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To the editors:

Andrew Goodwin's "On TV: Who's Afraid of Infotainment" [November 3] was the best thing to appear in the Reader in a long time. It was concise, intelligent and devoid of the usual liberal-left posturing and sentimentality.

I agree with his thesis: TV news reenactments and infotainment in general are less to be deplored than turned to advantage--they unmask the pretense of "objectivity." Behind any factoid is an implicit value judgement, and the act of inclusion/exclusion is to a significant extent arbitrary. And yes, the trained seals of TV journalism possess rare bankable qualities. They combine good looks and dramatic skills with the smooth savvy of the highly placed bureaucrat, who above all else knows how to play it safe.

The objectivity jig should have been up after the surreal '88 election coverage, which was nothing but an extended, amorphous meditation on the media covering the media (covering the media) as the media, incidentally, covered the race. All that Hamlet-like hair-pulling was the biggest con job ever. Begging the only question that mattered, the media agonized over the magic formula for objectivity. The unspoken agreement was that "objectivity" would consist of hand-wringing over the correct practice of "objective" reporting. In other words, they let themselves off the hook! As the Founding Fathers spun in their graves coverage of the "issues" centered on feel-good love of the Flag and managerial competence.

And does anyone remember the tv commentary following the presidential debates? On separate occasions big-name actor-anchors sat on the panel, asking the questions that would elicit the answers they would report as news. Following the expected jejune queries and replied hems and haws about the candidates' qualifications and strategies for performing well on television, the actor- anchors then descended to their network booths to field the question of "how it went." (We're allowed to watch the debates but it takes a network shill to describe what we saw with our own eyes, to explain what we heard with our own ears.)

Of course, both actor-anchors declined to say how the debates "went." As they thoughtfully explained, they couldn't be sure, really, because, well, they hadn't seen it on television! Draw the conclusion. Reality is unreal; tv filters out the distortive effects of unmediatized reality.

A more recent outrage in network non-coverage was the story of the President's finger-ouchie. That wart, or whatever, was on the middle finger. The lackeys of the White-House press corps had excellent sport trying to convince the Pres to hold it aloft. What suspense! Will the leader of the free world give the finger? And of course, we await the inevitable journalistic probes of the President's colon.

Incidentally, the finger episode came during a photo-op held with Jonas Savimbi. I watched coverage on two branches of NBCCBSABC. Both actor-anchors explained who the guy sitting with the President was; he was Jonas Savimbi, and they pronounced his name correctly because names have objectively correct pronunciations. As for the content, or purpose of the talks, nix. What's going on in Angola, that objective African nation? Many subjective things, less interesting or important than the middle digit of the executive in chief.

Only one thing remains to be said. Andrew Goodwin could have emphasized the true meaning of television news: the commodity--ad dollars. The news, no less and no more than any Jeffersons rerun is a carefully planned occasion for commercials. As Mark Crispin Miller explains in his excellent book Boxed In: The Culture of TV, all the work of video programming goes into creating a handsome, relaxing, not too intrusive setting for those 15 and 30 second commercial gems.

Therefore, the next time you watch any kind of network news put objectivity, even ideology out of your mind. The only relevant factors are facticity, entertainment value, plausibility, Nielsen points and the ad revenue that follows behind. There are many ways to frame a story, but only a few ways that will piss off the sponsors. Think about that the next time you watch some "objective" report about Greenhouse followed by an Exxon commercial, followed by a Ford commercial.

And if it's news you want turn off the TV and read something that doesn't carry advertising. Where advertising occurs adjust for the bias of the readers who buy the advertised goods. That's the way it is. The only objectivity there is, is the admitted bias of subjectivity.

Samuel Stott

N. Dearborn


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