When Will Fox News Fire Bill O’Reilly For Lying About Combat Duty?

Conservatives have tenaciously sunk their fangs into the juicy scandal that is engulfing NBC News anchor Brian Williams. The fact that he has admitted (and apologized for) some false statements he made several years ago regarding his experiences covering the war in Iraq is troubling and particularly so for people who make their living on their reputation for honesty.

However, the degree to which the right has gone overboard with their overt hostility is a spectacle that is worth watching for the sheer entertainment value. Although it’s not as if they wouldn’t be showering their hatred on Williams and the rest of the so-called “lamestream” media even if their weren’t some budding scandal. For its part, Fox News has been exhibiting a Benghazi-like obsession with their relentless coverage of the story.

What’s missing from all of this is any sense of perspective or context. Has Fox given equal time to the false assertions by their own Geraldo Rivera who excused his lies as being the fault of the “fog of war?” Of course not. Neither do they make a distinction between the lies advanced by mis-remembering a distant event in the past in order to enhance one’s own personal image, and the lies perpetrated deliberately by national leaders (i.e. George Bush, Dick Cheney, etc.) that resulted in the violent deaths of thousands of American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of innocent, non-combatant Iraqis.

Brian Williams, George Bush

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Nearly every discussion about Williams in the Conservative Media Circus includes outright demands for his termination. Never mind that the false statements made over a decade ago were not made during a newscast or presented as part of his duties as a journalist. The wingnut brigade wants Williams fired for having said some things on David Letterman’s late-night comedy program.

Well, if that’s the standard they are embracing, then let them apply it to Bill O’Reilly as well. Back in 2006, O’Reilly took an extended book promotion tour to Kuwait where he visited with soldiers and signed copies of his book. Reports at the time described how “servicemembers asked O’Reilly about his own tour of duty in Kuwait during Desert Storm.” That might have been an interesting story except for the fact that O’Reilly never did a tour of duty in Kuwait during Desert Storm, or anywhere else since he never served in the military at all.

More recently, O’Reilly told his radio listeners about how he would have coaxed information out of an enemy soldier based on his personal experiences in combat (video below):

“I tell you what, I’ve been in combat. I’ve seen it. I’ve been close to it. And if my unit is in danger and I got a captured guy and the guy knows where the enemy is and I’m looking him in the eye, the guy better tell me. That’s all I’m gonna tell you. If it’s life or death, he’s going first.”

As noted above, and contrary to his statement, O’Reilly has never been in combat. Consequently, he has never commanded a unit or had to contemplate how he would deal with an enemy prisoner. His pretend bluster and machismo is all just a bunch of fantasizing of himself as a hero. So how is that any different than the offenses for which Williams is being pilloried?

There are, however, some very real differences between Williams and O’Reilly. Williams has been found to be less than truthful on this one occasion. O’Reilly has lied repeatedly over his career at Fox News with plenty of documentation to prove it. What’s more O’Reilly has demonstrated himself to be an arrogant, rude, bully who shoves his usually inane opinion down the throats of his guests and his viewers. That’s something that cannot be attributed to Williams.

So if anyone should lose their job over any of this, it would be most advantageous to the television viewing audience, and to society in general, if it is O’Reilly. But don’t count of Fox News to do the right thing. It would be against everything they hold dear.

News Corpse Presents: The ALL NEW 2nd volume of
Fox Nation vs. Reality: The Fox News Cult of Ignorance.
Available now at Amazon.

h/t Meteor Blades at Daily Kos for the video.

Your Moment Of ZENBC: NBC Tried To Recruit Jon Stewart To Host Meet The Press

From the “Horribly Misguided” file: Gabriel Sherman of New York Magazine is reporting that NBC, in a desperation move, sought to snag the host of Comedy Central’s Daily Show, Jon Stewart, to helm their Sunday morning news gabfest, Meet The Press. Sherman writes that…

“Before choosing [Chuck] Todd, NBC News president Deborah Turness held negotiations with Jon Stewart about hosting Meet the Press, according to three senior television sources with knowledge of the talks. One source explained that NBC was prepared to offer Stewart virtually ‘anything’ to bring him over.”

Jon Stewart Meet the Press

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What on Earth are these people thinking? Stewart is an inspired media satirist with a unique ability to shine a light on the absurdities of newscasting and the Stepford characters who present the parade of establishment-approved stories. And certainly his popularity with a young and coveted demographic might set the network honchos’ tongues to wagging. But there are so many obvious reasons that this would be an epic disaster that it’s incomprehensible that they would seriously consider it.

