Stuck in the Shallows: The World on Cable News as Seen from a Hospital Bed


My gold-plated Apple wristwatch has put me in Virginia Mason with its warning of a slow heartbeat. A pacemaker is now implanted as boost to my underperforming ticker. 

The hospital stay is time when you watch an inordinate amount of television. The 24/7 news cycle throws stories at you. No wonder morning newspapers suffer: You get everything the day before, hour by hour.

The day just ending was a succession of conflict and crisis. It began with Donald Trump mounting a racist attack on Nikki Haley in the New Hampshire primary. There followed The U.S. Justice Department’s “devastating” report on Texas law enforcement response to the Uvalde shooter. Midday brought testimony in Trump sexual assault case, followed by Trump asking Supreme Court to rule for the immunity of presidents. With a government shutdown looming, afternoon saw both houses of Congress enact a stopgap spending bill. The U.S. hit rebels in Yemen with an air strike.

Meantime, much of the country was in a deep freeze. Snoqualmie Pass made network news. Much of the content — even the floods and snow storms — suggested a world going to hell. It was a dizzying day.

Some benefit from this. Donald Trump creates chaos and basks in the attention. Cable TV cannot get enough of him. After puffing DeSantis, Fox News is again pandering to the Donald. The cult-like following demands it. The Murdochs have no morals about delivering lies, despite last year’s $787 million payout to voting technology firm it defamed.

During the heyday of network news, when Walter Cronkite drew 30 million viewers, the CBS Evening News began with a lineup of countries and cities from which its correspondents were reporting. They were, for years, “Murrow’s boys,” colleagues of a Blanchard, Wash., boy who went on to Wazzu and gained fame during the London Blitz.

The news is no longer the province of white guys in ties, Cable TV features a succession of panels, a new one each hour. Christopher Rufo can rail against diversity but women and minorities have their place at the pundits’ table. Vacuous Fox News blondes ridicule Biden. Various people labeled “Republican strategist” and “Democratic strategist” peddle the party lines. Journalists from the New York Times and Washington Post are omnipresent. So is the category of “former assistant U.S. Attorney,” bespeaking litigation’s role in American life.

What’s striking is the shallowness. The networks love to air reporters wading around in floods, being blown by hurricanes or bundled up in the snow. But the cause of extreme weather — climate change — is rarely explored. Likewise the under-reported role of climate extremes in triggering the influx of refugees to Europe and the United States.

It may rail against “fake news” but the political right has achieved remarkable success influencing what’s seen on your screen. Elite colleges get demonized for examining slavery, racism, and nativism. Crime is depicted as choking West Coast cities. The topic of transgender students using girls’ bathrooms gets introduced as part of the country’s political agenda.

What’s shortchanged in what we see? The availability and promotion of firearms that belong on a battlefield, which have caused carnage from Uvalde to Buffalo. Abuse is showered on progressive district attorneys, while gun culture advocates get away with saying their “thoughts and prayers” are with victims of the latest massacre.

We also get versions of the racist “replacement” theory, of hordes of immigrants overrunning white America. I’ve watched White House aspirants fill the airwaves with pledges to “shut down” the border. Who, then, will do our country’s grunt work? Latino immigrants manned Iowa’s meat packing plants while Hawkeye State Republicans caucused for Trump. Our state’s agriculture economy depends on those labeled “illegals.”

And, as this is written, gentle, considerate people speaking a variety of accents are seeing to my care. The “Information Age” has sold us much misinformation. It’s time to turn off the TV.

Joel Connelly
Joel Connelly
I worked for Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 1973 until it ceased print publication in 2009, and from 2009 to 6/30/2020. During that time, I wrote about 9 presidential races, 11 Canadian and British Columbia elections‎, four doomed WPPSS nuclear plants, six Washington wilderness battles, creation of two national Monuments (Hanford Reach and San Juan Islands), a 104 million acre Alaska Lands Act, plus the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.


  1. Hope you have a quick recovery, and glad that some prior indication was found before anything serious happened. You correctly summed up the state of our TV media – What’s striking is the shallowness. It’s true of all of the networks.

  2. Watching what passes for TV news these days doesn’t sound like a good prescription for heart health. I hope your new ticker is doing well and that you will be up and about soon.

  3. Cable-TV news is short-attention-span theater calibrated to our cultural urgency for more dopamine and serotonin. They are secretions that help reduce the impulse to think.

    Glad you can work while prone. Now get up, dammit.

  4. Your post aptly summarizes the reasons I no longer watch what passes for TV ‘news.’ I subscribe to our remaining daily newspaper because I think it’s important to do so and to various ‘lefty’ magazines, which do cover real issues and real people’s lives, including climate change and its effects. Too few people subscribe to them, I’m sure.

    May you recover well and soon. Thanks for writing. Take good care of yourself so you remain with us for as long as possible!

  5. Ah, Walter, where are you when we really need you? Or as anyone under 30 would say, “Who’s Walter Cronkite?” Maybe he can be resurrected soon with the use of A.I..
    You’re absolutely right about less screen, t.v., and phone time, and getting out to smell the flowers and look around at the world. Go for a walk around the neighborhood (when you’re home again). Get a grip. Did Walter have “America Strong” at the end of the news? I can’t remember because I’m old. Why did you watch so much t.v. news? For shame! Was there no SpongeBob? Here’s to a longer attention span, and a few books on the shelf. All the best.

  6. I confess our TV is on about 8 hours daily, mostly showing MSNBC (with frequent clips from FOX) and CNN. Often the sound is off, we’re doing other things, it’s just background. But I’ve seen enough to disagree that it’s all pablum. Local news stations are indeed dreadful, but the two cable networks I reference (and the BBC also) frequently dive a bit deeper into the important issues, offer in-depth interviews and thoughtful wrap-ups on political debates and events. I suggest you put aside your biasses for a moment and take some time to watch Ari Melber, Lawrence O’Donnell, Erin Burnett, Rachel Maddow (to name just a handful). Then read Hannah Cox Richardson’s Letters From An American on Substack. Good, thoughtful coverage is out there if you look for it. Get well soon and maybe look on the bright side!

  7. While I’m sad it took a hospital stay to spur your piece being written (but am very glad you sought medical attention), I very much appreciate the insights you’ve shared. I can’t article with them but I am getting significantly more concerned about where our society is heading. Hope you’ll continue in your recovery and keep your fine articles coming.

  8. Thanks Joel for the update on your heart condition and best wishes for a speedy recovery. Grateful that we can rely on your eloquent voice that rises far above the shallow fray bellowing from our omnipresent televisions. Best wishes.

  9. I don’t watch the news, I read the news. The only time I watch the news is if something big just happened, like the January 6 riots; and in that case, I watched C-SPAN. Occasionally I’ll watch the English-language newscasts of foreign news sources like France 24, the BBC, Germany’s Deutsche Welle, the CBC and Japan’s NHK for a non-American perspective.

    As far as listening to the news, I have a lineup of KIRO, BBC, Reuters, AP and CBC 3-minute headline reads on my Amazon Echo, if I really must be depressed by world and local events when I’m getting through the day.

  10. That was one of the best wrapups the world’s sorrows and mayhem and critique of the vacuous TV reportage I’ve ever seen. You got handed a lemon and you made a tasty lemonade as only you can. Hope to see you soon.


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