Now Cough

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Flowers in Your Hair

Gloves Off

My friend Sandy Tolan and I had a good intense discussion over dinner last night about journalism. We were both despairing over the state of the Fourth Estate.

I expanded on some of my thoughts below about how to transform the craft in the Age of Bush. This administration has managed an astounding triangulation: whipping up doubts, questions and suspicions among citizens about the legitimacy of the press; and effectively playing the press corps through intimidation, lack of access and controlled use of competition.

The administration is doing the same thing with the courts: by trashing the entire role of an entire branch of government they play on the gut reactions of voters and begin to make illegitimate the rulings of the courts.

The latter undermines the rule of law.

The former undermines reality. Deception as truth tends to do that.

I think the rules of covering this government need to be changed. Not the core beliefs of good journalism – accuracy, timeliness, public service, ethics and legitimate story selection based on public importance and taste.

The rules have changed in that we have a government that rejects entirely the role of a free press. The Bush administration refuses to be held accountable by voters (just look at the staged ‘town hall meetings’ about Social Security), by the courts and by reporters. Andy Card, the chief of staff, famously told media writer Ken Auletta that the press is only interested in headlines.

This is Nixon and Agnew on steroids. Back then, the rules changed because the press on a national scale began investigating en masse what the government was doing. And the press then was labeled as partisan, too. But, it was doing its job.

Now, things are more muddled. You have journalists who do serious and solid stories about the Bush administration. But news organizations are now much more business operations, and there is no doubt that environment plays a role in how aggressively papers, networks and web sites go after a story. You have a public that equates the journalism of The New York Times with Entertainment Tonight. And outfits like Fox News further blur the perception between news coverage and partisan positioning. Hannity, Limbaugh and Savage do the same.

It is no wonder the public favors fireworks over insight. The real journalists have failed to connect with an underserved, confused and very busy audience.

We need a New Journalism, one based on substance not style.

1. Major news organizations need to collaborate, not compete, on coverage. Not in terms of saving money and controlling ‘cost centers.’ Networks and papers should ‘flood the zone,’ to quote Howell Raines, on dozens of big stories. What if Frontline and HBO worked together? What if CBS did a show with Comedy Central? What if the Washington Post worked with CBS?
2. Networks need to each create long form, investigative programs. These do not need to be regularly scheduled. They should be specials—and specials that air multiple times. Much like Murrow’s documentary successes, NBC’s old White Papers, the press needs to do more to explain and focus attention on falsehoods. The press can set an agenda that better explains how the world works. All this bemoaning over the death of the nightly news program is a worry of accountants, shareholders and columnists. It is bosh.
3. Why NOT do documentaries on ‘manufactured consent,’ and, for example, the selling of Social Security reform? Comedy Central did a devastating send up of this very issue and exposed Frank Luntz, the oily GOP pollster, for the lying, deceiving postule he is. The sophisticated techniques of polling, marketing and advertising are being used to subvert democracy.
4. Explain the First Amendment News organizations have done a terrible job of showing the value of the First Amendment. We spend more time in the country debating the Second Amendment than we do the right to free and open speech. If news organizations can’t spread the accurate word about this fundamental democratic and civic value, who will?

Berkeley Update

Rob Harris, my final student, arrived this morning and we just completed recording his voice tracks. Last I saw him he was in search of a computer with ProTools. We’re off to KQED in about an hour or so. Leonie, Jason and one of Sandy’s students—Fiona---completed their mixes late last night.

I must say, Berkeley has some of the best, creamiest cappuccino in the world.

And the double shot of espresso has me BUZZZING!

Thursday, April 21, 2005

California Dreaming

Pinch me

The jet taking me to Oakland today seemed to skirt the velvet-green hills south and east of the city today--a breathtaking experience.

Hello from Berkeley and the Faculty Club at the university. Don't get all impressed, the joint is a modest Arts and Crafts style building. The rooms are spare with dark wood, reproduction Arts and Crafts furniture and a bad TV. But outside the many windows is a gurgling Spanish fountain in a courtyard. Should make for peaceful sleeping.

