The Construction of a Broadcast Paradigm
By Michael Hastings

Part I: The Broadcaster’s News

To commence, the author of this essay would like to quote Marshall Mcluhan’s 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 fulfill–total 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 reconfigured–it is videoed, edited, voiced overed, broadcast–as 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 way concrete.

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 distort–through the process of amplification or subduing–personal characteristics of the individual. Deodorant, perfume, and teeth whiteners are all masks that present an exterior more aesthetically perfect–perhaps culturally pleasing–yet 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 audience’s consumption. This disconnect can be seen in another way: it can be looked at as a gap created by technology. Person to person interaction–hearing the news from your neighbor–instantly 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 human connection.

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 girl’s great personality. "She may seem like just a nice face," a friend might say, "but there’s 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 viewer’s 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 happened."

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 appearance–the image–of 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, CEO’s, Hollywood producers, Presidents. Inherent in the middle-aged male’s 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 o’clock, it is the middle age white male that we trust.

The white middle age male defines lookist principles. It is the white male–or under the tutelage of a white male–that 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 places–in this instance broadcast news–ensconced 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 problematic–who 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 coming–the 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 appear–the lookist ideals would become apparent–and 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.
Works Cited