Sunday, August 26, 2007

TV: Fox tried to tell news 'jokes', no one laughed

Last week it was time to have a few laughs at TV news and who can't enjoy that? Plenty it would seem because the laughs weren't provided due to the news or what passes for content. The laughs were to be provided by gender. Can one of "Barker's Beauties" become an anchor of the news? No, answered America forcing Fox TV to follow up the first airing of a reality show with a next day cancellation notice.

The "Beauty" in question is Lauren Jones who stood around on The Price Is Right after being a cheerleader (New York Jets) and model. Her people (such as they are) have gone into a frenzy insisting that the show was "partially scripted" (what reality show isn't?) and that it was intended to be a joke.

It's not fair, they insist, that Jones is being held up to ridicule when Anchorwoman was always supposed to be a put on. Don't people realize, they insist, that Jones' "promising acting career" could be destroyed? She was in on the joke!

No, she was the joke. And if there's any fallout over it, live with it. For the record, she's not an actress and Anchorwoman was a lousy show from the moment it was thought up. The 'reality' show was supposed to follow Jones' attempt to become an anchor woman on a cable news channel in Tyler, Texas (KYTX -- a minor Tyler station, not on the level of KTVT -- the ABC affiliate -- or KETK -- the NBC one -- both of which are broadcast and cable stations).

The 'joke' from the start was that a woman could do news. When pressed, those working on the show prefer to insist that the 'joke' was a "beautiful woman" could do the news. Take that, Diane Sawyer, apparently.

The reality is that plain and ugly woman do not get anchor jobs on TV and the 'joke' was always "Ha! Ha! Look at the chic who doesn't know her place!" If, as a result of the miserable show, Jones' career is over, that's nothing to lose sleep over.

While the offers were never pouring in for Jones, she elected to attempt fame via a reality show and the reality is that in doing so, she stabbed a lot of women in the back. For those who've missed it, Katie Couric became the first female solo anchor of the evening news (CBS Evening News) on any network's weekday broadcast last fall. If those in charge of the show thought that was something to send up, they might have looked closer and they'd have grasped that Couric was slammed repeatedly before she ever even did her first evening news broadcast and the slams just kept on coming.
For some reason, the analysts at FAIR felt the thing their weekly show CounterSpin needed to comment on were Couric's ratings. How this applies to content -- what FAIR is supposed to critique -- is anyone's guess but, it should be noted, FAIR (in any format) has never made ratings an issue in the past. But such is the 'equality' of FAIR and others that they can open the barricades up to 'ratings' as a critique. A lot of barricades were being opened up as people obsessed over Couric's legs, her outfits, her hair . . . . Anything you could think of, in fact, except the quality of the news.

Non-feminist Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation, took to blog to decree that Danny Boy Rather saying Couric was "tarting up the news" wasn't sexism. No, it was valid criticism, proclaimed Our Lady of Peace Resistance. So eager to defend the man who assisted Richard Nixon, the evening he resigned, with a white wash report (only one of his many questionable moments in broadcast), she failed to note that the 'tarted up' news did what no one else could or would: it provided 11 minutes Iraq coverage to ABC's two minutes. The peace resister's a joke with the print set and the broadcast set -- not just women, with males as well.

Moments like rushing to assure that Dan Rather (whose conflicts with Connie Chung were legendary) wasn't making a sexist remark only help her maintain her status as "dabbling joke". And no amount of (limited) money will allow her to buy her way out of that status.

Couric's moment as a first didn't lead to praise and "Isn't it great to have a first!" moments. (Possibly, she should have instead run for president -- apparently doing that this year gets you unconditional praise from NOW). It just underscored how hated women still are in this supposedly advanced society (and under the hatred, yes, remains fear).

So the last thing anyone needed was Jones playing, presenting or being an airhead painting her toenails pink while driving down the road. The last thing anyone needed was "Ha! Ha! Look at a chic trying to do the news!"

Philip Hurley is the manager of KYTX and wants some sort of credit for refusing to let Jones anchor the news in a bathing suit. Any credit he feels is deserved for that is washed away by the fact that he wanted to be 'in on the joke' by hiring Jones (to anchor on KYTX) in the first place.

Women in the area asked that we note Judy Jordan. Jordan was part of the p.r. advance team for Anchorwoman and does news at KYTX.

She's in Tyler at KYTX because, frankly, no one else would have her. An e-mail that was noted by a local critic (and intended to be public) was quoted by women in the state repeatedly as we did what The New York Times calls "research" (phone calls): "Advice! I'll probably be the one following her around saying, 'I'll have what she's having' . . . in my 'I'm with pretty woman' T-shirt." That was Jordan's public response to whether or not she'd impart advice to James.

Nice of her to hop on the bandwagon. For those not in the know, Jordan, in the seventies and early eighties, was something of a regional powerhouse as an anchor of the evening and nightly newscast (co-anchor) at the CBS affiliate in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. She was promoted to the news from the position of secretary (and it probably helped that her brother sat on the Dallas City Council). As part of a wave of firsts, you might think Jordan, instead of shaking the KYTX pom-poms, would call out the nonsense for what it was. That she didn't has offended many women in the state of Texas and she probably shouldn't hope for any industry awards any time soon.

That Anchorwoman was so hugely rejected by viewers is a sign of progress. We'd also argue that the ratings for this advertised 'laugh-fest' (2.7 million but it only scored a 1.0 in the 18-49 demographic) should give us hope for the future of women in TV news. A premise where the joke is "Woman Does News!" didn't grab the funny bones of viewers and we think that's a good thing.

