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Posts Tagged ‘Media’

Rumors have been flying that both France President Nicholas Sarkozy and his wife, singer/model Carla Bruni, have strayed. By American standards, things are pretty far along: Bruni is said to have fallen in love and moved in with popular French singer Benjamin Biolay. Meanwhile Sarkozy has supposedly taken up with right-wing politician (and former karate champion) Chantal Jouanno.

But between strict national privacy laws and the notorious French indifference to the personal pecadillos of political figures, no one seems inclined to confirm these rumors, least of all, the French mainstream press.

The whispering, such as it is, is taking place in — where else — the blogosphere. Three French-language blogs are reporting on the supposed affairs, though the one I read did not seem to constitute confirmable information. Besides, why would a mainstream editor risk angering public figures to follow a story that does not, in the French version of politics, relate to the political? As the French themselves might say,  “Ca ne fait rien.”

Contrast this attitude with the United States, whose tabloid culture permits pusuit of almost any public figure. Ever since Presidential candidate Gary Hart challenged journalists to “catch him in the act” with  model Donna Rice, the personal lives of politicians have become fair game for former celebrity-chasing papparrazzi. The National Enquirer is being considered for a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the John Edwards affair, a turn of events which must have mainstream editors of old spinning in their graves.

The cultural difference is clear. The French, as one reporter noted, believe public figures should be judged not on their “sentimental lives” but on their work. He observed that former presidents Francois Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac both had mistresses without suffering any political fallout. Sarkozy is different: a highly public and flamboyant figure whose apparent need for the spotlight and lack of discretion might lead voters to conclude his private life has impeded his ability to fulfill his public duty.

Then again, it depends on how public he chooses to make his supposed affair, because this is not a story that will be printed (or confirmed) without Sarkozy’s tacit approval. Not so in this country, where our journalists feel an almost sacred obligation to follow the rumor and pull the story out into the light of day. Their reasoning, which we have frankly provided for them, is that the private doings of public officials become our business when they take an oath to serve us.

Clearly, we have cultural differences with the French. A “man on the street” interview in Paris found that most people, whether disappointed or not (no one seemed particularly shocked), didn’t automatically see a worrisome connection between the private activities of the first couple and the political necessities of the job. That view is anathema to many Americans, who hold that knowing how public (or spiritual) leaders conduct their private lives will tell us how honestly and effectively they will conduct their public ones. Viva la difference, one might say.

Of equal interest is what publishers, editors, and journalists feel needs to be reported. In France, the press tends to be in a laissez faire mode when it comes to covering the personal comings and goings and doings of the ruling class, a frame of mind not usually challenged by its readership. In the United States, scandal sells, especially scandals involving elected officials.

In the end, we may all agree that politicians are scoundrels but in France, that non-newsworthy item is greeted with a shrug; here, it’s greeted with both righteous indignation and the sort of pruient interest that can earn a tabloid a top journalism prize.

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The day after the evening of the DAY, I woke up feeling a little surreal. I knew something momentous had happened that had captured everyone’s attention, something neither horrific, like 9/11, terrible, like the financial meltdown (admittedly an ongoing discussion) nor strange and superficial, like Susan Lucci’s weird goodbye speech on “Dancing with the Stars”. Apparently, we’d elected a young, thin, African-American person with a young, attractive family to be President of the United States. Equally apparent, this occasioned even more professional/amateur, thoughtful/inane, heartfelt/petty commentary than usual. With so many people writing and talking so much through so many outlets and all of us gobbling it up, I thought it might be interesting to single out for special notice some of the more interesting incidents, as well as various sample comments, reactions and analysis I spotted during my slog through the blanket coverage.

 

Most moving election-night visual: the shots of the crowd in Chicago’s Grant Park

Most over-exposed visual: the shots of the crowd in Grant Park

Shot of the crying face that got to me: Jesse Jackson

Shot of the crying face that didn’t do it for me: Oprah

Weirdest TV moment: CNN’s use of holograms, which was like watching a sputtering Starship Transporter (“Beam me up, Scotty.” “I’m trying!”). Bring back split screen.

Most over-the-top commentator:Chris Matthews on MSNBC

Most restrained commentator: Andersen Cooper on CNN. Didn’t he want to poke his hand through those holograms?

Most gracious speech: McCain’s concession speech; where was that guy during the campaign?

Near-miss moment: Sarah Palin apparently showed up ready to deliver one of two versions of her speech before McCain’s. Aides nixed the idea.

