White House Sends Press On Wild Goose Chases

Tony Snow’s subterfuge with regard to the President’s recent itinerary on his “surprise” visit to Iraq apparently is not the only time the White House has misled the press corps on presidential travel plans. CBS White House Correspondent Mark Knoller is a little miffed that he and his colleagues have been shipped off to destinations far removed from the President on days when newsworthy events took place.

“Three times in recent weeks, those of us who were covering the President’s trips to Kennebunkport, Maine; Crawford, Texas; and today to Bellevue, Washington were totally out of position for the big stories of the day.”

In the first instance, reporters were whisked off to Maine and missed the President’s press conference in DC. Then they were sent to Crawford while Bush stayed in Washington to announce the resignation of Karl Rove. After that, they were flying to Seattle while the President went to Crawford to make his first comments on the resignation of Alberto Gonzales.

Does it seem a little like the White House Press Office is intentionally diverting reporters to keep them away from the President when important news is being released? To be sure, there will be somebody at the event with Bush, but it will not be the assigned correspondent with the most knowledge and relevant experience covering the President. This leaves Bush facing a bunch of second stringers who will likely be less aggressive and less probing. That’s exactly as the President would want it.

If I were a White House correspondent, I would start to be more suspicious when asked to get aboard the press plane. Given the pattern of behavior demonstrated here, I would wonder what they might be sending me away from.

All of this would be troubling all by itself, but the impact of this news is somewhat diluted by Knoller’s admission that the press is often not in close proximity to presidential newsmaking anyway.

“Truth be told, on most presidential trips, many of us in the press corps cover his statements and actions without actually laying eyes on him. We hear his statements on audio feeds from the White House Communications Agency or see live video transmissions arranged by the TV Networks. We get written reports from our colleagues in the pool with the President and we get transcripts of his statements from the White House stenographers.”

That revelation of media disengagement may explain why they so often miss significant stories or misreport those that they cover. What are they being paid for? If this is all that’s required to perform the duties of a network correspondent, I could be reporting the news from my home – and for a lot less than these guys are pulling in.

The American news consumers are the ones being hurt by this. We are left with a media that is often AWOL, and when they do report for duty, they are easily duped into detours that remove them from the events they are supposed to be covering. As citizens we should be outraged and we should make our opinions known. The media are not doing the jobs we expect of them, or deserve from them. If they continue to fail to perform, we need to find a way to fire them

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Bush Makes Surprise Visit To America


President Bush made a surprise visit to America Monday, shortly before a White House deadline to report to Congress on the U.S. troop increase Iraq. Air Force One touched down under a blazing sun in Manhattan Beach, CA, for a six-hour presidential visit to tout a “remarkable turnaround” in the mostly Yuppi province west of Compton.

Now THAT would be a newsworthy headline. Instead we have CNN reporting Bush’s “surprise” trip to a remote air base in the Anbar province. They fail to mention that he has to avoid the more dangerous capital city of Baghdad as he flies into his photo-op under the cover of darkness.

Bush spoke optimistically before a captive audience of Marines saying that fewer U.S. forces may soon be able to maintain security at its current level. If maintaining security at its current level is the extent of his goals, the Iraqi people have very little to look forward to.

You have to wonder what the purpose of this multi-million dollar detour really is. The President is said to be meeting with the U.S. ambassador and Iraqi prime minister, Maliki, so they are being forced to take a perilous journey across the country to meet with Bush at his hideaway. Is there something besides public relations that justifies the risk and the cost of this event? Couldn’t they have arranged a conference call? And what do they expect to accomplish in six hours that makes this trip worthwhile?

If their intent is to engender a sense of credibility, they probably blew that effort by running this charade as reported by CNN:

White House press secretary Tony Snow said a false schedule released for the news media on Monday was part of the security plan for the trip.

That was the closing paragraph of CNN’s report, which is right where it belongs. There is very little news value to the revelation that Tony Snow lies to the media. We already knew that.

