Category Archives: media

Something to Celebrate July 4th: Young People, Old People, and the CNN Poll

Fail News Channel

In perhaps haste to show “relevant” news concerning the battle flag issue, CNN concentrated on a poll question about whether the CSA battle flag was a symbol of pride or a symbol of racism.

“The poll shows that 57% of Americans see the flag more as a symbol of Southern pride than as a symbol of racism, about the same as in 2000 when 59% said they viewed it as a symbol of pride. Opinions of the flag are sharply divided by race, and among whites, views are split by education.” [CNN]

And just as certainly, the views were divided along ethnic/racial lines:

“Among African-Americans, 72% see the Confederate flag as a symbol of racism, just 25% of whites agree. In the South, the racial divide is even broader. While 75% of Southern whites describe the flag as a symbol of pride and 18% call it a symbol of racism, those figures are almost exactly reversed among Southern African-Americans, with just 11% seeing it as a sign of pride and 75% viewing it as a symbol of racism.” [CNN]

Thank you CNN for once again concentrating on the perfectly obvious and missing the much more interesting.

For example the poll also presented results by age.  A point not emphasized in the coverage, and those results were interesting in themselves.  One of the questions asked was if the crime in Charleston should be considered terrorism. The results by age:

CNN poll terror q 47% of individuals 18-34 saw the act as one of terrorism, compared to only 37% in the 35-49 cohort, 39% in the 50-64 group, and 37% of those over 65 years of age.   Since the CNN results and reportage invite speculation, let’s engage in some.

Most children by age four are aware of major national events, if not entirely capable of explaining them.  By seven the gears are clicking such that the young person can at least form an emotional reaction to the events, situations, and ideas being presented to them; ideas which are more fully informed when they reach eleven years of age.  In simpler terms, what happens before a person is about 10 is history and what happens afterwards is current events – none of us willing to perceive ourselves as museum relics.

Thus a person who is 34 years old now was 12 years old when the first attack was made on the World Trade Center in New York City (1993) and saw “terrorism” on the television set.  A 34 year old person was 14 years old when the Oklahoma City Bombing occurred, 1995.   For an individual born in 1985, that domestic terrorism bombing happened just as they were capable of a better understanding of the event.  That person is 30 years old this year.

Perhaps terrorism has a broader definition for those who are old enough to remember the Khobar Towers (1996), the African embassy bombings in 1998, the attack on the USS Cole (2000), the WTC/Pentagon Attack (2001), the Madrid train bombing (2004), and the attack on the London underground rail system (2005).  We might contend with some rationality that for those under 34, if an attack of any sort includes multiple victims, in significant places, for particular ideological reasons then it’s terrorism.  That the Charleston attack is not perceived as “terrorism” by more than half the respondents may be a function of the media’s tendency to attach “Muslim” to any and all assaults, hence it’s not terrorism if it isn’t associated with the followers of Islam.

The hate crime question seemed a bit less divided.  CNN asked if the attack on the Charleston church was a hate crime:

CNN poll terror 2 Every age group overwhelmingly categorized the act as a hate crime. What’s intriguing in this question is the 5% difference between the younger group, who were more likely to classify the act as terrorism, and the over 65 group 90% of whom categorized it as a hate crime.

A person now 65 years of age (born 1950), one now 70 (born 1945) will more likely have a frame of reference tilted toward classification of attacks as hate crimes because they witnessed these during the modern Civil Rights Movement.  A person born in 1945 would have been aware of the murder of Emmett Till (1955), Medgar Evers was murdered in 1963, and the iconic image of the carnage, the Birmingham Church Bombing took place in September 1963.  A person now 65 was 13 years old when that happened, and one 70 was 18 at the time.  The bombing of the Church and the murders of Civil Rights Movement advocates are within the ‘current events’ time line of those over 65.  Little wonder they would slot the Charleston Church attack into the hate crime category.

It would be interesting to see the results of an academic study that tests how individuals categorize insidious attacks perpetrated for ideological reasons, and if the nature of the reporting and publicity given to the event at the time informs their classifications as they age.

Leave a comment

Filed under anti-terrorism, media, racism

Do We Have To Make Racists Comfortable?

No sooner did an African American take the oath of office as the President of the United States than racists (and those who tolerate them) began slathering on the euphemisms and buzz words for making opposition to him credible.  Remember the e-mails that made the rounds? The ones with “bones in noses” and “watermelons on the White House lawn?” And the response, “We were only joking.”

Obama racist cartoon

Those who found this cartoon amusing are racists. Purely and simply racist. Those who took these people seriously are enablers .. consider CNN’s “debate” about whether this obnoxious drivel was “Racist or Satirical.”  There’s no debate here. The cartoon is clearly, obviously, evidently racism.  How do we know this? A black man as a “savage.” A black man as a “witch doctor.”   Enough people were indignant about this offensive cartoon that its advocates slunk off to find more fodder for their e-mail lists.

However, the obvious racists are relatively easy to deal with – and even easier to shun.  Those “dens of lone wolves,” the Internet’s dark corners of hate and intolerance can be monitored, the “patriots” can be watched, and the hate-mongers prosecuted.  It’s the enablers of institutionalized and personal racism who seem more problematic.  Perhaps we’ll be able to move forward if we shatter some persistent myths.

