mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“When Democracy Becomes Must See TV”: Is The United States A Democratic Republic Or A TV series?

To anybody who watches cable TV news, it’s clear that the nation has embarked upon a great political experiment. Its object would be instantly clear to readers of Neil Postman’s 1985 classic Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business.

To wit, is it even possible for a democratic country to govern itself when news becomes “infotainment,” and infotainment news?

At any given moment, one of two TV “news” stories predominates to the exclusion of all other topics: Donald Trump and terrorism. CNN has covered almost nothing else since the tragedy in San Bernardino. Tune in any time, day or night, and it’s either Trump, terror, or panels of talking heads discussing them.

Meanwhile, the network had been running a countdown clock in the corner of the screen keeping viewers apprised of the weeks, days, hours, minutes, and seconds remaining until Tuesday night’s GOP debate—as if it were a moon launch or, more appropriately, a pay-per-view professional wrestling match.

In between live broadcasts of Trump’s speeches, advertisements feature full-screen photos of the contestants dramatically lit like WWE stars, promoting the upcoming Showdown in Las Vegas — the final Republican debate of the year!

Cue Michael Buffer: “Let’s get ready to RUMBLE…”

OK, so there will be something like 84 more debates in 2016. It’s nevertheless your patriotic duty to feel the excitement.

Or not. Actually, I see where the noted scholar and media critic Charles Barkley has beaten me to it. The famously outspoken basketball jock was recently asked his opinion of the GOP debates on TNT’s Inside the NBA.

“To be honest with you, CNN has done an awful job this election, an awful job. They have followed ratings and sound bites this entire cycle,” Sir Charles opined. “I love CNN because they’re part of our company, but they’ve been kissing butt, chasing ratings…. They follow every single sound bite just to get ratings for these debates. It’s been sad and frustrating that our company has sold its soul for ratings.”

(CNN and TNT are subsidiaries of Turner Broadcasting.)

However, it’s not just CNN. The TV networks generally, where most Americans get their news, have abandoned all pretense of public service in the drive for enhanced market share.

Quick now: Which cable network has covered Trump the most assiduously?

Surprise, it’s MSNBC. According to figures cited by Washington Post blogger Jim Tankersley, the allegedly left-wing network has mentioned The Donald some 1,484 times during the current campaign. That’s roughly 100 more mentions than CNN, and three times as many as Fox News.

Like CNN, MSNBC often breaks away from live programming to broadcast Trump speeches live — something neither network does for any other candidate, Republican or Democrat. That’s free campaign advertising no politician can afford to buy. The second most commonly cited Republican, Chris Christie, has drawn 144 mentions on CNN, the rapidly vanishing Jeb Bush, 88.

In a 17-person GOP race (now “only” 14), fully 47 percent of TV mentions have gone to Trump since he announced his candidacy last June. Is there any wonder the bombastic New Yorker is leading in opinion polls? His is apparently the only name many low-information voters can recall.

Look, Trump gives good TV. Under ordinary circumstances, for example, my sainted wife would prefer undergoing a root canal to a GOP presidential debate. I’m forced to record the fool things for professional purposes. Trump, however, she’ll watch, if only in the hope he’ll humiliate some rival fraud. Multiply her by a few million, and you’re talking real advertising dollars.

The New York Times, whose editors apparently have no TVs, recently devoted considerable column inches to the seeming mystery of “High Polls for Low-Energy Campaigners.”

Specifically, how come Jeb!, who normally does multiple campaign events every day, appears to be getting nowhere, while Trump, a comparative homebody, surges?

Um, let’s see: Morning Joe in the AM; followed by Good Morning America; a sit down with CNN’s Chris Cuomo; a face-to-face with NBC’s Chuck Todd, who basically calls Trump a barefaced liar, but invites him back for Meet the Press; next, a blustering speech covered live by MSNBC’s Hardball; followed by “Breaking News!” of a pre-recorded interview with Don Lemon.

And then to bed.

Would it also surprise you to learn that, according to the Tyndall Report, which compiles such figures, ABC World News Tonight has devoted 81 minutes of programming this year to Trump’s campaign versus 20 seconds total to Bernie Sanders, who arguably has more supporters? (Each man has roughly 30 percent support in his respective party, but there are many more Democrats than Republicans.)

In my judgement, neither Trump nor Sanders has a very good chance of becoming president. But that shouldn’t mean an exclusive diet of Trump’s bombast, braggadocio, conspiracy theories, and bald-faced lies simply because the one-time “reality” star gets good ratings.

Is the United States a democratic republic or a TV series?

 

By: Gene Lyons, The New Republic, December 16,2015

December 17, 2015 Posted by | Cable News, Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, Network Television | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Today’s Anchors Are Overpaid Superstars”: Big Lies, Little Lies, And The Punishment Of Brian Williams

The harshest penalties usually tend to be brutal, vengeful, and excessive – even when the offender is a celebrity journalist like Brian Williams. Suspended without pay from his post as the NBC Nightly News anchor for six months, Williams may be facing the end of his career in television news, which would be roughly equivalent to capital punishment.

