Sunday, June 12, 2011

TV: The Fawning

America's Biggest Loser is not, in fact, on NBC. Two of America's Biggest Losers are no longer on PBS or MSNBC. But two of America's Biggest Losers: Active Division had them as guests last week. It was all so much stroking, we could practically hear Bette Midler in the background singing "Hello In There."


Two radio goons, Terry Gross (NPR's Fresh Air) and Amy Goodman (Pacifica and Public Access' Democracy Now!) interviewed two TV buffons, Keith Olbermann and Bill Moyers, and anything that passed for informative was unintentionally so.

Let's start with Terry just because she has an audience (though we have no idea why). The greetings had just been exchanged when Olbermann clued everyone in that he was yet again climbing up on the cross, "But the premise of the change [from MSNBC to Current TV] was that what I saw coming for many years in the entirety of television news - this is not specific to NBC or MSNBC - but I just saw an environment growing, in which there were more and more conflicts of interest within these large national corporations or even multinational corporations. Where no matter what you said, you had the potential to affect some other part of the big company's business."

Keith of Bethlehem was allegedly explaining about his time at MSNBC and implying that he left because he was too hard hitting and hurting GE. Really? We must have missed his expose on GE destroying the Hudson River. In his explanation of how GE was preoccupied with their own businesses and divisions, Keith gave as an example: Fox News.

No, GE does not and did not own Fox News. So Keith's talk was (as usual) muddled but it only got worse.

His example of the problems at MSNBC due to 'synergy'? Fox News?

He couldn't tell anything about it, not first hand. This is supposedly how he knew it was getting time to leave MSNBC, that's what he says.

So, in other words, he found out that it was time to leave MSNBC by reading The New York Times?

According to him, he never had any bad experiences himself, but he read, he read plenty:

I can't point to a specific example. But I think it is well-documented that two summers ago -- and I'm relying mostly on reporting that I read in the New York Times to relate this to you, as opposed to anything I knew firsthand -- there were negotiations between GE and News Corp about what should and should not be in each of their companies' news networks' content, relative to each other's corporations. [. . .] What I can tell you is that it was widely reported at the time, and to some things that I certainly did not know about, that Mr. Immelt of GE, and Mr. Ailes, on behalf of Fox and News Corps., got together at Mr. Immelt's office and just sort of batted back and forth what they could do to stop that.

'I didn't know about it but it's why I left." Ourselves? We leave a job, a relationship or just a party, we know why.

Reality, Keith burned another bridge. Years before he left, we were telling you he was being pushed slowly to the door. But Keith's revisionary history insists he was getting ready to leave himself because of the fact that GE was interested in protecting its own divisions and it was putting a crimp on him and yet the best example he can provide is some deal GE and Fox supposedly entered into. We don't doubt that they did but shouldn't Keith know if they did? If GE and Fox agreed that Bill O'Reilly and Keith Olbermann would each tone it down about the other, shouldn't Bill and Keith know?

Because she's nothing but a schill, Terry Gross played Olbermann giving O'Reilly a "Worst Person of the Week." Why do we say that? For several reasons.

First, MSNBC and NBC first began exploring how valuable Olbermann was to MSNBC when he began attacking reporters. This is an excerpt of the remarks by Olbermann that began to sink his ship, "It is analysis that strikes me as having borne no resemblance to the speech you and I just watched. None whatsoever. And for it to be distributed by the lone national news organization in terms of wire copy to newspapers around the country and web sites is a remarkable failure of that news organization. Charles Babington, find a new line of work." We know Charlie Babington (as we've noted before) and that might be one of the reasons why NBC and MSNBC suits and news division types told us Keith was in hot water in August 2008. It may also be because, as we noted in that article, it followed his attack on Katie Couric -- an attack that led us to ask several in the front offices what the hell was going on at MSNBC?

