Dateline: NY CITY—Under the auspices of Europe’s Postmodern Media Group, American entrepreneur Roy Havalaff is launching a cable political news channel that will assume no politician is capable of honesty.
The channel will be called Theater of Political Liars, or TPL, and will differ strikingly from established news organizations in its method of covering political news.
“All other political shows,” said Mr. Havalaff, “whether on BBC, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, or Al Jazeera assume that at least some politicians tell the truth as they see it. Their journalists and newsreaders therefore cover that news by broadcasting the politicians’ messages and then perhaps discussing the ramifications. Alternatively, they’ll assemble a panel of pundits, some of whom disagree with the politician’s point of view, and so the analysts will argue about what the facts are or what the policy’s consequences would be.
“We at TPL believe that that approach to politics—and particularly to democratic politics—is asinine. If you assume that politicians are acting in good faith, that they care about helping the people they represent, then perhaps it would make sense to take what they say at face value. But TPL won’t be so naïve or disingenuous.”
TPL will also differ from the satirical approach to news coverage, popularized by Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show and by other comedians such as Bill Maher.
Said Mr. Havalaff, “Instead of mocking politicians for their hypocrisy, mendacity, and chicanery or pretending that politicians are disposed to being honest with the public, TPL will revolutionize political broadcasting by evaluating politicians’ work purely as theater.”
Instead of reporters or news analysts, TPL will have political theater critics. Instead of treating political speech as ordinary communication between people of good will, the theater critics will assess political events as staged productions meant to uphold a branded franchise. Far from bringing empirical criteria to bear in determining the accuracy of political statements, and far even from evaluating politicians’ behaviour in ethical terms, TPL will weigh only the aesthetic merit of democratic politics.
TPL has produced a prelude of what to expect, by sending some of its theater critics to cover the APEC summit in which world leaders met in Vietnam to lie together about economic issues. The ten-minute TPL video showed leaders from China, Russia, Australia, the United States and other countries meeting, shaking hands, giving press conferences and making speeches.
But the news segment treated these interactions as though the politicians were acting on a stage and reading scripted fictions. The segments mostly ignored the content of the politicians’ remarks, and focused on their acting ability and the quality of the stagecraft.
“Trump’s performance as an actor has grown significantly since his days as a wrestler in the WWE,” said one TPL theater critic. “Xi Jinping excels at countering President Trump’s lies with his own lies. The result is a splendid bit of political theater, a fantasy to be applauded for its casting, costumes, and corporate directors.”
“There’s really no comparison between the alleged savviness of CNN’s news analysts, such as Dana Bash’s or John King’s, and ours at TPL,” said Mr. Havalaff. “To understand what’s really happening in politics, you have to stand outside the system. CNN can’t do that because it’s owned by Time Warner and is thus part of American corporate culture, which is the source of that country’s political fictions. How can a critic properly assess political theater if the critic is just another actor in the production, just another hack scrambling for access to the A-list political actors (the politicians), and spreading propaganda to increase ratings?”
According to Mr. Havalaff, political theater comes together especially when politicians speak to each other, as opposed to directing their lies to the general public.
“When a politician gives a press conference or a speech, he or she is inviting the audience to participate in the fiction, to buy into the story. But when politicians speak to each other, they create the Olympics of deception and it’s a pleasure to behold—purely as a work of farce, of course.
“Imagine that you’re a world-class liar and you enter a room filled with similar charlatans who are constitutionally incapable of being honest. And you know that everyone in that room knows that everyone in that room is just a no-good, pants-on-fire liar. How would you go about having a conversation with another liar in that room? That’s the politician’s quandary and it creates a level of theatricality that only connoisseurs of political theater can fully appreciate.
“If you and the politician you’re speaking to both know that you both can only lie, you’re both going to lie to each other and you’re both going to know that you both have no choice in the matter, because you’re psychopaths.”
Actors on stage or in the movies likewise know they’re only acting, but they try to make their performances believable, because they know the audience wants to be convinced for the sake of entertainment. Something similar happens in politics, according Mr. Havalaff.
“The voters want to believe they’re part of a respectable enterprise and that politicians represent the public and carry out its will. Meanwhile, the politicians know that democracy is a sham, but they have to act as though they were as doe-eyed as the voting public.
“The difference is that whereas actors get to stop acting as soon as they walk off the set, politicians never stop lying. Their performance never ends, because political power makes them inhuman, which is why it’s about time a news organization fully recognized the art and the audacity of political theater.”
Teatro la Fenice, Gran Sala