The Myth of Two Sides

In the current cable news template, there must be “two sides” to an issue.  Let’s revert to the day someone at CNN decided to produce a segment on that 2009 cartoon.  Yes, they decided, the cartoon was, indeed, racist, but why was the question posed at all?  Well, gee, it could, it might, it may look in some circles, … like racism, but it could also be political criticism… Really?  No, to anyone with any sensitivity, or an IQ above cauliflower, it was racism.   Moving along the continuum from “we’re just joking” we get to “can’t you take a joke?”  Other presidents have had horrible cartoons drawn and published about them, why are we so sensitive about a black president?   For the near-veggies who might read this: It’s because he is a black man, and black men have been vilified for centuries in this part of the world for being “savage,” and “wild,” and “emotional,” and “lustful,” and … we could keep going here, but that would only serve to raise blood pressure.  So, let’s get to the point: Racist and ethnic jokes aren’t funny. Except to racists.  But, but, but… African Americans (and blondes and Poles) do it? That still doesn’t make it right.  The ‘everybody does it’ response is usually the province of immature adolescents trying to explain their misbehavior to the parents.  We should be a bit more mature.

The Myth of the Mirrors

Another myth which should hit the skids is the banal “speaking out about racism is divisive.”   Well, obviously, yes.  As well it should be. Who wants to be lumped into the same category with racists?

Remember the Twitter Fit from the Right when the President commented on the murder of Trayvon Martin?   The  Right echoed George Zimmerman’s whining about the President “rushing to judgment,” and said the President’s comment “pitted American against American.” [Hill]  It’s “race-baiting” to talk about race?

“…the allegation is that simply talking about race in America makes you a racist. It is, as Boehlert called it, “a very odd brand of projection” that’s “very weird and complicated,” but that’s where the roles of endless repetition and cognitive closure come in. They naturalize and normalize what would otherwise clearly be both arbitrary and bizarre.” [Salon]

If we boiled the “endless repetition and cognitive closure” down to its essentials what comes out is – If you talk about racial issues in ways that make racists uncomfortable, i.e. it makes people confront their own racism, it must be ‘race-baiting.’   When this message moves inextricably closer to its inevitable extension we can no longer speak of a whole host of topics which cause conservatives to squirm.

We can’t have a national discussion about institutional racism in employment, housing, or health care outcomes because … we’d be “divisive.”

We can’t have a national discussion about voting rights and the African American community, and other communities of color, because … we’d be ‘divisive.’

We can’t have a national civil debate about the social costs of mass incarceration of African Americans and other people of color, because … we’d be ‘divisive.’

And, Heaven Help Us, we can’t have a discussion about policing in America because … we’d be ‘divisive.” Worse still, we’d be “race-baiting,” as asserted by the Louisville, Kentucky Fraternal Order of Police.  [Full letter here]

The Myth of A Non-Partisan World

I think I’m going to gag at the very next assertion that what we need in this country is “healing,” and “bipartisanship.”  There never was, and never will be, a harmonic idyllic session of any democratically elected ruling body gracefully gliding over issues and points of disagreement with elegance and aplomb.  And yet, this is the standard by which some of the Chattering Classes measure the effectiveness of legislators and legislation. “The bill had bi-partisan support,” as if that automatically made the bill any better law.  Yes, politics is the art of the possible. And, yes, pragmatism usually makes more progress than strident partisanship.  However, there are some points at which we should agree, and one of the prime ones in American life is that racism is wrong.

The racists are aware of this. Why else would they be quick to tell us that they were only joking, or that they are merely being satirical? Why else would they begin obnoxious expressions with “I’m not racist, but…?” Why else would they whine so loudly if it’s suggested their own brand of projection is nothing more than an attempt to ‘normalize’ what is patently arbitrary and downright bizarre?

Sometimes wrong is just wrong.   We can debate the finer points of trade agreements, international arms agreements, educational policy, health care insurance needs, and so many other topics, but this is 2015 and we should no longer have to make racists comfortable and racism tolerable. Nor do we need to tolerate its symbols.

CSA battle flag

The Stars and Bars, isn’t a Redneck Flag —  unless the aforementioned Redneck is a racist. It isn’t a symbol of southern heritage – unless that heritage is hate.

NASCAR, yes NASCAR, got the message back in 2005:

“NASCAR has a policy that prevents use of the Stars and Bars or other controversial subjects on any car, uniform, licensed product or track facility under its control, but that doesn’t stop hard-line rebel fans from displaying it.

“We recognize that the Confederate flag is an important issue for a lot of people and as our fan base grows, we are doing what we can to break down its use and be more in the mainstream,” said Ramsey Poston, NASCAR director of corporate communications.” [LA Times]

Mainstream America doesn’t sport the traitorous Stars and Bars, the battle flag of a revolt, the cornerstone of which was the preservation of the Peculiar Institution, as expressed by the CSA vice-president when speaking about their new CSA constitution:

“Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition. [Applause.] This, our new Government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” [Alexander Stephens,  March 21, 1861]

Lee surrenders Is there any good reason why we have to tolerate the display of a flag which was truly and historically divisive – physically, philosophically, and morally divisive?  It did divide us – dividing us between those who thought chattel slavery and all its horrible implications was a physical, philosophical, and moral good, from those who believed chattel slavery was a cancer in the body politic and a moral catastrophe.  It took four bloody years, but the Good Guys won.  Someone made a picture of it.

So, if reading this post made you “uncomfortable” I’m not the least bit sorry.  I think there’s a better use for my capacity for sympathy and sorrow – for the victims of that heinous act of domestic terrorism by a horrid racist in South Carolina.

Comments Off on Do We Have To Make Racists Comfortable?

