Op-ed: Profoundly irritating cliches

  • By Bob Franken
  • Tuesday, September 8, 2015 5:55pm
  • Opinion

There are certain expressions so cliched that they are as irritating as fingernails on a blackboard. To be entirely honest, “fingernails on a blackboard” probably makes the list, although it’s a golden oldie. There are new ones that are high up on my snit parade (this might be read by the kiddies, so let’s stick with “snit”).

Do you agree that “It is what it is” currently heads the chart? It’s the current catchphrase to express resignation, that some bad reality can’t be corrected. We hear it from politicians who beg for millions of dollars from mega-rich donors while, at the same time, decrying all the big money needed to run a campaign. So they repeatedly say, “It is what it is.”

We hear it from the baseball manager who’s trying to deflect blame for his team blowing a game to a bad call by the umpire.

Another one that grates greatly is, “It’s not a sprint, but a marathon.” It’s usually offered up by the aforementioned baseball manager whose team has a dismal record, or the candidate who’s down in the polls and hemorrhaging donors. Sprint or marathon, he or she is running into a brick wall.

But nowhere is quite as cliche-ridden as TV news. I’m not talking about the sportscast, but the news part of the show. How many times have you watched a live shot from someone in a dicey situation and, at the end, the anchor, sitting in a nice, air-conditioned studio with worker bees tending to his or her every need, looks meaningfully in the camera and warns the reporter to “be safe” or something like that. I guarantee you that when I’ve been the one out there, I’ve wanted to snap back: “And how, other than pulling out of here, do you suggest that I be safe? Not that you care.” I’d prefer honestly like, “Don’t let the competition get better video.”

Another one, even snappier, is when someone has finished a story and the anchor seriously intones to the reporter, “That was a terrific job.” I always wanted to break down in tears and wail: “Do you really think so? Thank you so much. I feel so validated!”

My friend Keith Wallace at Voice of America has posted a Facebook rant listing some of his biggest irritants. Among Keith’s un-favorites is the intro from the presenter who’s throwing it live to the scene of a tragic event with, “Well, Bob, what’s the mood like there?” Did I mention that this was a tragic event? What would the mood be like? Elation?

There are so many others. Recently a local Washington station went bananas because its camera people got the only — i.e., “exclusive” — video of a dramatic arrest. Each and every report began not with the facts of the story but with some variation of “As you can see here only on Action Eyewitness News Center.” What was never pointed out was that the arrest just happened to occur a couple of blocks from its studios. But “first, fast and semi-factual” is always the name of the game.

In fact, “semi-factual” actually is being generous. How many times have we watched a news network got some Supreme Court decision flat-out wrong? Or some terrorist incident where someone was first with false information? That’s the problem. There’s this foolish race to always get something a nanosecond ahead of the competition, as if the viewers are sitting at home flicking between channels to determine which one beats the others. They aren’t, because they don’t really care. We shouldn’t either. After each and every debacle, the academics and journalistic moralists crawl out of their ivory towers to sanctimoniously state the obvious, that getting it right trumps getting it first.

You’d think we’d learn from our mistakes. But we don’t. We’ll do the same thing again. Yes, it is what it is.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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