Saturday, January 13, 2007

Praised with Faint Damns

Is CBS considering revisiting to legitimate TV News? It certainly seems to be engaging in "self criticism" sessions; this is from "Outside Voices." The blurb reads:

Each week we invite someone from outside PE to weigh in with their thoughts about CBS News and the media at large. This week, we turned to Bob Giles, veteran journalist and curator of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University. Here, Giles discusses the harm in U.S. news outlets' lack of tough questions. As always, the opinions expressed and factual assertions made in “Outside Voices” are those of the author, not ours, and we seek a wide variety of voices.

Outside Voices: Bob Giles Has A Tough Question For The U.S. Press - Public Eye

Television’s great advantage is that it can take the viewer along for the interview. The audience can look into the eyes of the news source as he or she responds to the reporter’s queries. It is what sets TV news apart from print and radio news reporting. In an era when elected officials try to manipulate the news and spin it to their advantage, when they are able to speak anonymously or have hired spokespersons speak for them, this special role of television reporting as visual surrogate for the public is critical. The public knows that reporters who can be seen asking strong questions is one antidote to misinformation.
My, wasn't that trenchant? Move over, Bob and let Bob have a swing.

I've become less and less impressed with US media as I've had more exposure to international media, something that's probably true of most other bloggers.

It's not simply the unwillingness to ask "awkward questions" - it's the apparent unwillingness to deal with complicated issues. Very likely this is due to the effect actual news has on ratings; reality is complicated and often requires graphs and numbers to explain. It can be hard to compete with a car chase over on Faux.

But I learned a hard lesson on the web long ago; raw numbers of eyeballs are meaningless. You need the right eyeballs. You need those eyeballs to think of you first, and regularly. Profit comes from the right eyeballs relying upon you and your credibility. That credibility rubs off on the advertisers, it does, and vice versa.

"Crap traffic" degrades the brand. Listen to Limbaugh's sponsors sometime. Viagra alternatives, weight-loss nostrums and get rich quick schemes.

This tells you a lot about Rush's respect for his demographic. It tells you a lot about the advertiser's dependence on the outright gullibility of his audience. One of my key evaluation critera for ANY form of media is to look at who the advertisers are, and what sort of readership sales of their product will depend on.

And there are other factors here. "News as Entertainment" isn't all that entertaining because all that pretending to be news that's worthy of my time gets in the way of being fun.

The Daily Show and the Colbert Report have demonstrated that it's possible to do accurate news analysis and do it with wicked and pointed humor. By contrast, the Big Three seem to have abandoned analysis entirely, along with any detectable sense of humor or irony, leading otherwise respectable journalists to refer to the Daily Show as "Fake News."

My sons and daughters, if it was actually fake, it wouldn't be funny. CBS and the rest of the MSM have been relegated to being the straight man for the Comedy Channel.

CBS needs to hark back to the good old days, voluntarily reclaim the old "fairness doctrine" for itself and by doing that, announce it has grown a pair.

Journos seem terrified that they will be denied access to the President's incoherent ramblings and Tony Snow's nonsense. I figured out years ago that all I need to know about either is that their lips are moving. Why in heavens name would you waste a perfectly good reporter on such a meaningless job?

An intern could do it. Monica Lewinsky could do it. She's pretty good at fluffing Presidents, from what I've been told by the media. Ad Nausium.

Take the pool feed, pick any non answer or prevarication at random and show them to be the fools and liars they are with it. A couple news cycles like that, and the phone will start ringing.

How do you think John Stewart gets some of HIS improbable guests? He's had Dick Cheney. Note to Dick - that didn't go so well.

This administration needs to be reminded that the sword has two edges. They need you to get their story out. So make it clear that it has to be a factual, verifiable story before you put the Tiffany stamp upon it.

It used to be that miscreants feared "Hello, We're from 60 Minutes" nearly as much as a justice department raid or an IRS audit. Let's take CBS back to that happy place, where reporters were named by Nixon on tape with many unprintable adjectives wishing improbable conjunctions upon them.

