Posts about Politics

The 100 lists I hate

I’m supposed to do Donny Deutsch’s show (with Linda Stasi) later today regarding Bernie Goldberg’s 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America. And, yes, I should be ashamed of myself for giving this unimportant exercise in unjournalism more publicity. The nice folks at CNBC spared me reading the thing and sent me a nice summary by email. All Goldberg is doing is taking the most basic trick of soft news editors, unnews editors — that is, city magazines, feature sections, talk shows: He’s making a meaningless list and having a meaningless debate about it. But his list isn’t just meaningless. It’s just mean. Oh, I also hold some of his choices in less than high esteem. But what Goldberg is doing here is lumping together people who are truly hateful (terrorists) with people who don’t agree with him. He’s holding his own cable TV shoutfest without having the other side on to shout back. It’s silly. But what’s even sillier is that he uses this to pontificate about how he thinks America should be run. SpeakSpeak is giving him hell for it. But I like Jon Stewart’s response to his pompous prudery best:

Goldberg: Once upon a time, not too many years ago, a drunk in a bar wouldn’t use the f-word. Now-he may be your pal-but Chevy Chase goes to the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC at a gala where people are wearing tuxedos-and-gowns and calls the president of the United States a dumb blank.

Stewart: Once upon a time, Thomas Jefferson f**ked slaves.

Perspective, people.

LATER: Well, I hope the appearance goes better than this:

John Davison, editor at, deserves kudos for having the guts to walk off of the set of The Big Idea (CNBC) when it became evident that he’d been tricked into appearing on a show designed to do nothing but bash video games. It takes balls to walk off a show like that when things go sour because of manipulation instead of honest debate. It also takes more than a little self-respect. The nice thing about being a member of the media, though, is that you can still get your opinions out when you’re comments are edited from existence by a two-faced TV broadcast.

Here’s Davison’s saga.

AFTERWARDS: Bernie sure comes off as the angry, nasty, self-important, humorless prig. He went after Linda Stasi, who was very nice, and played the paranoid victim with Donny Deutsch. It’s on tonight at 10p, if the Supremes don’t preempt it.

OH, AND: My first point: America isn’t screwed up.

: HUH: Well, now I have no idea what’s happening. Deutsch has an entire show on polygamy.

The story so far

In news, I’m no fan of scandal journalism because I tend to get lost in the games of he-spat-she-spat and I think that most scandals ultimately have very little to do with our lives and distract from issues and stories that do matter.

In the far less momentous word of so-called personality reporting, I also was no fan of the equivilant, what I came to call bodily fluids journalism: the emphasis on personal scandal over professional products. That is one essential reason why I created Entertainment Weekly: Because of a number of factors in the mid ’80s (the remote control and cable and the resultant fragmentation of the audience; the rise of personality and the value of celebrity to market media; the increasing power of flacks as the new gatekeepers to the famous and what came to pass for news…), the stars’ movie or TV show or album became far less important in media than the stars’ sex scandal or baby or disease or death. So I started a magazine about product over personality, that helped you decide where to spend your money and time.

I don’t mean to stand up above the scandal mongers, all haughty. That’s pretty hard for a former gossip columnist and People writer to do. It’s just the way I look at things.

And that’s why I tend to pay little attention to scandals until I have to… which means I’m often behind the times. I’m not saying that’s necessarily a good thing for a newsman. I was behind on l’affaire Rather until you, my readers, made me catch up and you were right to do so.

Yesterday, I got email from a blog friend asking why I haven’t been on top of l’affaire Rove (formerly known as l’affaire Plame) and the truth is that I just didn’t keep up with all the ins and outs. The implication when people ask a blogger why he’s not writing about a story is that there’s a political motive: Why are you and Reynolds ignoring Rove? Confess! Apologize! Blog! But, in fact, it’s usually just the case that the blogger simply doesn’t care about the story and since a blog isn’t a newspaper of record — a blog is personal — that’s perfectly fine. I have not been a devotee of the Niger-Wilson-Plame-Miller-Cooper-Rove game of hot potato from the start. It’s a pretty sleazy story of overlapping hidden agendas. I don’t get my rocks off digging into scandals. And so I have not written about it. I haven’t had anything worthwile to add.

