Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce on another knock-down drag-out, or as they call it on cable news, Tuesday:
Item: Don Lemon of CNN, whose fuse for nonsense can burn for days before he explodes, has quite clearly had enough of Scottie Nell Hughes, who probably can hear the clock tick-tick-ticking as she gets to about 14:39 on the Warholian countdown. On Tuesday night, he just about voted her off the nightly panel discussion on the topic of What Fresh Hell Is This? At the same time, Charles Blow of The New York Times nearly popped Corey Lewandowski’s cork. If they don’t change the name of this show to CNN Raw before the election, then Zucker’s really missing a golden marketing opportunity.
These kinds of arguments aren’t just on CNN. Newt Gingrich mixed it up with Megyn Kelly on Fox News, and I’m sure MSNBC has hosted a panel or two that quickly degenerated into something less than civil debate. At least Question Time comes with a dose of acidic wit.
And yet, I kind of admire these episodes.
I don’t admire them in terms of news value; it’s the classic case of heat over light, “great TV” at the expense of information. But I do admire the participants for being able to do them at all.
If I were Don Lemon, I’d want to put my head down on my desk and wish for everybody to go away. If I were Corey Lewandowski or Charles Blow, I would have become overtly emotional, probably screaming at my opponent and throwing my laptop at an unsuspecting cameraman. (And then I’d melt down.)
I once mixed it up with CNN contributor Van Jones on a matter of high importance: the quality of “Star Wars.” I think the movie, and especially the attention paid to its mythology, are overrated; he’s a huge fan.
I kept a smile on my face for most of our appearance, but I know he got the better of me. He was appealing to the gut; I was appealing (or trying to appeal) to the head, not that my arguments were going to carry much weight with “Star Wars” fans to start with. But unless I was willing to call the series something like “a nightmare of celluloid” — which I don’t believe — my lukewarm opinion was going to lose. The gut is strong on television. (And Jones is good!) You have to believe what you believe to 11.
This is why I’m better at words on a page than arguments in the flesh. (Hell, I’m pleased I kept my “uhs” to a minimum.)
And this is why there are coaches who train you for TV appearances, and why stand-up comics warm up crowds before talk shows. Energy! Emotion! Fire! Do not change that channel!
It’s what works in our modern age. It’s reality TV; it’s Twitter beefs. They get attention, and attention gets ratings. For every thoughtful explainer that gets shared on social media, there are a dozen operatic videos that get people exclaiming, “I can’t believe they did that.”
Anyway, I’m exhausted by this election campaign. I voted this morning, so all that’s left to do is watch things play out. For the next two weeks, I may be nervous, I may be disgusted, but at this point I can’t get excited.
So for those who are battling it out on cable news, or yelling across the Internets on Twitter, more power to you. There may have been a time when I could work up a head of steam about certain subjects — where my belief was absolutely right and yours was absolutely, fundamentally, irrevocably repellent — but I left that side of me behind a couple decades ago. Keep carrying the torch, folks.
But let me get out of the way of the pitchforks.