A significant collection of previously published pieces of boob-tube analysis, by the retired Pulitzer Prize–winning critic for the Los Angeles Times.
Rosenberg is the real thing—a serious, thoughtful, lucent writer whose lowbrow beat appears almost incongruous. He’s assembled these pieces in four loose categories, each with its own introduction: TV news, trash TV, politics and politicians on TV, and TV’s vanishing icons (Raymond Burr, Charles Kuralt, et al.). The first section is savage: even Walter Cronkite pales under Rosenberg’s bright light. We read here about innocent Richard Jewell, hounded by a press corps convinced he was involved in the Olympic bombing in 1996. We laugh as Rosenberg wonders at the media’s fascination with the nose of Paula Jones. We wince at the keenness of the edge of Rosenberg’s prose: Bill O’Reilly is a “self-inflating gasbag.” And the reality show The Bachelor? “[R]eal guy, real babes, real dumb.” Older pieces consider the coverage of the fall of the Berlin Wall and an on-air suicide in 1993. Patent throughout is the author’s disdain for the focus of TV news, for the vacuity of anchors, for the prominence of violence, sex, and celebrity. The “trash TV” section is generally light and even hilarious. Sally Jesse Raphael, crocodile-hunter Steve Irwin, and Dennis Rodman find little favor with Rosenberg, and his mercenary assault on NBC’s 1999 two-part film about Noah’s Ark ends with the ironic question: “Where is Charlton Heston when you really need him?” The political pieces praise the media-savvy of Presidents Reagan and Clinton—and Rosenberg argues in a couple of places for live TV broadcasts of executions. More poignant are two pieces about the two space shuttle disasters. And he takes a couple of parting shots at the media coverage of the deaths of Princess Di and JFK Jr.
Newton Minow may have been the first to call TV a “vast wasteland,” but no one has mapped its terrain more thoroughly and starkly than Rosenberg.