Sunday, February 12, 2012

TV: No one gets out alive

Fox never really had a hit with Prison Break -- except in that "only on Fox" manner. Before you e-mail, the second season saw it become the 51st most watched TV show on commercial network TV during prime time, and that was its highest ranking season. But it did get some viewers and that probably explains why they fell for Alcatraz. It shares a prison setting with Fox's earlier show but that's really it. There aren't two brothers that women are expected to compete for. In fact, Alcatraz's only sibling would be dead air. The two are closely related.


You realize all that is wrong with the show when you grasp that the premise is that the San Francisco federal prison didn't really close down in 1963, that was just a cover story for the fact that all the guards working in the prison and all the prisoners up and disappeared one day that year. And now they're coming back.

August 22, 1934, the Associated Press was reporting, "Scarface Al Capone, former Chicago gang lord, and 42 other convicts were imprisoned amid utmost secrecy today in the new federal prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay." May 4, 1946, Lawrence E. Davies (New York Times) reported from Alcatraz, "Penitentiary guards, from a roof-top position on the island fortress, began firing tonight through an electrically drilled hole at a little band of desperate felons who refused to surrender after an insurrection which had started nearly 30 hours earlier and caused the death of two guards and injuries to at least 13 others." June 13, 1962, John Anglin, Clarence Anglin and Frank Lee Morris demonstrated that they had most likely read Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo (at least chapter sixteen). The three became the only successful escapees from Alcatraz. (A fictionalized version of their story is told in Clint Eastwood's Escape From Alcatraz.) They worked to tunnel their way out, hit the water on raincoats fashioned into a boat and apparently made it to Angel Island -- after which no one knows what happened.

Any one of those years would make for a better baseline for the show than what they offer currently. Judging by the show thus far, Alcatraz Class of 1963 appears to have been nothing but a bunch of sad sacks with touchy-feely issues. Prisoners like Ernest Cobb who is a sniper due to sibling rivalry and Kit Nelson who kidnaps children for the same reason. It's not all sibling rivalry, there's also being betrayed by someone swiping your most prized possession, someone you thought was your best friend, for example.

Every prisoner tells a story, you understand, and every story is always an ABC After School Special.

Sarah Jones stars as Rebecca Madsen who has a host of issues. Including that she thought her grandfather was a guard at Alcatraz during this but she finds out that he was a prisoner. Last week, she learned her grandfather's brother was a prison guard. If it was supposed to mean anything, this destroyed belief in episode one and this new revelation in episode five, they didn't convey it. But characterization doesn't really exist on this show which appears to actually be a stop-motion program using wooden soldiers in place of actors.

Plot points exist solely to promote the actor playing this week's escaped convict. It's as though you're watching Batman & Robin and the best lines (of a bad script) are going to the villains while Clooney and O'Donnell stand around awkwardly. And you really wish it was the 70s and you were watching Columbo so that these stunt roles could be played by, for example, Leonard Nimoy.

When we first read scripts for this show, our big question was why Fox gave it a greenlight? These days our big question is who's watching? Fewer and fewer each passing week.

Is anyone listening to Morning Edition (NPR)?

It may seem off-topic but it's not. That show has become just as unbelievable as Alcatraz.

Last week, on this supposed news program, Gretchen Cuda-Kroen offered a report on spermicides. Before it could air, Steve Inskeep offered, "Some listeners may find the contents of this report -- lasting about four minutes -- uncomfortable." That had us gritting our teeth and recalling that no other science or medical report this year required a listener warning. And it was just Monday.

There was Wednesday when Steve Inskeep and Renee Montagne introduced a report on the race for the GOP presidential nomination with Inkseep declaring, "Several factors may affect your thinking as you decide how important last night's voting was. Turnout was low, and no convention delegates were awarded as Missouri held a primary, and Minnesota and Colorado held caucuses." Montagne's comments included, "Then again, nobody awarded delegates when Iowa voted, either. The fact is people voted."

