Posts Tagged ‘tv’

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Our Political Atmosphere: How Bad Is It?

2010.July.28

So bad that fear of one’s opponents is a faster motivator than those opponents themselves.

The short version is that a Black nonpartisan federal employee was caught on video saying something that sounded racist against Whites and was fired almost immediately, only for word to later come out that the video had been edited to place her comments in antithetical context to their personal-triumph-over-racism origin. Partisan officials from the top scrambled to apologize and offer the woman her job (or better) back.

So what role did partisanship play in the whole fiasco? Ironically, only the partisans are really talking about this, and you’re not going to get much of a straight answer out of either side.

Of course, liberals are pointing fingers at conservative media (e.g., Fox News). The NAACP (not staunchly liberal, but let’s say sympathetic; they were implicated because it was at their event that the video was shot) declared “we have come to the conclusion we were snookered by Fox News and Tea Party Activist Andrew Breitbart into believing she had harmed white farmers because of racial bias … we now believe the organization that edited the documents did so with the intention of deceiving millions of Americans.”

Conservatives rebut this by pointing out that Fox barely had time to mention the video before the woman was forced into resignation. The Tea Party activist who first posted the edited video has refused to apologize, swearing up and down that the video was already edited when he received it (source unknown).

Media sources that attempt to be nonpartisan are just shaking their heads going, “WTF?” because those who bought the story gave it legs and those who didn’t only avoided doing so because they weren’t fast enough. The old UPI motto “Get it first, but get it right” is clear in its structure about which half is the priority and which is the caveat.

Ugh. This is our politics. Just makes you want to burst into patriotic song, doesn’t it?

I watched a little of the ensuing tennis match between Rachel Maddow and Bill O’Reilly earlier tonight. I laughed with Rachel and cringed at Bill like I was supposed to (grouse though I might about partisanship, I do tend to sympathize with those who tout social justice over corporate interests), but it felt rather distant from reality. There was one very meta moment wherein Rachel was speaking alongside a monitor displaying Bill, who in turn was shown alongside footage of Rachel… it was like looking at a reflection of a reflection of a reflection (AKA an “infinity mirror”)…

I was left feeling a little empty. I didn’t gain anything from watching this display, and I doubt Rachel or Bill or anyone on either of their staffs learned during those 5… 10… 30… however many minutes this volley will go on. The whole story seems to be showing us an ugly underbelly of politics and media, even as it is exploiting it, without offering any solutions or hope for improvement.

There have been some oblique references to how journalists should check their sources, but aren’t we at least past the point of confusing “commentators” with “journalists”? Just clarifying the difference between news for the sake of news and opinion posing as news for the sake of entertainment posing as political involvement would go a long way toward a calmer, more rational political climate for all sides. There are commentators trying to be journalists and journalists trying to be commentators, but a real newsperson isn’t going to have his or her name ahead of the word “News” in the title of a program. Instead of everyone saying, “Those journalists should have checked their sources!” how about we ask how and why journalists, commentators, the NAACP, and the freaking federal government could get so invested in a story without checking their sources?

How about the liberal commentators and officials check their sources, even now, and recognize that while, yes, Fox News and their allies have created an intimidating news environment, in this case they were behind the curve. Just because officials feared their backlash doesn’t mean the backlash had actually begun. While their at it, liberal and non-partisan officials need to grow a spine and not jump to defend themselves against every little attack. And liberal commentators who nightly denounce ideologues like Bill O’Reilly for being caustic blowhards need to not get involved in tit-for-tat, self-referential reporting, lest you become blowhards yourselves! (Oops, too late.)

And conservatives, who are more or less faultless in this one incident (congratulations, your seeds of self-destruction have been sewn quite well in the opposition), need to recognize that playing the frothy underdog for ten years has only made them bitter and lightning rods of fear (both felt and inspired). If they want to defend this country so well, they need to let go of the most extreme rhetoric and sit down and have a conversation with their enemies once in a while. Maybe then they can see we’re human beings, too, we’re Americans, too, and that somewhere between us is the path to a successful America.

Or that, at the very least, people look very different when not viewed through a reflection of a reflection of a reflection…

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How Do We Clean Up Political Discourse?

2008.December.11

Well, we start by whittling down the pundits. OK, so it’s going to take more of a sea change than one radio program ending, but you have to admit that whatever “truth” lies in pundits’ claims that they answer the call of an audience, their influence has become self-fulfilling. The formula is simply this: be a white male blowhard who claims everyone agrees with him, get TV or radio show (preferably both) with which to saturate the nation, and after a few months (if that) you have acquired a dedicated audience that is ready to agree with anything you say. (Example 1)(Example 2)(Example 3)

So where are we supposed to get our news interviews? Those stuffy PBS-types? Maybe, but it seems to me there is room in the market for news talk that doesn’t make you hate everyone or put you to sleep.

