FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Walt Whitman on C-SPAN, Fox News and Wolf Blitzer’s Voice

by BRUCE JACKSON

I’ve been watching the Democratic Convention on C-SPAN, a channel that has no commentators, no analysts, no commercials, no crawls. If applause goes on for ten minutes, C-SPAN shows ten minutes of applause. If there is a hole in the program because someone spoke shorter than the schedulers expected, C-SPAN shows what is going on in the hall during the hole in the program.

The only things added are occasional boxes at the bottom of the screen announcing the order of upcoming speakers or interviews scheduled for the next morning. There are brief cutaways during the speeches, sometimes just giving the flavor of the room (people in their buttons and silly hats, waving flags and dancing with enthusiasm that seems generated as much by the presence of cameras as by feet that won’t stay still), sometimes showing celebrities (half of “Sex in the City” was there), and sometimes showing political figures reacting to the speeches (my favorite was Hillary Clinton, not looking the least bit happy during Teresa Heinz Kerry’s performance).

For people used to the constant stimulation of CNN or FOX, the unfiltered presentations C-SPAN can be disorienting. Perhaps it’s like bicycling without the training wheels: if you don’t pay attention, you’ll miss things that matter. On C-SPAN there’s nobody to tell you where you are at every moment. In the spaces between speakers, Fox filled the air with anti-Democrat hatred and the kind of distortion documented in Outfoxed. CNN reporters talked to one another and Wolf Blitzer’s pounding voice, in which all facts are of equal value,* went on and on, like the big bass drum that has no melody but which trumps every other instrument. And all the time-when speakers were speaking or when the commentators were commenting-the Fox and CNN screens were ablaze with logos, inserts, crawls, cutaways, cutins, cutouts, cutups, cuteness. They were busy, busy, always busy.

All their talk reminds me of the worst English teacher I ever knew, someone who parsed everything to death so there was not one bit of poetry or meaning left, someone for whom talking about the poem was infinitely more important than experiencing the poem, and whose own voice was infinitely more important than the poet’s. When Ted Koppell said there were 15,000 journalists covering that convention, I imagined that you could hear the buzz of every one of them talking at once, their voices drowning out the vastly outnumbered delegates and speakers.

I roamed only briefly, then went back to C-SPAN, which was, for all the yelling and cheering by the delegates and the live and canned music blaring, tranquil by comparison. C-SPAN doesn’t fill every inch of space; there is room on C-SPAN for a person to think.

Emile de Antonio, the great political documentary filmmaker who died in 1989, disliked television-except for C-SPAN, which he had on much of the time. It was the only channel, he said, that let you see anything entire. All the others gave you snippets, sound bites, always with more talk by the newscaster than the person making the news. You could learn things about people, de Antonio said, by watching and listening to them for an hour that you could not learn listening to some pundit telling you what was important. The networks, he said, were there for one reason and one reason only: to sell you stuff. And the people who appeared there were salesmen, doing everything they could do to make you keep looking while the commercials rolled. On commercial television, you were the product, the program existed to deliver you to the commercial. The anchors were highly paid, highly-polished performers. C-SPAN has no commercials; C-SPAN has no anchors. C-SPAN leaves you alone with what is going on. There is nothing on C-SPAN except what is on C-SPAN, nothing to C-SPAN other than what you see on C-SPAN.

It was Walt Whitman who wrote the best commentary on this, on the difference in what has been occurring on C-SPAN and on Fox and CNN and networks (during the few minutes they’ve spent covering the convention) these past few days:

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

BRUCE JACKSON is SUNY Distinguished Professor and Samuel P. Capen Professor of American Culture at SUNY Buffalo. He edits the web journal Buffalo Report. He can be reached at: bjackson@buffalo.edu

 

Bruce Jackson’s most recent books are Inside the Wire: Photographs from Texas and Arkansas Prison (University of Texas Press, 2013) and In This Timeless Time Living and Dying on Death Row in America (with Diane Christian, University of North Carolina Press, 2012). He is SUNY Distinguished Professor and James Agee Professor of American Culture at University at Buffalo

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

December 07, 2016
Michael Schwalbe
What We Talk About When We Talk About Class
Karl Grossman
The Next Frontier: Trump and Space Weapons
Kenneth Surin
On Being Caught Speeding in Rural America
Chris Floyd
In Like Flynn: Blowback for Filth-Peddling Fascists
Serge Halimi
Trump, the Know-Nothing Victor
Paul DeRienzo
Flynn Flam: Neocon Ex-General to Be Trump’s National Security Advisor
Binoy Kampmark
Troubled Waters: Trump, Taiwan and Beijing
Tom Clifford
Trump and China: a Note From Beijing
Arnold August
Fidel’s Legacy to the World on Theory and Practice
Dave Lindorff
Is Trump’s Idea To Fix a ‘Rigged System’ by Appointing Crooks Who’ve Played It?
John Kirk
Cuba after Fidel: Interview with Professor John Kirk
Jess Guh
Repeal of Affordable Care Act is Politics Playing with the Wellbeing of Americans
Eric Sommer
Team Trump: a Government of Generals and Billionaires
Lawrence Davidson
U.S. Reactions to the Death of Fidel Castro
John Garvey - Noel Ignatiev
Abolitionism: a Study Guide
Clancy Sigal
Caution: Conspiracy Theory Ahead!
December 06, 2016
Anthony DiMaggio
Post-Fact Politics: Reviewing the History of Fake News and Propaganda
Richard Moser
Standing Rock: Challenge to the Establishment, School for the Social Movements
Behrooz Ghamari Tabrizi
Warmongering 99 – Common Sense 0: the Senate’s Unanimous Renewable of Iran Sanctions Act
Norman Solomon
Media Complicity is Key to Blacklisting Websites
Michael J. Sainato
Elizabeth Warren’s Shameful Exploitation of Standing Rock Victory
David Rosen
State Power and Terror: From Wounded Knee to Standing Rock
Kim Ives
Deconstructing Another Right-Wing Victory in Haiti
Nile Bowie
South Korea’s Presidency On A Knife-Edge
Mateo Pimentel
Some Notes and a Song for Standing Rock
CJ Hopkins
Manufacturing Normality
Bill Fletcher Jr – Bob Wing
Fighting Back Against the White Revolt of 2016
Peter Lee
Is America Ready for a War on White Privilege?
Pepe Escobar
The Rules of the (Trump) Game
W. T. Whitney
No Peace Yet in Colombia Despite War’s End
Mark Weisbrot
Castro Was Right About US Policy in Latin America
David Swanson
New Rogue Anti-Russia Committee Created in “Intelligence” Act
George Ochenski
Forests of the Future: Local or National Control?
December 05, 2016
Bill Martin
Stalingrad at Standing Rock?
Mark A. Lause
Recounting a Presidential Election: the Backstory
Mel Goodman
Mad Dog Mattis and Trump’s “Seven Days in May”
Matthew Hannah
Standing Rock and the Ideology of Oppressors: Conversations with a Morton County Commissioner
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
#NoDAPL Scores Major Victory: No Final Permit For Pipeline
Fran Shor
The End of the Indispensable Nation
Michael Yates
Vietnam: the War That Won’t Go Away
Michael Uhl
Notes on a Trip to Cuba
Robert Hunziker
Huge Antarctica Glacier in Serious Trouble
John Steppling
Screen Life
David Macaray
Trump vs. America’s Labor Unions
Yoav Litvin
Break Free and Lead, or Resign: a Letter to Bernie Sanders
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail