“The show must go on” was a phrase often attributed to circus performers who continued as rehearsed no matter what unscripted occurrence happened. It could now be adopted as the slogan of cable TV political programming in the Trump era, whose political coverage can be likened to the show biz term “frozen,” meaning no more changes.
Any sane person would think that after cable TV performers were so wrong for so long during the lead-up to the Trump/Clinton election, cable’s producers would stage a new act and begin acting like responsible news sources, instead of an entertainment production.
As people who've actually been involved in political campaigns know, what happens in July 2017 has little bearing on what will happen with the Congressional election in 2018. Cable TV’s so-called analysts, however, are constantly telling us how events that happen today are somehow a harbinger of what will happen in November two years from now.
Of course, replacing cable TV political commentary for in-depth journalism would reduce viewership. So, every comment by a politician which deserves zero seconds of coverage is now somehow branded as “Breaking News.” Cable political TV is similar to going to a flawed theatrical production or a movie without leaving home. The supporting roles are the beat reporters. The headliners are the anchors and pundits. There are set designers, stage managers (known as producers). There are also production stylists to make certain that stars’ makeup and hair are coiffed the way managing producers like. What’s missing is the central element — a plot that appeals to Americans across the country — which revolves around original news in shows that consistently, but falsely, advertise “breaking news.”
The recent special election in the Georgia House race is just one example of over-hyped cable TV journalism. The facts about the Georgia election are that it was in a district where Trump is not popular, as evident by his narrow victory there in 2016. So, a Democrat victory there, given the continuous negative media coverage of Trump, would not predict a major shift in voters’ future elections, unless you’re a cable TV performer, whose role is to keep the political controversies at a fever pitch so ratings will not diminish.
More recently, the White House’s latest communications director Anthony Scaramucci’s X- rated language was the plot of talk shows for days. Spending so much time on a minor happening, when diplomatic relations with Russia are crumbling and North Korea is testing missiles that can reach the U.S., is what’s wrong with cable TV political reporting.
On his July 30 Fox “Media Buzz” program, Howard Kurtz pooh-poohed Scaramucci’s vulgarities as common newsroom talk. As a former reporter and editor, I spent several years working on political campaigns, and spent a good span of my early career in both newsrooms and locker rooms. Never did I hear a string of vulgarities that come close to matching those of Trump’s now-ousted director of communications. It makes Trump’s “locker room” comments about women seem tame.
What political TV producers should strive for is to produce shows that appeal to a wide range of people, a “Hello Dolly” as opposed to their current Shakespeare productions.
During the discussion of the White House chief of staff shakeup, MSNBC’s Ari Melber described it as a “drama.” As someone who spent 10 years working on Broadway and TV shows, it’s evident that political cable TV productions need a makeover. Currently, these shows are produced to appeal to people who've already made up their minds, and due to their content, they deserve to close in Peoria.
Arthur Solomon was a senior VP at Burson-Marsteller. He now is a contributor to public relations and sports business publications, consults on PR projects and was on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.