Oddest international snapshot: the Japanese crowds yelling for Obama

Most moving international snapshot: the young Palestinian shown drawing a picture of Obama along with a dove holding an olive branch. Lots of expectations reflected in that sketch.

Most hysterical blog post: Andy Borowitz, with the post title, “Failure to Blow Election Stuns Democrats”

Most interesting offer: Sarah Palin offering to help Obama craft his energy policies. Um, thanks a lot.

Most tepid congratulatory comment imaginable: Jim Manzi in the National Review, who said: “I continue to believe that Barack Obama is likely to be a poor President who will attempt to implement policies that will be detrimental to the national interest…. But I’m spending today proud abut what my country has overcome.” Um, thanks a lot.

Coolest comment: In an article about what kind of social life Washington can expect, Christopher Buckley, lately of National Review until he endorsed Obama (welcome to the dark side, Chris) wrote in the NY Times, “He’s a cool cat and I think he’s going to bring cool catness back…” 

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As early as the second grade, I had an idea what I wanted to be, or rather I had two ideas. Having visited the United Nations on a previous trip  to see my grandparents, I was certain I wanted to be a translator. My mother put me immediately into French classes. In retrospect, Farsi or Russian or Mandarin would have been far more useful, which is to say I didn’t have a prayer of working at the UN. Probably just as well and in any case I can now order off the menu in a French restaurant with reasonable confidence.

The other career I wanted to pursue was in journalism. Then again, I grew up in an idealistic time, in the era of Woodward and Bernstein back when they acted like journalists and the New York Times published “The Pentagon Papers” instead of erroneous stories about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Those were the days but my desire to work in that “noble” field has disappeared faster than you can say “reporter.”

These days, our news delivery system is chaos, all noise and bluster and so falsely “fair and balanced” that every opinion and every story carry equal weight. In a world where we are all so enamored of our own opinion that listening to others or even sharing the same viewpoint as others is less important than getting noticed, the bizarre proliferation of opinions spewed across cyberspace (some backed by some sort of intelligence, thoughtfulness or consideration, others apparently backed by nothing other than anger, agenda, an ax to grind, what have you) become news. These opinions are given equal time and, worse yet, equal weight. The media mavens grab a story from the blogosphere, work it to death and regurgitate it back into the web. The same story gets recycled over and over again, skewing opinion even more. For example, Obama’s relationship with his ex-pastor Reverend Wright continues to be a hot topic but John McCain’s with another religious leader and supporter, Pastor John Hagee is not (Wikipedia carefully states that Hagee “has incurred some controversy for his comments regarding Catholicism, Islam, homosexuality, women, blacks, and hurricane Katrina.”). Good journalists, by the way, are caught in the middle.

Actually, I care less about who the candidates are hanging out with (yeah, yeah, I know, goes to judgement and all that) and more about their plans for health care. No I haven’t heard enough or I don’t understand it well enough. I’d like the media to help me but apparently, the media isn’t in the business of helping us stay informed anymore.

There are other people making noise about the state of the news, thank goodness. For starters, catch Elizabeth Edward’s op-ed piece on what the media does and doesn’t cover (for those of you with really, really short attention spans, she’s the wife of the “third” Democratic candidate, John Edwards, who dropped out of the race). Seriously, go read it; she makes some hugely important points about corporate control of media outlets and what kinds of stories those outlets chase. It’s depressing but worthwhile. Then read this article by Michael Ventre that addresses the John Stewart issue. While “traditional” media critics and “real” journalists have been lamenting the fact that the under-thirty set have been getting their news from a comedian, said comedian, apparently aware of his influence, appears to be putting more thought and, yes, analysis into his interviews and “reporting,” displaying more than a rudimentary understanding of the issues at hand. If he brings a certain detached irony to his delivery (he is, after all, still out to entertain), that is far better than the gonzo showings of some of more “esteemed” mainstream media colleagues these days (yep, I’m referring to the Democratic debates on ABC).

It’s small comfort, but comfort nonetheless, to know that I’m not alone in my despair over the way news is made, made important and then delivered. As much as I might like the sound of my own voice or the appearance of my own words, I really do want to hear what others are thinking about a particular subject. If they are as upset as I am or as I hope you readers will be, even better, especially because lately I’ve been feeling alternately isolated, afraid and mad as hell.

