Sunday, November 04, 2012

TV: The continued demise of the media

This season, on Alphas (SyFy), Rachel (Azita Ghanizada) and John slept together after dancing around the issue for several episodes.  Among other things, Rachel's alpha super power is heightened senses (smell, hearing, vision, etc.) and it was overwhelming when she lost her virginity at 18.  For John, the big issue was that, two years ago, deployed to Kandahar Province in Afghanistan, his convoy was targeted with an IED and the explosion left him scarred on his left side of his body.  A girlfriend from before the war said it didn't make a difference but then she told him it did and she left him.  "Life After Death" found Rachel and John finally making love, him with his t-shirt on (to hide the scars) and her with her barriers and super powers up.  After shared embarrassment (Rachel's father walked in after), they were both able to let their guard down and share something special.


It was an important message in so many ways.  But while applauding Alpha for its contribution, we couldn't forget that it is an entertainment program, a scripted show.  And yet it's doing what the public affairs programming refuses to do: Inform.

We were reminded of that late Thursday night when a friend with the CPB (Corporation for Public Broadcasting) called to complain about a regional public affairs program -- one the same CPB-er had previously championed to us.  And we'd listened to it several times since then.  We'd been impressed.  (We'd noted the program here and here.)  When Ruth called it out two months ago, we were kind of surprised.

Grown ups can disagree and still get along.  So we weren't surprised that Ruth didn't like the show we'd enjoyed.  But we were surprised that the show Ruth was describing was not a show we would enjoy ourselves.

First let's talk about the show.  It's called Think but is earning the title Bulls**t these days.  It airs on KERA out of Dallas and at one time was radio and TV (and audio and video streaming) but now days appears to just be on radio.  If we're wrong, let us know.  Don't expect an additional note because we actually tried to reach out to the host and the guest formally before writing this article.  We were really hoping one of the two would say something -- even something as weak as, "Goodness, didn't I screw up that day." -- which would allow us to write it off an isolated incident so we could instead focus on another topic.

We didn't hear from either Krys Boyd (host) or her idiotic guest John Hodgman.

Think is a public affairs program.  It's two-hours mid-day, Monday through Thursday. 

To be clear, two hours daily -- even just four days a week -- of home grown programming is a good thing.  There is nothing "public" radio about a public radio station that originates no local programming.  Even failing to do her job, Krys Boyd is still an engaging radio voice.  We're less thrilled about her inability to find women to appear on her show. Last week, for example, her guests were 2 women and five men.

When Ruth called her out, Krys was having a 'discussion.'  One guest was from The Fort Worth Star-Telegram and one was from The Dallas Morning News.  Krys and the two men, naturally.

The three trashed Mitt Romney . . . for the hour.  They knew so much -- they knew nothing about Benghazi other than partisan -- so much worth sharing.

But what bothered us most when we read Ruth's analysis was  a point Ruth didn't make.  Ruth rightly called out the nonsense of failing to offer a real discussion.  Boyd presented a "choir" instead, where everyone sang along to how stupid and wrong Mitt Romney was and how brilliant Barack Obama is.  That's host, that's the two guests.

Ruth's right, that is appalling.  You're never going to have a deep discussion when everyone agrees.  But we are used to that (sadly) on our own local NPR KQED.  Though not thrilled by the same-ness, we can justify it somewhat (weakly) by noting that the Bay Area is being represented in that we are overwhelmingly Democratic Party in that area.  (That includes us, we are Democrats as well.)  So, if nothing else, these boring, one-note readings of campaign talking points from the DNC at least represents the bulk of listeners.

But Krys Boyd's show airs out of Texas.  And KERA airs in Dallas, the city, in Dallas county, in Fort Worth, in East Texas, in . . . Most of the people who could listen to KERA will be voting for Mitt Romney.

