Sunday, April 28, 2013

Media: NPR Chatter (Because NPR Can't Do News)

Because Fresh Air's taking a hit, NPR took the axe to Talk of the Nation, convinced that the problem wasn't Terry Gross but that radio stations were adding PRI's The World at a brisk rate because they just wanted magazine shows.

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It never occurred to NPR that what radio stations wanted was a quality news broadcast.

Morning Edition last week was a study in dumbness all week long and the biggest individual argument for the rise of PRI's The World.  You had Steve Inskeep and David Greene acting as though the whole world was a laugh.

Last Tuesday, in Iraq, a sit-in Hawija resulted in 50 deaths and over 100 people injured when the sit-in was attacked by Nouri al-Maliki's forces.  If you get your news through Morning Edition, you're reeling in shock. You'll also be shocked to learn that in the days that followed, it was non-stop violence with well over 100 more killed.

NPR's Morning Edition never noted it.

What did they have time for instead?

Jerry Seinfeld.  Turns out the TV star of the 90s likes coffee.  You haven't watched him in anything new in years but he qualified for news on NPR.  Apparently so that Steve Inskeep could embarrass himself laughing when Jerry says "Well you just got up, give it some time, it may change."  Ed McMahon kissing Johnny Carson's ass never gave such a suck-up laugh.  It was so embarrassing that we were actually mortified for Steve Inskeep just from listening.  (Share the mortification, click here and stream.)

You'll also learn that being a one-time TV star means you don't have to be honest.  Here's Jerry explaining when he started to like coffee (and we're taking out Steve's comments to let it flow together).

Jerry Seinfeld:  So that was my old attitude about coffee. And then something happened about five years ago. I started touring a lot, and we would have these great big, fun breakfasts in the hotel and it just seemed to go really well with the French toast.  And then I got married and I had a family, and my entire day was not free for social interaction.   And eating is annoying, difficult to arrange, hard to choose places. And meeting someone for coffee suddenly seemed like a wonderful, compact, accessible and portable social interaction.

So Jerry started drinking it in 2008 because of  "great big, fun breakfasts in the hotel" and also because "then I got married and I had a family and" to escape that, coffee was the answer.


But Jerry didn't get married in 2008. He got married in 1998.  They had the first of three children in 2000.

So every word Jerry uttered made no sense.  Steve Inskeep might have caught that if he hadn't been so busy trying to play drunken co-host.  But if everyone at Morning Edition wasn't drunk, someone might have wondered, "Why the hell are we doing this nothing segment on a heavy news Friday to begin with?"

Though they never found time for Iraq all week, Morning Edition did note Egypt.  Kind of.

Leila Fadel filed what is a feature article, not news, mid-week about, we were told, "the Egyptian Jon Stewart."

It wasn't all fluff.  For example, there were issues or 'issues.'

We're on the mailing lists just like NPR.  So on Thursday, we got the same e-mail NPR did from the Free Press' Timothy Karr entitled "This Is Getting Serious:"

This is getting serious. A story in Wednesday’s Washington Post noted that the Koch brothers’ bid for the Tribune newspapers “doesn’t bode well for the kind of fact-based journalism that most American newspapers strive to practice.”
That's bad news all around, but it hasn't stopped Tribune Company executives from courting the Kochs. Forbes now identifies the brothers as the most likely candidates to buy the Tribune's eight newspapers, which include the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times.
Please take action and tell the Tribune Company to pass on the Kochs. People in Chicago, Los Angeles — and everywhere else — deserve better.

And that was actually the second e-mail from the 'Free Press' on that.  We were kind of surprised that an organization calling itself the "free press" would think it had a right (or need) to concern itself with who wants to buy what, this being America and all.  But we weren't at all surprised to find out NPR was turning this e-mail into a 'news story' on Friday -- one by the always laughable David Folkenflik.   He started off telling you the two brothers owned mining interests which was, of course, wrong.  No one heard a correction on air -- NPR didn't want one on air, the mining was a slur and intended as such -- but NPR did tack one on to the text of the story online.  They played a soundclip of talk show host Rachel Maddow attacking the Koch brothers because balance really isn't an issue to NPR anymore.