First of all, having a substantive, long-form discussion about issues that impact the nation and the world with the people that actually make the decisions is very different than exchanging snide, albeit often poignant, comments for a five or six minute segment of a comedy program. While Stewart is often better informed, and capable of making more relevant observations, than the cast of the current Sunday news shows, the tone of his presentation is entirely inappropriate for the type of programs that air on Sunday morning. And it is his voice, with a thick layer of “what the fuck” over a bewildered mug that makes him popular. He could not get away with that on Meet the Press.

Secondly, whatever ratings score NBC hoped this move would achieve is completely illusory. Let’s face it, Stewart’s fans are not going to get up that early on a Sunday to watch him be serious with a bunch dead-panned politicos and pundits. And the typical, “mature” audience for these shows wouldn’t stayed tuned to Stewart for very long.

Finally, did NBC forget that Stewart’s interviews are only a small portion of the Daily Show. Most of the program consists of comedy monologues and canned bits from his “correspondents.” And all of that material is plotted by a staff of ten or twenty talented comedy writers who help to make Stewart the genius he appears to be. It seems unlikely that NBC would have put all of them under contract to their news division had Stewart signed on.

It’s hard to believe that the prospect of Stewart accepting a position as one of the talking heads that he so masterfully skewers could ever have been taken seriously. It makes no sense from either a journalistic or a business perspective. What would come next? Bill Maher hosting Face the Politically Incorrect Nation? This Fuckin’ Week with Chris Rock? And poor Fox News Sunday, they would be stuck with Dennis Miller (or for a real comedy coup, Sarah Palin).

NBC News Exclusive: Putin Dissed George W. Bush’s Dog

As evidence of how far American journalism has fallen into the abyss of infotainment, minus the info, on Friday NBC’s Today show assigned their crack correspondent, Jenna Bush Hagar, to interview her father George at the opening of an exhibition of his paintings at his presidential library.

NBC Interview Jenna/George Bush

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The interview violated a slew of journalistic ethics, most notably avoiding a conflict of interest, real or perceived. The relationship between the former president and his daughter obviously precluded any potential for an enlightening news report. An example of the depth attained in this segment is this brief exchange about Bush’s encounters with Vladimir Putin:

Jenna Bush Hagar: You could tell from the very beginning that he was interested in power. And there is an anecdote that you’ve written about that is symbolic of that.
George W. Bush: Well, as you know, our dear dog Barney, who had a special spot in my heart, I introduced him to Putin. Putin kind of dissed him.

Indeed. Putin’s uncomplimentary remarks about the First Dog are symbolic of his aspirations to embark on a territorial clampdown that destabilizes the region and sours his relationship with the community of nations. Thanks to Jenna’s dogged reporting we now know more about the Barney Doctrine than was ever previously disclosed.

Unfortunately, Jenna never asked her dad about the war in Iraq, enhanced interrogation (aka torture), the economic meltdown, or any other area of controversy that enveloped the Bush presidency. And since Bush has rarely subjected himself to the media since he left the White House, any unfulfilled chance to fill in some of the blanks is a bitterly missed opportunity from a journalistic perspective.

For NBC to broadcast this charade represents a sad milestone in the collapse of television news. Whoever thought it would be a good idea to let Bush be questioned by his daughter should suffer eternal shame in the eyes of his or her colleagues. What’s more, any media critic that doesn’t condemn this sort of fluffery isn’t doing their job. Imagine the outrage that would have ensued if NBC News permitted Chelsea Clinton (whom they did briefly employ) to interview Bill Clinton. Fox News would have had a collective conniption.

And speaking of Fox News, their ability to fairly recognize media malfeasance is lacking, to say this least. On today’s episode of MediaBuzz, host Howard Kurtz made the following observation:

“Look, I know this constant coverage has been very, very good for [the] ratings, but I just don’t get the obsessive focus.”

Kurtz was talking about CNN’s coverage of the missing Malaysian plane. The first part of that statement that rubs reality the wrong way is that he doesn’t “get the obsessive focus.” Of course he does. He knows very well that it’s about ratings and he even says so in the beginning of the sentence. But more importantly, he is oblivious to the fact that the same commentary could be applied to Fox’s coverage of Benghazi. Although Fox’s motives are far more nefarious than merely goosing their ratings. Their obsession is focused squarely on attacking President Obama, and Hillary Clinton.

In other Bush news, Fox aired an hour long commercial for Jeb Bush’s prospective presidential campaign. It came in the form of an interview at the George H.W. Bush library during an event that was closed to the press. Lucky for Fox, they are not regarded as press and their own Shannon Bream was the interviewer. Her segments with Jeb were broadcast on the Fox News Channel along with cutesy bits from Mama Bush and other close associates.