In our e-mails that received no official response, we had wrongly stated that no Democratic Party candidate had carried Texas since 1964 (LBJ).  We were wrong, as a back channel response noted (are we that scary to e-mail), in 1976, Texas picked Democrat Jimmy Carter over Republican Gerald Ford.   We stand corrected.  Carter beat Ford by 129,019 votes as America recoiled from Watergate.  This will be the ninth presidential election since then and eight have gone to the Republican Party and this ninth one will as well.  Just as California will back Barack with their electoral votes, Texas will back Romney with their own.  These states are not in play.

So how is it that Krys Boyd thinks she's serving the public by booking people who hate Mitt Romney?  How is she serving Texas by trashing and bringing on others to trash Mitt Romney?  Public radio is supposed to represent the public.

How does Krys Boyd represent her geographical area by attacking Romney non-stop?

(Before anyone e-mails, yes, the city of Dallas will likely go Democrat in the presidential election.  As we have already noted, KERA broadcasts beyond Dallas city limits.)

It reminds us of the awful nonsense that passes for comedy.  Take 30 Rock, the failed show on NBC that finally and thankfully leaves the air this season.  This season would be a true horror-fest if people actually watched the show but, as the ratings demonstrate, no one is watching.

We long ago documented the way 30 Rock worked.  It would have a sizable season debut and then, each week, lose that initial audience until finally very few were watching.  After kicking off last season with rape jokes, we would have thought Tina Fey had gone as low as any female comedy hyphenate could go.  Then came this season which has already included loud mouth Tracy declaring women are not funny and Liz Lemon proving him . . . right.

Heaven help us all with a back stabber like Tina Fey on the loose.  Please grasp that this 'woman's show' has very few scripts written by women.  Before Tina insists that "Stride of Pride" was written by a woman, we know it was.  We know that Tina Fey wrote the episode (the only one written by a woman so far this season).  We assume that's because no man would think -- even writing for 30 Rock -- that he could get away with a premise that women aren't funny.  Please grasp that what Jerry Lewis was rightly booed for saying in 2000, Tina Fey backs up in 2012.

Fey was once a promising comedy talent.  She's become the person you pray doesn't open her mouth or, worse, sit before a blank page or screen eager to fill it.

"Unwindulax" filled and marked time.  The awful episode mocked Jimmy Buffet fans, people in Florida and more.  It's the sort of reason 30 Rock has no fan base left.  It was written by Matt Hubbard.  As a general rule, we believe two-part episodes should have the same writers for both episodes.  However, Josh Siegal and Dylan Morgan wrapped things up on stronger footing with "There's No I in America."

While Siegal and Morgan brought laughs, Hubbard wrote on-the-nose.  It did not make for entertainment but it did illuminate the problem. Hubbard has Liz intent upon using her writing to influence the election.  (This was also a thread in this season's "The Beginning of the End" and "Governor Dunston.")

And that's what destroying TV and media today.  The desire to 'influence' (control) your audience.  Rachel Maddow does a partisan show on a partisan network.  Bill O'Reilly does as well.  The two of them are welcome to their shows and to their networks and people who want that can seek it out.

But no one signed up to watch 30 Rock because they needed Liz to tell them how to vote.  Nor did anyone sign up to watch Saturday Night Live for that reason.  Yet these shows, and so many more, seem to believe they exist not to provide humor but to influence an election.

What they're trying to do is offensive and it used to be called out.  In Frank Capra's 1941 classic Meet John Doe, it's not just the corporate fat cats who are trying to influence an election via duplicity that are in the wrong.  No, it's also Barbara Stanwyck's Ann Mitchell who, for money, creates a fictional character.  That's the downfall Ann has to overcome in the film, her attempt to trick and deceive people.

But no one calls it out these days.  It's considered natural to stack the deck.  Again, if Maddow and O'Reilly do it, we're not bothered.  They're partisans on partisan networks. We're not bothered, either, by endorsements or when comedy writers help a candidate/campaign by providing a joke for them to use.

