The Maher report

The Maher report

: On his Friday show, Bill Maher went after cable news for its news judgment this week:

“Yesterday was just Michael Jackson and today was just some nut in Atlanta,” he said. Neither was a big story, he argued, both were bull. The news networks “have as much to do with news as MTV has with showing videos.”

The competitive overkill on both stories this week was, well, striking. Once one did it, they all did it, afraid to be the one who didn’t do it. That’s the flipside of a competitive media landscape, eh?

Of course, I was part of that festival myself: I gave blog reports about Michael Jackson. Yet I also got to read from blogs that were critical of this very overkill; I got to say that the blogs — the people — were much less interested in Jackson than the nets were.

Mere rationalization? you say. Well, of course, it is. I confess my sin and I will say 10 our Murrows in penance.

But it is notable, I think, that by including comments from citizens’ media inside big media, there is an opportunity to sometimes hear that small dissenting voice or at least a different viewpoint. So I read David Weinberger, who eloquently mocked the journalists taking part in this OD and called it “outlandish pandering;” I said that was a challenge to us there. And no one objected to me saying that. I said it again the next morning when I taped another such segment and read more such criticism (there was plenty of it in blogs) along with other posts that said other things, most funny, a few serious. But — sweet irony — that segment was preempted by the next day’s obsession, the Atlanta story. Here’s more irony for you: The day before, I was set to do a segment on the OD du jour, Dan Rather, but that was preempted by Jackson.

Apart from the tawdry context, I do find it interesting that the sudden and healthy interest in blogs by networks is really about letting the voice of one medium inside another and that will yield diverse viewpoints and sometimes criticism. I think that’s a good thing.

Oh, by the way, the one person on Maher’s show who defended the coverage of Jackson was Andrew Breitbart. His ID: a contributor to Drudge.

: Separately on Maher…. Bill delighted in playing against the party line at every opportunity this week.

He said that private accounts for Social Security might be a good idea since the return on the invesment in Social Security is so crappy.

And then there was discussion of the good news coming out of the Middle East, the democracy spreading in waves or ripples all over, and the fatwa against bin Laden.

“The revolution has started,” Maher said. “Is there any turning back?”

Irshad Manji, the author of the wonderful Trouble with Islam Today, agreed: “I actually think the world has turned, the Islamic world…. Since the purple finger of Iraq, more and more liberal voices are being heard.”

Maher quotes someone saying that the fact that Bush — like Reagan before him — had so little knowledge of foreign affairs turns out to be an advantage, for he can dream up a world no one else dares imagine. A backhanded compliment but a compliment from Maher nonetheless.

Last week, Maher drove me nuts, among other things, pushing his Why They Hate Us Pavilion idea on, of all people, the brother of a victim of 9/11. This week, he says: “The answer to why they hate is not that we intervened too much, but too little.”

Richard Belzer tried to argue the old antiwar line — saying that the Muslim world has 7,000 years on us and we can’t “shove democracy down their throats” — but no one agrees with him; the audience doesn’t even cheer the way they do. Manji the Canadian lesbian Muslim journalist goes after him: “You are such a paroduct of the culture of instant gratification in America … If you don’t have freedom tomorrow then obviously it’s a big, old failure.”

A tide has turned.

: Playing against type remains the theme for the night: Maher sounds like an old church lady complaining that “we’ve lost the thread back to what is good and decent.”

And the comes Camille Paglia stunning the panel with her rave review for The Bachelorette.

: Maher, of course, delights in the unexpected… until the unexpected is expected.