Sunday, July 21, 2013

Media: The wall-to-wall so-called 'discussion'

Jerry Springer is the bastard father of Talk TV, Jenny Jones its mother and Nancy Grace its first born. Never was that more clear than last week as the wall-to-wall went on and on.  Yes, we're talking about the verdict in the George Zimmerman case.  No, we didn't want to be.


The night of Saturday, July 13th, the verdict came down.  If you were watching HLN, you saw two men chatting nervously as they waited for the jurors to return to the courtroom.  The verdict wasn't making them nervous, HLN's star was.  That would be Nancy Grace who was preparing to provide commentary.  The men had noted she would be talking before the verdict.

Nancy Grace is many things to many people.  To those who work with her, she is a nightmare.  HLN viewers got about 10 seconds of that if they paid attention as Nancy was briefly heard having a tantrum and refusing to go on air.  She was miked, but she wasn't going on.  Not before the verdict was announced.

How would it look if Nancy Grace pronounced the verdict and then the jury disagreed with her?

She'd have egg on her face!

Her ranting was mainly amusing because who would have thought the talkers of cable had the capacity for embarrassment?

They certainly lack the capacity for shame.

And they made that clear all last week.

A verdict was reached and a noisy group of talking heads spent the entire following week projecting.  For example, a number of the gas bags referred to the verdict as a lynching but a lynching would describe the efforts to go after George Zimmerman after he was found not guilty of the charges.  Comments (and threats) about how he would never be safe and he would need to look over his shoulder were regularly made in the HLN, CNN and MSNBC coverage.  And talk show hosts -- posing as journalists -- would either remain silent or make reassuring comments. Bob Somerby (Daily Howler) spent much of the week bemoaning the lack of a fact check (such as here).  We were more appalled by the lack of a reality check.

We were also bothered by the people presented.  If you loathed the verdict, you were on non-stop.  If you agreed with the verdict, you might be one person on HLN's split screen displaying nine gas bags. If you angrily opposed the verdict, you were generally a HLN talk show host such as Jane Velez-Mitchell. As the frenzy continued day after day (Kate Middleton, you couldn't have a caesarean and spare us this nonsense?), we were reminded that once upon a time, only the admitted tabloids tried to whip up a mob frenzy.

If you didn't grasp that it was a mob frenzy, leave it to NPR and Diane Rehm to make the point clear. Friday on the first hour of The Diane Rehm Show, after much time was spent on the topic, Diane finally opened the phone lines and one listener wrongly thought this was a topic open to discussion.

Diane Rehm:  All right. To Annie, here in Washington, D.C. You're on the air. 

Annie:  Hi. I think it's terrible that that poor young boy -- this is about the Zimmerman verdict. A poor young boy lost his life. And I think George Zimmerman should have been held accountable for his moral judgment in the way he handled it. But the thing I haven't heard anyone discuss is that when Casey Anthony was acquitted for killing -- for allegedly killing her 2-year-old daughter, we didn't see any demonstrations in the streets.  We didn't see anyone breaking into Wal-Mart, stealing bicycles, running through the streets, turning over police cars. And there was just as much outrage there. So I just wondered if the panel could talk about that. 

Diane Rehm:   Any comments? 

Ed O'Keefe:  I mean, it's -- that's a good point. But, you know, I think this one certainly stirred up a lot of emotion. 

Diane Rehm:  Exactly. And I think will continue to stir up emotion until that is spent. Thanks for calling, Annie. To Durham, N.C. Hi, Peter.

And that was it for the discussion.  There was no discussion, there were only talking points to be repeated over and over, at various volumes.

Into all of this stepped Barack Obama not once but twice.  His first statement, the day after the verdict, had elements in it Betty felt were worth of praise.  But the thing about Barack is he can never leave well enough alone.  Forever in search of fresh applause, he has to revisit.  He did so at length on Friday in which he elected to act not as president but to lecture in his best "Bueller? Bueller?" Ben Stein impression.

On and on, he droned:

And I don't want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it's inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear. The African American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws — everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.

Now, this isn't to say that the African American community is na├»ve about the fact that African American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system; that they're disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence. It's not to make excuses for that fact — although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context. They understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.

