Media Milestones And Millstones For 2008

At the conclusion of a year that few people will miss, it is time once again to indulge in the hackneyed cliche of annual list-making. While some events are already etched into our collective memories (i.e. the election of our nation’s incoming, first-ever, African-American president; the shoe attack on our nation’s out-going, worst-ever, remedial president), other events may be more subject to fading recollection as a new year of stimuli compete for a place in America’s short attention span.

It is in this spirit that I submit the following collection of awards in the hopes of preserving these moments for history, if not for comedy.

Starting with the history-making presidential election, Barack Obama wins the Somebody Had To Say It Award for this:

Obama: “I am convinced that if there were no Fox News, I might be two or three points higher in the polls. If I were watching Fox News, I wouldn’t vote for me, right?”

Sticking with the campaign theme, Sarah Palin has repeatedly demonstrated her ignorance of the media’s role in public life. She believes that it is unconstitutional to criticize her, and that she is the one to restore the media’s credibility. That alone would be enough to merit an award, but Palin wins the What Constitution? Award by showing Carl Cameron of Fox News that she has no comprehension of the Constitutional role of the office she sought:

Palin: “The vice president, of course, is not a member – or a part of the legislative branch, except to oversee the Senate. That alone provides a tremendous amount of flexibility and authority if that vice president so chose to use it.”

Of Course, Palin has her fans – like Ann Coulter who along with Human Events Magazine named Palin Conservative of the Year. But that was not enough to pry away the Fatuous Infatuation Award from Rich Lowry of the National Review:

Lowry: “I’m sure I’m not the only male in America who, when Palin dropped her first wink, sat up a little straighter on the couch and said, ‘Hey, I think she just winked at me.’ And her smile. By the end, when she clearly knew she was doing well, it was so sparkling it was almost mesmerizing. It sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America.”

On the plus side, CNN’s Jack Cafferty played a stream of gibberish from Palin’s interview with Katie Couric. After which he said that if you aren’t afraid that she is a 72 year old heartbeat from the presidency, you should be. Then Wolf Blitzer tried to cover for Palin by saying that she was just trying to squeeze a lot into her answer. Cafferty’s reply earns him the Anchor Smackdown Award:

Cafferty: “Don’t make excuses for her. That was pathetic.”

I suppose I should give an award to Palin’s running mate…what was his name? Oh yeah…John McCain certainly deserves a mention for his aggressive attacks on the media. But that’s all he gets. While it takes real guts for a former press darling who hosts barbecues for his reporter pals to turn on them when the next object of media affection pops up, the act for which I will remember McCain is his promotion and exploitation of Samuel Wurlzebacher – aka Joe the Plumber – whose name is not Joe and who is not a plumber. Despite his obvious deficiencies, Plumber Joe became a staple of Fox News, particularly business chief Neil Cavuto. On one notable occasion, Cavuto queried Joe on the subject of Barack Obama’s patriotism. And for his response Joe gets the McCarthyism Reprise Award:

Wurzelbacher: “Oh you know, [Obama’s] ideology is something that is completely different than what democracy stands for, so I had some question there. In my opinion.”

However, Joe will have to be satisfied sharing this award with News Corp Chairman, Rupert Murdoch, who also earned this honor in an interview with Cavuto:

Murdoch: “[Obama’s] policy is really very, very naive, old fashioned, 1960’s socialist.”

Old Rupert was destined to have an over-representation on this awards program. That’s partly because of the expansive nature of his media empire, but mostly because that empire is a repulsive purveyor of smears and propaganda. There is so much of it that I could devote an entire set of awards to News Corp alone. Consequently, I’ll focus here on the more peculiar instances of journalistic abuse. Starting with Amy Chozick of the Wall Street Journal who wins the Biggest Loser award for an article titled, “Too Fit to Be President?” which asks:

Chozick: “…in a nation in which 66% of the voting-age population is overweight and 32% is obese, could Sen. Obama’s skinniness be a liability?”

Then there is Fox News’ own Liz Trotta, winner of the Death To America Award for her public call for assassinating Obama:

Trotta: “…and now we have what some are reading as a suggestion that somebody knock off Osama …uh… Obama … well, both if we could.”