Folkenflik went to a Reuters journalist who whined about how mean the Koch brothers were and how they said he made stuff up.  On another day, that allegation might have carried weight; however, this was the day that Jim Romensko was addressing Reuters 'reporters' that don't actually exist -- ones Reuters makes up Facebook pages for and e-mail accounts for.

We listened confused because the Koch brothers haven't said they're interested in the Tribune Company.  If they were, it's really not that big of a story.  But how is this news?  As Folkenflik would admit later Friday on KPCC's Air Talk, "They will not confirm or deny their interests" in buying the company.  So this is gossip and not news.

Is it really anyone's business?

If you're planning on bidding, we guess it's your business.  Otherwise, not really at this point.

Especially when Folkenflik isn't raising concerns on NPR about the Democrats bidding on The Los Angeles Times.  Folkenflik got really uncomfortable -- and started stammering about Rupert Murdoch -- when KPCC host Larry Mantle raised the issue of the leftists wanting to buy the Los Angeles paper.  After he was done fumbling, Folkenflik finally managed to say Eli Broad -- even while ignoring the others bidding on that paper.

As Poynter noted last month, Eli Broad has joined with Austin Beutner to bid on The Los Angeles Times.  In 2007, of course, Broad bid on the Tribune Company.  Interestingly, there was no rush on NPR to cover that potential purchase (Sam Zell beat out Broad) in 2007.  None at all, not a single segment on the bid.   The only real difference between then and now?  Broad contributes to Democratic Party candidates and the Koch's to Republicans and Libertarians.

Wait.  That's one of two real differences.  The other real difference is that Broad actually made a bid whereas the Koch brothers have not done anything as far as the press knows at this point.  An actual bid (in 2007) isn't news but a maybe bid today is?  We'll just assume the Free Press must not have sent out an e-mail that found them in a tizzy over Broad buying the Tribune Company.

Remember we talked about the turmoil in Iraq?

We should note NPR did offer a tiny bit on it.  Of course, it didn't air on the radio. It appeared online. Bill Chappell strung together the reporting of other outlets Saturday afternoon to finally report on it -- after we'd spent hours on the phone to CPB members who kept saying they were sure Diane must have covered it on Friday's international hour of The Diane Rehm Show -- demonstrating that they don't listen to Diane's show.  (A) Susan Page was the guest host (Diane wasn't on) and (B) no, they did not discuss Iraq.

NPR's really not interested in news anymore.  Especially not on their news magazines which feature new segments like "3 ingredients in my cabinet, what can I make" (that regular feature kicked off this week on Morning Edition, we're not making it up, click here for the segment's debut on Wednesday).  That's why PRI's The World is taking off.  It's an hour of news that doesn't insult the listeners with patter between the hosts.

If you need to know how bad things are getting:  Kelly McEvers.  Forgotten Kelly and Syria?  Let's drop back to February of last year:

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 outrageous violence, the deaths, the destruction . . . All of which she observes from Beirut. (That's in Lebanon for those not familiar with the MidEast and, no, Lebanon 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 -- apparently 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.

After the embarrassment that was her Syrian 'reporting' (from outside Syria, she gave reports based on what one group of Syrians told her), you might think they were really putting her in the trenches so she could get some more (much needed) experience in reporting.

You would be wrong.  She's being groomed to become the host of the weekend edition of All Things Considered.  If she can pass her trial period (that begins shortly), she'll be bringing that sing-song delivery, where every word occupies a different note on the musical scale, to anchoring.  Or hosting.  Hosting is probably the more precise term.

Now if only we could find the term for NPR because it's not "news radio."  It's not "public radio."  (NPR lives in fear of the masses.)  Most days it passes for background chatter -- bad chatter at that.

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