Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Three years ago, when I started this blog, I made a conscious decision that I was not going to provide Glenn Beck any more ink than the mass media already had. It had already become, by 2008, journalistically trendy to stir the pot by writing defamatory words about Beck. I tried to honor my commitment to myself not to write about him, no matter how objectionable his rhetoric or disgusting his persona. But casting caution to the wind, here it is – a full lead story on Glenn Beck. Sigh.

He is, after all, the most extreme broadcast character America has seen or heard since Dr. Laura Schlesinger (below, left). Schlesinger, you will recall, unceremoniously ended her own career by indulging in her now infamous “nigger, nigger, nigger” rant, live on air in 2010. Schlesinger resigned soon after. But Beck has been hanging on for quite some time now. It was way back in 2009 when he called President Obama a racist who had “exposed himself as a guy” with a “deep seated hatred of white people.”

This happened on July 28, 2009. By the first week in August,, Procter & Gamble and Progressive Insurance, three of Beck’s major advertisers had pulled out of his show. What followed was the snowballing of cancelled advertisers, which ultimately numbered just under 300. Yet Fox saw fit to retain Beck’s services until this past month, when they finally, and mercifully, deleted him from the airwaves. However, even if his face is no longer visible every afternoon on television, his voice is heard daily on radio. And since losing his television show, the vitriol he espouses on his radio show has hit new lows, even for him.

This week, after the tragic shootings at the youth camp in Norway, Beck saw fit to compare the victims to “Nazi youth.” Listen:

Aside from the obvious poor taste he exhibits here, his unseemly comments are an affront to the families of all of those young people who were assassinated. And that was, without any doubt, Beck’s mission. Now that he no longer has access to millions of viewers every time the little red light blinks on the camera, Beck is desperately amping up his rhetoric on the radio. Essentially, he is begging people to listen to him by saying the most outrageous words he can muster.

What we see when we watch or listen to Beck is a man who craves attention in an almost sociopathic fashion. In February of this year Beck called reformed Judaism “radicalized Islam.” This was also the year that Beck feigned vomiting, on the air, when he saw a public service spot about skin cancer in which Megan McCain was supposedly nude (right). That was just after he encouraged people to leave their churches if the clergyman mentioned the words “social justice.” Just last month Beck warned his audience that Obama is out to “de-develop” America and cut average income to $14,000/year. That was the same program in which he said Obama is more corrupt than Richard Nixon and might kill 10 percent of the U.S. population.

Aside from the obvious extremism and lack of factual material, Beck’s on-air persona has certainly cheapened broadcasting in a way no one else has in recent memory. His audience seems to eat it up. But statistics show he is preaching to the choir. According to Quantcast, a company that measures audience traffic and characteristics, Beck’s audience on Clear Channel Radio is 95 percent white, with the largest contingent over the age of 50. Sixty percent of his listeners are male. Beck’s TV audience had actually been cut in half over the past three years, according to Nielsen, from a high of about 2.8 million viewers to a closing audience of 1.6 million.

As usual, one could surmise the numbers tell the story. But do they? One and a half million people is still a lot of people, and how many more do they influence or represent who were not home in the afternoon to listen to Beck’s inane ranting? The history of the broadcast industries in this country suggests that audiences perceive on-air personalities as powerful. (Remember Walter Cronkite, “the most trusted man in America?”)
Entertainers are seen as powerful in that the audience looks up to them in a socio/cultural fashion. But people like Beck, who present themselves as more journalist than entertainer (although he is clearly not a journalist) are often perceived as knowledgeable, wise and authoritative. That above-mentioned choir that Beck amassed over the years showed up in the thousands last year when Beck summoned them to Washington for his “Restore Honor” rally (above, left). He has followers. And we all know how dangerous it can be when a true extremist has followers. They drink the damn Kool-Aid.

At a minimum, Beck is second only to Ann Coulter in his disrespect for Americans. After all, it is he who said, “You know it took me about a year to start hating the 9/11 victims’ families…When I see the families on television, I’m like, oh shut up…I’m so sick of them because they’re always complaining.” But at an extreme, Beck’s rhetoric is incendiary at a time in America when masses of unemployed and marginalized citizens are easy prey for a preacher of paranoia and doom. He is an absolute case study in abuse of the First Amendment, and use of the airwaves to promote a personal agenda. His agenda is attention. He lives for it.

