There’s a new book about General William Westmoreland and the Vietnam war which, again, raises such serious questions about the lies we were told about the war, the progression of that war, its strategy and its failures.
Any one who remembers the “Five O’clock Follies” – the daily afternoon briefing of misinformation and manipulation of the media (and ultimately the public) by MAC-V (Military Assistance Command Vietnam) suspected at the time that the wolves were pulling the wool over the sheep’s eyes — but the military and government establishment did so with such gusto, bravado and the arrogance believing that they’d never be challenged, much less caught.
Almost a half century later we are still buffeted by the lingering effects of that war – the relationship between the military and the media has forever been changed, embeds don’t have the opportunity to report freely on what happens, and there seems to be a revisionist view among the public that any doubt or questioning is in some way unpatriotic. And that – the not-so-veiled-threat of any questioning or challenge as being akin to unpatriotic is the worst result of all.

It’s the arrogance, Stupid!

September 21, 2011

The Justice Department admits it served $16 dollar muffins, $8 cups of coffee and cookies and brownies that cost $10 each at a 2009 meeting.

At a time when many Americans don’t have enough money for basic groceries this seems to be, well the word that comes to mind is excessive.

The story, appearing in Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times Justice Department’s $16 dollar muffins don’t sit well, quotes Justice Department officials, “We agree that excessive spending of the types identified in the OIG report should not occur,” adding that the department has taken steps “to ensure that these problems do not occur again.”

Good messaging. Good Crisis Management.

Maybe they might have thought about the ramifications of the decision to spend so much before they thought they were so entitled. But it proves the old media adage, you never get caught for the crime when you do it but always for the cover-up or the discover.

As reported by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS.

A reporter with the student newspaper at the University of Kentucky was barred from a news media event with basketball players. DeWayne Peevy, an associate athletics director, told The Lexington Herald-Leader that the newspaper’s basketball writer, Aaron Smith, broke an unwritten policy barring reporters from interviewing student-athletes without first going through media relations.

Oh sure – those students journalists… student athletes can’t speak with student journalists but the rest of the media can? And there is logic in this decision? It looks like University censorship. Plain, simple and regrettable.

I write in support of free speech, no matter how loathsome it may taste. But the ultimate question – how is it that personalities like Glenn Beck continue to receive the attention, the coverage, and yes even comments like these before the public mindset simply says, “Basta. No more. Good bye.”

On his radio show and reported in the Los Angeles Times Monday Beck said, “There was a shooting at a political camp, which sounds a little like, you know, the Hitler youth. I mean, who does a camp for kids that’s all about politics? Disturbing.”

Is Beck delusional? Hateful? Is he trying to stir the pot to further his own ambitions, dependent on promoting his own notoriety, regardless of how vile it may be to many? Clearly his departure at FOX was born of falling ratings, declining sponsors, embarrassment and ultimately the network’s decision to cast away a program which had run its course, fulfilled it mission and was no longer something (or some one) they wanted to be associated with.

So what was his agenda in making these remarks? Does he believe that this was a camp a la Hitler youth? Could he be serious, or is he just messing with the audience?

And yet, the monster of hate and bigotry and irresponsibility lives… it clearly lives in Beck’s dark heart and worse, probably too it lives among some of his faithful. Clearly the Los Angeles Times found it newsworthy to report. A Google search at 553p PT Monday on “Beck and Hitler Youth” yields 160,000 hits! Imagine… in just a few short hours… from his lips to Internet phenomenon.

So yes, free speech lives – and fortunately condemnation is alive too. Irresponsible speech lives freely. Hateful, nasty, unimaginable things are said and written by Beck and others – Beck just gets an overwhelming response… What disturbs me the most is that he probably contrived his comments to provoke just such a reaction.

Free speech comes at a price. Unfortunately Beck is using up the currency at an alarming rate.