Filed under conservatism, Hate Crimes, Human Rights, media, Obama, Politics, racism

Polls, Pols, and Timing

Ballot box 2

There are 517 days until the next general election. 517.  That is almost 17 months.  Or, to illustrate it another way, an infant born today will be walking at the time the election comes around, and the little darling will be feeding itself (sort of, if you count spaghetti “worm wrestling” as a form of feeding).  By 18 months the toddler will have about a 20 word vocabulary, to apply along with an assortment of noises, some of which will be comprehensible.  Our toddling little newbie will also be a master of mimicry – which is fine if we’re talking about wiping a table with a sponge, not so fine if it’s an antique hardwood table.  In other words – it’s a LONG time before the next presidential/general election.  There are some things we can do as “consumers” of election and political news which can help make the 2016 experience more positive.

#1. Insist on the development of ISSUES.  For example, what is the best way to promote the growth of the American economy.  This is a long established issue, but remember, we want the development of this issue, not merely a collection of sound bites and dog whistles, and in a rational world this is the appropriate time for the parties to prepare the general outlines of their specific proposals.  Contrary to the common media offering of “What will Candidate X’s statement on job creation mean for blue collar voters?” think about what economic philosophy is the Candidate espousing?  Once the philosophy is clarified then individual proposals can be evaluated on the basis of how they will affect crucial elements of our economy and not merely for select electoral groups.  Consider the source.

Unfortunately, those who get air time, and the attention of punditry, are those who are dramatic, flashy, confrontational — or “newsworthy.”  Is that dramatic, flashy, confrontational candidate really the standard bearer for the party?  If not, then all that’s been accomplished from the issue development side of the ledger is the addition of much bombast and hot air.  This, like the tantrum of a not-quite-two year old, can be safely dealt with by taking a few deep breaths and staying calm.

#2. Insist on transparency.  In an era of “dark money” we need to know if the candidate is being manipulated by large donors of the Super Pac variety. Again, this far out from the general election, it’s still ‘finance’ time for the candidates.   And, in terms of finance, do I want to cast my vote for an individual who is receiving massive amounts of money from sources which are unidentified? Perhaps, it’s more important at this point in time to know to whom candidates (especially presidential aspirants) are speaking than exactly what they say.

Let’s assume at this early date that the candidates will say what they perceive the audience wants to hear – because the candidates are not necessarily there to propose profound ideas – but to collect money.  Buzz words beget buzz and buzz opens billfolds.

#3. Ignore polling. Of all my gripes with modern cable news, the persistence of polling and the reports of polling, heads the list.  17 months out from a general election the only thing we learn from polling is the level of a candidate’s name recognition.   Recognition is a long long way from establishing a ‘brand’ and even further from creating ‘identification’ on the part of the voting public.  I am about to decide that the level of poll reporting done by a media outlet is an indication of its general lack of resources and talent. The more polling reports the greater the paucity of resources and the less imaginative and intelligent the management.

And, herein I’ll give Secretary Clinton some props.

One of the more interesting bits of whining from the D.C. media came from Politico’s publication of Glenn Thrush’s ear-splitting screed about how Secretary Clinton ‘hates the press.’   There is a time for more media access, but 17 months out from a presidential election  isn’t it.  This, for politicians behaving like adults, is the time for dealing with finances and issue development.

Politico also seemed distressed that when Secretary Clinton recently visited Iowa she focused on “preaching to the choir,” in “controlled environments.”  Of course she met with “activists.” Who else does one meet with to set up the ‘ground game’ and seek donations?  Could we also say that when three Republican governors met with mega-donor Sheldon Adelson in late March, the candidates were “preaching to the choir in a controlled environment?”  Of course they were – it’s what candidates do at this stage of the game.

Speaking of issues – the only time we’ll see the entire project launched in a single moment is in a shipyard. Otherwise, we’ll see proposals rolled out one at a time; especially when there’s an advantage to be gained by putting the opposition on the defensive.  On Thursday, June 4, Secretary Clinton released her proposals concerning the expansion of voting rights.  Republicans, who’ve been hard pressed to find significant examples of voter fraud, were caught without a clear response:

“The result is a dynamic in which Republicans are outraged by an ambitious Clinton proposal, for reasons they have not yet identified. Christie thinks voter fraud is a massive problem in New Jersey, which isn’t true, and under the circumstances, isn’t entirely relevant. Perry thinks the status quo in Texas is already great, which would come as news to the 600,000 people the Republican governor helped disenfranchise. Kasich is worried about being “divisive,” as if expanded voting access is somehow inherently acrimonious.” [Benen]

Governor Scott Walker opined that the proposal was out of the mainstream and defied logic – although he couldn’t explain why or how. [Benen]  When issue positions are carefully crafted, and selectively timed, the result is usually good, i.e. the opponents are on the defensive, and “when you’re explaining, you’re losing.”

Thus far the Clinton Campaign has done a good job of staying on target, not rushing the timing, and not clamoring for any more attention from the press than is necessary to get selected messages out while concentrating on the issue development and financial aspects of the campaign.  (Don’t worry, I’ll have kind things to say about Senator Bernie Sanders later, but I think he’s running a very different model of campaigning.)

In the mean time, as those toddlers start walking and feeding themselves, the Beltway Media may want to take some time to review the structure and timing of politicians and campaigns, and not become too enamored of explaining and analyzing their own somewhat worthless polling.

Comments Off on Polls, Pols, and Timing

Filed under Economy, media, Nevada politics, Politics

TLC got Duggared?

Deuteronomy

I’m wondering why anyone was particularly surprised by the revelation that one of the male members of the Clan Duggar molested his sisters and a babysitter.  Information about the Quiverfull Cult has been easily available since at least 2009, and as Newsweek described it the cult is a ready-made environment for the abuse of women and female children.