What struck us most about the speech was this:

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren't simply controversial. They weren't simply a religious leader's effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country - a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

No, this isn't from Friday's speech.  It's from the allegedly greatest speech of all time that Barack made in Philadelphia in 2008.  Remember that?  There's an inherent conflict between the two speeches but no one is supposed to notice.

Not much got noticed last week.  From Barack's 2008 speech:

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze - a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns - this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding. 

We thought about that a lot as well as we noticed Secretary of State John Kerry making efforts in the Middle East regarding Israelis and the Palestinians.  We thought those efforts needed coverage and analysis and, yes, questioning.  But the media didn't have time for that.  The media didn't have time to cover the very important House Judiciary Committee hearing last week either.  The media didn't have time for whistle-blower Ed Snowden, Bradley Manning, you name it.

It was wall-to-wall frothing over a verdict.  And that's why Barack waded in.  Not in response to the froth but because, if you were Barack, wouldn't you rather talk about a non-issue than about something you were actually responsible for?

Non-issue?  Yeah.  Trayvon Martin's dead.  He's not coming back.  He is not the first tragic death or the last.  Rachel Corrie did not get even a day of coverage from the talk show networks passing themselves off as news networks and she actually was working to help others.  Casey Sheehan and all the other Americans who died in the illegal war were lucky to get their name on a slide during PBS' The NewsHour.

Trayvon Martin's death was as sad as all deaths are. The Constitution never guaranteed anyone -- of any race, gender or ethnicity -- a verdict that would make them happy.  You do get a day in court.  Sometimes you're pleased with the verdict, sometimes you aren't.

That's the US legal system and, guess what, it is the best there currently is.  You want to improve it, please do.

But there was no desire to improve it.

Nor was there any real desire to discuss the issues.

The reality is there was never enough evidence to push this case to trial.  Had cable TV not led the lynch mob for months, it probably wouldn't have gone to trial.

Once it went to trial, the prosecution's weak case was presented very weakly.  That includes the star witness who we'll get to in a minute.

You may in your heart believe that Travyon was brutally murdered and you may be 100% right.  But the evidence did not support that finding.  That doesn't mean it's not true, that doesn't mean it is true.  That does mean if you understand the law, you understand the verdict.

The media should have been explaining that.  They failed because they were the ones trying to hand out the rope for the lynching.  They were the ones trying to agitate and fuel anger and hatred.

Ithica professor Janell Hobson stomped her feet and screeched like a banshee at Ms. magazine's blog as she attacked the 'White' jury and White women.  She made her racial hatred very clear -- we hope her non-African-American students take note when they want to appeal their grades or file complaints on her with administration -- and Ms. felt so proud of itself for posting an attack on women.

The jury was the problem?  Not according to Jimmy Carter.  Not according to us.

The evidence and the prosecution were the problem but how telling that an educated professor would rather trash the citizens of a jury than go after the legal system itself or, for that matter, its career elements.

Janell was wounded by the verdict and wanted to lash out and, in our culture, the approved target it always women -- which explains the high rate of abuse and rape in this country.

Good for Trina and Elaine for calling out Janell's nonsense but in what world does Ms. magazine think feminism is attacking a female jury with charges that are impossible to prove even if they were true?  In what world do the rest of us have to suffer because Janell Hobson is an immature cry baby who's never learned to grow up?

Again, you don't always get the verdict you want.  Is Janell so stupid that she doesn't know how many cases are heard each day around the country?  Does she honestly think everyone is pleased with every verdict?  An African-American with the National Lawyers Guild joked to us last Thursday, "They should have made Faye Dunaway Black and instead of having the guy say, 'Give it up Jake, it's Chinatown,' the film could have gone on for another hour raging over how Faye got done in by the White world."

April 1, 2012, on NPR's Weekend Edition, Eric Deggans offered an observation on the media coverage that was true then and remains even more so after last week:

Unfortunately, what's also happened is that people have a lot of other discussions they want to have. They want to talk about the demonization of young black men, undue suspicion cast on people of color when they're in certain neighborhoods. They want to talk about how the police investigate crimes involving people of color and they're sort of piling all of these issues on top of a very specific incident that people are trying to get to the truth of. And I think sometimes that clouds the issue and makes it hard for us to figure out exactly what's going on.  


