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.

Uh Oh. CNN Takes A Sharp Turn Toward Hell

Remember the old days when CNN was the dominant cable news network? Or the even older days when it was the only cable news network? I didn’t think so. It was a long time ago. Viewers today don’t appreciate how remarkable an achievement it was to launch a 24 hour news channel when nothing like it existed at the time.

Whether or not you like Ted Turner, you have to give him credit for being a pioneer, although given the state of cable news today, I’m not sure he’d want the credit/blame. However, he recognized the unique environment in which his experiment was born, and he further recognized the changes that took place in subsequent years that preclude anyone from ever doing the same (see My Beef With Big Media).

Now CNN is mired in third place, overtaken by a bombastic, right-wing, agenda-driven, Fox News, and a lukewarm, marginally liberal, MSNBC. So it should come as no surprise that the brass at CNN would be looking to shake things up in hopes of recovering their glory days. To that end, yesterday CNN announced that its president, Jon Klein, would be leaving the network. That, in and of itself, would appear to be a routine response to poor performance in the marketplace. The problem here is not that Klein is leaving. It’s who they are elevating to his post that is worrisome.

Ken Jautz, presently the head of CNN’s HLN (formerly known as Headline News Network) has been tapped to replace Klein. He is a brash, iconoclastic, executive who is more interested in ratings than journalism. But perhaps the most disturbing item on Jautz’s resume is that he is the man who brought Glenn Beck to HLN, and to television. Looking back at that millstone in broadcast media is one of the best ways of getting a handle on what may be in store for a Juatz-run CNN. Here is what he had to say upon hiring Beck back in January of 2006:

“Glenn Beck is the next piece of the puzzle,” said HLN prexy Ken Jautz. “Glenn’s style is self-deprecating, cordial; he says he’d like to be able to disagree with guests and part as friends. It’s conversational, not confrontational.”

If Beck is Jautz’s idea of cordial, I hope never to meet anyone he considers to be rude. What’s more, Beck is not known for having guests with whom he disagrees, friendly or otherwise. And the notion that he is not confrontational is absurd on its face. Calling the President a racist; charging that progressives are a cancer; tagging anyone with whom he disagrees a Marxist; declaring his hatred for Woodrow Wilson as well as 9/11 families; these are not behaviors generally associated with being non-confrontational. Jautz went on to say…

“As part of the continued evolution of the network, we wanted another primetime show,” Jautz said. “We didn’t look for a conservative, a liberal or anyone of a particular ideology. It was about getting the best talent that would resonate with the most viewers.”

Well then, it’s a good thing he wasn’t actually looking for a conservative. He would have ended up with a modern version of Attila the Hun (or did he anyway?). It should also be noted that his desire to find the “best talent” who would “resonate” with viewers, was unfulfilled. Beck’s show was a dismal ratings failure on HLN. He would not be a success until he moved to Fox News with its built-in audience of pre-cooked FoxBots.

Given the remarks Jautz made when taking over HLN and bringing Beck into the fold, it is fair to say that he was somewhat disingenuous with regard to his public appraisals. And he was similarly disingenuous in private. In the book “Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck And The Triumph Of Ignorance,” author Alexander Zaitchik noted that Jautz mislead his employers at the time as to his intentions in reforming the channel:

“Facing a staff weary of rumored changes, Jautz gently presented Blue Sky [his programming initiative] as a trial balloon. He promised that CNN standards would not be diluted in the makeover and that soon-to-be-hired Headline News personalities would not appear on traditional CNN news programming. He broke both promises.”

Indeed he did. Glenn Beck not only appeared on CNN, he was permitted to fill in as a guest host on Larry King Live. Taking into consideration the duplicity of Jautz’s comments when he assumed command of HLN, it might be prudent to take note of what he is saying now with regard to his promotion at CNN. Jautz was interviewed by The Wrap and said…

Q: Can we expect a tone change, or any sort of ideological shift?
A: I think that CNN needs to be as lively and engaging and as informative as it is known for its reporting.

Whatever that means.

Q: For a long time, Jon Klein resisted any sort of partisan programming — especially as expressed by the hosts. Can we expect to see more opinions — or at least opinionated hosts — under your watch?
A: CNN has always been about adhering to non-partisan programming in general. And it will continue to be.

However, I do not believe that “facts-only” programming … it will not work. Viewers, if they’re looking for just the news, they can get that anywhere now. The news that happened that day, they probably know already. They want context, perspective and opinion. And we’re going to give that to them. As long as it’s non-partisan, in the aggregate, from all ends of the spectrum.

In other words, we will continue to be non-partisan except when we’re being opinionated. And none of those pesky “facts” that clutter up the news.

