Browsing the archives for the News Media category.


Media: The Un-Meritocracy

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News Media

I knew there was no point watching the rebooted Meet the Press when I read last week that NBC had hired Joe  Scarborough as its senior political analyst and Luke Russert as a reporter and regular “roundtable” member. Seriously, how could it not be crap? And lo, the reviews of the first episode are in, and they are derisive. By most accounts Chuck Todd’s interview of President Obama remained true to his predecessor’s tradition of content-free banality. D.R. Trucker wrote,

Todd’s questions about ISIS and immigration showed precious little insight and imagination. At times, it seemed as though he was barely asking questions at all. Frankly, Todd came close to a Saturday Night Live parody of a Meet the Presshost. The entire interview reminded me of Gertrude Stein’s famous line about Oakland, California—“There is no there there.”

Of course, the Obama-haters are attacking Todd because he didn’t beat the president up enough. That wasn’t the main flaw with the interview. The main flaw with the interview is that the viewer gained nothing, learned nothing, felt nothing.

Not that David Gregory was any prize…but they got rid of him for this?

Charles Johnson provides a specific example:

Obama mentioned Syria specifically four times before Chuck Todd blurted out, “You’ve not said the word, ‘Syria,’ so far in our conversation.”

Arrgh.

On the other hand, Todd’s debut is getting warm reviews from Politico and the Washington Post. No surprise.

I dimly remember there was a time, years ago, I wanted to watch the politics talk shows, even though they were mostly infuriating. As far as the old Meet the Press goes I thought Tim Russert was overrated as an interviewer; his basic shtick was to slide around big issues, find a relatively small point to bore into and then grill his subject relentlessly on that. But at least he grilled them on something, and you got the sense he was actually listening to what the subject said and responding to it, and not reading interview questions off a teleprompter.

The real problem isn’t so much the hosts, I don’t think. The real problem seems to be that, pretty much across the board, Washington news media are run by people who got their jobs through insider connections and not competence. And “insiderism” is all they know. That’s the only explanation, I say. Simon Maloy writes,

The problem facing “Meet the Press” isn’t the person in the moderator’s chair, it’s the culture that all the Sunday shows operate in. They all provide slightly different versions of the same thing: mostly white, mostly male pundits, politicians and Beltway “insiders” arguing with each other about who’s “winning” and who’s “losing” in politics that week. And this isn’t going to change any time soon because everyone involved is far too sure of their own indispensable relevance.

Consider this exchange on Fox News yesterday morning between Chris Wallace, host of “Fox News Sunday,” and Howard Kurtz as they discussed why Sunday shows still matter:

WALLACE: We probably get 4 to 5 million people that are tuning in on Sunday to watch our interviews. We either finish first or second almost every week in terms of total audience, and that’s a lot of people. And it’s a self-selecting audience. I mean, it’s an audience of opinion makers, opinion shapers, people who are deeply interested in the news—

KURTZ: And that’s why the shows are important and have relevance. Because of the rather elite audience.

WALLACE: Exactly. And, you know, you look at the Monday morning paper – not to say that that is our goal, I don’t think it is. But it does really indicate the degree to which the Sunday shows can still set the agenda for the coming week.

It’s hard to think of a more elitist description of your own relevance – I’m important because people I think are important think I’m important. That’s the Sunday show mentality, and it will persist regardless of who sits in the moderator’s chair.

When the “insiders” setting the agendas only talk to themselves, where does that leave the rest of us?

You may have heard that CNN’s Crossfire is back, sort of. Apparently it airs sporadically and has been on hiatus since mid-July. Perhaps they couldn’t think of anything insider-y to talk about, what with all those messy news stories coming out of Saint Louis and Iraq and all.  

As the show’s been off-air, S.E. Cupp — the show’s conservative co-host who hasn’t run for president — has been in demand, appearing on “The View” in what may well be quasi-auditions for a new right-leaning panelist, and writing for the New York Daily News, most recently about how Jennifer Lawrence and other female celebrities ought not to have taken nude pictures of themselves if they didn’t want them leaked.

This is why no one misses “Crossfire” when it’s not on — because its hosts have nothing to say. A show in which hosts debate the issues of the day from differing perspectives could, if done well, be a hugely valuable asset to a news channel especially in a political landscape wracked by contentious issues (Ferguson, ISIS). That presumes, though, that its hosts would be able to keep their eye on the ball and avoid small-bore polemics, things that Cupp, as evidenced by her Daily News writing, is unable to do.