That was June 2008 and Katie was declared "Worst Person of the Week" by Keith Olbermann for this commentary noting sexism and the media and a speech she had given the night before. The commentary is straight foward and on the money. The speech? She noted a very obvious fact, Lee Cowan shouldn't have been assigned by NBC News to cover Barack Obama on the campaign trail if he's confessing on air to Brian Williams that he can't be objective about Barack. In his "Worst Person," Keith especially took offense to that and snarled that Cowan was objective and fair. (We called out Cowan in January of 2008 for that statement.)

No, he clearly wasn't. And Keith Olbermann doesn't understand a damn thing about conflicts of interest and the appearence of them. Terry made a bigger fool of herself than usual when she gladly went along with Keith's little ethics lecture.

He got suspended for donating to political candidates -- something you're not allowed to do when you work for NBC News. He still doesn't get it as evidenced by his continued spinning on this subject. He told Terry, "If you were purporting to do a straight news broadcast, if you did the hourly radio newscast on CBS News and you donated money to a campaign, that I can see a sincere conflict of interest. If you're doing a political opinion show and your opinions are nearly universally liberal, and you have been caught donating to Democratic candidates in three instances, I don't think there's a conflict of interest. If the candidates had been donating to you, I could see that as a problem. Or if you were, say, had made a donation while interviewing them or in some period of time other than when you were not covering them, it begins to get a little cloudy. But none of those things applied to the instance last year when I donated to Jack Conway in Kentucky and Gabby Giffords and Raul Grijalva in Arizona." What applied "to the instance last year" was the written guidelines. What applied were the standards his employer expected him to uphold. He refused to do so, he got in trouble for it. Was he wrong? Yes, he was wrong. NBC already had a bad reputation thanks to MSNBC antics. (Some at NBC even blame the poor ratings for NBC's prime time line up on the fallout from the MSNBC antics.)

Not only does he not grasp that written policy is written policy and you can protest it and you can call it out. But if you make no noise and then break it, get caught and get disciplined, stop your damn whining.

He has no ethics at all. He doesn't even understand what ethics are or why a code of ethics is necessary for a news outlet. He insisted, "I had one my last interview with Grijalva, and later that night I made my donations." He also stated, "And I knew that on Tuesday night we were not covering the congressional elections on MSNBC. So essentially, my coverage of Raul Grijalva and my coverage of - certainly of Gabby Giffords - was to end on that day. And therefore, I thought ethically there was nothing wrong with it and the slightest." Deciding you'll donate to someone but waiting until after your coverage is finished to do so isn't ethical and doesn't mean you didn't slant your coverage.

More importantly, ethics are not a lecture from Keith Olbermann. Network news divisions have ethical guidelines for the viewers. They exist to assure the viewer that the network tries to be impartial. And chief in every network's guideline is that you're not only supposed to avoid conflicts of interests, you're supposed to avoid anything that could appear to be a conflict of interest.

His actions clearly created an appearance of conflict of interest and they contaminated the entire NBC news division. Not that he gives a damn about that even now. He was smearing them on Terry's show and she was letting him get away with it. According to Keith, at some point, the Bush administration tried to contact him. They couldn't because they spelled "Olbermann" with one "n" causing the e-mail to be bounced back repeatedly. Desperate, they e-mailed, according to Keith, "[. . .] they sent these talking points to all the people who they considered friendly at NBC News, and said, would you pass this on to Keith Olbermann? So I got this same email with talking points for Joe Wilson forwarded to me by seven or eight people at NBC News. And literally, I then had a list of all the people at NBC News that the Bush Administration thought were theirs."


And Terry Gross let that b.s. pass.

Regardless of whether it's Bush or Barack, Bill or Reagan in the White House, if the White House is attempting to contact someone with a network's news division and someone else in that division is asked if they can pass something along, they will. Let's use Terry Moran as an example because he's at ABC News and doesn't factor into this. If tomorrow the White House announces they want to contact Jake Tapper but their e-mail to him keeps bouncing back, if they pass something onto Terry, he's going to slide it over to Jake. It doesn't matter if it's flattering or threatening or what have you. It is a professional courtesy for a collegue at the very least. The same is true of NPR and Terry Gross knows that. She whored her program out which isn't a first, but we can't remember her ever whoring out her program before so that an entire news division could be pissed on by angry, fired worker.

