Sunday, February 10, 2008

TV: What's the measurement?

An argument was made for People Meters of some sort to measure Nielsen ratings in Thursday's New York Times. On B2, "Arts Briefly" noted, briefly, of Tuesday night's ratings, "Meanwhile, ABC, the only network to broadcast three full hours of election returns, ranked fourth over all with an average of 5.3 million viewers during prime time." We were on a campus in New Jersey where easily over a hundred people were watching the broadcast in the student lounge. We hadn't planned to watch, we're not Charlie Gibson people (and not sure they exist in large numbers), but we'd finished speaking about the illegal war and many of the students wanted to see if Iraq would even be mentioned. After we headed over to the lounge, we discovered that, no, it really wouldn't be.

We also were reminded of so many reasons why we don't like Charlie Gibson. Such as when he was speaking to George Stephanopoulos but calling him "Matthew." We loved the look Diane Sawyer shot to Steph when that happened, raising her eyebrows and darting her eyes as if to say "What a loser." Charlie didn't catch it because he was too interested in pontificating -- throughout, but at that point, the pressing issue was his wondering, "Can I call it Carolina blue?"

He was referring to the blue representing Hillary Clinton on the map of the US ABC was displaying to show which candidates won which states. Another highpoint on the entertainment meter (and one that led to students booing) was when Charlie, full of smirks and hot air, felt the need to correct Steph (who is surprisingly popular with young people on that campus -- who knew?) that Steph meant, several minutes prior, "superstitious" and not "suspicious." Steph's sentence had flown past everyone watching but it was apparently a big deal to Chuck (after it was pointed out to him in his earpiece).

"How did that loser get put in charge?" asked one student to no one in particular and the comment was really more shouted at the television. We'd say it didn't respond but, as if hearing the audience, Charlie went on to smirk how it was "very hard to get used to, very hard" Diane Sawyer being on his right because, in the days of Good Morning America, she used to sit to the left of him. The look on George Steph's face as Charlie finished that nonsense was priceless and the pro-George crowd erupted in applause.

A more minor look, that got a smaller but still vocal response, was given by Steph when Charlie was attempting to calculate delegates and getting it wrong so he finally said, "I'll follow you George because I trust your numbers." You really needed to hear Full Of Himself Chuck say that line and see the look on George's face to appreciate it.

Some of you may read this and think, "This was a news special! Don't you think you should treat it more seriously?" If you're thinking that, we'll assume you didn't watch. This was, after all, Gibson's anchoring prime time presidential primary elections -- a prelude to what he will offer when November rolls around -- and we weren't surprised he was bad, we were just surprised he was that bad. Shout outs to former teachers? Pleased with how quickly he could add numbers, he declared, "I thank my fourth grade teacher Mrs. Lansing."

Is this what we have to look foward to? And, excuse us, but don't most children learn addition long before fourth grade? By fourth grade, haven't most mastered addition, subtraction, multiplication and division? Apparently adding two and three rows of figures was something Charlie didn't learn until he was nearly out of elementary school.

That actually explains a great deal.

Charlie appeared to be testing out a new catch phrase. We're not sure it will become the new "Whatcha you talking 'bout, Willis?" but we'll offer it up just the same: "Sorry to cut you off, Diane." He said that repeatedly. "Sorry to cut you off, Diane." Leaving aside the fact that he never appeared "sorry," just the fact that he did so constantly was enough to indicate that, no, he wasn't sorry.

Sawyer knew she was second banana on the broadcast. She wasn't going to attempt to outshine Charlie (though she easily could) but she also wasn't going to be ignored. Which is why, when her gas baggery resulted in her being cut off (and Charlie turning to George -- for some locker room gas baggery?), Diane quickly went to numbers. Numbers are the power on those broadcasts because if you toss out enough data, the mind reels and, certainly, with Charlie Gibson, it wouldn't take much. Equally true is that Charlie couldn't memorize the numbers.

Why is that important? Before she headed to hard data territory, Diane attempted to contribute to the gas baggery by citing Barack Obama's big speech in Kansas ("Kenya gave me my name . . .") and Charlie rushed in with something else, something he thought was far more important. Then, only a little while later, he was citing the same quote but acting as if he'd just thought it up. Any woman who's ever made a point only to have a man blow her off but then later steal it right in front of her face, would marvel at Diane's ability to keep her composure.