The Fox Frame: Truth In Labeling

FoxNews.com’s home page is again displaying their unique world view as well as their journalistic bias. Take this example of their editorial treatment of Senator Larry Craig and political donor Norman Hsu.

The story this screen grab plainly tells us, in both words and images, is that Fox considers revelations about a corrupt campaign contributer (who represents no one) to be more important than a lascivious United States Senator. And as a bonus, they make it look like the contributer is the pervert.

Tucker Carlson: A Ratings Black Hole

In the first half of 2007, MSNBC’s ratings surged more than 30 percent over the previous year. A fair amount of that progress was thanks to the breakout performance of Keith Olbermann’s Countdown. This comes at a time when competing cable news networks were struggling to maintain single-digit growth. But not all of the players on MSNBC’s team were pulling their weight. Looking at the schedule from 4:00p to 10:00p, there is an obvious underachiever in the mix.

The two poorest performing programs in the lineup are the ones hosted by Tucker Swanson McNear Carlson. There is something about his presence that, when broadcast, sucks the audience into a space/time continuum and disgorges them from the TV universe. And it isn’t just that he vaporizes viewers, he also has the dubious distinction of declining 9% while the network that employs him is enjoying a ratings revival.

It is a little surprising that, in the face of such manifest failure, the network brass cling so tenaciously to this loser. What do they see in Tucker that persuades them that he will ever deliver an audience that compares to his network colleagues? It certainly can’t be the detritus of his broadcast career that includes such notorious bombs as CNN’s Crossifre and PBS’ Unfiltered. Neither has he distinguished himself as an author or newspaper columnist. He couldn’t even survive the first round of his embarrassing outing on Dancing With the Stars, where his choreography consisted largely of his remaining seated. [About which, Olbermann chided, “Any dance a man spends part of which in a chair is, by definition, a lap dance!”]

As there is no professional explanation for MSNBC’s mysterious loyalty, there must be some other excuse for carrying Tucker’s dead weight in the midst of the network’s bull run. Perhaps it has something to do with his pedigree. Tucker is the son of Richard Warner Carlson, a former U.S. ambassador, director of the U.S. Information Agency, and president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He is currently Vice Chairman of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a pro-war, right-wing think tank whose Board of Advisors includes Gary Bauer, Bill Kristol, Zell Miller, and Richard Perle. Crime may or may not pay, but nepotism and having friends in high places certainly does.

If MSNBC were responsibly managing its resources, Tucker would be on the chopping block and the development team would be auditioning Olbermann clones. Wouldn’t it make sense to emulate a winner? When you consider the financial consequences at stake, it is incomprehensible that the network would abandon this time slot to a proven washout when they could significantly increase ad rates and sales by turning it over to a fresher, better informed, and more talented personality (The News Corpse Report?).

The problem may be that their development staff is even less talented than Tucker himself. It’s not as if they don’t have a broad variety of AAA players that could be called up: Ed Schultz, Randi Rhodes, Thom Hartmann, Rachel Maddow, Stephanie Miller, Sam Seder, Taylor Marsh, Jim Hightower, Laura Flanders, Harry Shearer, or any other of the many distinguished progressive commentators.

It should also be noted that there is no law against introducing some actual creativity into the process. How about shaping a new model for cable infotainment that incorporates some of the dynamics and vitality of these here InterTubes™? If I were VP of program development for MSNBC, I would be proposing a hybrid show that was not just a parade of talking (butting) heads robotically spinning predigested blathering points. It would be a multi-host program with distinct segments that draw on the wisdom of the crowd.

One segment would feature news on politics and popular culture ala The Huffington Post. Another would concentrate on investigative reporting that allows viewers to participate in the sort of citizen-powered journalism that Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo does so well. There would be a segment that holds the media accountable to higher standards by documenting its successes and failures as Media Matters does. And, finally, I would include community moderated stories that are promoted to the air by the recommendations of viewers in a manner similar to that on the Daily Kos.