Williams is in the public dock for telling a false story about his experiences covering the American invasion of Iraq; the disclosure humiliated him, his colleagues, and his network when exposed. For the time being, at least, he has lost the trust of many in his audience. Enforced absence from the job he loves — and wanted all his life – is a sanction that will sting far more than the barbed jokes, ugly headlines, and lost millions in salary. Off air, he may find time to engage in serious introspection, issue a forthright apology, and hope for redemption.

Troubling as his transgression was, I nevertheless hope for his redemption too.

No doubt my sympathy is spurred by the fact that I have known Williams for a long time, not as a friend or even a newsroom colleague, but as a frequent guest on a nightly cable news show he hosted and, years later, as the author of a magazine profile of him.

What I encountered then was a witty and unassuming guy from south Jersey who kept many of the same friends he had 30 years ago; an exceptionally hard-working correspondent who took reporting seriously; a history buff who avidly consumed books and newspapers to broaden his knowledge; and a dedicated professional who cherished the anchor position as a trust handed down across generations.

He always knew how lucky he was, and he certainly knows how badly he has stumbled. Whether he eventually can regain what he has lost is a matter for him and the suits at NBC to sort out. Inevitably, their calculations will include commercial as well as journalistic values. While that process unfolds, however, he deserves a few words of defense against the eager mob of executioners now swinging the ax with such gusto.

It is ironic, to put it very mildly, that more than a decade after the Iraq invasion, which resulted from official and journalistic deceptions on a vast scale, the only individual deemed worthy of punishment is a TV newsman who inflated a war story on a talk show. And it is irritating, too, that so many of the NBC anchor’s harshest critics are heard on Fox News Channel, where lying is a way of life, as Leonard Pitts, Jr., noted recently.

To recall just one especially pertinent example: Fox host Sean Hannity, who now demands Williams’ head on a stick, repeatedly told TV and radio audiences that “every penny” from his Freedom Alliance concerts would benefit the children of deceased veterans. It was a lie, because huge amounts of the proceeds were squandered on “conferences” and other dubious expenses. But Hannity got away with it because he evidently hadn’t violated any laws.

All the wingnuts ceaselessly barking about how Williams betrayed the vets could not have cared less.

Indeed, it is puzzling that Williams has excited so much frothing anger on the right, where lying and deception are routinely excused, especially about military service. (George W. Bush prevaricated blatantly about his brief stint in the Texas Air National Guard, and Ronald Reagan lied about “liberating” a Nazi death camp — but nobody on the right cared much about that, either.) If anything, Williams is resolutely nonpartisan, and when I profiled him in 2008, he seemed slightly more enthusiastic about John McCain than Barack Obama. The son of a World War II Army captain, he idolized his father and has always venerated Americans in uniform – which may help to explain, along with a muddled memory and an apparent urge to embellish, how he fell into this current difficulty.

So far as anyone has determined, Williams is not guilty of the ultimate crime, which would be filing a false news report. His exaggerations all seem to have occurred on platforms other than the Nightly News. Widely repeated accusations by a far-right blogger that he puffed his award-winning Hurricane Katrina coverage with anecdotes about flooding and floating bodies remain unproven — and there is persuasive evidence supporting his remarks.

It was during Katrina’s aftermath that Williams memorably demonstrated how well he does his work. Vanity Fair was not alone in praising his performance, noting that he “exhibited unfaltering composure, compassion, and grit,” the culmination of decades in broadcast journalism.

Today’s anchors are overpaid superstars, fighting for attention in a world no longer dominated by network news, but none of that is his fault. And in contrast to many of the charming faces on television news programs, he is an actual journalist with a long record of unblemished reporting.

So unless something worse emerges from NBC’s investigation, I share the view of Joe Summerlin, one of the brave veterans who really did survive that Chinook shoot-down in 2003, and publicly refuted Williams’ Iraq tale. His wording wasn’t generous, but his attitude is.

“Everyone tells lies,” the war veteran told the New York Times. “Every single one of us. The issue isn’t whether or not you lie. It is how you deal with it once you are caught. I thank you for stepping down for a few nights, Mr. Williams. Now can you admit that you didn’t ‘misremember’ and perform a real apology? I might even buy you a beer.”

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, February 12, 2015

February 13, 2015 Posted by | Brian Williams, Journalists, Network Television | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Wanted; Less Terrible Political Coverage On TV”: An Increasingly Tiresome Model Of Political And Current Events Coverage

Jon Stewart is nothing if not America’s foremost cable news critic. On Sunday, he couldn’t help telling CNN what he thinks of them—and he did it on their network. “I want more of good CNN,” Stewart said. “CNN is very similar to the doll Chucky. Sometimes it’s good Chucky, but you really got to watch out for bad Chucky.”