Jautz did improve the standing of HLN. But he did it by ramping up the volume with shouters like Beck and Nancy Grace, and by diving head-first into the tabloid world of pop culture and celebrity gossip. Could that approach help to restore CNN’s prior leadership? Who cares? It isn’t what anyone who truly cares about responsible journalism would want.

And that’s the problem with contemporary corporate media: It is more interested in serving the shareholders than in serving the public. Unless Jautz has recently had a revelatory transformation, CNN has taken a giant step backwards by giving him the reins to the network. The prospect of the man who launched Glenn Beck’s television career running a cable news network is troubling, to say the least.

In related news, NBC/Universal has announced that it’s chief executive, Jeff Zucker, will also be leaving his post. This is an entirely different situation than the one at CNN. NBC is presently the number one network in evening news, morning news, and Sunday news. CNBC is still the top business channel. Plus, under Zucker’s reign, MSNBC moved up from third place to second. The staffing change at NBC is due to its imminent acquisition by Comcast. It remains to be seen who will be replacing Zucker.

Sometimes these sort of changes are merely shifts designed to put a new management’s imprint on the merged entity. But Comcast has baggage that makes it important to keep an eye on them. And they will have an unprecedented range of influence as a result of the merger. Stay tuned.

Jimmy Carter Gets Fox News

Appearing on the NBC Nightly News, former Pres. Jimmy Carter demonstrated that he still has keen insight into the state of modern media:

Brian Williams: How do you think it came to be that such high numbers of people believe that this American-born Christian President is either foreign born or a Muslim or both?

Pres. Carter: I think the number one factor is Fox News. It’s totally distorting everything possible concerning the facts. And I think their constant hammering away at these false premises about our incumbent President has a major impact on the consciousness of America. A lot of well-meaning people, including many of those in the Tea Party movement, believe what is said in this constant hammering away by Glenn Beck and by others who have no regards for the truth.

I have nothing to add.

The Tea Party Delusion

Much has been made this past week about a poll (pdf) by NBC and the Wall Street Journal. It seems that virtually every newsroom in America saw fit to report the astonishing results that showed that the Tea Party movement was viewed more favorably than either the Democrats or Republicans. The poll said that the notorious Town Howlers were viewed favorably by 41% of poll respondents, compared to 35% for Democrats and 28% for Republicans.

First of all, it needs to be noted that establishment politicians are currently about as popular as Rush Limbaugh at a nudist colony (I apologize for the mental image that may have generated). I would venture to say that a Swine Flu Party would be better received than today’s Democrats or Republicans. So Tea Baggers haven’t really got much to be proud of in this respect.

What’s more, in case the press hasn’t noticed, there is no such thing as the Tea Party. It has no candidates or policies to compare with any other party. So the pretense of the comparison is dubious at best.

But the biggest cognitive disconnect in this story is that none of the press accounts that I saw bothered to report the results of another question in the same poll:

14a. How much do you know about the Tea Party movement-do you know a great deal about this, a fair amount, just some, very little, or nothing at all?
  Know a great deal: 7
  Know a fair amount: 22
  Know just some: 23
  Know very little: 25
  Know nothing at all: 23

So 48% of respondents know very little or nothing at all about the Tea Baggers. Boy, they must really be a powerful force in America. I think it’s a lot easier to register positive poll results if half the country hasn’t even heard of you. And this fact was ignored by most of the media as they clamored to position Tea Bagging as a surging movement.

The fact that the Tea Baggers have failed to create a significant presence despite being bankrolled by some of the biggest and wealthiest AstroTurf lobbying organizations in the country (i.e. FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity), and having the promotional backing of Fox News, illustrates just how unappealing most Americans regard that brand of disruptive griping.

This is typical of how the press distorts trends. They make an observation from a narrowly defined (and usually conservative) vantage point and then extrapolate that to the broadest scope of interpretation. For instance, take a look at how Glenn Beck is viewed within the prism of the conventional media. He is profiled in the mainstream press as a phenomenon who has taken the nation by storm. He is said to command an army of followers and an explosively expanding multimedia empire.

But the truth is he has a program on Fox News that is viewed by about three million people. That’s fewer viewers than SpongeBob SquarePants and less than one percent of the population. Fox News itself is a big fish in a small media puddle with an average daily audience of about 1.3 million viewers. And more to the point as regards Beck’s popularity, or lack thereof, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll (pdf) conducted in September revealed that 42% of respondents didn’t even know who he was.