And it’s something “Crossfire” has proven itself uninterested in doing; at times when serious policy discussion is more needed than ever, the debate show indulged the same prattle as every other talk show. Before “Crossfire” left the air in July, segments included Bill Richardson disclaiming on whether Hillary Clinton or Elizabeth Warren would win in a hypothetical 2016 Democratic primary. Cupp delivered a monologue over cable system customer service. This is neither offensively off-tone in a way that might spark some insight, nor is it — heaven forbid — providing any news value or public service. It’s just trending topics presented flatly.

Ultimately the fault for this incompetence is with the executives who make hiring and programming decisions which tells me the executives in charge of news have absolutely no idea what they are doing. One wonders how they stumbled into the MSNBC evening lineup, particularly Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow, who actually present,  you know,  content. It must have been an oversight.

A postscript — a little over a year ago NBC hired a British journalist, Deborah Turness, to be president of NBC News. She was recently quoted as saying,

“People in the organization from top to bottom recognized that NBC News hadn’t kept up with the times in all sorts of ways, for maybe 15 years. I think the organization had gone to sleep.”

Apparently the NBC News organization from top to bottom was outraged by these remarks.  So I guess they hadn’t recognized it. But on the whole I think she’s right, although it isn’t just NBC. But this episode suggests to me that Turness is being kept on a leash by somebody else, and she’s not being allowed to mess with the status quo.

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Michael Kelly Is Still Dead

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Bush Administration, Iraq War, News Media

Michael Kelly, a prominent cheerleader for Bush’s War, died just over ten years ago. He was in Iraq to cover his glorious little war when his Humvee overturned and plunged into water. Kelly drowned.

Kelly was the worst kind of smugly infuriating propagandist, leading the pre-Iraq War assault on reality and reason. A lot of my early blogging amounting to griping about Kelly. And then he was gone. And I haven’t even thought of him for years.

See Tom Socca, A Stupid Death in a Stupid War: Remembering Michael Kelly

The premise of Kelly’s argument for invasion was that escalating the war, carrying it to Baghdad on the ground, would settle the problems “easily and quickly.” Like his fellow poets, Sullivan and Christopher Hitchens, he presented his romantic vision as clear-eyed advice. Evil must be opposed. Good would triumph. Anyone who disagreed was benighted, mistaken, immoral. …

… Perhaps, like Sullivan, he would have changed his position on Iraq, had he lived to see our military might losing control, the easy liberation collapsing into hell, Saddam’s torture prisons reopening with American torturers. What might he have written, if he’d had the chance to engage with the terrible truths of this past decade? What might a hundred thousand other people have done, if they’d lived too?

And we’ve never properly mourned, have we?

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Faux News at Its Worst

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News Media, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

I’m returning to the world of people who can breathe through their noses. I have a lot of catching up to do, but do see Jonathan Chait’s “The Fox News–iest Segment in Fox News History.” It’s a clip of Bill O’Reilly in full Bullying Purveyor of Ignorance mode that is horribly fascinating. It’s like animated road kill — ghastly, but try not to watch.

Also don’t miss Alan Colmes, playing the role of useful idiot/alleged liberal foil, whose “defense” of President Obama is just mushy enough to give O’Reilly’s tirade a veneer of plausibility. As PM Carpenter says,

Yet to me the most captivating character on the “Factor”‘s set is not Bill O’Reilly, but Alan Colmes, Fox News’ “feeble” and “sniveling” token of liberalism who appears regularly on the network only to be abused, interrupted, and humiliated. Colmes is all too happy to oblige, hence his regular appearances; plus, he routinely delivers some of the weakest intellectual arguments for and wimpish defenses of liberalism, or the left, or the center-left, or whatever you care to call it. Fox calls it delightful, since it’s so poorly represented.

Is Holmes real, or is he a CGI?

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Punditry As Religion

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News Media, Obama Administration

I stopped watching the Sunday morning talking head shows a long time ago, mostly because they made me want to throw things at the teevee. And I don’t want to hurt the teevee.

But, except for guest appearances by Paul Krugman, I take it the establishment pundit shows have, if anything, grown more insipidly stupid over the years. Watching them may destroy brain cells. See Alex Pareene, “Watching the Sunday Shows So You Don’t Have To,” and Jason Linkins, “TV Soundoff: Sunday Talking Heads.” You can find more intelligence on the Puppy Bowl.