Still, I will admit it’s time to catch up. But I look at the mountain of charges and countercharges with exhaustion. Just today, I read the NY Times story about White House silence (what we used to call stonewalling) on the hit reality show Rove and the Reporters past the jump without getting a summary of what exactly is now known or acknowledged about Rove’s involvement. The Times assumes that we’re all keeping up on every back-and-forth like good Sisyphusean scandalmongers. I haven’t been. But The Times can’t edit every story for ignorant dolts like me who haven’t been keeping track of a story. Newspapers try; they add background graphs into the middle of tales but in the case of a saga like Rove/Plame, it’s impossible to sum it all up in a graph or two.

About a year ago, I wrote a post (which I can’t find right now, being bandwidth challenged in the mountains but here‘s the same material in a Powerpoint on how technology changes news) arguing that if you created a news product from scratch today, you wouldn’t include those background graphs. You’d link to the background instead. News would fork into ‘now’ and ‘then.’ The only problem is that news organizations aren’t structured to give the news that way. Newspapers especially don’t tell you what’s happening right now; they tell you what happened a few hours ago, when they’re good and ready. Apart from the scattered background graphs, they also aren’t good at getting you up to speed on a story you’ve missed; they don’t gather collected wisdom. Newspapers and newsrooms just aren’t structured to do that.

But the web is structured to do just that: to tell you what’s happening right now and to gather collected wisdom.

So I need someone to give me the story so far. Or the scandal so far.

I went to Wikipedia’s entry on Karl Rove and it was pretty good, though this triple negative took me 5 minutes to parse:

It would not have been illegal if Rove was unaware that Plame’s CIA employment was classified information.

[The only way to make that sentence more befuddling would be to put it this way: “It would not have been illegal if Rove was unaware that Plame’s CIA employment was not public information.” A quadruple negative. But I digress.]

Now you can the argument about whether Wikipedia is factual and edited and journalistic and all that. But at least it did help me get up to speed.

Now the question remains whether I care. Sorry, but if I went to a party and heard one group dissecting Plame/Rove and another group dissecting War of the Worlds, I’d join the latter conversation. In a blog, it’s hard to feign interest.

: LATER: If you subscribe to the content analysis school of you-are-what-you-don’t-write-about then Dave Winer finds evidence that NPR is part of the vast right-wing conspiracy.

The lesser of…

Arianna endorses Alberto Gonzales for the Supreme Court. Well, as good as….

That’s right, Dobson and Bauer and Schlafly and Perkins, and groups like Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, and Concerned Women for America have been so focused on sticking a knife through Gonzales’ Supreme Court chances that hearing their collective pining for “another Scalia or Thomas”, and reading rants like the National Review’s “conservatives would be appalled and demoralized by a Gonzales appointment,” I actually had a brain freeze moment where, I’m ashamed to admit, I thought: Gee, I hope Bush picks the man who thinks the Geneva Conventions are “quaint”. I wonder if that’s what happened to Boies too when he made his prediction, without voicing any concern, that Gonzales would be confirmed.

The fake war

Jay Rosen on the fake war media has declared over the Supreme Court nomination. We hear anchors and morning-show gabbers talk about this as if there is breaking news, as if the fighting is going on now. But the truth is, of course, that we’re just waiting. Says Jay:

Meanwhile, I do think “the armies of ideological activists from both sides” now gearing up for the battle royale are embarking not on a rational exercise in political persuasion–a battle for hearts and minds in proper terms–but an absurd and wasteful media campaign that will probably have little effect on the nomination itself, yet serve perfectly the purposes of those for whom culture war is way of life.