“At the heart of this reality-show depiction of “extreme motherhood” is a growing conservative Christian emphasis on the importance of women submitting to their husbands and fathers, an antifeminist backlash that holds that gender equality is contrary to God’s law and that women’s highest calling is as wives and “prolific” mothers.” [Newsweek]

What follows is a loose network of extreme fundamentalists who value the creation of sons (daughters are just the potential mothers thereof), offer much militaristic palaver, and espouse the ultimate political message: If we can’t defeat our opponents now, then we can simply overwhelm them with our progeny later.  In this milieu family planning and gender equity must be eradicated to prevent the further “destruction” of society.  The desired result is a patriarchy in which godly women are submissive wives and mothers.  In short, it’s back to the Bronze Age.

Network “Difficulties”

TLC, which has devolved from an educational cable channel into a sideshow, decided airing a program about an extremely large family would attract viewers – an audience perhaps analogous to those who show up to view train wrecks – and it did, garnering some $25 million in ad revenue, a tidy profit since the network is paying the family approximately $40,000 per episode. [EW]  What happens to the show, (1) it continues; (2) it changes focus to a new family, or (3) it’s dropped may, well depend on whether TLC can find sponsors after Walgreen’s, Payless, General Mills, and Ace Hardware headed for the exits.

I’d feel some compassion for the network, but … first, this is what can happen when the felt need to provide content which appeals to the lowest common denominator overcomes the discussion about providing quality content.  The Network was “deeply saddened” to have to yank its re-runs in the wake of the Duggar Scandal, perhaps because it was drawing about 1 million viewers per nightly episode. [THR]  Just for a little perspective,  Game 1 of the NBA finals grabbed  14.37 million viewers. [TVBN]  Perhaps TLC should have learned a short lesson when A&E dropped the prime character in Duck Dynasty after his egregious commentary, after the Food Network had similar problems with Paula Deen, and especially after the network itself got entangled in the Honey Boo Boo fest; a lesson that when you are dealing with extremists don’t be surprised when they behave that way.

Secondly, the network might have known it was treading in dangerous terrain when some of the other prime characters in the Patriarchal Posse were also exposed  experiencing moral meltdowns.

In November 2013 the leader of Vision Forum Ministries confessed to an illicit affair, and the organization closed up shop. This was the anti-contraceptive advocacy group which gave Michelle Duggar that “mother of the year award.”  VFM wasn’t the only part of the Patriarchal Posse experiencing problems – we should add the conservative Institute in Basic Life Principles to the roster.

The IBLP, from whom the Duggars sought guidance, was “shocked” when leader Bill Gothard found himself facing allegations of “sexual abuse from dozens of women associated with his organization.” [Wire] All this might lead a person to wonder: Didn’t anyone learn anything from the sad saga of Jim and Tammy Fay Baker?

A network shouldn’t have to wait for a summation like the following before getting a clue that some programming might not be appropriate for prime time viewing;

“The “pitch” of Biblical patriarchy, as epitomized by Michelle Duggar, is that women will be coddled and worshipped in exchange for giving up their ambitions and the autonomy to practice an extreme form of female submission. The unpleasant truth is that a culture that teaches that women are put on Earth for no other purpose but to serve men is not going to breed respect for women. Instead, these incidents show a world where men believe they can do whatever they want to women without repercussions. Is it any surprise that a subculture that promises absolute control over women will attract men who want to dominate and hurt women? Don’t believe the TLC hype. Biblical patriarchy is a sour, dangerous world for women, and luckily, that reality is finally being outed.” [TDB]

A commercial enterprise

CNN once explored what components tended to create a television program with lasting popularity.  Its review indicated the following: “Culture watchers say a constellation of factors make a TV program last: great writers, producers and actors; a good concept; room to grow with a strong ensemble cast offering multiple story lines; a desirable time slot; audience comfort; loyal network support; and the public’s fickle taste — the wild card.” 

This is all well and good, but doesn’t address one of the primary considerations in television  – the cost.  Not-Quite-Reality Shows are relatively cheap to produce, ranging from $100,000 to $500,000 per episode.  In comparison, at its peak ER was costing approximately $13 million per episode,  Friends cost about $10 million per program, and Deadwood cost about $4.5 million per episode. [Marketplace]  In short, hiring quality writers, producers, and developing an ensemble cast presenting multiple story lines isn’t anything close to cheap.  And, the bottom line is still the bottom line:

“TLC was even rebranded with “Life Unscripted” as its slogan in the mid-’90s, “Live and Learn” in the mid-2000s and “Life Surprises” in the late-2000s. Since undergoing this rebranding, the channel has shaken its poor ratings and has become one of the primary sources for reality shows. Undoubtedly, the success of shows like “Jon & Kate Plus 8″ contributed to the recent surge in market price for TLC’s parent company, Discovery, in 2008-2009.” [Investopedia]

This is the point at which “audience comfort” clashes with “corporate earnings.”  The television audience wants to feel positively about the characters – real, cartoon, ‘reality,’ or actors – in their homes. Portrayals on the screen should be enough ‘like us’ to be sympathetic (or an obvious villain) but not so much ‘like us’ that they are as un-dramatic as our quotidian existences.  We still require the old standard elements — focus, tension, timing, rhythm, contrast, mood, space, language, sound, symbolism, conflict, climax, and resolution, in order to label a show as one of genuine quality.  This can get expensive.

