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Jewish World Review July 25, 2002 / 16 Menachem-Av, 5762

Matt Towery

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Media snobs need to look beyond New York, D.C. | Has anyone noticed that for all their claims of wanting to represent the opinion of "average Americans" in the content of their programming, the national TV news and talk channels seem to be moving in the opposite direction?

For example, while making a rare CNN broadcast from the CNN Center in Atlanta, that network's Aaron Brown referred, perhaps humorously -- the dour Brown is apparently capable of humor -- to the birthplace of the cable giant as CNN's "southern bureau." Humorous or not, plenty of those working at the Atlanta office took note of his comment. Some of them interpreted Brown's barb to mean that crazy old Ted Turner might have built CNN into a household name, but now the experts from New York and Washington, D.C., are here to set things straight.

Oh yeah? Has anyone noticed CNN's pitiful ratings slide lately? They are hardly reflective of a news organization that prides itself on being in tune with what we'll call "the heartbeat of America." That is, providing that America still has a heartbeat after being lulled to sleep by more pseudo-intellectual programming and tired "big names" who collect big paychecks and produce few results.

And while Ted Turner may be as liberal as they come and capable of doing or saying just about anything, no one can deny that in the early 1980s he took on the traditional media establishment with his innovative programming from a location that wasn't even acknowledged by the industry.

Of course, it didn't take long before "the big boys" showed up to "rescue" Turner. He has to be wondering about a company that has lost much of its market value since then, while treating the CNN it inherited from Turner as a redheaded stepchild. He also must be entertaining the notion that those "slick Yankees" performed more of a con job than a rescue job in wresting away control of CNN from his clutches.

Then there's FOX News, which has captured an increased share of the news/talk cable TV market, at least in part by giving the more moderate-to-conservative voices in America a forum in which to air their views. And to FOX's credit, they have built up their own stable of homegrown big names by providing a forum for rising stars like Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity to show their stuff.

Still, whether it's CNN, FOX, or the real up-and-comer CNBC/MSNBC, there is one thing you can be sure of: You're bound to see the same old New York /D.C. crowd broadcasting from -- you guessed it -- New York or D.C.

The current revamp of NBC's two cable news channels is a perfect example. Jerry Nachman, the new man in charge of MSNBC, is probably the most "in-touch" person in TV news. Formerly with the New York Post, Nachman also was a breath of fresh air during his stint as a producer in Los Angeles for another network. Eventually he returned to New York to create a very entertaining and balanced new lineup of programs for MSNBC.

Between the more financially oriented CNBC and the more news-oriented MSNBC, viewers can access a cross-section of American political and economic views. Conservative financial wizard and JWR columnist Larry Kudlow balances out the more liberal and flamboyant Jim Cramer on their nightly show. Then there's America's most beloved bleeding heart, Phil Donahue, the brilliant but ultra-conservative Pat Buchanan, and Washington's ultimate insider, Chris Matthews, who among "insiders" actually knows what he's talking about. Here's a bet that these dueling NBC cable channels will succeed.

But even today's programming that continually searches for freshness and real balance in coverage lacks one thing -- inclusiveness for the rest of America. Speaking as one who regularly views these programs for reasons both professional and personal, I grow weary of seeing broadcast sets designed to remind us that a small geographical corridor of the Northeast is the source of all the news. And the same tired old guests -- many of whom have never run a successful business or political campaign, and who seem endlessly to repeat the same obvious truisms over and over -- fill our screens night after night.

In his wildly popular book "Bias," Bernard Goldberg honed in on the media's habit of leaning to the left on many political and social issues. But geographical bias is a problem, too. I, for one, would like to see a talk show program out of a state like Texas, Florida, or a city that reflects everyday America -- say, St. Louis or Cincinnati.

The fact is that we are lucky to have so many varied and talented voices filling the airwaves for all of us news and talk show junkies. But the next time one of those Northeastern professionals starts claiming to know what the rest of America is thinking, ask yourself, how can he or she be so sure? An Omaha headquarters with a New York bureau might take a little of the snob out of the Aaron Browns of the world.

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© 2001, Creators Syndicate