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The Practice Corner: Weigh in On This

by Daniel DeWoskin
Trial Attorney

My mother was in town this week from Florida. Unlike my wife and me, my mother is drawn to opinion shows that run on news networks. Notice that I did not say news shows that run on opinion networks. I will try to compose my thoughts in this article without leaning towards the left or the right, if you will. It simply strikes me as strange that given how little time I have to myself these days, others with equally scarce time spend it listening nightly to the opinions that others have on political or social issues.

As an attorney, like many of you, I have a compelling interest in the opinions of judges, juries, clients, and others in my community on many political, social, and economic topics. I am fascinated by the opinions held by these people as well as the underlying reasons for their opinions. Not only do I study and internalize these opinions to better understand my environment and my awareness of those around me, but I maintain an open mind as I listen and can even change my mind on a particular subject.

However, my mother, and millions of other people on a daily basis, tunes in at night to talking heads to hear what their take is on how the president is doing, or what some poll tells us about upcoming elections. Being a good host, I did not interfere with what she wanted to watch, but did ask what it was she liked so much about the particular shows she turned on. After all, she conceded that there is little new information that she gleaned from the shows after reading the paper and watching national news, both of which she does often. Thus, the only thing she gets out of the shows is the opinion of the shows’ hosts and perhaps that of a former politician or “expert.”

As I stated earlier, I am not making a political statement in this article, or certainly that is not my goal. Who is Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, or Rachel Maddow? Depending on who the audience is, they are either idiots or charismatic patriots speaking up on current events. Each night, they all must fill their time slots with attention-grabbing topics and commentary. This cannot be easy, especially if their topic fails to appeal to the vast majority of their audiences.

I personally watch “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart and sometimes “The Colbert Report,” depending on how early I have to wake up the next day. What I see as a difference between these types of shows and Nancy Grace’s program, or Chris Matthews’ program, is that they are comedic in their presentation. I better understand the entertainment value of these programs than those where I am supposed to be stunned by political incompetence or how some elected official insulted her base with an offhand remark. I am not watching news and that is not what I expect to get from Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert.

Getting back to my mother’s visit, after watching one of these opinion shows, I felt like I had lost an hour of my life. I won’t get it back. Sure, the commentator had some good points and some that were not so good. In all honesty, I was probably more entertained when I was in disagreement with a point than in agreement. Still, what strikes me as odd about all these shows is how there is so little that viewers can take away. Am I missing something?

Everyone has an opinion. When I am before a jury, or a judge, or even dealing with opposing counsel and parties in my cases, I have to be mindful, receptive, and understanding of all the opinions. I have to be respectful of these opinions or I do a disservice to myself and my clients. When I leave work and find myself at home, I try to fill my time with constructive activities that enlighten or amuse me. I am not trying to be judgmental about people who watch these shows because I personally find more entertainment in watching reruns of situation comedies I have seen many times before. So, I write this article not with some high-brow elitist attitude towards the millions of folks tuning in to opinion shows, but a curiosity as to what is so captivating about them.

Rachel Maddow is a Rhodes Scholar, I hear. Glenn Beck loves his country and is routinely moved to tears when thinking about what the current administration is doing to it. Keith Olberman is angry about everything and how stupid politicians can be. Why do we care? As passionate as I may be about what they are talking about, at the end of each of these shows, I have never felt like I have done much more than kill an hour or two. And don’t even get me started on reality TV. Then again, that’s just my opinion.

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