Saturday, August 9, 2008


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).


bro said...

I would only add that Edwards' performance (at least as I saw it excerpted on Daily Show tonight) was revolting too, as Stewart made clear. Edwards basically blamed his family for the affair (via the old rhetorical trick of repeatedly assuming responsibility and saying "let me be clear, this was my own bad decision, no one in my family is to blame, not any one of them, blah blah blah," as if anyone were thinking otherwise) and (via the same trick) he compared himself favorably to McCain (saying "there is not comparison with anyone else, this was my own fault, and I chose to come clean, unlike John McCain, with whom there is no comparison, let me be clear, blah blah blah). So while I agree that this kind of thing should ideally not reach the level of publicity it did, I would add that, once it did, it became a character test that Edwards failed almost as badly as Clinton did when it happened to him. I suppose it is just as much a part of our false-Puritanical political culture that men fail these character tests as that these character tests are administered.

LFC said...

Edwards' performance (what I saw of it, I think I missed his remark about McCain) was far from great (though confessing an affair on Nightline is not an easy thing to pull off well). What would 'passing' the test here have entailed? Perhaps not going on TV but just issuing a straightforward statement? Deciding to go on TV was maybe a sign that he intends to remain in politics in some fashion.

El Jefe Maximo said...

The whole business is profoundly distateful. I mean, you probably can guess that I am not by any stretch of the imagination an Edwards supporter, but imagine how much better he'd look if he'd told the inquiring minds at the Enquirer to drop dead, or that it was none of their damn business, rather than squirming.

bro said...

Passing the test, for me, would have entailed a simple and repeated apology for his actions rather than barely veiled attempts to excuse or mitigate them or shift the blame. This would not have made for a very good interview but that's that.

treehouse said...

Although I didn't watch all of the opening ceremony (which, ironically, in view of the fashions on view, is also the name of a hip clothing store in NY), I found the most egregious moment to be NBC's comment on the juxtaposition of children and soldiers (or at least people dressed up as same) in the "modern" section of the display of Chinese history. Someone intoned solemnly that this showed how the Chinese army was the protector of the future of China's children. Indeed! I suspect that in this instance at least NBC carried out no research at all, but was simply following a script helpfully provided by BOCOG, the somewhat sinister acronym for the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee.

LFC said...

I didn't see the moment you describe, which does sound egregious -- and yes, NBC was probably just following the BOCOG script. NBC has not covered itself with glory in this whole thing, imho.