Tuesday, July 30, 2013


Melissa Harris-Perry models tampon earrings.  Really.
It was a very embarrassing -one might say “humiliating”- week for journalism. One reporter wore tampons as earrings, live on air. Another tweeted a photo of himself almost nude, and a third reporter asked a highly respected scholarly researcher how he, a Muslim, could justify writing a book about Jesus.

Could it get any worse for the broadcasting business? Well, yes it could. In addition to all of the above, which I’ll detail in a moment, there was beleaguered, way-past-his-expiration-date Rush Limbaugh who said this of Huma Abedin, wife of serial sexter Anthony Weiner: "It's relevant to point out here by the way ... Huma is a Muslim. In that regard, Weiner ought to be able to get away with anything.

“Muslim women don’t have any power, right?” he continued. “Muslim women are beheaded, stoned, whatever, if they drive, have affairs. In certain countries, Muslim women, if they’re raped, are killed -- it’s their fault."

Hmmm..did you know we behead Muslim women in America? I did not know that. Oh, and did someone forget to tell Rush that Huma Abedin was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan?

Meanwhile, none other than anti-journalist Glenn Beck rented a series of rooms in a downtown Salt Lake City hotel to display his collection of Nazi memorabilia, including hooded KKK cape, a swastika banner that was used at Nuremberg, a copy of Mein Kampf signed by Adolf Hitler, the love letters of Hermann Göring, a satin handkerchief with Hitler’s blood.


If you’re already starting to hyperventilate at all of the above, calm yourself and read on. First, about those earlier-mentioned earrings. Melissa Harris-Perry, a relative newcomer to the cable news circus, hosts a Sunday round table talk show on MSNBC. After state troopers confiscated tampons, maxi pads and other potential projectile items from those entering the Texas state capitol building recently, Perry made light of the civic debacle this way:

Upon seeing Harris-Perry don tampons on her lobes, satirist and cultural commentator Dennis Miller tweeted, “David Brinkley turning over so rapidly in his grave you could make chicken shawarma in it.”

"70 is the new 50"...Not
Oh and about that above-referenced journalist who tweeted an almost-naked shot of himself: That would be Geraldo Rivera, 70, of Fox News. Rivera, whose checkered career spans five decades, tweeted the selfie with the tag line, “70 is the new 50.” No Geraldo, based on what we see in the photo,
70 is 70, and my unsolicited advice goes like this: Get dressed.

Compounding the tasteless episode were Rivera’s own words of attempted justification. He began by explaining he had had a long day at work, and he had a couple of drinks before breaking out the camera. Then he said, "And I never do tequila when I'm alone, but I had this new bottle that someone had given me. That second my fate was sealed. I said, 'Dammit, I like that picture.' I had learned how to use Twitter a couple of weeks ago and there I was."

Yes, Geraldo, there you were, but what about us? Do we really need to know that when you’re alone you like to do tequila shots and take naked self pics?

Then there is the case of Lauren Green, also of Fox News, who conducted an on-air interview with religious scholar Reza Aslan. Aslan, author of Zealot: The Life &; Times of Jesus of Nazareth, thought he was to be interviewed about the research he did and the content of the book. But Green inexplicably decided to interview him about how odd she found it that he, a Muslim would write about Jesus. Watch:
The Twitterverse exploded following Green’s disastrous interview. Tweeted one viewer: “Me: ‘I’m an oceanographer.’ Green: ‘But you live on land.’”

It bears mentioning that all of the broadcasters mentioned herein are experienced adults who were most likely hired in part based of their editorial judgment (except perhaps Harris-Perry, who has no background in media, according to her own bio). Of course one can also be fired for editorial judgment issues – does the name Don Imus ring a bell? Why then, would any of these professionals say or do what I have described here?

In part, this can be explained by a lack of oversight on the part of news directors and the editorial brass. The game today is all about attracting and retaining viewers or listeners. Watch cable news networks often and long enough and you will see a plethora of incidents just as tasteless and unprofessional as the ones I have described here.

You are observing the pioneer days of the 24-hour news cycle. It may not seem that way, but consider that even the granddaddy of all round-the clock news, CNN is only 33 years old. Others, like Fox and MSNBC didn’t arrive on the screen until 1996. By then, the average household in America was either wired for cable or just about to be, which meant the American viewer was on the threshold of remote control roulette. After decades of having just three or four stations from which to choose, suddenly we were in the TV driver’s seat with up to 200 channels. Heady stuff.

From there, cable news stations went into what we could term a “cultural decline.” And now, this many years later, a host is wearing tampon earrings, another is naked on Twitter and a third evidently hasn’t read her interviewee’s book, so she decided to try to discredit the author instead of discussing his work. Ugh.

According the a new Gallup poll, Americans’ confidence in TV news is down to 23 percent of those who responded. That matches our lack of confidence in newspapers. To give you an idea of how bad the numbers look, in 1996 our confidence in TV news was at 46 percent. In 1980 our confidence in newspapers was at 51 percent. (These figures area based on responses when asked if consumers have “a great deal or quite a lot of confidence” in these entities.)

Jon Stewart -- The New Cronkite?
If that doesn’t disturb you, you should also know that among young people, high profile news broadcasters are not trustworthy. Who will ever forget the TIME Magazine poll in 2009 that found Jon Stewart of The Daily Show the most trusted newscaster in America. Huh?

Therein is the danger of cable news networks putting people like Harris-Perry, Rivera and Green front and center. As if the journalism profession were not sullied enough by its own historical missteps, by promoting individuals who value entertainment over substantive content, the viewing public comes to equate their broadcasts with any other white noise that comes from our increasingly technologically- sophisticated televisions. The technology is at an all-time high while the content of what it projects is in the gutter.

I remember about a zillion years ago when I was in journalism school, NBC anchorman John Chancellor came to speak to us. He said, “You are about to enter the most noble profession there is. Keeping the citizenry informed about the issues that directly touch their lives is as important as any job can be. It’s a big responsibility that carries with it a rich history to which you will now contribute.”

Those were some wise words. Compare that with a quote from Geraldo Rivera: “I’m old, but I’m still cute and strong…and very butch.”

Fellow TV viewers..we’re doomed.