The segments would not be of fixed duration, but would expand or contract as dictated by the urgency of the content. There should be a liberal sprinkling of humor where appropriate, with regular comic voices invited to appear. This format provides the opportunity to feature numerous hosts and guests that are not often granted airtime in today’s constricted TV environment. And all of the above segments should include heavy doses of viewer participation via an affiliated web site that permits users to post articles, comments, videos, and even fully produced stories.

Now, I’m a realist, and I don’t expect the toadies in TV development to suddenly grow spines and produce something that is innovative and challenging. This is a problem that is pandemic in the industry and not in any way limited to MSNBC. CNN is likewise coddling a ratings disaster named Glenn Beck. But I do believe that the studio bean counters know how to read a balance sheet, and if they have any inclination to actually do their jobs, then Tucker will shortly be canceled and the two daily hours that are currently being wasted on him will be put to better use. That’s not a particularly tall order when you consider that, next to Tucker, infomercials for Ginsu knives would qualify as better use.

Media Research Center’s Bogus Study On Morning News

Conservative Brent Bozell’s disinformation unit, the Media Research Center, has released a study that purports to show “How the ABC, CBS and NBC Morning Shows Are Promoting Democrats On the Road to the White House.” The report claims that the network’s morning show scheduling was weighted in favor of Democrats and that this disparity represented a systemic bias:

“The networks offered nearly twice as much coverage of the Democrats. More than half of all campaign segments (284, or 55%) focused on the Democratic contest, compared with just 152 (29%) devoted to the Republicans.”

However, there are a number of glaring holes in the study’s methodology.

First: The MRC made no attempt to query network staffers to ascertain the reasons for an imbalance in presentation based on party affiliation, if any imbalance even occurred. Had they done so, they would have learned that Republicans have been far less cooperative in agreeing to be interviewed. Jim Murphy, executive producer of ABC’s “Good Morning America, told the Washington Post that…

“The candidates are responsible for how much time they generally get. They can get it by agreeing to interviews and agreeing to forums.”

Second: The MRC appears to have counted newsworthy events such as the re-emergence of Elizabeth Edwards’ cancer, or the historic nature of the first viable black and female candidates, as partisan, political pandering.

Third: Measuring the amount of time devoted to coverage says nothing about bias. You also need to evaluate the content of the coverage. The Project for Excellence in Journalism released a study that measures the coverage of the presidential candidates. While there was more time spent on Democrats, don’t be too hasty drawing conclusions:

“…nearly two-thirds of the election coverage (61%) was specifically about candidates vying for the Democratic nomination. This was nearly three times those that focused on Republican candidates (24%). Another 13% dealt with both parties. […] conservative talkers, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Michael Savage were the most Democratic focused of all-75% of their time on Democrats and only 13% focused mainly on Republicans.”

So while there was more “coverage” of Democrats, that extra focus really only translates into more time bashing them. It was conservative programs that were the most heavily weighted to Democratic candidates. The Media Research Council provided little substantive analysis of the content of the coverage, which makes their study almost useless for drawing conclusions of bias. But that certainly won’t stop them from muddying the waters with their deceitful brand of media criticism.

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.

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The Fox Frame: Hannity Vision

Sean Hannity conducted an interview with a Christian televangelist named Bill Keller. Keller has a reputation for engaging in hate speech against Muslims.

Unfortunately, the picture over Hannity’s shoulder is that of Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, whom I’m sure Hannity thinks is a purveyor of hate speech as well. But really…

Countdown Up On NBC

Last night’s broadcast of Countdown on the mothership, NBC, was a major coup for Keith Olbermann and his MSNBC program.

For all the clamoring for attention that goes on amongst the cable news kiddies, they are all fighting for slices of a relatively small pie. The ratings leader, Bill O’Reilly, averages about 2 million viewers a day. The lowest rated network news program (CBS) pulls in over 6 million. So graduating to the network opens millions of doors to a cablecaster.

