Reviews > Culture

Shouting heads

Culture

Issue: "Daniel of the Year 2003," Dec. 13, 2003

Presenting both sides is the way contemporary journalists think they are being objective. On television talk shows, "fair and balanced" often means two opposing politicians yelling out their party's talking points, frequently at the same time.

The pioneer of TV panel shows is The MacLaughlin Group, which features unusually good pundits from both sides, but at a decibel level that hurts the ears.

The most obnoxious is surely CNN's Crossfire, featuring arguably the most grating liberals in America, James Carville and Paul Begala. These are countered on the right by one distinguished conservative journalist, Bob Novak, and an annoying frat-boy conservative, Tucker Carlson, who is generally outmatched by the liberals but does not seem to care. That they perform before an applauding, booing studio audience, usually on a college campus, makes it even more painful.

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In a successful radio talk show, the guests and opponents work best as foils for the host, whose opinions and personality are the heart of the program. The same holds true for TV talk, as the Fox News Network mostly realizes. Bill O'Reilly is a forthright interviewer who cuts through his guests' spin-doctoring. He is followed by Hannity & Colmes, featuring the superb radio talker Sean Hannity, with the balance built into the program with his co-host Alan Colmes, a worthy opponent on the left.

These are all professionals who know how to conduct an interview, but when they stop talking to people one at a time and have two opposing guests on at the same time, the discourse can degenerate into a tag-team shouting match.

Another approach is evident with WORLD contributor Cal Thomas, whose After Hours on Fox News promises "conversation, not confrontation." Despite his reputation as a firebrand of the Christian right, Mr. Thomas, like most firebrands of the Christian right, is pleasant and genial in person and on TV.

One of the best Fox talkers is Tony Snow, who pulls weekend duty with Weekend Live and Fox News Sunday. Sharp but not abrasive, intelligent while still being likeable, Mr. Snow keeps his conservative politics balanced by his "family values" priorities.

Mr. Snow was one of the few pundits who remembered the 40th anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis, which occurred on the same day as the assassination of John F. Kennedy. One of the best moments in the history of the Fox News Network was Mr. Snow's commentary explaining why Lewis-who has brought people to salvation-is far more important than JFK.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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