Somehow she made it through the entire broadcast (38 minutes) without ever mentioning sexism. Despite the fact that, as Bob Somerby has long documented, click here for one example, it was not a passing moment but one of the main strands in Olbermann's program. But, as Marcia reminded last week, was it really surprising that Gross wouldn't address sexism? In 2010, only 18.54% of Terry's guests were women.

Keith Olbermann couldn't stop lying. About going to Current TV, he insisted it's tiny audience is just like MSNBC, but people forget!, when he started there. No, it isn't. Donahue, who was on MSNBC before Olbermann, had well over a million viewers each night. Most irrirating and illuminating -- of him and Terry -- was their discussion of his 'special comment' on ObamaCare. "Death panels!" they all but hissed. They weren't mad at the 'idiots' who fell for the lie about death panels, they were made at the liars.

Reality, implying that people are stupid is no way to ever win them over. While we don't feel that the panels are "death panels," that's our opinion. We are comfortable with our opinion and we're aware that other people sometimes feel differently. On the supposed 'educational radio,' they never grapsed it nor on Keith's show. But if, one example only, you are a staunch believer in a religious faith, you may not see a conversation with a doctor about various options including ending a life as 'helpful.' It is about when to end a life. And while we see it as part of the health care spectrum and something we would both access, we do not pretend for a moment that such a meeting might be offensive to some people and might strike them, yes, as "death panels." Some people do not believe they need any counsel on life and death matters other than from their faith. That is their point of view, it is their lives and they have every right to believe as they choose. Those who want to grab their ear in an attempt to get them to reconsider will never do so by disrespecting their beliefs or by insisting that they're too stupid to know what's really happening.

If NPR was fulfilling its mandate, that would have been addressed. But NPR is not fulfilling its mandate.

Nor is PBS. The PBS mandate is what Bill Moyers wanted to speak about to Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez. Excerpt:

BILL MOYERS: The Carnegie Commission became the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967. And I wish we had it here, because the speech Lyndon Johnson made when he signed the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 is a great tribute to a network devoted to the life of the mind, the life of the spirit, and the diversity of American voices. He believed that only white male straight guys got on national television in those days, and he was right. And he saw the value, the changing—the changes coming in America, and he believed there should be a public media that was devoted to the diversity, the pluralism of American life, and to the highest expression of the creative and journalistic arts in this country.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And the actual act of the—creating the Corporation for Public Television, talked about serving underserved—


JUAN GONZALEZ:—communities of America.

BILL MOYERS: And unfortunately, as you’ve probably noticed, that there was a report done by Fairness and Accuracy in Media, a public interest group—

AMY GOODMAN: In Reporting.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, right?


BILL MOYERS: FAIR. And they showed that even on public broadcasting today, in our mainstream broadcasts, it’s usually the official view of reality that’s represented, far more corporate spokesmen than labor or working people spokesmen, far more white, male figures of authority than people of color and marginalized people.

It's really cute the way Olbermann and Moyers never think to take accountability. In the last 12 months of Bill Moyers Journal his guest ratio was basically two men for every woman. Does he not grasp that? He should because we were calling him out on that long before the last 12 months -- and that was ticking him off. We were not, in his words, "friendly" to his program.

Actually, prior to 2008, we had many nice things to say about the program. But our job is not to be a "friendly." Our job is to call it like we see it. What really offended Bill was when we were able to repeatedly point out his sexism. Instead of being offended by us, maybe he should have used that anger as a motivation to improve his guest line up. He chose not to, even after he was angry at us for calling it out. That says a great deal more about Bill Moyers than anything in the full hour of Democracy Now! devoted to him (minus headlines) last week. They refused to weigh in on the revolving door that allows journalists to go to work for administrations, they refused to weigh in on Moyers homophobic witch hunts during the LBJ administration, they refused to explore anything of merit.

NPR and Pacifica demonstrated that public broadcasting is really just a circle-jerk where you invite on your friends and then you both attack your enemies while fawning over one another. There's nothing educational about it, there's nothing 'news' about it, there's nothing of merit to it.
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