Saturday, May 3, 2008

Tube roses & thorns VI

Enough already

The antics of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright have been so much of the media oxygen lately, such a nonsensical foundational aspect of the substance of what we hear at any given moment in relation to the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama, that it’s as if (to borrow from and corrupt an often-used phrase) it’s the former pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ’s world and we just live in it.

Leave it to John Kerry of Massachusetts, gray eminence of the Senate, to set the record straight in his forthright, irascible fashion, in one of those unguarded, unscripted moments that cable television really hates — when a honored guest wanders off the talking-points property and speaks candidly in a way TV’s not ready for.

On Wednesday, in a master stroke borne of a by-now populist exasperation, Kerry finally said what Americans have been thinking for at least a month about the Wright non-issue: Enough already.

Interviewed by the vacuous MSNBC newsreader Alex Witt about the prospects for Obama’s chances of winning the Democratic nomination in the face of the controversy over Rev. Wright's comments and world-view, Kerry, clearly a man at the end of this tether, responded, the Massachusetts senator ripping into Witt in the following priceless exchange:

WITT: Okay. He said it. A 20-year relationship. Reverend Wright married him. He is the one who baptized a god parent. How personally painful is this for [Obama]?

KERRY: Can I say something to you? Obviously it is painful and he said it. You folks need to let go of this. Television needs to stop dwelling on something that is in the past. I thought Barack Obama yesterday gave America his second big presidential moment of this campaign. The first when he spoke out about the issue of race. The second yesterday, when he made it clear, every one of the statements of the minister are just unacceptable. They're not the person that he knew before.

Now let's move on to how we'll put people to work. How are you going to give people health care? How are you going to create jobs in America? What Barack Obama is offering in this gas price issue is real leadership. I mean, do we want people who sort of put their fingers in the wind and throw out an idea for the short term that is sort of politically pleasing, or do you want a here who stands up and says, no, what we need is to really lower gas prices by having a real energy policy, an intelligent policy that puts in place the incentives for renewable fuels and alternative fuels.

That's what Barack Obama is doing. And it is you guys have to focus on the thing that really matter to the American electorate. The other thing is just worn out, old history now. This guy had his narcissistic moment and it is finished.

WITT: Okay. Point well taken. Did I say to begin, can I just say, sir, I knew you weren't going to like that question? On the record.

KERRY: Let's move on to the things that really matter to people. I think people in America are tired of this stuff.

WITT: Okay.


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Bloggers at the Huffington Post weighed in. Fast.

Frappe: “Way to go, Senator Kerry! Thank you! Once again we have a dysfunctional mainstream media that is doing everything in its power to distract voters from the central issues impacting life in America. …”

Champislove: “Thank you John for tell the media what they aleady know to be the truth. These people only keep going what they want to keep going. MSNBC won't say any thing about what Pat (the racist) Buchanan said a few weeks back. They just want to push that under the rug. But this thing with Obama just keep going and going and going. This is just there way to try to knock the black man out of the race. … M.S.N.B.C. STANDS FOR ... MOST STUPID NEWS [BROADCAST] NETWORK.”

MSNBC.com, the cable network’s companion Web site (and a former employer), recently made a big deal of offering ordinary people the opportunity to embed MSNBC-branded videos on their own Web sites and blogs (something the ‘Vox has done frequently). But you won’t find this little video snippet available for citizen downloading. You can watch it, though, at the HuffPost, assuming MSNBC’s lawyers haven’t intervened in the meantime.

It’s hard to know if Kerry’s real straight talk will have any effect on the maniacal obsession the media has with the Wright non-issue. But the word is out in a way that big media can’t conveniently sweep under the table. Enough already. Kerry asked the question the media’s been deserving for awhile: “At long last, have you no sense of balance?”

CBS Anchor Job Deathwatch

The reflexapundit vultures are circling more heavily than before, and some tout in London or Las Vegas already has bets in on when Katie Couric pulls the plug on her participation in a broadcast news format that’s been on life support for a long, long time.

Couric, anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News, presides over a news program that is spiraling downward at a fast clip. The TV News Web site reported that the program has garnered record low ratings for the third week in a row.

“The newscast dropped some 50,000 viewers to average 5.34 million total viewers for the week of April 21, according to data from Nielsen Media Research,” TV News reported. “’Evening News’ had averaged 5.39 million viewers the previous week.”

“The NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams” (8.01 million total viewers) and ABC’s “World News With Charles Gibson” (7.79 million viewers) finished first and second respectively.

◊ ◊ ◊

This muffled drumbeat’s been going on for a while. On April 11, Bill Carter and Jacques Steinberg, writing at NYTimes.com, reported that considerations about life for CBS After Couric: A recent conversation among CBS brass “included what one participant said was some ‘idle talk and musings’ about the big question hanging over CBS News: should Ms. Couric leave her position as the news anchor after the presidential election, a development that had long been rumored.

“No one involved in the meeting or briefed on its particulars would be identified for attribution because of the delicate nature of the talks," The Times reported. "But Ms. Couric discussed several things she might do if she left the anchor post, according to the executives, including a daily talk show to be syndicated by CBS, or replacing Larry King in a prime-time position on CNN. …

“But the conclusion drawn from the meeting, the executives said, was that no decision about the anchor job would be made until after the presidential election and inauguration.

“However, rumors from CBS News and reported in the news media may have, inadvertently or not, done what the meeting failed to do: ensured Ms. Couric’s early departure," The Times said.

“Though some people close to Ms. Couric, as well as some professional associates, said Thursday they believed that it was now likely she would not remain as anchor through the election, and might even leave in the next few weeks, that point was adamantly denied by the senior executives closest to the decision.”

One option has apparently disappeared since April 11. There was talk, hard to say how serious, of Couric moving into Larry King’s spot on CNN once the Venerable One stepped down in 2009. That would have been a master stroke of timing. But earlier this week King signed a contract extension with CNN, set to keep him on the air asking innocuous, painfully transparent questions until June 2011. (Some ain't happy. Off2Seethe Lizard, blogging at TV Newser, said "This either is elder abuse or viewer abuse.")

What’s a beleaguered broadcast news anchor to do? Another option, one we haven’t heard discussed much, is to move Couric over to a spot in the rotation on “60 Minutes,” CBS’ Sunday-evening warhorse.

Such a move might make sense; longform work, or at least longer-form work, is where Katie Couric belongs. Her interviews with the presidential candidates, or her reporting from Iraq (necessary to give her some trigger-time gravitas as a foreign correspondent) formed some of her best work with CBS. Having the opportunity to stretch out on a story in depth, rather than reading story intros from a TelePrompTer would make better use of her telegenic, empathic skills.

Couric’s standing pat for now, of course, gamely soldiering on and pocketing those sweet checks totaling $15 million a year. But CBS, faced with financial challenges that won’t go away, may feel forced to act sooner rather than later.

Bottom line? Call your boy at Ladbrokes or the Las Vegas Sports Book now. Avoid the rush that’s definitely coming.

One campaign year, seven minutes

For those of you who’ve just been too busy to drill down into what matters in this Democratic presidential campaign, the thoughtful folks at Slate.com have mightily cut to the chase for you, condensing the highs and lows (or is it the lows and lowers?) of the Democratic primary season so far.

If only more of the media were so economical. Enjoy:



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Image credits: Kerry: Public domain. Couric: Unknown (send a comment if you know the source). Larry King: Petty Officer Chad J. McNeeley (public domain). 60 Minutes: © 2008 CBS Inc.

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