Stop Hurting America: The WGA And The Daily Show

The ongoing strike by members of the Writer’s Guild against the AMPTP is an important line in the sand for rights of the creative community in Hollywood and elsewhere. The producers have thus far proven that they are far more interested in hording their profits than in sharing credit and compensation with the people most responsible for generating those profits – the creators. But there has been an unanticipated drawback to this otherwise righteous cause that could have a significant impact on our nation.

A month from now the first of the presidential primary contests will take place in Iowa. The campaigns are already at cruising speed and the media is hurtling forward with their usual fare of speculation, conflict and the inane horserace chatter that they think passes for news. What’s missing is the perspective of what has become the most insightful segment of the commentator class in the 21st century – Satire.

While news programs continue spewing their corporatist, insider views of presidential politics throughout the strike, programs like The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, David Letterman, Saturday Night Live, etc., have become silent. This is not a trivial matter. Many of these programs have assumed a unique role in our culture by highlighting the absurd quirks and contradictions of our politicians and press. The light these programs shine on the political landscape is nowhere countervailed in the dimwitted din of the so-called Mainstream Media.

Numerous studies have concluded that programs like The Daily Show are much more than comic relief. They have been shown to contain as much news content as the news programs they lampoon. They are a top source of news for young viewers/voters. They are a staple in the media diet for information about our nation and our world. Two years ago I wrote “The Real Fake News” to juxtapose the legitimacy of the Daily Show as compared to the pretenders in the “serious” press:

“While esteem for the media is spiraling ever-lower, respect for The Daily Show continues to grow. It receives awards for both its humor and its news content. And it performs the function of a media watchdog, alerting us to the hypocrisy, collaboration, and contrivance of the corporate-dominated media.”

For these reasons they should be allowed to continue in production along with the rest of television news programming. The absence of the perspective of The Daily Show could have a measurable effect on public opinion including the presidential race. In just one month since the strike began, there have been stories and events that would have been covered by TDS in a manner that no other outlet would have the courage to get near. Imagine, for instance, Jon Stewart’s take on Rudy Giuliani’s “Tryst Fund” affair; or the CNN/YouTube Republican debate; or the Hillary campaign office hostage crisis; or Bill O’Reilly’s book tour to Afghanistan; or the WGA strike itself. By approaching the news from angles that the straight press ignores, TDS and its peers bring out issues that would otherwise be missed or would fall from the radar before their ramifications could be fully explored.

I believe that our country is being ill-served by shutting down The Daily Show. But there is something that can be done. Because TDS can be plausibly categorized as a news program, it can be given special status with regard to the strike. The union could grant it a waiver to allow it to remain in production. Or better yet, the union could negotiate with the production company on an individual basis. This has been done in previous labor disputes. The production company can agree to terms with the union that can later be aligned with the terms that are spelled out in the final contract. In fact, by negotiating with individual production companies, the union can place tremendous pressure on the companies that do not negotiate, as well as on the AMPTP. It is a tactic that effectively divides to conquer. How long could the AMPTP hold out while their members are signing contracts independent of the Alliance?

I am calling on the WGA to enter into negotiations with TDS, its producers, and/or Comedy Central. It’s time to restore this national resource to the airwaves. The strike could drag on for many months and the loss to our social psyche is too great to rest on the potential for the warring factions to reach a settlement. The tenor of our times is too tense to leave to the addle-brained punditry of CNN, Fox, et al. What’s coming round the bend of civic life in America needs to be reviewed and regurgitated by the creative minds that gave us Mess O’Potamia and ClusterF@$k To The White House.

Any WGA members reading this are encouraged to contact your union reps and push for this solution. It can’t hurt the union (it might help), but not doing so can hurt the country. So please…stop hurting America.

UPDATE: From some comments I’ve received, it is apparent that I need to clarify my position. I am TOTALLY in support of the writer’s strike and their mission to fairly compensate their members and all creative workers. What I am proposing here would ONLY be implemented if those negotiating individually got the terms that the Guild is now demanding (at the least). The theory is that if the Guild can peel off members of the AMPTP who will agree to the Guild’s terms, then the AMPTP is weakened as their alliance falls apart. This tactic has been used in the past by and for the benefit of the union. Both the WGA and the DGA have used it successfully. Perhaps in today’s marketplace, with increasing consolidation and vertical integration, this tactic may not be as effective, but I think it is worth exploring.