As the chatter from these talk shows went on and on, we were left to really notice how much lying took place.  For example, Rachel Jeantel appeared on CNN in an interview with Piers Morgan that (as Marcia and Betty pointed out) was notable only for the homophobia Rachel expressed -- George Zimmerman was a "punk," he wasn't a real man, she told Trayvon that Zimmerman might want to rape him, and much more.  But the whole point was to ignore what Rachel said.

For those keeping score, on air vengeance last week meant you could trash a jury, you could trash all White women and you could express homophobia openly and, damn it, no one better step in on your pity party and call you out on your crap.

Talk about unexamined lives -- and cry babies who wouldn't last ten seconds in group therapy.

The media is supposed to provide news consumers with context and the ability to contextualize.

But there is no more news media.  There are only the children of Jerry and Jenny who learned to incite and do that repeatedly on talk shows passed off as news programming.

No one does it more so than HLN's Nancy Grace so it's fitting that she inherited cable's psychotic time slot from Glen Beck when he left HLN for Fox News.  Grace 'interviewed'  Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon's father and mother, in a manner that cried out for Saturday Night Live parody.

Like the huckster Beck, Grace used pauses, gestures, body movement and so much more to amp the drama. This wasn't an interview, it was a Nancy Grace performance.

"You were at work," she says to Fulton about when Fulton first learned Trayvon was missing.  Nancy shakes her head, she grasps her nose, she closes her eyes, she bows her head.  If that's not enough drama for you, Nancy's soon relating to Fulton (whose son is dead, please remember) that she knows how Fulton felt in that moment because, not long ago, she was at Babies 'R Us and there was a minute where she lost John David (presumably her son).  Oh, yes, that is exactly like burying a child.  (That was sarcasm.)

Nancy wasn't done making it all about herself, "Oh, Lord, Oh, Lord! I remember when Keith was murdered.  I was told at first there had been an accident and I thought at first -- I didn't understand -- I didn't get the truth."

After Nancy finished babbling about the death of her fiancee thirty-four years prior, we wondered if Fulton would ask Nancy if she needed a moment?

Futlon can't understand the verdict and feels that racism was involved and the jury was unable to relate to her son due to his race.  Months from now, when the sugar coating comes off, we think the issue won't just be the lack of evidence but the testimony offered by a number of people including Fulton herself.

Speaking to Nancy Grace last week, she explained (as she often does) about learning the next morning that her son was missing.  Her ex-husband calls her to tell her Trayvon never came home and to say that "he was going to  call his cousin and then he was going to call missing persons to report that he didn't come home."  Fulton's repeated some variation of that throughout the lengthy press coverage.

Here's reality for a jury confronted with that statement: Either the 'child' was treated as an adult or the parent didn't care.  There's really no other excuse for it.  The father had no idea where his son was.  (Tracy Martin and his girlfriend were out on a date the night Trayvon was killed.)  He returned from his date and his son wasn't home.  Was this regular behavior, a jury will wonder?  If not, why didn't the father immediately call the cousin, the police, the hospitals?

There's a rip in the carefully cultivated Trayvon Martin narrative with that detail.  Most juries would notice it.

On the networks of Jenny Jones and Jerry Springer, maybe not.  Not when Nancy's sobbing, in her 'interview,'  "Were you praying that it wasn't Trayvon?  That it was some other person?"

Nancy's a corporate distraction.  But juries are supposed to rule on evidence.

That's what the jury did in the George Zimmerman trial.  And if the verdict surprises you, maybe it goes to the fact that you've refused to grow up and examine reality but have instead sought out an echo chamber of talk shows that provide you the same comfort as a pacifier?  Maybe it's past time to stop (as Ann pointed out) talking down to people and time to instead challenge them?

Challenge them with reality, such as what last week's trash-fest was really about.  Easy finger pointing.  The murder of Oscar Grant did not warrant such coverage.  The gang-rape and murder of 14-year-old Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi did not warrant such coverage.  But in those cases, you had the police and the military as killers and, heaven forbid, we acknowledge -- let alone dwell on -- that.  Cheap and easy talk shows can always be found at their most talkative when they avoid questioning power.

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