People like me can do opinion - it takes little more than hubris and good typing skills. Some of us can come up with some pretty good analysis of what the facts mean to our particular readerships. What we cannot do is compete on a fact for fact basis with a professional news organization. We therefore seek out stories, stake out our take on them, and refer our readers to the sources. When I seek out intelligence, my first criteria is that my sources of intelligence do not insult my intelligence.

CBS has not been a source of mine for... well, years now. Why you, when there's Greg Palast? Why you, when there's the BBC? Why you, when there's CNN? Hell, the Daily Show is a better quote.

It would behoove you to pay close attention to your website referrer logs to see how often you are cited, and by whom. (I got to this story via But it wasn't a complementary reference.)

When the Right Wing pays pundits under the table while trying to muzzle PBS news, that should tell you something about how much they fear the shock and awe of fact-based inititatives.

And yes, I know, the Owners Object to many factual stories and will kill them given half a chance, along with Dan the Messenger Man. But, well, it seems to me that enough of you journalistic glory-boys and girls have enough loose change rattling around to buy some corporate influence yourselves. Ain't capitalism wonderful? CBS is trading at around $30 a share right now. It' s looking like a not bad investment. Consider how rewarding polishing that tiara could be.

The alternative is stark; I already outsource my news, relying for the most part on CTV news and BBC news for television coverage and The Guardian and the Globe and Mail for print. All of these organizations routinely report domestic news that never appears in US media, and generally in greater depth.

Meanwhile, as all the networks try to integrate their news slants into their shows, I become less and less inclined to watch TV at all. Last night, your hit show "Numb3rs" revolved around a plot twist so very improbable that the lead characters should have refused to show up; it involved smuggled guidance systems for "Katusha style" rockets, which were also being smuggled in via Singapore.

Dear Lord in heaven. I do hope all terrorist plots are that amazingly silly and overcomplicated. Mythbusters made a quite functional rocket using commercial pipe, a chunk of graphite, a tank of nitrous oxide and a large salami. College students routinely build far more sophisticated science projects than a short-range missile guidance system. A really sophisticated one - using, say, GPS navigation or a laser designation system shouldn't cost more than a couple-hundred bucks in parts. Rocket Science just ain't rocket science anymore.

If all I wanted to do was create widespread terror, well, a couple pounds of talc would do as well as anything. But it's not that difficult to come up with a somewhat impressive Fuel-air explosive warhead, either.

According to one Russian military scientist writing for the Russian military magazine Voyennyye Znaniya (Military Knowledge), FAE weapons are effective against exposed personnel, combat equipment, fortified areas and individual defensive fortifications, clearing passages in minefields, clearing landing sites for helicopters, destroying communication centers, and neutralizing strongholds in house-to-house fighting in a city.(2) In addition, he stated that "fuel-air explosives are capable…of completely destroying in a given area vegetation and agricultural crops that have been planted." "In its destructive capability, it is comparable to low-yield nuclear munitions."(3)

(gif animation)

The best thing about a crude FAE is that it doesn't even have to work properly to work pretty well.

The [blast] kill mechanism against living targets is unique--and unpleasant.... What kills is the pressure wave, and more importantly, the subsequent rarefaction [vacuum], which ruptures the lungs.… If the fuel deflagrates but does not detonate, victims will be severely burned and will probably also inhale the burning fuel. Since the most common FAE fuels, ethylene oxide and propylene oxide, are highly toxic, undetonated FAE should prove as lethal to personnel caught within the cloud as most chemical agents.(8)
Gee, I wonder where I could find someone with enough chemical know-how to put one of these together....

How about any junior college chemistry teacher?

Perpetuating absurdities upon the American people in the name of entertainment in either the news or entertainment divisions is no way to impress folks like me; people with actual three digit IQ's. You know, the demographic you used to have.

Unless you and the rest of the domestic MSM does something to repair it's credibility soon, it will find itself limited to that market segment that relies on rabbit ears from Radio Shack.

And tell me, do, what will THAT do to your stock options?

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