Some observations on this week's television appearances

The limitations from the "concision" demands of mainstream television become even more apparent when one is subjected to them

Published December 13, 2008 11:11AM (EST)

My appearance on Bill Moyers' Journal, broadcast last night (and re-broadcast throughout this weekend on PBS), can be viewed here, and a transcript is here.  The show's format, as well as Moyers' interviewing style, allowed for what I thought was a very substantive and in-depth discussion -- especially for television -- of the Bush legacy, the rule of law, the need for investigations and prosecutions of the government crimes of the last eight years, the complicity of key Congressional Democrats, and several other issues. 

We had also intended to discuss the fundamental dysfunction and corruption of the American establishment media and the indispensable role it played in the most consequential and destructive events of the Bush era.  No discussion of the events of the last eight years is complete without extensive consideration of that topic (Moyers' program last year on the vital role of the media in selling the Iraq War to the American public -- "Buying the War" -- is unquestionably one of the best pieces of journalism produced on that topic and, quite revealingly, was one of the only television programs ever even to address the issue).  We ran out of time before getting to those media issues and are trying to schedule another interview, principally to talk about those topics, likely for late January.

The full 25-minute segment from last night's program is also available in 3 parts on YouTube (the quality on the YouTube clips is slightly inferior to the one posted on the above-linked PBS site):


On Thursday night, I was on The Rachel Maddow Show to talk about the closing of Guantanamo and the fear-mongering campaign now being waged by the likes of former Bush DOJ official Jack Goldsmith and the Brookings Institution's Ben Wittes to convince Americans that they will be slaughtered by the Terrorists unless Guantanamo's closing is accompanied by still more radical and patently dangerous expansions of executive power (such as a new law empowering the President to "preventively detain" people indefinitely without charges and the creation of a new "national security court" that re-writes the rules governing our courts in order to make it easier for the Government to convict accused terrorists).  Part of that discussion includes the key enabling role Democrats played -- and, in many cases, continue to play -- in so much of Bush's anti-constitutional extremism.

I had been interviewed by Rachel on her radio show many times before and, because of the way she conducts interviews, the discussions were always quite substantive and comprehensive.  As I often noted long before she became an MSNBC regular, Rachel is one of the smartest and most thoughtful political commentators around. 

But the contrast between Moyers' format -- which permits, even compels, lengthy, detailed, highly developed answers and all sorts of in-depth follow-ups -- and the universal limitations imposed by the cable news format -- where major, complex topics are reduced to 5-minute segments involving a handful of questions and 3o-second answers that cannot possibly entail anything beyond the most generalized, conventional bullet points -- was even starker to me as a result of taping these two interviews on the same day (see this definitive 3-minute explanation from Noam Chomsky on precisely how mainstream television's demand for "concision" -- which shapes how the overwhelming majority of Americans receive their "news" -- precludes any meaningful examination or challenging of prevailing political orthodoxies).

The Maddow segment is here (the interview with me begins at roughly the 2:30 mark):


Regular posting, I'm happy to note, will resume tomorrow.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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