Tag Archives: journalism

Liberal Media/Conservative Media

I think this article, posted today on Espn.com, is a nice exhibit in the argument for abandoning all investigation into mainstream media’s possible political slants:

Thank goodness; we had all been waiting for Tucker Carlson to talk about Michael Vick.

Why national media is conservative: Tucker Carlson is an “analyst” on a national television network, is saying things like this, and is getting press for doing so.

Why national media is liberal: read the last paragraph of that story.  If you can’t read it, here it is again, crisp, straightforward, pristine:

Carlson, a conservative commentator, is angry that Obama told Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie he believes people who have paid for their crimes should have the opportunity to contribute to society again.

Buster Olney Is Wrong About Rays, Bagels

The Tampa Bay Rays had a chance to clinch a playoff berth yesterday against the Orioles, and only 12,000 fans showed up at the stadium.  Evan Longoria, the best player on the team, spoke to reporters about how disappointing it was that more fans were not out to support them.

On his ESPN blog, Buster Olney wrote that such complaining “makes no sense whatsoever.”  By way of explanation, he used the analogy that a bagel shop proprietor should not complain about a lack of customers despite his good bagels, and neither should the Rays complain about their lack of fans.  It’s an Insider article, so here is the quote:

Saying this stuff out loud makes no sense whatsoever, in the same way it makes no sense for a farmer or a hardware-store owner or a computer-outlet owner to complain about the customers. Can you imagine if the owner of a bagel store — and I worked as a baker in bagel stores in West Lebanon, N.H., and in Nashville during my college years — in St. Petersburg were to talk like Longoria?

[here I cut out a not-particularly-funny riff Olney goes on with Longoria’s quote altered to talk about bagels]

A bagel-store owner who says something like that would be laughed out of town. Folks who run a business — any business — put a product up for sale, and would-be patrons have the right to decide whether they want to buy the product. Nobody is obligated to buy the product, just as the Rays are not obligated to commit to staying in St. Petersburg forever.

This is wrong.  The difference between a bagel shop and a baseball team is that society does not pretend that bagel shops are transcedental community organizations, the support of which follows rules and logic different than that of simple commerce.  The entire institution of Major League Baseball, its billions of dollars of revenue, and the trickle down economy that includes the paycheck Buster Olney cashes for writing his ESPN blog, depends upon baseball being viewed as something other than a simple commercial enterprise.

I’m guessing Olney is still sore that nobody liked his bagels back in West Lebanon, New Hampshire.

Incidentally, if that bagel shop was a cherished local business whose owner had been an important member of the community for 50 years, then yes, community support would be something greater than simply customers exercising their right to not purchase a product.

Don’t write columns that undermine your own existence as a writer.  Unless that’s your point.  Which it isn’t.

One approach to reporting good news

A friend of mine who works for the Food Trust passed along this article from today’s (Monday, 9/27/10) Philly Inquirer.  It is a “good news” story: a West Philadelphia family that recognized their son’s obesity risk and did something about it.  The article ties the Footes family’s story into larger Philadelphia efforts to inject healthy eating habits into the city’s African American neighborhoods.

Part of my problem with typical “good news” is that it focuses on individual feel-good stories and stops there.  These stories seem afraid to go big picture because, you are left to reason, the big picture is bad.  This trend (coupled with the marketing decision to not offend anybody) leads to asinine publications like Reader’s Digest, whose idea of news is profiles of couples married for 70 years and dogs who rescue their owners from floods.  Newspapers like the Inquirer are capable of printing feel-good “human interest” stories, but they run in the same section as big-picture articles about how obesity is going to cost American eight gazillion dollars in health care expenditures.  It’s hard to get jazzed about one family’s success when it’s followed up with an article about national crises.

So this article suggests a template for making in-roads into the national media’s bad-news habit.  Find a human-interest story and use it as an entry point to discuss national trends.  Then find within those trends reasons for optimism.  Wording is important: efforts are under way to improve the situation.  Plans and initiatives, frequently ambitious and progressive (danger in that word, but fuck it), bolstered by new research and backed by success stories which all lead to projections and attainable goals that, if met, would save X dollars and Y lives over Z years.  That’s the stuff.

There are massive lists of words sitting in political consultancy offices, lists of words to use in describing opponents and words to use in describing yourself.  Perhaps news desks should get a copy of those lists, and as their own public health initiative, start using the positive lists whenever possible in an innovative approach to lowering blood pressure nation-wide.

Fire Joe Morgan at Deadspin

The writers from Fire Joe Morgan posted a bunch of articles on Deadspin on September 22nd.  The whole list is viewable here: http://deadspin.com/tag/fjm/

They’ve lost none of their humor or eye for detail, or their vulgarity.  I want to highlight one particular article, however, which made me laugh out loud.  This article is a breakdown of a recent Murray Chass blog post.

