Uncivil Discourse on Sunday

For many, Sunday morning is set aside for church. For me, Sunday has been a sacred time for TV and the newspaper. If I purchased a New York Times, I would spend the entire morning reading. The local papers, from the front page to the comics, would take half that time. While reading the paper, I’d watch the political talk shows. I’d do something else in the afternoon, and get back to watching TV when Sixty Minutes came on the air. The Sunday evening time slot is when the most people watch TV, so some of the best shows have aired following Sixty Minutes, including the Simpsons, the X-Files, Sunday night football, and top network movies.

In the past two weeks, many of the shows I’ve been watching for years, mostly airing on Sundays, have ended. I’ve watched the McLaughlin Group since it first came on the air back in 1984. Issue one: How did an ex-Jesuit priest and former Nixon speech writer keep me watching year after year. Answer: The group contained bigger than life figures. Jack Germond. Robert Novak. Mark Shields. Pat Buchanan. Eleanor Clift. Chris Matthews. These regulars and many others, had strong opinions, inside information, and boisterous attitudes. The show provided information, but was also entertaining. It was like watching tag-team wrestling, with John McLaughlin as a biased referee. I could tell he was not in the best of health during the last few months. McLaughlin did not appear on air during his last show–he provided a recording of his voice. He had not missed a show, not even one, before the day he submitted the audio recording. McLaughlin died on August 16, a few days after that odd show aired.

I was also a regular viewer of The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore. I never watched the show during its scheduled broadcast time, but would watch catch up by watching on demand. When Jon Stewart packed up his Daily Show bags, there was a void to fill. I never did warm up to Trevor Noah. I’m not quite sure why, but watching Noah just made me miss Jon Stewart. Last Week Tonight, with John Oliver, is the best of the Daily Show successors, but it’s only on once a week. I miss the Wilmore Show’s perspective on the nation’s events. On a Monday or Tuesday not long ago, Wilmore told his audience that the last show would be on Thursday. Since the presidential election is still in the works, and the Unblackening is yet to happen, shutting down so early in the political season was like closing a retail store before Christmas. The reason given for the cancellation was that the show did not attract the right demographic. Maybe it needed to air on Sunday night.

Another Sunday morning show I rarely miss is Sunday Morning. This is a magazine-style show like Sixty Minutes, with more personal, less controversial topics. It’s laid back. The original host, Charles Kuralt, was known for his “On the Road” segments with Walter Cronkite before joining Sunday Morning. His work was still considered news, but it focused on people and their lives. The stories were often inspirational. Kuralt died way too young, in his early sixties. His successor, Charles Osgood, did a pretty good job with a reduced budget. The show began airing some recycled segments from CBS sources like Sixty Minutes. This last Sunday, Charles Kuralt announced his retirement from the show at age 84. We’re not sure if we will see the peaceful nature scene seen at the end of every show anymore. But, we know we won’t be hearing Kuralt saying, “I’ll see you on the radio.”

My Sunday ritual has not changed much over the years, but the people on TV I invite into my family room has varied. I walk the dog and then watch the Georgia Gang, a roundtable discussing local Atlanta area issues, that pits the left against the right. Then Sunday Morning comes on, followed by Meet the Press and This Week with George Stephanopoulos. I miss the old “This Week” show with David Brinkley, George Will, Sam Donaldson, and Cokie Roberts. I also miss Firing Line, The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder, Crossfire, and Nightline.

Watching these shows over the years gave me a pretty good sense of various mainstream American positions on the issues facing the country. Admittedly, many of these shows pushed the boundaries of civil discourse. I am a strong advocate of free speech. But, we know that free speech has its limits. No inciting violence, making threats, or promoting intimidation. No challenging the voting process without evidence. No name calling.

The press bears some responsibility for the lack of civility in the presidential campaign. The press wants to report what its audience wants to hear. I’ve seen the press inaccurately report what’s been said by both candidates. These reports left out the context or summarized inaccurately, presumably because the slightly modified summary made for a better headline. Journalists must report the facts (as best they can) before interpreting them.

The press has enjoyed ongoing controversy in the form of uncivil discourse, which has kept sales and ratings high. Donald Trump filled the need for sensational “news” ever since he entered the race. The press really do love him. He keeps on giving. Hillary recently decided to join in. I fear things will get worse as the press encourages Clinton and Trump to say additional shocking things to sell more ads. What’s left for them to say? I am afraid to speculate. It’s free speech, but what are all these uncivil attacks doing to our democracy? Contemplating the possible answers has made my Sunday mornings far less peaceful.

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