For now we’ll still call it “Media Monitor,” but I’m open to suggestions for a new name.
Jason Maoz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
For now we’ll still call it “Media Monitor,” but I’m open to suggestions for a new name.
Jason Maoz can be reached at email@example.com
Last year the Monitor proffered readers a list of books for summer reading that was, it must be said, several intellectual notches above the usual beach-and-bungalow fare. The theme of that list was U.S. presidents. This year’s theme, naturally, is especially close to the Monitor’s heart – the news media.
The Paper: The Life and Death of the New York Herald Tribune (Alfred A. Knopf, 1986) by Richard Kluger: Massive, award-winning book tells the story of the newspaper that for decades ranked right up there with The New York Times in the scope of its news coverage – and was widely acknowledged to have been a better-written, livelier read than the Times.
Media Circus: The Trouble With America’s Newspapers (Times Books, 1993) by Howard Kurtz: An anecdote-filled look at a troubled industry by the Washington Post’s ubiquitous media critic. Kurtz focuses on a number of problems that have been eating away at the credibility and economic viability of the nation’s daily newspapers, from the incessant focus on sleaze and scandal to the ultimately destructive demands of labor unions. Written before the Internet revolution, the book is somewhat dated but worth reading nonetheless.
A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures (Simon & Schuster, 1995) by Ben Bradlee: Top-notch autobiography and insider’s view of Washington from the former executive editor of the Washington Post. Bradlee’s most revealing admission is that had it not been for the press (himself prominently included) covering up John Kennedy’s personal and political sordidness, Kennedy probably would have been impeached or forced to resign the presidency.
The Great American Newspaper: The Rise and Fall of the Village Voice (Scribner, 1978) by Kevin McAuliffe: Whatever one thinks of the Village Voice’s politics, there’s no denying the important place the weekly holds in the history of 20th century American journalism. This crisp account covers the Voice from its founding in the 1950’s to the beginning of its slow, steady (and still ongoing) decline in the mid-70’s.
Read All About It! The Collected Adventures of a Maverick Reporter (Summit Books, 1982) by Sidney Zion: More than a collection of essays and columns, the first part of the book is a hard-boiled memoir of the newspaper business in the 1960’s and 70’s, when Zion worked as a reporter in New York for the Post and the Times. The story of Zion’s role in the Pentagon Papers controversy – and the shabby treatment he experienced at the hands of A.M. Rosenthal and other Times executives – is worthy of a book in itself.
Theirs Was the Kingdom: Lila and Dewitt Wallace and the Story of the Reader’s Digest (W.W. Norton, 1993) by John Heidenry: With its blend of political conservatism, non-denominational religious inspiration, down-home humor and old-fashioned patriotism, Reader’s Digest was long scorned by the literary and academic establishments but loved by millions of readers around the world. This finely written yet exhaustively detailed account traces the Digest’s fortunes and tells the not always flattering truth about the people behind the publication.
Feeding Frenzy: How Attack Journalism Has Transformed American Politics (Free Press, 1991) by Larry Sabato: Examines all the major (and some not so major) political scandals of the seventies and eighties and how they were covered by the news media. Sabato, a professor of government, interviewed more than 200 reporters and politicians in the course of his research.
Hot Air: All Talk, All the Time (Times Books, 1996) by Howard Kurtz: One of the surprisingly few good books to trace the growth of talk radio and TV shoutfests – and the best of the lot. Kurtz zeroes in on such phenomena as “The McLaughlin Group,” Phil Donahue and his ever-shriller television progeny, radio shock jocks, and household names like Larry King, Rush Limbaugh and Ted Koppel.
Three Blind Mice: How the TV Networks Lost Their Way (Random House, 1991) by Ken Auletta: The 1980’s were a time of turmoil for CBS, NBC and ABC, what with corporate takeovers, the rise of cable and the revolutionary impact on the nation’s viewing habits of a little contraption called the VCR. Auletta’s detailed recounting of those years makes this arguably one of the two or three most important books ever written about television.