When there is a plethora of small networks clamoring for our attention there may also be a temptation to broadcast the most contrasting, most dramatic, and most conflicted – i.e. most titillating  fare.  The marketplace enters the formula when the cost of production, the expense of broadcasting, and the willingness of advertisers to purchase air time are all taken into consideration.  We should also attend to the financial elements like syndication, after-run DVD sales, and other revenue factors.  However, we will still ultimately receive what the advertisers are willing to pay for.

When, for example, advertisers are unwilling to associate their brand with “a sour, dangerous world for women” then shows such as the Duggar’s will be terminated.

In the mean time, does Josh Duggar owe someone many shekels?

Comments Off on TLC got Duggared?

Filed under conservatism, Economy, media, Women's Issues, Womens' Rights

How The Networks Lost Me on Sunday Morning

Sunday Morning Shows

It didn’t happen all at once, but my “appointment” for Sunday morning with the network press shows was broken, and it’s probably irrevocable.  Once it was a habit: Get the coffee; Turn on the TV; Grab the crossword to play with during the commercials; and Listen to the broadcasters… no longer.  The appointment was broken for the reasons Jonathan Bernstein set forth in his piece for Bloomberg News last March.

“In the era of three-network television, the Sunday shows were useful because there were few other venues to hear the parties talk about important issues. And politicians didn’t have many ways to send up trial balloons, or to engage in public, high-profile bargaining.” [BloombergNews]

No longer.  Jason Linkins expanded on the problem:

In short, the subtle work of partisan dealmaking was served. But those days are over. Now, the Sunday shows simply serve as a venue for prestige arbitrage, where having regular access to deemed-to-be-important people is an end in itself. And so these shows have slowly morphed into salons for the powerful, where one can only get so adversarial before a plum booking is put at risk. [HuffPo]

Did Chuck Todd admit the sad and sorry truth?  If those seeking to increase their prestige are annoyed, then the bookings are over?

“We all sit there because we know the first time we bark is the last time we do the show,” Todd explained. “There’s something where all of the sudden nobody will come on your show.” [RS]

It looks like it. And there was the admission affirming my distaste for the Sunday morning fare.  Worse still, merely serving as a venue for “prestige arbitrage,” the shows have become formulaic.  That’s been in evidence for some time now. Not so long ago the formula was (1) present an issue (2) the “guest” would answer questions, and (3) during the other Sunday shows other “guests” would answer the same questions… over and over again.  Nothing so improves a person’s performance on cross word puzzles as a television show which is profoundly derivative, utterly unoriginal, and all but devoid of actual news.  But the cross word puzzles couldn’t mask the predictable boredom for long.

What could a show, in which the “guests” are determined to make their talking points without challenge, be if not boring?  The Sunday morning offerings descended into a morass of selectable sound bites suitable mostly for derision on comedy shows later in the week. Why be bored silly with the original broadcasts when I can catch the comedy show later – getting the same inane talking points served up with a side of reality, challenge, and context?

Thus, what is the point of getting up to watch a Sunday morning show if it will be nothing more than the recitation of talking points, and the fulminations of pundits?  When the object isn’t “deal making” or even the launching of “trial balloons,” then we’re left with the politics of personalities, not usually a very interesting affair.  This transformation yielded another formula, no more informative than the old repeated questions format.

Our host introduces a topic such as the President issued an executive order to _____(fill this in with whatever might be at hand). The “guest” from the opposition is invited to comment _____ (fill this in with the opposition talking point of the day.)  The background of the issue is rarely if ever explained in any detail, the nature of the problem is assumed, and the discussion devolves into the political ramifications of the action and the perfectly expected opposition.  There is, at this point, very little difference between the scripted prime time melodramas and the scripted Sunday morning chatterati speculation.  I prefer my shows with members of Actors Equity playing their roles, the writing is generally better and the presentations more professional.

Now that the appointment has been broken I am free to find other channels and other forms of entertainment.  And, I have — evidently there are others who are now finding news from other sources than the networks.  However, it may be a sorry thing to admit that even a news junkie can be lured away from a news program by cable broadcasts of FA Cup soccer on Sunday morning – who would have guessed that Manchester United defeating Yeovil Town 2-0 could be more interesting than “Meet The Face Of The Nation This Week?”

Comments Off on How The Networks Lost Me on Sunday Morning

Filed under media, media ownership

The Gordian Knot of Democratic Politics

Gordian Knot 2 Yes, Democrats – there’s a problem.  A party which can haul out voters during presidential elections is having an obvious problem getting the citizens out during the off-year elections.   The GOP, which did an “autopsy” of its 2012 efforts and then proceeded to ignore the results, did quite well.  It probably did so by offering the ideologues what they wanted —

The Philosophical Knot

At the risk of getting a bit philosophical,  “political zealots are people who are  over-indulging their emotional need of hatred.”  And, “men adopt ideas, not because it seems to them that those ideas are true, or because it seems to them that those ideas are expedient, but because those ideas satisfy a basic emotional need of their nature.”  (Bruce Montgomery)