 

 

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A friend and colleague passed along an e-mail from a woman seeking to promote her book and her movement or, as she calls it, pandemic called “Age Esteem.” According to the copy on her website, “Age Esteem” seeks to create a world where age and aging are celebrated and people of all ages are seen as important, contributing members of society.” Like so many such movements, er, pandemics nowadays, she offers training and workshops, books and magazines and CDs and a monthly online newsletter. While I noticed a picture of a man somewhere among the collection of smiling mature faces, the audience would seem to be primarily women, an observation supported by a news brief mentioning the author, Bonni Lou, presented to the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations recently. Impressive.

It seems kind of sad – and a little strange – that in 2008, what with people living longer and all, there needs to be a movement helping us combat negative stereotypes about age and aging. Aren’t there still societies where the elderly are revered or am I flashing to a previous incarnation, say a few centuries ago?

Nowadays, fifty is not so much the new forty as the year in which we all pass out of the coveted advertising demographic and can count on being targeted mainly by those selling retirement funds, restricted living developments and almost any medicine. Women feel pressured to stay on top of their game even earlier. Let’s face it; you don’t hear much about trophy husbands. Meanwhile, men’s magazines and websites don’t seem to target age groups quite as strenuously; once the guys get past the slacker years, they all appear to be reading pretty much the same things.

If women have to work extra hard to stay fit, dress well and look hot into their middle years and beyond, they’re at least getting lots of help in print and online. The latest woman-oriented endeavor comes from four wildly successful women of, yes, a certain age who, with the assistance of a group of well-known female contributors, also of a certain age, have combined their marketing and business savvy to launch a new website called Wowowow.

The site is still in its beta testing phase, meaning subject to change. Some of the articles, like “Is Adultery Bred Into the Male Animal?” lean a little towards the “ladies magazine” prototype of yore but posts on finances, politics and international stories have also found their way onto the pages. The bloggers adding their comments strike me as intelligent and thoughtful people. I have high hopes for a site perpetrated and populated by such high-powered females. Statistics show women are still living longer than men. Since we’re going to be around awhile, I’m all for positive attitude adjustment. Besides, there’s a lot to talk about.

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People are not stupid. Nor (and I’m going out on a limb here) are they willfully ignorant. In fact, if this protracted political campaign season gives me hope about anything, it’s that more people than ever appear to be trying to stay informed.

Still, people, I’m worried. Negativity is finding new and subversive ways of showing its ugly face. Radio and TV talking heads, not to mention on and off-line journalists of all stripes, are salivating over opportunities to trip up the candidates and their surrogates. The political opposition is in full collusion mode. What did he mean by that comment, hmm? What about the way she phrased that last remark, eh? Sexist? Racist? Atheist? Unpatriotic? Un-American?

It’s one thing to legitimately want to understand a candidate’s position on the issues. It’s another to believe there’s a hidden agenda and sinister intent behind every single utterance a punch-drunk and sleep-deprived campaigner makes. Some of the advisors, frustrated by the rise of nuance-free news, have played right into the microphones of conflict-seeking reporters. Hello, are you nuts? There is no such thing as off the record. Others speak their minds without considering that what makes sense to one group will be anathema to another. Then again, they’re not the ones running for President. 

Words mean something, yes they do. That’s why we are trying to listen to (not just hear) what the candidates are saying. Sure, we care about who their advisors are and what advice they’re receiving. But let’s keep our eye on the prize. We’re not electing their preacher or teacher or spouse or elderly mother. We’re not going to get distracted by the mind-games the minions are playing on each other, fully egged on by a media mostly bent on stirring things up. We’re better than that, right, people?

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My pleasure reading tends to be semi-lowbrow fiction: mysteries and thrillers, the odd fantasy or science fiction, historical novel and sometimes deceptively small character-driven books. I don’t do too well with romance novels or their modern sub-genre, chick-lit; I don’t identify with the earnest, ditzy, determined or confused heroines, all of whom end up depending on the appearance of “Mr. Right”. My idea of escapist fare involves puzzles that have to be solved or life-or-death decisions that have to be made. The drama unfolds in the courtroom, not the bedroom.

However, I’m hooked on a particularly appealing non-fiction book right now called “The Age of American Unreason” by Susan Jacoby. This academic, erudite, densely packed but highly readable book lays out all the ways and all the reasons our culture has been dumbed down – I mean seriously, irrevocably dumbed down. There have been other books that have sounded the alarm; reviewers have been referring to Richard Hofstadter’s “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life,” written in 1963. But Jacoby’s smart, angry, sometimes funny book has the advantage of being very current and extraordinarily specific about all the ways we Americans proudly go for the lowest common denominator. It’s not just that we don’t know science or geography or social studies; we don’t know why we should. We misuse words, misunderstand meanings, resort to easy labels and shrug. We think information equals knowledge, every piece of news is actually newsworthy and every issue has two equivalent sides (to given an example: saying the Holocaust occurred and saying it didn’t are not rationally equal points of view), a position encouraged by cable talk shows.

