I was slogging through my Saturday workout at the gym trying to balance and read a book on the elliptical while ignoring the three muted television sets on the wall. The gym’s owner usually starts the day with Fox News on the right, MSNBC on the left and HGTV in the middle. Democracy on full display.
When I glanced at MSNBC, the crawler read, “Who won the week?” It happened to be Joy Reid’s show, but it could have been any number of shows on any cable news network.
Gathered around her were a cluster of serious “experts and analysts” to break down the past five days for us proles living outside the East Coast babble beltway.
Did President Donald Trump win the week? Or did Nancy Pelosi? The suits were ready with answers — answers that mattered, most of all, well, to them.
Despite occasional forays to the Heartland, the insiders inside the echo chamber that is Washington have no earthly idea what happens west (or north or south) of the Potomac River — you know, that mysterious flyover country that tricked them in 2016.
Instead, much like our current president, they are consumed by their image, their current Q ratings and their next book deal.
Out here among the corn and soybean fields of the Midwest I have never heard anyone wonder which pol won the week. At my local gym, we avoid politics. It’s divisive and, besides, we are trying not to trigger atrial fibrillation. Now, if you want to talk about the fortunes of the Cubs and Cardinals, or who is on chemo, or whose parents just died, I can guarantee you a reality-based conversation.
Cable news sent me packing just after the release of the Mueller report. Up until then I was a devoted viewer of CNN and MSNBC. At 5 p.m. I would tune in to Wolf Blitzer as he announced (without a trace of emotion), “Happening now! Breaking news!” Then, in between the geezer ads, a parade of attractive correspondents and former this and thats would breathlessly announce how multiple, unnamed sources had just revealed that Mueller had unearthed something horrendous and impeachable. Wow! This was going to be as big as Stormy Daniels’ bust!
And most of the time it was a bust.
At 6 p.m. I would switch to MSNBC’s overly caffeinated Chris Matthews who, in between interrupting his guests, would follow the same playbook as CNN. Breaking news! Panel of well-connected (and well-fed) journalists! Somebody somewhere had something juicy and that something wasn’t looking good for that someone named Trump.
As someone who despises Trump, I was “all in” on every twitch of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. I thought the report would finally nail the oafish billionaire. The scoundrel would finally be disgraced on prime time.
Well, we know what happened with the release of the report. Nothing.
So I tuned out the chatter and my mental state has vastly improved. Now 5 p.m. is wine hour. If the humidity is decent and the mosquitoes have eaten their fill, my wife and I will sit out on our modest patio and listen to the cicadas, tree frogs and birdsong.
(Apparently I am not alone. Adweek Network’s TVNewser reported on July 30 that all three cable news channels were down 22% for prime time from the same date a year ago.)
So what have I missed on cable news besides countless mesothelioma and dubious medical cure-all commercials?
The House committees’ infinite subpoenas are DOA. Trump continues to raise his tiny middle finger to established standards of decency and to our Constitution. Michael Avenatti is MIA. Stormy might be dancing in the Quad Cities. Kellyanne is somehow still married.
Blitzer remains robotic. Matthews still shouts over his guests. Maddow is all smirk and snark. Hannity, Dobbs and Carlson continue to fill in nicely for the Three Stooges.
Perhaps by now you are wondering what does “winning the week” mean for this Midwesterner? Well, it means my 96-year-old mother-in-law makes it to the weekend without a nasty fall. Winning the week is trying to find a creative way to pay off mounting medical bills and, on a related topic, praying that my wife and I have enough money to live out the last third of our lives. Not being gunned down in a mass shooting always counts as a win.
And, if I can make it through the week without hearing or seeing the current leader of his own freak world, then I have truly won the week.
Stephen J. Lyons is the author of four books of essays and journalism. His most recent book is “Going Driftless: Life Lessons from the Heartland for Unraveling Times.” He wrote this article for the Chicago Tribune.