Sunday, August 09, 2009

TV: He puts the cess in cesspool

Last week, we explored PBS' The NewsHour and the word which sums up the reaction from PBS friends is: Begrudging. And we heard about it all last week with one telling us Thursday that maybe we should consider "the alternatives. Like 20/20." 20/20? We'd just had an ABC News friend hype us on this week's program which was going to be about "health care." We rushed Friday evening to the TV sets to see if The NewsHour explored health care and, if so, planned to compare its work with that offered by a commercial broadcast network, ABC.


PBS' broadcast began with a report from Jeffrey Brown on the number of job losses which was then followed with headlines, the possible death of a militant (report), followed by a discussion of that topic and then health care.

It was a report by Betty Ann Bowser. In the report, she actually mentioned single-payer, she actually spoke to a single-payer advocate. She also explored the town halls and the reactions people encounter there. We saw Nancy Pelosi stating this was democracy and thought (a) good for, Nance and (b) too bad she's like Batman's Two Face and changing her message day to day.

Then came Shields & Brooks, picking up on health care and Mark Shields fretted over civility. How very sad. He did note that there were 'legitimate and authentic concerns about the plan and questions about the plan" and David Brooks was left to raise the issue of "the Code Pink ladies" who used to show "up at every hearing during the Iraq War and start shouting people down and have to be arrested and carried away."

Are you thinking, "What??????????"

We were too.

Mark Shields attempted to wade in stating, "The Code Pink ladies David mentioned would speak -- would shout at the congressional hearings, but then they'd be quickly removed."

Sorry, Mark, we're still puzzling the section of David's remarks about "during the Iraq War" because we weren't aware it had ended.

We'll note this part of the discussion:

DAVID BROOKS: Let's not pretend this just started. I mean, every time we have a major issue, this happens. I mean, just go back to the Iraq war. There were people claiming there was the Project for the New American Century and Richard Perle was part of a big neocon conspiracy. There's ugliness that goes on. There's ugliness that went on in those rallies. And...
JUDY WOODRUFF: You're saying it's the same kind of thing?
DAVID BROOKS: I'm saying -- I think every time, if you look through American history, every time there's a major issue -- and this a major issue -- you get people who are totally over the line and spreading misinformation. And that doesn't justify it -- believe me -- but we shouldn't pretend it just started from one group.
MARK SHIELDS: No, but this is -- I think this is organized in a way that the others weren't. I mean, when any of us gives a speech, we are asked almost semi-regularly about, "What about 9/11? And wasn't that, in fact, organized? And the planes could not have knocked down the Twin Towers."
I mean, that is a regular -- and it's usually somebody -- but this is not something where somebody is shouting you down and denying you. The Code Pink ladies David mentioned would speak -- would shout at the congressional hearings, but then they'd be quickly removed.
This stops the debate. That's what's going on right now. That's the difference.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So when the fellow Betty Ann interviewed, one of the gentlemen at one of the rallies, said, "This is not good for the democratic process."

Really? Because the man we remember Betty Ann interviewing was the same one and what we remember him doing was whining to Betty Ann that the people showing up needed to stop shouting but they could ask questions.

They could ask questions?

What was this? Elizabeth Taylor promoting White Diamonds?

We both love Elizabeth Taylor and she'd be the first one to tell you, that when you're on the campaign trail, you better have an answer to any and all questions and you also better be prepared for the fact that people will share -- and yes, shout -- their opinions.

See, Elizabeth knows that because she married John Warner before he (successfully) ran for the US Senate. Elizabeth was there at his side, at one campaign event after another, one meet-and-greet after another. And she knows exactly what's expected.

And citizens aren't present to ask questions and then sit down and await the response. Citizens can protest. Citizens can shout. This is a democracy. A fact that Mark Shields seems to forget as he frets about tone.

A fact that escapes the man both Judy Woodruff and we noticed -- but noticed for different reasons. We noticed that he felt the public's role at any townhall was nothing more than asking questions.

That's not the public's role. We're not Oprah Winfrey to their Tom Cruise.