If you think Ms. Jacoby is preaching to the choir, you’re right. I absolutely believe she’s onto something. I’m not nearly as outraged as she is, probably because I’m not nearly as smart or as intellectually rigorous. In fact, I’m guilty of accepting lower standards of excellence in everything from writing to speaking to TV programming. Still, I’m aware of my shortcomings and make daily efforts to improve my knowledge base. And while I suppose my swearing contributes to the cultural coarsening she deplores, I swear I know the difference between trash, even the enjoyable junk, and news that’s worthy of serious consideration. Britney does not equal Iran on my radar screen. It does for many Americans, though and that’s what worries me.

I’m also concerned, as is Jacoby, about how the idiocy we’re force-fed dulls our ability to think rationally. We’re really getting out of practice, people. How else to explain the bills proposed by Alabama State Senator Hank Erwin that would allow professors and some students carry guns on Alabama’s college campuses, legislation gaining some traction following the recent shooting at Northern Illinois University? The good Senator is quoted as saying: ” “Most university folks feel a no-gun policy is the best policy. I understand their feelings, but reality says otherwise.” Arm students and teachers and let everyone shoot at each other? I want to scream, “Have we lost our minds?” but I already know the answer.

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As everyone knows, news is not really new. That is to say, in our 24/7 environment, we get information immediately, which is then overtaken by other information even more immediate. Not only are stories instantly distributed, they are also instantly dissected, analyzed, reworked and commented upon, all of which impact how we receive the news or perhaps even what we consider to be newsworthy.

With so many things happening in the world and so many outlets competing for attention and market share, it’s distressing to find that the most lead Internet news sites appear to run virtually identical stories hour after hour. That strikes me as singularly lacking in creativity; I’m not even sure it’s smart marketing.  Why wouldn’t MSN offer a different take on what is newsworthy (okay, beyond certain monumentous events) than, say, Yahoo? Do they assume the same customer demographic? And if so, why? The short answer is that the outlets are all interdependant, what with this network owning that cable company or this conglomerate producing that news show. Nevertheless, it’s boring to see the same things repeated over and over again.  But then, on a rainy, gloomy day, comparing top stories becomes the Internet equivalent of a parlor game for the temporarily uninspired scribe. To spot a unique story is to imagine some likewise uninspired drone sitting at his or her cubicle and deciding which stories we millions will read.  Of course, it’s probably all electronic and random at that, but it’s fun to think about the possibility of a deviant human touch. Herewith, a list of top stories spotted on various sites at around 1 PM:

MSN listed the Chilean earthquake, a story about foreclosures, the FBI report on Blackwater’s role in Iraq, NY Governor Elliot Spitzer’s dropping of the controversial immigrant drivers’ licensing plan and Pakistan President Mushariff’s alleged intention to resign as army chief at the end of this month. 

Yahoo featured  the Mushariff and Chilean earthquake stories as well as one on Catholic Bishops instructing voters to follow church doctrine, and Chevron’s being required to pay for its part in the Iraq oil-for-food scheme. You gotta love Yahoo for  highlighting a study on why some species eat their newborn – I might need that information – and for considering the upcoming nuptials of Google co-founder Larry Page a top story.

Google has quite a comprehensive news site but the earthquake in Chile and the FBI report on Blackwater dominated.  Surprisingly, no mention of Larry Page’s engagement.

Comcast led with the Mushariff, Spitzer and earthquake stories also seemed to find Matt’s ascention important, along with some news about Microsoft fixing a bug (yawn), President Bush promising to rebuild the Justice Department (yawn), the possibility that O.J. Simpson hearing may end today (thank god!) and that Matt Damon was named People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” (well good for him!)

And AOL, home of the free, the brave and some of the nuttiest, looniest and downright most insane posts I’ve ever seen, pretty much went its own way with its top stories.  ·   Texas Border Mayors Want Wider, Deeper River ·   Democrats’ Report Details ‘Hidden’ War Costs ·   Four Get AIDS Virus From Organ Donor ·   Georgia’s Governor Leads Prayer for Rain ·   Alligator Kills Fleeing Burglary Suspect .

Now this is what I’m talking about!

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