What we're objecting to is people using positions that are not supposed to be political in order to influence an election.  We're specifically objecting to a lack of fairness.

Last night on Saturday Night Live, it was time to again mock Mitt Romney.  If you ever doubt that this is what counts as 'political humor' on NBC's very-tired show, last night made it clear.  Having been off the air the Saturday after the last debate, Seth Meyers was forced to think of a new way to mock Mitt Romney.  Having the very limited mind that he does, Seth turned him into a guest on Weekend Update.  Which allowed Seth to mock him.  And which underscored that, in four years, we've never had a Barack show up on Weekend Update to be mocked by Seth.  But most of all, it really made clear how the Mitt skits previously were not about let's-make-fun-of-the-yahoos-running-for-president.

No, they were about mocking Mitt Romney.  A whole cottage industry was created in 2011 to make Mitt Romney so pop-culturally disgusting that no one would dare vote for him.

It's the power of TV being abused.  The power of TV is what saved Romney.  The first debate is when most people finally encountered Mitt Romney -- and not a parody or demonization of him.  As we pointed out the morning after the first debate,  "In other words, when you try to turn someone into a monster, you better hope they reveal themselves to be that or you better keep them off screen like Bruce in Jaws."

This is what has people outraged.  Not that someone talks about politics but that people who are supposed to play fair refuse to.  You can mock Mitt Romney forever, but you need to be mocking Barack as well.  Equally true, if you refuse to mock Michelle Obama and their two daughters, you need to draw the same wall around Ann Romney and her children.  But Saturday Night Live doesn't do that.  It ridicules her and it ridicules their children.

Which brings us back to Think.  Let's ask the most obvious question: Why book John Hodgman as a guest to begin with?

He has a new book!

Well, 'newish.'  The book came out in November.  Of 2011.  12 months ago.

It's an almanac of made up information.

This is what gets rewarded?  This is what we need public affairs programming for?

So someone too lazy to write a real humor book or too lazy to research and write an almanac can b.s. his way through a book?

This is what Americans need to hear about to be 'informed'?

That's certainly a novel way of interpreting the mission of NPR and that of public affairs programming.

Hodgman was so boring babbling on about his book and its made up contents in that ridiculous voice that sounds like a child molester on speed.  And maybe it all bored Krys Boyd and that's why she thought this idiot was the one to talk politics too?

Or maybe it's that she -- like Seth Meyers -- just can't stop whoring her show for Barack Obama?

 Regardless, she asked and, no surprise, Hodgman is for Barack.

She asked and Hodgman attacked Romney.

Hodgman had no real reason that anyone should vote for Barack -- or if he did, he failed to establish it.  But he hated Mitt Romney.

This was deeply personal to Hodgman and he made it so in his remarks.

Mitt Romney does not like people like John Hodgman.  That's what Hodgman kept insisting.  We're honestly not sure too many people would like a person who behaved the way John Hodgman did as he ranted and raved.  But regardless, Hodgman was citing comic books and other things that made no sense.

He couldn't let it go.  He just knew he was going to 'win' Texas for Barack.

As he grew more excited, he dropped back to Romney's high school days over 40 years ago because Hodgman believes that we all are who we were in high school.

As we listened to the docudrama Hodgman ad-libbed, we knew the basis of his premise.  Jason Horowitz wrote a highly criticized report for The Washington Post last MayPeople questioned whether it was illuminating or informative to judge people by what they did as teenagers.  The article was also criticized for hinting at more than it actually portrayed.

But the article is in the public record and, although we wouldn't reference it, there are many people who lack ethics who would.  We're aware of that.

We just didn't realize Hodgman's had no ethics whatsoever.  The story Horowitz put in print wasn't a kind one to Romney who, in the sixties, had run with a popular pack of guys (all boy school) and picked on other boys.  But that wasn't good enough for Hodgman.

He had to lie.

He invented details that we're not even going to dignify by repeating here. 

He appeared to think he was giving voice to the victim.