It’s not just CNN. Much of what passes for political coverage these days is (to borrow a phrase) “bad Chucky.” What Stewart admires are the “brave correspondents” who cover things like the Arab Spring. What he doesn’t like, though—the breathless and feigned “BREAKING NEWS” time fillers and pearl clutching—is what cable news relies on the majority of the time spent between revolutions and natural disasters. It’s an increasingly tiresome model of political and current events coverage.

Aside from Fox News (as evidenced by the ratings), MSNBC’s Morning Joe (as evidenced by its status as a tastemaker), and comedy shows like the Daily Show and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and HBO’s Real Time (by virtue of their place in the cultural zeitgeist), politics on TV doesn’t seem to be as good anymore. Maybe it’s just me. Then again, cable news ratings are down more or less across the board, and Americans find much of the media untrustworthy.

There are other exceptions, no doubt. But whether it’s cable news or the Sunday morning talk shows, something just doesn’t seem right. One gets the sense that they’re flailing, that the world has changed, but they haven’t. That they’re trying to figure out how to make it work, but so far it’s not coming together.

And I think it’s worth noting that among the shows that I believe to be “working” include several examples that are, ostensibly, comedy. And that makes me wonder if maybe the networks and shows might not want to look to them for guidance? And, of course, they already are: Jon Stewart was seriously considered as host for Meet The Press, a move that would have either changed the whole damn paradigm—or failed spectacularly. But the larger question lingers: Why do these shows work, while much of what passes for straight political commentary and analysis (not to be confused with straight news) seem so stale?

A theory: As our political system—not to mention our coverage of it—becomes more absurd, there’s a natural yearning to point out that absurdity in a way a show like Meet the Press is not equipped to handle. MTP and shows like it are all about how serious this is. These are senators, don’t ya know—statesmen. It’s like the whole format is left over from the Washington that existed in an Allen Drury novel, a time before the message was controlled and you rose in the ranks on your ability to avoid gaffes and raise cash.

Our politics—our culture at large, really—now disincentivizes loose informality when it comes to political coverage. It’s really quite schizophrenic: we urge you to be loose and fun and interesting, but we’ll crucify you if you trip up. It’s all absurd, yes, but don’t take it lightly! seems to be the mantra, and there’s a million tripwires to look out for if you’re a senator talking on a set. So we settle on this arrangement that has this sort of bloodless/uber-serious political coverage on the one hand, and Jon Stewart absurdity on the other. A politician or pundit screws up on one, and is made fun of on the other.

But there’s a missing middle ground here—a warm wit, a little mischievous but not cynical—that Sunday shows kind of miss now.

I’m not advocating that we dumb down political analysis and chase the lowest common denominator. Quite the opposite. The irony is that shows that are meant to be funny are often also the smarter shows. There is a long tradition of Swiftian satire, and in this regard, the comedy shows are selling themselves short when they cast themselves as mere “entertainment.” One could argue that they are providing a service—and a service that could be replicated by other outlets and media.

But as faking sincerity is difficult, replicating insouciance is a challenge. It helps to have fun, smart hosts who don’t have an ideological ax to grind. That’s not to say Stewart and Oliver and Maher (just to mention three) don’t have a point of view; they tend to universally lean leftward. But they are probably more intellectually honest—more willing to call their own team for BS—than most political commentators.

They’re also funny. For them, the rule has to be to “be funny first.” You can have an agenda, but it’s always second fiddle to being funny. Or, if your show is about ideas, then I think it has to be intellectually stimulating first. My point here is that scoring political points probably can’t come first, at least if believe this is the model that works best.

Here, talent is important, too. There were a lot of things about that infamous Jon Stewart rant on Crossfire that I thought were unfair, but one thing he got completely right is that being funny is harder than doing political commentary. On the other hand, Stewart and Oliver and Maher have some huge advantages over their political interlocutors, such as a team of writers helping them come up with one-liners. They’re also held to a lower standard, partly at their own insistence, allowing them to quickly move back and forth between serious public-service style journalism and “we’re all just having fun” irreverence.

So I leave you with this: Could a cable network—tasked with providing content 24/7 replicate the quality of these shows, day in and day out? There’s probably no way that would happen. It’s so much easier and cheaper to book guests to gab about the news of the day. There’s little time or money for flying the perfect guest—maybe a smart author—across the country to have an elevated discussion. But it could work as a model for the Sunday shows which, let’s face it, would benefit from a little more levity.

Political commentary will slowly evolve, and what I think we’re witnessing right now is a kind of transitional period—an adolescence, if you will, and that’s rarely an attractive stage. The current formula for TV news isn’t working, and the networks know it, but they haven’t quite figured out what will replace it. Yes, there will always be a place for serious discussion about policy, but this much seems obvious: A decade from now, political punditry will look very different. And I’m betting on the funny guys.

 

By: Matt Lewis, The Daily Beast, November 19, 2014

November 23, 2014 Posted by | Cable News, Journalism, Network Television | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

%d bloggers like this: