Sunday, September 08, 2013

TV: The snake oil sellers

What if the press gave a damn about the American people?  It was hard to be a US news consumer this past week and not wonder that.


For those recently returned from vacation, in 2012, on a campaign stop, US President Barack Obama failed his tele-prompter (or vice versa) by going off script and ad libbing for self-glory (it's always self-glory for Barack) he tried to act tough (again, at a campaign event) and drew a "red-line" on Syria.  That might strike you as strange unless you consider Barack's lack of accomplishments, then you start to see how talking about something -- anything but his own record -- could seem attractive.

He grabbed his crayon marker and drew a line and then he insisted the Syrian government crossed it.  On August 21st, a chemical attack may have taken place in Syria (or may not have).  United Nations inspectors are finishing their investigation.  If an attack did take place, there is no proof as to who launched the attack.  An attack, if one took place, might have been launched by the Syrian government, by the so-called 'rebels' (Syria's in the midst of a civil war) or by some other element.  World opinion on "some other element" is currently: the US government.

Yes, that's how awful Barack Obama has been as president.  An attack might have taken place in Syria, one US Secretary of State John Kerry describes like this,  "With our own eyes we have seen the thousands of reports from 11 separate sites in the Damascus suburbs. All of them show and report victims with breathing difficulties, people twitching with spasms, coughing, rapid heartbeats, foaming at the mouth, unconsciousness and death."  And a large number of people around the world consider it possible that the United States was behind the attack.  Barack was sold, by the Cult of St. Barack, as someone who would improve the image of America.  Doesn't appear to have happened.

'Wait!' you who have returned from vaction say, 'that was August 21st, nearly a month ago. What's happened?'

Since the alleged attack, Barack's spent over three weeks threatening a military strike.

During that time, the press has attempted to goad him into action by basically calling him a 'pu**y' and John Kerry's seemed to repeatedly be several steps ahead of the administration.  August 30th, for instance, Kerry insisted in public it was time to act. The following day, Barack announced to the country that, despite earlier avoiding it, they would now seek Congressional approval for any strike on Syria.

Three weeks and nothing has happened.  Three weeks and Barack will attempt to sell war on Syria come Monday when he appears on ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News Channel, NBC and PBS.

Nothing happens and the White House won't stop yacking?  It's as if we're trapped in an episode of one of Aaron Sorkin's lousy TV shows.

Or maybe just trapped on cable 'news.'  The talk shows of cable, which insist upon pretending they are news programming, can't stop yacking.  And they say so very little.

Chris Hayes wasted a lot of 4G data last week.  He brought on John Kerry for his MSNBC program All In and did such a poor job in the interview that it was left to Michael Moore to hold Kerry accountable.

  • On MSNBC Kerry said he & Hagel "opposed the president's decision to go into Iraq"  Actually, they both voted for it

  • There's no excuse for that.

    Hayes has no excuse for allowing Kerry to get away with lying.

    In an interview, many claims can be made and we don't expect one interviewer to know every detail.

    However, Kerry is a joke on Iraq and made himself that in 2004.   Repeatedly.  He voted for the war and if Hayes was unaware of that fact, Hayes wasn't prepared to interview Kerry.

    Hayes has a lot of problems, as was obvious last week when he and Karen Finney tried to tag team US House Rep. Alan Grayson on the issue of Syria.  (Grayson's petition to stop an attack on Syria can be found here.)  Grayson noted the American people wanted America's problems solved and were against action in Syria.

    Karen immediately began babbling about Syrian children while Chris went with, "But that sounds, but that sounds" -- and we could hear Will Truman (Eric McCormack) telling Jack McFarland (Sean Hayes) to take it down to the chest voice.

    Hosts that flutter and chirp tend to only find work on the mythical OutTV (which gave Jack McFarland his own TV show).  It would do Hayes a lot of good to slow down.

    But MSNBC isn't interested in that which is why, as Bob Somerby has repeatedly documented, Chris Hayes has gone from promising voice to carnie huckster.

    Hayes is smart and bright and his hiring could have led to MSNBC offering some actual quality; however, MSNBC honchos don't want intelligent discussions, they want comfort food tossed out with snarls, they want their viewers to feed on hate and anger.  So Chris dumbs it down and ups the shouting and drama.