However, the program may do Jeb more harm than good. He articulated a couple of positions that are not going to endear him to the fanatical Tea Party wing of his party that of late holds the keys to any nomination. For instance, he offered a rather sane opinion on immigration that will surely boil the blood of folks like Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin:

“They crossed the border because they had no other means to work to be able to provide for their family. Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love. It’s an act of commitment to your family. I honestly think that that is a different kind of crime that there should be a price paid, but it shouldn’t rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families.”

In addition, Jeb defended the Common Core educational initiative. Saying that “I’m totally committed” to Common Core is not going to win him any friends in the Tea Party. But what will surely bring the knives out in force is his criticism of fellow Republicans who caved to the irrational opponents of Common Core:

“I just don’t seem compelled to run for cover when I think this is the right thing to do for our country. And others have, others that supported the standards all of a sudden now are opposed to it. I don’t get it.’

Between George Bush’s inquisition by his daughter Jenna, and Jeb Bush’s friendly sit-down with a Fox anchor at a supposedly press-free event, the media has demonstrated this week that ethics are the last thing on its mind. And the fact that both of these affairs involved members of the Bush dynasty suggests that they, and the media, are not yet through screwing up our country.

RNC Threatens NBC, CNN: Cancel Hillary Projects Or Lose GOP Debates

The Republican National Committee is flexing its acutely atrophied muscles this morning with a nearly impotent threat aimed at their foes in the mainstream media.

RNC Debates
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This is just too funny. RNC chair Reince Priebus has sent letters to the heads of CNN and NBC to protest their plans to produce projects about Hillary Clinton, who is a possible candidate for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016. Priebus is very upset and is issuing an ultimatum to the networks that will surely cause them to lose sleep – due to their uncontrollable fits of laughter.

What isn’t so funny is a political party that thinks it has the right to demand that entertainment producers bend to its will. In fact, it’s an open assault on freedom of expression. It would be one thing for the RNC to decline to work with a network that it believes has a partisan slant against them. But it is something else entirely to threaten a network in order to force them to alter specific programming.

Priebus begins his missive by whining about the perceived bias that has been a part of the GOP gospel for decades:

“It’s appalling to know executives at major networks like NBC and CNN who have donated to Democrats and Hillary Clinton have taken it upon themselves to be Hillary Clinton’s campaign operatives.”

Appalling indeed! I’m sure that Priebus is just as disturbed by the million dollar gift that Fox News (News Corp) gave to the Republican Governor’s Association, and all the other right-wingers at Fox who have donated to Republicans, including News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch. And there is no network that has so brazenly acted as a partisan campaign operative than Fox News, the PR division of the GOP. Priebus’ letter to Fox must still be in the mail. In the meantime, he is making his position to CNN and NBC crystal clear:

“If they have not agreed to pull this programming prior to the start of the RNC’s Summer Meeting on August 14, I will seek a binding vote stating that the RNC will neither partner with these networks in 2016 primary debates nor sanction primary debates they sponsor.”

Oh my. If CNN and NBC were unable to acquire any of the GOP primary debates they might be forced to schedule interesting and entertaining programs instead. That’ll show ’em.

Let’s face it, the RNC has never been thrilled about putting their candidates in situations where they might face fair questions about their records and policy positions. They herd them onto Fox News where they can expect softballs and gushing praise. During the 2012 campaign right-wingers like Hugh Hewitt and Breitbart’s John Nolte were counseling the RNC to ban debates hosted by what they believed to be unfriendly media. Sarah Palin was advising Republicans to “speak through Fox News.”

The best thing that could happen to the Democrats is for Republicans to sequester themselves in the bosom of Fox News. It would limit their exposure to the broader electorate and the independents they need to win. It would also insure that their candidates were unvetted and unprepared for the real-life battles of a campaign. If they spend the primary season being fluffed by Fox, when they eventually face the general election they will be surprised by sharp criticisms from which they were shielded in their chummy primary.

One positive aspect of this strategy is that fewer voters, and a more narrow, conservative subset, would see the primary telecasts. Considering how often the GOP candidates in 2012 embarrassed themselves, that could be a benefit. Of course, those segments would still be looped on every other news broadcast the following day, so the benefit would be short lived.