Speaking of insipidly stupid, last week David Brooks got roundly called out by several leftie-leaning media people for writing that President Obama has no plan to avoid the sequester. Jonathan Chait, Ezra Klein, and others let Brooks know this was unvarnished bullshit.

But, as Chait also points out, Brooks isn’t the only one saying that Obama doesn’t have a plan and that it’s his fault if Republicans won’t compromise. It seems to be the consensus of the Washington pundit class.

This is all by way of introducing what Steve M wrote about Brooks and his peers:

I didn’t join the pile-on because Brooks wasn’t engaging in journalism. He wasn’t even engaged in fact-based punditry. What Brooks was writing was theology.

Brooks was writing a commentary rooted in the Beltway’s political religion. In a religious faith, stories are told that are frameworks for belief, even if they’re not believed literally. Thus, when I was a Catholic, I was told that the Bible is the revealed word of God — and yet my faith also accepted the theory of evolution, which tells an origin story for life on Earth that contradicts the one in the Bible. The Church was saying, in effect, that the Genesis narrative of creation is theologically true, even if it’s not literally true.

You could say the same thing about the Brooks narrative. It doesn’t matter whether President Obama has acted in good faith, despite Republican intransigence, to deal with issues of taxes, spending, debts, and deficits in a responsible way — there are two strains of the Beltway faith, one of which tells us that, on economic issues, Democrats are always wrong and Republicans are always right, the other of which (the one of which Brooks claims to be an adherent) tells us that both parties are to blame, but it’s the responsibility of Democrats to move the discussion to a point midway between where the two parties are, which is, by definition, the responsible center. Republicans, according to this faith tradition, will inevitably meet Democrats halfway — though if they don’t, that’s also the Democrats’ fault.

See also Mark Twain, “My First Lie and How I Got Out of It.” “Obama has no plan” seems to be a variation of the “silent assertion lie,” which are “gigantic mute lies in the interest of tyrannies and shams.” It’s a lie that becomes an unquestioned orthodoxy because the truth is too terrible to contemplate.

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Newsweek (print editions), 1933-2012

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News Media

After the end of this year, Newsweek will go all digital. No more print editions.

I have paid only occasional attention to Newsweek in recent years, but there was a time in decades past I never missed an issue. The June 2002 story “What Bush Knew” (offline, but here are letters from readers about it) had a lot to do with my starting to blog.

I take it that beginning in 2008 Newsweek management made some boneheaded editorial and business decisions that caused a massive loss in advertising revenue. And I agree with mistermix that “once journalism’s Kevorkian, Tina Brown, attached the parasitic Daily Beast to the sinking ship,” failure was certain. It was just a matter of time.

And with Brown in charge, I don’t expect much from the digital version, either. See Joe Coscarelli in New York magazine, “Newsweek Ending Print Magazine, Going All Digital in 2013” and “Newsweek and the Daily Beast No Longer Have Access to Sidney Harman’s Billions” (7/23/12).

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More Content, Less Melodrama

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News Media

Matt Taibbi at his best. See also Kevin Drum.

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Romney Jazz

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Mittens, News Media

Brilliant as ever.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Chaos on Bulls**t Mountain
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook
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Ruth Marcus — Not Shrill Yet, but Mighty Peeved

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Mittens, News Media, Obama Administration

Even Ruth Marcus is dropping her usual “both sides do it” position and says Mittens is out of line and owes somebody an apology.

After all, the Republican presidential nominee wrote a book in 2010 premised on, and titled with, the false notion that Barack Obama has been going around the world apologizing for America….

…Romney repeated this falsehood in his acceptance speech in Tampa, claiming that Obama launched his presidency “with an apology tour.”

Oddly enough, Romney’s evidence for Obama’s alleged apologizing is bereft of certain words — like apology, or sorry, or regret. To Romney, apologizing means never actually having to say you’re sorry.

Oh, snap, Ruth.

So when the U.S. Embassy in Cairo released a statement condemning “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims,” Romney was predisposed to see it through the distorted, if politically convenient, lens of apology.

Ruth Marcus goes on to explain what had actually happened and why Mitt’s interpretation of events held no water. Then she said,

As irresponsible as Romney’s behavior Tuesday night, even worse was his move to double down at a Wednesday morning news conference, following word of the deaths of the U.S. ambassador and three other American diplomats in Libya. Tuesday night, before the killings were known, was amateurish. Wednesday morning was unconscionable.

“It’s never too early for the United States government to condemn attacks on Americans and to defend our values,” Romney said, apparently believing that the embassy should have been able to foretell the attack before it occurred. In the space of three sentences, he criticized the administration for standing by the embassy statement and accused it of sending “mixed signals” by disavowing it.