If one’s “basic emotional need” is to have someone or something to blame for one’s anxiety then the GOP offered up a veritable gourmand’s banquet of targets.  The Appetizer:  Demonized Democratic leadership – Don’t you want to hate those people like Senator Harry Reid? Representative Nancy Pelosi? President Barack Obama?  The Soup: A Beltway Press club which once having determined its preferred narrative is loathe to give it up even in the face of stark evidence to the contrary.  “The President won’t work with the Congress,” for example, as if the Republican congressional leaders didn’t meet in a D.C. restaurant in 2009 and determine that theirs would be a strategy of obstruction throughout the President’s term.   The Fish or Chicken:  Well publicized Republican whines when their positions weren’t adopted completely, re-defining what the term “compromise” initially meant.  The GOP got nearly everything it wanted in the Affordable Care Act, including the adoption of a proposal originating with the Heritage Foundation, and then voted solidly against it, after which they  whined to the gates of glory about the provisions.  The Palate Cleanser:  The careful packaging of otherwise radical Tea Party candidates so that their rough edges were camouflaged, see incoming Senator Joni Ernst.  The Main Course: Fear! Ebola!  — all one case of it. ISIS! Some 33,000 terrorists who would really like to kill Americans – the U.S. population is about 317 million.  The Salad/Fine Vegetable:  A lovely diversion from real issues and a delicate scattering of pure inventions such as the Democrats are going to take your guns, or Democrats are going to promote abortions.  And finally, the Hot or Cold Dessert:  The Republican assumption that they’ve worked the refs sufficiently, and ginned up the base enough to make Democrats run away from their own leadership, see Grimes in Kentucky.   There are ways to make this dinner come to an end.

The Structural Knot

There’s the predictable grousing about the efforts of DNC chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.  However, few have commented on the structural issues about her position.  She’s wearing two hats and both of them represent  full time jobs.  Did she not “do enough” in the last election – or was running her own campaign, running the DNC, and trying to represent her constituents just a bit too much to ask.  One way to untangle the leadership thread of the structural knot would be for the Democrats to employ a full time chairman.

Independent leadership is fine in concept, however there must be something to lead.  A national party which allows state and local organizations to wither won’t be national for long.  [DB

The Media Knot

How where the Republicans able to keep their seven course gourmand banquet going well into election night?  This strand has been long entangled in American politics.  The corporate media represented by the beltway journalists have used the cable news outlets to broadcast some well known and recognizable narratives.  There must be two sides.  Not when we’re talking about the implications of global climate change.  Not when we’re talking about the decimation of the American middle class.  Not when we’re speaking of the need to fund infrastructure elements in America. Not when we’re addressing the need to adequately fund taking  care of our veterans.

The national media has not served this nation well.  This frustration is altogether too common:

“Finding clear information about issues and candidates in this midterm was difficult, and I certainly didn’t find it on cable television. Lots of times I went and dug it out myself. Sometimes I relied on alternatives. It was often frustrating to have to dig around in the universe of silos that exist today on the Internet, particularly when those siloes are loaded with hate talk on the right side of things.”

To adopt the notion that there are two sides to every question means that both sides should be presented.  However, the cable news outlets are content to state the Democratic position, and then allow Republican/Libertarian critics air time for commentary after commentary after commentary to present their talking points.  This isn’t “both” sides – it’s purely corporate sponsored, corporate presented propaganda.  It’s especially not “news” when there is little attention paid to issues.

Chart News Issues

65% of what the viewing public got was “political speculation,” and they’d have to be lucky to turn on the set when the 35% appeared, to inform them of related issues.  Untying the media knot will require coordinated effort, based on an intelligent analysis of the current situation.

Little wonder the author of the excerpt above  on media news is frustrated with the silos.  The sources are drying up.  The number of black journalists working for daily newspapers has dropped by 40% since 1985, and the number of white journalists working for daily papers is down 34%, the number of Hispanic journalists is off 16%, and the number of Asian-American journalists is down 2%. [Pew]   What do they all have in common? Down.  How about the number of reporters covering state politics and governance?  Since 2003 the number of persons employed to cover state governance has declined by 35%. [WaPo]  In the interest of “shareholder value” we have accepted a diminished press corps from one end of this country to the other.   It is almost as it we’ve decided that the “product” created by the press should be “share value” and not “news.”  There’s always been tension between the business side and the production side in journalism, and it appears the business side has won.

What makes the problem a double whammy for American citizens is that while the number of people employed to cover state and national news is declining, the cable TV system still provides most of the national coverage of major national and international issues.  The American Press Institute explains, including the chart below:

Cable News Source

Note: People are going to the cable news outlets for an explication of news about foreign, international, national government, social, business and the economic issues, and they aren’t getting it!

Not only will Democrats have to calculate the best messages in order to reach voters they are going to have to figure out how to get those messages broadcast to the general public, in the face of business-referenced cable news decisions.   If the cable news networks aren’t the answer, will social media make a difference?  The answer is still a large “maybe:”

“…social media appears to be largely adding to, rather than replacing, other ways that people get news. At the same time that 4 in 10 now use social media, more than 80 percent of Americans say they also got news in the last week by going directly to a news organization in some manner—and that was consistent across generations.

Even for the youngest adults, age 18-29, social media and the web in general have hardly replaced more traditional ways of getting the news. Nearly half of the youngest adults also read news in print during the last week, 3 in 4 watched news on television, and just over half listened to it on the radio.” [API.org]

While the expressed hope that social media will help resolve messaging issues for younger voters who lean Democratic, it’s still important to incorporate a media strategy which includes a more robust use of cable television broadcasting.

The Messaging Issue

The Republicans have made a conscious decision not to play the role of a minority party in the traditional sense of the term.  Where Democrats played significant roles in the adoption of “no child left behind” and the Bush tax reforms, that dinner at the Washington D.C. restaurant the night President Obama was Inaugurated in 2009 left no doubt about GOP strategy:

“If you act like you’re the minority, you’re going to stay in the minority,” said Keven McCarthy, quoted by Draper. “We’ve gotta challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign.” [VF]

The call to Gridlock was as clear as Great Paul in London.  The strategy was simplicity itself.  Create gridlock, guarantee nothing important was done for Middle Class Americans, veterans, the infrastructure, employment, etc. and then blame the President “He won’t schmooze with us,” when nothing was accomplished.   The DC Press Corps dutifully picked up the narrative and ran with it, ignoring the fact that Boehner and the GOP were “frequent no-shows” at White House events.  Republicans refused to attend the “Lincoln Screening,” and turned down invitations to state dinners for Great Britain, South Korea, Germany, Mexico, and India. Senator McConnell even turned down an invitation to a White House event celebrating Kentucky and the UK NCAA basketball championship. [NJ]   So, of course, the DC Pundits declared the President to be “aloof.”

