The Media is behaving as Lame and Lamer

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

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?

Huckabee from the sidelines

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.

Staged photo ops – staged anything is problematic

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.

“Its the Apocalypse”, more after this

Is it just me or does much of the reporting from Japan have a certain giddiness, a breathless excitement of what may come next mixed with a dour expression of the degree of gloom looming with every next story?

I keep anticipating the growing expectations of nuclear horror to even drift right into the local traffic reports which precede most newscasts… “And in Northern Japan right now the 4 horsemen of the Apocalypse are causing major delays to the flow of human refugees from quake stricken areas about to become too hot for human life… and now, the news and the latest on what’s happening in this ‘developing story’…

Japan is a big story. We know that because so many anchors are in country giving the story their personal touch, their individual raised eyebrow of concern and sobering reporting. The disaster in Japan reportage is punctuated by all the big hitters – the New York and Washington show hosts – who have been sent to the center of the action, as if the usual cadre of reporters might not be sufficient to indicate how great the devastation, how overwhelming the human toll and emotion, the degree to which this story is setting and influencing a national (to us) agenda. Now that the media commitment has been made in country, now this is big, and they tell us so.

I am as interested in the Beltway experts who in the hour of nuclear international dismay have stopped bullying one another long enough while weighing in on “just what might be happening” with their own editorial driven speculation (prejudices/agendas/points of view) about unseen events/actions/news releases from half way around the world while making often self-serving, self-aggrandizing points such as, “as they have been saying, worrying and warning all along” some thing like this was bound to happen”, “it was just a matter of time”, and this “should be a warning to us to address our…” nuclear/energy/national policy decisions going forward”.

These are quite obviously serious times. Events, while moving quickly, are not entirely clear, seen or immediately reported. As much as we want to know now, as much as we feel we must have decisive information immediately, this is a story where exact facts, truths and events are as clear as mud. Patience, while a virtue, is not being practiced. Maybe it can’t be… but the breathless excitement over each new tidbit, headline, next half hour of what’s coming up and how bad it will be is getting exhausting.

Propaganda Personified in the Dear Leader

North Korea’s Dear Leader Kim Jong Il and his cult of personality in every aspect of life is showcased in this provocative piece North Korea’s Cinema of Dreams from Al Jazeera’s “101 West” program.

Al Jazeera’s 2+ year effort to gain access for their story pays off lifting the veil of secrecy about North Korea’s vaulted propaganda enterprise in an insightful portrait of young students poised to become the next generation of the actors, performers, film makers and documentarians.

This piece stands in sharp contrast to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer who took cameras along with U.S. envoy Gov. Bill Richardson on one of his diplomatic missions last winter, but so many of the shots focused on Wolf reporting about what he saw and what he felt precious little time was left for actual photo journalism. We saw as much of Mr. Blitzer on camera as we saw Mr. Richardson, and very little was left for anything more than street scenes. This work by Al Jazeera is more about the substance of what is taught, learned and practiced with ample time devoted to interviews and first-person insights and much less about the cult of a TV personality enjoying what’s bandied as his exclusive reporting.

It’s easy to bash North Korea. Hidden, secretive, a throw back to the middle of the 20th century – an enemy, a member of the Axis of Evil, but we do not know much – we do not often focus except at moments of terror and the verge of war. We should know more, though for so many reasons we see and hear and pay attention to very little.

Admittedly it’s always entertaining to read the pure propaganda from the official North Korean news agency KCNA and to wonder just who writes it, edits it – much less thinks any one would even be interested.

Al Jazeera has produced a program worthy of our attention. The network is winning praise for its Witness series of cell phone interviews and reports on Mideast tumult, but long before the events in the streets of Cairo the network has been steadily producing programs on events, places and individuals that are often shuttered to or ignored by western media. The ongoing ban by many U.S. cable operators preventing carriage of the network is shameful in a society which promotes free expression of ideas, discussion and debate.

Knee Jerks & Reaction – Free speech or Gun Control?

Whether the tragedy in Arizona was caused by bulls-eyes on web sites or placards or vitriol may never be fully known. But in the response to this tragedy – to say or do something that will make us feel better – we again see a typical American response of “let’s put a band-aid on this” right away. There are already urgent calls for a quick-fix regardless of its long-term implications.

By Sunday there were calls in the media and Congress to restrict what can be said or used in political advertisements. There were calls to limit free speech. There were calls to put limits and penalties on what could be said in a country where it has been our historic right to protect free speech – even when some of what is said is odious.

It seems peculiar that these proponents are seeking to put a fix on free speech instead of looking at the real problem – the absolute proliferation of handguns – semi automatic weapons better suited for war than for sale at a sports store to an individual who will most likely plead an insanity defense for his senseless and selfish actions.

It would be a sad ending to this tragedy that our rights become victims of emotional decisions and knee jerk reaction.

Stupid is as stupid does – again

Sitting in for Sean Hannity on FOX News this week Tucker Carlson called for Michael Vicks execution for pet abuse. Gawker has the clip.
Is this for ratings? Attention? Is it racism? Is it just reality TV?

The question of why the FOX bosses allow this is obvious – cloaked in “free speech” it garners attention and column inches, like these.

But is any one thinking of the longer term damage to discourse? Of course, if it is Tucker’s opinion calling for executions of pet abuses, then he’s welcome to it. Maybe he wants his own show again and feels this is the best way to accomplish that goal. But it just doesn’t pass the smell test of reasonableness… So why say it? For effect? For attention? One can only surmise he was motivated by being quote-worthy. He succeeded. But at what price?