There may be a level of intensity that is driving interest in the rightist agenda, but it is strictly confined to the squeakiest of wheels. That intensity corresponds to the fervor currently on display in Republican circles that now show a significantly higher intention to participate in the coming elections. While this may be a red flag for democrats, it is also a natural pattern for a party that swept into power in the past couple of years and is now experiencing a season of self-examination. There are bound to be disappointments in the interplay of politics. Still, taking all of the data into account, it is fair to conclude that the characterization of a right-wing ascension is an illusion, or more accurately, a delusion of the media. Reports that Beck or Fox News or the Tea Party are assuming greater sway over the public are not borne out by the facts.

In short, when 40 to 50 percent of the public cannot even recognize you or your movement, you are not much of a player. It would be nice if the media would report that.

Law And Order LBO: Limbaugh, Beck, O’Reilly

As the year comes to a close, many people view the remaining days as an opportunity to tie up loose ends, complete unfinished projects, and maybe produce another accomplishment or two to top off the year on a high note. For folks like Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly that means achieving something that surpasses their ordinary annual output of anger, hatred, and ignorance. This is the time of year to go for the gold, and you have to admire the tenacity of these professionals as they endeavor to reach new heights of stupidity and malice. Happy Holidays.

To this end, both Beck and O’Reilly serve up a heaping portion of boorish outrage directed at an episode of NBC’s Law and Order: SVU. The storyline concerned the murder of three immigrant children by a man obsessed with illegal aliens and possessed by the hateful rantings of a fictional TV talk show host, Gordon Garrison. In a pivotal scene, the lawyer for the defendant, played by John Larroquette, describes Garrison, Limbaugh, Beck, and O’Reilly as…

“…a cancer spreading ignorance and hate. I mean, they’ve convinced folks that immigrants are the problem, not corporations that fail to pay a living wage or a broken health care system.”

Perhaps that description, and the general plot, cut a little too close to the bone for Beck and O’Reilly. They may have seen more of their own dark underside in Garrison than they are comfortable acknowledging. This sends them both into a tizzy, infuriated by what they regard as a direct insult by the show’s producers and writers.

Billo-pediaBill O’Reilly starts off by telling his television audience that Dick Wolf, creator of NBC’s Law and Order, is “a despicable human being,” a “liar” and a “coward.” Seconds later he asserts that he doesn’t “demonize innocent human beings.” Apparently you lose your innocence if you disagree with O’Reilly or say anything unflattering about him. The entirety of his Talking Points rant was devoted to disparaging Wolf and glorifying himself. He even took partial responsibility for security fences on the US/Mexico border. But most of his tantrum made little sense, as usual.

In the course of his tirade, O’Reilly labeled NBC as “Propaganda Central in the USA.” (He must not watch much Fox News). But he undermines his own argument by immediately adding that it has the lowest ratings. How can it be the paragon of propaganda if no one is watching it?

For the record, NBC Entertainment is in fact the lowest rated broadcast entertainment network, but NBC News is the highest rated news broadcaster with four times as many viewers as O’Reilly. And that’s what makes all of this particularly bizarre. O’Reilly can’t seem to differentiate between reality and theater. He thinks that the dialogue of a character in a fictional TV program represents the opinion of the author. He thinks that if John Larroquette’s character says that O’Reilly is a cancer, then it is Wolf who believes that. And that’s as deep as O’Reilly’s comprehension can go.

The problem is that Larroquette is portraying a thoroughly unsavory character. He is not remotely sympathetic. He is, after all, defending a man who murdered innocent children. He is attempting to get his client off on an insanity defense and cast the blame elsewhere – to the talk show host. He is reviled by the show’s main characters and heroes. [SPOILER ALERT] He ultimately demonstrates his own extreme behavior by murdering his client. So the words to which O’Reilly objects were put into the mouth of the most unethical and unlikeable character. How on earth does O’Reilly interpret this as advocacy for those remarks? All of this easily discernible context notwithstanding, O’Reilly was mad as hell and he wasn’t going to take it anymore:

O’Reilly: I mean enough is enough with these network pinheads who shove propaganda down our throats under the guise of entertainment.

Is he referring to Dick Wolf or Roger Ailes? Because it seems to me that it is Fox that is using entertainment to disseminate propaganda. It is Fox that turned journalism on its head by casting loudmouth demagogues and witless beauty pageant rejects as news anchors. It is Fox that decorated their broadcasts with flamboyant graphics, alarmist “alerts,” and noisy soundtracks and gongs to announce even the most trivial events. And it is Fox that still pretends to be a news enterprise, while Law and Order has never presented itself as anything but drama.