We agree with Renee's point: "The fact is people voted." And agree that when people vote, you report it. In fact, we agreed with that point in 2008. When Florida voted in their Democratic and Republican primaries. Did Morning Edition agree with us in 2008?

While they did file a report on the Republican primary (which John McCain won), here's the full Morning Edition coverage of the results of the Democratic Party primary in Florida, "Democrats had little at stake in Florida last night. Nobody campaigned there because it was considered too early." That's Steve Inskeep.

It wasn't "too early" for Florida voters. 1.75 million people voted.

The fact was people voted. But that fact didn't matter in 2008. And the winner wasn't covered, wasn't even mentioned on air (Hillary won). A record number of voters turned out -- the most in any Florida primary -- and NPR didn't think it was news (because the Barack Obama campaign declared it wasn't news, let's be honest about their whoring for Barack -- they can't be but we can).

Here's another fact. In addition to no delegates being awarded last week, one of the states, Missouri, was rightly called a beauty pageant. That's because the primary took place February 7th but determined nothing. A caucus will be held March 17th. People who vote in that caucus will vote for whomever they want and are not bound by the primary. This was known before the year started. By contrast, 1.7 million Floridians voted in the 2008 Democratic Party primary and Morning Edition elected to ignore it. "The fact is people voted" didn't mean a damn thing to them then as they screwed over Florida and failed at journalism.

Failed at journalism? Tuesday, Morning Edition was offering Juan Forero slamming Venezuela yet again. The Littlest Judy Miller's been grudge-f**king Hugo Chavez for years now. He started doing that while at The New York Times and, despite years of complaints, he's still doing it only now he does it for NPR.

Well maybe for the government as well. Has anyone seen Forero's tax returns?

And has anyone seen fairness at NPR?

Michele Kelemen reported on two organizations that has some serious charges against it. So Kelemen did the 'journalistic' thing by presenting -- at length -- statements by the two organizations without ever exploring the charges against them (a Carnegie Endowment for Peace flack was brought on for 'balance'). The organizations were US government ones, International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute. And, yes, the two organizations have a long history following them around. If Kelemen was overwhelemed by the large search results in LexisNexis, she could have just searched recent publications. Just weeks ago, Mark Weisbrot offered an evaluation for The Guardian:

The IRI and NDI are core grantees of the National Endowment for Democracy, an organization that conducts activities "much of [which]" the "CIA used to fund covertly", as the Washington Post reported when the Endowment was being created in the early 1980s. These organizations will sometimes support democracy, but often do not, or are even against it. This is not because they are inherently evil, but because of the position of the United States in the world. The United States government, more than any other in the world, is running an empire. By their nature, empires are about power and control over other people in distant lands. These goals will generally conflict with many people's aspirations for democracy and national self-determination.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Middle East, where the US government's policy of collaboration with Israel's denial of Palestinian national rights has put it at odds with populations throughout the region. As a result, Washington fears democracy in many countries because it will inevitably lead to more governments taking the side of the Palestinians, and opposing other US ambitions in the region, such as its desire for military bases and alliances. Even in Iraq, where Washington brags about having toppled a dictatorship, the people had to fight the occupying authorities for the right to hold national elections, and then to kick US troops out of the country.

Lisa Ashkenaz Croke and Brian Dominick (The New Standard) reported on the NED and IRI's involvement in the 2004 Iraq vote. Hernando Calvo Ospina covered the history of the NED for Le Monde in 2007. Gerald Sussman covered the NED and IRI and their role in "global electioneering" for Monthly Review in 2006. In 2003, at Information Clearing House, the late Philip Agee explained the smoke & mirrors of "private" funding with regards to these groups. William Blum has written of its history and Eva Golinger has covered its actions in Venezuela -- both reports are the International Endowment for Democracy website which has many other articles on the subversion of people's will by the NED and IRI and related groups. Bob Feldman did a two-part piece on NED's connection to The Nation magazine here and here.

