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Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

No Bull Prize.

In Media, Politics on October 9, 2009 at 9:06 pm

Nobel Peace Prize Medal - Nobel Foundation TM

He should have turned it down. Obama gains little by accepting the Nobel Peace Prize so unexpectedly thrust upon him this morning. In the current climate, it’s the last thing he needed.

As White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in one-word email: “Wow.” Has anyone ever wanted a Nobel Prize less? Bono and Bill Clinton would kill for this. After saving a few thousands more lives with antiretroviral drugs, of course.

Chip Reid asked Gibbs in the daily briefing if the president considered turning it down: “Not that I know of.” Really? Was Gibbs on a bathroom break?

It’s true that this validates Obama’s worldview and that how we speak to each other is important. Yet, in “seeking to encourage Obama’s ideals rather than recognize concrete results, ” the committee sidestepped its founder’s vision: “Alfred Nobel stipulated that the peace prize should go ‘to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses.’ ‘Shall have done,’ seems a tricky piece of language to write around.”

I don’t hold it against Obama, because I’m pretty sure he didn’t want it. Not now, anyway. However, I did think he would have the dexterity to decline gracefully and not offend the Nobel Foundation. Read the rest of this entry »

Condé Nasty.

In Advertising, Media on October 9, 2009 at 4:50 am

Gourmet Cover - August 2008

There’s nothing in the realm of media I associate more (fondly) with my mother than Gourmet magazine. For my whole life, it’s been an unfinished cookbook revealing new pages of recipes each month. They’re cut out and cooked up, tasted and tabulated: “Keeper? So-so? Garbage?” I couldn’t count on a centipede’s legs how many of its creations have become staples of my family upbringing and holidays.

I say this not merely for the sentimentality, but to demonstrate the power of a brand.

All of which makes the decision to shut it down a bummer. It was a magazine whose cover could make your stomach growl.

Kudos to those who saw this coming, but it’s a shame. And there’s a lot to unpack in its demise.

First is the paradox that it is falling even as we live in the “Era of the Foodie,” a time when more than ever the average person has the easiest access and most interest in the culinary upscale. As the eulogies poured in, the head of the Culinary Institute for America, Tim Ryan, echoed that:

“I am very surprised and saddened by the announcement. Gourmet was a high quality magazine and an iconic brand. Its demise is certainly not reflective of the public’s interest in food & wine, which is at an all time high; but more about the challenge of a print based business model in a digital age. Gourmet is just one of many print business dominos which are likely to fall in the next few years.” Read the rest of this entry »

Top Ten Tryst.

In Media, Politics on October 2, 2009 at 7:36 am

David Letterman Revealing Extortion Attempt on 10/1/09 - CBS

David Letterman has balls of steel.

He disclosed an unflattering $2 million extortion attempt against him and he didn’t have to. CBS says the instigator was a 48 Hours employee and TMZ figured out the guy’s name.

Early yesterday Letterman testified before a grand jury. If you were not aware, grand jury proceedings are secret: no jurors are allowed to disclose what is said in them. Only the witness is allowed to speak about his/her testimony out of court, if they choose to. Letterman did not have to go on network television and talk all about this: the full details would not necessarily have come out, as I understand it.

Rather, Dave had the dignity to come before everyone and tell it straight. He said something that above all stood out to me and distinguished himself. “The creepy stuff was that I have had sex with women who work for me on this show,” he admitted. He didn’t avoid the bad, unbecoming part or euphemize by saying “I was intimate with women” instead. He was blunt, uneasy, and contrite.

Media personalities have constituents, trustworthiness, and favorability ratings to maintain, just like politicians. So, like your Sanfords and Spitzers this is no small thing, but Dave will weather it. Read the rest of this entry »

Economists. And Everyone Else.

In Economy, Media on September 18, 2009 at 12:04 am

Ben Bernanke on 8/19/09 - Doug Mills/The New York Times

Are economists out of touch?  By definition, I’m afraid so.  Take a 60 Minutes feature two years ago where Alan Greenspan can be seen enjoying reading labor and manufacturing statistics over breakfast, while his wife, Andrea Mitchell, looks on, swooning over how adorable she thinks it is.

I’m not sure it’s their fault though.  It’s just their nature, and someone’s going to follow this stuff.  The disconnect arises when economists irritate laypeople with statements like these: “The recession is very likely over at this point.”  That was Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke speaking Tuesday at the Brookings Institution.

Okay, so I did extract his quote out of its natural habitat (and unlike other media entities I am admitting to it), but the gist is still the same: “Even though from a technical perspective the recession is very likely over at this point, it’s still going to feel like a very weak economy for some time as many people will still find that their job security and their employment status is not what they wish it was.”  This technical analysis may be accurate, but it does little to help the national mood.