The Fire Joe Morgan take / The original Murray Chass piece.

The Murray Chass piece, titled “Winners Who Have Loses” may be, and I’m saying this without attempt at exaggeration, the most asasine and boring piece of writing I’ve ever seen from a nationally-recognized writer.  It reads like it was written by a 5th grader trying to do “baseball analysis.”

I won’t attempt any more description of it, as the FJM piece does it better than I possibly could.  But read both articles, because they’re both hilarious in their own way.

Review: The Onion misfires with Glenn Beck article

I love The Onion and I loathe Glenn Beck, but their recent article mocking him is a notable misfire.

Nation Once Again Comes Under Sway of Pink-Faced Half-Wit

When The Onion steps into social or political satire, it does its best work by rephrasing its subject in mocking, sarcastic, or ironic terms.  The piece relies on the reader’s knowledge of the topic, and the absurdity of what the article is literally saying, to bring the mockery into focus.  The “Giuliani To Run For President Of 9/11” article is a good example of this.

Sadly, this latest article on Glenn Beck lacks the ironic observations or tongue-in-cheek journalism of good Onion pieces.  It’s clear upon reading (and this is feeling I almost never get from reading The Onion) that the writer merely hates Glenn Beck and is out to insult him.

The biggest tell of this is the fact that the article does not flesh out its decent premise.  Pointing out a history of “pink-faced half-wits” in American politics is a funny idea, and using Charles Coughlin, Michael Moore, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck as data points is a start.  But the article doesn’t run with that.  Rather, it seems to be mainly trying to fit as many disparaging adjectives about Beck into 677 words.  I counted 77 words or phrases employed in some way to disparage Glenn Beck and, to a lesser extent, the school of pink-faced half-wits:

pink-faced, half-wit, spewing, reactionary, manipulative, diatribes, bloated, hateful, multimillionaire, exploiting, vain, avaricious, self-interests, fleecing, bombastic, demagogues, disgusting, ambitious, narcissistic, outlandish, easily debunked, shameless, self-promotion, lack of credentials, pasty, shallow, dullards, inane, thinly veiled, untenable, fringe, ideological, truly baffling, irresponsible, without fear of accountability, frothing, shouting, dim-bulbs, porcine, loudmouth, incendiary, virulent, shamelessly, preying, intellectually corrupt, piece of shit, asshole, fat, disgusting, pig mouth, jowly, nitwits, false, moral superiority, rash, philandering, steal, vociferous, foaming, morons, nauseating, self-aggrandizing, hypocritical, outright racism, arrogant, self-important, bullshit, fleshy hole, invincible, ruddy, pabulum-spewing, cretin, perjure, fanatical, oversimplified, jingoistic polemics, enchant

I guess that list, by itself, is somewhat funny.  But it doesn’t save the article.  Rather than taking its customary high ground by showing Beck’s inanity through an exaggeratedly-literal depiction of his behavior (such as the Giuliani article), the Onion here loses points to Beck by appearing childish and petty.

The Onion can have a dud, that’s fine, comedy is tricky.  It was a strange feeling of being disappointed in The Onion that prompted me to write this piece.  It doesn’t matter that I am glad the article points out certain things (“Anytime followers heed his advice and do something illegal, [the pink-faced half-wit] can simply claim that his work is intended only for entertainment purposes“) with which I agree.  The Onion’s satire is better, and taken more seriously, when it doesn’t show its cards so clumsily.

Common Sense from Slate

William Saletan at Slate.com wrote two recent articles on the Quran-burning bruhaha which ring true with wisdom and common sense.  I encourage everyone to read them both (they’re not that long):

We Didn’t Start The Fire: you aren’t responsible for Quran burners.  Don’t hold Muslims responsible for 9/11

Quranamok: The clarifying chaos of the Quran-burning saga.

One of his best points is the observation that nobody speaks for anybody.  Fifty racist Christians in Florida do not speak for America any more than nineteen Islamic hijackers speak for Islam.  Unfortunately, I think his second article contains one sadly naive bit of optimism.  Speaking about the conservative pundits who have manipulated the Florida story to their Islamiphobic and political ends, he writes:

Eventually, it will dawn on them that the Muslims who want to swim, eat, and worship at a community center in Lower Manhattan really are different from the Muslims who flew planes into the World Trade Center.

Sadly, I don’t think this is true.  I think some of these blowhards (maybe Gingrich, probably not Palin) do not truly believe that every Muslim walks in lockstep to a globally-orchestrated conspiracy to take over the world.  But they will continue to stir that racist, hateful soup as long as voters and donors keep lining up for it.  They won’t wake up one morning and suddenly start behaving as compassionate Christians, or begin take America’s founding ideals to heart and welcome the world’s poor, huddled masses.  They’ll only change their tone when that tone no longer keeps them in power and money.

Which, I guess, is an argument for better public schools.

