The din of the pundits and panelists drowned out the voices of the Iowans at their caucus. Across the dial last night the networks from the big three, the cablers, even those outlying at the far reaches of the spectrum (Current TV) all relied on their experts to talk about the Iowa caucus instead of letting the natural sound play out… the drama play on.
The political coverage resembled a sports broadcast with play-by-play announcers vying for mic time with their color counterparts. It seemed to be a race for who was more clever, who had a better turn of phrase, who was more biting and quote-worthy instead of hearing the direct conversations that stemmed from the caucus. Sure that would have been b-o-r-i-n-g to network executives but it might have been more informative or illustrative of what the voters thought, instead of analysts assuring us what they thought the voters were thinking!

The coverage of the election s more about the commentators than even the politicians. Until we get to a point where we are being offered substantive sound bites in long form – more than 3 and 4 seconds of sound snippets, we are not being truly served by the media investing so much time, effort, energy and resources.

Things seem out of sorts. We have more channels and platforms of news coverage than ever before but they seem to be carbon copies of one another – short blips of sound and long form analysis of what views they wish to espouse. It just seems to be more about what the media thinks – what the media knows – than the reaction of prospective voters… how did they hear the candidates? What did they think of the positions, what did they feel, what impacted them?

With so many choices about coverage why does it seem that we have so few options as viewers?

In Iowa and New Hampshire – two small states known for their tradition of retail politics – why do we hear anchors and pundits tell us this repeatedly while there never seems to be time to hear the candidates speaking to voters? Or even more daring, why don’t we hear much of what the prospective voters think after meeting and shaking the candidate’s hands?
This is more than a sound bite – more than 10 seconds – more than rhetoric.
More than a talking point heard before or a rebuttal to some other campaign assertion.

There seems to be a disconnect. This isn’t intended as a riddle. But the coverage assures us that these are states where the candidates are saturating every town, township, city and opportunity to press the flesh and yet the coverage shows instead, primarily, the anchors and pundits talking about voter reaction instead of allowing us to hear and judge for ourselves.
In an environment with so much available air time why isn’t some network allowing time for the story to breath?

Let’s acknowledge the obvious – money is tight and every public entity is facing a do-or-die scramble for standing in the public’s mind share and subsequent approval in funding.

But whatever their message it must be rooted in common sense just as the messenger has an obligation as an orator to make sense, not rely on either spin or hyperbole lest they lose any semblance of credulity. There are examples of strident message-work above-and-beyond-the-pale just about daily — one such absurdity came during the KQED’s Monday radio program “Forum” during a discussion of the need for vital and vibrant public parks.

A guest on the show made the assertion that by funding parks on the “front end” would no doubt diminish the need for public funding of “ERs and jails” on the back-end. His point was to invest in public parks today to diminish public spending on medical care or justice later. I am confident the speaker loves parks and no doubt wants to keep their job, but I think it is a little bit ambitious to represent (with a straight face) that funding of public parks will in any way reduce the need for hospitalizations or prisons.

The point is – of course – say whatever you believe, but in the marketplace of common sense ideas it would help if there was some attention paid to making good sense… rather than just throwing words against a wall hoping some might stick.

The consequence is that it all just sounds like noise. When we wonder why people don’t listen (as much? at all?) any longer I suggest it is because so many times what’s said is silly or beyond the pale of credulity.

In the aftermath of former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin’s gaffe in Boston last week claiming that Paul Revere was on his ride to “warn the British” comes a flurry of edits to Wikipedia’s page Revision history of Paul Revere by presumably Palin supporters who want to edit history to conform more closely to her remarks.
Is this revisionism? Or damage control? Or just plain devotion to the perhaps-yet-to-be-decided-and-declared candidate herself?
What’s just sad is that such efforts to make subtle adjustments to history are hardly transparent. Just look at the date stamps. These all stem from after Mrs. Palin’s remarks. It raises legitimate questions as to motive as well as ethics.
I anticipate that any one who addresses these edits may be labeled as anti-Palin but that’s hardly the point. Crying out allegations and name calling like that smack of McCarthyism and the most treacherous kinds of intimidation. The simple truth here is that after her remarks a great number of edits were attempted. The timing seems more curious than coincidental.

This was a significant if perhaps not coordinated effort to change history but what of smaller edits, less attention grabbing headlines? When a vast majority of students rely more and more on single sources, including specifically Wikipedia, we all need to pay a great deal of care and attention placed on any one or any movement who seeks to make wholesale changes to content. I know that there is such an effort made by Wikipedia. Clearly history was shanghaied and that’s plain wrong.

If some one isn’t a bona fide, announced candidate – and says they’re not a candidate – why should any one in the media cover them as if they are any thing but a private citizen?
The Palin tour up the east coast raises serious ethical, moral and sensibility questions. Two very good articles Palin, Trump, pizza – and a debased media in tow and Sarah Palin and the Politics of Winging It raise serious questions about the conduct of the press.

Here’s the simple question – apart from the timing of Ms. Palin’s tour, her ongoing role on FOX News as a paid commentator and critic of the administration and all things Democrat, her rather repetitious allegations and assertions about the ‘lamestream media’ the question remains, why cover her at all?

We don’t cover other media personalitiess the same way – on either side of the political aisle – those darlings are not followed in caravans by eager journalists who seem to believe that if they might miss a stop on Ms. Palin’s tour they will somehow miss the scoop?