Bernanke’s not the first economist to put bookends on the recession, but he is the best known.  These economists called the recession in May in Forbes. Some outlets have been teasing the story for a few months now.  And the IMF’s top dog said a month ago that the global recession is over and the recovery has begun.  The consensus is that America was the caboose entering this tunnel, but still, as interdependent as today’s world is, can that really be so?  And what’s the benefit in saying it?

A huge portion of the population is still reeling from the fall and struggling to get up.  It’s not like four years after Katrina the new head of FEMA would be so insensitive as to call a press conference to say, “We’re all back to normal!”  Can you imagine what Tyler Durden would do to him? Read the rest of this entry »

Return Of The Mack.

In Media, Politics on September 10, 2009 at 2:25 am

Barack Obama's Health Care Speech on 9/9/09 - Doug Mills/The New York Times

Wednesday was a big day.  New iPods.  Beatles Rock BandDerek Jeter tied Lou Gehrig’s 72-year old record for most hits by a Yankee.

And then, after months of trying to let Congress do what it is supposed to do (pass laws), President Obama came off the bench like a sixth man who is better than the entire starting five and infused the conversation with the proper touch of urgency, decency, and possibility.

In the coming days we will see if Obama can follow up this special joint session address, an uncommonly early second one of his tenure, with a convincing road show but much more importantly some legislative prowess and tenacity.  As he said, “I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it’s better politics to kill this plan than improve it.”  If he is as capable as we are led to believe, then, as Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter and Salon’s Joan Walsh pointed out on The Ed Show post-speech, he should be able to persuade reticent Blue Dogs to go along with him.  After all, they voted for the Bush tax cuts, which were more expensive.

Mark Halperin is weighing the landscape in the wake of the speech as well, categorizing the successes, (“Stiffened the spine of Democrats in Congress”), the risks (most poignant that he has “Fired his best shot, leaving him no obvious option for another galvanizing jump start”), and unanswered items (“How he can inflict political pain on those who try to block him”) for us all to consider.

Alessandra Stanley made an apt comparison about the President’s remarks: “In short, the president tried to do for his health care plan what he did for his candidacy when the issue of race, and the words of his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., threatened to derail his presidential bid last year.” Read the rest of this entry »

Why The Anchor Rancor?

In Media on September 10, 2009 at 1:21 am

Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy in Anchorman  - DreamWorks

Ron Burgundy must be spinning in his grave.  Not one, but two women will be helming the flagship network newscasts?  “Hot pot of coffee!” he would say.  “That is a joke. I’ll even write it down in my diary: ‘Charlie Gibson had a very funny joke today.’  I’m going to laugh about it later tonight.”  Watch out Brian Williams, these cougars are hunting.

Diane Sawyer certainly has the demeanor and presence to set the tone for a network newscast, save that time she got a little tipsy at Obama’s inauguration.

Sawyer will stand on the shoulders of giants when she takes over though, as Barbara Walters, Connie Chung, and, much as they might be perennial rivals, Katie Couric, have all eased the way for her.  That’s purely metaphorical by the way, since none of those women is above 5’ 5”.

Walters was a real-life Veronica Corningstone whose dream of being a network anchor came to fruition but was short-lived, partially because her co-anchor was a gruff, Old World newsman who displayed on-air disdain for her.

Things have also come a long way from the public outcry and sexism kerfuffle around Connie Chung’s firing from her two-year stint with Dan Rather in the mid-90s on CBS.

Moreover, Couric has earned respect for her disarming and insightful interviews with Sarah Palin that altered the course of he 2008 campaign.

An interesting aspect of this development is what it will say about gender and ratings.  Couric settled into a distant third against Williams and Gibson.  Does she garner fewer viewers because she is different?  Because she is a woman?  Will people show brand loyalty or gender loyalty?  For good or ill, we will be able to tell in January: Sawyer’s entry will serve as a sort of control group.

Read the rest of this entry »

Copy Blight.

In Advertising, Media on September 3, 2009 at 11:08 pm

Mad Men Boys - AMC

In our culture, brimming with brand barrages and sponsorship strafings, stepping back to consider the commercial colloquialisms of our media metabolism is eye opening.  (Good thing I didn’t have to read that off a teleprompter.)  So many of the same meaningless, vapid phrases are regurgitated and force-fed to us hourly, it can make you can feel like a duck being groomed for foie gras.

Space in print and time on television are costly and limited, so it’s amazing that these taken-for-granted lines have survived from Mad Men days until now, as they add remarkably little.  Let me explicate in translating Adman to Layman:


“Fun for the whole family!” is a guaranteed miserable time for at least half of the family.

