Dull and useless

Dull and useless
: At lunch with Jay Rosen the other day (aren’t you jealous?), he and I agreed that the import of FoxNews and Bill O’Reilly is complicated. People who look at Fox and say it’s just America right-turn signal are missing so much more.

Fox changed the very business of TV news (by getting rid of expensive produced pieces and the producers who produce them and by going to live discussion, which is not only cheaper but livelier).

Fox brought opinion to news and, via the ratings, we see that the audience embraces that because it’s simply more compelling and, in some ways, it’s more honest to reveal your perspective as you report the news. (The great irony is, of course, that Fox and O’Reilly deny their perspective when asked, but in every other way are in-your-face upfront about it; there’s a touch of Kafka to this story).

And, Jay writes, Fox and Bill O’Reilly bring something new to the alleged art of anchoring:

He brings forcefully to the surface and makes explicit what had been buried for so long in the journalist

  • http://www.modempool.com/nucleardann/blogspace/blog.htm Dann

    (The great irony is, of course, that Fox and O’Reilly deny their perspective when asked, but in every other way are in-your-face up front about it; there’s a touch of Kafka to this story).

    I don’t understand what is so great about this particular irony. The NYTimes, Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, Peter Jennings, Time, Newsweek, CNN, PBS, and so many other media outlets have been denying their “perspective” for decades.
    I also find it frustrating when people confuse Bill O’Reilly’s notorious political discussion program with reporting of the news. Should we confuse Andy Rooney with Dan Rather?
    OK. Bad example.
    Our nation would be better served if everyone, including Foxnews, were to just be honest about their biases and intentions.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    “resentment news.” ? Why not keep it simple – “tabloid news”. That seems like a perfectly fine description.
    So much breathlessness to say such simple things – “Fox News succeed because people like circuses and noise and demagogues”.
    Careful, thoughtful, pieces are expensive, and worse, usually dull.
    SCREAMING OPINION WORKS! DO YOU HEAR ME?! I SAID OPININATED SCREAMING WORKS!!!
    Why is this hard? :-)

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Seth screamed so hard he sputtered: OPINININATED, I SAID!

  • http://tommangan.net/printsthechaff tom mangan

    Years from now, when the American Empire collapses, the country’s bankrupt and its citizens in tatters, people will look back and wonder, “why didn’t any of the smart people do something about all these nationalist nincompoops who were leading the charge?” I don’t think our response, “yeah, but they make for great TV,” will hold much water.

  • rivlax

    I can understand laymen confusing Fox’s actual news programs with their commentary shows, but for you and Jay Rosen to do it is surprising and, well, disappointing.

  • http://www.gapingvoid.com hugh macleod

    What’s the big deal about O’Reilly?
    So a man who knows his own mind has his own TV show. I don’t have a problem with it, even if I don’t always agree with him and find his bedside manner rather grating. I can always turn the channel. What’s worse is if we lived in a country where people like him weren’t allowed an outlet because certain sensitive souls didn’t like it.
    Also, Tom, predicting the demise of the “American Empire” before it’s actually happened I find utterly patronizing. Especially when one blames said demise on something as innocuous as a TV show.
    It’s time we started to refer to mass audiences as “grownups”, rather than “lowest common denominator”, “trailer trash”, or sneeringly “Middle America” or “people who don’t know any better”.

  • ….a moment with Easycure

    Mainstream news is boring because it is constantly negative. Death and destruction has always drove the news. It has gotten old. The liberally left media, with all of their doom and gloom about everthing, was most of the problem. Now, with at least a better dialogue, such as on FoxNews, at least a different voice is being heard…..

  • http://tommangan.net/printsthechaff tom mangan

    Hugh: point taken, I just had to get that rant off my chest. Sure, O’Reilly’s only one guy and Fox News isn’t changing the course of history or anything. But I can’t shake the feeling that all these rightwing media outlets are peddling old-fashioned nationalism that has gotten every nation that has tried it into deep doo-doo, because the nationalist impulse obliges the nation to prove how superior it is, and that leads to people marching off to foolish wars that prove nothing. Maybe we have all the checks and balances we need and maybe I’m just being a media worrywart, but sometimes they scare the crap out of me.

  • http://mysite.verizon.net/res1uo0x/ A.W.

    Okay pimping the website time… I wrote on my site a posting that I thought did a pretty good job exposing the LA Times as biased in its recent treatment of Arnold Swartzenegger. You can read it here:
    http://mysite.verizon.net/res1uo0x/id41.html
    But this is what I wrote toward the end and I think it is germane:
    “Anyway, the point of this is not Schwarzenegger, but our concern that the media is not merely observing the news, and respecting the principle that, we report you decide. No, the concern is that they are actively trying to shape the news. Today the LA Times is finally outted as a Democratic newspaper out to slant things in the best way possible for their party. That doesn

  • http://www.gapingvoid.com hugh macleod

    Point taken, Tom. However all I can suggest is going to live in another country, like the UK, where all, and I mean all TV news and commentary is the same i.e. Centre-Left. Even if you are Centre-Left yourself, after a while you feel like you’re being duped.

