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Do commentators fill a void, or create one?

One thing you may have noticed about the world in which we now live is that there are more commentators today than ever before in history. In the old days, that job title carried with it an aura of influence and respect. Almost every newspaper had a commentator or two, but there were always more on radio or television. Perhaps that was because people believed it was more revealing to actually hear or see the person making the comments, rather than just to read them in print.
 
Yes, commentators were admired. Attention was paid to their comments. People usually had a favorite commentator, or maybe two. However, since commenting is, by definition, an opinionated occupation, most people found far more commentators whose opinions they disdained compared with those they acclaimed.
 
The onslaught of commentators today is not due to an increase in the number of persons who consider themselves well-informed and credible enough to fill that role. There have always been people with strong opinions. The abundance of the current supply is because there are so many more openings for commentators.
 
The major opportunities are at the cable TV channels and on the Internet. The cable news channels make a living with their round-the-clock newscasts, yet any objective observer would tell you there is often far more opinion than news. The news channels have created spectacular opportunities for those seeking a forum for the presentation of pro or con on virtually any subject.
 
Certain of the cable news channels attract their regular viewers primarily because of their partisan rhetoric, not their objectivity. The TV networks, still dazed by the cable attack on the news, which the networks once considered their turf, responded with more comments and less news.
 
I’ll get to the Internet in a moment. First let me say a word about the daily newspapers. We all know that newspapers are struggling to find a way to survive as advertising and circulation dwindle, while they are being accused of delivering yesterday’s news today.
 
With a few prominent exceptions, they struggle to publish material that has not been previously distributed by their 24/7 competition. One solution is more commentators to help fill the void.
 
They are still clothed in the garb of the objective journalist, but when the occasion presents itself, they, too, have devolved from reporters to commentators.
 
Why, just the other day I skipped over a sappy column of opinion masquerading as news. I’m sure you’ve had the same experience.
 
With this torrent of comment swirling around me, I happened to think of my grandfather, Mike, who drove a Buick as a salesman on the road and who favored Garcia y Vega cigars and a couple fingers of scotch, no ice. He had a useful word to describe such writings and declamations, a noun he employed quite frequently. I just thought of it recently; you don’t ever hear it today. It’s a solid four letters: b-u-n-k. Bunk.
 
"That’s a lot of bunk," he would frequently conclude, after reading of a mayoral assertion or a presidential declaration.
 
He was nonpartisan in ascribing the use of bunk to public figures, as well as the popular newspaper pundits of the day. I was too young to have any opinions on the matters that aroused his ire, but I became an ardent observer.
 
Before I used the word "bunk" in print, I looked it up to make sure of its precise meaning. As I thought, it means nonsense. Since there is such a profusion of commentary today, I thought it might be appropriate to resurrect the term and offer it as an apt description of some of the material we see, hear and read.
 
It actually is a truncated version of the word "bunkum," coined around 1820 after the congressman from Buncombe County, N.C., gave a rambling and nonsensical speech in Congress. That speech was described as buncombe, entered the language as bunkum and, finally, bunk. The term "debunk" came a century later.
 
If you find "bunk" to be objectionable as blunt and antiquated for contemporary use, there are plenty of alternatives that can be found under the general heading of nonsense.
 
Here are a few of the most appealing you may wish to clip and save: rubbish, gibberish, twaddle, hogwash, baloney, drivel, claptrap and gobbledygook. You probably have heard a few others I cannot list here. Take your pick.
 
No, I never considered myself a commentator. I haven’t yet decided exactly what I am; I’m still evolving.

Dick Hirsch is a frequent contributor to the Opinion page.

 

8/19/11 (c) 2011 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

 

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