Letters

Salon readers share their own local news horror stories and their own first impressions of Marlon Brando.


Salon Staff
July 14, 2004 12:00AM (UTC)

[Read "Terrible News" by Charles Taylor.]

In response to Charles Taylor's local news analysis, I have to comment that it seems local news has definitely crossed the line into "entertainment" territory and is probably never returning. My roommates and I watch the 10 o'clock news most nights now only for the entertainment factor; in fact, we choose to watch the worst broadcast in town simply because it's so fatuous. The banter is terrible, the stories ridiculous, the lead newscasters seem to have little grasp of the English language ... the highlight of the evening? The surprisingly knowledgeable and attractive meteorologist. After his report (10:17 on the dot!), we turn off the TV and make fun of the weird "news" we just watched. It's better than reality television.

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-- Heather Tomlins

Charles Taylor has articulated something I've been trying to tell people for years, but in addition to sensationalism and corporate greed, there is one source of the problem with journalism in general that is almost always overlooked -- the way journalists are educated in this country. I earned my master's degree at a top 20 journalism school, and I watched in utter horror at how the undergraduates, the future of the news media, were taught their chosen profession.

Not one history, science, math or literature course was required. Not one. I soon realized why news coverage is always so shallow. Many journalists lack the foundation even to ask the right questions. With all of the coverage of the trouble in the Balkans, for example, I have never seen anyone in the media attempt to explain why the Croats and the Serbs and the Bosnian Muslims all hate each other or why Kosovo is so important to the Serbs. As it turns out, the answers to these questions require a basic understanding of the history of the region, of the rise and fall of competing empires and religions, and of battles fought centuries ago. Few journalists, in my experience, possess this understanding.

If reform of the news media begins anywhere, it should begin in our journalism schools. Only by equipping journalists with the knowledge needed to delve beneath the surface of current events will we avoid such stories as the one written by a journalism student that appeared in the student newspaper while I was in grad school. It was about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of stories about the greatest detective who "ever lived."

-- J. Matthew Saunders

Charles Taylor's feature demonstrates why I find it impossible to sit through a "news" broadcast -- be it local or national. It's been more than five years since I've regularly watched any news programs on broadcast television, and I've been cable-free for six years. When I am forced to sit through a broadcast at a friend or relative's house, I feel like I've been sent to Bizarro-land.

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Most of my peers and I get our news almost exclusively from the Internet. Perhaps this explains the cognitive dissonance I feel when confronted with the perceptions of unwired America.

-- Jeremy Lassen

Though Charles Taylor's "Terrible News" is spot-on in showing that the best cringing examples of the foot-in-mouth disease that has been passed off as broadcast journalism over the last three decades can be found in local market anchors, I was surprised that his list of past comedic send-ups of this genre didn't include those "Four or Five Crazee Guys from L.A.," the Firesign Theatre. For those of you unfamiliar with the earnest ramblings of the crack team Ray Hamburger (pretentiously pronounced "AUM-ber-shay"), Harold Hiphugger and Pat Hat, as they hold down the desk and call in live remotes at Heater California's Channel Six News ("The Hot One"), I strongly suggest picking up a copy of 1974's "Everything You Know Is Wrong" and giving it a listen ...

-- Jim Baskin

Excellent article by Charles Taylor on the current miserable state of local news broadcasts. It leads me to recount one of the most incredible things I've every seen on TV, that I wouldn't have believed if I hadn't seen it myself.

Several years ago, when I was visiting my parents in Baltimore at Thanksgiving, one of the local stations had sent a reporter to the large annual Thanksgiving dinner held for the homeless, which every year is a well covered local story. At the end of the segment, the reporter, a woman whose name I don't recall, teased the next story, about a murder, by saying something to the effect of, "She was ATTACKED ... RAPED ... AND MURDERED ..." As if to add emphasis to what she was saying, she forcefully scooped food onto her plate as she said each of those key words -- "ATTACKED [SCOOP!] ... RAPED [SCOOP!] ... AND MURDERED [SCOOP!] ..." I kid you not. My mother, brother and I were stunned speechless, and it remains a subject of family humor to this day.

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-- John Berman

Charles Taylor is horrified by grammatical errors and use of clichés in news headlines, but fails to mention the actual news content and its role in American citizens' misperceptions about the world around them. What about the fact that studies consistently show an unbelievable disparity between the number of murders, rapes and other violent crimes reported on the news and the number of those same acts that occur in real life? What about the news media's role in shaping opinions during the 2000 presidential election by harping on Gore's "lies" and refusing to closely examine Bush? How about the total lack of coverage of events outside of the U.S.?

There are far greater problems with television news than rhetorical gaffes.

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-- Elisa Rassen

[Read "My First Time With Brando," compiled by Dana Cook.]

Years ago, I worked as a still photographer on the set of Marlon Brando's "One-Eyed Jacks." The film ran way over schedule (at an enormous cost), so members of the cast were thoroughly sick of wearing their old, dirty, patched, western costumes. At the close of the last day of shooting, Brando invited everyone to a party at Paramount Studio's commissary. Brando slipped away from the set early and by the time all got to the commissary, he was greeting each guest at the door -- impeccably attired in a formal tuxedo. I brought my wife to the set that day. Brando was standing near the entrance. As my wife and I walked past him, he drawled -- in a most offensive manner -- "Nice ass, baby." My wife later responded, "I had no idea Marlon Brando was such a gross, disgusting person."

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-- Charles Francis

I must have been about 11 years old when I happened to catch "Guys and Dolls" on TV one afternoon. That movie doesn't seem to be showing up in too many Marlon Brando tributes, but, oh, lordy! When he kissed all un-buttoned-up Jean Simmons in that Cuban restaurant, I thought, "There's a whole world out there I'd like to see." I've probably seen that movie 20 times by now but that scene still makes me go all squishy inside. Sky Masterson ... wow.

-- Meg Rhem


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