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On the all-news channels, the drumbeat of anti-Obama blood lust

This Obama guy is toast. Totally, totally toast.

While we await the arrival of the new fall shows from U.S. network and cable channels, anyone paying attention to American TV isn't actually short of drama. Bit of a deficit in comedy, perhaps, but not high-stakes drama.

And the most galvanizing drama on TV right now is the excited news coverage of the emergence of Republican presidential candidates. In the way these things flow, a narrative is now racing forward like a runaway train. It can't be stopped. There's a buzz candidate who can win, Texas Governor Rick Perry, and blood lust to bring down U.S. President Barack Obama.

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Studying Fox News, CNN and MSNBC coverage over the past week has been a bracing experience. There's not much nuance to the coverage (there rarely is on the U.S. all-news channels), but there's plenty of venom and an established subplot to the narrative – Barack Obama is a one-term president.

This all became abundantly clear on the weekend, with Obama on vacation and Perry marking one week on the campaign trail. Perry has had this interesting strategy of essentially ignoring much of the media, a tactic that compels the all-news channels simply to air his speeches, unfiltered.

There he was, on CNN and Fox News, belittling Obama's withdrawal strategy from Afghanistan and Iraq. "I think the President made a huge mistake by signalling the enemy that we're gonna leave at a particular time," Perry said. "That's bad public policy but more importantly, it put our kids in harm's way." It's tough-talking military guy, pro-"our kids" stuff.

Meanwhile, on the Sunday morning political chat shows, various pro-Obama pundits showed up to get thrashed. Why was the guy on a 10-day vacation? Asked about this on Fox News, Bill Burton, former deputy press secretary to President Obama, said, "Well, for starters, I don't know that there's a fair-minded person in this country who doesn't think that the President shouldn't go with his family to spend a couple of days before his girls go back to school."

What was peculiar about this was the use of the term "fair-minded." At this juncture in the narrative, and especially on the all-news channels, there are no "fair-minded" people. None. It is now the accepted reality in American politics that there are no moderates left standing, and one suspects that also applies to the viewing audience of these channels.

I have a theory about what's happening in the all-news coverage of U.S., politics right now. Pundits and reporters have absorbed the energy and ardour of the Arab Spring revolutions and are channelling that ardour into the context and coverage of U.S. politics. There's this odd, under-the-surface sense that the ruler – Obama – will be overthrown. It's as if this has become an orthodoxy.

In part, this is the influence of the Tea Party activists. Their relentless sense of grievance and the fact that their very name is anchored in the American colonial tax revolts against Britain of the 1770s help fuel this sensibility of resentment that can only be satisfied by not just unseating an elected politician but by demolishing his rule.

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A glimpse into the strangeness of U.S. politics and the fevered coverage of it came last month when several MSNBC anchors talked to TV critics in Los Angeles. Now, MSNBC spends a lot of time attacking Republicans, even mocking them, but when asked if they believed that Obama would be re-elected next year, the anchors' answers were revealing. Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O'Donnell predicted he would be, but they were cautious and not entirely certain. Chris Matthews, who has been particularly vigorous in his disdain for Mitt Romney (he called him "a mood ring" who changes his policies daily) and who essentially jeered Michele Bachmann, was far more direct and dubious about Obama's chances.

"I think it's about him," Matthews said, referring to the President. He suggested that the weaknesses of Republican candidates might not matter – "People find a way of liking the alternative if they don't really like what they have."

Indeed. And as this strangely beguiling drama unfolds now, it looks like all the all-news channels are stoking dislike of Obama. It's a drama, it's showbiz of a sort, but there's a lust for this drama to end, as the TV coverage of events in part of the Arab world tend to end, with an overthrow.

Toast. The guy's toast. That's the message right now in this TV drama.


Remote Control War (CBC, 9 p.m. on Doc Zone) is a repeat, but a must-see if you missed it. It's a deeply serious and troubling look at the use of robotics in war. It's pointed out at the start that, "For the first time in human history, it is possible to kill someone on the other side of the planet in real time, by remote control." We are all familiar with examples of video-game warfare and we've seen stomach-churning footage of someone in the United States zero in and kill people in Iraq. Here, however, we get a broad-based discussion of the phenomenon. It's pointed out that robotics can save lives, but the question is also raised of who, if machines are conducting war, is ultimately responsible. Can a war crime be committed by a machine?

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More

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