Category Archives: Media

The Washington Post: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Sunday, March 20, 2011

I wasn’t going to write this. I wasn’t going to write anything today. I’ve got work to do coming out my tush, but I can’t help myself.

We, here in America, tend to focus on the crisis at hand. Charlie Sheen’s self-destruction was, thank goodness, replaced in the headlines, and on television in particular, by the mass destruction in Japan, still underway. And today, coverage of Japan is running behind what’s happening in Libya, even though the former is at least equally interesting, deadly and profound, if not much more so.

Yes, there’s only so much paper a newspaper can afford to publish, only so much air time, even in today’s world of 24 hour cable and Internet news.

Unfortunately, we’re still fighting in Iraq and especially in Afghanistan. These are wars of which our President and his administration are keenly aware, which is why we waited, maybe too long, to take any action in Libya without UN endorsement and coalition support. Nobody, least of all the President, wants to talk about these other actions, not in any overt, explicit way. They long ago became yesterday’s news.

Our long-term presence in Iraq and Afghanistan continues to suck billions from our starving economy, destroying the lives of our soldiers and their families, not to mention the innocent people in the countries where we are engaged, while fueling our enemies’ anti-American propaganda. No, these other actions are not something our government wants to talk about. It’s not something that helps get politicians elected, and the sense is that we’re all stressed out enough already, what with the slowness of our economic recovery and all the other bad news on the air.

Is one major crisis at a time all we can take? Heaven forbid we should let multiple, simultaneous crises affect our view of government, social and economic policy.

Not to worry. Thank goodness we have a free press to keep us real. But wait… I read the Sunday Washington Post. In today’s paper, the right side headline is about Libya, the color picture on the left, a view of (and story about) Three Mile Island with references to what’s happening in Japan. The front page section is 22 pages long, the “Outlook” section, 6 pages. And on not one of those 28 total pages is there a single discussion of what’s happening in Iraq or Afghanistan. They’re obviously just not that important, not as important as “Thomas Jefferson (High School) adds English help amid debate” on the front page, or “Amtrak renames station for Biden” in the second page “Digest,” or “Visiting India, Palin talks tough on China, other topics” on the third page, and so on.



“TV report on breast self-exam bares all.”* The shame of using breast cancer to improve ratings.

Friday, October 30, 2009

*Headline to the Washington Post article by Paul Farhi, Thursday, October 29, 2009.

According to the article in yesterday’s Washington Post which led me to write this piece, 1 in 8 American women will have invasive breast cancer at some time in her life, 1 in 35 American women will die from it. I have a wife, a daughter, a sister and women who are friends. Breast cancer is very, very serious business, an horrific disease which is attacking half our population in epidemic numbers. Nothing I say in this piece should be construed as diminishing the critical nature of this disease or the need to do absolutely everything we can to fight it. Continue…

The Illusion of Prejudice: The Minority Rules

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sad, but true. In the electronic age of omnipresent wall-to-wall news coverage, the opinions of the very few are quickly blown way out of proportion.

As everyone knows by now, there has been a confrontation between a white policeman and a black resident who a passerby thought, innocently enough, might be burglarizing what turned out to be his own home. Whether there was race involved in what occurred is problematic, and my personal opinion on the subject, irrelevant.

In fact, it’s not the event itself, but what happened next that is, I think, most significant. As if the event had not been newsworthy enough in and of itself, the President of the United States, admittedly without a full understanding of what transpired that day in Cambridge, chose to comment, to second guess the local police and make the assumption that racial profiling had been involved. As to latter, if that hadn’t been his assumption, why was he commenting – and, of course, we’ve since learned that that was exactly what the President was talking about when he accused the Cambridge police of having behaved stupidly.

The next thing you know, it’s all over the media, day in and day out. The opinions of a relatively few number of Americans, a miniscule proportion of our total population – virtually none of which were there or have complete knowledge of the event – become the subject of the news. Even the few polls that have been taken are based on very small samples and questions which force the respondent to form an opinion, however well poorly developed or uninformed. “My gosh,” the rest of us say, “I had no idea…” and you can fill in the rest.

The result can be that the existence of a phenomenon, in this case, adverse racial profiling, is blown way out of proportion to the point of actually convincing many people that that’s what actually happened, and that the problem is everywhere, that black Americans are being discriminated against left and right, everywhere, all the time. I certainly hope that’s not the case, but the news that is today’s excuse for legitimate journalism is no proof of anything but that your set or personal computer is on.

The problem is not just the ever-present, compelling nature of today’s electronic media technology. More to my point, it’s the people who report the news – cable news being the worst example – who spend much more time telling us what a few people think, and way too little about precisely what actually happened. As to the larger, national issue, the American people are not served well by anecdotal statements by people, whatever their color. What are the facts of the problem? What do legitimate studies of the subject of continuing racial prejudice and profiling tell us?

President Obama, in an attempt to spin positive his inappropriate and frankly prejudicial* comments on the event in Cambridge, says this should be a learning experience for all of us – and invites the two principals over for a beer. (Unbelievable.) Far from being educational, the President and the media have created a mess that does the serious issue of racial profiling a disservice, and is distracting us from more pressing issues at hand.

*Suggested reading… “President Obama: The Presumption of Prejudice“, posted July 23, 2009 on the WordFeeder.