While Anchorwoman tried to turn attractive women doing news into a ha-ha last week, Maria Hinojosa did some real work on PBS' NOW with David Brancaccio. Hinojosa, who is very attractive, honed her chops at CNN, CBS This Morning, CBS Radio and NPR (where she remains the host of Latino USA). Lucky for her, judging by the lawsuits against Barker, she was never on The Price Is Right.
For the first half of the thirty minute broadcast, she profiled war resisters Agustin Aguayo and James Burmeister. Both men served in Iraq, are the fathers of daughters (Aguayo has twins, Burmeister has one daughter, two-years-old). Both men self-checked out while in Germany.
Aguayo's is the more well known of the two tales (a relative judgement since, let's face it, most independent media chooses to ignore the stories of war resisters). Aguayo enlisted as a medic. After enlisting, he was bothered by many things in training. Upon arrival to Iraq, he was told that, medic or not, he would be expected to kill. Aguayo refused to load his weapon while serving in Iraq. He also attempted CO status. After his first tour, he was stationed in Germany. The US military decided to send him back. In an attempt to convince of how serious he was (the civilian court lawsuit should have done that), he self-checked out and quickly returned. When that didn't work, he then self-checked out for less than thirty days, came back to the US via Mexico, and turned himself in. This year, the US military court-martialed him for desertion. In the next two weeks, Aguayo will make the decision as to whether or not continuing fighting legally via an appeal to the Supreme Court. That's for the civilian court aspect of his story. He and his wife Helga Aguayo have been speaking out and raising awareness on war resistance despite the fact that Aguayo remains in the US military (while the military appeals are exhausted).


James Burmeister (above) also self-checked out while in Germany. He was lifted out of Iraq and taken there after he was injured. He enlisted to do humanitarian work (e.g. rebuilding in Iraq) and, of course, that didn't end up being the case. ("Of course" is not a judgement of Burmeister's intelligence, it is noting that we are probably far more cynical than he is.) "Humanitarian work" for the US military translated as leaving US military items out in public so that when an Iraqi touched them, he or she could be shot for touching US property. Your tax dollars at work in the illegal war. Following the third bombing he was the victim of, Brumeister was sent to Germany to recover. At that point, he and his family made the decision to go to Canada.

Like war resister Ross Spears, Burmeister has settled in Ottawa. Information on war resisters in Canada can be found at War Resisters Support Campaign. Those enlisted who can no longer take part in the illegal war can refer to The G.I. Rights Hotline. Courage to Resist offers many resources including information on war resistance and war resisters. Iraq Veterans Against the War is an organization opposed to the illegal war.

NOW with David Brancaccio will hopefully offer some form of transcript at some point. However, community member Eddie, who e-mailed us the screen snap of Jason from NOW with David Brancaccio, reports nothing is currently up. We've also heard from community members who have left comments on the show but none are currently displayed. And we heard from one member who wanted to make it very clear that if PBS wants to offer online video to the public, she feels (and we agree) it's really not meeting the government mandate for public television to only do so for those with broadband.

Though The New York Times announced (June 21, 2006, Ken Belson) "Dial-Up Internet Going the way of Rotary Phones" they were jumping the gun (big surprise) and what has been termed "the digital divide" still exists and for a number of reasons including some people cannot afford broadband and some computer users do not have broadband access in their areas. In April of this year, The Free Press noted that only "44.6 percent of U.S. households subscribe to broadband service" (and that the US ranks 15th for percentage of broadband users in the thirty nations making up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). Public television and public website do not need to take part in discriminating and adding to the "digital divide."

The program gets high marks for what it aired on television (for most PBS markets) Friday. Also aired on TV last week (and on radio and online) was an interview Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez (Democracy Now!) did with war resister Camilo Mejia:

JUAN GONZALEZ: And one of the things, it seems to me, that has happened, talking to quite a few veterans who have returned maybe or on leave, that those who go AWOL, it's not as if the military publicizes it or actively goes after them, unless they become public, like in your case, right?

CAMILO MEJIA: Exactly, although that also has changed. We have cases of people who have not yet gone public and yet had been seized in their home. For instance, we have the case of Suzanne Swift, who was, you know, apprehended by police without even a search warrant at her mother's house, and she had not gone public at that time. And she had refused to go back to the war, because she had been subject to military sexual assault and command rape from her leadership and being forced to go back to the war with the same unit and with the same people who had attacked her.

Mejia, author of Road from Ar Ramadi: The Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Mejia and the new chair of Iraq Veterans Against the War, shared many important truths. The exchange above was only one; however, since the myth repeats (especially every time AP or The New York Times files a story mentioning AWOL or desertion rates), that's a broadcast moment worth noting: the US military does actively pursue those who check out despite the myths put forward. They attempt to track them and, when they believe they have located them, they call the police and let them handle it. The myth of "We're too busy to worry about them" needs to be challenged the next time the US military spins it.

And, for the record, neither Amy Goodman nor Juan Gonzalez ever were nor wanted to be in the "Barker's Beauties" stable. Somethings only happen on Fox TV.
Ty 9-27-07 note to Ava and C.I.'s commentary. NOW with David Brancaccio advises that comments are now up at their discussion page. Their process of moderating comments means that any comments left when the show airs Friday (or over the weekend) do not go up until Monday. And another note, a Texas journalist who spoke with Ava and C.I. for this feature Sunday morning (but did not mention Judy Jordan) called to say that the e-mail Jordan sent out can be read via this link.
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