conference that followed.
Will that be what we see in the future, though?
At one point, no matter what their leanings — and again, they’ve never been conservative — the major broadcast networks felt a certain obligation to carry important speeches like this, no matter who the president was or what program they were interrupting. But especially given that Donald Trump is president, who knows where we go from here?
By the end of his term, maybe every major network will cut off important announcements in this manner, deciding to only present the president’s words as mediated by comedians like Colbert or by news analysts who apply more spin than a Sandy Koufax curveball.
At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Benjamin Franklin was famously asked whether the deliberations had yielded a republic or a monarchy.
“A republic, if you can keep it,” Franklin is said to have replied.
It’s difficult to imagine how long we’re going to keep it when we have millions upon millions of Uninformed Correspondents out there, people who think “Jim Soo-sung” is leading the North Koreans. I’m not saying CBS cutting away to a bunch of people placing bids on high-end vacuum cleaners is the direct cause of this, mind you. However, it’s a tiny part of a larger problem.
Part of our obligation as citizens is to stay informed — and, if you’re in the media, part of your role is keeping the citizenry informed.
On Friday, CBS failed their obligation in a major way.
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