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Where is Walter now that we need him?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

I write occasionally about the media, about its role in making the news instead of just reporting it. It is a time, especially in television news, marked by an hysteria for ratings in which what they choose not to report can be more important, more influential by its omission, than what they do. It is an age of communications technology in which everything counts. It’s way too easy, even inadvertently, not to mention on purpose, to affect public opinion beyond what a fair and straightforward presentation of the facts would accomplish.

Walter Cronkite once said,

“It’s the journalists’ job, should be our motto, to tell people what they need to know. Scandal sheets tell them what they think they want to know. That’s not our job. It is our job to determine what’s important in the daily news and make sure it’s communicated so people understand its importance.”

The Devil, as usual, is in the details. It’s that part about determining what’s important that demands a level of integrity, an honesty and open mindedness which may be too much to expect from even the best nowadays. At the very least, Walter Cronkite leaves us with standards by which we can measure his successors.

Reporting should be about telling the people “what they need to know, not what they want to know,” as he put it even more succinctly in another interview.

I couldn’t agree more and wonder whether today’s news editors and media executives get the point.


Recent postings about the media…
“Preoccupation with Palin”, posted July 13, 2009.
“Michael Jackson: Is anybody really this popular?”, posted July 7, 2009.

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Preoccupation with Palin

Monday, July 13, 2009

How desperate can the media be that this morning’s Today show* allocated an entire segment, not just to the subject of why Governor Palin resigned – which is old news already – but to a live, in-studio interview with Levi Johnston to find out what the biological, but otherwise absentee father of her daughter’s child thinks about it?

Not to be critical of Mr. Johnston, far from it, but he’s hardly a reliable, unbiased source on the subject. Does anyone really care what he thinks? (By the way, that question – “Does anyone really care what he thinks?” – is the one that usually occurs to me whenever I hear someone interviewing Karl Rove, so Levi shouldn’t think I’m singling him out.)

Once again it raises an interesting question about the news: Is it the chicken or the egg? Is it that people care so much about Sarah Palin – who I like for the freshness she brings to politics – or is it that people in the media is fixated on her story for reasons having to do with their own points of view?

The media is supposed to tell the stories of our time in proportion, not just to levels of public interest, but to their importance which, admittedly, is hard to judge. What they’re not supposed to do is make the news, advertently interjecting their own opinions by virtue of what and how they present it. Keep us informed, to be sure, but do it objectively.

Today’s media, television news in particular, is so all pervasive, so constantly on in the background, that it’s hard for editors and reporters to tell any story without allowing the process to be influenced by their own thinking. Every decision they make, however grand, subtle or even subconscious, counts. Air time is everything. The nuances and duration of exposure can be career making or breaking. Add to the inherent power of electronic media the demands of competition and profit-making, it’s a miracle the media isn’t completely out of control.

One thing’s for sure, it can’t be easy being a journalist nowadays.

*See the video
“Fame went to Palin’s head,” Levi Johnston says


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Michael Jackson: Is anybody really this popular?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Of course not. Michael Jackson’s remarkable talents and popularity as a pop star notwithstanding, his celebrity since his death, culminating with today’s memorial service at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, is all about the media – with the music industry deserving honorable mention for the huge profits which those who have a financial interest in the Jackson legacy stand to earn.

Make no mistake about it. A billion people world-wide did not call the television and other media and demand wall-to-wall coverage of Michael Jackson since he died. Just the opposite.

People are watching TV all the time, myself included. It’s the Muzak, if you know what I’m talking about, the ambient sound of our times. Something interesting happens, and we perk up and pay attention. That whatever’s happening involves good music with which many of us can identify, not to mention a free concert, makes it all that more compelling. The more weird, sometimes, the better. (Are they really going to bring Michael Jackson’s coffin to the Staples Center?) But if we didn’t have a TV on in the background, if we had anything better to do or that required our undivided attention… Well, it’s only TV, and we can catch the highlights later on the news, and buy the CD if we’re really interested.

Just because some marketing company puts your face or product up on a really big sign at Times Square doesn’t mean that the thousands and thousands of people a day who walked or drove by came there to see it.

Yes, I find it annoying when otherwise world class interviewers like Matt Lauer and others talk about the Michael Jackson phenomenon as if it were real, as if it would exist independently of the extraordinary coverage the media is giving it. The media helped elect Barack Obama, and is certainly doing more than it should to create the Legend of Michael Jackson. I wonder who or what they have in store for us next?

In an industry where relatively few people are in charge of so much coverage, and in which even fewer set the pace for the others, is there reason to be concerned about our view of the events they broadcast, not to mention the ones they don’t?

It’s difficult, sometimes, to keep things in perspective – and next to impossible to know much about what the media isn’t covering, however important.


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Sarah Palin: The double standard strikes again.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The sound of her voice had barely faded before some media pundits were criticizing Sarah Palin for resigning as Governor to, let’s all agree, run for President. “The nerve of her cheating the people of Alaska by not even finishing her first term in that office,” was the gist of what some of them are saying.

I, for one, will leave it up to the people of Alaska to draw their own conclusions and speak for themselves. I certainly don’t pretend to know what they’re thinking.

In the meantime, will someone please remind these same critics that Governor Palin will have served longer as Governor – and accomplished a great deal more in the process – when she resigns than Senator Barack Obama had served before he started running in earnest for President.

At least Governor Palin has the integrity and class not to impose her campaign for higher office on the people of Alaska by giving them less than the 100% of her time they deserve and for which they elected her.

I don’t know yet if I would ever vote for Sarah Palin to be President, but I certainly want to encourage her to run.


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