Strange because John Lauber has a family and Matthew Jaffe (ABC News) reported back in May that the family, via his sister, Betsy Lauber, had issued a statement on the report,  "The family of John Lauber is releasing a statement saying the portrayal of John is factually incorrect and we are aggrieved that he would be used to further a political agenda.  There will be no more comments from the family."

While mounting his high horse and hissing and whining, Hodgman had time to invent details, he just didn't have time to respect a family's wishes regarding a disputed incident from over 40 years ago that took place between a bunch of underage boys.

Boyd let him go on.  When his hateful rant (it was hateful, you had to hear the hate in his voice to realize how unhinged he was becoming), Boyd quickly went to a break.  She never corrected him.

Nor did she question whether we base a vote on an alleged incident 50 years prior -- an incident that's even disputed by the family of the victim.

That's not fair and it's not public broadcasting.  It's certainly not serving the public that Boyd reaches over the airwaves which, again, will be voting for Mitt Romney in the election.

And they aren't the only ones.  Check out this screen grab of Google News earlier this morning.


It's two days before the election and Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are tied.  The electorate is evenly split.  "Too close to call," we are told.  Yet many have been more than happy to use programs -- which are not their own soapboxes -- to attempt to influence and sway the election.
They just haven't been willing to do their jobs.  For sitcoms and Saturday Night Live, that's make people laugh.  For public affairs programming, that's cover the issues that matter.

The last years have seen the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War.  It's funny that so many pretended to give a damn about service members.  You may recall the "I'm against the war, not the warrior" type statements.  Really?

Then where the hell is your coverage?

Krys Boyd thinks she's serving the public by whoring KERA's two hours each day for Barack Obama and by booking the author of a made-up-s**t?

She's not addressing the veterans who have returned wounded.  She's not addressing veterans jobless rates.  She's not addressing the long delays in VA care.  She's not addressing any issues that really matter.

Dallas is a big city in Texas (the Dallas-Fort Worth area is considered the most populated in the state by the census).  However, the capital of Texas is Austin.  And The Austin-American Statesman offered a number of reports last month on veterans and suicide including "Suicide among veterans receiving less attention than active-duty deaths,"  "After returning home, many veterans get into motor vehicle accidents," "Which veterans are at highest risk for suicide?," "Researches look into possible causes of current 'epidemic' of suicide and PTSD" and "Scores of recent Texas war veterans have died of overdoses, suicides and vehicle crashes, investigation finds."

They can do that in Austin.  But public radio out of Dallas is more concerned with offering an hour with an author whose book is filled with made up 'facts.'

We weren't aware an entertainment drought in the US, let alone one so mighty that it required public affairs programming to turn their back on public affairs and cover bulls**t instead.

But what we are aware of is that many men and women have returned from the battlefield in the last decade, seriously injured.  Ourselves?  We are against the wars.  We never felt the need to add "but we love the warrior!"  That's because why do that?  Why mouth words?  If you're supportive of veterans and their needs, your record will prove that.

We have a record -- here and at The Common Ills -- of support for veterans.  That's left wing, that's right wing, that's radical, that's conservative veterans.  We don't really care about the ideology.  We care that promises made get kept.  We care that people in need get help.

Alphas' primary mission is to entertain.  It does do that.  But as was pointed out to us last week when we were speaking to a veterans group, it's the only show that a roomful of veterans from today's wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) could point to that in the last months has even acknowledged some of what they go through.  Go through.  This isn't the distant past.  If you are injured, not only are you adjusting to your injury, so are the people around you.

Good for Alphas and good for the SyFy network for stepping up.  But how sad and telling of the world we now live in when public affairs programming would rather ignore the hundreds of thousands who have been wounded, the challenged and the disabled -- veteran and non-veteran populations, to instead focus day after day on the most trivial and trite topics while also trying to tell you how you must vote if you want to be considered 'cool' by these hosts who betray the public trust aspect of the public airwaves.

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