Saturday, June 26, 2004

Calling CSPAN - manners matter

I am not at all a morning person and I'm rarely awake in time to call in to the Washington Journal. However, it was early today when I flipped on CSPAN. The host is reading a piece on the UN report promoting the fiction that the eradication efforts in Colombia have actually had any effect on the availability of cocaine in the US, a story we covered here four days ago. I decide to call in on the listener line, as they repeatedly invite you to do. Keep in mind that I am so low tech, I don't even have a cordless phone much less a cell, so I can't hear or see the television while I'm using my only phone.

It's my first time calling. The only rule I know about is you're allowed one call in 30 days. It takes a long time but I get through. The guy answers the phone, "Good morning CSPAN, should the Greens nominate Ralph Nader?"

Not the greeting I expected but I answered without missing a beat, "Sure but what good would it do?"

I figured it might be some kind of competency test. After asking when my last call was, he muttered something I didn't catch about my TV set and told me I'd be on the air. I can now hear the program again, and sure enough they are talking about Nader.

Now I have a lot to say about Ralph Nader, and in retrospect I suppose I could have used his position on drug policy to segue into my point on the earlier piece but at that hour, I didn't think that quickly. I hung up so as not to be trapped into wasting my call on Ralph's ego problem.

I call back and get through again. I overhear the guy complaining to his co-worker about how crazy the morning has been as he's picking up the phone. When I tell him I don't want to talk about Nader, he tells me the open phone thing has ended and to try again in an hour. So I try to ask if I'll be able to talk about the story then because I think the UN report is dangerously inaccurate and it's the only issue I want to address. He hangs up on me in mid-sentence.

I don't care if he's disinterested, but he knew it was my first time and could have spent the extra 15 seconds to let me finish the sentence and tell me what their policy is on bringing up topics from earlier segments so I would know whether it was worth spending my time trying to get through. I found this unpleasant exchange so irritating that not only did I not try calling again, I switched off the program altogether.

It's this kind of rudeness that contributes to the overall deterioration of civil society. If CSPAN's phone screeners are too indifferent and/or too harassed to be polite, the least they could do is transfer you to a pre-recorded set of guidelines. Hanging up on inexperienced callers hardly seems a way to encourage a wide range of fresh viewpoints, nor a way to retain viewers.


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