Can O’Reilly tell the difference? Maybe his comment above is referring to Glenn Beck, who describes his own program as the “Fusion of Entertainment and Enlightenment.” Wouldn’t that make Beck a “pinhead” shoving “propaganda down our throats under the guise of entertainment?” For his part, Beck also misread the Law and Order segment for all the same reasons O’Reilly did. But Beck took a different tack. Rather than hysterically attacking Wolf and company, Beck launches into a self-serving defense to absolve himself of responsibility for the sort of violence portrayed in the program. He describes himself as “just a dad” and defiantly asks: “Where is the evidence for inciting any violence?”

Beck has the sort of convenient memory that allows one to be a sociopath without any messy recollection of his vile deeds. He forgets that he once fantasized about choking Michael Moore to death with his bare hands:

“I’m thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I’m wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it. No, I think I could. I think he could be looking me in the eye, you know, and I could just be choking the life out…”

He forgets his frequent radio bit wherein he mulls over who he would like to beat to death with a shovel:

“I’ve been sitting here for the last few minutes trying to come up with a list of people I want to kill with a shovel. [...] How many people have I said let’s kill with a shovel, huh? How many people have I said let’s line ‘em up and shoot ‘em in the head? I think quite a few.”

I don’t know many dads who articulate these revolting ideas. Beck also forgets the numerous calls for his legion of demented disciples to “fight back” against an enemy that is deliberately trying to attack your family, your values, your faith, and even to destroy your country. Marxists and fascists are taking over Washington. They are indoctrinating your children. They are on your doorstep. Beck insists that this is not a time for compromise or debate. He says that “You don’t compromise on your destruction.” It is an Apocalyptic Gospel that leaves little option for true patriots. They either fight or they, and everything they love, dies. It doesn’t matter if Beck occasionally recites legal disclaimers to refrain from violence. Once you’ve convinced people that the very essence of their existence is threatened, there are going to be those who will conclude that violence is acceptable – even inevitable – as self-defense.

Rush Limbaugh - Riot in DenverBeck speaks in a Da Vinci coded language about things that only he can see to a congregation that is especially vulnerable to a message that only they can hear. Rush Limbaugh is even more direct. In advance of the Democratic National Convention in Denver last year, Limbaugh told his listeners to Screw the world! Riot in Denver!

“I mean, if people say what’s your exit strategery, the dream end of this is that this keeps up to the convention and that we have a replay of Chicago 1968, with burning cars, protests, fires, literal riots, and all of that. That’s the objective here.”

He couldn’t be much clearer than that. Limbaugh has yet to comment on the Law and Order episode that mentioned him and O’Reilly and Beck, but his record of offensive and hostile rhetoric like that above is well documented.

If you take the combined blather of these shoutcasters, it isn’t hard to foresee an outcome not unlike that of the one played out on Law and Order. And perhaps much worse. Yet they will continue to deny any culpability for their irresponsible fear mongering. And they will fire back at any criticism that holds them accountable. Even if it doesn’t make any logical sense, as this incident with Law and Order demonstrates. And even if it contradicts their professed appreciation for the First Amendment, as they seek to silence the creative output of a television dramatist. (Note: O’Reilly’s guest for the discussion on this subject was Laura Ingraham, author of “Shut Up and Sing,” a repulsive assault on free expression that reduces the role of artists to trivialities, ignoring their contributions to society and their potential for insight and inspiration).

But more than anything else, this affair reveals how intellectually vacant these losers are. They are incapable of grasping the meaning of a popular TV cop drama – which is not exactly the pinnacle of human intelligence. They are just angry that someone said something about them that they vaguely regard as adverse. And that’s enough to launch a full scale media war. Because, in the end, all they really want is an issue to blow out of proportion; a hyperbolic fireball of frenzy; a meaningless and dishonest controversy. An excuse to raise their voices, pull out their hair, and drive their viewers into a panic.

Like I said above…Happy Holidays.

p.s. Ice-T has a few words for O’Reilly.

Update: Just one day after all the whining about how liberal Law and Order is, and how it is spewing leftie propaganda, the program aired an episode that told a very different story. This one featured an ACORN-like community organizer whose murdered body was found with the word “FED” scrawled across his chest. However, the conclusion revealed that it was not some right-wing, anti-government, Beckoid who was responsible, but the head of the community organizing group who was attempting to cover up an affair. So having indicted the liberals in this episode, will Beck and O’Reilly and the vast, conservative, Hollywood-bashing, over-reactionaries retract their allegations of bias against producer, Dick Wolf? Don’t bother staying tuned.

The Case For The Comcast/NBC Merger

There has been, and will be, much discussion about the proposed merger between entertainment giants NBC/Universal and Comcast. Now that an agreement has been formally entered into, the discussions will likely become even more heated. Media reform advocates like FreePress are already organizing opposition to the deal. Free market capitalists want it to go through without interference from the government.