And don’t think I’ve left out the Grand Wizard of Fox News, Bill O’Reilly. Oh…where to begin? I’m going to skip over O’Reilly’s generous offer not to lynch Michelle Obama, and his assertion that 200,000 documented homeless veterans don’t exist, and even his delicious submersion into lunacy as demonstrated in any of the “Don’t Block the Shot / Dodge Us at Your Peril / We’ll Do It Live” rants. For some reason I get a kick out his delusional conspiracy theory that the TV ratings are fixed and that Nielsen is intent on destroying him. Never mind the fact that he is number one in those ratings and he frequently cites them as evidence of his ego-starved greatness. So for inventing enemies around every corner, O’Reilly gets the Paranoia Strikes Deep Award:

O’Reilly: “The bottom line on this is there may be some big-time cheating going on in the ratings system, and we hope the feds will investigate. Any fraud in the television rating system affects all Americans.”

When O’Reilly isn’t threatening “the folks,” his colleagues in conservative crime are doing it. Rush Limbaugh is this year’s recipient of the Domestic Terrorist Award for exhorting his listeners to attend the Democratic Convention and to “Screw the World! Riot in Denver!”:

Limbaugh: “[T]he 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.”

Glenn Beck, not to be outdone, issued his own threats. But in an attempt to boost the degree of difficulty, Beck went off the scale. In November he told a story of how we had been accosted in a diner by a hostile trucker who threatened to run him down. He summarized the experience by saying that, no matter how much he disagreed with someone, he would never say such horrible things – not even to Michael Moore. However, just a few months prior, Beck said this about Moore and, thus, earned his Serial Hypocrite Award:

Beck: “Hang on, let me just tell you what I’m thinking. 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 – is this wrong?”

The Grand Prize for a year of countless media atrocities is reserved for a despicable act of greed and betrayal. Actually, it is a pattern of acts that has persisted for many years, but came to a head during the Bush administration and was courageously uncovered by the New York Times. It has been called the Pentagon Pundits scandal, though I call it SPINCOM. It centers around an initiative to stack the press with analysts who were willing to lie to support an illegal war and to fatten their own wallets. The Times gets the Milestone of the Year Award for revealing the rancid corruption of the media, the military, and the Bush warmongers:

NY Times: “Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance.”

“The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.”

Sadly, the heroic work of the Times was largely ignored by the rest of the press, particularly television. Of course, the TV news networks were the most aggressively abusive employers of the tainted pundits. It would have taken a powerful dose of integrity to criticize behavior that they were in the thick of engaging in. The failure to cover such a controversial issue that impacts so directly on themselves is further evidence of a media community that is untrustworthy and uninterested in serving the public. However, the story in the Times has resulted in an investigation at the FCC and another proposed in the next Congress. So, hopefully, some accountability will be brought to bear.

The fight for honest and independent journalism will continue into the new year. While there are some promising signs accompanying the incoming Obama administration, there will undoubtedly be much work to do. So in the spirit of optimism and renewal, and hopes for better future, I wish everyone a…


Glenn Beck To Suck On Fox News

In what may seem like an obvious and long overdue match up, Glenn Beck will be leaving CNN for Fox News early next year. This should be good news for CNN because Beck’s show has performed terribly on the their Headline News Network (HLN). It is consistently in last place amongst its cable news competitors, and is the lowest rated program on HLN’s primetime schedule.

Despite bragging about how Beck had improved the time period for HLN, Beck has actually lagged other programs on the network. Nancy Grace pulls in twice as many viewers as Beck. All news networks experienced growth this year due to the presidential election. However, while Grace increased her audience 100%, Beck managed a paltry by comparison 34% gain over his third quarter performance last year in the key 25-54 year old demographic.

By it’s embrace of Beck, Fox News is providing more evidence (as if any were needed) of their intransigent partisanship. If they were smart, they would offer a show to Tanya Acker (who I love) or Bob Beckel (not so much) just to say they have one program from a left of center perspective.

So what is Fox getting for their trouble? They are getting the most ignorant and obnoxious host on cable news. They are getting a perennial ratings loser. They are getting an unrepentant racist provocateur. They are getting an ego-centric ideologue that CNN originally described as someone “that could siphon viewers from Bill O’Reilly, Joe Scarborough and other conservative hosts.” Now he won’t need to as he and O’Reilly will be able to promote each other. There is no question that Beck will feel more at home at Fox. In a comment responding to his new contract he even admitted that Fox News will be a better fit because…

“I’m kind of an island over at Headline. It’s kind of difficult because I’ve got to bring my own audience over to Headline.”

