Social Media Gone Vile

January 13, 2012

Early Friday the profession of the media lost one of it’s finest craftsman when former ABC and CBS correspondent Richard Threlkeld was killed in a traffic accident on Long Island, New York. The local paper Newsday filed a picture along with their story Richard Threlkeld, former CBS newsman killed in crash and that has unleased a cascade of comments taking issue with bumper stickers on Threlkeld’s car – labeling him part of the ‘liberal”, “biased”, an “Obama supporter” and member of the “lametsream” media. Inaccurate since the title of the article described Threlkeld as a ‘former” newsman… no longer in the profession and free to advocate for any position he might choose.

But the question that is more appalling, and frightening, is what is it – even in death – that makes people feel that social media is a forum for invective — even it seems about some one they don’t know personally? What is it about the anger that seems to exist, just simmering at the surface of too many people’s daily lives? What did happen to all those cries for greater civility following the Tucson shooting of Rep. Gifford just a year ago.

Or, just as challenging, what is it about the media that seems to have raised such hatred, distrust and anger among some consumers? Obviously those who made these insulting and personal remarks are consumers of media – they read the Newsday article and then felt perfectly OK to make judgments about the victim.

The ability to make comments is of course protected free speech. But the anger, the rush to judgment, the inappropriateness of the timing of these comments gives me pause.

Dick Threlkeld was a masterful writer, story teller, correspondent and a good friend of both my father during the Vietnam war and me when Dick and I both worked at CBS and ABC on the US west coast.
He was a craftsman – a wordsmith – a gentleman – a friend.

From the Associate Press

By FRAZIER MOORE
AP Television Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Richard Threlkeld, a far-ranging and award-winning correspondent who worked for both CBS and ABC News during a long career, has been killed in a car accident, CBS said.
The 74-year-old Threlkeld died Friday morning in Amagansett, N.Y., and was pronounced dead at Southampton Hospital. He lived in nearby East Hampton.
Threlkeld spent more than 25 years at CBS News, retiring in 1998. He was a reporter, anchor and bureau chief. He covered the Persian Gulf War and the Vietnam War, the Patty Hearst kidnapping and trial, and the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.
He worked alongside Lesley Stahl as co-anchor of “The CBS Morning News” from 1977-79, and reported for “CBS Sunday Morning” from its inception in 1979, as well as for “The CBS Evening News With Dan Rather.”
In 1981, Threlkeld decided to go to up-and-coming ABC News without fanfare and without telling CBS.
“I don’t like to horse trade. I’m not a horse,” Threlkeld told The Associated Press at the time. “After I decided ABC was the best place for me to go, it would have been wrong to make a verbal agreement and take it back to CBS to see what they could do.”
At ABC News, he served as a national correspondent for “World News Tonight.”

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?

Once upon a time when news was not a commodity and what was editorially selected for print or broadcast was of the most pressing nature so that it deserved reporting, there were fewer stories about incidental nudity or wardrobe malfunctions.

But Nicki Minaj Nip Slip During “Good Morning America” today this has become news… It doesn’t matter which network – or how it happened – or if it was incidental or accidental. This is now grist for the content wheel. And it is, forgive me, awfully superficial stuff.

And here is a worthy-to-be-remembered apologetic quote using the term “regrettably.” From TV Newser, “ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider, “Although we had a five-second delay in place, the live East Coast feed of the concert regrettably included certain fleeting images of the performer that were taken out of later feeds in other time zones. We are sorry that this occurred.”

And then – adding this, again from TV Newser, “TMZ spoke with the Parents Television Council: “For the umpteenth time in recent memory a morning news show has included inappropriate content for children and families.” It prompts me to ask — the “umpteenth time”? Did I miss so many of the others? How can they be so carried away with hyperbole – “the umpteenth time”? I guess we should ask for their list (Hah!) – or maybe just watch morning news more carefully.

Maybe this is just a Saturday story… but here’s the point. Until you can put a smoking gun in the hands of the ABC producers and prove they intended this to happen, which I don’t think is even remotely reasonable, can’t we just move on? Is this a worthy-to-be-reported story?

It would seem that there are are more editorially worthwhile things to discuss. My argument here is: this isn’t news. It isn’t fashion. It seems at best to be an isolated and fleeting screw up.

Content matters – this even isn’t worthy. Even by ranting I have given it undue prominence. I guess I just wanted to make a clean breast of how I felt.

How many of us have been stopped, hassled and at times subjected to a Torquemada inquisition over taking pictures of the exterior of a Federal Building?

A Federal Court has ruled the public may make pictures and Homeland Security has changed the rules instructing their security officers not to prohibit or infringe on the public’s right.

Worth printing and having as part of your kit.

A longer version appears here.

In what is a wise and I hope foresighted decision ABC is the first of the big 3 networks to say it won’t continue to pay licensing fees associated with securing major interviews.
ABC ends checkbook journalism, will no longer pay for interviews appearing on the Poynter website includes a quote that ABC News President Ben Sherwoood, “concluded that the cash-register approach to journalism was starting to tarnish the network’s credibility, even though the practice was relatively infrequent.”

That’s putting a good spin on it. Paying for access, paying large sums including $200,000 to Casey Anthony was just one in a series of stories that date back many years and include free travel, accommodations, gifts and more to secure prominent interviewees.

I’ve been critical calling the practice perverse
and decrying the practice of raining money for some time.

Admittedly I have witnessed examples of this practice by all major broadcast and cable networks and been personally involved in such stories – and while I found the practice distasteful I admit that I too had involvement.

ABC deserves major kudos for breaking away from this practice. The audience is better served. The business of journalism is better for their decision. The network is at risk of losing some “exclusives” but in the world where that word has lost all meaning, relevance and importance, it is a courageous step and the network has earned acknowledgement.

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.