Olbermann, not surprisingly, benefited from this. The early results show him with 4.1 million viewers. That only earned him a third place finish, behind “60 Minutes” and “America’s Funniest Videos,” but it was good enough to quadruple his average MSNBC audience. What’s more, (and this has to hurt) it is twice what Bill O’Reilly does on an average night. And this despite having been preempted in some fairly significant markets (i.e. Philadelphia, Baltimore) which could adversely impact Countdown’s numbers.

Glenn Beck WeakThis is a significant performance, because success is not guaranteed just by changing your address. Last month, Glenn Beck moved up to CNN from Headline News and barely scraped up the viewers he routinely got at his less-watched network. And he underperformed Paula Zahn, for whom he was filling in, by a whopping 23%.

The content of the show was not, in my opinion, representative of Olbermann’s best work. It seemed to me that either he, or the network, was holding back a bit. There were also extended humor segments that weighted the episode a little more to silliness than usual. Nonetheless, it may turn out to be the wise approach if viewers are more comfortable getting their news with a spoonful of aspartame. Still, I hope that if he gets another at bat, the network lets Olbermann be Olbermann. The show is the fastest growing program on cable news for a reason.

Alberto Gonzales Forgets Not To Resign

For immediate Release:

Fox News, the most powerful name in lies, is preparing it’s most exciting roster of new programming ever. And kicking off the new season will be the premier of Alberto Gonzales’ unforgettable nightly expose into … um … wait, don’t tell me … it’s on the tip of my tongue …

Oh, never mind. It was probably privileged anyway.

Just be sure not to miss it. Seriously. Anyone who misses it will be placed on the no-fly list, their phone will be tapped, and they may be subject to water boarding at Gitmo.

Last March, the forgettable Alberto Gonzales told reporters that…

“I’m not going to resign – I’m going to stay focused on protecting our kids.”

Apparently, the kids have slipped his memory. But I remember that this embarrassment to justice had no problem recalling some unnamed statutes that would allow him to prosecute journalists for doing their jobs:

“There are some statutes on the book which, if you read the language carefully, would seem to indicate that that [prosecution] is a possibility.”

Goodbye, and good riddance.

Michael Vick: Flavor Of The Week

I had no intention of weighing in on the Michael Vick dog fighting story, but some of what I’ve read around the InterTubes™ just begs for some enlightenment as to the media’s handling of this.

Lawrence O’Donnell wrote an article at the Huffington Post that he ironically titled “What’s Wrong with Killing Dogs?” The point was to suggest that compassionate people who are outraged by Vick’s treatment of dogs ought to be equally outraged by the inhumane treatment dished out by the beef and poultry industries – to say nothing of hunters and others who kill for sport. O’Donnell correctly observed that people have an irrational preference for the welfare of dogs and an indifference to the suffering of other species. This is an angle that the media has thoroughly ignored.

Let me say, unequivocally, that I think Vick’s activities are disgusting, but I think Dyson Foods is 1000 times more disgusting. I mourn for the dogs that Vick harmed, but I also mourn for every gentle, peaceful cow that ended up in some glutton’s Big Mac. And what of all the birds and fish and what are perversely refer to as “game?” I think everyone who laments the fate of these dogs and does not feel the same about all the other animal victims of mass murder in the this country, are hypocrites.

However, this news eruption is just a new flavor of the “missing pretty white girl” syndrome that our media loves so much. Vick is this week’s Paris Hilton. They’ll exploit him for ratings because of his celebrity, and ignore 100 other atrocities that occur contemporaneously. This story further reveals how the media values one type (race?) of victim to the exclusion of all others. It reeks of a disingenuous compassion with blinders on.

If I thought that the promotion of this story would lead to a deeper examination of animal cruelty in America, I might be consolable. But all the talking heads are concerned with is whether Vick will still have a place in the NFL when he gets out of jail. It’s just pathetic.