Beck’s self- described American hero, Orson Welles (below, right) was in his own way an extremist, but he made it clear he was not political and his mission was drama. Beck, on the other hand, would have you believe his mission is saving America from itself. In the end, Beck is a fraud who needs a spotlight more than he needs clean air to breathe, who craves financial and material wealth to an extreme, who says whatever it takes to force the public to focus on him, rather than the issues, and whose own megalomania will most likely be his undoing. But on the road to that end, he remains inordinately influential in an oversize segment of middle America. It is that audience that seems vulnerable to uninformed rhetoric that assaults the imperfect system that nonetheless offers them the most freedom of any country on earth.

Glenn Beck’s shtick is the stuff of great performance art. Webster’s defines performance art: “A nontraditional art form often with political or topical themes that typically features a live presentation to an audience or onlookers.” Cambridge says this: “A type of theatrical entertainment in which the artist's personality and the way in which they create and develop their ideas form part of the show.” Sounds harmless enough, right? That is, until it becomes propaganda, and until it works to the detriment of those who view it. Glenn Beck’s curtain needs to come down, the sooner the better.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


There are those who say our justice system does not work more often than it does. Exhibit A: Raquel Nelson, of Marietta,GA, whose 3-year-old son was killed as she and her three children tried to cross a four-lane thoroughfare after disembarking from a city bus. The hit and run driver, blind in one eye, who admitted he had been drinking, and who has two prior convictions for hit and run, served six months and is now on probation. Nelson faces a possible three-year prison sentence for jaywalking. Please watch this video for details, and sign a petition here in support of Nelson:

Monday, July 25, 2011


When I saw that guy try to throw a cream pie in Rupert Murdoch’s face at the Parliament hearings, I was disgusted. I’m not a Murdoch fan, but if we’re going to get to the bottom of the hacking scandal and any other corporate/journalistic transgressions on the part of his company, pies in faces do not advance the cause. The guy who threw the pie, Jonathan May-Bowles, or “Johnnie Marbles” as he calls himself on Twitter, took an already unseemly situation and simply threw it into the gutter. Why is it that the gutter is so popular?

On the same day that Johnnie Marbles reached out for his 15 minutes, an ABC news reporter, Brian Ross, was allegedly shoved by Michele Bachman’s security detail, when he tried to simply do his job. Ross was reportedly attempting to ask candidate Bachman about her recently revealed migraine headaches. The man tries to do his job, pursue a story that could be relevant to Bachman’s candidacy, and her staff responds by pushing him out of the way. Civility, gentlemen – please.

Am I the only one who misses civility? Public figures are routinely uncivil to one another in politics, entertainment, sports, business and even religion. Their overly-publicized bad behavior seems to set the tone for the common man. Just a couple of weeks ago in Waveland, MS, a Hammond, a LA priest was shot to death with his own pistol, by a guy named Jeremy Wayne Manieri. The killer stole the priest’s money and his Chevy, then picked up his ex-wife and kids and headed to Disney World. He didn’t make it – he got caught, but it is the nature of the crime and the sociopathic personality that would perpetrate it that is so stunning. It is the ultimate act of uncivility. What is it in our culture that breeds people who kill priests so they can go to Disney World? And while we’re at it, why did the priest have a handgun at a retreat facility?

Some might say that some uncivil behavior is harmless. Take the report from this week’s Smoking Gun,” titled “We’re going to need a cleanup in lane three.” It seems a young couple decided to have sex in a public swimming pool, in broad daylight, with many children and their parents present. Even when told by the pool manager to stop, they continued. I love this line in the story: “While it is unclear what drove the couple to allegedly engage in public fornication, the heat wave gripping the country’s mid-section has forced many sweltering Americans to seek a cool, watery respite.” Oh please. You can only imagine the cracks people will make in the Smoking Gun comments section about this one.