By giving CNN and NBC the cold shoulder, the RNC increases the likelihood that only voters who have already decided to vote Republican will see the debate in its entirety. And while that limits their exposure to gaffes, it also limits their opportunity to make an appeal to undecided voters. Since Priebus has already promised to hold fewer debates in the future, the GOP’s visibility to anyone outside their circle shrinks considerably. The result is that GOP primary voters will be more partisan, more extreme, and more out of pace with the general population. That’s a recipe for a Republican nominee who will lead the party to a massive defeat.

Ironically, the motivation for the Priebus ultimatum is the prospect of a couple of Hillary Clinton projects being released several months prior to the 2016 election. That was precisely the issue that sparked the Citizen’s United Supreme Court ruling that now permits corporations and individuals to make unlimited, anonymous donations to political campaigns. At the time, Republicans were fiercely supportive of the Citizen’s United production and its release just a few weeks prior to an election. Now they are just as fiercely opposed to it.

What’s more, Priebus accuses the networks of producing a “political ad masquerading as an unbiased production.” How he arrived at that conclusion he doesn’t say. He has not seen either production or spoken with the producers. He has no idea whether they will be complimentary, derogatory, or neutral representations of Clinton. He is making a wholly uninformed assumption and using that as the basis of his attempt to bully the networks.

So let the RNC snub CNN and NBC and any other “lamestream” media that they are afraid of. Let them take their balls and go home to Fox News where their cult-like disciples will embrace them with enthusiasm. It will only result in there being less of their obnoxious blather littering the television landscape and a better chance of them losing in November of 2016. Nice work Reince.

[Update: Priebus took his whining to (where else) Fox News last night and reiterated his silly ultimatum. Meanwhile, both CNN and NBC have refused to cave saying that it is “premature” to judge the projects that are not even in production at this time. Priebus gave an 8/14 deadline for the networks to comply. Here’s hoping he is dumb enough to follow through.

Bill O’Reilly STILL Needs To Fire His Research Staff: The Drone Edition

Last night Bill O’Reilly mustered up his signature pomposity in a debate with Bob Beckel over whether or not NBC had ever criticized President Obama on the use of drones or even reported on the controversy. O’Reilly was almost shaking with contempt at what he considered an outrageous example of hypocrisy. Beckel didn’t seem to care much about NBC’s reporting or pretend that he knew anything about their coverage of this story. But O’Reilly was relentless about NBC’s reporting and refused to let it go.

O’Reilly: “Remember the outcry about waterboarding? You know, everybody jumping up and down? Uh, NBC News, I thought they were going to, like, melt down over there. You heard anything on NBC about the drones? […] Neither have I. Neither has my staff.”

O’Reilly went on to accuse NBC of deliberately avoiding the story “because they are protecting the President.” There’s only one small thing wrong with O’Reilly’s bombastic condemnation of NBC: It was NBC who broke the story that made the drone controversy the lead on every news network on television. A little exclusive published by NBC’s investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff revealed the memo that outlined the administration’s rational for drone strikes targeted at American citizens.

The intensity with which O’Reilly insisted that NBC was derelict in their reporting only made his egregious mangling of the facts all the more preposterous. And by explicitly affirming his mistaken assertions with his staff, he casts doubt on their competence as well. In that regard, this isn’t the first time that O’Reilly’s staff has let him down in spectacular fashion. Back in April of 2010, O’Reilly reproached GOP senator Tom Coburn for suggesting that Fox had aired allegations that failure to get health insurance under ObamaCare would subject you to a prison term. He vigorously denied that anyone at Fox had ever said such a thing saying…

O’Reilly: “It doesn’t happen here, and we’ve researched to find out if anybody on Fox News has ever said ‘You’re going to jail if you don’t buy health insurance.’ Nobody’s ever said it. So it seems to me what you did was, you used Fox News as a whipping boy when we didn’t qualify there.”

Unfortunately for O’Reilly and his crack research team, the video record was readily available (And this pretty hilarious stuff. The “jail” assertion was even made on O’Reilly’s program by Glenn Beck):

Fox News has been blathering for much of this week about what they delusionally call the “liberal” media for ignoring the drone story. One of the more prominent critics is the fake Fox version of a Democrat, Kirsten Powers. She has taken to the Fox airwaves to lambaste liberals and Democrats for not challenging the administration on their drone policy. However, no one has been more critical of the President on this than Isikoff, the reporter who broke the story, and Rachel Maddow, who devoted extensive portions of her show to it.

If anyone is guilty of hypocrisy it’s the Fox/GOP crowd who only seem to care about human rights when a Democratic president is accused of violating them. Both Fox and the Republican Party fiercely defended George Bush’s use of torture and wiretapping. Democrats opposed those breaches of human rights, and they are consistent today in opposing the use of drones and the targeting of Americans without due process. But these facts escape dullards like O’Reilly whose only purpose is to bash his adversaries and the facts be damned. However, if there is one thing that O’Reilly is consistent about, it’s his indifference to journalistic ethics or standards.