However, the government has a legitimate role to play to insure fair competition and to advance the interests of the public. Hearings will be held by the FCC, the FTC, and several congressional committees over the next year before the marriage can be consummated. Opponents will make the argument that a combined Comcast/NBCU would dominate access to entertainment programming and news on both cable and the Internet. Estimates show that Comcast, already the largest US provider of cable service and Internet access, would control up to 25% of all content. Comcast, on the other hand, will promise not to abuse their market position. If you’re naive enough to take their word for that, you might not think it’s such a bad deal. Unfortunately, Comcast has not been a particularly conscientious steward of the power they already have. And approving the merger would surely propel competitors to similarly bulk up to face the new, more scopious Comcast.

Ordinarily, I am a knee jerk opponent to any kind of media consolidation. The scope and reach of the Five Families of media (GE, Disney, Viacom, News Corp, and Time Warner) already wield far too much influence over everything we see, hear and read. I have long advocated breaking up these anti-competitive conglomerates and re-introducing real competition, independence, and diversity into the media marketplace. I still believe that deconsolidation is an achievable objective, though fairly far off on the time line.

In the meantime, what does this merger present to the current marketplace? Is Comcast really a worse partner for NBCU than GE, the world’s biggest defense contractor? Conflicts of interest in program content and distribution cause considerable harm, but is it any less harmful than conflicts that involve the production of military goods and weapons? GE’s reach extends even further into consumer products, financial services, information systems and health care technology. That’s a pretty broad scope for potential conflicts.

The Comcast merger offers some opportunities if implemented responsibly. Regulatory agencies can impose restrictions to prevent market abuse that would apply to all players, not just Comcast. They could mandate open access to airwaves and cable lines. They could codify network neutrality. They could promote localism to enhance the community service obligations that networks routinely ignore.

Comcast is already making noises about how they want to be better corporate citizens. They contend that they will comply with reasonable conditions set for the merger by the FCC and others. They promise that the corporate office will not influence news reporting at NBC or MSNBC. They vow to keep their content available to competing services like DirecTV. They have even taken a position in support of health care reform, explicitly repudiating the position of the US Chamber of Commerce, of which they are a member.

Of course, These may all be tactics designed to curry favor with the administration in hopes of clearing a path for approval of the merger. If so, that could also be an opportunity. The agencies and congressional committees reviewing the matter could extract significant concessions and make them binding for all of the monopolistic media enterprises.

Another somewhat more amusing benefit is the new relationship that would be forged between Fox and the NBC News unit. Bill O’Reilly and others at Fox have taken great pleasure in demonizing NBC and its current parent GE. For the most part they go after the executives because they are afraid to utter Keith Olbermann’s name aloud. O’Reilly has called GE’s CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, “a despicable human being” and has spewed impotent threats, saying…

“That Immelt man answers to me. . . . That’s why I’m in this business right now, to get guys like that.”

Um, OK. If you say so. So who will O’Reilly bash now? If he were to go off on Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, he might find himself regretting it. Comcast may decide that Fox News would be better off on a more expensive, upper tier, cable package. That could significantly reduce the number of homes that Fox would reach. Such a move would impact their ratings as well as their revenue from both advertising and cable subscription fees. Comcast might also decide that its new asset, MSNBC, would be a better fit on their basic cable packages, which it is not currently on in many markets. That obstacle to access has been a longstanding impediment to MSNBC’s ratings performance.

Like all bullies, O’Reilly is likely to keep his fat mouth shut about Roberts and Comcast. When there is really something at stake, he will cower in the corner and stick with his War on Christmas shtick. O’Reilly would never send Stuttering Jesse Watters to ambush Roberts. He’d rather stay comfy in his studio holding hands with Dick Morris as they demonstrate how little they know about any subject they address. And Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch would probably bury O’Reilly if he were to damage their relationship with the nation’s biggest cable operator. So maybe O’Reilly might actually have to confront Olbermann man to man. Although he would certainly lose that contest too.

In conclusion, I can’t get excited about another merger of big media megaliths. But I can’t really muster a great deal of antagonism about this one. I don’t see it as worse than the status quo, and I do see an opportunity to tighten regulatory oversight for the whole industry. That is, if the regulators and the administration have the will. Stayed tuned.

What’s Up With CNBC?

The cable news wars have been raging for years. But for the most part the combatants have been confined to the big three: Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC. Headline News and CNBC have been regarded as niche players that weren’t really on the front lines.

All of a sudden CNBC has become the most talked about cable news network, just as the nation has inaugurated a new president and tries to weather a fierce economic storm. Much of the attention is couched in ridicule. Rick Santelli’s rant, that cast a bunch of elite commodities traders as emblematic of average Americans, was only taken seriously by the likes of Michele Malkin and her mush-brained followers. Jim Cramer was exposed as the clown that he is by a much better and more professional clown, Jon Stewart.