It’s been going on since before the verdict but now the bidding war for Casey Anthony’s story has gone big time with attorneys holed up in pricey New York hotels as they negotiate Casey for her licensing rights. That’s right – network’s don’t pay for interviews so instead they offer lavish treatment and buy the rights to photographs and other family memorabilia; it’s called the licensing rights for everything surrounding her actual tell-all tale. Payola by any other name is still wrong.

Postings in social media on this are colorful ranging from outrage and revulsion to snide comments about the ethics (or lack thereof) involved in even considering buying her story, much less rewarding her. None of this is new. None is shocking. It is what tabloids and quick-books have made fortunes on over the years. The networks should not be blamed – they are selling a product and need to corner an ever shrinking piece of the viewer’s loyalty. Sadly this is being done under the banner of news, but that seems to cause few any pain or difficulty.

Meanwhile – Casey may be in Palm Springs according to some… while cross country her lawyers are no doubt turning up the heat in their bidding war… and the weatherman said it was going to be a scorcher in New York today. No doubt.

ABC News has hired Elizabeth Smart, formerly in the news as a Utah kidnap victim when she was a child, as a correspondent assigned to kidnapping and high profile missing person cases, according to The Hollywood Reporter and reported in People Magazine.

Is this a strategic move or one aimed at creating and fostering special appreciation among victim’s families?
Is she a bona fide journalist or a talented ‘talking horse’?

The issue is simple – what’s her training, journalistic experience or story telling? Obviously she will work alongside talented producers; obviously she will be guided and hand-held… but is she being sent out as a lure to sway the sympathy of victims?

It is worth asking is this good journalism or smarmy public relations and booking?

Can some one explain to me the use of the word “HISTORIC” being flaunted by the media to describe today’s meeting between Mrs. Michelle Obama and Nelson Mandela?

Why is it historic? She isn’t a head of state… she isn’t conducting bilateral talks… there are no negotiations between our countries – at least none that is revealed to date.

Is it important? i suppose yes…. certainly to her and her daughters… but to the rest of us?

Why does the news media use the word historic to describe what was a brief and in diplomatic terms nothing more than a courtesy meeting?

In the scope of time, or the Obama presidency, in terms of international relations between South Africa and the United States this will hardly be termed ‘historic’. So why does the media use the word, as if to credit her with something more significant than what it really was?

Am I missing something? (And no – this isn’t about race, black leaders or women’s rights…), this is just an observation about the word choice used by networks and local stations to categorize an event – or characterize it? Maybe both.

Paying for interviews? Rewarding executives or news makers or personalities for their bon mots?

Not in the old days – not when news wasn’t expected to make money – not before corporate ownership took hold and made news divisions responsible for their bottom line and turning a profit. But now, in the wild west of media frenzies thanks to networks, tabloids and scandal sheets, it’s anything goes – and the highest bidder may win, regardless of the terms or conditions associated with the interviewees’ demand.

This For Instant Ratings, Interviews With a Checkbook in a recent New York Times received very little attention, or so it seemed to me. I would have expected, maybe just hoped, for more attention to be paid to the consequences.

Once upon a time people appeared on media because it was truly an opportunity to reach a mass audience. Now thanks to a plethora of media there’s little doubt that any one can get attention, some times far too much or unwarranted attention.

Paying for interviews – or rather for access is not new. The Times piece makes it seem as if it is a recent development… it has existed for years – prime time programs have done it, programs with the most prominent of news anchors have done it. A wink and a nod and money is paid for family photos or archive material in the thin guise that this is the cover for what will become a guaranteed interview with the personality too.

It can be paid to the prospective interviewees, or it may come in the form of lavish wining and dining for friends or families. It happened during the Koby Bryant case, for John Mark Karr who confessed to the Jon Benet Ramsey killing, even to people associated with Phil Garrido who recently plead guilty to the kidnapping and rape of Jaycee Dugard. It’s just not new. And it feels skanky to do it – even when under the direct instructions of senior news managers in New York.