But then there are the uncivilized acts that do not invite humor. Consider Walter Bagdasarian (below, right), a California resident who posted an apparent death threat to President Obama in 2008. Here is exactly what he posted: "Shoot the nigger. Country fucked for another 4+ years, what nigger has done ANYTHING right???? Long Term???? Never in history, except sambos." As well as, "Fuck the nigger; he will have a 50 cal in the head soon." Days after Bagdasarian indulged in this online rant, the Secret Service raided his home and found six firearms and a total of 500 rounds of ammunition in each caliber. He was arrested, and freed on $100,000 bail. (That means if he put up 10%, or $10,000, he could just go home). Bagdasarian was convicted in U.S. District Court of making death threats against a presidential candidate. That’s pretty uncivil, wouldn’t you say? He faced up to a decade in prison.

End of story, right? Wrong. This week, the 9th District U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the conviction, stating that while his statements were “repugnant,” they were not criminal. The court also stated that no reasonable person would have taken the threats seriously. Gosh, really? All I can think of right now, is WWGGS? (What would Gabrielle Giffords say?)

The current cultural lack of civility is endemic. For example, as hard as those of us from the 1960s and70s tried to evolve the word “`nigger” out of the language, young black men and the entire hip hop industry refuses to cooperate and perpetuate the use of the word and its negative connotation.
Where once the word “fuck” was actually considered profane, it is now routinely used in all of its many forms – fuck you, fuck me, fucking idiot, motherfucker – well, you know the rest, and I’m as guilty as anybody else. Young men in our society, even after decades of the feminist movement’s efforts, still reduce young women to little more than their genitalia, routinely referring to women as “bitches” and terms I choose not to repeat here. Straight people still denigrate gay people by characterizing them as somehow ‘less than’ and by discriminating against them in law, in employment, in marriage and in so many other ways. Corporate America still somehow sees fit to maintain the good old boys club of white men in power, at the expense of women and minorities.

I have found that after one lives long enough to really observe the culture in the long term, it can be pretty discouraging. It’s not something you can think about all the time, because it would tend to sully your overall view of humanity – or the lack thereof. But it is worth considering that culturally, we are often closer to the gutter than perhaps we should allow ourselves to be. What is the danger in this? Simply that as our societal standards become lower, so do our expectations. If we expect less out of life, out of our fellow citizens, out of our government and educational system and out of our cultural heroes, that is what we will likely get.

Listen, not that it’s the main event here, but does anybody besides me worry that this summer’s most popular tour for the young teen audience is Ke$sha’s “Get Sleazy” tour? Your know, the one where Ke$ha sings these sweet, lilting lyrics to her barely pubescent fans: “Just grab a bottle, some boys & let's take it back to my basement and get sleazy.” And this: “The beat so phat, gonna make me cum, um, um, um.”

Oy. We’ve sunk. So. Low. Gotta run. “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” is on in five.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Have you noticed that nobody seems to argue that a woman can’t be President of the U.S. anymore? As recently as the 2008 presidential election, many people debated Hillary Clinton’s viability as a candidate, simply because “the country is not ready for a woman President.” I have not heard one person say that this year about the two women who have made noises about becoming Chief Exec, Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin. From my vantage point, the reason we aren’t hearing the sexist argument we heard in ’08 is simply that there are so many bigger and more substantive arguments against either of these women holding a high office in the U.S. government. Palin, through her behavior and misguided statements has made it clear to the public that she is not really prepared to be a national legislator or leader. Bachmann, however, while similarly ill prepared to lead the country, is soldiering on, and right now, polls show her gaining ground.

Polls this far out from the election don’t mean a whole lot. Everybody knows that. Still, there are a lot of reasons to reject her as a candidate. Radical liberals will talk about her neo-conservative views. But a lot of us out here are really more centrists than liberals, and we’re doing our best to be open to all possible candidates – as long as they cut the crazy talk. Come on: Can somebody tell me why a significant part of the electorate is taking someone serious who thinks the founding fathers in 1776 were “working tirelessly to abolish slavery?”; someone who thinks homosexuality is a disease and whose own husband counsels homosexuals to simply read the Bible and become celibate as the antidote to their apparent affliction?; someone who said out loud that the Obama administration is “afraid” of her?; who stretches the truth and exaggerates, time after time, like the time she said President Obama’s trip to India last year cost the taxpayers $200 million a day?; or the time she … well, you get the picture, right?