The backwash of this publicity parade is a boost for CNBC’s ratings and visibility. But why is it happening now?

CNBC has long been a friend to the business community. Its reporting rarely alerted viewers to imminent crises (like the the one we are enduring now) or corporate malfeasance (like Enron and Madoff). The anchors were openly chummy with CEOs, whom they courted for access, and some, like Larry Kudlow, were overtly partisan. CNBC elevated the art of bloviating by introducing the Octo-Pundit, where as many as eight self-styled experts yelled at each other from their respective video cages.

But with a lineup like Fox News and current events that favored their niche, they still needed a little extra push to get the recognition they felt they deserved. So along comes Santelli and Cramer and a concerted effort to expand their conservative profile.

Despite the blathering of Bill O’Reilly, the NBC News division has never been left wing. MSNBC was once the cable home of Michael Savage, Oliver North, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and it still features Joe Scarborough and Pat Buchanan. The rise of Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow occurred strictly because of their success, not ideology. Nevertheless, in the past NBC has demonstrated its cowardice in the face of criticism. They are the network that canceled their own number one rated program, Phil Donahue, for fear of being tagged anti-war.

By ramping up the rightist rhetoric on CNBC, NBC News is attempting to harvest popular outrage from both ends of the political field. They can continue to throw liberals a bone with their primetime MSNBC schedule, while cozying up to their natural right wing allies on the business-oriented CNBC. And neither network will have its programming muddied with ideological balance. As an ancillary benefit, NBC will try to tamp down the criticism they receive from the right by pointing to their new heroes of ham-handed conservatism.

In the end, CNBC just hopes to siphon a few viewers away from Fox News, and to smother the new born Fox Business Network in its crib. Unfortunately, the way they have chosen to do that is to emulate the Fox model which is focused on aggressive conservatism, and hysterical, paranoid personalities. That won’t work for CNBC in the long run because Fox viewers are too cult driven. They won’t abandon the comfort of that with which they are familiar for a subsidiary of that which their Fox masters have convinced them is evil.

Now, more than ever, CNBC needs to concentrate on providing responsible financial journalism. By making themselves truly indispensable in the field for which they claim expertise, they will be far more likely to succeed and to serve the interests of their viewers.

Republicans Admit It’s Over For McCain

Republican strategists Mike Murphy and Peggy Noonan were interviewed today by NBC’s Chuck Todd. At the conclusion of the segment a hot mic overheard them expressing a somewhat more pessimistic view of the election than is generally acknowledged. The conversation centered on the qualifications of McCain’s VP pick, Sarah Palin. [A rush transcript of is included below]

On substance, I couldn’t agree more with the comments of these loyal Republicans speaking honestly amongst themselves. However, I do have a problem with the manner in which this became public.

A couple of months ago, Jesse Jackson was caught making disparaging remarks about Barack Obama. He also was picked up by a hot mic in the studios of Fox News. I had some harsh criticism for the Fox insiders who released the tape:

“Television news studios are not places where recordings are made accidentally. It is, of course, what they are designed for. So people invited inside for appearances ought to be aware that tapes are rolling and mics are hot. But they should not be expected to keep their mouths shut from the time they enter the building until they drive off the lot. They ought to be permitted to have private conversations without fear that they will end up on the evening broadcast.”

I have the same complaint with the release of this video. If someone makes a speech wherein they say something embarrassing, it is fair game. But in-studio guests (or in this case, outdoor remote guests) need to be given extra leeway because they are micced the whole time they are there and the producers have total control of the environment and the product.

As much as I like to hear Republicans declaring McCain’s candidacy over, I cannot approve of those who brought it to light.
Contine reading

McCain Coach Working The Refs

Following the candidates forum at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, a minor controversy erupted with regard to the participants playing fair. The ground rules called for each candidate to be asked the same questions. Therefore, John McCain was to be isolated so that he could not gain an advantage by hearing the questions as they were asked to Barack Obama, who went first.

As it turns out, McCain was not in the “Cone of Silence” as stated by Rev. Warren. Instead, he was en route to the church where he could have plausibly listened to Obama’s interview or been briefed on it by a staffer. Andrea Mitchell reported on Meet the Press that some Obama supporters were questioning whether McCain did, in fact, cheat:

“The Obama people must feel that he didn’t do quite as well as they might have wanted to in that context, because what they are putting out privately is that McCain may not have been in the cone of silence and may have had some ability to overhear what the questions were to Obama. He seemed so well-prepared.”

