Questioning power

Questioning power

: Howard Stern said this morning that the only reason his call to Michael Powell yesterday (transcript below) is making such big news today is that journalists no longer ask tough questions.

He’s all too right.

TV especially thinks toughness (and balance) come from getting people from two sides on the air to yell at each other.

Last night, I was on CNBC’s Capitol Report again with right-wingnut Bob KohnAna Marie Cox and I were expecting smart and reasonable blogger John Hinderocker instead. This time, instead of getting into a fussfest with Kohn, I decided to just make fun of him. He started going at it with the host, Gloria Borger. I shouted: What, did I walk into Crossfire here? I said that he, like John Kerry, was humorless. At the end, I begged him to say just one bad thing about George Bush, just for the balance and entertainment. I took my cue from Jon Stewart: Make a joke of the fools.

When Powell went on Ronn Owens’ show on KGO, a condition was that he would not take phone calls. Get that: A government bureacrat who works for us, the people, refuses to talk to the people. What isolation! What arrogance! What crap!

Ronn, to his credit, took Stern’s call anyway. And Stern got in the questions he could, before he was cut short. There was no yelling, no shouting, no sputtering.

A citizen with a grievance finally got to question someone in power.

These days, that’s news.

The problem with a future of citizens’ media, distributed media is that it will get harder and harder for us, the people, to question power. We the people don’t have the access (which makes me regret that I didn’t attend Always On just so I could ask Powell questions of my own about his First Amendment hypocrisy or that two years ago at Foursquare, when I did ask Powell a question about copyright and Larry Lessig I should have asked about Stern). The journalists are supposed to do it for us and they have the access but they get scared of pissing off power. They wimp.

The problem media today isn’t that it’s biased. Or that it’s unbiased. The problem is that media stopped thinking like a human being and asking the questions human beings would ask.

The other day, I saw a WNBC morning show “report” on yoga for little kiddies and their too-rich, too-indulgent, too-stupid parents who’ll pay $400 to have their infants stretch to relieve their terrible tensions (like what, not getting candy when they want it from nanny?). I wanted to shout at the TV. But more than that, I wanted the “reporter” to say to these people: Are you nuts? Do you really think this is worth 4 cents? Do you think this makes a bit of difference to a kid? Don’t you feel like fools? But, no, of course the “reporter” just gives us the yoga nuts’ PR spin and leaves it at that. No confrontation. We do that on Crossfire. That’s what TV says.

Jay Rosen complains, properly, about TV reporters going to spin alley at political events. The problem is, TV is spin alley.

This isn’t a matter of left or right, of bias or objectivity. It’s a matter of common sense: When reporters lose their common sense, they lose their humanity and their credibility and their usefulness.

They need to remind themselves that they are asking questions on behalf of the rest of us who don’t have the chance to. Howard got to ask a few questions of power yesterday. He should not have had to. Reporters should have beaten him to it.