Bill O'Reilly

I couldn’t agree more, Bill-O.

[Update] O’Reilly addressed the response to his deliberately deceitful characterization of NBC’s reporting the following night. As might have been expected, he lied through his teeth absolving himself of any responsibility. His argument was simply that “I didn’t say NBC broke the memo story because we weren’t talking about that.” Not true. For the record, let’s review what he was talking about: “You heard anything on NBC about the drones? […] Neither have I. Neither has my staff.” Either he and his staff weren’t listening very closely or they don’t regard talking about drones to be talking about drones.

Today Show Ratings Down With Sarah Palin As Guest Host

Sarah PalinYesterday Sarah Palin was the guest co-host of the Today Show on NBC. It was a desperation move on the part of NBC who was reacting to ABC’s booking of Katie Couric for the whole of this week. And apparently it didn’t do them much good.

The Today Show won the time period as expected. They have long been the #1 morning network news program with ABC’s Good Morning America coming in second. However, the ratings for Tuesday on the Today show were 5.497 million total viewers, and 2.209 million in the 25-54 year old demo. That’s down from their average for the February 2012 sweeps period (5.55 Total/2.47 Demo). So Palin obviously didn’t do anything to help out the program.

By comparison, Good Morning America was able to beat their February sweeps average in total viewers with the help of Couric. Tuesday’s program pulled in 5.141 million viewers with 1.917 million in the demo. That was an improvement in total viewers over their February sweeps averages (5.03 Total/2.05 Demo).

So if anyone were analyzing the benefits of the bookings for these programs, it is clear that ABC got more out of Couric than NBC did from Palin. That may seem to be a predictable result since America mostly hates Palin and Couric is America’s sweetheart. But Palin doesn’t help herself by appearing on NBC and twice referring to “the failed socialist policies” of President Obama. And I can’t believe that doing cooking segments with Tori Spelling do much to improve her image either.

The sooner the media (and Palin) realizes that Palin is old news and has nothing to offer, the sooner they can quit pretending that she has some sort of relevance that they can exploit. By all indications NBC might have done better in the ratings with Kim Kardashian or Octomom as a co-host.

April Fools? Sarah Palin To Co-Host NBC’s Today Show

As I was planning out an elaborate hoax for April Fool’s day, I came across this video and decided that NBC had beaten me to it: Sarah Palin Co-hosts TODAY on Tuesday.

The video is posted on the NBC News YouTube channel, so it isn’t a product of Saturday Night Live or The Daily Show. There is, however, no indication of it being a joke. Nevertheless, there are reasons to be suspicious.

First and foremost, why on earth would any allegedly credible news enterprise employ Sarah Palin as a host? Sure, she fits right in as a political analyst at Fox News because their prerequisite for political analysts is to be either ignorant or dishonest. Palin has both of those criteria covered. And she can assume hosting duties of an Alaskan travelogue where she spends her time hurling dead fish across the deck of a boat (or maybe not since that show was canceled after the first season with steadily declining ratings). But hosting a news program, even one that is jammed with trivialities and traffic reports, seems above her capabilities.

Secondly, Palin is still under contract to Fox News. Her exclusivity has been exercised on a strict basis, keeping her from appearing on most other media, even for an interview. She has appeared only once on one of the non-Fox Sunday news programs in this election cycle. When she made her announcement that she was not going to be a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination on Mark Levin’s radio show, her boss, Roger Ailes, exploded with rage saying that “I paid her for two years to make this announcement on my network.” It seems unlikely that her appearance as a co-host on a competing network (especially their nemesis, NBC) would be permitted under the circumstances.

Of course the primary reason that Palin doesn’t do other media is that she is unable to form a coherent thought and knows that she would embarrass herself by attempting to do so. Any news anchor other than a friendly Fox colleague would stump her mercilessly by asking gotcha questions like “What do you think about that, Sarah?”

I have no evidence that the promo for Palin’s Today Show stint is anything but genuine, but I still can’t shake the feeling that it’s a prank. If it is real then it’s a depressing devolution of integrity by the mainstream media (if that’s possible). There is simply no justification for elevating Palin to this role when she has no experience or talent for it. It could be considered a desperate ploy for ratings, but the Today Show is already #1 and, thus, not desperate (perhaps CBS should have tried to snag her). The only thing this booking serves to accomplish for NBC is to provide conclusive proof as to who the fools are this April. One way or another.