This set off McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis, who fired off an angry letter to NBC president, Steve Capus. The letter said in part…

“We are extremely disappointed to see that the level of objectivity at NBC News has fallen so low that reporters are now giving voice to unsubstantiated, partisan claims in order to undercut John McCain.”

Reporters giving voice to unsubstantiated, partisan claims has been routine in this campaign. Though they have mostly been aimed at Obama. McCain’s people have relentlessly spewed nonsense about Obama’s faith, his patriotism, and his agenda on everything from war to energy to taxes. It is apparently OK if reporters give voice to unsubstantiated, partisan claims if they come from McCain.

Davis’ disingenuous indignation is especially pathetic in this context. In his own letter he quotes Mitchell as saying that the Obama campaign was less than thrilled with his performance. Conversely he notes Mitchell’s assertion that McCain seemed well prepared. Mitchell’s report was actually declaring McCain the winner of the debate, and yet, Davis still finds cause to complain.

McCain’s spokeswoman, Nicolle Wallace, also commented on the affair. In her remarks she pointedly accused the Obama campaign of having “lost its bearings.” I wonder if the intent of that language is meant to imply that she believes Obama may be senile. That’s exactly what McCain adviser Mark Salter alleged when Obama used the same words last May to describe McCain.

This fake outrage on the part of Davis, Wallace, et al, is nothing more than another transparent attempt to bully the media into shaping coverage that is one-sided and positive in favor of McCain. And the really sad part of this cynical and manipulative whining is that it has a damn good chance of working.

Hypocritical Standards Practiced At NBC

A few days ago NBC rejected an ad from Freedom’s Watch, a pro-war conservative front group for Republican interests. This was the second time that FW submitted an ad that exceeded the standards for broadcast due to its overt political content. In the previous ad they asked viewers to call their representatives and voice their support for the President and the war, but the phone number went to an operator who asks if you agree with the ad. If you do, your call is patched through. If you do not, they hang up on you.

Now NBC has reversed itself and approved the new ad for broadcast. I don’t particularly have a problem with that since I have long been troubled by the way networks make judgments regarding political content. But I do wonder why NBC caved in to the former White House operatives at FW when they never did so with ads from progressive groups. For instance, in November of 2004, NBC rejected an ad from the United Church of Christ simply because they expressed an inclusive philosophy that welcomed all people, including gays. In October of 2006, they refused to air an ad for the Dixie Chicks documentary, “Shut Up & Sing,” because it was disparaging to the President.

Hypocrisy in the media is rampant, and this is just more evidence of it.

Networks Refuse To Air Liberal Ads, Too

John Hinderaker at the Power Line blog is expressing some selective outrage over the alleged refusal of MSNBC and CNBC to air ads by a pro-war shadow press office for the White House. Led by former Bush press secretary, Ari Fleischer, Freedom’s Watch is seeking to target congressional members who aren’t sufficiently hawkish by placing ads that ask viewers to call their representatives and voice their support for the President and the war.

Hinderaker has republished a letter from Bradley Blakeman at Freedom’s Watch (FW) to NBC that says in part…

Your history of airing other issue advocacy advertisements makes the denial of FW advertisements troubling and raises the issue of whether your denial is based on an editorial disagreement with FW’s message.

NBC has yet to respond to the complaint so it is unknown at this time what their reasons for declining the ad might be, if in fact it was declined. However, both Hinderaker and Blakeman should be commended for their commitment to free speech. The only problem is that there is scant evidence that they exhibited similar concern for liberal victims of censorship on the commercial airwaves. Did they ever speak out against these abuses:

GOP Warns TV Stations Not to Air Ad Alleging Bush Mislead the Nation Over Iraq
Attorneys for the Republican Party are warning TV stations not to air a new commercial by the Democratic National Committee that charges President Bush misled the country in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq.

NBC, CBS, ABC Reject Ad Criticizing Their News Coverage
American Progress created a television advertisement for BeAWitness.org, our netroots campaign that calls out the television news media for their deplorable coverage of the genocide in Darfur. Over the last few days, three Washington DC television affiliates, NBC-4, CBS-9, and ABC-7, informed us that they refuse to air the ad.

Prickly Peacock Nixes Chicks
The Weinstein Co. is claiming that NBC and the CW have refused to air national ads for the new Dixie Chicks docu “Shut Up & Sing.”

CBS, NBC Refuse to air Church’s Television Advertisement
The CBS and NBC television networks are refusing to run a
30-second television ad from the United Church of Christ because its
all-inclusive welcome has been deemed “too controversial.”

CNN, NPR Refuse Ads for Assassination Film
Two major U.S. news outlets, CNN and National Public Radio, will not air advertisements for a controversial movie depicting the assassination of President Bush, citing the film’s content, network spokeswomen said Tuesday.

