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PANDERMONIUM -- The News I Can't Use
by Mike Mosedale
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A while back when we had too much time on our hands, a while back when we were afflicted with that naive solve-the-world's-problems optimism that evidences itself in the p.m. bull sessions among friends, a seemingly simple question rose from the ether. In these Twin Cities, we wondered, which of our local television news outlets is the most preposterous?

Paul MagersWhich is guilty of the most craven fear mongering? Whose vacant chatter between anchors really sets one's teeth aching? (And, by the by, is it worse if those segments are scripted or spontaneous?) Which operation gives birth to the greatest number of repellent "Candid Camera"-style stories? Which operation is the most inept? The most obsequious? In short, whose fevered and whorish assault on our attentions is most grievous? And, perhaps a less pressing but still compelling matter, which anchor suffers from the most advanced case of Perfect Hair Disease?

An intriguing set of questions, we believed at that heady moment, but - upon further consideration - one which evolved into a knotty and exhausting quandary. After a raft of late fall nights in front of the television - the gray season rendered bleaker yet by the howling obscenities of sweeps weeks - we gazed heavenward for guidance. Alas, as is usually the case - the Creator responded with nothing but His petulant, dismal silence.

Yes, we suspected at first that the gang over at KARE is most objectionable - if only for their horrifying, insect-like omnipresence. A person can't drive the freeways in these sprawling burgs without being affronted by billboards displaying the smiling visages of the on-air "talent." An appalling spectacle, really: Each hair epoxied in place, the ghastly white teeth bared in frightening testament to the high state of American dentistry, the ghastly costumes testament to the low state of corporate fashions. One notable billboard depicts the women of the broadcast - strangely ageless Pat Miles and petite religious zealot/equestrian-manqué Diana Pierce - assembled adoringly around the mackerel skinned Paul Magers. Squeezing in at the perimeters are horse-toothed sports guy Randy Shaver (emanating a white-hot "Hootie-and-the-Blowfish-is-my-favorite-band" vibe) and the disturbingly fastidious weather man, Ken Barlow. It all resembles nothing so much as a suburban theater troop assembled for a production of The Big Chill.

Amelia SantanielloYet, what of the Vanilla Neighbor over at WCCO, with its jockish conviviality and relentlessly numbing boosterism? Yes, Virginia there really is a Babbit. CCO's "Hometown Team" schtick would have put the point on Sinclair Lewis' pen as surely as the peculiar fact that Lewis' hometown of Sauk Centre now celebrates him with "Main Street" banners in its creaky, barren downtown. Try this sometime. Perform a census on the number of times the phrase "Hometown Team" appears in print or is uttered in the course of a single broadcast. You may need an abacus. And what of the gaudy, ever changing sets at 'CCO? A few weeks back they featured a backdrop that gave the appearance of a quart of mixed pastels crapped out by an epileptic. A newer set, stoked with lightly finished oak accents, establishes new lows in its horrifying mimicry of the worst aesthetic traditions of contemporary Protestant suburbia.

Then, of course, there is the trifling issue of content. The neighbor specializes in a relentless and unrivaled fawning for demographics: For soccer moms, stories about Beanie Babies and medical nightmares; for suburban men in prime spending years, lurid crime stories - our new, heavily coded means of talking about race - and, of course, a surfeit of turgid sports reporting.

Chris ConanglaYet, these same objections can be raised about the offerings over at the crime-crazed KSTP, where each evil deed committed in these Twin Cities is reported in the noisy, inchoate manner of a bad opera. Still, the notably clunkier production values at the Hubbard flagship ought to be awarded points for comedy.

The main anchor - hopelessly bland Chris Conagala - appears to have been cloned from the cells of a dead game show host. His co-host, googly-eyed Kalley King, seems to be trying, but that is the best that can be said of her. Perhaps these attacks come off as mean-spirited. But what nice thing can be said of a station which leads its broadcast with news of traffic at the airport (Nov. 25, 6:30 show). And what of Conagala's lead on that over-heated Newsweek retouched photo scandal? KSTP feigning outrage over someone else's breach of journalistic ethics? Egad!

But don't be so certain that KSTP represents the low spot in this sorry fraternity. Broadcasting from its sterile outpost in Eden Prairie, KMSP-9 peddles a maddening mix of inanities, all wrapped up in a bizarre, cyber-crazed packaging. The metro area's lone independent news station has embarked on a manic quest to establish itself as the hippest, most modern outfit in town. In the end, though, KMSP comes off more like someone's paunchy, middle-aged dad mired in a horrendous mid-life crisis. The "cutting edge" touches are really an embarrassment. Will your computing life, for instance, be improved with information on how to make the Pillsbury Dough Boy icon giggle? That's what they seem to think over at KMSP. Do "Nine Line" viewer responses to questions such as "Who would you like to give a lump of coal to this Christmas?" inspire thoughtful debate on the great public issues of the day?

Of course, we could not arrive at the quick answers to any of the questions which first gave rise to all this scrutiny. But, in our contemplation, we felt the unmistakable surge of mission. Thus, it was the Cursor was born - scornful in purpose, brimming with ankle-biting vitriol and poised to aim a sharpened lance squarely at the swollen boil on the ass of these Twin Cities. So now, without further introduction, let us examine the running puss.