Laugh-Track Republicans Need Debate Audience To Tell Them What To Think

The Republican Party has made a pariah of Hollywood, which they regard as a bastion of liberal propagandists bent on manipulating public opinion. But after the reaction to last night’s debate in Tampa, Florida, it is apparent that it is the GOP that is wedded to Tinseltown’s tactics.

Commonly known as “laugh-tracks,” the procedure used to “sweeten” the audio of television productions has conditioned audiences to rely on the cues they receive from other audience members. These emotional prompts serve to make certain the audience gets the intended message. And now the long-term effect of this technique has resulted in Republican debate audiences becoming dependent on such cues to inform them of what their own own reactions ought to be to candidates’ remarks. Absent these signals they become lost and don’t know what they are supposed to think. And this morning they are very upset about that.

As evidence of this, note some of the Twitter responses from Republican partisans to NBC’s request that the audience in Tampa refrain from interrupting the candidates with demonstrations of approval or disapproval:

Rich Lowry: if the SC debates had been like this (dull, no audience reaction), gingrich wouldnt have the SC primary

Adam Perine: wow the audience is really missing in this debate… Hurts Newt… probably intentional by NBC #FIDebate

S. E. Cupp: Wow, way to suck the air out of the room, NBC. #NoApplauseIsNoFun

Gateway Pundit: Taking the crowd out of the debate hurts Newt. Brilliant move NBC. Look for this technique in the fall. #FLDebate

Without question, most of the GOP debates thus far have allowed a raucous environment that encouraged the candidates to pander to the crowd, as opposed to articulating more substantive positions. As a result there were some notorious moments that are remembered more for their insight into the character of the GOP audience than the character of the candidates. For instance:

  • The audience gleefully cheered the mention of Rick Perry’s record-breaking number of executions.
  • The audience booed an American soldier on duty in Iraq when he asked a question about gays in the military.
  • The audience applauded when Ron Paul answered that he was content to let an ailing man die because he had no health insurance.
  • The audience went wild when Newt Gingrich evaded a question about his ex-wife’s allegations of adultery and open marriage, and instead attacked the moderator for asking the question.

Newt Gingrich has been the most aggressively solicitous candidate in the GOP field. He is adept at stirring up an audience, and he feeds off of the reactions he incites. Consequently, he is the most concerned about any effort to mute audience response. On Fox & Friends this morning, Gingrich was asked about this by host Gretchen Carlson:

Carlson: What was your reaction to last night’s debate? The audience was taken out of it and up until this point, the audience has been your fan.

Gingrich: I wish in retrospect I’d protested because Brian Williams took them out of it. I think it’s wrong. And I think he took them out of it because the media’s terrified that the audience is going to side with the candidates against the media, which is what they’ve done in every debate. And we’re gonna serve notice on future debates, we’re not going to allow that to happen. That’s wrong.

The fact that Gingrich sees the Republican primary debates as a contest between the candidates and the media, rather than the candidates themselves, is telling. The media is an easy target as it has an approval rating with the American people that is almost as low as the congress from which Gingrich emerged. No wonder he would rather debate the media than his GOP opponents. Gingrich is, in effect, admitting that he wants to use the debate audience as a weapon to advance his candidacy.

It will be interesting to see if Gingrich is successful in getting the debate sponsors to comply with his self-serving demand. Needless to say, it would be utterly irresponsible for the press to buckle under to such bullying tactics. There may be reasons, pro and con, for permitting the audience to be openly demonstrative, but it should always be a decision based on journalistic principles, not candidate preferences.

What’s more, the press should not be taking sides in the debate over whether debate audiences should be heard. But, of course, Fox News has already done just that. They have already published at least two stories that slant in favor of Gingrich’s position.

Fox Nation - NBC Debate

As an aside, audience response is also a factor during State of the Union addresses. One of the most annoying parts of these affairs is the constant interruptions and fidgeting by members of congress that can’t stay in their seats for more than two minutes. I wish that Brian Williams could drop by and tell them to sit still and listen respectfully until the speech tonight is completed.

[Update] Mitt Romney appeared on Fox & Friends Wednesday morning and affirmed my point about the media being an easy target and Gingrich’s exploitation of that fact:

“It’s very easy to talk down a moderator. The moderator asks a question and then has to sit by and take whatever you send to them. And Speaker Gingrich has been wonderful at attacking the moderators and attacking the media. That’s always a very favorite response for the home crowd. But it’s very different to have candidates going against candidates, and that’s something I’ll be doing going against President Obama if I get the chance to be our nominee.”

