Why is cable news so stupid?

An old maxim (which I’ve seen attributed to Mark Twain – but what hasn’t been?) tells us “Never complain. Half the people won’t care, and the other half will figure you had it coming.”

Pardon me while I violate that rule.

After my appearance with Erin Burnett about the consulting assignment for cannabis legalization in Washington State, a producer at CNN emailed inviting me to come on again, today, with Fredricka Whitfield. She came across as very friendly and competent. We negotiated about how I would be identified (I explained why “pot czar” would be inaccurate). I had Oxford University Press FedEx a copy of Marijuana Legalization so CNN could put the cover on screen.

The interview itself went fine; straightforward questions, no giggling, no did-you-inhale. I got to make my key point – that every choice has disadvantages as well as advantages, and that the job of the consulting team is to help the Washington State Liquor Control Board understand the likely consequences of different choices – using the decision about the how many growers to license as an example. Brief, hardly profound, but basically OK.

That’s the good news. Everything else was bad news. The book was nowhere to be seen. They used exactly the same lead-in – Cheech & Chong, Bill Clinton not inhaling, some clips from the press conference with Steve Davenport deflecting the “How-many-of-you-smoke?” question – as they used before Erin Burnett, and during the interview there was background video of young people smoking and green cannabis plants. I guess I should be grateful the contract wasn’t to give advice on preventing teen pregnancy.

I’m coming to think that conventional explanations of the low intellectual quality of cable news might overestimate the importance of the networks trying to appeal to low-IQ, low-information viewers and underestimate the effects of sheer cheapness and laziness. CNN had that Cheech & Chong clip (which I’m told is technically called the “package,” and which does not go up on line) all made, so they used it, thus filling a couple of minutes of the downtime between commercial breaks without incurring any new expense or effort.

And with all of that, I think it was still worth going on. That’s the terrible thing.