Monday, September 28, 2009

America, 2009

I've mounted the soap box way too many times this year to complain about the lack of civility in this country's political discourse.

I certainly don't seem to be changing any minds.

From tea baggers to tax-and-spend liberals, everyone has cranked the volume up to max.

But I have one more column to get off my chest before I refrain from visiting the topic again. Or in today's venacular, I will shut the hell up.

What follows, then, is a snapshot of our political landscape, September 2009, as seen through the eyes of an assortment of pundits, print and electronic media, bloggers and commentators. Any resemblance to the truth is purely coincidental.

Barack Obama is president of the United States. He is a Nazi and/or a Socialist who brainwashes children, plans to kill your grandmother, holds office illegally and is in fact a Indonesian thug. He is a Muslim who plans to deliver the country to Islamic jihadists who will convert our churches to mosques, veil our women, toss our liquor into the Pacific Ocean and pack the halls of Congress with radical clerics.

He has over and over again exposed himself as a guy who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture. His book, "Dreams From My Father," is nothing more than a dimestore "Mein Kampf."

Obama is transforming America into something that resembles Nazi Germany, with forced National Service, domestic civilian spies, warrantless wiretaps, the destruction of the Second Amendment, FEMA camps and Martial Law.

His vice president, Joe Biden, is career Washington insider with hair plugs and a serious case of foot in mouth disease who has participated in the attempt to destroy the lives, not just careers, of a number of eminently qualified Americans, carrying the water for the Democrat Party and the American left.

Principle among President Obama's cabinet members is Timothy Geithner, a tax cheat who is running the Treasury Department and is fast becoming the Dick Cheney of the Obama Administration. He is nothing more than a lapdog of the Obama administration whose job is to divert attention from the President's carefully unfolding socialist

Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of Stare, reminds men of the worst characteristics of women they've encountered over their life: totally controlling, not soft and cuddly. Not sympathetic. Not patient. Not understanding. Demanding, domineering, Nurse Ratched kind of thing.

She has stayed in a failed marriage as a way of keeping or even fostering her own political influence. They say a Hillary stamp fails to stick because the wrong side is being spit on.

Obama won the White House by defeating the Republican ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin in the November, 2008, election.

McCain uses his status as a war hero to cover up his shortcomings in the integrity and character department. He is a weird progressive like Theodore Roosevelt. He is too old to be President and thinks his age grants him a memory waiver. Getting in a fighter plane and getting shot down is not a qualification to become president.

His running mate Sarah Palin, the recently resigned governor of Alaska, was selected to boost a sagging campaign but became a liability. Instead of a politician, the Republicans got the Homecoming Queen most of us had to
tolerate in high school. All meanness and good looks and inexplicable popularity, and, when her lips move, just plain wrong about everything.

Obama replaced George Bush, a man of questionable intellectual capacity, as president. He was seen as another Ronald Reagan, who himself was a nuclear cowboy who hated the poor. Bush was the worst two-term President in the history of the country. From Iraq to Katrina, from the environment to the economy, his deer-in-the-headlines governance almost destroyed the Republican party.

Bush's Vice President was Dick Cheney, whose defense of torture and other extreme measures as necessary to keep Americans safe was a perverse example of wishful nightmare thinking ... Cheney terrified more Americans than did any terrorist in the last seven years.

Anyway, you get the point. As Americans, we have the right to express every opinion mentioned above. But verbal visciousness often ends in violence.

Perhaps we would be wise to remember the words of John F. Kennedy: "So let us begin anew, remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let usnever fear to negotiate."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Night the News Died

Let's suppose for a moment that this paper decides to undergo a complete redesign, top to bottom.

Experts are hired, protoypes studied, opinions are offered, meeting are held.

Then on the big day, the redesigned paper appears, not without some fanfare.

But instead of news, that day's edition contains glowing articles about the editors, puff pieces about the staff and many other self-congratulatory stories.

This column on that day is devoted to interviews with senior staff members in which I ask them when they first recognized their genius, how it feels to be on the cutting edge of their profession and assuring them a place in the pantheon of journalistic excellence.

I'm betting my readers would be looking for a punch line somewhere, such as "April fools" or "Robert Rector has recently returned from an episode of nervous exhaustion."

That's because we tend to go about our business quietly, letting the product speak for itself.

Not so over in Television Land.

With Jay Leno about to appear in a new time slot on NBC, the hype was so thick it sounded like happy hour at a public relations convention. OK, I can live with that. This is show biz, after all, where
excess is the norm.

But, silly old me, I draw the line when local news operations offer up a menu of self-serving pap thinly disguised as something relevant. They even have a name for it: plugola.

Case in point: Monday night news on KNBC.

Guess what the lead story was? Yup, Jay Leno, followed by numerous other glowing reports on his new show. Any non-Leno news was squeezed to the back of the broadcast with the weather and feel-good animal stories.

While Leno's program may have some news value---after all, it was departure from the norm ---the positive coverage contrasted with the critics who generally found it dull and uninspiring. And the public which hit the channel change button on their remotes with all the gentle touch of a Gatling gun after the first night.

The clincher for me during the Monday night news segement om KNBC was an interview with the Man Himself by weatherman Fritz Coleman who tossed up enough sugar-coated questions to make your teeth hurt. Why the weatherman? I'm guessing it was because he, too, is a stand-up comic. Or maybe the field reporters and anchors were too overcome with emotion to carry on.