Panels of talking heads on Fox News will argue that media is overstating Michele Bachmann’s crazy talk. They will tell use the sexism card, arguing that were Bachmann a man, she would be given a free pass on some of her frequent public gaffes. You know, gaffes, like the time she said John Quincy Adams was one of the founding fathers of our country, when in truth, in 1776 Adams was nine years old. Or like the time she got American hero actor John Wayne confused with serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Woops, there I go overstating Michele’s “misstatements.”

Listen, she is out there every single day facing cameras and microphones and throngs of voters. I get it. It’s hard to not say the wrong thing now and then. Keywords: NOW AND THEN. But Bachmann routinely makes mistaken historical references, and exaggerated statements about social issues that she clearly has not truly studied. Way back in 2004 she said this about gay people: “Any of you who have members of your family that are in the lifestyle-we have a member of our family that is. This is not funny. It's a very sad life. It's part of Satan, I think, to say this is gay. It's anything but gay." Her tune has remained constant on this particular ditty.
That reminds me of the story about Bachmann, when she was state senator. She went to the ladies room during a gay rights rally and a lesbian ex-nun approached her to ask her her views on one of the issues being discussed. Bachmann bolted from the restroom, reportedly screaming, “Help, I’m being held against my will,” and ran to a waiting SUV in tears. It begs the question: What will would-be “President” Bachmann do when a gay American tries to talk to her, say, at a press conference, or at a State dinner? Will she scream bloody murder and report it to the police as she did after the incident with the former nun?

There are more weighty issues to consider regarding Bachmann’s attitude toward gay people. First, the issue of gay marriage is not going away anytime soon. Whether she likes it or not (and she clearly does not), gay Americans are gaining ground in their quest for equal civil rights. She would not be able to simply avoid the issue. Further, the U.S. provides hundreds of millions of dollars in international funding to prevent and fight the spread of AIDS in underdeveloped countries. People of Bachman’s mindset often still see HIV/AIDS as a “gay” disease. Will she fight to cut off this funding?

And then there’s that pesky little issue of Marcus Bachmann, her husband. It is widely reported now that Marcus Bachmann (right, with Michele) has a clinic that dedicates itself to “reparative” therapy designed to turn gay people straight. He denies this, but former clients have come forward to reveal what happened when Bachmann got ahold of them and tried to “cure” them. If you really want to know who Michele Bachmann has been married to for the past umpteen years, you need to hear what John M. Becker, a happily married (to a man) gay man who went undercover recently to investigate Bachmann’s clinic. You can read about his experience here, but just know that he was assured his “lifestyle” was not legitimate and that he had to do everything possible to change his sexuality. Did I mention the Bachmann clinic is state and federally funded? Watch this CNN report about the Marcus Bachmann clinic controversy:

Then, just days ago, it was revealed that in 2006 Michele Bachmann said, ““The Lord says be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands.” So, let’s do the math. Michele Bachmann wants to be President, while she submits to her husband, who believes gay people are sick and need to be cured. An undefined percentage of the American population is gay. Since the Bachmanns are in concert in their belief that Satan is dancing around inside gay people’s heads, will she simply choose to fully marginalize the entire homosexual population of this country, including her own lesbian sister? And if she can see herself doing that to gay people, who else will she exclude from the American dream? What other population segments do not fit neatly into the narrow Bachmann acceptance category? Let’s see: We know Democrats are not allowed in. We know that many Republicans are not running parallel with the Bachmann philosophies. We know people who have not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, which Bachmann did at 16, are not in favor. We know that strong, assertive women who do not adhere to wifely submission are on the outs. Let’s add it all up now. Who remains? Just the Tea Party.

