SAN DIEGO -- Much of cable television has become toxic. The poison comes from overheated primetime shows that blend together things that don’t mix: news, analysis and opinion.
I’ve been a guest on these shows on multiple networks for more than 15 years, dating back to my first appearance on Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor.” Bill O’Reilly and I would argue, but always with mutual respect. He never cut me off, shouted me down or dumped me from a segment. He often gave me the last word. O’Reilly was unpredictable, like the time that he told then-presidential candidate Donald Trump that changing the 14th Amendment to eliminate birthright citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants was unwise and unconstitutional. That kept things interesting.
Lately, I’ve lost interest in every single nighttime cable news offering. My wife -- who has traveled this road with me over the years -- calls the current roster of programs “clown shows.” But that is an insult to clowns.
In recent months, I’ve turned down invitations to appear on MSNBC shows where the producers wanted me to criticize Trump for his immigration crackdown, which is stoking fear and separating families. Glad to do it. But I don’t remember many segments on MSNBC during the previous administration where guests criticized Barack Obama for his immigration crackdown, which stoked fear and separated families.
I’ve also rejected requests from CNN, because the network seems so deeply invested in its increasingly personal mud-wrestling match with Trump that most of its anchors, reporters and commentators are incapable of giving the president even an ounce of credit when it’s due. They gloss over scandals involving Democrats, while piling on every misstep by the White House. When settling scores with Team Trump, truth comes second.
As for Fox News, where I appear most often, letting Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham drone on about immigration just about every night -- in the most simplistic and dishonest manner -- shows about as much sound judgment as giving your 16-year-old a bottle of liquor and the keys to the car. Both hosts are rude, snarky, condescending and full of themselves.
I wouldn’t mind them talking about immigration so much if they actually understood the subject. They don’t. For one thing, since both Carlson and Ingraham work in Washington, geography works against them. If you want to learn about immigration, you can’t do it from the banks of the Potomac River. You’re better off on the Rio Grande. The Fox News hosts’ schtick is shallow, dismissive and one-dimensional. Instead of challenging people, they go easy on them. No thinking required, feeling will suffice. The hosts are good communicators, but they don’t seem very smart. And they’re not making their viewers any smarter either. Worse, when they talk about immigration, they don’t mind pushing people’s buttons and coddling racists who think Latino immigrants hurt America.
These shows chalk up ratings by focusing on hot-button topics that are driven by emotion. They produce discussions that viewers come to with preformed points of view in search of validation. They oversimplify everything, which short-changes viewers and leaves them ill-prepared to confront opposing views on the rare occasions that they venture outside their bubbles.
Meanwhile, the audience has been divided into silos. Conservatives flock to Fox News. Liberals cling to MSNBC. And if you’re an anti-Trump Democrat who likes to pretend that you’re in the middle of the road, CNN welcomes you.
These shows should inform the public -- not push agendas or pander to constituents. Producers, bookers and hosts have been reduced to brazen opportunists, keenly aware of the political leanings of viewers and feverishly tossing them red meat.
It is enough to make you want to become a vegetarian.
We probably won’t see a CNN host tell her viewers that there is no such thing as “Russian collusion,” or that the GOP tax cuts help the economy. Likewise, we’re not likely to hear a Fox News host tell the members of his core audience that there is no such thing as a “level playing field” in the trade debate or a “sanctuary city” when discussing immigration.
Such honesty, maturity and sophistication might cause viewers to change the channel. The networks can’t have that. With so many other choices about how to spend their time, folks might not find their way back.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app.