If that wasn't enough, Tuesday's newscast carried a long interview with a woman who is the percussionist in the house band. Rim shot!.

Look, I like Jay Leno. I don't care if his jokes are corny. If I want biting political satire, I'll watch John Stewart or tune into Glenn Beck, who can't possibly be serious.

I'll certainly look in at Leno from time to time. It might help if his guest list didn't include Kayne West, who single handidly united both major political parties behind the President when Obama called him a jackass.

Or Tom Cruise and Michael Moore who appeared the next night. Who's next? South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson?

KNBC isn't the only station to sink into this ethical quicksand. KABC treats "Dancing With the Stars" as though it was bulletins from the front, giving it breathless and prominent coverage masquerading as news stories.

Lest we forget the L.A. Times which published a bought-and-paid-for story on its front page that was a shameless promo for a new TV series.

But it is becoming all too commonplace on TV which at the same time promotes its news product as legitimate and important. Listen to what Michael Fiorile, chairman of NBC's affiliates board, has to say: "...Jay is a committed pro. He knows that the better his show does (for our newscasts), the more we'll promote him."

I'm not sure who the local news people think they are fooling. Most viewers don't need my help in seeing through this charade.

But I also think they don't care. TV news is no longer public interest programming but a moneymaking endeavor driven by ratings.

And with the competition from cable networks and the Internet, it will only get worse.

Let the viewer beware.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Screen Shots

"It's 5 p.m. on Saturday, the biggest fire in year[s] is in the backyards of thousands of homes from Lake View Terrace to Pasadena, and NOT ONE Los Angeles TV station is providing continuous coverage." ---Email to the LA Observed website.

It's unclear if we will learn many lessons from the Station Fire. We have seen this beast before and we know him by his many names: the Old Fire, the Cedar Fire, the Oakland Hills Firestorm, the Malibu Fire.

But amid the triumphs and tragedies that these sort of disasters provide, there was scathing criticism. The media --- specifically television --- is being assailed for their coverage of the fire, or lack of it, particularly in its beginning stages.

No less a personage than L.A. County Mike Antonovich lashed out at television news stations for being negligent in failing to provide comprehensive fire coverage. "There were a large number of evacuations taking place, people and
animals were in danger, and people had no information of where to go," Antonovich said in an interview. "I'm upset. The media let people down during a horrendous fire, one of the worst in the county's history."

Normally, I would take Mike Antonovich's views with a grain of salt. His relationship with the media has traditionally ranged from lukewarm to lousy.

But in this case he had a point.

The LA Observed reader went on to write: "A few minutes ago, KTTV popped in with a brief update after the Dodger game, then returns to 'Whacked Out Sports.' KCBS did a half hour at 4:30 then went to an NFL preseason game. Sister KCAL is in syndicated schlock. KNBC: regular programming, some sort of taped feature show on hot cars at Mt. Pinos. KABC: live coverage from ABC News of the Kennedy interment. KTLA: some show about warlocks and evil spirits."

Los Angeles Times television critic Mary McNamara, herself an evacuee, wrote: "...Over the weekend, it was a virtual, and inexplicable, news blackout. Granted, Ted Kennedy's funeral preempted many stories, but hours before my neighborhood was placed under mandatory evacuation, I could find nothing, NOTHING, about the fire on any TV
station, local or 24-hour news..."

Keith Esparros, assistant news director for KNBC-TV Channel 4, said that his station did cover the fire extensively in newscasts, updates and on the station's website with several reporters and crews over the weekend.

He called it an "odd fire" that started small and generally burned away from populated areas when it started midweek.

But news reports from early on indicated it was anything but an "odd fire."

"Residents are being evacuated in the northern part of La Canada Flintridge as the Station Fire rages out of control," the Pasadena Star-News reported on Friday, Aug 28 in a story that was written late Thursday night.

"At about 8 p.m. last night, the Station Fire was 10-percent contained and had burned 500 acres. Overnight, firefighters lost whatever containment they had and the fire has now scorched 1500 acres, spokesman with the U.S. Forest Service Gabriel Alvarez said."

By Saturday, The Times was reporting that "the Station fire was spreading rapidly to the east and west... prompting evacuations in La Canada Flintridge, Glendale, Altadena and Big Tujunga Canyon as temperatures reached triple digits."

I was close enough to the fire to be concerned. When I turned on the TV Saturday morning, I saw no coverage. I was forced to go Old School and rely on radio for information.

TV may have given coverage to the fire over the weekend but it was spotty and seen only during regularly scheduled newscasts, not the wall-to-wall coverage we have come to expect.

The issue also calls into question the definition of "coverage."

Webstites, blogs, tweets, texts and other electronic networking sites were operating at full speed over the weekend. Some of it provided legitimate information. Some of it, written by so-called "citizen journalists," spread rumors and engaged in conjecture.

It was coverage, however, if you chose to define it that way.

And it was cheaper than having a full contingent of reporters, camera operators and helicopter pilots in the field. After all, TV news has faced the same sort of cutbacks experienced in print media. Diminished staffs result in a diminished product.

There was also a bit of geographical ignorance going on here. I heard one newscaster wonder out loud where La Crescenta is. Others fumbled the words "La Canada Flintridge" as if they were attempting to speak an obscure tongue.

The affected Foothill communites operate by choice under the radar and don't have the star appeal of Malibu, for instance where, if you're lucky, you can spot a movie star watering down his roof while the flames burn nearby.

Of course, if Michael Jackson had lived in La Canada, the coverage would have been unprecedented.