The Construction of a Broadcast Paradigm
By Michael Hastings
Part I: The Broadcasters News
To commence, the author of this essay would like to quote Marshall Mcluhans oft-misused maxim, "The medium is the message." The medium in question here is television; specifically, television in relation to the nature of information transferred to the audience in the form of television news broadcasts. In this "information age" the primary information source for the majority of American adults is television news, be it through twenty-four hour cable news channels or the more traditional nightly broadcasts on one of the three major networks. Television news programs are artificial; there is great divide between news and news programs, the divide between what happened and how what happened is portrayed. The artificiality of television news alters the impact that the news has on the audience; the message of television news is fakery.
Television news programs offer the audience two promises impossible to fulfilltotal objectivity and the truth. To mask the inability to fulfill these two promises, television news relies on perfect images and suavely constructed news broadcasts. The ideas of physical perfection and deceptive video production could be categorized as elements of lookism; that is, the concept that emphasizes appearance over substance. Lookism is the veil that shrouds television news programs, a veil that allows for the audience to accept the lies of complete objectivity and truth.
Complete objectivity is easy to dismiss as a misleading tenant of professional
journalism; any honest person admits to some bias, testifies to his or her own
personal frame of reference. The "objective" manner of professional
news is a propaganda device for American television necessary to perpetuate
the status quo of the free market capitalist establishment in order for continued
exploitation of the consumer. Government and corporate institutions survive
on the fact that the discourse of American ideology is narrow spectrum: what
is appropriate and normal is objective. Also, American government and corporate
institutions thrive on lookism. They are lookist organizations where image and
appearance to the public (the audience) is more important than substance and
actual action. It is no surprise than, that television news broadcasts are a
product of the collaboration of both corporate and government institutions.
The proposition of television news as a medium to convey the truth is a proposition
that first asks what is truth. In this sense, reporting news is an activity
of philosophical reconstruction of "what has happened." This near
past, this recent history, is then reconfiguredit is videoed, edited,
voiced overed, broadcastas a parcel of information, a legitimate narrative
package that informs one of a reality, a reality called "what happened,"
a manipulated history labeled by television networks as objective truth. It
is the appearance of "what happened," how "what happened"
is made to look, that invokes the principle ideas that television news uses
high voltage lights and mirrors to disguise the fact that the facts are in no
Men and women both wear make-up. Whether he is a drag queen extending his eyelashes
for a midnight jaunt or an eighteen-year-old socialite camouflaging a mild facial
blemish, the process of putting on "your face," of using make-up,
is in essence an act of deception with which American society is complicit.
Dim lights in fancy restaurants, darkly lit clubs, the unsympathetic glare of
a fluorescent bulb in a high school classroom; these are all accepted tactics
to distortthrough the process of amplification or subduingpersonal
characteristics of the individual. Deodorant, perfume, and teeth whiteners are
all masks that present an exterior more aesthetically perfectperhaps culturally
pleasingyet further away from naked reality. The act of wearing make-up
is a philosophical endeavor that asks the question what is real, what is reality.
A broadcast consists of television cameras, audio equipment, video paraphernalia,
a set, and people on-screen, the anchorpersons, the human mouthpieces of truth.
The anchorman or woman wears makeup to appeal to the audience. Hours are spent
discovering the perfect lighting setup for the on screen personality. As the
time to broadcast approaches, the anchorman prepares his lines, his delivery
of the news. He prepares to appear in households around the country as a flat
image on a flat screen. The anchorman is superficial; his emotions are prepared,
his vocal intonations consistent with dramatic delivery.
Images accompany the news that the anchorman delivers. Sometimes it is in the square box in the upper right or left of the screen, at other points the image consumes the entire screen and all that is heard are voices from the anchorman (or reporter.) The images shown are carefully selected, carefully constructed. It is a slice of what happened, a smidgeon of the "news event." There is no depth, no chance to see beneath what is shown.
There is a tri-fold disconnect between what is happening on the screen, what
the anchorman is saying, and what sensory information the audience receives
at home. The words that accompany the images are intended synchronize the "news
event" to offer the "proper" interpretation. It is the function
of the anchorman to re-connect this disconnect, to harmonize images and sound
for audiences consumption. This disconnect can be seen in another way:
it can be looked at as a gap created by technology. Person to person interactionhearing
the news from your neighborinstantly forms bonds of intimacy. The relationship
of person to screen is not interpersonal, but inter-technological. It is the
function of the anchorman to bridge this gap; to seduce the viewer into believing
that what is portrayed is the truth. Seduction, an idea that historically involves
ideas of slight deception and emotional manipulation, as well as the concepts
of physical perfection and the fine tuned use of cosmetics, in the forum of
television news is an activity that is artificiality masking itself as true
The broadcaster is the overtly human element in a situation otherwise surrounded
in technology. Granted, there are human elements to the news stories themselves,
but the humans in the stories are more representations of human beings rather
than actual humans. The broadcaster is the purveyor of the news. Through his
or her body language, voice inflections, speech patterns, and syllabic rhythms,
the broadcaster attempts to make the news appear true, to give the viewer confidence
that what flashes briefly on the television screen is not completely fake, that
there is something behind the news, something of substance. It is the broadcaster
who through his or her own style gives the news depth. It is a false depth,
not even as real as actor in melodrama, because at least in a melodrama the
actor has a close relation to the text. The broadcaster is almost as removed
from the news as the viewer themselves.