Been a busy afternoon here with the grad students as they complete their final projects. Leonie Sherman and I spent an hour or more in an editing booth reworking her script and audio for her story about Mah Jong. Jason is very far along with his Thai kick boxing story---superb sound, reporting and writing. And Rob Harris is flying overnight from NYC. He and I will tackle his piece as soon as he lands. We all have to hustle: we're pitching all these radio stories to KQED later Thursday afternoon. Wish us luck.

Sandy Tolan, the 'professor' and superb radio producer and writer, dragged me to a lovely French restaurant tonight. I didn't want to disappoint him so I ate like a cochon.

We Have a Wiener!

What an outpouring of guesses for the movie quiz below! Both Izzi and Kirsten weighed in with...misses.

But Kirsten reached into her 60s memory bank and after recalling the steps to The Frug, guessed correctly that the movie with the 'groovy' is Easy Rider.

Get yer motor running!

Memo to Scott McClellan at the White House

Put a dirty sock in your yapper, Scottie. He's a disingenuous sack of pooh, isn't he?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Guess the Movie...

...from this quote:

"First thing man, we gotta get ourselves a groovy dinner..."

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Destroy the Village

Stop the Madness

Last week The New York Times Week in Review section ran an article outlining the recommendations of four TV and TV news experts on how to 'fix' network news. They talked about everything from anchors to sets.

After all, viewership has plummeted for the nightly news programs. And now that Brokaw, Koppel, Jennings and Rather are going or gone, anyone with eyes and an opinion can now weigh on to repair TV news.

My response is, why bother? Really. It can't be fixed, per se.

Here are my recommendations:

1. Cable news operations should end 24/7 news coverage. The first one that does so will be forced to make harder news decisions about what is really valuable to the audience. You can't tell me that correspondents or editors like going live to the Michael Jackson trial. The audience, honestly, could care less.

2. Fill the non-news time with almost anything from Comedy Central -- if CNN bought rights to the previous evening's Jon Stewart and, let's say, Nightline programs, that would be a plus.

3. No car chases, no fires, no trials except wall-to-wall coverage of the Supreme Court and bizarre doings at the state level.

4. Only have solo anchors.

5. Weather without weather men/women

6. News operations should collaborate on White House and Pentagon press conferences to put focused questions and pressure on public offficials.

7. Boycott obviously manufactured news 'events.' The world will not end if this stufff is not covered. It sounds so obvious, butt the fact that no network has done recommendation 1. means it is impossible to tackle recommendation 7.

8. Hire more experienced Brits and Canadians to cover the US. They are simply tougher.

9. Quadruple the investment in covering China and Asia.

10. Let every producer, network reporter and editor have blogs. Promote them.

11. Invite regular viewers to join major reporting trips. Let them report on what they saw.

12. Relentlessly critique the press in prime time.

13. Restore documentary units in every news division separate from entertainment divisions. Shutter Dateline.

14. Take some lessons from Nightline: exclusives on important issues of the day do matter. Single subject programs even for the nightly news can work.

15. Set an independent agenda. Remember what journalism is.

16. End so-called kickers. Put in essays, citizens essays, instead.

17. Use the extensive on-the-record statements of pols and policymakers to hold them accountable.

18. Appoint smart and combative people to run network news divisions -- people who will both lead and have the courage to set an agenda of what should be covered.

19. Stop copying Fox and MSNBC

20. Be willing to align forces with major print and online news organizations and with citizens.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005


Oh, Come On!

Let's see, President Bush's approval ratings have dropped far below 50%. His Social Security-busting plan is floundering. His manipulative stand on Terri Schiavo was not supported by most Americans so...what's a White House spin operation to do?

How about release 'news' that a) the president listens to an iPod like tens of millions of Americans and b) reveal what songs he does listen to?