    How idiotic is MSNCB? Setting up the segment with guests Grayson and Finney, Finney giggled as Hayes noted she "now hosts Disrupt with Karen Finney" -- this is funny?

    Actually, it is.  To anyone who's watched Disrupt, it is very funny but who knew Karen was in on what a joke she is?

    Chris kept talking about 'issues' that really weren't issues and 'facts' that were actually fears (possibly unfounded fears).  And, most of all, he ignored the American people except as a hindrance to Barack Obama.

    This still is a democracy, right?

    Because in a full week's worth of All In, we only found one guest who spoke positively of We the People.  That was Alan Grayson.  And when he did and when he pointed out that the American people are overwhelmingly against a military strike on Syria, what did Chris respond?

    "Well the American people can be wrong about things."

    They're rarely as wrong as talk show hosts.  In fact, the average adult American would have known John Kerry was lying when he'd claimed to have voted against the war.

    John Kerry:  And, first of all, let -- let -- let me make this clear.  The president -- and this is very important, because I think a lot of Americans, all of your listeners, a lot of people in the country are sitting there and saying oh, my gosh, this is going to be Iraq, this is going to be Afghanistan.  Here we go again.  I know this.  I -- I’ve heard it.  And the answer is no, profoundly no.  You know, Senator Chuck Hagel, when he was senator, Senator Chuck Hagel, now secretary of Defense, and when I was a senator, we opposed the president’s decision to go into Iraq, but we know full well how that evidence was used to persuade all of us that authority ought to be given.  I can guarantee you, I’m not imprisoned by my memories of or experience in Vietnam, I’m informed by it.  And I’m not imprisoned by my memory of how that evidence was used, I’m informed by it.  And so is Chuck Hagel.  And we are informed sufficiently that we are absolutely committed to not putting any evidence in front of the American people that isn’t properly vetted, properly chased to ground and verified.  And we are both convinced that what we are putting before the American people is in the security interests of our country and it will not lead to some further engagement.

    And Chris just sat there nodding.

    PHIL DONAHUE: Well, I'm pleased to have this chance to chat with you for a lot of reasons. One, I don’t know who else has more cred than you.  What would a 23-year graduate of West Point offer us now regarding the dilemma in which Obama finds himself, regarding Syria?

    ANDREW BACEVICH:  You know, I have to say, I'm just struck by the fact that Secretary of State Kerry has become the leading proponent for war. It's our secretary of state's job apparently--

    PHIL DONAHUE: He threw his medal-- he threw his medals back.

    ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, that's why it's doubly ironic. 'Cause the Secretary of State is the war promoter. And that our secretary of state happens to be a guy who came into politics basically advertising himself as the guy who because of his--

    PHIL DONAHUE: Understands war?

    ANDREW BACEVICH: --Vietnam experiences, understands war, understands the lessons of Vietnam, and is therefore going to prevent us from doing dumb things. On the contrary, he's the lead cheerleader to go through another dumb thing.

    That reality and context was completely absent from Chris Hayes' interview.  Last week saw Phil Donahue substitute for a vacationing Bill Moyers on Moyers & Company.

    Last month, the idea that Oprah Winfrey had done anything to warrant a Presidential Medal of Freedom was hysterical.  At this site, it was noted:

    We also laughed at the idea that her 'work' has warranted any award.  In 2008, her ratings began to tank.  She moved on to her own cable channel which still flounders.  All she has is a talk show and we haven't seen Phil Donahue awarded when he certainly did more for the country with his daytime talk show than Oprah ever did with her own.

    It was as though Donahue showed up on PBS last week to yet again demonstrate that he made real contributions.  By contrast, Oprah Winfrey wasted the summer with 'in depth' coverage of the Kardashians.  That's only an 'improvement' if you factor in that this was less damaging than when she used her daytime talk show to sell the Iraq War via 'expert' Judith Miller.  Oprah getting the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- Oprah getting it instead of Phil Donahue -- is just another example of how those who were wrong about Iraq keep getting  rewarded.

