Saturday, February 18, 2012


For those who need to see an example of what really happened to cause the majority of Americans to distrust mass media, look no further than one Nancy Grace on the HLN network. Grace epitomizes the slow and steady decline of honorable reporting. But you already knew that. This week, Grace blatantly exploited the death of Whitney Houston to draw attention to herself. This act, and so many others in Grace’s misuse of the airwaves separates her in a most unfortunate way from those who understand the real privilege of having a voice that reaches millions. In case you missed Grace’s ill-conceived take on Houston’s untimely death, watch:

If you want to know how a broadcaster with Grace's sensationalistic style of reporting could rise in the industry, just know it has all to do with competition. When there were three major television networks, no cable, no Internet, people like Grace could not emerge. Unprecedented industrial competition has given rise to a media landscape that causes each company to take desperate grabs for viewers. It wasn’t always that way. One would be hard pressed to imagine a David Brinkley or John Chancellor showing such direct disrespect to the family of Whitney Houston by questioning the circumstances of her death. One cannot envision Walter Cronkite speculating about the most intimate moment of Whitney Houston’s life, when she drew her last breath. All of those who approached truth telling with dignity, who knew their jobs were simply to convey information, would cringe at the image of Nancy Grace using Houston’s death for selfish reasons, for attention grabbing, or as ABC’s Barbara Walters said, for ratings.

In late 2011, the Gallup organization polled Americans about their trust of media. Not surprisingly, the results showed the majority of Americans still do not have confidence in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly. The 44% of Americans who have a great deal or fair amount of trust and the 55% who have little or no trust remain among the most negative views Gallup has measured. As a journalist, I couldn’t be more discouraged by this development in our culture. That is because I know how much the truth matters. I know that our culture only advances in the right direction when we all come from a place of truth. So when a broadcaster comes forth from a place of half truth and manufactured drama, we all suffer for it.

Days after Grace’s fully unsubstantiated questioning of Houston’s cause of death, ABC’s Dan Abrams quite graciously offered Grace an opportunity to walk back her comments or at least acknowledge they were inappropriate, but Grace used the moment to defend her original assertion. This, even though law enforcement officials in L.A. were quick to announce after Houston’s death that no foul play was suspected. Watch:

Grace, it should be pointed out, is not a journalist. She is an attorney who got lucky and got a TV gig that caught on with a significant number of viewers. Unfortunately, in the eyes of many American viewers, talk show hosts are often mistaken for trained journalists. That being said, Grace does a disservice to all legitimate journalists by exercising her low standards of reporting on air. What she did in speculating about Houston’s death was thoughtless, especially as Houston’s family struggles to deal with their loss. I view Grace’s dramatic ratings grab on the same level as M.I.A.’s obscene gesture during the recent Super Bowl halftime. Each showed a lack of professionalism and a full disregard for the viewers.

Clearly, with “Dancing with the Stars” and the Caylee Anthony case behind her, Grace has no cause célèbre to keep herself in the forefront of media consciousness. Houston’s death happened right on time for Grace. Unfortunately for all of us, it also enabled Grace to further chip away at the tenuous relationship between the media industries and the public. And worst of all, it further erodes what little credibility news networks have left. Nice going Nancy.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Smart citizens aren’t getting too excited one way or the other that a Rick Santorum could triumph in three state primaries on the same night. After all, it’s way early to be getting excited about anybody and the current crop of GOP hopefuls are generally their own worst enemies. After thanking God, family, sky, air, water, or whatever after winning a primary, it seems the following days are full of each of them repeatedly sticking foot in mouth.

Is it just me, or has the GOP primary season run off the rails? Come on. When a candidate looks at the crowd and says there is a link between having an abortion and developing cancer, we know things have gone out of control. Rick Santorum said this after the Komen/Planned Parenthood funding debacle last week. Immediately medical experts came forward to say they knew of no relationship between cancer and abortion. Yet, Santorum clearly felt comfortable saying it.