I really do think that the absence of TDS and its peers has a measurably negative impact on public discourse. And these types of programs are the most effective media watchdogs around as they put the media in a critical light that no one else does – at least no one with their reach (I do it, of course, but I think TDS gets more viewers than me).

UPDATE II: The WGA agrees with me!

“So it’s interesting that, today, WGA prez Patric Verrone began calling on the more moderate CEOs to break ranks with AMPTP which he claimed is “allowing bottom-line hard-liners to rule the day.” I’ve heard top WGA’ers privately refer to this as the “Let’s Make A Deal” strategy. But it hasn’t been articulated in public until now. “If any of these companies want to come forward and bargain with us individually, we think we can make a deal,” Verrone told AP while conferring with picketing writers at NBC in Burbank.”

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New York Times Editor Gets Religion – Lacks Faith

Last week Bill Keller, editor of the New York Times, spoke at forum in London hosted by The Guardian. His remarks covered a lot of territory including journalistic craft, the financial travails of print media, the Internet and blogs, editorial independence, and the influence and manipulation of governments and their representatives. In one passage Keller delivered another apology for the abysmal mishandling of the Times’ coverage leading up to the invasion of Iraq.

“I’ve had a few occasions to write mea culpas for my paper after we let down our readers in more important ways, including for some reporting before the war in Iraq that should have dug deeper and been more sceptical about Iraq’s purported weapons of mass destruction.”

That’s an admission of the obvious. But it doesn’t comport with a comment earlier in the speech wherein Keller confesses that he had not foreseen…

“…the catastrophe that the war in Iraq would become, whereas I – out of a combination of contrarianism and wishful thinking – thought the United States was capable of eliminating a murderous tyrant without making a lethal hash of it.”

That’s an entirely different explanation. He is no longer merely accepting responsibility for shoddy work and misplaced trust in administration flacks. He is now conceding that the paper’s editorial position at the time was that the invasion was warranted and winnable. And what the hell does he mean by contrarianism? To what position was his contrary? Virtually every media outpost was slinging the same administration hash, and even Congress overwhelmingly went along with the fallacies peddled by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, etc. There were pockets of dissent in the populace, but even there the mood for war was palpable. However, that was due, at least in part, to the absence of honest reporting from fully compromised media relics like the Times.

Now take a moment to read this paragraph from Keller’s speech:

“Whatever you think of its policies, the current administration has been more secretive, more mistrustful of an inquisitive press, than any since the Nixon administration. It has treated freedom of information requests with contempt, asserted sweeping claims of executive privilege, even reclassified material that had been declassified. The administration has subsidised propaganda at home and abroad, refined the art of spin, discouraged dissent, and sought to limit traditional congressional oversight and court review. The war in Iraq alone is a case study of the administration’s determination to dominate the flow of information – from the original cherry-picking of intelligence, to the deliberate refusal to hear senior military officers when they warned of the potential for chaos, to the continually inflated claims about the progress in building up an indigenous Iraqi army.”

You have to wonder when Keller arrived at these conclusions. Millions of Americans have known these things for years. We have been fighting to expose this destructive and anti-democratic regime since they stole the election in 2000. We have had little support from the likes of Keller and the New York Times. On the contrary, we have been on the receiving end of endless criticism and ridicule. We have been characterized as everything from partisan to extremist to fringe to unpatriotic, and worse.

Now Keller articulates exactly what we’ve been saying all along. While it’s good to hear, there are a couple of egregious omissions. First of all, he has not retracted any of the disparaging allusions to extremism or treason, and he never acknowledges that those of us who were longstanding dissidents were right from the start. Secondly, he has not altered the editorial stance of his paper one iota in light of the opinions he now asserts above. They are still pushing the administration’s agenda; they still employ the reporters who made all the mistakes for which he is supposedly apologizing; they are committing the same errors with regard to Iran that they made with Iraq by trumpeting BushCo’s warmongering and regurgitating their unsupported allegations.

To top it all off, I think it is interesting that Keller delivered this address to an industry audience in England. Now, I have no problem with his going abroad to deliver this speech. What concerns me is that the link I provided above goes to the site of The Guardian newspaper in the UK. Guess who has not covered this speech … That’s right, the New York Times! Even their rivals at the Washington Post published excerpts from the speech (courtesy of Dan Froomkin) and linked to the full text at The Guardian. Doesn’t Keller think that his fellow citizens here in the states deserve to hear what his thoughts are about issues that are critical to his customers and his country? Was there a deliberate decision to shield Americans from views that are critical of the President and his administration? Is this a demonstration of his lack of faith in his people as well as his profession? That’s a question Keller raises himself:

“In the end, I believe the gravest danger to the future of newspapers is not a hostile administration in Washington, not the acid rain of criticism, not a business model upended by new technology, it is a loss of faith, a failure of resolve on the part of the people who make newspapers.”