Of course, Anthony Fenton and Dennis Bernstein reported (2005 at Haiti Action) on 'journalist' Regine Alexandre who covered Haiti for The New York Times and the Associated Press and also happened to be on the payroll of the NED at the same time (Alexandre denied being paid but as the article notes in an update, when AP contacted the NED, "the NED confirmed her employment"). Maybe Michele Kelemen has some undisclosed ties? Her 'report' certainly suggested a career in something other than journalism.

But even so she was far from the worst offender. A week that saw Kelemen, a parental advisory for a science report on a supposed news program and Juan Forero? It wouldn't seem possible that there could be anything freakier, right?

Wrong. There's a reporter who has so enlisted in the administration's goals that she's become a joke to even the Pentagon. She's the new Judy Miller and her name is Kelly McEvers.

McEvers was supposed to be NPR's Iraq correspondent. Originally, she had problems getting to Iraq (and finding a place to live), but she got settled in and did some reporting that both she and NPR could be proud of. But actual reporting seems of less and less interest to NPR so the Iraq correspondent began being pulled for every surrounding country in the region.

It's her reporting on Syria that's destroyed her reputation, as each day seems to find her filing yet another breathless report of the violence being witnessed in Syria, the outageous violence, the deaths, the destruction . . . All of which she observes from Beirut. (That's in Lebanaon for those not familiar with the MidEast and, no, Lebanaon is not in Syria, it is its own country which, like Iraq, shares a border with Syria.)

Sometimes, after dispensing 'facts' on bombings and deaths and shootings, 'reporter' Kelly will add something like "the activists and witnesses and citizen journalists who we talk to on a regular basis" tell her this is what is taking place. Such a statement -- not always included -- will usually pass quickly. And no one will question whether her sources are one-sided (they certainly sound one-sided). Last week, when she was 'reporting' on rockets destroying a neighborhood and a hospital (unverifiable claims on her part) this exchange did take place:

INSKEEP: Now, Kelly, we should be clear: Few, if any, journalists are inside Homs, or in any of the contested areas in Syria. We're getting information from activists here. How confident are you of the picture that's emerging, of what's happening in Syria right now?

MCEVERS: It is so difficult to verify the numbers. And over the weekend, we saw that there were discrepancies about how many, exactly, had died in some of these government offensives. You had one activist group saying it was over 300. Another activist group saying no, it was only 60. And without being able to go there ourselves and verify it and see it with our own eyes, it's very difficult.

It's very difficult? We'd say it's impossible. And when the administration is pounding the war drums on Syria, we'd say the last thing the US needs is 'reporters' 'reporting' on something they can't verify with their own eyes. Speaking to people with vested interests and basing your report on that? Not only is that not objective journalism, it doesn't even rise to the level of news reporting. At best, it's a feature article -- a lighter category.

But nearly every day, there's Kelly on Morning Edition (or All Things Considered), breathless and insisting that violence is taking place all around her . . . Well, she watches some streams online from her echo chamber inner circle -- apparantly while preparing meals based upon what she declared on Morning Edition last week. Is she doubling as a Sous-Chef at Chez Sami?

She's certainly not cutting it as a reporter and, again, she's become such a joke that even the US Pentagon is laughing at her.

And everybody's laughing at Alcatraz, especially at the other networks, as this talky go-no-where show which keeps adding characters so similar to the one the week prior and the week before that and the . . .

We honestly think Laurie Anderson nailed the show in her song "Language Is A Virus" (first appears on her Home Of The Brave):

And there was a beautiful view

But nobody could see
Cause everybody on the island
Was screaming: "Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!
Look at me! Look at me!" Why?

"Paradise," Laurie goes on to note, "is exactly like where you are right now only much, much better." To which we'd add, "And on another network." A suggestion both for viewers on Monday nights and for NPR when considering McEvers' future in broadcasting.
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