June 24, 2002

Difference between news and opinion…

Boston Globe: Biased news report or opinion column? Ombudsman Christine Chinlund gives her readers a lesson in telling the difference between news and opinion. I’ve read similar columns by other ombudsmen. I followed Miriam Pepper, of the Kansas City Star, very carefully for years (she’s now editorial page editor). She wrote about this issue at least once a year. I’m going to look for some hard data on media literacy and report back later. But the anecdotal evidence says many Americans have difficulty telling the difference between news articles and opinion columns. MediaMinded chimes in: “Hey, sometimes it’s hard for us in the business to tell the difference, Christine.” In other words, editors sometimes make it difficult to tell the difference by tolerating or, worse, allowing sloppy reporting and biased language.

June 24, 2002

Five o’clock news leaks…

The Sky Is Falling, Friday At Five (washingtonpost.com) Media Notes by Howard Kurtz. This morning’s column offers a good analysis of the political tactic of releasing bad news at 5 o’clock on a Friday afternoon. By doing so, the story usually dies by the time the Monday network news programs air. The tactic continues to work because the press allows it. Kurtz also mentions Ari Fleischer’s consternation with the press automatically assigning stories to master narratives.

June 22, 2002

What good is a “Truth Commission” without media literacy?…

Normon Soloman has a “modest proposal” for media reform. He’s properly worried about the influence of advertising on our culture. Specifically, he’s worried about the effects of advertisements for prescription drugs and processed (and fast) food. What does it say about our media culture when one may view television ads for greasy fast-food followed by ads for cholesterol medicine and both portray the good life following from consumption of the product? And, so, Soloman proposes:

“Every commercial for food and drugs should be taxed–with the proceeds going to pay for ‘truth commission’ ads from independent researchers–to keep the public informed about the latest scientific findings on the benefits and risks of such products. That kind of arrangement would be entirely justified. After all, tv and radio broadcasters use airwaves that are supposed to belong to the public.”

It seems to me that such information is readily available. And the press is always eager to run a health or “latest findings” story. Ah, but that’s not the same as advertising, in which the appeal is overwhelmingly emotional. So is Soloman suggesting airing “truth commission” ads that are as manipulative as commercial ads, or is he suggesting these ads be the typical, boring public service announcements that we know don’t work?

Here’s my modest proposal: Tax them if you want to, but find a way to encourage greater media literacy education in our schools. Ooooops. That won’t work. Corporations have been sponsoring curriculum for years now. Hmmmm…

June 21, 2002

Post-evacuation White House…

The Post-Evacuation White House (washingtonpost.com) Media Notes by Howard Kurtz. Check out the White House briefing transcript for the entire exchange between Ari Fleischer and the press. Elisabeth Bumiller’s question–“Isn’t the President more important than the press?”–is the direct result of Fleischer’s dodge-ball tactics.

June 21, 2002

More Noonan on “Homeland”…

Peggy Noonan continues her fight against “Homeland” in the WSJ. In her open letter to Karen Hughes she says

“the essence of American patriotism is a felt and spoken love for and fidelity to the ideas and ideals our country represents and was invented to advance–freedom, equality, pluralism. ‘We hold these truths . . .’ The word Homeland suggests another kind of patriotism–a vaguely European sort. ‘We have the best Alps, the most elegant language; we make the best cheese, had the bravest generals.’ It summons images of men in spiked helmets lobbing pitchers of beer at outsiders during Oktoberfest. When you say you love America, you’re not saying our mud is better than the other guy’s mud. And the name of the newest and most important agency in recent history, charged with the crucial task of thwarting terrorism and protecting our nation from weapons of mass destruction be they chemical, biological or nuclear, should reflect this.”

June 21, 2002

Nordlinger on the codetalkers…

After a little hyperbole, Jay Nordlinger of The National Review says:

“So now I

June 21, 2002

Still more on Pearl video…

Reason argues in favor of viewing the Pearl execution video, saying:

“The tape, an advertisement of evil, is in fact not aimed at us; it does not seek to dishearten us. Instead, it is a recruitment film designed to inspire new holy warriors in a vicious war against America and its allies. On balance those in favor of allowing the American public to see this horror are right.”

June 20, 2002

More on media bias…

Arguments about media bias are getting tiresome. Here’s one involving The Heritage Foundation as presented by Spinsanity. Media bias is STRUCTURAL more than ideological.

June 20, 2002

More on Stephanopoulos…

Michael Kinsley says in Slate that…

“there is no reason to suppose that Stephanopoulos would sacrifice his commercial interests to his partisan interests. Like everyone else on earth, he wants to be a TV star. And now he has an opportunity to be one. Nothing in his past suggests that he would risk squandering this opportunity in order to advance the agenda of the Democratic Party, even if

June 20, 2002

On television, skilled oratory is no sale…

Other more important matters drowned out the news that MSNBC canceled “Alan Keyes is Making Sense.” There’s been little talk of it. And why should there be? If you can’t post the ratings numbers you don’t get to play.

In today’s column, Howard Kurtz says: “Alan Keyes may be the most eloquent man on the planet, but since when has that counted for anything on television?” Without saying so specifically, Kurtz understands that television is about ratings, so television is about entertainment. That Alan Keyes can’t draw the numbers is a cultural shame. Not that I agree with Keyes on much of anything. Rather, I am enamored of his talent and his intellect. Both belong prominently displayed in the public sphere.

I enjoyed the first weeks of the show. Keyes made an effort to bring complexity to the discussion of troubling issues. But, as I told my sophomore rhetoric class: “It can’t last; he’ll be forced into entertainment.” And for a political show, that means less discussion and more verbal fire-bombing. Kurtz said today that Keyes’ “always-intense orations were hard to watch.” Not at first they weren’t. Not before the show changed.

Our culture ignored Alan Keyes because we can no longer think past our eyes. Skilled and cogent oratory no longer registers with us. So MSNBC made Keyes entertaining and, in my opinion, helped him shed his dignity.

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