If the Fox News Channel has taught us anything, it's that opinions are priceless. That network has built a billion dollar dynasty on dissuasion - whether you approve of its tactics or not. While many Americans make up their own minds and decide for themselves what they think and what they believe in, many millions more prefer to be told what to think and what to believe in by people they trust. There's no judgement in that statement. It's fact and FNC's ratings are all the proof you need. While I have absolutely zero tolerance for a news outlet to slant its news coverage and/or alter the facts to further one political agenda, I believe there absolutely is a place for opinion in a newscast.
Long before FNC began postulating its point-of-view, a few local stations had discovered the art of commentary. I'm not talking about those general managers who do an awkward, one-minute editorial at the end of a newscast urging you to consider voting for a new waste water treatment plant. I'm talking about true and passionate opinion shared by people you know and like - your local news anchors. Anchorman Jerry Springer's commentaries during News 5 each evening on Cincinnati's NBC affiliate had a direct bearing on the station rising from worst to first in the ratings during the mid-'80's. I was there. I watched every day as Jerry would pace the hallways that encircled the newsroom, trying to find just the right words to express his feelings. Whether those feelings were about Marge Schott's racial insensitivity, President Reagan reinstituting the draft, or Coke's decision to invent a "new Coke", Jerry had an opinion. He expressed them well and in no uncertain terms. And every evening, I was one of the newsroom staff assigned to "phone duty" - answering the barrage of calls from viewers who either agreed or disagreed with Jerry's assessment of any given situation. Those were the days before voice mail, when phones would truly "light up" like a Christmas tree - flashing lights on every phone line. Those lights clearly demonstrated to me just how powerful one point-of-view can be. Jerry built a $50-million dollar career on his opinions - and his "Final Thought". Here - see for yourself.
I love that final zoom-in at the end of each commentary. So powerful. WLWT compiled the best of Jerry's thousands of commentaries into a book for viewers to order. The printer couldn't keep up with the demand.
Just a few hundred miles north sat another anchorman who was beloved by the blue collar viewers of Detroit. Bill Bonds had his ups and downs splattered all over the media - his DUI arrests, his offer to fistfight corrupt Mayor Coleman Young, and his infamous interview with Utah Senator Orrin Hatch caused viewers to tune in in droves. They loved Bonds because he was "one of them". The Hatch interview is simply too good not to view now.
His commentaries were just as legendary. Bonds did one about mercy killing just the day after his younger brother Johnny died - Johnny's doctor had "pulled the plug". Remember, Detroit was the home of Jack Kevorkian, the right-to-die and physician-assisted suicide activist who'd recently been convicted of helping to kill an elderly woman in his minivan. Bill wondered which "God" would meet his brother in Heaven - Jesus? Buddha? Allah? Or perhaps a Moonie? And then his point, in one simple sentence:
"Do you really believe that God believes that men should be making laws that tell you when you have suffered enough - and it's not for you and your doctor to decide?"
Wow. What news anchor today would have the balls to use such a personal tragedy to make a greater point? Name one. I can't.
I now want to show you a commentator who very recently went viral with his thoughts about ISIS. Walee Aly isn't technically a news anchor. He's a "presenter" on an Australian "news done differently" show on Channel Ten called The Project. The show promotes itself this way:
"The Project is the simplest idea in television for a long time. Each weekday at 6:30pm, the team dissect, digest and reconstitute each days' news".
What Aly said - straight into the camera following the terrorist attacks in Paris - was astounding.
That is brilliant television - whether inside a newscast or not. How can you NOT watch people like this?
Now, on to one final commentator. She's Judge Jeanine Pirro. She hosted her own "judge" show on the CW, but now hosts Justice With Judge Jeanine on Fox News Channel. And yes, she's slamming our liberal president. But put all of your FNC baggage, if you so harbor any, in your pocket for a moment. What the Judge delivers here I can only describe as a jaw-dropping.
I don't care which side of the proverbial fence you pee on... that was brilliant television. Her points were on target, backed up by fact, and one direct hit after another on the President. Remember, this is a Lebanese/American woman attacking the President. Not just some white blowhard who gets paid per opinion on Hannity or O'Reilly's show. That's what makes it all the more poignant.
Local news directors steer clear of commentary. They do so because they have never seen its dramatic affect on ratings. They do so because they may not have an anchor capable of writing a powerful commentary and delivering with the passion required to be effective. I recently asked a news anchorwoman to record a test commentary - one that wouldn't air - but one that we could look at to see if she was capable of pulling it off. She had to call her agent for permission. Permission denied. Case closed. With such conclusive proof that opinions make careers, why do so many news people deny themselves the freedom to express? Springer's proven it. Opinions are profitable. Sure, the phones will no longer ring like they did in Cincinnati with the arrival of voicemail. But with all these new platforms for viewers to find you on, your perspective is too priceless to keep to yourself.