And had it remained relegated to The Maury Povich Show, which routinely highlights sexual partners arguing about paternity tests, this rage might not have been so bad. It became downright frightening when, like lead into the water supply, it leached into the news programming.
And like lead, anger can be poisonous in the sufficient quantities. It’s difficult to not see a correlation between the recent murder of abortion doctor George Tiller and Fox News’ history of condemning the physician as a “baby killer” who would be struck down come “Judgment Day.” And it’s easy to see a correlation between Fox News and the distress of Holocaust Museum killer James von Brunn, who had targeted FNC for attack in his personal writings.
Of course, correlation does not equal causation. But how long can these shows trend toward blubbering insanity before we turn to another important axiom: Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Will it take another shooting death or similar disaster before we throttle back to facts and rational information instead of inflammatory opinion on our news stations?
Cable news networks, once upon a time, attempted to be informative and substantive, and for a while they employed reporters who usually sought to be little more than stoic vessels of information. But with the rise of rage came the screaming heads.
In 1996, five years before he died of lung cancer, Morton Downey Jr. appeared on CNN’s Larry King Live and admitted that he was deeply ashamed of some of his more outrageous moments. A visibly sick Downey then added: “It just isn’t worth it to entertain someone on the back, on the heart, on the stomach, on the bowels of another human being. Not worth it.”
So why are so many of us watching?
Cord Jefferson is a writer living in Brooklyn. Some of his other work has appeared in National Geographic, The Daily Beast and on MTV. You can contact him here.