Sublime stupidity of much of TV news
December 20, 2002
Is it just me or is Rudi Bakhtiar the most annoying news anchor on North American
Television? For sometime now, deep in the recess of my mind, the question keeps bubbling
up to the surface every time I make the error of tuning in to CNN Headline News to
get a quick dose of skewed news. Or when I have exhausted all other trivial ways
to kill time -- on yet another boring bus ride -- I watch Rudi.
Oh, I hear your clicking tongue and see your shaking head: typical behavior, putting
down one of "his own" who's made it big. But I assure you dear reader,
that's the furthest from my mind. I don't mind, nay am amused and enjoy, Rudi's overtly
self-conscious and well -orchestrated sexy appearance:
Monday, it's Fiery Sexy Rudi with an abundance of brilliantly red lipstick to make
a gypsy bombshell blush. Tuesday, we have Dark Moody Rudi with the tight black turtle
neck and flesh tone glossy lipstick. Wednesday, Girl-'Rround-Town Rudi is decked
up in a Prada suede top and sporting subtle blond highlights...
The news definitely takes a backseat to Ms. Bakhtiar's sense of vanity. But no, what
prompted me to pose my opening question is Rudi's constant, bewildering head movement
and facial gestures that often make me gasp in frustration.
Now in all fairness, facial performance is nothing new and there are plenty of anchors
out there who in varying degrees commit the same crime, apparently thinking TV viewers
are somehow afflicted with dyslexia and hence need extra hints to guide their responses;
like a mother setting up her infant for a photograph: "Ok honey, smile now,
wide open for Mr. Photographer, yes that's good, show mommy your teeth."
No, Ms. Bakhtiar is not alone in treating viewers as imbeciles;
they actually teach these puppetry techniques in broadcast journalism schools. But
she must be one of the worst ever offenders in the genre.
What with the tossing of one eyebrow (the best since George Hamilton's) combined
with tilting of the head to one side; the saucy closed-mouth smile followed by flashing
of pearly whites that signal the segue into a light story; the darkening of the furrow
and the somber, deeply felt sorrowful eyes, then back to Happy Rudi, sad Rudi, playful
Rudi, sexy Rudi, serious Rudi,... god, would somebody please turn off the puppet?
Then something strange happened the other day and I snapped. Like the masochist that
I am, I flipped the old remote and caught Headline News right in the middle of a
story on recent violent clashes in West Bank. For now Rudi was naturally somber since
the last time anything happy was reported from that part of the world was probably
the arrival of the magi on that fateful night to hail baby Jesus.
Then the puppet's, I mean Ms. Bakhtiar's, mood turned jovial as she, anticipating
the checkered pattern of happy, sad, serious, feel-good,...of US news (lest we depress
the shopping masses) switched to the story on FBI director George Tenent's Congressional
testimony on the bungling of the 9/11 events by the agency.
Unfazed by the gravity of the story and Mr. Tenent's dark brow, our girl Rudi went
on smiling, flashing the perfectly straight teeth, tossing the carefully coiffed
black hair. Hmm, I thought to myself, what gives? I kept waiting for the funny part
of the news but alas it never came. Rudi started on something new but I was left
Was I the only one who noticed this psycho cognitive rupture?Was she aware of the
gaffe herself? Was the news supervisor rolling on the floor of the newsroom laughing
himself silly? But then epiphany: in a moment of involuntary action, Ms. Bakhtiar
had provided insight to the sublime stupidity of much of TV news.
parts are all interchangeable. Why not smile when reporting on yet another day of
bloodshed in the Middle East? Millions of South Africans will die from AIDS in the
next few years, now that deserves a wink and a nudge. Thirty years of civil war in
Angola fought with Western supplied weapons, what a thigh-slapper. New drug on the
market to help obese North Americans lose tons of unwanted fat, that deserves
a solemn moment. Two more weeks of Christmas shopping left reported by a cautionary
head tilt. Why not indeed?
Let's have the news in the spirit of Samuel Beckett, absurd, dark, bewildering, farcical,
all in one. Let's get the old boys from Monty Python back together and have them
do the news (we can still keep Rudi as a sort of prettier Connie Booth). No one in
his or her right mind really expects to learn anything from TV news, do they? It's
all entertainment anyhow. So let's jazz it up and do away with the whole silly facade.
Does this article have spelling or other mistakes? Tell
me to fix it.