Going with the numbers meant Charlie would have to let her speak some (and let her complete her sentences). It did not mean she'd be treated with any respect. That was apparent when Diane was citing data that showed voters who made up their minds at the last minute went for Hillary. "I don't believe it," declared Charlie. And that was the end of that.

On ABC anyway. The day prior to Super Duper Tuesday, Thomas De Zengotita wrote at The Huffington Post of a trend he was seeing in his circle that he labled "buyer's remorse" regarding Obama and had voters switching to Clinton at the last minute. And Zachary Coile (San Francisco Chronicle) reported on Thursday this about the California vote, "She had a narrow edge, 49 percent to 46 percent, with those who made up their minds in the last three days, but held a 17-point advantage among voters who had decided earlier." (For those not following the election cycle -- you lucky, lucky people -- California was part of Super Duper Tuesday.) On Thursday, Adam Nagourney (New York Times) would explain:

But one of the most intriguing findings in the surveys of voters leaving the polls across the nation on Tuesday was when they arrived at their final decision. Throughout a week when Mr. Obama was campaigning with members of the Kennedy family, when there was a sense that he was creating a movement that cut across racial and generational lines, there was a steady movement of Democrats toward Mr. Obama, the survey suggested. But those who reported making their decisions on the last day bucked the trend, tending to vote for Mrs. Clinton, of New York.

"I don't believe it," Charlie said dismissing the topic on live TV Tuesday.

If you'll remember, when we last checked in on Charlie, he was praising the polling ("The polling is so good!") . . . on the night New Hamshire results demonstrated that, no, the polling wasn't so good. What Diane Sawyer was looking at was data on something that had taken place, not a predicition. It didn't fit with the polling, so Charlie immediately dismised it. He can disbelieve all he wants -- and we'd certainly encourage more skepticsm on his part -- but we found it strange, while watching, that Diane was shouted down and the hard data was so quickly dismissed. But that dismissal fit right in with the jocular nature Charlie was trying to project -- so much so that he appeared under the impression he was hosting a Dean Martin roast.

Just when we were thinking back to ABC's past coverage a little fondly, Kooky Cokie Roberts and George Will The Pill showed up. Though her face looked like the head on a Chinese dragon in a San Francisco parade, we were more shocked that Cokie actually had something worth sharing and we'll put that up there with snow in southern California as a once in a generation moment. The results of the Latino vote (which we'll get to shortly) were much cited throughout the broadcast -- Clinton won the Latino vote -- and Cokie pointed out that this wasn't just Latinas, it was Latinos as well -- something unheard of, Cokie rightly explained, during the 80s when that voting segment was more resistant to female candidates.

As if to make up for Cokie's temporary lucidity, George The Pill felt the need to fuss and moan and, naturally, attack and distort Social Security. It was the tired (and false) argument he's been making since ABC added him as an affirmative-action hire. The only thing that was shocking was that no one bothered to call him out. Even on This Week, where he's spat out those lies repeatedly for decades, he is greeted with at least token resistance. Instead, it was like he was the crazy uncle and everyone agreed not to say a word -- which would explain the silence that followed.

The Latino vote. In California (New Mexico is still counting), Clinton won it overwhelming. She won it among men and among women. She won it among older people and younger people. Yes, the youth vote. B-b-but Bambi's the youth candidate!

The moment we enjoyed most during ABC's coverage was when the correspondent for their 'partner' showed up: a young woman with Facebook. The youth vote was supposed to be behind Bambi and the youth vote was supposed to rock the elections. (The youth vote actually includes 18 to 24-year-olds who are non-college students so we might need to clarify that college students were supposed to rock the world for Obama.) We saw a glimpse of the Facebook correspondent early on but apparently nothing was happening. (Nothing was happening in Chicago at Obama's meet up either which demonstrates his campaign hasn't grasped that when live cameras are transmitting, you get the crowd active. Kate Snow, reporting from Clinton's New York event, had trouble hearing the questions Charlie was asking due to the noise and, at times, viewers had trouble understanding Snow over the lively crowd of Clinton supporters.)