Under God Or Under Government? GOP Senator Bullies TV Network

Talk about your big government. Republican Senator Dan Coats of Indiana is applying strong-arm tactics to intimidate a television network for not being sufficiently deferential to God.

The controversy stems from an NBC Sports opening sequence to the U.S. Open Golf Championship. The segment, intended to be a moment of patriotism, included parts of the Pledge of Allegiance. As is routine with television promos, editing of the segment was performed due to time constraints. As a result the words “under God” were omitted from the segment.

Bear in mind that this was not a religious program. It was not a news program. It was not an educational program. It was not a socially significant drama or even a “very special episode” of an otherwise vapid sitcom. This was a short slice of promotional tripe introducing a sporting event. Nevertheless, the martinets of virtue on the right were aghast at this affront to their Lord.

The outrage exhibited by the religious zealots is not really a matter of much concern. They are entitled to express their opinions and advance their view of how religious issues are presented in the media. The problem here is that now a United States Senator has injected himself, and consequently the weight of the government, into this debate in a wholly inappropriate and offensive manner.

Senator Coats, in a flurry of self-righteous indignation, has dashed off a letter to the president and CEO of NBC, Stephen Burke. The tone of the letter is repugnant and intimidating, as Coats seeks to pressure the network into compliance with his religious views. Coats writes…

“I am writing to express my serious concern, and the concerns of the Hoosiers I represent, regarding NBC’s decision to air an edited version of the national Pledge of Allegiance not once but twice during the June 19, 2011 broadcast of the U.S. Open golf tournament. In the opening of this broadcast, NBC aired video showing schoolchildren reciting the Pledge, but omitted the words ‘under God, indivisible’ during the segment. Moments later, NBC again aired an edited version of the Pledge, this time omitting the words ‘one nation, under God, indivisible.'”
“I am disturbed with NBC’s decision to modify the Pledge for this broadcast. I understand that NBC acknowledged its error at a later point in Sunday’s broadcast, and has since stated that this action was a ‘bad decision’ made by a small group of individuals. Nonetheless, I remain concerned that such a decision to selectively edit the Pledge could be made in the first place. As a result, I would like to request that NBC provide me with a full written account of its decision-making process in this matter, including an explanation of why these specific words were omitted, and what actions NBC intends to take to prevent such inappropriate edits from occurring in the future.”

It’s bad enough that NBC was cowed into making an unnecessary apology, but under what authority is Coats requesting that NBC be prevailed upon to provide him with a written account of their decision-making process? What business is it of his, or the U.S. government, how a private business decides to edit a program for entertainment purposes? Perhaps he would also like an explanation for why “American Idol” is elevating secular pop singers to deity status? Has he not heard the commandment that “you shall not make for yourself an idol?” Maybe he would like to force CBS to develop a new show called “Creationism” to counter the blasphemous effects of “The Big Bang Theory?”

And where does Coats get off demanding that NBC tell him what actions they intend to take to “prevent such inappropriate edits from occurring in the future?” Who is he to decide that the edits were inappropriate? Isn’t that the job of the producers, writers, and marketers of the private enterprise making the program? Is Coats implying that there is some government imposed prohibition to airing this, or some similar segment, in the future?

This is government intrusion on media of the most heinous sort. It is trampling on the feet of the First Amendment. This over-reach should be denounced by everyone from religious freedom advocates to Tea Party proponents of “getting government off our backs.” (Although I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the Tea Party to demonstrate their moral consistency).

To see a person in a position of power abusing it like this is a chilling spectacle. Sen. Coates needs to study the Constitution and refrain from imposing his religious beliefs on private enterprise. The Pledge of Allegiance is not mandated by law to be recited on any television program and there is no legal stipulation that it never be edited – Thank God!

It’s Time For Some REAL Liberal Media

The American media landscape has long been dominated by giant, multinational corporations whose interests have never been aligned with those of the people they purport to serve. It doesn’t take a great mental exertion to observe the divergent aspirations of a population that is concerned with jobs, education, health care, and the welfare of their families, and a business enterprise that is concerned with profits, deregulation, protected markets, and returning value to shareholders. A corporate-managed news operation simply cannot represent the interests of their Wall Street board and their Elm Street audience at the same time.

Over the years there have been some heated debates about the absence of a media platform that represents real people’s issues, particularly from a liberal perspective. The right has had Fox News for 14 years, but nothing remotely similar exists for the left. To the extent that MSNBC comes close, it is still not equivalent. MSNBC never took the explicit role of advocating for party politics in the all-consuming way that Fox does for the GOP. Not that I would want a liberal media outfit to take up with the Democrats. I’m just noting the distinction.