Ms. Palin is riding the crest of media attention – surely she does not warrant such attention based on what she says, her view of history, her appreciation of geography. Merely having a passport does not make her a world leader; having a driver’s license or hiring someone who has a bus license does not make her a tour guide.

So I just am left to wonder, when is some one who says they are not a candidate really some one who does not warrant further coverage? When does some one who prefers to lob verbal attacks from the sidelines of a single network find herself squeezed out of the rest of the media simply because she does not deserve greater attention? There is always an argument around the time of political debates over who to include – who has garnered enough public attention – who has a significant enough standing in the polls to deserve inclusion; but that is ALWAYS restricted only to those who want to be candidates. Ms. Palin – at this point – says she does not… she has opted not to join the fray – she has elected to opt out of the process.

To which – I wonder – why does the lamestream media she seems to hate so much feel so compelled to cover her every move, every word and every bite of pizza?

And just because it deserves to be called out again and again, FOX is so eager to be mainstream that their self-representation as the bulwark of the anti-press – every one else is lamestream, not them, is simply disingenuous.

Hail, Hail Trumpmania

May 17, 2011

The NYT’s piece “Trump Bows Out, but Spotlight Barely Dims” focuses attention on the hoopla surrounding Donald Trump and Trumpmania in the media.

But the most salient question is posed by former Ronald Reagan adviser Stuart Spencer “The media made him, the media kept him, the media kept promoting him…. Speaking of the proliferation of news outlets interested in politics, Mr. Spencer, 84 and admittedly fascinated by the new landscape, lamented, “There’s no referee anymore to evaluate what are serious issues and what are serious candidates.”

So who should be the referees? Who has the stature, the clout, the reputation, the gravitas, the following, the audience loyalty and confidence, the trust?

Just posing the question – is the media a paper watchdog? A toy tiger? What role should the media play – apart from monitoring and worse, fostering the noise?

Until this weekend’s unexpected announcement that he would not be running for President former Arkansas Governor and currently Fox News host Mike Huckabee was a leading contender for the 2012 Republic nomination.

But I wonder whether this early decision to bow out of the race was a strategic move to separate himself from the rough and tumble of a divisive and expensive primary campaign and wait until other candidates have destroyed themselves, battered and bruised the party, before a fractured convention proclaims Huckabee their nominee by acclamation?

Will it be easier – simpler – less costly on all levels – for Huckabee to comment from the media sidelines instead of subjecting himself to the political discourse and voter approval?

FOX news – O’Reilly and Hannity in particular – are already harping that the “mainstream media” will be highly partisan in this campaign – AKA, code for liberal and pro Obama. It seems so disingenuous for FOX to proclaim itself a David vs. Goliath… when Rupert Murdoch already owns such a piece of global media it seems insouciant to play the ingenue.

But what of FOX News commentator Huckabee? Will he be impartial… entirely neutral? Or will his comments by partisan, fomenting debate and suggesting how he’d handle an issue differently? Will Fox be his platform, his messenger until a blistering convention brawl results in no clear candidate from within the party and a call for Huckabee to become the standard bearer?

Just wondering aloud… will FOX police their host, or should they in an arena of free speech? But is this a strategy of Murdoch to truly have a candidate from within his broadcast empire? Maybe it is too much a grassy knoll theory. Perhaps.

A good piece by Poynter Photographers debate what should replace staged photo opps now that White House is ending the practice”raises questions for the political campaign and corporate world too — at what point should all publications cease to use staged, canned or handout video? What happened to the insistence by media to do it alone – to do it ourselves – to vouch for it because we knew it to be true, honest and authentic?
A good debate – the piece raises both ethical as well as technical considerations. It also raises questions of ownership and bragging rights… all part of the nature of this debate.

Donald Trump in his fledgling try for the White House in 2012 is offering an astounding number of bromides and platitudes, braggadocio and bombast in his wave of TV interviews from O’Reilly (FOX) to Today (NBC). From the old saw of the birther’s claim that the president lacks his US birth certificate to matters of state Mr. Trump seems well prepared to talk over any and all other questions while repeatedly repeating all his preconceived message points. He knows how to talk, and talk, and talk.

In response to a question of what the President (Obama) has done well, Trump replied “he got elected.”
In response to the lack of a national budget Trump assured listeners it was due entirely to “a lack of leadership” that wouldn’t be the case if he was sitting in the oval office.
In response to a question on foreign policy he expounded that the “United States isn’t respected” any longer by the rest of the world.

In fairness questions that were posited to how he would change this if elected but they were parried and thwarted and never answered. The ‘how” of what would be different is often the most important question — not the if or the dreams or desires for change, but rather the execution, the how. Mr. Trump offered nothing to that debate or discourse.

Taking just the question of how the rest of the world may see us… after years of financially and militarily supporting dictatorial regimes all to assure the stable supply of crude oil to fill our gas-guzzling economy, or the nature of avaricious conduct in pursuit of minerals and raw materials to satiate our economic demands at the cost of local economies and indigenous people… these are the core issues of why we’re not liked, not respected. Having the biggest stick, the greater swagger, the most shiny boots on the ground isn’t sufficient to master world respect, much less domination. Assuring audiences this would all ‘be changed’ once he gets to the White House seems insufficient and unrealistic.

The media – all of us who are in charge of the microphone – better start asking the ‘how’ as the 2012 campaign gets underway. There’s likely to be a lot of noise in the coming months – but rather than just close our ears we could decide to have greater impact by thinking about and demanding answers to the real questions. Let’s start with ‘how’?

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