There is not, and never has been a presidential candidate who would spread the legislative and socio/economic love to all segments of the American population. But there has rarely been one whose political and societal scope has been as limited as that of Michele Bachmann. The danger in remotely considering her as a serious candidate is the precedent that it sets. Few people truly believe she will be the leader of the free world. It is inconceivable. But the more steam her quest gains on the campaign trail, the more our electoral system is trivialized. And the more personal power her narrow band of supporters begins to feel, the more the rest of Americans have to fear about their politics, their personal choices and their human independence. You know what? Right now in America, Michele Bachmann is dangerous.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


While reciting my daily “all hail the digital communication revolution,” I can’t help wondering how we might work out some of the quirks. Early on, one of them was named Martin Downey, Jr., a bombastic, chain smoking talk show host who liked to call women pigs, who once beat up a gay guest on his show and who thought nothing of getting in to verbally abusive screaming matches with audience members who disagreed with him. He opened doors for people like Jerry Springer. We media consumers knew all along that personalities of this ilk were really just entertainers. The problem these days has more to do with broadcasters who take themselves very seriously and who somehow engender the respect and loyalty of big audience segments. Think Nancy Grace.

Grace, a former prosecuting attorney whose focus is victims’ rights, came into the public consciousness as a commentator for Court TV, but really emerged in TV as a frequent guest on CNN’s Larry King show. These days, she hosts her own show on HLN. A onetime English major, Grace changed her major to law after her fiancĂ©e was murdered when she was just 19 years old. Sounds impressive, huh? Well, some things look so much better on paper than they do in real life.

Nancy Grace, it appears, has a problem with boundaries – in law, on television and in conversation. Grace’s bully pulpit is her nightly HLN show, where she makes no attempt to hide her feelings about the court cases she covers. In 2006, Grace interviewed Melinda Duckett (left), the mother of a two-year-old child who was reported missing. The interview was brutal. Grace stopped just short of accusing Duckett of murder, but her questioning was relentless and highly accusatory in tone. The next morning Duckett shot herself in the head. Her family filed a wrongful death suit against Grace and CNN (parent company of HLN). The case was later settled out of court. For her part, Grace was unapologetic about her treatment of Duckett, telling ABC news, “"If anything, I would suggest that guilt made Melinda Duckett commit suicide." At the time of her suicide, there was no real evidence to suggest Duckett had harmed or killed her child.

That same year a young woman accused three Duke University lacrosse players of raping her at a party. Grace took the case on as her case of the moment and at one point stated, “I’m so glad they didn’t miss a lacrosse game over a little thing like a gang rape.” After some intense courtroom drama and a protracted trial, all charges were dropped against the three male students and it was revealed the young woman had lied. Somehow, Nancy Grace had rushed to the judgment that the young woman was a victim. She was not.

These instances are more the rule than the exception in Grace’s television career. It makes for compelling TV, and it certainly amasses HLN some unprecedented ratings. During the recent Casey Anthony child murder trial, Grace’s ratings increased steadily throughout. By July 5, when the not guilty verdict was read, Grace delivered the highest ratings in HLN’s 29-year history. Anthony, who Grace inexplicably nicknamed “Tot Mom” throughout her coverage of the trial, was found guilty by Grace way before she was found not guilty by the judicial system. Here is a typical segment of Grace’s show during the Anthony trial:

Grace’s over-the-top, judgmental coverage of this trial has firmly secured her position in broadcasting as a rogue anti-journalist whose apparent motive is indeed viewership, rather than victims’ rights. Broadcasters from all corners of the television industry have roundly criticized her approach to this case. On a recent Bill O’Reilly show, she defended herself this way:

So, why is any of this relevant? Simply because the average media consumer does not necessarily distinguish between, say, Brian Williams and Nancy Grace, or Christine Amanpour and Nancy Grace. Those whose faces are nicely framed on camera and whose words are delivered to millions of viewers/listeners are all looked upon as in the know about whatever it is they talk about. That Grace is trained as a lawyer and Diane Sawyer is trained as a journalist has little or no impact on the media consumer. In the eyes of many viewers there is little difference in the credibility of entertainer Glen Beck and reporter Wolf Blitzer. They are both on television, they’re both delivering information and each is widely known. Therein lies the danger. We consumers would not trust our legal troubles to a reporter, but somehow many people trust a lawyer to function as a reporter.