"Finally!" exclaimed a college junior (male) when the Facebook correspondent was tossed to. What's the haps on the peeps? Well they weren't peeping. She ended up noting some posts from Clinton supporters (Bambi supporters were MIA, according to her.). She ended up begging young people who voted to go to Facebook and post something, anything. There were a few groans in the student lounge but that was drowned out by the cheers. It was not an Obama crowd. (At the end of the three hour broadcast, we asked for a show of hands on who voted. All but three had. In random discussions, the bulk had voted for Clinton -- not surprising since she won the state.)

In their special election section on Wednesday, The New York Times wouldn't go as far to note the reality that the Facebook segment did on ABC, but Jodi Kantor's "A Sizzle Among the Young (at Least Some)" would note, "The campaign of Senator Barack Obama had been riding a surge of interest from young people, but whether that would translate into support at the polls was one of the great unknowns of Tuesday's voting. Interviews across the country on Tuesday produced anecdotal evidence that some younger people did carry their enthusiam into the polling places." Some. By Thursday, even that qualifier was lost. (Maybe they had caught ABC's Facebook report?). On the front page, Adam Nagourney's "Obama Is Making Inroads, But Fervor Fell Short at End" began and would wonder, "Is this campaign a series of surges of enthusiasm, often powered by the younger voters who form long lines waiting to hear Mr. Obama speak, that set expectations that are not met at the voting booth?" Ted Kennedy would admit to Nagourney that he was "mindful that crowds don't always turn into votes." That puts Ted several up on the media. Or, as Jodi Kantor put it on Tuesday, "And at the computer bank of the DePaul University student center in Chicago, the nonvoters outnumbered the voters, for a variety of reasons, they said, including failure to register, lack of time and apathy."

Which brings us to Bill Moyers Journal on PBS and we really hadn't thought we'd be including it. Let's get our praise out of the way: Yes, Dr. Kathy, that is how to dress on camera. You looked better than you ever had. Professional and the color scheme worked. Having said that, let's focus on one problem area.

Dr. Kathy's concerned that the two front runners in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination are hurting someone with their remarks. She's bothered that Clinton says she's ready from day one. Dr. Kathy says if Clinton doesn't get the nomination, Republicans will seize on this to paint Bambi as not up to the job and that Clinton can't make Barack her v.p. choice if she wins (Dr. Kathy assumes Hillary wants to do that or would consider it) because what does that say? On the first point, throughout history, many primary candidates have asserted that they were ready for the job and, if they didn't get their party's nomination, there's no evidence that the claim hurt the victors. (Dr. Kathy also pushed the nonsense from The National Journal that Janine Jackson demolished on last week's CounterSpin -- for those who require text, Jackson is quoted in full of that topic here.) When it was time to offer how Obama might be damaging the party, she offered this mild (note the qualifiers) statement, "When Senator Obama, sometimes carefully and with nuance, sometimes much less so, suggests that the Clinton years were not years of great accomplishment, and he doesn't look back to them as a result in those moments, as moments the Democrats can be very proud of, he makes it far more difficult to create an alliance back to that part of the party, and it denies him some of the intellectual ballast that comes with suggesting that Democrats can lead on the economy, in a way that's fiscally prudent."

Clinton, according to Dr. Kathy is doing damage to the party (damage to Obama if he gets the nomination, damage to herself if she does and wants to pick Obama as her running mate), Obama's only damaging himself (and apparently his attacks, by Dr. Kathy's statements, don't hurt Hillary if she gets the nomination). Which of the examples offered is worse?

The reality is Dr. Kathy -- intentionally or not -- came to the table with a stacked deck. What is Obama doing that might hurt the party's chances if Hillary is the nominee?

The most obvious would be Obama's suggesting that Hillary can't be trusted with national security. That's a pretty damning thing to float, Dr. Kathy, and one that not only smears Hillary, it also feeds into the Republican talking point of "Dems weak on national defense!" But we're a little more media savvy and grasp that, especially if McCain is the nominee, they probably won't go wonky. The GOP will go for the 'red meat' and find something that they think has the widest appeal.

Well we know the media likes nothing better than an angle they can play up as a "catfight" and we know that Michelle Obama said on MSNBC last week that she didn't know that she could vote for Clinton if Hillary got the nomination. If we were going to try to pick out the GOP ad buy right now, we'd go with that. It feeds into the desire on the part of some for a catfight, it feeds into the Bash-the-Bitch national pastime and the likes of Peggy Noonan and Chris Matthews have certainly spent this decade putting forward the lie that women don't like Hillary. We could continue but we think we've established that Barack only hurting himself (by Dr. Kathy's calculations) is a bit of piffle.

