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 "Finnish Views of CNN Television News" by Brett Dellinger
"Because of the structures of the various discourses within this broadcast genre, structures which were imposed by the pressures of its encompassing commercial objectives and design, it has an inherent inability to communicate information in the same way as the written word."


"CNN's format is a proven competitive broadcasting commodity while other formats, and discourse styles, are not competitive and will have more difficulty attracting audience attention in a predominantly commercial environment."


"Cueing ... as an artificial contrivance becomes a complex phenomenon, one which, after time, can develop into a formalized and familiar cultural experience whose frame becomes ritualized."


"The American public got what many critics and "conspiracy theorists" did not entirely expect: Instead of the "jackboot" and fascist-style propaganda, American television viewers got an endless stream of entertainment..."


"Stuart Hall ... sees the operation of the media within western capitalist societies as "all inclusive." The media shape our tastes and our desires--as well as our expectations. There is 'a shaping of the whole ideological environment ... a way of representing the order of things ... with ... natural or divine inevitability ....'" 


To Finns, it seems, American television news is read "with a gleeful smile and interspersed with laughter, punctuated by frowning--as if ... emotions were totally disconnected from the text.  American audiences ... expect "happy talk" and banter during a news broadcast. Finns, on the other hand, associate such behavior with clowns..."


This chapter also appeared in Mediapolis: Aspects of Texts, Hypertexts und Multimedial Communication under the title: "Concision in American Commercial Broadcasts." 

For more information: See Sam Inkinen, the editor, in Research in Text Theory Untersuchungen zur Texttheorie, a series edited by János Petöfi.


Chapter 8: [Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]

The Structural Constraint of "Concision" as it is Used in the Discourse Style of American Commercial Broadcasting

The following is an excerpt from Noam Chomsky’s Chronicles of Dissent: Interviews with David Barsamian

David Barsamian: 

I’m interested that you’ve said that commercial radio is less ideological than public radio.

Noam Chomsky: 

That’s been my experience. Here I’d want to be a little more cautious. Public radio out in the sticks, in my experience, is pretty open. So when I go to Wyoming or Iowa I’m on public radio, for longer discussions. That would be very hard to imagine in Boston or Washington. Occasionally you might get on with somebody else to balance you for three minutes, in which there are three sentences for each person. But anything that would be more in depth would be very difficult. 

It’s worth bearing in mind that the U.S. communications system has devised a very effective structural technique to prevent dissidence. This comes out very clearly sometimes. The United States is about the only country I know where anywhere near the mainstream you’ve got to be extremely concise in what you say, because if you ever get access, it’s two minutes between commercials. That’s not true in other countries. It’s not true outside of the mainstream either. You can get maybe ten or fifteen minutes, you can develop a thought. If you can get on a U.S. mainstream program, NPR, Ted Koppel, it’s a couple of sentences. They’re very well aware of it. Do you know Jeff Hansen?

David Barsamian: 

He’s at WORT, Madison.

Noam Chomsky: 

Last time I was out there, he wanted to arrange an interview when I was in the area giving some talks on the media. He started by playing a tape that he had that you’ve probably heard where he had interviewed Jeff Greenfield, some mucky-muck with Nightline. He asked Greenfield, How come you never have Chomsky on? Greenfield starts with a kind of tirade about how this guy’s a wacko from Neptune. After he calmed down and stopped foaming at the mouth, he then said something which was quite right: Look, he probably "lacks concision." We need the kind of people who can say something in a few brief sentences. Maybe the best expert on some topic is from Turkey and speaks only Turkish. That’s no good for us. We’ve got to get somebody who can say something with concision, and this guy Chomsky just rants on and on. There’s something to that.

Take a look at the February/March 1990 Mother Jones. There’s an interesting article by Marc Cooper in which he does an analysis of the main people who appear as experts on shows. Of course, they’re all skewed to the right, and the same people appear over and over. But the commentary is interesting. He talks to media people about this and they say, These are people who know how to make their thoughts concise and simple and straightforward and they can make those brief two-sentence statements between commercials. That’s quite significant. Because if you’re constrained to producing two sentences between commercials, or 700 words in an op-ed piece, you can do nothing but express conventional thoughts. If you express conventional thoughts, you don’t need any basis for it or any background, or any arguments. If you try to express something that’s somewhat unconventional, people will rightly ask why you’re saying that. They’re right. If I refer to the United States invasion of South Vietnam, people will ask, "What are you talking about? I never heard of that." And they’re right. They’ve never heard about it. So I’d have to explain what I mean.

Or suppose I’m talking about international terrorism, and I say that we ought to stop it in Washington, which is a major center of it. People back off, "What do you mean, Washington’s a major center of it?" Then you have to explain. You have to give some background. That’s exactly what Jeff Greenfield is talking about. You don’t want people who have to give background, because that would allow critical thought. What you want is completely conformist ideas. You want just repetition of the propaganda line, the party line. For that you need "concision". I could do it too. I could say what I think in three sentences, too. But it would just sound as if it was off the wall, because there’s no basis laid for it. If you come from the American Enterprise Institute and you say it in three sentences, yes, people hear it every day, so what’s the big deal? Yeah, sure, Qaddafi’s the biggest monster in the world, and the Russians are conquering the world, and this and that, Noriega’s the worst gangster since so-and-so. For that kind of thing you don’t need any background. You just rehash the thoughts that everybody’s always expressed and that you hear from Dan Rather and everyone else. 

That’s a structural technique that’s very valuable. In fact, if people like Ted Koppel were smarter, they would allow more dissidents on, because they would just make fools of themselves. Either you would sell out and repeat what everybody else is saying because it’s the only way to sound sane, or else you would say what you think, in which case you’d sound like a madman, even if what you think is absolutely true and easily supportable. The reason is that the whole system so completely excludes it. It’ll sound crazy, rightly, from their point of view. And since you have to have concision, as Jeff Greenfield says, you don’t have time to explain it. That’s a marvelous structural technique of propaganda. They do the same thing in Japan, I’m told. Most of the world still hasn’t reached that level of sophistication. You can go on Belgian national radio or the BBC and actually say what you mean. That’s very hard in the United States.

Below is another excerpt, an interview with Noam Chomsky appearing on the MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour-- Chomsky continues after he is interrupted by the host, Robert MacNeil:

Noam Chomsky: 

Again, there is—has been—an offer on the table which we rejected—an Iraqi offer last April..".Robert MacNeil: "Okay. I have to interrupt...

Noam Chomsky: 

[Continuing] "...uh...to eliminate their arsenals if Israel were to simultaneously do the same..."

Robert MacNeil: 

"I have to end it there."

Noam Chomsky: 

[Continuing] "That should be pursued as well..."

Robert MacNeil: 

"Sorry to interrupt you. I have to end it there. That’s the end of our time. Professor Chomsky, thank you very much for joining us."Concision, the 44-minute hour and "structural constraint "

Footnotes

Please turn the page   


Chapter 8: [Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]

Join a discussion on CNN, Television, Broadcasting and New Media at CNNCritical Discussions.


Brett Dellinger lives in Finland.


Copyright © 1999 by Brett Dellinger. All rights reserved.

 Chapter 8's Go to chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6a | 6b 7a | 7b | 8 | 8b
Footnotes Discussion  Conclusion Bibliography