  • http://tommangan.net/printsthechaff tom mangan

    Historical context: Sometime after the end of WWII, the great minds of the time opined that the problem with the press was that it was too partisan and too unprofessional. At the same time localities were trying the same thing by moving toward the hiring of city managers and breaking up political machines that ruled towns. Partisan media has been tried before, and implicated in the political machines of the times, and found wanting. That’s what got us where we are today. So do we have to go back to politcal media, to political machines, another 100-year fight against corruption and come back in 2103 and say, “wait, the non-partisan mass media model worked all along.” The system is annoying, but it’s not broken.

  • rivlax

    Can’t help it. Maybe it was my three years of grad school, but every time I hear someone bemoan “nationalism” I read “Marxism” in the background.

  • http://www.gapingvoid.com hugh macleod

    Tom, I prefer getting my news from a wide a political spectrum as possible. But I bore easily.
    Another limitation on the big media: their dependance on professional journalists.
    Sure, the journalist watches the action from close-up, but the action happens with ot without him. I’m not saying their job isn’t a useful one, but…
    A good example is Roger Ebert. He may have a strong, valid opinion about a film, but he wasn’t the one who actually had to do the heavy lifting: write the script, raise the money, direct the actors, edit the footage, find the distribution deal etc etc. Ergo his opinion, though informed, hasn’t “tasted blood”. The good thing about blogs is that a lot of people who write them are actually doing things I’m interested in, not just writing about other people doing it.

  • http://www.modempool.com/nucleardann/blogspace/blog.htm Tom

    Tom –

    Partisan media has been tried before, and implicated in the political machines of the times, and found wanting…..and say, “wait, the non-partisan mass media model worked all along.” The system is annoying, but it’s not broken.

    The non-partisan model has been breaking down since the 1960s. Walter Cronkite (a self proclaimed liberal) was the last broadcaster in my memory to make a credible attempt to keep his opinions to himself while reading the news. Something that he currently regrets, if you can trust the junk mail I get from time to time.
    The non-partisan model is currently broken. The need for “conservative” and other partisan news outlets will end when the current trend of the big media to subtly and overtly support our Social Democratic party comes to an end.
    -Regards

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    I’m unconvinced the solution to a lack of platonic objectivity and the inevitable existence of observer bias, is to say
    “What the hell” (i.e., everyone’s biased, so one bias is as good as another)
    Actually, that sounds awfully much like cultural relativism, which right-wingers tend to think is a bad thing
    (but that’s because they’re all biased :-))

  • http://tommangan.com/printsthechaff tom mangan

    I always come back to the central observation that bias in the news depends wholly on your persepctive. The perspective of the professional journalist is that he is reporting the facts without fear or favor (simplistic, of course), while the person who sees reportage that doesn’t reflect his views figures the reporter must be biased. The “liberal” press is a construct of its “conservative” critics. The question always comes down to: why didn’t they report my side of the story? And the answer is there might be a thousand reasons … the political persuasion of the reporter might be one of them, but there are hundreds more that are unknown to everybody on the outside… and because they are unknown (and in many cases unknowable to somebody who hasn’t done the job), there is this incredible temptation to fill in the blanks.

  • rivlax

    Read mrc.org today on the networks’ coverage of the partial-birth abortion bill compared to FNC’s coverage and tell me which was more “down the middle.” Just as Jeff and Jay confused commentary shows with FNC’s actual news, so do Fox critics try to paint the FNC news content with the Hannity-O’Reilly brush. Like Seth, many find it to their political advantage to characterize those who are advocating a lack of liberal bias in news presentation as advocating more right-wing bias.

  • Katherine

    I would rather have neutral media than biased media, but I think we aim for neutrality in the wrong way. I’d like to see newspapers assign both a pro-life and a pro-choice reporter to every abortion story and make them cover it together. If they can agree on the copy, fine. If not, give me two stories, one under each byline. I think I’m more likely to get the whole story reading National Review and the Nation together than reading just one publication that says it’s neutral but isn’t.

  • http://tommangan.net/printsthechaff tom mangan

    Katherine: I hope you have a vast personal fortune to spend on hiring a separate reporter to cover every “side” of every issue.