I tend to agree that faith in the adversarial role of the Fourth Estate has waned as the press finds more companionship with the institutions they should be covering than with the public they were intended to serve. The interests of the corporate media and the corporate-sponsored government are so intertwined that hopes for an independent press corps that checks the abuses of government seems more remote every day. However, in that respect there seems to be no lack of resolve.

If Keller truly believes the things he said last week he needs to bring that message back the the U.S. and let people know about it. He needs to specifically outline the changes he’ll make to the paper to prevent similar failures from occurring in the future. He needs to educate his reporters (and his readers) as to the deceptive practices of this administration and the potential for future administrations for engaging in the same deceptions. If he truly believes that those who hold the reins of power will stoop to manipulate the people and the press, then he needs to make sure that we are less vulnerable to their machinations. At the very least, he must not allow his reporters to be fooled the way that he now admits he was. And if he will not do these simple things, then who knows what he truly believes? And who knows what we can believe if we read it in the Times?

Hillary Hostage Affair Addendum

With the conclusion of the harrowing incident in New Hampshire, where hostages where taken at a Hillary Clinton campaign office, this may be a good time for a round up of how the media performed.

Guess what?

Fox News managed to commit some amateurish, and possibly dangerous, mistakes. First off, they identified the suspect as Troy Stanley whom they described as a paranoid schizophrenic. It’s bad enough to broadcast such inflammatory characterizations while the crisis is still in progress and an unstable perpetrator may be watching on a TV inside the crime scene, but it’s even worse if you finger the wrong guy. The actual perp is a New Hampshire resident known to local police as Leeland Eisenberg.

John Ehrenfeld at Brave New Films notes that Fox reported an end to the event at 4:15PM EST, announcing that all of the hostages had been released. There would be nothing wrong with that except that another hostage was released over an hour later at 5:37, and then another at 6:13. Once again, Fox’s mistakes had the potential to put lives at risk.

Finally, when the incident actually did conclude, Hillary Clinton gave a statement and held a brief press conference that was carried live on CNN and MSNBC. Fox News chose not to air Clinton’s remarks live, instead continuing with their “All Star Panel” discussion on topics unrelated to the breaking news.

However, Wanker of the Day Award goes to MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson. In a discussion with FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt, Tucker responded to an assertion that Eisenberg was driven to the hostage taking because he felt there was no other way to make himself heard, by saying:

“He should do what a lot of other mentally ill people do in this country and start a blog.”

Very funny, Tuck. In one fell swoop you’ve trivialized the horror that the hostages just endured, discounted the gravity of mental illness, and disparaged everyone who exercises their right to free expression on the Internet. The Doofus Trifecta.

CBS News Seeks Blathering Idiot

Check out this want ad from CBS (screen cap):

Company: CBS News
Position: Seeking Vibrant Reporter/Host for Eco Beat
[…] Description:
CBS is expanding its coverage of the environment. We seek a talented reporter/host for Internet video broadcast. We are looking for smart, creative, hard working up and comers, who can bring great energy, creativity and a dash of humor to our coverage. A deep interest in the environment and sustainability issues will serve you well.

You are wicked smart, funny, irreverent and hip, oozing enthusiasm and creative energy. This position requires strong people, reporting, story telling and writing skills. Managing tight deadlines should be second nature. Knowledge of the enviro beat is a big plus, but not a requirement.

Responsibilities include reporting and hosting two to three news packages per week plus daily writing for our blog. You should be comfortable using a video camera and the Internet. Be prepared to see America. Heavy domestic travel.

Send resumes, cover letters and links to

Dust off those resumes. Seriously, let’s send Mr. Katz a flurry of resumes from all of us wicked smart hipsters who don’t know crap about the environment. While we’re at it, let’s send CBS applications for political, financial, criminal, and health beats, even if we don’t know anything about that either. Apparently they don’t care. I’ve always wanted to be a war correspondent.

Clarence Thomas Should Shut Up

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has officially jumped the snark. He has traversed so far past the horizon of satire that he can’t be made fun of anymore.

Thomas has long kept tongues wagging about how little wagging his tongue does while on the bench. The Wall Street Journal reports that…

“Through about 20 oral arguments this term, Justice Thomas has yet to ask a question from the bench […] Last term, through 68 hours of oral arguments, he didn’t say a thing either. The last time Thomas asked a question: Feb. 22, 2006.”