If the analysis of the media situation demonstrates it’s difficult to get the Democratic message out, then perhaps some adjustment needs to be made in the message itself.  For the sake of easy examples we might explore two possibilities.

Adjusted Messages

Democrats are for the Middle Class.  This should be easy because it’s true. Democrats are for increasing the minimum wage. Democrats are for organized labor. Democrats are for limiting corporate powers and for the regulation of banking institutions.  Perhaps not to the extent some on the left might require, but they are certainly more supportive of these issues than the Republicans of the Business Roundtable.   If the Republicans can attach the word “feckless” to every comment about the President, then why not have Democrats attach the term “economic elitist” to every comment about the GOP agenda?

Only an “economic elitist” would oppose the increase in the minimum wage. Only an “economic elitist” would oppose regulating the banks. Only an “economic elitist” would support repealing the Affordable Care Act.  Republicans have expended every energy defining the Democrats as a coalition of minorities – there’s nothing that says they can’t be defined, in turn, as supporters of a truly small minority in American life – the 1%.

Democrats aren’t afraid.   Democrats elected the man who got Osama Bin Ladin. Democrats aren’t afraid of a virus which really hasn’t done much in the U.S. Democrats aren’t scared of a few fanatical terrorists in the Middle East. Democrats aren’t afraid of spending some money on veterans, on our infrastructure, and on jobs for Americans.   Republicans are so busy being afraid of their own shadows – The Deficit (down) The Debt (down) The Terrorists (confined to the Middle East), Muslims (the bogeyman du jour) and every other issue – why not include “fear” in the running commentary.

Only a true Wet Pants Dancer is afraid of ISIL?  Only an obvious coward would be scared into a Hazmat suit over Ebola? Only the truly squeamish would be so frightened of The Debt that he couldn’t support more services for veterans, and only one so terrified of his own shadow couldn’t vote for more funding for infrastructure – want to be afraid of a real problem – think about most of the bridges in this country that are more than 60 years old. Our parents and grandparents weren’t afraid of spending for infrastructure, what’s the matter with us?

Another element which has been commented upon by those much wiser than I is that Democrats have allowed the Republicans to create the narrative, and the Democrats have acceded to the position of playing Defense.  There’s nothing wrong with going on offense, indeed, it would be helpful in sending the Not Afraid message.  For example, we KNOW the deficit has been reduced. However, how many Democrats talked about deficit and debt reduction in the last election?  Not enough.  But why was it a major topic in the first place? Because the Republicans decided it would be. 

Pew described “major” issues in the 2014 elections as: Terrorist Threat, Budget Deficit, Economy, Immigration, and Health Care.  We couldn’t make a list more in tune with GOP manufactured issues.   What was missed was the polling which showed 54% agreed with the statement: “The Democrats are more concerned about needs of people like me.”  What was also interesting is that the news organizations which sponsored polling also selected those issues to investigate. [TPP]   What would happen if some Democratic leaning organizations, not tied to the corporate media, would commission polling on the state of veterans’ services? Infrastructure projects? Civil rights? Banking reforms?  In short, the Democrats need to create their issues – not merely wait for the GOP to set the public agenda.

Or, to put it less elegantly – the Democrats can stop tying themselves in Gordian Knots trying to respond to the Republican obstructionist/fear based agenda and concentrate on what George H.W. Bush once called the Vision Thing.

Comments Off on The Gordian Knot of Democratic Politics

Filed under media, media ownership, Politics, Republicans

Have You Voted? Vote today, ignore the pundits tomorrow

ballot box Just asking!  For all the mega-money that’s been tossed into the elections, there is only one poll that matters…and that’s the vote count at the end of the day.   We might also want to give some consideration to a National Ignore the Pundits Day, which I’d not so humbly suggest be the day after any election.

Pundits are on my television screen because (1) they’re available – think Senator John McCain (R- Green Room) and (2) because the producers of the shows know that their contributions will either enhance or assault the Narrative of the Day.   Cable “news” doesn’t just happen – it’s produced.  Let’s take a look at the job description of a “producer:”

“Television producers make sure that television shows run smoothly in all details, and take responsibility for everything from coordinating writers and performers/correspondents right down to overseeing the fact-checking of credit names and titles.” [Princeton Review]

Note, the show must run ‘smoothly’ and the fact-checking is concerned with getting the credit names and titles broadcast correctly.  What the contributors and anchors have to say will be either ‘scripted’ or at least expected.  No one on the production end really wants any major surprises.

Pundits and anchors want to ask questions, but the production will determine the level and type of information made available.  There are a few, a resplendent few, anchors who will actually elicit information of use to the general public.  Because the sponsors of a production don’t care to pay for air time in which their interests aren’t supported, we’d be better off not to expect the national media to do a very good job of getting facts together in a coherent package – and for the most part they don’t.  Public television and local shows tend to do a better job in this department.

