Perspective: The Circus That Is The Impeachment Inquiry

Troubled by the process and media coverage

Tim Wenger
November 20, 2019 - 9:02 pm

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Marv Levy once quipped, “Where would you rather be than right here, right now?” 

As the impeachment hearings were again underway in Washington Tuesday, that’s exactly how I felt as I followed David Bellavia around Buffalo city hall from one honor to the next and listened to his powerful words. David’s words were simple and real and carried more meaning than most of the political gamesmanship spouting from both sides of the aisle inside a formal hearing room on Capitol Hill.

Why would I even draw the comparison?

The very freedoms we all enjoy and the process unfolding on Capitol Hill are what David and so many others fought for.  And I can only imagine how hard it is for someone like David Bellavia to watch the political feeding-frenzy that’s underway as he travels the country and spotlights one of the true values of the US military, that politics has no place.

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Try to imagine these words, spoken by Bellavia Tuesday, coming from a politician on Capitol Hill: “You and I are going to  do this together.  If we open a door and see the face of the devil, we are going to go through it together, shoulder to shoulder.  That’s my obligation to you.”

The process of impeachment is political by nature, not legal.  The battle lines are drawn and the posturing and positioning is being done in the fairly lengthy ‘position statement’ line of questioning and not in the relatively brief answers being given.

And as it all unfolds, the media is feeding on it, to a point.   As one would expect, both Fox News and CNN are offering continuous coverage, regardless of how long the hearings go.  Their own brands of commentary are intermixed during breaks and after testimony concludes.

But what about the broadcast networks?  From the beginning, they promoted full coverage and referenced the financial commitment they would make in taking regular programming (and commercials) off the air to allow for the hearing coverage.

Why then did the coverage abruptly disappear on all three broadcast networks Tuesday later in the afternoon as the hearings continued?  The same thing occurred as the hearings went late Wednesday.  As the same testimony they pre-empted programming for during the day was going on, they broke away quietly and went into their local and network news programming, followed by the likes of Wheel of Fortune and then prime-time programming.  

The hearings continued.  The coverage didn’t.  Why?

The short answer is money. 

But even money would be overlooked if the coverage was truly drawing the one thing that can help overcome the economic hurdle, and that’s an overwhelming audience.  

Don’t get me wrong as I’m aware there is an audience.   But it’s not the interest level of something along the lines of the OJ trial and it’s certainly not something being presented in a style that America is accustomed to.  Succinct, clear and ‘to the point’ are not the best ways to characterize the hearings. And the political positioning on both sides is so obvious that it appears to be a ‘tune out’.  The public appears to be looking for the 280 character summation of the key points.

WBEN has decided to offer both an audio and video continuous and uninterrupted feed of the hearings online and provide four updates an hour on air when hearings are in session.  This decision allows us to be what we are first and foremost charged with, and that is being a local radio station with local stories and issues.  We can certainly revisit the coverage if events warrant.

I sat in a room full of network news decision-makers in Washington last week who appeared to be aghast at the notion that many radio stations wouldn’t offer the full-on, start to finish coverage that they would produce on the impeachment hearings. But life, outside the Beltway and across America, goes on.

It appears to me that the impeachment hearing coverage may be a great answer to daytime tv programming.  But prime time?  Not so much.


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