There are so many questions – if you pay, will some one be more forthcoming? If you pay too little, will they hold back? If you pay for one media does that count if some one else pays more for a different platform? Does payment change their story – are they more likely to juice it up to hike the price, or claim to know more than they really do — but money makes them be bold, even to the point of lying?

News divisions once had a policy that prohibited paying any one for a news story. That existed as a fire wall within news, but was not as rigid for prime time magazines or the morning shows which at some networks are produced by the entertainment divisions. Times have changed. Networks demand all programs produce a profit. And now news figures – even temporary news headliners – are sought after as exclusives. They may or may not have much to say – they may not even offer much to discourse or common knowledge – but they command payments just to speak. I don’t feel good about a lot of this whatsoever.

Four hundred seventy eight pages… that’s what it took to conclude that the state of local news in the digital age is in a serious state o’ crisis, with apologies to O’Casey.

This is the latest from the FCC on the sorry state of local news in the digital age. Not only did the FCC prepare the report at taxpayer expense but additionally paid for a commissioned news piece on paidcontent.org FCC Report Cites Lack Of Local News, But Has No Ideas To Fill The Gap.

The findings are not surprising, “There’s a big gap in local news reporting. There are fewer newspaper reporters covering “essential beats” like courts, schools, local affairs. The number of reporters in key places of government has dropped considerably. In New Jersey, for example, the number of statehouse reportesr (sic) dropped from 35 to 15 between 2003 and 2008. In the same time period, California went from 40 to 29; in Texas from 28 to 18; in Georgia, from 14 to 5.
Daily newspapers cut their editorial spending by $1.6 billion per year from 2006 to 2009; staff has shrunk more than 25 percent since 2006…
The report describes local TV as a kind of news wasteland. The stations are generally pumping up the volume of news while reducing staff, and give short shrift to serious topics like education, health care, and government. The report cites a TV news study by the Annenberg School of Communications that found such hard news topics took up a little over one minute in a 30-minute news broadcast. While coverage of city government withers, crime news proliferates. And the report notes the disturbing trend of “pay-for-play” arrangements, as well as the airing of “video press releases” masquerading as news.
Cable news is thriving on a national level but remains stunted at a local level. Only about 25 to 30 percent of the population can watch a local news show on cable.”

The Annenberg Lear Center study which came out in May 2010 Lear Center Report: sports & weather, crime, fluff dominate L.A. TV news makes a frightening case for the diminishing amount of substantive news and the value placed on important stories by news managers.

Look – it’s no secret that consultants have ruined local news – as well as the lack of commitment from station owners, managers, news directors and others of fiscal ilk. News was never profitable and for the vast majority of the 20th century, news was not profitable. In the late 1980s when it became essential to stations that news make money, all semblance of reality was lost. Now shows that proclaim to be news programs are dominated by traffic and weather – because that’s what consultants say the public cares most about… This is the most ephemeral of all substance… the least consequential… and yet it dominates in terms of new devices, maps and computer animations and a significant commitment of the total time of each news program.

Is it any wonder why so few audience surveys find that audiences treat news programs seriously, or make the evening news appointment television night after night, or where loyalty to a program or presenter was once a staple and is now a mater of convenience or happenstance? We’ve polluted the audience by offering features and soft stories as early as 5 or 7 minutes into the programs…. features which once would have been relegated to the end of the news show as a ‘kicker’ but which now appear earlier and earlier each show in order to give the audience something ‘light’ and ‘entertaining’ and ‘enjoyable’ as opposed to something which the editors felt was necessary and important and consequential.

This isn’t just a situation (problem) with local news. Watch many of the network programs and you can see the same symptoms about story selection and placement – an erosive degredation of what news ought to be presented contrasted with what is presented in the guise of news so that the audience will stay tuned.

We wonder why at a time when audiences say they’ve never been better informed thanks to digital content when in fact it appears that they have never known as little or less about so many stories, in spite of digital technology and delivery.

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.

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