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Tom: Right. And Katherine: When I was a reporter, I can say without the slightest fear of disagreement that I did not have a stance — an easily identifiable, one-way-or-the-other opinion — on most of the stories I covered. And even if I did, it’s not easily bifurcated: for or against. Life is gray. And reporters are, in most cases, capable of separating their opinions. I’m trying to get to something else: A role in media for somebody who cares, the anchor as commentator.

  • http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/ Jay Rosen

    Hi, rivlax: I think I’m aware of the difference between a news program and a commentary show. And I am not confusing the two or denying the differences. But if network A leads with news, and network B leads with commentary, it is worthwhile to compare those two strategies. “World News Tonight” is not only ABC’s evening news program; it’s ABC’s signature news program. Peter Jennings not only anchors “World News”; he anchors all of ABC News as what I called “the face of the brand.” O’Reilly is the face of the Fox brand. The O’Reilly Factor is Fox’s signature program. And the different faces, different signatures tell us a lot.

  • http://www.dimn.blogspot.com Andrew | BYTE BACK

    I was with you/him until here:
    he snaps because he cares.
    Must have hit the retuirn button to quick and forgot “aobut the ratings.”
    And what Rivlax first said.
    Clarification needed on this: Walter Cronkite (a self proclaimed liberal)
    Self-proclaimed after he got out of the business.
    Lastly I’ll make the claim I always do. This discussion centers around national media. Local newspapers – even most statewide newspapers do a far better job. But Jeff says his point was more aobut the benefits of having a commentator over a reporter so I’m OT.

  • linden

    “The perspective of the professional journalist is that he is reporting the facts without fear or favor (simplistic, of course), while the person who sees reportage that doesn’t reflect his views figures the reporter must be biased. The “liberal” press is a construct of its “conservative” critics. The question always comes down to: why didn’t they report my side of the story?”
    This isn’t true. At least, not in my case. When everyone first began talking about FoxNews, I could clearly hear the bias in a couple of their shows. I was horrified and mystified by their accusations of a liberal press. Well, sometime after 911, something clicked. I can hear the lies both spew now. It’s not a matter of “this isn’t in line with my world view; therefore, it’s biased”. It’s a matter of “Blankety Blank just uttered an outright lie or distortion of something pretty clear cut”. I’ve seen it on CNN pretty often. And anyone who wants to claim that CNN isn’t Wes Clark’s personal cheerleader is on crack. The ass-kissing makes me sick. I was shocked when I began noticing these things. I don’t watch cable news much anymore because they all piss me off. I read on the internet from various sources.
    The one good thing I have to say about FoxNews is that they seem to call politicians on their complete bullshit more often than CNN does. At least from what I’ve seen.
    One of the more interesting things I’ve noticed regarding the Left versus the Right publications is that the Right publications are usually a little more grounded in reality. But that may just be because they seem to know more about foreign policy than Lefties (I’m a recently graduated Foreign Affairs major and the Left just strikes me as disturbingly ignorant– blinkered by ideology) and because of my slowly shifting (like continents) political views.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    It’s possible to call politicians on blather without being a raving ideologue.
    Just listen to BBC news for *excellent* examples.
    But I think it’s ducking the problem to simply throw up one’s hands, and proclaim truth somehow in the middle of a mess of rants.
    100 wrong things do not distill to one correct thing.

  • http://tommangan.net/printsthechaff tom

    Back to the point of Jeff’s comment: O’Reilly enjoys the position of sending out shrill catcalls from the sidelines. If Fox ever gets as big as, say, ABC News, O’Reilly will be shunted aside because the larger the audience (and the advertising buy), the smaller the tolerance for controversy. Every time I hear Rush Limbaugh has 20 million listeners I’m reminded that 260 million don’t listen … the guy with the smoothest, most entertaining right-wing delivery still turns off the vast majority of radio listeners. And the Franken/Michael Moore books are on the bestseller lists for weeks. Would anybody be buying these books if not in response to right-wing media? In the end, all these political blowhards, right and left alike, are about making as much money as possible by keeping people in a permanent state of irritation. It’s a living, I suppose, but I think I’d just as soon write my headlines for a paycheck. It’s far more honest work.

  • linden

    “It’s possible to call politicians on blather without being a raving ideologue.”
    Given that I hate O’Reilly with a passion and have yet to actually see him call a politician on bs, it’s usually been the more stable Fox News people, I’m mystified by the “raving ideologue” bs.

  • linden

    “In the end, all these political blowhards, right and left alike, are about making as much money as possible by keeping people in a permanent state of irritation. It’s a living, I suppose, but I think I’d just as soon write my headlines for a paycheck. It’s far more honest work.”
    But how do you know if you don’t irritate people? You’re both discussing headlines/writing for a paycheck. There’ve always been screamers. They just used to be relegated to the editorial page and public speeches and bars.