Sunday, September 05, 2010

TV: Analysis?


After Barack Obama gave his Tuesday Oval Office speech, you could have gone blue in the face waiting for some form of analysis, critique or fact check. Though these are things the press is supposed to excell in, they were woefully absent from last week's broadcast media.

Take Washington Week (PBS) which thought the following passed as 'exploring' and 'analyzing'.

Dan Balz: When he gave that speech in the Oval Office, he talked about turning the page and what he meant to convey was, "It's time now to really focus on the economy." But, as that speech showed, the tension in that speech as he was trying to deal with a lot of issues at once, I think, underscore sort of the political problems that he and the Democrats and the administration have. I mean, he said, 'The economy is my principal responsibility as president. That's why we want to turn the page.' But turning the page? I mean, let's just start with Iraq. Yes, the combat mission is over. We still have 50,000 troops in Iraq. We will have a troops presence until the end of next year. Violence is not gone. It's been down. But it continues to flare and it flared pretty significantly recently. And the political issues have not been resolved. That's a government that still can't come together months after the election. So turning the page on Iraq alone is going to be difficult.
But combat missions didn't end, Dan Baltz and doesn't The Washington Post having anyone over standards?

Whatever the subject, we should be correct and consistent in our description of what the situation in Iraq is. This guidance summarizes the situation and suggests wording to use and avoid.
To begin with, combat in Iraq is not over, and we should not uncritically repeat suggestions that it is, even if they come from senior officials. The situation on the ground in Iraq is no different today than it has been for some months. Iraqi security forces are still fighting Sunni and al-Qaida insurgents. Many Iraqis remain very concerned for their country's future despite a dramatic improvement in security, the economy and living conditions in many areas.

As for U.S. involvement, it also goes too far to say that the U.S. part in the conflict in Iraq is over. President Obama said Monday night that "the American combat mission in Iraq has ended. Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country."
However, 50,000 American troops remain in country. Our own reporting on the ground confirms that some of these troops, especially some 4,500 special operations forces, continue to be directly engaged in military operations. These troops are accompanying Iraqi soldiers into battle with militant groups and may well fire and be fired on. In addition, although administration spokesmen say we are now at the tail end of American involvement and all troops will be gone by the end of 2011, there is no guarantee that this will be the case.
Our stories about Iraq should make clear that U.S. troops remain involved in combat operations alongside Iraqi forces, although U.S. officials say the American combat mission has formally ended. We can also say the United States has ended its major combat role in Iraq, or that it has transferred military authority to Iraqi forces. We can add that beyond U.S. boots on the ground, Iraq is expected to need U.S. air power and other military support for years to control its own air space and to deter possible attack from abroad.
Unless there is balancing language, our content should not refer to the end of combat in Iraq, or the end of U.S. military involvement. Nor should it say flat-out (since we can't predict the future) that the United States is at the end of its military role.

It's a real shame that more can't do the same but, hell, few can even take the issue seriously. Take ABC's Nightline which offered 'analysis' the night of the speech -- if 'analysis' to you is recapping -- without question or critique -- what Barack said. That was one segment. Another was Dan Harris' report. Part of which (US soldiers explaining combat missions had not ended) was aired previously by ABC during World News Tonight. Harris added to the report an Iraqi 1st Lt. who states that the Iraqi army "need[s] a couple more years" to be ready to protect the country and he added an Iraqi woman approaching him on the street -- one of many "strangers," he said, doing so -- asking if he could help get her family to the United States. But there was no time to explore or contemplate any of that in the rush to get to the very pressing issue of "teen online gambling."

There were a few exceptions to the rule. All week, The NewsHour (PBS) provided strong reporting by Margaret Warner (such as when Joe Biden admitted that the US troops in Iraq may be in Iraq well beyond 2011 or when she reported on the continued lack of functioning electricity in Iraq). On Wednesday, The Diane Rehm Show devoted the hour to a serious discussion of the speech and the realities with Phyllis Bennis as one of Diane's three guests. Matthew Rothschild used his Progressive Point of View radio spot to offer a strong critique of the speech. But again, these were the exceptions in broadcast media, not the rule.

The rule was blind repetition of the White House talking points. The rule was cheap programming that didn't even add in the value of independent thought. In fact, the whole thing was done so cheaply, it reminded us a Robert Wise film, such as Two for the Seesaw. In that movie, you're supposed to believe that Robert Mitchum and Shirley MacLaine are falling in love
but also supposed to believe that Mitchum has an estranged wife whom the audience only hears (on the telephone) and never sees. The problem? The cheap Robert Wise refused to blow a few bucks by hiring two actresses. Shirley plays the girlfriend in a New York accent and, via voice over, plays Mitchum's wife in her own voice -- an instantly recognizable voice.

Cheap and completely unbelievable.

Just like what the bulk of the broadcast media served up last week as 'analysis.'
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