The recent controversy over the suspension of Keith Olbermann for making a few donations to Democratic candidates illustrates the inadequacy of having to rely on another right-wing, corporate parent to satisfy our media appetite. And it magnifies the differences between Fox and MSNBC. Fox would never contemplate removing their most successful anchors from the air over something like that. Fox doesn’t even contemplate reprimanding their anchors when they brazenly lie, overtly incite violence, or call our president a racist. But MSNBC had no qualms about imposing a severe and embarrassing punishment on someone whose political leanings were already well known. As Sen. Bernie Sanders said about the NBC/Comcast deal:

“We do not need another media giant run by a Republican supporter of George W. Bush. That is the lesson we should learn from the Keith Olbermann suspension.”

In the past, I have not been particularly enthusiastic about the idea of building a liberal media enterprise. Not because I don’t think it’s important, but because it would be prohibitively expensive to do it right. Air America is a sad example of what happens without sufficient support and capitol. There are many additional reasons to be pessimistic about such an enterprise, i.e. it would be a risky venture that would require a long-term commitment. Rupert Murdoch deficit-financed Fox News for at least five years; radio and cable channel access is scarce and difficult to acquire; bona fide talent, both on the air and in the executive suites, is hard to recruit; and building any business from scratch is fraught with fiscal danger and obstacles.

However, we may have an opportunity today that has not been available in the past. Comcast, the nation’s largest cable operator is in the process of acquiring NBC/Universal. It is a merger that has raised red flags for many media watchdogs who are concerned about the concentration of power that has been getting progressively worse year after year. And Comcast is a conservative-run business that would further tilt the press to the right. Free Press and other reform groups are actively lobbying to oppose approval of the merger by federal agencies. And therein lies our opportunity.

Comcast wants very much to smooth the path for approval of their acquisition of NBC/U. So perhaps they could be persuaded to trade something of value for an agreement to drop opposition. What I would propose is that Comcast agree to divest itself of NBC News prior to the merger. Specifics of such a transaction would have to be worked out but would center around the divestiture of NBC’s news operations, the MSNBC cable network, CNBC, and the related Internet properties. Comcast would still get the NBC broadcast network, the lucrative USA cable network, Bravo, SyFy, and Telemundo. These networks form the basis of the syndication strategy for the NBC entertainment group. And, of course, they would also still have the NBC television station group and the Universal Studios and theme parks.

What makes this proposal viable is that the new media group splitting off is already a profitable business. It would not face the risks associated with building a business from scratch. It already has cable access to most of the country. And it is already staffed with proven talent and executives. MSNBC and CNBC are both profitable in their present form and would likely continue to be.

For this to work there would need to be an acquiring entity and financing. The money could come from a consortium that might include people like Ted Turner, Al Gore, George Soros, Steve Case, David Geffen, and/or Bill Gates. There’s no shortage of available billionaires. And ideally there would be an existing media enterprise that this could be folded into. Some examples might be Tribune, Gannett, or the Washington Post Company.

A requirement for agreeing to this would be a promise to appoint credible, progressive, experienced executives to run the news operations. It would be imperative that the management team be committed to quality, ethical journalism. It would have to be the sort of business that valued investigative projects and was unafraid of controversy. And it must be open to partnering with relevant and respectable media reform groups like Free Press, the Poynter Institute, the Schumann Center, the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center, Media Matters, etc.

By forming a new company in this fashion we would benefit by producing honest, progressive news content; by establishing a baseline for journalistic ethics; by not having to suffer the indignities of hare-brained lackeys like Phil Griffin, the man who suspended Olbermann and is likely already sucking up to his future conservative bosses at Comcast; and by preventing another media merger that would have exacerbated the problem of concentrated power in the press. And as for Comcast, they would benefit by easing their path to the acquisition of NBC/U. There may never be a better opportunity to negotiate a deal that could produce a real liberal media outlet – for a change. And that wouldn’t be a bad name for the channel: Real Media: For a Change.

None of this will be easy. The proposed merger is already a complex arrangement that could fall apart if someone pulls the wrong thread. But it would be worth exploring. If MSNBC is presently the only allegedly liberal news channel on the dial, then it shouldn’t have to cower in the shadow of right-wing masters who can slap them down if they get too uppity. They should have the freedom to express themselves without fear of reprisal. And if that environment can be created through a spinoff of the NBC news division, then it may be worth it to let the rest of the Comcast transaction go forward.