He’s not the only one whose words are more fantasy than policy, plan or clear intention. Let’s not even go near former hopefuls Herman Cain, Michelle Bachman or Rick Perry. Let’s look at the words of the remaining contenders. Just last week, Mitt Romney (left) said, “I’m not concerned about the very poor that have a safety net, but if it has holes in it, I’ll repair them.” That same week statistics came out that show that my city, New Orleans, has the second highest rate of homelessness in the nation. So I’m wondering, what safety net was he talking about?
It gets worse: Terminally grumpy Newt Gingrich was promoted by a super pac robo-call that said, “Holocaust survivors for the first time were forced to eat non-kosher because Romney thought $5 was too much to pay for your grandparents to eat kosher.” This, of course, was not exactly accurate, but more than that, it is clear evidence of the Gingrich campaign desperately scraping the bottom of the rhetorical barrel for ammunition against the current front runner. He justified the claim by saying Romney has a “lack of concern for religious liberty.” Gingrich denied any knowledge of the robo-call, but he did not dispute what it said.

Meanwhile, Ron Paul(below, right) tells a woman with breast cancer at one of his campaign stops that insurance companies should not have to cover pre-existing conditions. “It’s sort of like me living on the Gulf Coast, not buying insurance until I see the hurricane,” he said. “Insurance is supposed to measure risk.” Paul is the same guy who said this in a recent debate: "I miss the closet. Homosexuals, not to speak of the rest of society, were far better off when social pressure forced them to hide their activities. They could also not be as promiscuous.”

Speaking of gay people, Rick Santorum seems to speak of almost nothing else. Last month he went so far as to say it would be better for a child to have a father in prison than to be raised by lesbian parents. Santorum has made his objection to marriage equality a signature issue in the campaign, while crowds at every campaign stop largely couldn’t care less about who marries who. Yet, he hammers on. Predictably, crowds have taken to challenging Santorum on his views regarding gay Americans. What he has accomplished is simply the engineering of a campaign that is known for its extremism on a subject that Americans find tedious. By the middle of 2011, the Pew Research Institute reported that Americans were almost evenly split on the issue of marriage equality. Pew found that 57 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of independents favored marriage equality, while just one in four Republicans approved.

Santorum is not exactly preaching to the choir. Yet he keeps preaching. Interestingly enough, on the same day Santorum enjoyed the afterglow of his three primary wins, a California appeals court reversed its ruling on Proposition 8, essentially lifting the ban on gay marriage. What this shows is that not only is Santorum out of step with the American public, but he’s beating a dead horse.

Here’s the problem: First, candidates are judged largely by their words and their demeanor. Everything they say on the campaign trail is duly logged for history. Santorum, for example, will almost certainly see marriage equality nationwide during his lifetime, and during his political career. A decade from now the incendiary words he puts forth today will haunt him as pundits hold him to things he said in 2012. As for Gingrich,(left) although this campaign is likely his last hurrah, a man as narcissistic as he surely values his legacy. But what kind of legacy can there really be when he campaigned by calling his opponent (Romney) “despicable,” and when he championed colonizing the moon when right here on earth people were losing their homes and livelihoods in record numbers?

One of my favorite writers, Maya Angelou, says words are actual things. They exist. I always thought of words as simply symbols, but she says they’re real. So, if she’s right, how do any of these men hope to gain the universal respect of the American people when they appear to have no filter when it comes to their own message? And how do they believe Americans will perceive their characters when they do not even deal graciously with one another? Gingrich, for his part, did not even offer the traditional congratulations to Romney, the victor in two recent primaries.

Words count. Manners count. Truth matters. Reasonable discourse attracts citizen support. The old “think before you speak” rule demonstrates intelligence. Why do the GOP candidates this year not get this? Why do they underestimate the citizenry’s collective perceptive nature? If you want to win our support, guys, talk to and with us, and not over and against one another. It’s that simple. Really.