by J. Dennis Robinson
I watched the Sunday morning political TV shows religiously. I was especially proud of my open-minded channel surfing –from the more liberal Meet the Press to the mid-road Face the Nation to the right-wing Fox Sunday News with Crhis Wallace. Watching the sour-faced Britt Hume malign National Public Radio reporter Juan Williams week after week is penance enough, I believed, for my liberal leanings. Fox News, generally, is so bad and so biased, that much of it does not qualify in any category of journalism. Today, for instance, a "special report" focused on a window-washer who fell 500 feet from a skyscraper – and lived. Fox brought on a trauma room doctor for commentary. Her medical explanation? The miraculous survival was an act of God.
For years I've been kidding myself into thinking my Sunday morning ritual makes me a better American. I was willing, not only to be informed and unbiased, but to be bored silly by a diverserange of talking heads talking trash. But then I started asking myself– what did I know at the end of this fact-packed hour, that I had not known before? Not much. Who really – I mean really – said anything at all during these somber interviews and panel discussions. Nobody. Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Scooter Libby, Alberto Gonzales all made the talk show rounds without even a flesh wound.
Even the amiable, supposedly hard-hitting Tim Russert, host of Meet the Press, rarely lobs more than a moderate softball. Usually his tough talk, if you listen carefully, is only notches above the infotainment style of Larry King. What Meet the Press does successfully is get the biggest newsmaker on camera when they are smack in the glare of the spotlight, the same thing Larry King does.But the politicians today are so skilled at looking good and saying nothing, that the net result is often little more than a photo op. Russert is so fearful of not being a perfectly unbiased journalist, that he has smothered his own personality, and can only talk about sports scores with enthusiasm. What looks like news analysis, all too often, is no more insightful than the shouting matches on Fox or the blow-hard commentaries on cable. Everyone, politicians and journalists alike, seem, more and more, to be reading lines in a play, the same play, week after week.
So whomever had the bright idea to put Political Chowder with host Arnie Arnesen on local TV at the same time as the BigThree national shows earns my undying gratitude. It was probably Arnesen herself, who also produces the show. This is local NH television at its localest. The people, who look like real people, are local. The topics are local. The camera work and sound and set design are less than slick. In a recent episode, all four panelists on the show wore brown suits. Eye candy this is not.
Political Chowder, unlike its national counterparts, is a real honest-to-goodness talk show. By that, I mean, people actually say something. Host Arnesen is incurably curious and equally enthusiastic and opinionated. She asks questions she wants answered and stocks the show with educated guests who know what they're talking about. We, the viewers, actually benefit from the discussion. Guests are usually well-spoken and well informed, so much so, that even dull state government topics come to life.
The show originates out of Londonderry Public Access. It runs on a station called MyTV. Viewers in other parts of the state may find it elsewhere, or you can just stream the show online at PoliticalChowder.com. Arnesen, a former NH Representative who made failed bids for NH Governor and the US Congress, has finally discovered that she is too smart, too polite, too funny and too honest for public office. A long-time radio host, she is back doing more media and less college teaching. Besides the weekly TV show, she hosts three hours of radio talk on 1110WCCM weekday mornings.
So a few months back, I added Political Chowder to my 11 am Sunday smorgasbord. Week by week, I was watching more Arnie and less Timm Russert, Bob Schieffer and Chris Wallace. One week, thanks to the mumbo-jumbo level of national debate, I learned more watching the Political Chowder team talk about Barack Obama than I did listening to Obama himself on another station.
I don't know who the heck is paying for Political Chowder. There are hardly any commercials and most are public service announcements. But I do know who is paying for the other shows – mostly ads for big corporations, chemical and drug companies, investment firms and financial consultants. So shouldn't we ask ourselves, if Russert can make Obama boring and Arnesan can make water treatment legislation interesting, what show will the better American watch in 2008?
Click to visit POLITICAL CHOWDER now
Copyright © 2008 by J. Dennis Robinson, All rights reserved