No news is bad news

Fox News’ Bill O’Rielly, America’s most watched news anchor, stared straight into the camera and said dismissively with a characteristic wave of the hand: “The (Pima County, Arizona) Sheriff is an idiot.”

Keith Olbermann, of the rival left leaning, liberal MSNBC, had a couple of nights ago lit up the airwaves blaming political rhetoric from the right for the Tuscon shooting, a line first unspooled by the sheriff.

Welcome to Prime Time news, watched best with a finger on the toggle button.

It’s rarely boring, always red-knuckled.

Within a couple of hours of the Tucson shootings, a shocked and grieving America was caught up in a blamegame played un-refereed on Prime Time television – with no rules and no injury time-outs.

President Barack Obama appealed for an end to in an impassioned speech from the Tucson memorial service some days later. But no one listened. In fact, that appeal itself became a ball in another blamegame.

So, who is he asking to shut up? His own friends on the left? Or his diehard foes on the right?

But what i find most striking about it is the name calling: How no one seems to mind. The sheriff who O’Reilly called an idiot has neither demanded an apology now sent his stormtroppers to vandalize Fox News facilities.

The sheriff is quite a national celebrity now – not for being called an idiot – for blaming political rhetoric on the right that preceeeded the November elections for turning Jared Lee Loughner into a killer.

But calling him an idiot on prime time television?

A certain political leader in western India – actually many more from where he comes – is known to have sent in his goons for lesser slights, which could pass off for genuine criticism anywhere else.

To be fair to him though, he is no exception.

I had once used the phrase “shut up” in the headline to a story about the BJP leadership asking a certain minister in the then NDA government to ease up on the rhetoric. He didn’t like it.

Shut up to nahin bola gaya mujh ko,” he said to a colleague.

Oh well, sure.

But can you imagine any of India’s top TV anchors calling a politician an idiot?

That kind of coverage, let me state here clearly, is neither necessary nor recommended. And I don’t think it serves any purpose, except perhaps to make people think a 100 times before saying something.

But that has hardly helped – you can still call people idiots.

It just makes for good television.

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