What the digital communication revolution has wrought is Nancy Grace, an angry, judgmental, sometimes ill-informed attorney who often speaks out of turn and before she thinks through what she has to say. She presents herself as a person who has answers, rather than a person who asks intelligent, appropriate questions of those who might truly have answers. She uses the guests on her show to either validate her pre-conceived opinions, or as whipping posts for her disdain of those she judges. Through it all, Grace, who purports to revere the American judicial system, trivializes it by making exaggerated claims that enrage the public, and by pre-judging defendants on television, rather than allowing the court to do its job. It is similar to what she did as a prosecuting attorney. The record shows twice in the 1990s she was called out by the Georgia Supreme Court for prosecutorial misconduct. The first time the Court called her behavior "inexcusable." The next time the Court said she showed "a disregard for due process and fairness."

As a journalist, I can’t say I’ve seen a more dangerous time in the industry. Individuals like Grace, who do not know how to present information and allow interview subjects to move a story along, are altering the system in a way that makes them the focus, rather than the story itself. And as all good journalists know, once the reporter becomes the story, the value of his or her reporting is nullified. Once the conveyer of information (on television, in print or online) shapes the national conversation, rather than simply facilitating it, the public dialogue is irreversibly sullied. And that is exactly what Nancy Grace does, every night, in prime time, on HLN. Grace clearly does not understand the negative impact she now has on broadcasting, and on those victims she so vehemently wants to support and defend. Sadly, those victims will be the biggest losers of all, inextricably lost in the shuffle of bad information, biased reporting and a TV show that values big numbers over true justice.

Monday, July 11, 2011


On the News of the World website, announcing its final edition on Sunday, July 10, the UK paper patted itself on the back with these words: “After 168 years, we finally say a sad but very proud farewell.”

Proud. Proud of what? Proud of the phone hacking scandal that killed your newspaper, the one that went so far as to hack the cell phone of missing 13-year-old Milly Dowler, even taking the liberty of erasing some of the voicemail messages on her phone when the mailbox became full? One might call that destroying evidence. Is NoTW proud of hacking phone conversations of the royal family? How proud are they of bribing police officers for information? Is it a source of real pride that their amoral billionaire owner Rupert Murdoch bought the century-plus old paper in 1969 and reduced it to a tabloid rag that blatantly mixed photos of topless women with salacious gossip about B-list entertainers and low life criminals?

(If you’re not up on the whole News of the World debacle, click here for a quick timeline update of events from CNN and here for the Daily Beast’s photographic who’s who of the major players).

Any journalist with a modicum of a moral compass would agree NoTW was the definition of sloppy reporting and opportunistic, intrusive journalism. Owner Rupert Murdoch also owns the New York Post and Fox News, neither of which will ever be held as bastions of ethical reportage. So this month when the phone hacking scandal broke wide open and spelled death for the newspaper, it was not a shock. Neither is it surprising to hear that the closing of this newspaper was actually in the works for months, in an effort to trim expenses and absorb only the most valuable staffers into other Murdoch properties. Murdoch, with his usual flare for fantasy, would have us believe he closed the paper to retain the dignity of parent company News Corp after NoTW brought shame to the company.

Tabloid trash journalism is legendary in the UK, but it is certainly NoTW that invented it in its contemporary genre. And if it’s way over on the other side of the pond, you may wonder what this all has to do with you and why it is dominating headlines in this country. It has everything to do with you. The modern media world may be international in scope, but industrially speaking, it is strictly a local enterprise. More simply put, what happens in the halls of the biggest media companies in the world trickles down to your own six o’clock news. As NoTW goes, so goes journalism? God, let’s hope not. Still, it is stunning to know that even in our high tech, gotcha world, an organization as large and powerful as NoTW would have the unmitigated arrogance to tap the phones of British royalty, politicians, celebrities and crime victims. Evidently, the higher ups did not fear being caught. To hear some of the former staffers talk since the scandal erupted, it seems phone hacking was de rigueur.