Dropping back to the ABC prime time special, among the guests (via satellite) were Bill Richardson. Richardson has grown (is growing) a beard. Diane Sawyer felt the need to compare it to Justin Timberlake which was questionable but Charlie Gibson (who must have the last word) declared it reminded him of Abraham Lincoln. What any of that had to do with the primaries they were supposed to be addressing, we don't know. But Richardson actually made it onto TV. A Latino actually made it on TV to discuss politics (not that anyone seemed interested in politics -- the questions were seeking gossip). On Friday, another Latino made it on TV to discuss politics. It was not a pleasant picture.

First off Bill Moyers, we know you love to talk faith and talk it again and again and we grasp that we're all expected to be enthralled with broadcasts of that topic. We know you'll never get that not all of us care for it -- especially considering the way the deck is so often stacked. But grasp this, there are so few Latinos on air that we don't need a chunky. Get it? The stereotype of Latinos is "lazy." Fat and lazy. We don't need Mr. Chunky grabbing up one of the few moments of air time a Latino will ever have on the Journal. We don't need it, we don't want it. It's offensive. Yes, there are some hefty Latinos out there. But when Latinos are trying desperately to be heard and seen, we don't need one of the few slots going to someone who fits the stereotype and who isn't even smart enough to sit on the tail of his coat jacket -- which made the suit and the person look even worse.

The person? Samuel "Sam" Rodriguez. It figures, doesn't it, that the show that still hasn't addressed gender this year, would invite on a Latino and not a Latina?

On top of that we were force-fed a conservative -- though Moyers didn't point that out. Christianity Today has had no problem pointing that out. Not that anyone listens to Ted Haggard since his 'not' gay incident but, in 2006, Haggard was salivating over Rodriguez, "He is the Karl Rove of the Hispanic-Anglo evangical strategy."

Moyers did feel the need to offer that there are "at least eight million" Latinos who define as evangicals. That number might have seemed less impressive if the most recent cenus estimate for Latinos had been included (44.3 million). It would have been even less impressive if Moyers had brought on a Catholic Latino or Latina. They could have clearly stated whether they considered themselves "charismatic" -- a loose grouping that they could have then defined. Because the reality is that the eight million figure is apples and oranges. It's including Catholics with a wide variety of experiences outside the Catholic Church and they may or may not go with "born again" (which would allow them to be seen as 'vangicals'). What is known, and you can check with PEW which did a study on this, over 68% of Latino and Latinas in the United States identify with the Roman Catholic Church. That puts Rodriguez in the minority. (The fact that he's Pentecostal even more so.) Considering that the previous "Catholic" segment we remember Moyers doing (non-priest scandal) was on the 'gnostic gospels' (Elaine Pagels), we do have to wonder if there is some hostility to the Catholic Church in the program?

The Pew Hispanic Center found that:

The Democratic Party holds a nearly three-to-one advantage among Latino Catholics who are eligible to vote (48% vs. 17% for Republicans). Because the Latino electorate is overwhelmingly Catholic (63%), Catholics represent the core of Democratic support among Latinos. Indeed, 70% of all Latino eligible voters who identify as Democrats are Catholics. Party identification among Latino evangelicals is more narrowly divided and appears to slightly favor the Republican Party. Among Hispanic eligible voters who are evangelicals, 37% say they consider themselves Republicans and 32% say they are Democrats.

So why a Republican Latino was brought on, we have no idea. (And don't try to split hairs on his party affiliation. It's well known throughout the Latino community. It's why, after Christ, Ronald Reagan is the first name on his list of heroes.) But that's what happened. The community was insulted (the overweight stereotype which translates as lazy when it's a male under forty) and the community was distorted. Booking Rodriguez guaranteed that would be the case.

He repeated a falsehood and Moyers either didn't know or didn't give a damn. "Forty-four percent of Latinos," he declared, "voted for George W. Bush in the 2004 elections." No, they didn't. We'll repeat ourselves from last month, where a false claim about the 2004 number was made on another PBS show:

Equally disturbing was to hear that Bully Boy got 40% of the Latino vote in 2004. That figure is contested, as was the original inflated claim of 44%. NBC put out the 40% figure. We had to wonder why PBS was using that mainstream figure instead of the Velasquez Institute's finding of 35%? When there's a difference wouldn't a Latino organization most likely be the best source for information on Latinos?