In almost two years, not a peep from Justice Thomas, even during a case that involved the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission which he headed during the Reagan administration. We know that there is nothing wrong with his vocal chords because he speaks in the private sector far more frequently than his fellow justices. In one of those speeches (delivered this week for $100.00 per seat), Thomas defended his silence by attacking his benchmates:

“My colleagues should shut up!” he exclaimed.

Then Thomas drew an absurd analogy between judges and surgeons saying that doctors don’t engage in seminars while in the operating room. If that’s an example of Thomas’ logical acuity we’re in bigger trouble than we thought. Doctors do, of course, have conferences to toss around theories and arguments for how to proceed before they ever step foot in an operating room. That’s a better analogy for what happens when justices conduct hearings. Justices in deliberations and composing their opinions would be more analogous to the operating room. But it doesn’t seem like Thomas even understands the duties required of him when he says…

“We are judges. This is the last court in a long line in our system. We are there to decide cases, not to engage in seminar discussions.”

Wrong, Clarence. You are there to assemble a thorough knowledge of the competing interests that the case presents. You ask questions in order to construct a legal foundation from which to form an opinion. You don’t decide the case until after you’ve heard the advocates from both sides and tested their legal arguments.

What a sad state of affairs that we have such an ill-informed and intellectually incurious member of our country’s highest court. We can only hope that he will develop a renewed appreciation for his family and resign to spend more time with them.

Rudy Call

Mr. 9/11 is burnishing his credentials with an accounting scandal to go along with his sex scandal and his terrorist association scandal and his corrupt police commissioner scandal and…

From Politico:
“As New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani billed obscure city agencies for tens of thousands of dollars in security expenses amassed during the time when he was beginning an extramarital relationship with future wife Judith Nathan in the Hamptons, according to previously undisclosed government records.”

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Journalists Say Most Of Iraq Too Dangerous To Visit

While the White House and its legions of RepubliPundits are busily pounding out praise for the newly tranquil environs of Iraq, observers at the scene have a very different tale to tell. The Project for Excellence in Journalism recently completed a survey of war correspondents that describes harrowing circumstances wherein 57% report that at least one of their Iraqi staff had been killed or kidnapped in the last year alone, and that…

“A majority of journalists surveyed say most of the country is too dangerous to visit. Nine out of ten say that about at least half of Baghdad itself. Wherever they go, traveling with armed guards and chase vehicles is the norm for more than seven out of ten surveyed.”

The survey recounts the experiences of seasoned reporters on a dangerous assignment. Many of them are frustrated that they are unable to thoroughly report on the everyday lives of Iraqi civilians because of the risk undertaken to gather information for a story. They cringe at scolding from stateside critics who complain that there aren’t enough “positive” stories about newly painted schoolhouses.

“…when journalists cannot cover a playground being rebuilt because it’s too dangerous to travel around the city, then that playground is not the primary story.”

Amongst the difficulties for reporters is access to sources. The survey reveals that the easiest sources to acquire are Iraqi civilians and foreign diplomats. It’s interesting to note that one of the most guarded groups are private contractors (i.e. Blackwater). Eighty-one percent of reporters say that they are “hard” or “impossible” to reach. That is second only in difficulty to Iraqi insurgents (90%). When enemy combatants and security firms paid for by American tax dollars share the same aversion to press inquiry, you have to wonder about the motives of each of them.

The safety impediments are not the only barriers to effective journalism. The Iraqi authorities are refusing reporters access to the sites of bombings and other violent incidents. That may make for a more uplifting tone from the media, but also one that is less representative of reality. You also need to take into consideration that some in the media are already soft-peddling the horrors of war. Take CNN’s John Roberts who admittted in an interview with Broadcasting and Cable that he is more concerned with not frightening away viewers or stirring up complaints from warmongers than he is about do his job:

“If we showed people the full extent of what we see every day in Iraq, we would either have no one watching us because they couldn’t stand to see the pictures, or we would get so many letters of complaint that some organization would come down on us to stop.”

The survey overall conveys a reality far removed from the emerging Eden of Democracy that the Bush administration is trying peddle. The tribulations of reporters are an important factor to consider when evaluating news items from war zones. If reporters are prevented from posting comprehensive accounts of their experiences because security concerns keep them from relevant scenes and sources, then that is a story in itself. And they shouldn’t have to suffer insults from the homefront studio-potatoes that whine about excessively “negative” coverage.

