Cable News Time-Sense Disorder: Have You Been Afflicted?

A headline about President Donald Trump is shown outside Fox News studios.

It’s a well-documented fact that excessive cable news viewing can be harmful to the human psyche. In susceptible individuals, it can lead to a state of chronic outrage, and place the sufferer in thrall to an unending barrage of news cycles from which he or she is unable to disengage. This can be especially true for left-wingers in the age of Trump, but conservatives are not immune.

What is lesser known is that such viewership can alter the perception of time itself.

The segmentation of broadcast journalism can lead to a condition wherein the delivery of information and the expectation of commercial breaks result in the permanent redirection of more naturally-rhythmic and integrated synoptic absorption.

It’s kind of like a time-sense disorder, only with Brian Kilmeade.

Brilliant playwright and screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky explored the phenomenon of “thinking like the tube” in the Academy Award-winning film Network. In one of the film’s more quietly climactic scenes, network executive Max Schumacher (William Holden) walks out of a relationship with inextricably-programmed programming director Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) saying, “You’re madness, Diana. Virulent madness.”

That may be an overstatement in terms of the news cables, but some people do get hooked on a syndrome that morphs their perfectly reasonable interest in staying abreast of the news into an addiction. In extreme cases, the afflicted viewer can integrate the mannerisms and style of the shows he or she is watching into daily life.

I knew I was at risk when I started using the cable news technique of cueing panelists by first and last names when planning get-togethers with family and friends: “OK, so Henry Zeidman, you’re bringing the briquettes and lighter fluid, right?”

Cable news time-sense disorder can short-circuit the ability of obsessive viewers to sit by and listen to the flow of social conversations. There’s a marked tendency to experience open-ended interactions as frustrating, and in dire need of being encapsulated into “blocks.” I’ve gotten to the point where I know when my brother is embarking on an extended anecdote and usually move to intervene.

Disclosure: with me, it’s Fox News. I simply cannot watch the segmented idiocy of the liberal cables. If I don’t see Anderson Cooper on the Ingraham Angle, I won’t see Anderson Cooper at all. And I’m fine with that.

Conservative bubble? Echo chamber? Perhaps, at times. But Fox also has Chris Wallace, Doug Schoen, and that liberal sherpa lady, Cathy Areu.

It all started with Bill O’ Reilly. So iconic became the host during the O’Reilly Factor’s 21-year run that his stylistic flourishes found their way into the everyday linguistics of inveterate viewers. If I had a nickel for every time I ended a declarative sentence with the phrase, “What say you?” during the O’Reilly years, I would donate them to the Trump 2020 campaign.

I’m squarely situated within the older FNC demographic. Most weekday mornings, the first thing I hear after waking up is, “Hi, I’m William Devane.”

Younger conservatives who complain that Fox News isn’t conservative enough must be apprised of what network conservative analysis looked like before FNC debuted in 1996. There were few right-wingers on TV. William F. Buckley was always great, with the whole darting tongue and tilted head thing. And they’d bring Pat Buchanan on now and then to illustrate the dangers of leaning too far right. But by and large, in those days, television news commentary wasn’t just part of a vast wasteland, it was also almost exclusively a left-leaning wasteland.

The advent of Fox News was boon to the conservative cause, no question. Similarly, CNN and MSNBC came to serve as the Democratic Party’s house organs. But whether a person is conservative or liberal, GOP, Democrat, or something else, it is important that they modulate the amount of cable news they consume, and take precautions against such news dispersal reorienting their modes of cognition.

You don’t want to end up being the news junkie version of Diana Christensen.

Recently, I turned to my elderly mother, whom I felt was being excluded from a family discussion, and said to her, “Thoughts?”

“No,” she answered back.

Mom is wise not to be drawn into a cable news interview-like interaction. There are real issues that need to be discussed in life, meaningful conversations, and even frivolous ones, that must be allowed to breathe, and take their own un-segmented tributaries.

I’m trying to be a good open-ended listener. To ignore the cable news programming clock that has been inculcated into my brain. To escape the sense that there is a commercial coming, and that people need to make their points in a timely manner.

But when my brother gets going, it’s really hard, just agonizing.

Mark Ellis the author of A Death on the Horizon, a novel of political upheaval and cultural intrigue. He came aboard at PJ Media in 2015. His literary hangout is Liberty Island. Follow Mark on Twitter.