Is it physiologically possible for Mom and/or Dad to enjoy Space Chimps?  Can their toddler’s teenage sister tolerate The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl without texting her friends?  That’s ¾ of a quasi-generic family right off the bat struggling to pay attention in the theater with more difficulty than a George Washington Bridge security guard.  Instead, advertisers should be clear and direct: “Kids love it!”  Parents know that this means they can entertain their tykes for a few hours at a flick without too many tantrums or complaints.  (Ohhh, nevermind, now I get it.  This is cunning copy.  Advertisers are leveling with the target: as a parent, any time without tantrums and complaints is considered fun.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Reverse Martyrdom.

In Media, Politics on August 26, 2009 at 10:07 pm

The Kennedy Brothers - Bettmann / Corbis

As the nation mourns the loss of Ted Kennedy today, news coverage surrounding him is deservedly ubiquitous.  MSNBC has literally only covered one story, except for checking on Mark Sanford’s resignation rebuff press conference five hours ago.  CNN has been the same, and Fox News is close behind.

When a larger-than-life public official or public figure passes, be it Ted Kennedy, Michael Jackson, or Socks the Cat (okay, leaps and bounds below the others, but I felt like the mood begged for a dash of levity), this has become the norm and I suppose it is warranted.  It makes us realize or re-realize the simple volume of their work, the impact of their pursuits that has affected our lives but is now taken for granted, and how much of history they have been a part of.

Usually with a death of this magnitude, which is about on par with a presidential loss (Gerald Ford’s death certainly got less coverage, if not his life), all media entities and public servants that decide to come on camera or do a phoner (that’s technical slang for a phone interview) are deferential, admiring, and inclined to pay tribute to the departed.  They sometimes use the moment to call for action on an issue or honor the person’s life with a charitable cause he/she championed.  I recall in 1997 in the aftermath of Princess Diana’s unfortunate passing, George Clooney held a press conference, and it was well-attended at that, to propose legislation and decry tabloids for their obsessive tendencies, in particular lambasting the paparazzi for their relentless reconnaissance to the point of celebrity endangerment.

Only there’s been a sly undercurrent to the coverage from lawmakers appearing to give interviewed eulogies about Teddy. Read the rest of this entry »

BLOVIATOR: More Ovaltime, Please!

In Media, Politics on August 24, 2009 at 8:03 am

Bloviate (v.)  \ˈblō-vē-ˌāt\

to speak or write verbosely and windily

This is a Bloviator segment on Brief Wit.  It’s reserved for those long-winds you just can’t keep to a low word count, knowing full well you’ve lost the reader halfway through. To see the previous edition, click here.


As I return from a bit of a respite (upon which I happen to have seen the effects of the Stimulus in action), I was not planning to write about health care (or is it insurance?) reform.  Try as I might not to, I am drawn in.  (An aside: by all means, indulge in the cartoons I have peppered throughout this piece.)

It would be summarily shocking if the current state of play is what Rahmbo and ‘Bam (God love New York Post nicknames) had in mind all along, as if there’s some War Room calendar in the West Wing where Monday, August 24th is marked, “Hit rock bottom.  Begin backlash to the backlash.”

8/13/09 - Health Care Cartoon - Jim Morin/Miami Herald

Read the rest of this entry »

Insomniac News Review.

In Media on August 6, 2009 at 3:48 am

Jeremy Hubbard and Vinita Nair at Desks - ABC World News Now

Alessandra Stanley may have opined on early morning news last week, but I am taking it one step earlier.

I’ve been staying up quite late recently, what with my lack of formal obligations that would otherwise habitually begin at 9am. It’s been productive actually. Quiet, calm, few distractions, save the cataclysmic electrical storm we’ve been punished with on a near-daily basis ’round these parts. Some nights I haven’t hit the hay until 3, 4, even 5am. (Case in point: this writing.)

Most of those nights I take in the news before I fall asleep. What news could be on at these “darkest before the dawn” hands of the clock? Well believe it or not, the Big Three (how antiquated does that sound?) broadcast networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC (sorry CW, maybe next year), actually produce live national newscasts in the still of the night.

And they are arguably the best news on all of television.

They’re the way the news used to be: straightforward, not abrasively loud or busy, and not swapping souped-up graphics for reporting.

For a decade, perhaps two or three, purists have been mourning the demise of hard news. I suppose with the ultimate hard newsman Walter Cronkite’s passing, it’s apropos to reflect with these shows.

Traditionally hard news is characterized by the intersection of two independent attributes: seriousness and timeliness. It “concerns specific events and is strictly factual.” This is opposed to soft news or infotainment, such as, well, most news today. But especially incessant guessing games on Michael Jackson’s death and the jacked nature of Michelle Obama’s arms.
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