Broadcast networks in the U.S. are for-profit enterprises, needless to say, but they are also required by law to serve "the public interest, convenience, and necessity," in the words of the federal Communications Act of 1934. How did ABC discharge this obligation on the Friday night that has just turned into Saturday morning? By giving us the bathetic spectacle of John Edwards confessing to his extramarital affair. Episodes of this kind bring out some of the worst aspects of American public life, in particular its faux-puritanical, hypocritical, sensationalist, and generally repulsive focus on the private (and usually irrelevant) conduct of public figures. (I say "usually" irrelevant because in isolated cases, such as that of Eliot Spitzer, it can be argued that ordinarily private conduct does have public implications.) In this case the spectacle came complete with the host of ABC's Nightline intoning his words as if the fate of the republic hinged on the details of the Edwards matter. A quite revolting performance by Nightline and ABC News.
Over at NBC, which carried the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics (occasionally stunning even on a very small screen), things were better. Better but not perfect, as some of the commentary seemed to have been lifted from a bad junior-high school textbook: e.g., one announcer saying that Swaziland is called the Switzerland of Africa "because of its mountainous terrain and its neutrality in international relations." Is this really the most important thing for Americans to know about Swaziland? (In fact, without an explanation of what "neutrality" means in this context, the comment doesn't convey much of anything.) What kind of weed are they smoking in the NBC research department? All in all, quite a night on the airwaves (and I've only scratched the surface).
And by the way, as long as this post is degenerating, what was the U.S. Olympic team wearing? Designed (I think I heard) by Ralph Lauren, the white berets and grayish-dark-bluish outfits looked horrible. Especially the berets, worn by both the women and the men. Michael Phelps did not participate in the opening march because the swimming events are early and I guess he needed to rest -- lucky guy, he missed having to wear that stuff. And finally, the happiest-seeming athlete I saw in the "parade of nations" was Rafael Nadal -- not surprising, considering what he's accomplished lately.
p.s. To anyone who may be wondering why I haven't posted anything on Georgia/Russia/S. Ossetia, it's because I don't have anything to add to what is being written elsewhere (e.g., Duck of Minerva, among others).