Well he won’t have to do that for Fox, because it comes complete with its own congregation of rightist believers. That will serve as an advantage to Beck who will have access to a much larger and better trained audience than he had at HLN. Plus, he was about to lose his nightly repeat broadcast to a rerun of CNN’s Lou Dobbs. That undoubtedly had some impact on his decision to jump ship. However, his Fox show will air earlier in the day at a time that has lower HUT (homes using TV) levels, in a time period that has featured previous losers like John Gibson and Laura Ingraham – both now canceled.

The open question now is, “What will CNN do with the vacant time slot?” One option would be to return to their original mission of providing summaries of breaking news events. But since the ratings trends favor personality-driven talk, they will likely seek a new, opinionated host.

This would be a good time to point out that CNN has never had a single program hosted by a liberal. Not one. But they have cycled through multiple conservative hosts. They may want to take note that MSNBC is the presently the fastest growing cable news network thanks to Keith Olbermann’s Countdown and the newest talk show sensation, Rachel Maddow. There are numerous progressive personalities available if CNN chose to demonstrate some market savvy as well as some content diversity. They could even reward their own Jack Cafferty with a promotion. He is wildly popular and, while he’s not exactly a liberal, he connects with everyone who is fed up with whatever status quo is at play.

Will CNN do the right/smart thing? Judging by their past I would not bet on it. But they have an opportunity and perhaps they may not squander it if they get some encouragement from viewers. CNN’s email: CNN / Headline News

Update: CNN has announced that Jane Velez Mitchell, beginning tonight, will serve as the interim host for the time period Beck is vacating. It is notable that CNN is pulling Beck from the schedule the day after revealing his agreement with Fox News. Beck’s contract doesn’t expire until February. Perhaps CNN is upset at Beck’s departure (though they should be grateful). More likely they see no reason to permit a future competitor to continue to promote himself on their air.

Velez-Mitchell is an unknown quantity so far as political commentary is concerned. She has done a lot of court reporting (i.e. Michael Jackson) and is a frequent substitute for Nancy Grace. She is also an out lesbian (hello Rachel), a vegan, and an opponent of animal cruelty, for what it’s worth. Last year she contributed $800.00 to the presidential campaign of fellow vegan Dennis Kucinich.

Cafferty To Blitzer: Don’t Make Excuses For Her (Sarah Palin)!

This has to be enshrined as one of the premiere moments in television news.

CNN’s Jack Cafferty rolled tape of Sarah Palin’s interview with Katie Couric. Couric asked Palin about the expense of the White House’s Wall Street bailout proposal. Palin gave a rambling and non-responsive answer. But what came after is even more startling.

When the camera returned to Cafferty he merely stared into it for a few profound seconds and then said that that was one of the most pathetic things he has ever seen. He said if you aren’t afraid that she is a 72 year old heartbeat from the presidency, you should be.

Then Wolf Blitzer tried to cover for Palin by saying that she was just trying to squeeze a lot into her answer. To which Cafferty replied:

“Don’t make excuses for her. That was pathetic.”

Cowed, but still deferential, Blitzer said it wasn’t one of Palin’s best moments. Does anyone have an example of one of Palin’s best, unscripted moments?

This is more evidence for why it so important for McCain to loosen the chains on Palin and let her speak. Most of the media doesn’t have the honesty and courage of Cafferty. But our nation’s future is riding on this: The Palin Watch

Addendumb: Later on Blitzer’s program he interviewed Lou Dobbs about tonight’s debate. Dobbs defied the reality that he is an anchor for one of the most prominent news enterprises in the world when he said…

“Imagine what it would take for the liberal national media to declare McCain the winner.”

Did he mean the same liberal national media for whom he works? Or maybe Fox News? Or GE, or Disney, or Viacom, or Simmons, or Comcast, or Tribune, or AP, or ….. ? The same media that employs Blitzer, Palin’s official apologist? Besides, Dobbs must not have heard that McCain won the debate before it even started.