Even NOW on PBS, last month, didn't offer up 44%. Apparently, there's so little interest in the Latino vote that people can just make up numbers, or repeat disproven ones, and it will air on PBS without question. That's highly insulting. So is allowing a conservative (the only Latino to appear this year, thus far, remember) to characterize a "Black Brown Divide" -- a highly controversial subject and one that Bill Moyers program allowed to be presented to non-Latino communities as a genuine divide. Can we expect to (quickly) see other Latinos on the show to offer another perspective? Probably not because Moyers already invited this ASSHOLE back on the program.

In one of the more embarrassing moments (there were many), Rodriguez was allowed to claim that Hillary Clinton's comments on abortion (from 2005 but not noted by him or Moyers as being that old) swung her support from the Latino community. That's when she argued that we needed to work towards less abortions. He then maintained her comments in New Hampshire this year were hurting her. Clinton's winning the Latino vote. We could disprove another lie he offers (but he'd weasel out by insisting "I only said I 'believe' it was in Time magazine!") but we'll just focus on that aspect of it.

We saw the program Friday and took to the phones. Community member Miguel lives in Chicago, community member Francisco lives in New Mexico, community member Maria lives in the Bay Area (all three do the community newsletter El Spirito -- and all locations noted are the ones they were comfortable with), community member Lupe lives in Houston, community members Diane and Sabina live in Dallas, community member Raul lives in Los Angeles, Ramona lives in Tyler (Texas) and community member Henry lives in Florida. All are Hispanics. We asked all to speak to 30 Latinos or Latinas at random and ask if they were aware of Hillary's 2005 statements? While they did that, we covered Boston Saturday morning (with 22 -- all at the airport, we were leaving Boston that morning), 49 in San Francisco, 30 in Oakland and 19 in San Jose. (And no, we didn't do 49 due to the San Francisco 49ers. We didn't even think of the team until Mike pointed it out.) Out of 400 Latinos and Latinas selected at random in various cities (Diane spoke to forty and not thirty, for those attempting to do the math), only one person knew of Hillary's remarks -- a 49-year-old, pro-choice Latina in Florida.

Rodriguez had no backing for the tale he told but it was pleasing to him and that's why he told it. It was pleasing to him to run with the inflated figure of 44% as well. It was all pleasing to him.

But it sucked to be a viewer. It sucked to grasp that Latinos and Latinas -- so regularly shut out of the Moyers universe and most TV programs -- were being 'represented' by a man who did not represent them. And it sucked to know that, yet again, when it was time to put someone on the program, it was time to go conservative. For those who missed it, when we last tackled NOW on PBS last month, our complaints were the same: those speaking were conservatives and they were Latinos -- no, Latinas. Moyers had a lengthy sit-down interview with one guest, one non-representative of the Latino community guest, and it was time to go with a conservative and with a male.

Barbra Steisand used to provide a grant to Moyers' religious program. If he wants to do that program, have at it. But if he's doing the Journal and if he's reporting on elections and Americans, we think it's wrong to repeatedly allow these conservative Christians -- of all faiths and of all races and ethnicities -- to dominate. (Especially when their statements are not called out.) We see it over and over and when it comes to an ethnic or racial group that's barely on the program to begin with, we think it's flat-out offensive to allow a conservative to speak to America on behalf of an under-represented group. On Saturday's plane ride back, we found two people who had watched Friday's Journal. Both were Anglo. Both spoke of how 'interesting' the segment was and felt they learned a lot about Latinos. That's the message they took away, that Rodriguez was your typical Latino. He's not representative and it's as dishonest to allow people to believe that as it is to pretend that Alan Keyes' beliefs and positions are typical of African-Americans. But that's exactly what happened.

If there was a reliable People Meter of some form, we might know how many watched and be able to figure out the racial and ethnic breakdown. From there we might be able to estimate the damage done. But there's not a reliable meter so for now it's just "garbage out" -- even in the interactive age. And we consider it very telling that, were it not for Cokie Roberts, women voters wouldn't even have received a few minutes of discussion on what passes for public affairs programming last week. They certain didn't receive time on Democracy Now! (see Wednesday's "Iraq snapshot.")
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