Sensationalist Journalism Legitimizes Debates That Never Should Be Legitimized

This video was posted on CNN yesterday with the headline, “Is Obama an Islamic Sympathizer?”  The sub-description of the video is, “CNN’s Anderson Cooper talks with a panel about whether President Obama’s views are ‘un-American.'”

The several-minute video is Anderson Cooper hosting 4 panelists: Paul Begala, Ari Fleischer, David Gergen, and Fareed Zakaria.  Cooper’s lead-in to the piece, and presumably the genesis of the entire video, is this poll:

A poll worthy of discussion, apparently

Cooper asks each panelist in turn what they make of this.  The first two, Begala and Fleischer, both agree that it shouldn’t be taken seriously and is nothing more than an indicator of the bitterness of America’s current political landscape.  The following two, Gergen and Zakaria, turn the conversation into a brief discussion of America’s tolerance or intolerance for Muslims and Obama’s role in that.  As you might expect, nobody really agrees with anyone, different viewpoints are offered, and the impression you get at the end is that America is a big country and some people really don’t like Obama but most Americans are reasonable.  Astounding!

What drives me up the wall about this video is the branding.  I clicked on the video because of the title, “Is Obama an Islamic Sympathizer?”  CNN’s webmasters gave it that title precisely so that it would draw page views, which generate revenue.  Of course, no one in the video agrees with that question, and they pretty soon stop talking about entirely.*  But the title legitimizes a debate which, in my view, should not be legitimized.

*(Not before Cooper offers this leading question to the first panelist: “Or do you really think that the numbers say that people think the President of the United States supports Sharia law?”  Which is, of course, very different than being an ‘Islamic sympathizer.’  I’m a doormouse sympathizer but I don’t let them eat my cereal.)  

Does the video discuss the various ways one can be “sympathetic” to Islam?  Does it discuss what it means to have “un-American views?”  No.*  Does anyone in the video even bring up the concept of a President with un-American views?  No.  The video would more accurately be titled, “Is American Politics Religiously Divided?”  But in going for the controversy and ad revenue, CNN legitimizes the “debate” over Obama’s patriotism and whether being “sympathetic” to Islam is an acceptable stance in this country.  It doesn’t matter that the content of the video mostly ignores the question and certainly doesn’t endorse it.  It is merely the presence of the question, prominently displayed on CNN.com, which legitimizes it as a question worthy of national discussion.

*(Again, the damage is done in the asking.  The question is raised by the headline, and you have to watch the video to find out that no, ultimately, Obama’s views are not un-American.  Or you would find that out, if they even addressed the question.  Perhaps we should post this discussion: “Is CNN Run by the Mob?”  Inclined readers can wade through 4 pages of comment board posts to find out that no, it isn’t.)

There are people in this country who fervently believe Obama wants to impose Sharia Law.  They point to CNN and say, “See?  The debate continues.”  I believe in freedom of speech, but the attention being given to that viewpoint and similar views is out of proportion to the number of people who legitimately believe it.  I believe others do not actually believe such things, but stoke this fire because it furthers their own political agenda.  The debate over Obama’s secret Islamic objectives is even less of a debate than the “debate” over global warming.  Yet a mainstream news outlet like CNN legitimizes the “other side” of the debate for…what?  Ad revenue.  And the national political debate suffers for it.

The problem is that the wackos don’t give the rest of us the same deal.  If you went to a website trumpeting the Obama-as-Muslim cause, you would not see a video called, “Three Reasons Why Obama May Be Christian.”  Even FoxNews does not have videos titled, “Is Obama’s Economic Policy Paying Dividends?”  No, at Fox you get links like, “How Much Will the Transition to Digital Medical Records Cost You?” and “Stimulus Plan in Hindsight: Did Obama’s Agenda Hobble Economic Recovery?”

The New York Times or CNN would not be muckraking to report on the Obama-as-Muslim conspiracy theories, or the elected officials who doubt global warming, or any other sign of these nutty times.  But there is a way to cover such trends and people that does not legitimize their viewpoints.  When the paper covers a house fire, it doesn’t use the headline, “Was House Meant To Burn Down?”

I believe the Obama-as-Muslim theorists are not only wrong, but the promotion of that debate materially hurts America’s pursuit of our diplomatic objectives and increases anti-American sentiment abroad.  There are stakes here.  But the media’s pursuit of bad news and provocative opinion creates a positive feedback loop which gives these fringe perspectives more clout than they deserve.  They can then point to the phantom debate created by the media coverage as a retroactive legitimization of what we dun been sayin’ since way back when Grandpop told us that de Foundin Fathers knew that dark-skinned folk ain’t mean to live in democracy.  Now we just glad we’s gettin some attentun fer it.

We need and deserve more sophisticated consideration from those organizations and individuals who, in these divisive times, sit in the control room of our national attention.