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Thinly Read

The solution to network stupidity: yell at the TV
Scripps Howard News Service


May 08, 2007
Tuesday AM

There are, I have learned, three basic groups of network news viewers.

These three different groups are not separated by the network they watch or which anchor they prefer. They are divided by their response to bad news. And not unfortunate or unhappy news, but regular news that is reported poorly.

The three types of news viewer are decided by their response to stupidity.

Most viewers will accept stupidity and continue to watch without a blink. Either they don't recognize the stupidity, or if they do, they accept it as a necessary part of media in the mainstream.

A second type of viewer will recognize stupidity immediately and take action. This type of viewer will either mute the television until the offending segment has ended or actually change the channel to see if another major network is possibly behaving in a less stupid manner. Many of these viewers will resign themselves to the fact that stupidity runs rampant on the morning and evening airwaves and will turn the television off entirely.

As it turns out, I fall soundly into the third group. I have trouble sitting through stupidity. I can't simply change the channel or find something else to do. Instead, like everyone else in group number three, I have to yell at the television.

I am not a Nielsen viewer. There is no special box on my television to tell producers and advertisers what I'm watching. My opinion, like that of millions of other anonymous viewers across the country, does not matter. So I vent, out loud, directly at the screen.

I yell at politicians, I yell at anchors, and I yell at interviewees. I shout in indignation when there's no one there to hear me but my cereal. I have, more than once, frightened pets into other rooms.

Every obvious, exploitive appeal to emotion and every quiet editorial remark earns an admonition. I call out anchors on half-baked generalizations (the all-too-easy "some say," or "many feel"). I dress down producers who never appear on camera for segments that are decidedly not news.

I do all of this in my kitchen, in pajama bottoms, and with bed-hair. It's ridiculous, but it beats the mute button.

Unfortunately, there are moments when I can't even find the words. The third running week of Imus coverage comes to mind. As does the full recording, with subtitles, of some celebrity yelling at his daughter. And, of course, the utterly moronic (not to mention callous and cold-blooded) decision to run the Virginia Tech killer's taped ramblings on the nightly news.

But for some reason, even though it seems to upset me so much, I continue to watch. And I've learned that when I do raise my voice at the television, it's for the same reason that some viewers just keep watching and other viewers turn the dial.

For all its stupidities, unintended or otherwise, and regardless of the Internet's sway, the network news remains our window to the world - or at the very least, the world as America sees it. And the level of attention we give it, blindly accepting, turning the channel, or yelling back, reflects an attitude toward that world.

For me, it's too easy to just keep watching or change the station. It's definitely too hard to keep quiet. I know it's silly and futile, but I can't help myself.

And really, yelling at an actual person, even on television, is always more satisfying than shouting at a newspaper.


Ben Grabow writes for the young, the urban, and the easily amused.
Contact him at thinlyread(at)
Distributed to subscribers for publication by
Scripps Howard News Service,

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