Enter The Daily Show. I’m not suggesting it should replace the shows above (though it offers a helpful third leg*), or even because I believe it to be a consistent source of quality, unbiased news, but because its balance of humor, information, and parody sometimes stumbles into brilliance. There are some topics that Jon Stewart can approach and make interesting in ways that other news shows cannot; conversely, there are some serious topics that other humor programs can’t approach with any credibility. After nearly ten years on the show, Stewart has license to walk that line and can even get away with stepping into pundit territory, even as he skewers the real pundits for living there.

This week, Stewart hosted an interview with Mike Huckabee that sets a brilliant standard: an interview that can be serious yet fun, challenging yet informative, and divisive but respectful.

The link is to Part 2 of the interview, and the entire segment was devoted to Jon Stewart’s challenging Mike Huckabee about his stance on same-sex marriage. I have always believed that we gain more by talking to people with whom we disagree, face-to-face, than we do talking about them. Huckabee charmed many Daily Show and Colbert Report fans over the 2008 campaign who would not, otherwise, vote for the former governor, and I know that I and several other regular viewers were often caught off guard by Huckabee’s openness, humor, and empathy. But he’s a pretty conservative guy, right? How could he possibly have a heart?!

One wonders if Jon Stewart hasn’t been asking himself that very question and decided to confront it head-on.

I hope to have more on this soon, to analyze what was great about this interview (on both sides) and what we can learn from it, but for now I’ll just encourage you to watch it and leave me any observations you have.

*If you thought you detected a double-entendre there, then you would probably appreciate The Daily Show for its less political humor.

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Why Protest?

2008.November.17

I know a lot of people who attended Proposition 8 protests last weekend. Time will tell how effective they were, but I think it would be helpful to remember what could or could not be accomplished by them.

No protests outside of California (and arguably, not even there) were going to undo the initiative there, and certainly not directly. It’s not like the legislature can renege a public initiative based on out-of-state rally turnout. The first goal of protesters, I think, should be to show solidarity with Californian activists and encourage them for what will be a prolonged fight. Events like Saturday’s protests increase connections, brainstorming, and a sense of community, and you can be sure new plans emerged from the day.

Secondly, U.S. protesters may have been flexing their numbers in each locality, reminding their lawmakers that the issue is not dead and (depending on the state) either discouraging lawmakers from passing similar initiatives or standing in defiance of initiatives that had already passed. A distant third possibility I can’t overlook is the gathering of information. Information is just as important for political movements as it is for marketers and militaries; if and when nationwide action is needed, Saturday provided an excellent dry run AND sizable contact lists.

Compare this with the Iraq War protests in 2002 and 2003; the threat of an invasion of Iraq triggered the largest international protest ever, with one European city alone surpassing 3 million in attendance. The cities with the highest attendance were those participating in the invasion coalition and many supporting nations have reduced their participation since – but none pulled out immediately after the protests. As for the US, despite several huge rallies in Washington and other major US cities, the protests did not seem to slow the march toward war.

A colleague of mine is of the opinion that the Vietnam War might have actually ended a little sooner if protests in that era had not been so fractious and antagonizing. He is a trainer of activists and has always stressed that when the goal is to be seen and convince a national audience that you have the moral high ground, your message must be simple and consistent and your messengers must be perfectly behaved.

Of course the most effective use of rallies and protests in US history came during the Civil Rights Era, but they did not come overnight. Marches during the 60’s were only the latest steps in a long, gradual climb dating back to Rosa Parks’ bus defiance in 1955. Direct actions from sit-ins and boycotts helped spark outrage because of the violence police often used against nonviolent protesters. Doing the right thing wasn’t enough reason for many Americans until they saw the consequences on their TVs. While it would be a bit much to say organizers wished for the violence, they did plan for it rather than planning around it. In contrast, violence and suppression at marches over the last ten years or so have been much more sporadic and less extreme.

In the 60’s, boycotts were very effective locally – but again, it didn’t happen overnight. The Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted just over twelve months – no small duration for a service many people counted upon daily.

With Prop 8, there is discussion of boycott as well, but so far nothing definitive. Individual merchants have been targeted, but the scope of corporate power has altered the landscape of business since the 60’s. While a handful of household names will stick their necks out to support progress, none will allow themselves to be caught opposing it.

So would you boycott a particular company, large or small, over the politics of its founder, even if those politics are not directly related to the business at hand? Here’s a nice, juicy, complicated example:

Although the extent of the support has at times been overstated, the founder and CEO of Curves International (one Gary Heavin, with some credit also given to his wife Diane) is an outspoken ally and financial supporter of pro-life organizations. Yet his company has provided a service, helping women to live healthier lives and even develop camaraderie along the way. Kind of sticky, isn’t it? Is he all evil? All good? Somewhere in-between?

OK, so most men are off the hook on the boycott question, because most of the gyms are women-only, but here’s a further complication to keep you involved: Curves is allied with General Mills to produce cereal bars and possibly other food products bearing the Curves name.

If you are a pro-choice voter, how would/does this color your business with Curves and/or General Mills?

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