In a sense, the broadcaster is a friend who tries to convince someone of a
pretty girls great personality. "She may seem like just a nice face,"
a friend might say, "but theres more there, I swear it." Television
news is like that; sleek and refined images that lack substance. The broadcaster
uses his abilities to convince of the viewer of the news personality,
an act of persuasion to hold the viewers attention. The broadcaster is
a conduit of emotion that attempts make the viewer empathize. By creating a
sensation of empathy, the broadcaster brings the distant news event into a personal
context. However, this context is fictional; it exists in much the same way
as a good story told by an excellent storyteller. It is basic trickery with
words, fakery with pictures, held together on the premise that this is "what
Television news necessitates facades as a means to project truth and complete
objectivity. The essence of a façade is the outer surface, the superficial.
A question then arises that asks what façade is most adept at fulfilling
the lookist needs of television news broadcasts. The physical appearancethe
imageof the broadcaster must carry more weight than the substance of the
news broadcast. The broadcaster must be a smokescreen of truth, a screen for
the bias inherent in television news. Therefore, the conscience choice of corporate
institutions in selecting the broadcast to deliver the news is crucial in how
the broadcast paradigm of television news is constructed.
Part II: The New Broadcaster
But what type of broadcaster profile best suits these
acts of deception, of storytelling? Is there a perfect physical archetype of
a broadcaster that, just on the basis of his/her personal appearance has an
edge in telling news? An informal in-class survey gave mixed results. Four out
of eight chose male broadcasters. Two of those males were white; two others
were men of color. The four that were female, race was generally unspecified,
or variable. In other words, for the female responses, race was not as much
as an issue as it was for those who chose the white male broadcaster. To compare
this with the current broadcast situation on the nightly network news: of three
major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) primetime evening news programs, the lead anchor
fits the white male profile. Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, and Peter Jennings have
been labeled as "the most trustworthy names in news."
The reasons why the white middle-aged male anchormen are considered trustworthy
are culturally apparent. In America, the white middle-aged male is legitimate.
They are the Establishment: Congress, lawyers, Wall Street, CEOs, Hollywood
producers, Presidents. Inherent in the middle-aged males whiteness is
a myth of paternal honesty. The word myth is crucial because in American society
it has been the brains of middle aged white males that have orchestrated the
most heinous acts of deception, the most blatant acts of propaganda. The CIA
is a product of middle age white male honesty in that the CIA has carried out
acts of deception that dwarf most other organizations exponentially, from assassination
attempts to experimenting on unsuspecting victims with mind altering substances.
As is the Vietnam War and Desert Storm. It is the white male who managed to
uphold segregation and slavery-like practices to the end of the twentieth century.
It is the white male who has managed to build the most inefficient automobile
engines and the most pollutant spewing factories. But, every evening at six
oclock, it is the middle age white male that we trust.
The white middle age male defines lookist principles. It is the white maleor
under the tutelage of a white malethat edits fashion magazines and run
advertising companies that shape the framework of ideal images of beauty and
provide American culture with guidelines of judging appearance. It is natural
then that those who define the principles of lookism appear in the placesin
this instance broadcast newsensconced by lookist principles. One likes
to see oneself reflected in the mirror, and if the reflection is not perfect,
then the white middle aged male can watch the news to find a face similar to
his that he can trust.
Recently, networks around the world have manipulated the broadcaster profile.
The most interesting and relevant to this discussion is the stripper as broadcaster.
It has been mentioned that broadcasting at its most complexly primal is a process
of seduction. A stripper articulates this seduction in the most blatant fashion,
the sexual seduction, the attention grabbing seduction, the erection inducing
seduction. On a television stations in the former Soviet Union, female stripper
broadcasters have appeared. It is interesting to note that after the collapse
of state run Soviet television, television that has been lambasted by the West
as sheer propaganda, that the stripper is seen as a legitimate form of broadcaster.
If the news has always been known as illegitimate and false, then it is easy
to accept a stripper in place of a government puppet with clothes on. In America,
because of the insidiously sly nature of its "free press," where propaganda
is allegedly non-existent, a stripper would sully the good name of news. A female
stripper would somehow bastardize an honorable and honest profession. Perhaps
a stripper on American news would reveal, along with her breasts, the corporate
run sham that is network television.
Another recent variation on broadcasting personalities is the cyber-broadcaster; literally, a computer generated talking head to convey the news. This would remove the overtly human element and replace it with more technology. The fake emotions of broadcasters would appear as fake emotions from a computer screen. The act of "trusting" the broadcaster becomes problematicwho are you trusting? Is it the computer programmer, or does the computer-generated personality have its own persona? The computer-generated broadcaster is long time comingthe present audience requires a face to trust, a face that has a conscience, a face that knows when it is lying. Although the computer generated face could be perfect, the very fact the lookist principles could be programmed into the computer would make the lookist principles to the forefront, making them appearthe lookist ideals would become apparentand thus the goal to disguise truth and bias would instead reveal the lack of depth in the substance of the news broadcasts.
Broadcast news is construct of humanity, technology, and history.
Through the medium of television, broadcast news programs package information
dubbed truth and transmit these parcels over national airwaves into households
of consumers. The audience expects to uncover more truths about the world, more
truths concerning realities outside of their immediate social sphere. Beauty
and physical perfection and suave sounds act as cover-up for the lies and mistruths.
Broadcast news does reveal truth, but it is not one of a historical reality,
but of technological present: What is seen happened, but happened how? Television
news is the truth in question form; that is, it is a questionable truth that
states past events as period punctuated facts when in truth there is no such
certainty, only historical marks in image-form to question.