Bush Helps CBS, CBS Helps Bush
While advertising industry sources say CBS will air a pair of advocacy commercials prepared to advance the agenda of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the network has refused to accept an advertisement prepared by critics of the man who currently occupies the White House.

When Might Turns Right
L.A. Weekly has learned that CBS, NBC and ABC all refused Fahrenheit 9/11 DVD advertising during any of the networks’ news programming. Executives at Sony Pictures, the distributor of the movie for the home-entertainment market, were stunned. And even more shocked when the three networks explained why. “They said explicitly they were reluctant because of the closeness of the release to the election.”

ABC Refuses Outfoxed Ad, Censors Boston Legal
[T]hey have refused our money, refused to make suggestions to the ad so they would run it, and in short have said no!

Networks Refuse To Air Soldier Ad
Now a non-partisan, pro-soldier activist group is having trouble getting an ad featuring a wounded soldier on the air. Operation Truth executive director Paul Rieckhoff told GNN, “the bottom-line is there are some networks who don’t want to hear the truth because the truth is a little too abrasive for people to handle.”

Fox and CBS Refuse To Air Condom Ads
…Fox and CBS networks recently refused to broadcast condom advertisements. Had they somehow missed the memo that there are 19 million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STD) each year…

To the hypocrites on the right, free speech is reserved for the narrow constituency of the elite and the sycophants of the powerful. To any objective observer it is obvious that the media has an historical pattern of tipping the scales against progressive views. And this applies to news content as well as to advertising.

I generally lean heavily in favor of unfiltered and unfettered expression, but FW’s croc tears just don’t make me misty. I would be a little more sympathetic to FW’s complaint had anyone connected to it ever lifted a finger in support of free speech in any context other than that which is in their own interest.

It would also help if the ad in question weren’t so deceptive. At the end of ad there is a telephone number displayed for viewers to call Congress and express their opinion. But in a perverse game of bait and switch, the number actually connects to an operator who asks if you agree with the ad. If you do, your call is patched through. If you do not, they hang up on you. I would not be surprised if that is the reason NBC hung up on FW.

NBC: Shut Up And…Oh Just Shut Up

Following the recent announcement of censorship by CNN and NPR when they refused to air ads for the film, “Death of a President,” it seems the dawn is not yet here, because it’s still getting darker.

NBC has now refused to broadcast ads for the Dixie Chicks’ new movie, “Shut Up and Sing.” (See the ad here). This is the same NBC whose censors just finished editing Madonna’s TV special because they didn’t like the religious content. The distributor for the Chicks’ film, The Weinstein Co., says NBC told them that they…

“…cannot accept these spots as they are disparaging to President Bush.”

Harvey Weinstein said in response…

“It’s a sad commentary about the level of fear in our society that a movie about a group of courageous entertainers who were blacklisted for exercising their right of free speech is now itself being blacklisted by corporate America. The idea that anyone should be penalized for criticizing the president is profoundly un-American.”

Indeed, the idea that a national broadcast network would abuse its power by prohibiting the use of public airwaves to promote a legal product on the grounds that it is “disparaging” to the president, is un-American and unacceptable. Since when is the characterization of a president a factor in whether or not a product can be advertised? This policy would also prohibit ads for “Dump Bush” t-shirts or even ads for car dealerships if they employed a silly Bush impersonator.

NBC is owned, don’t forget, by General Electric, the largest defense contractor in the world, and one of the biggest beneficiaries of Bush’s war industry as well as his pro-corporate tax giveaways. They also have a stake in the FCC’s determinations regarding media ownership and consolidation.

The Dixie’s doc tells the story of how they were silenced because they they chose to exercise freedom of speech. Now NBC is silencing them again for much the same reason. Their decision not to air these ads raises the question as to whether they were pressured by Washington to road block the movie, or are acting on their own to prop up their benefactor in the White House. Either way, they are demonstrating that their loyalty is reserved for politicos at BushCo, at the expense of the Constitution, the American people, and free expression.

Write to express yourself (while you still can):
Bob Wright, GE Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, NBC Universal
Jeff Zucker, Chief Executive Officer, NBC Universal Television Group
Randy Falco, Pres and Chief Operating Officer, NBC Universal Television Group
Keith Turner, President/NBC Universal Sales and Marketing
Marianne Gambelli, Exec Vice President/NBC Universal Sales and Marketing
Victoria Morgan, Vice President – Advertising Standards/NBC Universal

Other NBC Network Entertainment Sales & Marketing Contacts
NBC Advertising Standards Guidelines – PDF (See page 11).