What is the price for discourse? What is editorially responsible? Where is the line? Where are the editors? The managers? The grown-ups?

The war we don’t hear (much) about

Arguably the war in Afghanistan drones on into its ninth year with continuing Draconian consequences including the loss of lives (US & Coalition troops and Afghan citizens), a negative effect on US interests and reputation abroad and devastating impact on our national budget, among others. And yet, no one (including, especially the media) seems to pay much attention.

The Project for Excellence in Journalism reported that just 4% of news coverage this year focused on the war and that’s down from the year before when it was a whopping 5%.  According to Afghan War Just a Slice of US Coverage this week, the war just does not merit much editorial interest or coverage.  Is that because the media finds the war uninteresting?  Difficult to cover?  Or is it the impression and/or understanding that the audience doesn’t much care for the story, so why cover something distasteful that’s apt to turn viewers off?  Or, all of the above?

Thinking back to Vietnam when there were thousands of reporters from all over the world covering that war, daily papers and multiple wire services were filled with incisive and comprehensive coverage. Nightly newscasts featured competitive stories. Names like Saigon, Da Nang, Hue, Cam Ranh Bay, Pleiku and so many others were widely known – heard frequently in coverage and by datelines – and discussed. But what of names, places and coverage from Afghanistan? After Kabul what names do come to mind? And could many (any) of us find them on a map?

Whose fault is that? Is it the media? There are fewer than a handful of reporters in country.  Is that because of diminished interest, reduced news budgets? The difficulty (near impossibility) of getting around without the assistance and escort of the US or coalition military? All of the above? But wouldn’t we be better served by more coverage – not just that which is approved by US military and diplomatic handlers?

From the Times’ story, “The low levels of coverage reflect the limitations on news-gathering budgets and, some say, low levels of interest in the war among the public. About a quarter of Americans follow news about Afghanistan closely, according to recent surveys by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

“Inside the United States, you’ve got audiences that are beginning to suffer from war fatigue,” said Tony Maddox, who oversees international coverage for CNN.”

Competition among journalists in Vietnam as well as the wider range of published, conflicting and divergent viewpoints did contribute to the divisive nature of that war as well as to its ultimate peace.

The current crop of Afghan stories – according to what was published in the Times – seems to focus on whether the war is in fact winnable? A fair question – an obvious one at the end of the year and prior to the upcoming new Congress and State of the Union.

But – from a media standpoint – and a critical one – how is it that a war which is sucking resources at an appalling rate only merits 4% of the annual news coverage to begin with? Incidentally this isn’t just the fault of the media, for whatever our many sins might be, we have also become victims of the business culture which seeks to please audiences by giving them news they want, news they will be entertained by – not necessarily the news they need to make sober, serious and informed decisions. Afghan news is deemed to be unpopular unpleasant – it’s certainly foreign – and to be discriminatory or bigoted it is about people and a country we don’t generally think very highly of! There, I said it. From a media management standpoint – though they may not want to admit it – if honest they’d say their audiences don’t understand these people – don’t relate to these people – and don’t believe that our being in country is going to make much of (if any) reasonable difference. We’re marking time until the body county, blood-letting and money loss is so unsupportable that we’ll skulk out having declared a win, proudly asserting we had established a toe hold for democracy and proclaiming a peace. Whatever the hell that will look like.

The real question is this – from a media standpoint – 4%. Is that the best we can do? Is that a measure of how little we really care – and its failing Y2Y.

So as we enter 2011 let’s watch for stories with more bang-bang than politics. And stories about Presidential visits – 3 hours at an US air base – instead of a texture piece on the complexities of the Afghan government. And let’s not minimize the panache of visiting news anchors – Beauties in Bush Jackets – who visit from time to time to do their own ‘in-depth’ personal reporting conducted from the safety of US military escorts. This isn’t reporting. This is white wash. We deserve better… we don’t want to pay for it, we don’t want to be bothered by tough reporting and serious questions… and so instead we wait for Beltway pontificators to fill in what we don’t get from the field — offering platitudes and opinion instead of reportage.  It is however a poor alternative for the real thing.

The whole world is in a terrible state of crisis, and we dont hear much about it.

The foreign correspondent has become a casualty of the economy.  The days of the dashing foreign correspondent, trench-coated and adorned on top with a fedora are long-gone. 

Newspapers which prided themselves on their overseas commitment and the breadth and depth of their coverage have long since shuttered their news bureaux overseas.  So too have networks preferring to import pictures of breaking stories to London to be voiced there before being re-transmitted to New York.

So what’s lost?  The foreign correspondent is dead. Long live the foreign correspondent piece in today’s Guardian by Timothy Garton Ash is a thoughtful, insightful view as to what’s lost when we no longer care (or are willing to pay) to find the news ourselves.

His closing graphs, “For all my experience cries out to me: there is nothing to compare with being there. However many thousands of fantastic clips, blogs and online transcripts you have, there is nothing to compare with being there…

The unique value added by the 20th-century foreign correspondent consisted, at best, in the combination in one person’s experience over time, the considered throughput in a single mind and sensibility, of all three elements: witnessing, deciphering, interpreting. If we can somehow preserve that, in the journalism of our day, then we may yet achieve both more and better foreign news.”

The Guardian story is worth a look…not so much because it breaks a headline about the dearth of competent foreign journalism as much as it is a reminder of what we have lost… and to think about the consequences of our ignorance, a lack of awareness or interpretive appreciation and an absence of understanding.

In 1924 Sean O’Casey ended Juno & the Paycock with the admonition “”th’ whole worl’s in a terrible state o’ chassis”. Never did it seem that was more true than today.

Long live the foreign correspondent.