One can safely conclude the free enterprise system in the media world has gone awry. NoTW may serve as the window that allows media consumers like you and me to see what is happening behind newsroom doors. The competition among media organizations to be first and fastest with information has sullied the final product. No one is guiltier than Murdoch for lowering the bar when it comes to standards and ethics in the news business. That he has fallen prey to his own hubris is a little something we call karma. And the company’s over-anxious reporting shows no signs of slowing. It was Murdoch’s New York Post that earlier this month ran a story about the hotel maid who accused IMF chief Dominick Strauss-Kahn of rape, with this headline: “Maid Cleaning Up As Hooker.” The article uses only one unnamed source to allege that the accuser has a history of charging hotel guests for sex. The maid has now sued the Post for libel
This is not to say that your local paper or your favorite local news station is hacking into your phones. But it is representative of an unfortunate downturn in the ethical construct of journalism. You see it in subtle ways. For example, if in your town there is a bloody murder with video footage of family members screaming in shock at the sight of their loved one laying in the street, and on the same day a story breaks about an economic windfall from state government that will significantly improve your children’s local schools, which story do you believe will lead the 10 p.m. newscast? My guess is the bloody victim in the street wins. By placing the shooting story first, the news station accomplishes two things: First, it keeps you from changing the channel, which is their ultimate goal. Second, their own editorial judgment and ordering of news stories serves to persuade you that a story about school funding is not “sexy” enough to be considered a lead story. Blood and guts wins over your children’s future.

Did you know that on June 6, the same day former NY Congressman Anthony Weiner revealed that indeed he did send inappropriate photos of himself to women, five U.S. soldiers were killed in a rocket attack in Baghdad? The New York Post, among others, gave little or no ink to the deaths. It was the largest single day loss of American lives in Iraq in two years. Were Weiner’s sexual exploits really of more national importance than the deaths of five young men in a war in which we are supposedly no longer participating? The youngest was 20, the oldest 27. One of them, PFC Michael Olivieri, 26, was one week away from returning home to Homer Glen, IL to celebrate his one year wedding anniversary and to attend the wedding of his sister. Seems newsworthy, but current journalistic mores dictate that sex trumps dead soldiers.

The true job of a journalist is to convey information in its purest and most unbiased fashion to you. If you truly want to know what happened to the profession, look no further than Rupert Murdoch. He, and several others in the industry who have forgotten the critical importance of ethics are shaping the discipline of reporting to meet their economic objectives, rather than to keep you properly informed. To paraphrase a popular idiom, Money talks, truth walks. So, what can you do to keep yourself current on world, national and local events?
Get your news from a variety of sources, rather than simply those that validate your own socio/political bias. Listen with a skeptical ear and use your own wisdom to cut through obvious b.s. When instances of journalistic dishonesty or or shoddy reporting happen in your town, speak up. Let the powers that be know that you are watching them with a keen eye and that your support of their product relies on the validity of the information they provide.

If you firmly plant yourself in the consumer driver’s seat, and if you hold media accountable for its misstatements, untruths and misleading material, chances are you can help weed out the bad guys and lift up the more reputable media companies. Truth is a powerful thing. Just ask those nine News of the World journalists and three cops who are now facing prison because of their participation in the NoTW phone hacking debacle. Everybody lost here because of a lack of truth – you and I, the perpetrators, the media industries, and even the all powerful wizard of anti-journalistic Oz, the man Forbes Magazine named as 13th most powerful person in the world in 2010, Rupert Murdoch.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


There have been two trials that fully captured my attention: The first, of course was O.J., who I personally found guilty on the first day of court. The other was Scott Peterson back in 2004, who I found guilty before the trial started. I guess it would be wise to not select me for jury duty, huh? I am, however, baffled by the intense attention that the Casey Anthony case garnered nationwide. Why did so many people invest so much of their emotional life into a case about a mother allegedly murdering her child?

What Anthony was accused of doing is not as unusual as you might think. According to the American Anthropological Association, about 200 mothers kill their children every year in this country. Two hundred. For children under the age of five who are murdered in the U.S., a parent is almost always the killer. Further, right now there are 53 women on death row in the U.S., and 11 of them are there because they killed their own children.