Lloyd Doggett and the other whiners (disclosure, one of us, C.I., has given money to Lloyd's campaigns) seem to be saying, "You know politics would be great if we could just figure out a way to cut out the public."

The public is loud. That's America for you. That's the spirit that led to the Revolutionary War. It's the spirit that prevented a monarchy being established to replace the British one. Democracy includes shouting. Democracy includes stamping your feet. Political speech isn't pretty and that's why it needed to be Constitutionally protected.

There was nothing in the responses from Shields and Brooks that appeared to acknowledge that; however, David came closest to the mark by comparing it to the left when Bush was in power. He's not wrong about the reaction. He's wrong, our opinion, to dismiss what outraged so many of us on the left. But he's correct that our responses were far from genteel. And there was no reason they should have been.

ObamaCare will come and go, it's a real shame we're not seeing some honest debate about political speech -- as opposed to silly fretting over tone.

But The NewsHour had some actual reports, some discussions and even sections of David and Mark that you could enjoy and that, yes, could make you think. It might not be so hard for The NewsHour to beat ABC devoting an hour to health care.

And then it started. And PBS need have no fears.

Health care? This is what ABC News thinks passes for health care coverage?

"Medical mysteries"?

It was rarely a notch above Ripley's Believe It Or Not.

During one hour's time, we learned very little.

We learned that people born with their heart on the outside of their body could live. Or at least, one man had. There was no real effort to talk about others or to say how common the condition was so we'll assume it's not very common and not anything most of us will ever file an insurance claim on.

We learned that a cesspool stunk, even through one's TV screen.

Which is how we got a 'report' on how a couple's bedroom could become "a torture chamber."
After the Sex In The City clip, we learned that "even contact from their blue jeans can be unbearable to bear" for three women. So if contact from their own clothes could cause them so much pain, was it any surprise they didn't want to have sex?

Apparently it was to 20/20.

Our notes on this story includes a lot of "he says . . ." And that's due to the fact that for this ailment supposedly effecting women, women were rarely heard from except as victims, as sufferers. The reporter was male, the experts -- including doctors -- were male. Finally a female physical therapist pops up. For two sentences. Then she's gone. (Like Elizabeth Vargas whom John Stossel said was off this week.)

From those female victims we went to a story on a female dancer whom, Stossel informed, is "unable to move without help from her fiancee." After the commercial break, Stossel feels the need to remind that the vows say "in sickness and in health" but wonders if you had to carry your wife around, would you stay?

Yet again, another male reporter (actually the same reporter). Yet again, another female victim.
It was like Queen for a Day.

The same male reporter is then interviewing an autistic child (we were told this would be "an important segment" -- we were lied to) who wisely refused to talk to the reporter. She spoke through a keyboard. She can communicate in sentences via a keyboard. She writes online. Asked why some autistics bang their heads against things, she explained that there is so much going on inside that it feels like the only way to avoid the whole body exploding. This could have been a full hour segment. It was the only thing remotely helpful.

Instead it was a blink and you missed it and the main take away for most viewers was, "Why didn't the mother speak?" You heard constantly from the father. Did the mother not want to speak or did the male reporter not feel she had anything worth sharing?

JuJu Chang filed the report on the boy born with his heart on the outside of his body. Maybe because she's a woman, she actually found other women who could speak -- including experts such as a nurse present at birth and a female doctor -- yes, 20/20, women can be doctors!

But they can't intone like John Stossel who offered one creepy tease after another. "They're eating while sound asleep . . . the sleep eaters." So said John sounding like the little girl in Poltergeist.

After the break, he will try to get you frightened by the thought of candy wrappers on your pillows and then we'll be off to a report on more female victims, this time ones eat in their sleep.

And that was really the program. No health care. This wasn't even news. This was sad and freaky with a message of "Women is victims of the world, yes, she is." The NewsHour shone by comparison but, the more we thought about it, we realized that it sparkled like a gem mainly for one reason.

It's the same reason 20/20 sucks. And viewers were informed of where the problem was at the top of the show when an announcer declared, "What lies behind these medical mysteries? Here's John Stossel."
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