• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

Support Our Annual Fund Drive!fund-drive-progress-thermometer

We only shake our readers down two times a year, but when we ask we mean it. So, please, help as much as you can. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

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

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

 

More articles by:

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

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
October 11, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Becky Grant
CounterPunch in Peril?
Anthony DiMaggio
Fake News in Trump’s America
Andrew Levine
Trump’s End Days
Jeffrey St. Clair
High Plains Grifter: the Life and Crimes of George W. Bush
Patrick Cockburn
Kurdish Fighters Always Feared Trump Would be a Treacherous Ally
Paul Street
On the TrumpenLeft and False Equivalence
Dave Lindorff
Sure Trump is ‘Betraying the Kurds!’ But What’s New about That?
Rob Urie
Democrats Impeach Joe Biden, Fiddle as the Planet Burns
Sam Pizzigati
Inequality is Literally Killing Us
Jill Richardson
What Life on the Margins Feels Like
Mitchell Zimmerman
IMPOTUS: Droit de seigneur at Mar-a-Lago
Robert Hunziker
Methane SOS
Lawrence Davidson
Donald Trump, the Christian Warrior
William Hartung – Mandy Smithburger
The Pentagon is Pledging to Reform Itself, Again. It Won’t.
Richard Moser
The Empire Is Running Out of War Stories. Or is it? Will American Exceptionalism Rise Again?
Roger Harris
Why Trump is Facing Impeachment
Doug Lummis
Everything Going Wrong in Okinawa
Ramzy Baroud
Administrative Torture: Free Heba al-Labadi, a Jordanian Citizen in Israeli Prison
Christopher Ketcham
Ode to the Drums of Ginger Baker
W. T. Whitney
Upcoming Elections Represent Testing Time for Bolivia’s Socialist Government
Louis Proyect
Building Soldier Resistance Under the Shadows of Fascism
Mark Ashwill
Reflections on General Giap and the End of an Era in Vietnam
Gabriel Leão
Killing the Messengers: Rising Violence Against Journalists and Indigenous Leaders Defending the Amazon
Graham Peebles
Climate Change: All Talk No Action
Arthur Hoyle
The Meaning of Donald Trump
Dean Baker
Those Quaint Corporate Scandals in Japan
Laura Santina
Take Their Feet Off Our Necks
Julian Vigo
The New Workers’ Revolution is Afoot
Robert Koehler
The Rights of Nature
Dan Bacher
New Report Reveals Oil Waste in CA Aquifers
David Swanson
Trump’s Opponents Have Him Beat . . . When It Comes to Incompetence
Ben Debney
Liberals, Class and the Joker Complex
Brian Wakamo
Paying College Athletes: California Takes on the NCAA
Theo Wuest
Don’t Leave Equality to the Supreme Court
Jesse Jackson
To His Wealthy Donors, Trump is the Grifter
Mairead Maguire
Pathways to Peace
George Wuerthner
Logging Wild and Scenic River Corridors in the Name of Reducing Wildfires is a Really Bad Idea
Tracey L. Rogers
We Can’t Hug Away Injustice
Mike Garrity
How the Alliance for the Wild Rockies Stopped Trump From Bulldozing Cabinet-Yaak and Selkirk Grizzly Bears into Extinction
Lawrence Wittner
Why Are Americans So Confused About the Meaning of “Democratic Socialism”?
Nicky Reid
Climate Cthulhu: A Post-Modern Horror Story
Seth Sandronsky
A Sacramento King’s Ransom: Local Tax Dollars and the Owner’s Wealth
Susan Block
Cougar 2020?
David Yearsley
Mother Mallard’s Little Boy Grows Up
Elliot Sperber
Taking Out Columbus
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail