Thursday, February 21, 2013
In memory of Paul Harvey and Daniel Schorr
In August 1982, the week before my first semester of graduate school, I purchased a black and white TV. The set was the cheapest one in the corner drugstore's lineup. It cost $60. That TV showed me the last episode of MASH, the Challenger disaster, and Ronald Reagan discussing his Security Defense Initiative (SDI) aka Star Wars. I sold the TV in 1988 for $5.
I liked taking pictures of newsworthy telecasts. Throughout the 1980s, my camera kit consisted of a Nikon SLR and two lenses—a 55mm macro and a 24mm wide angle. I preferred using Kodak Ektachrome slide film. I bought the film in 100-foot rolls sheathed in black plastic bags packed into round aluminum tins with removable lids that were stored and sold in honest yellow Kodak boxes. Buying film in bulk was and is cheaper than buying individual rolls. The experience of unpacking a 100-foot roll of film, in the dark, and then loading it into a machine for spooling 36 frames into a cassette is a ritual known only to professional photographers and enthusiasts. The aroma of virgin film is strange, impossible to describe.
Fast forward to Y2K—the year my wife and I purchased a 32" Sony Wega TV. Unlike the cheap Taiwanese monochrome set of my past, the Sony oozed state-of-the-art technology. The huge glass cathode ray tube weighing in at least a hundred pounds is a marvel. For its time, the TV delivered just about the best picture within reach of a middle-income American family. Thirteen years later, it still delivers 500 lines of pleasing color. Notice the nuanced hues rendered in the neckties below.
I had not thought much about the big Sony until Obama's State of the Union address. While focusing my modest micro-four-thirds digital camera onto the flat screen picture tube, I realized that the Sony is the only set we own capable of displaying live telecasts—broadcast or cable. The LCD flat panel set in our bedroom only streams Netflix and Crackle—entertainment on demand.
Our local newspaper is skimpy and skewed. Network TV news is rife with commercial breaks that peddle statins, fiber supplements, OTC anti-inflammatory remedies, depression cures, and elixirs for migraines. At best, Brian Williams squeezes the daily "news" into about five minutes of actual airtime. The News Hour on PBS is okay, but it is inconvenient and often dwells on arcane issues. Although I do not give money to our local PBS stations, Frontline consistently delivers good and often controversial investigative journalism.
Mostly I rely on the Internet for daily news. I consume these news products with a hearty grain of salt and a case of antacids. If there is nothing new, appealing, or exciting to report, content is rehashed or repackaged depending upon which way the Twitterers are tweeting.
My respect for the Fourth Estate has been in a steady state of decline since the Reagan years. Clever sound bites and the over simplification of complex issues have exhausted my patience. Somehow, over the course of the last forty years, politicians, corporations, lobbyists, and the Fourth Estate divided and conquered the soul of our nation. For good measure, let us throw Walmart into the mix.
Remarkably, our ancient 32" Sony Wega dutifully displays around five hundred lines of pablum on demand.