It was a two-story, unfinished, disheveled and much loved house on a quiet street in a little Texas town. That was the first place I remember starting my mornings with The Today Show. Waiting my turn in the bathroom or shoveling corn flakes in my mouth at our old red table I would watch whatever Jane Pauley and Bryant Gumble were talking about. Some of it I understood. Some of it I didn’t. But, I understood it was all about us. Us meaning Americans. And, I liked the feeling. I liked the way Jane’s eyes crinkled at the corners and I liked Bryant Gumbel’s grin. They were a part of the routine of my day. Alarm clocks, my parent’s voices in the kitchen, jeans not dry in the dryer and The Today Show.
So, when I went off to college I took The Today Show with me. Then it became Katie Couric with her bright smile and, still, Bryant Gumble with his dry humor that woke me up for my 8:00 A.M. class. Many mornings I would get dressed with the stress of being late and that theme song playing in the background. I started to understand a little more what they were talking about and mostly didn’t care. There were cute boys to smile at in my Psychology class and I was too young to believe anything really bad could happen. At least I didn’t believe it until the Gulf War started. Then, it was a group of us gathered around a TV in someone’s apartment trying to figure out what it all meant. Ramen noodles and worry and The Today Show. That’s how I remember those days. I felt my immortality for the first time. And, not only mine, but those of the young people around me. All of a sudden, life changed. A little of our carefree spirit was gone and The Today Show changed for me too. I started to watch it like an adult. I needed them to give me information I could use. Information that could frame the way I viewed my world. And, they did. I was a faithful viewer. I watched and kept watching.
I was still watching in 2001 when 9/11 happened. That morning. Who can forget it? It was a sunny New Mexico day and I had my windows open to the morning light. I was curling my little daughter’s hair. Springy, blonde curls that were so fine I burned my fingers each time to hold them onto the curling iron. It was my own children’s corn flake and homework morning and The Today Show was on. Katie Couric was still there with her warm smile and now Matt Laurer was there too. We liked him then. He was a good thing to wake up to every morning and, when I needed them, they both got me through that horror. That feeling of watching those planes hit and fellow Americans die. I didn’t sleep in my own bed for weeks, because I was afraid I might miss some news I needed. Some little bit of information that I could use to protect my family. And, through it all, our television was tuned to NBC. They were Americans just like us. Their grief was ours and we were all on the same team. Lots of other things were broken in the world, but not that. Not that morning staple that had been with me my whole life. That was something I could count on. America’s morning show. As American as apple pie and baseball. And, even though I knew I liked President Bush and some people didn’t, I still felt like there was a place for me in The Today Show’s audience. We might disagree, but we were all Americans. The same except for our differences and that didn’t really matter. Because being American superseded that. Or at least I thought it did. I truly believed I mattered as a viewer to The Today Show.
I thought that for a really long time. Until I didn’t. One day, I don’t even know when, I faced the painful reality that I was not a viewer that The Today Show cared about. I guess it must have been in my mid-thirties when I realized that my concerns weren’t being represented in the news pieces wedged between the light interviews with celebrities and recipes for whole-wheat pancakes. For instance, the issue of abortion. This was an issue fundamentally important to me and I never saw a story that represented the way I felt about it. Instead, with deliberately chosen words and stories, there was always a hand in the middle of my back pushing me toward the conclusion they had reached. There was only one right way to feel about the issue and it was theirs. I would watch in the mornings as I drank a cold cup of coffee and waited for my teen-ager to find her books or favorite pair of shoes and feel a frustration building in my gut. Eventually, I accepted that I was never going to be represented in their reporting. I had no choice but to conclude that my half of America was irrelevant to them. This puzzled me, because my journalism professor had made me, a young aspiring writer, rewrite news stories over and over until she couldn’t discern my point of view. It was hard to keep myself out of my words, but I understood that it was the difference between news reporting and writing fiction. Ultimately, I decided news was not what I was meant to do. I have too many feelings to keep them out of my writing. My feelings are my words. But, for those that chose the other path, I really wanted them to adhere to that standard. I really wanted The Today Show to tell the story of the half of America that supports abortion and then I wanted them to tell mine. They never did. Not about that issue and not about many, many others. But, I kept watching. I’m loyal. The same lady has cut my hair for years. I always shop at the same grocery store. I am that person. I kept hoping that, maybe, someday their journalism teacher would call them all on the carpet and tell them their feelings were showing up in what was supposed to be news. Your chocolate is in my peanut butter. That type of thing. But, it didn’t happen.
Now, I am in my 50s and I still tune in every morning. I keep hoping to see some fragment of how I feel reflected fairly in their reporting. I’m beginning to think I should just go join all those folks looking for the Loch Ness Monster. I would probably fit right in. Apparently, I am doomed to be an eternal optimist.
I will say that I don’t always watch the whole show anymore. I catch the first fifteen minutes and sometimes I tune back in to see Steals and Deals–I like a good bargain. Or, I’ll watch the cooking segments. I love it when you can tell they hate the food, but they have to smile and say “Yum” anyway! It always makes me laugh but, for my news, I am forced to go elsewhere. I’ve created a weird conglomeration of different sources to try and get an accurate representation of issues. It’s exhausting, but I do it. I want to be an informed American, but I don’t want to be an ignored one.
Actually, that’s their fault too. They’ve done so many stories on how everyone matters. Find your truth! Live your best life! Lean in! Continuing to watch them would be failing to validate my own feelings. That can’t be healthy right? As it is, after watching, I sometimes feel like I need to go watch “He’s just not that into you.”
Maybe, this blog post, is me coming to terms with this obvious breakup with my old friend. It’s not me. It’s them. I am not a viewer they want. Guess it’s time to take the hint. Does anyone know if they show re-runs of Captain Kangaroo anywhere? I loved that part where they gave away the bike. If only it included a cooking segment I would be set.