Consider Rachel Summers. At 19, the Tennessee mother had an argument with the father of her child, and subsequently beat the child with a table leg, forced rat poison down his throat and smothered him. A couple of years ago, Michelle Kehoe,(left) an Iowa woman, slashed the throats of her two sons, aged 2 and 7. Then there is Migdalia Vera, a Queens, NY mother accused of stabbing her cerebral-palsy afflicted son to death just a few months ago. The list goes on, but have you ever heard of Summers, Kehoe or Vera? Neither had I. That’s my point. Were their crimes less heinous than Anthony’s, or just less interesting? Or was it simply that media failed to give them the inappropriate hype that was granted to the Anthony debacle?

I vote for the latter. We media consumers respond heavily to extreme situations. Let’s face it – without extremes like Casey Anthony, unlikely pundits like Nancy Grace (below, right) would not have careers. Grace, in her usual overtly biased speak-before-you-think broadcast style, said this after the Anthony verdict was revealed: “The devil is dancing tonight.” Grace, who has made no bones about her disdain for Anthony and her confidence in the defendant’s guilt, has dedicated most of her nightly HLN program to the Anthony trial for weeks. She even gave Anthony a nickname – “Tot Mom.” In fact, the entire HLN network has dedicated itself so fully to the Anthony trial, that one wonders how it will sustain its viewership now that its flagship topic has reached its stunning conclusion.

So convinced was HLN that the Anthony trial was ratings gold, that it evidently assigned each of its TV hosts to cover almost nothing other than the case. Dr. Drew Pinsky, addiction specialist, turned his whole program over to the case. Even Joy Behar, the likeable, affable stand-up comic and “The View” co-host, was apparently directed to forgo her engaging panels of humorists in favor of non-stop blabber about Casey Anthony. It is almost surreal: Suddenly we have an internist playing psychologist, a former prosecutor (Grace) playing judge – and jury, and a stand-up comedienne playing legal analyst. If it’s that easy to alter your persona, I think I’ve decided to become Brad Pitt.

If you’re wondering why media is so trial-obsessed, you can chalk it up to two things: cable television’s incessant and unrelenting competition to shock you, and the mega-coverage precedent set in the 1990s by people like Larry King and Geraldo Rivera during the O.J. trial. At least that trial attracted our attention because it decided the fate of a former national football hero and TV pitchman who may have slashed his wife to death. Pretty juicy. Like the Anthony trial, the endless O.J. trial made new careers for media people like Greta Van Susteren. Van Susteren was a criminal defense attorney who got lucky enough to be hired by CNN as a legal analyst during the trial coverage, and has been on TV every night since.

We are trial-obsessed because the media has struck gold with its coverage. Do you truly believe that all of those people standing outside waiting for the Anthony verdict to be read seriously cared about Caylee Anthony’s death? Media is so powerful that it can sometimes cause us to believe things about ourselves that may or may not be real. Would those same people who stood outside the courthouse do the same for the seven-year-old boy in New Orleans who took the witness stand last week to detail alleged rapes he endured at the hands of his teenage neighbor, Daryl Scott? And gosh, how disappointed they all would have been when the jury finally revealed it could not reach agreement, even though the child said “It hurt and it burned” when asked what it felt like to be raped. Media ignored the case. The same can be said for the Daniel Kelly (above, right) case in Philadelphia. Kelly is on trial for the 2006 starvation death of his 14-year-old daughter who weighed 42 pounds when she died. Ever heard of it? Apparently neither has Nancy Grace – or Dr. Drew. Or Joy Behar. Or People Magazine.

Is media deciding what should matter to you? Is a seven-year-old rape victim less ratings-worthy than a three-year-old murder victim? Is there a racial component here? It is not very often that we become trial-obsessed with black people, or Hispanic people, or Asian people. The frenzy more often surrounds pretty white girls. Why is that? And finally, where do the cameras really belong and not belong? Now that we have watched people become media figures by fully humiliating themselves on witness stands coast to coast, what’s next? Cameras in the death chamber? How much is too much and who will decide? Lots of questions…very few answers. Stay tuned, and remember – Just because Dr. Drew says of the Anthony jury, "It almost becomes a Stockholm syndrome where you develop a relationship at a distance with the person who is accused of committing the crime," doesn’t necessarily mean he knows anything more than you or I know. He just has the microphone and we don’t.