Republicans Finally Face-Off On YouTube

After initially declining to participate in a proposed CNN/YouTube debate, the Republican candidates have finally weathered the ordeal that had so frightened them at first. I could care less about the actual substance of the debate because it was so predictably a contest to see who could be more opposed to immigrants, gays, taxes, getting out of Iraq, and any variety of Clinton.

However, I would like to note that my criticism of the Democrat’s YouTube affair still holds true for this one. Specifically that, since all of the videos broadcast were pre-selected by CNN, this could hardly be characterized as promoting the voice of the people.

However, the Republican outing even surpassed the Dems for editorial misconduct. The first flaw was that CNN shuffled through 5,000 “citizen”-submitted video questions and managed to select one from Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, friend of Jack Abramoff, and erstwhile companion of Republican politicos everywhere. Secondly, CNN awarded another of the limited questions to General Keith Kerr, a current member of Hillary Clinton’s LGBT Americans For Hillary Steering Committee. Debate moderator Anderson Cooper had to issue a post-debate disclaimer after being advised of the connection.

This is what happens when the media elites act as gatekeepers. Thousands of potential questions and CNN hands off two of the 34 selected to a well-connected lobbyist and a campaign operative. Then they fill some of the other slots with inanities like why Giuliani supported the Red Sox. And they try to pretend this circus represents the voice of the people.

When A Confidential Source Is A Partner In Crime

When Judith Miller of the New York Times and Time Magazine’s Matt Cooper faced imprisonment for not revealing Karl Rove as the source for reporting that Valerie Plame Wilson was a covert agent with the CIA, many observers, including me, objected to their perverse interpretation of what constitutes a “confidential source.”

“Reporters do need to be able to protect their sources without fear of legal consequences when engaged in the conduct of their profession as journalists, but not when they are acting on behalf of government hitmen and promoting propaganda. That’s not protecting your sources, that’s protecting your accomplices.”

Now that it is old news that Rove leaked classified information, Time’s former editor in chief, Norman Pearlstine is coming clean:

“Outing Valerie Plame, exposing a valuable (CIA) agent for no particular reason, didn’t, in my mind, merit protecting confidentiality,”

Thanks Norm. It only took you two years to realize that reporters who act as conduits for political operatives who are engaging in smear campaigns may not extend confidentiality to their comrades.

Bill O’Reilly: Censorship, Lies And Plunging Popularity

A couple of days ago Bill O’Reilly again demonstrated his aversion to free expression as well as his penchant for dishonesty. An op-ed that appeared in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (a paper that O’Reilly regularly castigates as “far-left loons”) laid out a case for Impeachment: If not now, when? The column was accompanied by a political cartoon that had Bush and Cheney dressed up for their mugshots.

That was more than enough to set O’Reilly off on a rant that amounted to a call for censorship (YouTube):

“Look at this. This is ridiculous […] It’s based on nothing […] I want you to excoriate them. Let them have it […] It’s wrong though for them to do it. Don’t you think that showing a mug shot of a sitting president, a sitting vice president is irresponsible?”

O’Reilly is outraged that anyone would exercise their First Amendment rights to express an opinion about the criminality of this administration. He believes that such open expression “diminishes intelligent conversation,” (as if O’Reilly ever engaged in one) and his response is to shut down conversation entirely. Note that O’Reilly is complaining about the cartoon, not the content of the article. Although he does say that the cartoon is “based on nothing,” despite the fact that it is attached to a well-documented column that enumerates specific justifications for investigating the President and his administration.

After once again calling the paper “loons,” (an example of his idea of “intelligent conversation”) O’Reilly attacks the paper’s credibility by smugly declaring that it has lost 40% of its readers in the past ten years:

“Almost half of their readers have said ‘We don’t like you anymore, we’re not going to read you.'”

What O’Reilly leaves out is any actual context that would enlighten his viewers. The truth is that almost all major newspapers have suffered sharp declines in circulation over the past ten years. But more to the point, in only two years (Sept 2005 to Sept 2007) Bill O’Reilly himself has lost 33% of his total viewers and a whopping 59% of viewers in the all-important 25-54 age group. That’s more than half of his viewers saying, “We don’t like you anymore, we’re not going to watch you.”

This brief exchange reveals much about O’Reilly. It shows that while he is vociferously objecting to the free speech rights of others, he will use his own platform to misinform his viewers. No wonder they don’t like him anymore.