In the past five years in America, there have been numerous stories and events which have simply captured the attention of the public and not let go. For months, even years, daily conversations would revolve around Monica Lewinsky, the 2000 presidential election, the increased terror threat and the subsequent war with Iraq. Without a completely dominant topic for news shows to discuss, several less captivating issues have moved to the forefront of political debate, and while they are certainly important, they seem to lack that urgency, or in Lewinsky’s case, hilarity, that their predecessors possessed.

Still, without a single topic to beat unmercifully into the ground, it seems as though many news shows, and particularly those of the debate and interview format, have been forced to look for alternate means of entertaining the audience. There’s a war being fought, an economy in decline, or at least transition and a president at the forefront of the debate. There are presidential hopefuls vying for attention, a democratic party looking to regain Clinton-like power and a mess in the Golden State never seen before in American history. With so much to analyze and explain, why are many networks and shows failing to provide any real substance?

I make these remarks only days after traveling to George Washington University for a special Labor Day broadcast combining the shows “Crossfire” and “Inside Politics.” Although not a huge fan of either, I was familiar enough with the format of the shows to assume I was going to witness a pretty decent hour or so of political debate and interviews.

Of course, as with all live broadcasts, there was the need for commercials, segues and forced applause, but the essence of the show is a back and forth, right and left, liberal and conservative debate.

What I actually witnessed resembled something of a play starring a very confused lead actress and two loud, belligerent actors with nothing to say or do other than stifle the intelligent remarks of the supporting cast. As the show began, Judy Woodruff, Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala told the audience that they would debate political strategy and that, “Some of the savviest political strategists in the country will join us to sort it all out.” Then the video clips began of Democratic presidential candidates essentially saying nothing, with a voice over about Howard Dean, the “only one who has made much headway” in the campaign against Bush. Finally, before returning to live action, a PowerPoint-like graphic was used to display red “X’s” over every democratic candidate with an explanation for why they can’t win – explanations such as “too soon” and “too yesterday” in the case of Gephardt. The statistic was also presented that 65 percent of voting Democrats can’t name of a candidate off the top of their head while only 10 percent are following the election closely. Remember this because it is discussed ad nauseam. A few meaningless clips of President Bush standing in the rain, and then finally what I was waiting for: the hosts begin to talk.

Surely, with so much on the table, it was time for Begala, Tucker and Woodruff to fill in some holes and provide a real topic for discussion. You can imagine the wind flying out of my sails when Begala’s big idea was that “[President Bush] needs to have some new ideas.” All right, politicians need ideas. Tucker then followed by saying that more terror attacks are inevitable and that the 65 percent statistic alluded to earlier indications that activists will determine the Democratic candidate who will have to be liberal. And with a quick synopsis of what’s upcoming, we hit the first commercial break.

And so a live “news/debate/political analysis” show becomes a tremendous cover for banter, and the whole spirit of an intelligent, informative two hours disappears. Things only got worse from this point forward. The fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger publicly stated he will only debate once during his campaign was thrown around at least five times, with no clear reason as to why it mattered. Factually absurd sentences and ideas ran rampant. One of Begala’s best: “I hope George W. Bush gets thrown out of work, so three million Americans who he has thrown out of work can get their jobs back.”

Simply unbelievable. Besides the ignorance and shortsightedness such a belief displays, it also takes up valuable air-time that could have been granted a more worthy guest.

Granted, there is an ever present need to keep ratings high and viewers captivated, but pretending to give people actual journalism, when in reality delivering some mind-numbing dribble, seems to be the worst way to go about it.

Rather than let people either be truly educated or uneducated, a “Crossfire goes Inside Politics” creates a tremendous population that thinks it understands issues, where in fact it is only understanding rash opinions mixed with tiny bits of fact.

If this were the only instance of such a problem, it would be unworthy of writing. But when men like Bill O’Reilly become household names and educators of the public, it becomes dangerous. Aside from the stifling, frustrating, often useless host, the guests are forced to sit on the only potentially valuable aspect of such a program.

Unfortunately, with the political climate as it is, these kinds of programs will have plenty of fuel for years to come, and until enough people demand real news, we may be forced to suffer through much more of this.

Frank Balsamello is a freshman in the College.

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