    PHIL DONAHUE: So it's going to be easier then to have another one and another one. We haven't even, it seems to me, we haven't even looked at ourselves regarding the wars that we've had.


    PHIL DONAHUE: Nobody--

    ANDREW BACEVICH: That's one of the most troubling aspects of this whole thing. It staggers me that the American people have so quickly put the Iraq War in the rearview mirror. Indeed, won't even look in the rearview mirror.  Because if they did, they could see in the rearview mirror the smoking ruin that we left behind. Instead, there is this preoccupation to deal with the next crisis, which as we speak, is Syria. Six months from now, it'll probably be something else.

    PHIL DONAHUE: I imagine that so few people sacrifice, for example, in the Iraq War. 

    Sacrifice?  Oprah knows all about sacrifice too.  As she told Lindsay Lohan in last month's interview, she offers "an open conversation about your truth.  And I'm here to facilitate that."

    That and nothing more.  Empty chatter that doesn't even qualify as good gossip.

    If and when Oprah's network goes under, she might try hosting a talk show on MSNBC where having nothing of worth to say has become a hallmark.

    Lindsay Lohan is a highly skilled and talented actress.  We know her and wish her only the best. It's not a criticism of her to note that Oprah interviewing her four days after she's released from rehab (her sixth time in rehab) is probably not going to make for a productive interview.

    But that is the hallmark of Oprah Winfrey, empty talk, a woman whose entire work product is nugatory.  And maybe that's why she excelled so as a TV talker for so many years, despite all the rumors and weight fluctuations.

    On daytime TV, Phil could (and did) interview celebrities as well.  But these were interviews he prepared for and ones where he asked non-softball questions.  On daytime TV and now on her own OWN failing network, Oprah seems to take delight in being 'surprised' (i.e. knowing very little about her guests before the interview starts).  She was the cheapest of TV trash when she finally went national.  "Tawdry topics explored by a crackhead" is how the show was seen back when people didn't know if her name was "Oprah" or "Ofrah."  Seeing the ratings start to droop, she sought a way out of the Jerry Springer sewer.

    A viable option was already there, follow Phil Donahue's lead.  But that required actual knowledge and whatever other bad eating habits she's ever had, Oprah's always maintained a fact-free diet.  So it was off to the land of 'empowerment' where touchy-feely trumped all.  Her comfort in winging it on air over and over also led to the lawsuit that almost shut her down.  Had Oprah known anything about Mad Cow, things could have gone much differently.

    Instead, armed with only the tiniest sketch of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, Oprah plopped down in front of guests, including Howard Lyman, for a show on "dangerous foods."  As she listened to Lyman discuss various details of Mad Cow Disease and what was taking place in England, an obviously shocked Oprah declared, "That just stops me cold.  I'll never eat another burger."

    Again, basic prep ahead of an interview would have prevented that but Oprah feels she's her freshest when she wings it -- or at least that's the excuse she offers.

    And her I-feel statements and observations can never be wrong?

    That's her takeaway from the court win, anyway.

    And for that garbage and so much more, she's going to get a Medal of Freedom?

    No, she's getting it for whoring for Barack in 2008.  She suffered, you understand, for backing Barack Obama in the Democratic Party primaries.  Of course she did.  She was utterly non-political in the eyes of her viewers.  She was just as comfortable (and happy) interviewing George W. Bush as she was with Al Gore.  And there was the whole, "You go, girl!"  If Barbara Walters was haunted by her "If you were a tree" question, Oprah was anchored by the "You go, girl!" phrase.  And in 2008, a 'girl' went for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination:  Hillary Clinton.

    But Oprah went for Barack and, in the process, exposed how shallow her touchy-feely actually was.  Her viewers were appalled to find out the sisterhood Oprah espoused had no real world basis and her ratings took a huge hit.

    Some have wrongly insisted that Oprah lost White women viewers over this.  Oprah lost viewers across the board as a result of her endorsement of Barack.  The bulk of her viewers were White women so she had more White women to lose.

    But women across the board -- political and non-political -- left because for Oprah to preach 'empowerment' and sisterhood and "You go, girl!" and to insist, via Ashford & Simpson's song, that she was "every woman" to then not support the country's first truly viable female presidential contender?  It was more shocking than TV star Pee Wee Herman pleasuring himself in an adult movie theater.