The Powers That Be (Knopf, 1979) by David Halberstam: Twenty-eight years after publication, this still ranks as one of the best all-around histories of the American news media. Halberstam, whose writing style could be leaden at times – especially in a book exceeding 700 pages – compensates with an abundance of interesting anecdotes and insightful observations.
The House That Roone Built: The Inside Story of ABC News (Little Brown, 1994) by Marc Gunther: For decades ABC was an industry joke, a distant third to CBS and NBC in both prime-time programming and news coverage. Then the late Roone Arledge, who’d already made ABC into a sports powerhouse, took over the news operation in 1977 and took it to the top. A lively and insightful telling of that transformation.
Political hypocrisy was raised to a new standard in recent weeks by Democrats who successfully pushed ABC to purge a docudrama of certain scenes and dialogue that reflected poorly on the anti-terror efforts, such as they were, of the Clinton administration.
One can sympathize with the outrage voiced by former Clinton secretary of state Madeleine Albright, and even feel the pain of former Clinton national security adviser Sandy Berger (who, as National Review’s John J. Miller reminds us, was “last seen trying to sneak classified documents out of the National Archives”), at the prospect of having wholly invented dialogue and actions attributed to them in the two-part miniseries “The Path to 9/11,” which ran earlier this week.
But the Democrats’ full-court press to have ABC either make extensive changes or, as Bill Clinton himself put it in a letter to ABC executives, “pull the drama entirely,” served to confirm the old adage about anger and outrage being dependent on whose ox is being gored. (No, the former vice president wasn’t a factor in the film.)
ABC aired the movie but removed some of the more problematic material and ran a disclaimer advising viewers that what they were watching was a “dramatization” with “fictionalized scenes.” Given the furor among Democratic partisans in the days leading up to the scheduled airing, the smart money had been on ABC caving completely.
For example, the Democratic National Committee posted an online petition to “Keep ‘Path to 9/11’ Propaganda Film Off The Air,” calling the movie “a conservative attempt to rewrite the history of September 11 to blame Democrats, just in time for the election.”
The Senate Democratic leadership, in a letter to Robert Iger, CEO of ABC’s parent Walt Disney Company, warned that showing the film “would be a gross miscarriage of your corporate and civic responsibility” and urged Iger “to uphold your responsibilities as a respected member of American society and as a beneficiary of the free use of the public airwaves to cancel this factually inaccurate and deeply misguided program.”
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party house organ known as The New York Times, in a Sept. 12 editorial, archly lectured filmmakers that “when attempting to recreate real events on screen, you do not show real people doing things they never did.”
But the reaction from Democrats and their media acolytes was markedly different back in November 2003, when CBS moved a docudrama about Ronald and Nancy Reagan off its network schedule and relegated it instead to the lightly viewed Showtime cable channel after Republicans complained about fictitious, mean-spirited remarks inserted by screenwriters into the mouth of Mr. Reagan.
The Senate’s top Democrat at the time, South Dakota’s Tom Daschle (defeated in his bid for reelection in 2004), called the CBS decision “appalling” and said the network had “totally collapsed” in the face of Republican criticism.
The Democratic National Committee – the same folks with the online petition to keep the 9/11 miniseries off the air – issued a press release after the Reagan film was pulled saying that “CBS’s decision is – to put it mildly – disturbing. Essentially the network has given [Republicans] veto power over the content it puts on the air … the decision makes it very easy to imagine a future where representatives for the Bush administration have the power to disapprove of any content that touches politics, policy, or history – including news programs.”
Ever faithful to their Democratic leash-holders, the lapdog editorialists at The New York Times, while acknowledging that “people close to Mr. Reagan” had reason to be angry at the film’s portrayal of the former president, saved their opprobrium for the real villains – “conservatives, protective of Mr. Reagan’s image at all times,” who “launch[ed] one of the fierce assaults that have become so familiar whenever the right wants to scare the media on an ideological question.”
