This is Chapter Three of a three part short story on a Free Press
Charles was startled awake again from his sleep, but this time it was his alarm. Charles never pushed the snooze button, but today he indulged himself. He deserved another 8 minutes of sleep. He remembered his dreams vividly, but did not comprehend the meaning behind the visits. For some reason, he expected another ghostly apparition, but the third had not arrived and for that he was grateful.
These ghosts made him think and more importantly he had lost some sleep. He needed to look good today of all days to read the news. All of the world would be watching, ok he had to admit to himself that his ratings were steadily dropping, but at least his numbers were better than Katie’s.
Charles’ morning routine was normal and he watched Fox and Friends as he dressed. “It’s good to keep an eye on the competition.” He justified to himself. He did choose to wear the shirt with button sleeves. “Cuff links might seem too high brow for my audience.” He thought. He wanted to look good, but closer to the common people he’d seen on television.
Charles grabbed his briefcase and headed for the door. As he opened it, he had to stifle a gasp as the world around him looked vastly different. Charles grasped the handrail, sat down, and took a few minutes to gather himself from the shock. He looked up and down the street and his upscale neighborhood was no longer upscale. “It looks like Middle America.” He thought to himself.
“This is Middle America.” A voice beside him chimed in. “This is the part of the country that you fly over and pretend does not exist.” Charles immediately relaxed as he now knew that this was another, his third, apparition and not really happening. Charles half expected to find himself back in his bedroom with this new stranger. “Do I know you?” Charles asked the ghost. “I am the ghost of Pressmas Future.” The man replied. “You may call me Matt.”
Matt chuckled at Charles’s naiveté and responded, “I am part of the new media so you probably would look down at me. You might be surprised, however, to know that I probably Drudge up more daily hits to my web site that you have viewers. I had 131 million views last month alone. Not bad for a guy you think sits at home in front of his computer in his underwear?”
Charles started, “I know all about you boogers..” Matt interrupted, “Bloggers.” “Yes, yes bloggers.” Charles replied testily, “My company has many of its own web sites. We are on the cutting edge of technology.” Matt interrupted again, “I am sure that you have the best sites that money can buy. Too bad nobody looks at them. It is not about the technology, it is about the trust. I basically run my web site alone and have gathered a wide audience. I know that some of your staff visits my site.”
“I find that hard to believe” Charles protested, “We have real newsmen, sorry newspersons, who would not lower themselves to read your drivel. Frankly I am also tired of hearing you ghosts go on and on about our credibility. My network is not biased. We have Elizabeth Hasselblad..” “Hasselbeck” interrupted Matt, “I know, I know. Hasselhoff” Charles testily replied, “We even put one of you conservatives on prime time. Give me a break; we have John Stossel on our network!”
“I am not here to argue with you.” Claimed Matt, “I am here to show you the future; the future of your industry. Unfortunately for you we don’t get to go to exotic places like you did with Thomas or Walter.” Charles interrupted “Wait, you get to call him Walter too?” Matt shook his head and continued, “I know that you start your day watching Fox and Friends so you would not have noticed this morning that the network morning shows that you were used to in your time have all combined. It is called the America Today Early Show. It is hosted by Keith Olberman and Chris Matthews and oddly enough Willard Scott is still on.”
“The television networks were like the stringed quartet on the sinking Titanic, playing the same music as the ship went down. They could not see the forest for the trees, they had their heads in the sand, they were not playing with a full deck.” Charles interrupted, “That was far too many clichés for my taste.”
“That’s my point.” Matt added, “The broadcast television networks became a cliché. Rest is rust. Sorry, I had one more cliché that I wanted to get in. You might find solace in the knowledge that the networks did regain some of their ratings before their demise. It is a dubious distinction, but ratings increased after your big Obamacare broadcast at the White House.”
“You mean people watched and came back to network news?” Charles hoped, “I knew the critics were wrong, it was not a propaganda show. We asked the tough questions…didn’t we?”
Matt seemed puzzled then replied, “That’s right, in your world, you haven’t done the broadcast yet. This ghost thing and being in your head is rather confusing for me. Sorry, I didn’t mean to say “Rather.” Rathergate still probably stings even though it was another network.”
Angered, Charles replied, “Dan stepped over the line on that one. He should have never provided the memos. It would have been enough to claim the memos and never show them. He was just plain stupid.”
Matt, again shaking his head, continued, “Well speaking of stupid, your network really did Dan one better. You totally misread the American people. You feigned some tough questions, but the White House knew what the questions were going to be. I have always been curious about whether you provided Obama with the questions ahead of time. Did you? It really doesn’t matter as most people believed that is what you did.”
“So what about the bump in viewership?” Charles inquired, “Tell me about the bump. I was getting tired of having ratings in the tank.”
“You did get a bump for a while, but you are not going to like the reason.” Matt replied, “Viewers were so disgusted with the apparent duplicity you lost what little credibility that you had. A few weeks after your broadcast, a blogger started an internet contest called Bias Bingo. Folks paid for and downloaded” Seeing the puzzled look on Charles’s face Matt added, “That means got a file from the internet. So people downloaded their Bias Bingo cards. Instead of numbers, each square contained an item of bias or liberal talking point that could be seen on your newscasts.”
“Your ratings increased as viewers played Bias Bingo on their laptops while watching your broadcasts. The company went broke as there were too many winners. You were actually more biased than even they anticipated. After that, your only viewers were college students who were required by their professor to watch for current events. As those professors went to the great protest in the sky (or ground) no one watched.” Matt continued, “The government argued that you were too big to fail, gave you Stimulus money, appointed a czar, and ran the networks for a while, but they could not force anyone to watch. They tried, but that Constitution kept getting in the way”
Charles was dismayed and asked, “What happened to me?” Matt answered, “You landed on your feet and have a good career, but let me finish first.” With that, they found themselves back in Charles’ bedroom and the television was still tuned to Fox News. “Fox News had been steadily gaining market share even before your fateful broadcast. That trend actually tipped as people realized that Fox was actually fair and balanced. You main stream media guys had actually protested too much.”
Charles turned toward the television as he heard a familiar voice. It was Charles Krauthammer discussing President Palin’s new tax cuts. “We were very fortunate that we only had one term before President Palin was swept into office. The country was ready for a tax change and her call for a Fair Tax is gaining momentum.” Krauthammer said as he turned to his colleague on the All Star Panel. “So Barrack, what do you think about the president’s tax proposal?”
Charles’s mind went a little numb and he did not hear the response. He was shaken to the core of his beliefs and world view. As his mind started to swirl, his reverie was interrupted as he heard his voice on the television. He turned expecting to see himself as part of the Panel, but the program had gone to commercial.
Charles turned white and passed out as he heard his voice pitch, “If you act now, we will double the number of ShamWows that we will send you for the same price. In order to take advantage of this, you will need to have your credit card ready and call within the next thirty….