    For that, Barack tosses her a medal.  And she uses that and her hideous performance in Lee Daniels' The Butler to try to serve up a 'new face' to OWN.  Her network remains in the toilet.  A 23% increase in ratings would be amazing if, for example, you were CBS' prime time lineup.  But when you consider how low OWN's ratings were (and still are), it means nothing.  The only reason for any interest at all is the Lindsay Lohan interview and the mini-reality series on Lohan that OWN will be broadcasting.

    Oprah started out doing trash but it was honest trash.  No one pretended it was anything other than lowest common denominator.  Then she found 'aspirations' and a new way to do trash while presenting herself as some sort of spiritual guru -- the Queen of the Snake Oil Peddlers.

    On commercial broadcast television no one had to pay for, Oprah could net an audience with that. But when she switched to a fee-based channel, that changed.

    It's something MSNBC might think about because their act also doesn't work in the fee-based model.

    Possibly, that's due to the disregard for the American people.

    It's very telling that, in the interview with John Kerry, Chris Hayes never interrupted as Kerry went on and on and never interrupted to point out that, "The American intelligence community is often wrong."  Or, for that matter, "The American officials are often wrong."

    "Well the American people can be wrong about things!"

    That's how Hayes cut off Alan Grayson while Grayson was in the midst of discussing what the American people were saying and why they were opposed to war.

    Yes, Chris, by all means cut that off!  Heaven forbid the American people ever get a voice in their own media.

    In the lead up to the Iraq War, the American people were not allowed to participate in the media discussion.  A rare exception was NBC's Today which did various townhalls on the impending Iraq War and did allow a variety of voices to be heard.

    Now?  The American people are as invisible as the Syrian people.  In 2003, there was no 'Lean Forward' MSNBC, there wasn't even Air America Radio.  And a lot of us thought that if we had our own media, it would be different.

    Maybe it would be.

    We still don't know.

    Because we still don't have our own left media.

    We have centrist Democratic Party media which is MSNBC.  We have kind of left media in Pacifica Radio but they're actually weaker about war on Syria than they were on the Iraq War.

    The American people -- right, left or whatever -- have no media.  All the money spent on public broadcasting hasn't resulted in PBS or NPR suddenly discovering the people.

    Like  most populations around the world, the American people are opposed to war in general.  So media is used to sell war.  It treats the war impulse as normal and treats any effort to stop a war as suspect.  (Look at last week's articles which repeatedly questioned the motives of Republicans who voted for the Iraq War but questioned war on Syria and contrast that with the small number of articles that examined Democrats who opposed the Iraq War but were now supporting war on Syria.)

    To treat war as the norm and, in fact, logical, you have to shut out a lot of voices including those of the American people.  Oprah will get a Medal of Freedom from Barack after using her daytime show to promote war on Iraq.  Phil Donahue's thank you for using his MSNBC program to allow the voices of America to be heard (pro and anti-war) was to be kicked off the network in February 2003 (despite hosting  MSNBC's highest rated program at the time -- and higher rated than anything they currently air).

    Chris Hayes is no dummy.  He knows he can meekly oppose war on Syria in a blog post and a tiny, tinny commentary but to do more than that, to put himself in front of the war machine, would be to earn the same cancellation fate Donahue did.  Hayes isn't working for the American people anymore than he's working for himself.  He takes a sizable check from a corporation with a long history of selling war and he knows not to rock the boat, to instead listen to (and follow) what the army of consultants MSNBC's hired tell him.

    The heart of the argument to attack Syria these days goes something like, "What will it say about Barack Obama, after he's made clear he wants to attack Syria, if the Congress denies him?"

    Assuming that a Congressional denial did say something about Barack, isn't the more important question: What will it say about the American people and democracy, after the people have made clear that they don't want an attack on Syria, if the people's elected leaders refuse to heed public sentiment?

    In a functioning press, that question would be asked far more often than what-will-this-mean-to-Barack because, in case you've forgotten, no supreme law of the land opens, "I, the President"; however, the Constitution opens, "We the People . . ."

    It's a fact that the politicians and the media repeatedly ignore and silence.

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