In the Times’s judgment, “CBS was wrong to yield to conservative pressure and yank [the Reagan film].”
It’s not exactly a mystery why the Times was far less concerned about political attempts to suppress artistic freedom in the case of the 9/11 miniseries. As the Sept. 12 Times editorial lamented, “The second episode was wrapped around a live speech by President Bush, so it was especially unfortunate that the most questionable scenes all seemed to make the Clinton administration look worse, and Mr. Bush look better, than the record indicates.”
Dan Rather is finally out at CBS News, nearly two years after his shoddy and discredited reporting – in the midst of a very tight presidential campaign – on President Bush’s National Guard service, and more than a decade after his CBS Evening News settled into last place among the network newscasts, where it’s remained ever since.
It wasn’t just Rather’s cloddish liberal bias or his laughable attempts at denying it – his colleague Andy Rooney has described Rather as “transparently liberal” – that earned Rather an unusually high negative rating among the viewing public. There was always a certain weirdness factor, cogently summed up by journalist Peter Boyer:
“There was to Dan Rather a kind of innate vehemence, a quality that tempted crackpots to stalk him, prompted strangers to accost him, and urged cabbies to drive wildly through city streets with him screaming for help in the back seat. Things happened to Dan Rather, odd things, mysterious things, sometimes frightening things. And through the years Rather’s actions caused embarrassments and controversies that baffled those around him….”
But it was Rather’s political partisanship, which served as Exhibit A in former CBS correspondent Bernard Goldberg’s 2001 bestseller “Bias,” that enraged his conservative critics. It’s not hard to see why when one considers the following small sampling of a quite extensive list compiled by the Media Research Center (mediaresearch.org):
● “Nineteen days after the presidential election, Florida’s Republican secretary of state is about to announce the winner – as she sees it and she decrees it – of the state’s potentially decisive 25 electoral votes. Katherine Harris will officially certify the states election returns…. The believed certification – as the Republican secretary of state sees it – is coming just hours after a court-ordered deadline…. The certification – as the Florida secretary of state sees it and decrees it – is being signed [emphasis added].” – During CBS News live coverage, Nov. 26, 2000.
● “Tonight, savagery in the streets of Iraq. Ten Americans die in a single day, four of them civilians murdered, mutilated and dragged through the streets…. What drives American civilians to risk death in Iraq? In this economy it may be, for some, the only job they can find.” – Leading off the CBS Evening News, March 31, 2004.
● “The Republican convention opens in New York to re-nominate George W. Bush and showcase the party’s, quote, ‘moderate side.’ Will voters buy it?” – Leading off the CBS Evening News, Aug. 30, 2004.
● “If we could be one-hundredth as great as you and Hillary Rodham Clinton have been in the White House, we’d take it right now and walk away winners…. Tell Mrs. Clinton we respect her and are pulling for her.” – During satellite interview with President Clinton, CBS affiliates meeting, May 27, 1993.
● “Is or is there not some concern of the public perception, in some quarters, not all of them Democratic, that this is, in fact, a kind of effort at a, quote, ‘coup’ – that is, you have a twice-elected, popularly elected president of the United States, and so those that you mention in the Republican Party who dislike him and what he stands for, having been unable to beat him at the polls, have found another way to get him out of office?” – Interviewing former Republican senator Warren Rudman at start of Clinton impeachment trial, Jan. 7, 1999.
● “Ken Starr drops another load on President Clinton…. Good evening. Just as President Clinton was enjoying a day talking up the economy, officially announcing the first U.S. budget surplus in three decdes, Ken Starr hit him again. The Republican independent counsel and special prosecutor decided….” – CBS Evening News, May 26, 1998.
Ironically, CBS may have picked the worst possible successor to Rather for the CBS Evening News. Referring to the Performer Q Scores tabulated twice a year by Marketing Evaluations Inc., media writer Ken Auletta noted in The New Yorker last year that “The only prominent news person with a higher negative rating than Rather is Katie Couric.”
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/media-monitor/dan-departs/2006/06/28/
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