Back in 1994 Peter Anderson’s analysis of the press made an observation about the Perfect News Story.  A perfect news story had (1) a celebrity, plus (2) a scandal, which could be simply stated, and (3) engendered endless speculation.  Diving for ratings? Clicks? Hits?  Follow the formula.  And, following the formula requires a production that will fit a predetermined narrative (remember we don’t really want surprises.)  This situation, in turn, creates the vacuity of the national pundit/anchor shows.

Type A:  The what you said then and what you say now inquiry.  The late Tim Russert was a master at this form of vacuity.  A politician’s statement from deep in the archives would be resurrected, printed out on the screen and then form the subject of “Why have you changed your position?”  The question isn’t necessarily a bad one, IF the person answering the question is given sufficient time to respond, to explain why his or her beliefs have changed over time. However, the flip side of the coin is that the format, if carted along to its obvious conclusion, is that changing one’s position is a bad thing and demonstrates the weakness of a belief system.  The unfortunate result is that the only people who end up looking good are the ones who’ve never changed their opinions – often in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary.

Other than taking carved-in-stone objurgate positions never to be moved a millimeter, the only alternative is do take so many positions on an issue that the quotation resurrection process is flooded with diverse and often self-contradictory opinions; see Senators McCain and Paul who’ve been on every side of every possible issue.

Type B: In this model the question is posed with a pre-determined answer.  “Senator Sludgepump, do you think the House Minority Leader’s proposal for increasing the minimum wage is a good one?”   If Sludgepump is a member of the opposing political party, then of course he doesn’t believe it’s a good idea.   For the sake of the example, let’s assume Sludgepump is opposed to increasing the minimum wage, and is only too willing to recite the talking points against the measure.  What’s lost in this conversation?  You’ve guessed it – it’s why the House Minority Leader supports an increase in the minimum wage in the first place.

Rather than truly offering both sides of an issue what the producers/anchors have accomplished is to offer the original idea, shorn of any context or background information, and to challenge it with the opposition’s argument complete with the appropriate talking points.  There’s nothing “balanced” about this.  For that matter, there really isn’t anything of much substance offered to the viewing public.  There is, however, a pernicious element inserted into public discourse in which only the opposition (to just about anything) is given precedence over the affirmative.

Type C:  This third type of format which abets the Perfect Story Formula is associated with the notion that human beings are herd animals.  If the story doesn’t have a celebrity, or a hint of scandal, or doesn’t lend itself to endless speculation, then it will be spiked in favor of that which does have all the elements.   The FACT that there is only ONE case of Ebola infection in the entire United States hasn’t discouraged the cable news channels from spouting off and encouraging that “endless speculation,” some of which has been downright loony.  But, if one network is focused on it then we’d better believe that at some point they will all be staring at that same shiny object.

In this instance the producer will line up all the usual suspects: the opposition leader(s) who have criticisms of the administration or their opponents; the ‘experts’ in the field, albeit some with highly questionable credentials; and, the ‘analysts’ who will explain (interminably) what some bit of minutia means.   What have we missed? We can use the Islamic State as an example.

Explaining the relationship of the Islamic State terrorists to other opposition groups in Syria is a complicated process; the mutations and permutations of the group are based in long simmering territorial, religious, and social disputes, some going back as far as the Sykes-Picot Agreement of May 19, 1916, and the diplomatic/military maneuvering during the First World War.  Modern history isn’t any simpler. The migration of the Islamic State terrorists from Iraq to Syria and back to Iraq takes more than a twelve minute segment to explain.  Since the story doesn’t fit neatly into the Celebrity + Scandal + Endless speculation formula, and can’t be explained succinctly in sound bytes, it probably won’t be explicated by any major network.  The herd will continue to follow the shiny objects which are easier to explain.

The Type C, or follow the leader, Sunday show journalism – even if practiced on a Wednesday, has all manner of sources.  Want to guess what Fox News will promote – see Drudge?  Want to guess what NBC will promote?  See the front page of the New York Times or the Washington Post.  And so it goes. The danger of playing following the leader is obvious. If the Leader goes after a dramatic, if trivial, story then the other media outlets must follow lest they be shamed by charges of “ignoring” important news.  Thus the herd is rounded up, pointed in essentially the same direction, and those stories which truly affect people’s lives are demoted to the back pages and the “if it bleeds it leads” items head to the forefront.

We shouldn’t be surprised if this leads to endless palaver about the fizzling frantic ‘stories’ about Benghazi, Fast and Furious, the IRS or other attempts to create drama in the news room.   The formula is perfectly suited to this kind of reporting.

If we put A, and B, and C together the fiction that we are getting important news from our broadcast and major media outlets should be starkly highlighted.

Therefore, the Pundits will be Plentiful on November 5, each and every one seeking to please the anchors and meet the expectations of the producers.  They will be eager to speculate about Congressional leadership, anxious to speculate on matters of political priorities, and yearning to speculate about what these election returns mean for the next great Horse Race Season.  What do all three of these have in common – Speculation. Endless Speculation. The final element in the perfect story formula.

Speculation is cheap.  Any one of us can do it on a daily basis; we could probably keep it up for hours.  Speculation doesn’t require much research beyond what’s necessary for the “show to run smoothly.” Speculation doesn’t require much background information, “just set up the question and let Senator Sludgepump or Representative Mudmire rattle on.”  Speculation doesn’t require reporters on the ground doing journalism at the source.  Reporters cost money, and shows can be produced more cheaply if there aren’t so many of them.

There are precious few news shows which aren’t so over-produced that relatively little information can be gleaned from them.  Find them. Watch them. Support them.  The rest can be safely ignored on National Ignore the  Pundits Day.

Comments Off on Have You Voted? Vote today, ignore the pundits tomorrow

Filed under media, Politics