Last week as the primitives of the Holy Man Khomeini were hauling Jimmy Carter across the last agonies of his hostage ordeal, the stars of TV news went into deep consultation with psychiatrists. What is more, they had placed camera crews in the homes of many hostages' relatives, thus allowing devoted TV audiences to savor every gush of emotion. It would be a moment of stupendous authenticity. It would also be stupendously irrelevant to our understanding of the hostages' release. All that the shrinks and the camera crews provided was gossip and excitement, which are, of course the heart of broadcast journalism.
With Ronald Reagan's inauguration but a few hours off, and the idiot Iranians ravening for their last glories before Reagan and Alexander Haig wiped the prissy smile from Uncle Sam's face, the network news steeled itself to its duty. It would accompany the American people through these epic events every step of the way. Minute-by-minute, the cameras would be there! This does not mean that they would be there with the most learned students of world politics adding learned commentary not does it mean that there would be judicious flashbacks to past crises. All it means is that the cameras would be focused on these events hour after hour. As for the intellectual content, TV brought us the empty chatter of TV commentators, the interviews with the shrinks and the sad moments with anxious relatives. That was it.
The trivializing influence of TV news is one of the salient characteristics of our age. Whom the gods would destroy they first present with a microphone. When they are in a particularly michievous humor they bring in a TV crew. Network television is egregious because it is so pretentious and inane. Apparently it is incapable of treating any event, no matter how tragic, with dignity and intelligence. Its treatment of hostages' release reached a new low in tastelessness and triviality.
The ordeal over the hostages has been a unique national tragedy, brought on by a series of incomparable diplomatic blunders by the Carter administration. After the first takeover of the embassy, the administration ignored the brutal nature of the Iranian regime. After the decision to admit the shah, the administration still made no adjustment to reality. Following the second takeover, the administration merely emboldened the Iranians by immediately eschewing force and taking the appeaser's path. Now the entire Middle East is a more dangerous place.
TV news never critically examined the implications of this diplomatic disaster. Instead, it allowed itself to be manipulated by the administration with melodramatic symbols: darkened Christmas trees, yellow ribbons, those avalanches of Christmas cards supposedly flowing into our diplomat's cells.
This is the kind of soap opera that VV relished. For over a year the winsome commentators scowled and intoned ironies and sweet sentiments. Never very quick to convey the disturbing side of life, the commentators seemed utterly oblivious to the brutality of the Holy Man's mobs. Imagine: they reported the Iranians' outrages every night and seem never to have anticipated the import of their barbarism. Their audience was left feeling that these things just happen. TV is not a medium congenial to realism or even reality.
At the beginning of last week, the stars of TV news were all anticipating a happy ending. The shrinks were called in to give us a neat understanding of the mysteries of hostagedom and, I might add, to allow the busybodies access to someone else's misery. The cameras were focused on the hostages' relatives to give us a taste of the happy moment and, I might add, to allow the busybodies to eavesdrop and to satisfy other base impulses. It was going to be another great moment in the saga of TV journalism. hours and hours were lavished upon the spectacle. Then the news seeped out about torture, and the affair soured. Will the media journalists be sobered up by these revalations? I doubt it. For the past few weeks the testimony in the trial of Marine Pvt. Robert Garwood, charged with desertion in Vietnam, had dwelt on the basial treatment of our POW's, and only the newpaper stories have conveyed any sense of horror. Such stories do not fit into the razzle-dazzle format of TV news.