So, that was the story in today's New York Times. Potus is Podding. Here is what the NYT says is on his iPod:

John Fogerty, "Centerfield"
Van Morrison, "New Biography," "Brown Eyed Girl"
John Hiatt, "Circle Back"
Alan Jackson
George Jones
Alejandro Escovedo, "Castanets"
Joni Mitchell, "(You're So Square) Baby, I Don't Care"
The Gourds, "El Paso"
Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, "Swinging From the Chains of Love"
Stevie Ray Vaughan, "The House is Rockin' "
James McMurtry, "Valley Road"
The Thrills, "Say It Ain't So"
The Knack, "My Sharona"

But there is one huge caveat here. The president doesn't pick the songs. His aide Mark McKinnon does. McKinnon used to be in charge of media strategy for the Bush re-election effort.

I'm sure he and Karl Rove are laughing their heads off. The press fell for this nonsense, too.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

To Everything, a Season

Spring Forward

Maybe it was seeing a chickadee on my brother's bird feeder the other morning. Or seeing the man across the street from my office putting used furniture on the sidewalk (instead of shoveling snow). Perhaps spying a pretty Harvard student in a bright colored dress.

In any case, Spring is here. Or, like the crocuses, trying very hard to push through the remnants of stubborn Winter.

This morning, I drove through axle-high puddles and by golf courses that looked like marshes. On the water and thin grass peeking thru the surface, ducks were patiently paddling, preening and nibbling.

The sky was bright blue this morning and tonight I see stars and planets.

Spring Back

I am listening to After by Steven Brill. It is a day-by-day account of the first year after the 9-11 terrorist attacks. He profiles the lives of various regular people--widows, brothers of fallen firemen, INS agents and top people in the Bush administration. You might think there would not be anything really new here, but there is to me---and I thought I followed this closely:

* the truly frightening aspects of John Ashcroft as attorney general. The man had no grasp of or great concern for the Bill of Rights. Nor did many members of his staff. His top aides did have nice cards on their desks for visitors that contained Christian messages.
* the depth of incompetence at the INS
* what appears to be the genuine concern, care and certain skill of Kenneth Fineberg, the man who oversaw the Victim's Compensation Fund
* the contrast between George W and Bill Clinton. W defines what it means to delegate decision-making.


Does anyone have a free airplane ticket to Paris?

Saturday, April 02, 2005

CNN: Catholic News Network

Hagiography v. Facts

Me thinks the CNN anchors and producers have been drinking from the holy water font.

How else to explain the mawkish, fawning, softball questioning and phoney baloney anchor blather over the death of Pope John Paul?

If CNN were looking for a 'reason' to fire Paula Zahn (and only a blind and deaf person would have to search for more than 10 minutes), they have a complete rap sheet on her today. Her anchoring has been so insipid, so aimed at getting stodgy, garrulous priests to 'FEEL' that even she has topped any of her previous CNN moments. In a sick paradox, the nadir of her work has reached its pinnacle today.

I especially like the oleaginous Aaron Brown who even proclaimed a blathering line by a bishop as 'perfect.'

CNN has abandoned contextual reporting for days of repeating the same boring empty rhetoric about the pope, his reign and his death. This creates an impression on people, where being nice replaces being critical, fair and complete.

Best coverage of the day? NPR's Sylvia Paggiaoli who crafted an unvarnished, non-sentimental recounting of the pope. Look, he was a very, very conservative guy who stood in the way of increased roles for women in the church, firmly against homosexuals, birth control and abortion. His slow response to the child sexual abuse by priests was appalling.

I'll give him this: he travelled more than any pope and seemed to work his ass of for the church.

Seeing a Pope

I saw one pope, Pope Paul VI.

At Castelgandolfo, the pope's summer residence outside of Rome. 1971.

And it was complete pandemonium. I remember waiting for what seemed like hours against the rope line where the pope would walk by and bless the crowd. As the buzz swept the crowd that he was coming, two or three ancient German nuns began trying to butt in front of us. They were like jacked up kids at a Kurt Cobain concert.

I was so shocked at being battered, pushed, elbowed by these habit-wearing linebackers, I barely recall seeing the pope shuffle past.

The lesson: don't get between a German nun and her pope.