The question and answer session was even worse. “Simply put, having an embassy which . . . has been breached and has protesters on its grounds, having violated the sovereignty of the United States, having that embassy reiterate a statement effectively apologizing for the right of free speech is not the right course for an administration,” Romney said.

Leaving aside his flawed timeline — later tweets from the embassy combined criticism of anti-Muslim bigotry with condemnation of the attacks — Romney’s interpretation of what constitutes an apology is once again far off-base. …

There is something disgraceful happening here, but it doesn’t involve a comment by an obscure embassy spokesman. It is Romney’s cynical, dishonest effort to take advantage of this national tragedy for his own political ends.

I read through the whole thing looking for the “both sides do it” shoe to drop, and it didn’t drop. Of course, Ruth probably will follow this up with a column criticizing Obama for something and conceding that Romney has a point, somehow.

But, Mitt, when not even Ruth Marcus will cover your ass, you are in big trouble. David Broder must be spinning in his grave.

Update: Mitt issues a statement nearly identical to the one issued by the White House that was supposed to be an “apology.” Spine of marshmallow, or what?

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Death by Politeness

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News Media

The article that really got my attention this morning — and not in a good way — is “How MSNBC Became Fox’s Liberal Evil Twin” by Alessandra Stanley. Clueless Wonder Stanley slams MSNBC’s coverage of the convention for its bias, preferring much more polite and even-tempered “coverage” by cardboard cutouts on NBC —

NBC and the other broadcast networks cut their live convention coverage to an hour during prime time this year, which leaves barely time to show the main speeches, let alone analyze them. Yet NBC’s chief anchor, Brian Williams, has conspicuously avoided the most fractious MSNBC discussion panels. Those anchors who do make dutiful appearances, like David Gregory and Tom Brokaw, are badly needed but don’t stay long or join the fray — like piano players in a brothel, they don’t go upstairs.

This is a democracy, sweetheart. We need to know what’s going on upstairs.

And that leaves fewer choices for viewers who like their election coverage with informed commentary without a twist of bias.

Telling the truth isn’t “bias,” dear. Politely refraining from saying that someone running for the presidency is basing his entire campaign on lies is not “impartiality”; it’s journalistic malpractice.

For years, as the Republican Party became more and more extreme, mainstream media have attempted to even things out by filming Republicans with softer and softer focus, and with plenty of gauze on the lenses to make the wrinkles disappear. On the other hand, Democrats are placed under a Kleig light without filters and not allowed to wear makeup. And then the narrative accompanying this is “both parties are just as bad.” The polite political commentators dear Ms. Stanley prefers congratulate themselves for being unbiased, when they are nothing of the sort. They are enablers. They are making excuses for the alcoholic uncle by telling people he’s just been under a lot of stress lately. And this kind of enabling does neither the uncle nor the family a bit of good; it’s just socially expedient.

I can agree that Al Sharpton and Ed Schultz come across as Dem Party cheerleaders sometimes, but Chris Matthews has done more than his share of enabling of Republicans over the years. Ms. Stanley tears into Matthews for his recent “bruising harangue against Reince Priebus” — how impolite to point out that Republicans are dog-whistling racists — and finishes the column with this —

Virginia’s governor, Bob McDonnell, who backed, then rescinded, a state bill that would require women seeking an abortion to first have an invasive ultrasound, is a favorite target. After his convention speech, the MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry said sarcastically that Republicans might be nervous “standing next to a governor who represents a vision of small government that is small enough to put on the end of a transvaginal probe.”

No wonder Brian Williams stays away.

Oh, how crude to bring up Bob McDonnell’s actual record. What do you want to bet that Ms. Stanley really misses David Broder?

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The Video Everyone’s Talking About

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News Media

Tweety can be a clueless dork sometimes — well, most of the time — but once in a while he wakes up and actually says something worthwhile. Here he tears into Reince Priebus for resorting to racist dog whistling —

“You can play your games and giggle about it but the fact is your side playing that card. When you start talking about work requirements, you know what game you’re playing and everybody knows what game you’re playing. It’s a race card and yeah, if your name’s Romney, yeah you were well born, you went to prep school, yeah, brag about it. This guy has an African name and he’s got to live with it. Look who’s gone further in their life. Who was born on third base? Making fun of the guy’s birth certificate issue when it was never a real issue except for the right wing.”

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