Media

Why Do the Sunday Shows Suck So Much?

I know you're dying to know what these two have to say.
In the American media landscape, there is no single forum more prestigious than the Sunday shows—particularly the three network programs, and to a slightly lesser extent "Fox News Sunday" and CNN's "State of the Union." The Sunday shows are where "newsmakers" face the music, where Washington's most important people are validated for their importance, where issues are probed in depth. So, why do they suck so much? I live and breathe politics, yet I find these programs absolutely unwatchable, and I can't be the only one. On a typical episode, there is nothing to learn, no insight to be gained, no interesting perspective on offer, nothing but an endless spew of talking points and squabbling. Let's take, for instance, yesterday's installment of "This Week With George Stephanopoulos." We start off with dueling interviews with Obama adviser Robert Gibbs and Romney adviser Ed Gillespie. Were you expecting some candid talk from these two political veterans? Of course you weren't. "If you're...

David Brooks, the World's Most Gullible Man

Flickr/Newshour
A couple of weeks ago, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote a scathing piece about Mitt Romney's "47 percent" video, saying "It suggests that Romney doesn't know much about the culture of America." But now that Romney has moved to the center , not only is Brooks back on board, he's here to testify that this new moderate Mitt is the "authentic" one. I kid you not: But, on Wednesday night, Romney finally emerged from the fog. He broke with the stereotypes of his party and, at long last, began the process of offering a more authentic version of himself... Most important, Romney did something no other mainstream Republican has had the guts to do. Either out of conviction or political desperation, he broke with Tea Party orthodoxy and began to redefine the Republican identity. And, having taken this step, he's broken the spell. Conservatives loved it! They loved that it was effective, and it was effective because Romney could more authentically be the man who (I think) he truly is...

CSI: David Byrne

An investigation of music’s power by one of its great polymaths

(Flickr/DividedSky46)
(Flickr/Dividedsky46) David Byrne at Bonnaroo in Manchester Tennessee, 2004. I f you listen to music too soon after reading David Byrne’s new book, How Music Works , especially Chapter 5 (how recording studios shape what we hear), Chapter 6 (how collaborations shape what we hear), and Chapter 7 (how recording budgets shape what we hear)—you might be in for a disorienting experience, like watching a magic show after you’ve been taught all the tricks. I happened to put on Fiona Apple’s The Idler Wheel , an album I’ve enjoyed repeatedly over the past few months. Suddenly, instead of the songs I’d come to know by heart, with their minimalist but emotionally brutal stabs at self-analysis that it took Apple seven years to complete, I heard an assembly of parts. I became obsessed with microphone placement and where each song was recorded, debated whether I was hearing an upright piano or an electronic keyboard, tried to picture the number of musicians, imagined Apple’s writing process (words...

Obama Insufficiently Audacious for Press Corps

Barack Obama, lazing about. (White House/Pete Souza)
There are few deeper ironies than to hear campaign reporters complaining that candidates are not being substantive and detailed enough, and it seems that they now may be turning their wagging finger toward both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Don't get me wrong—I'm all for substance, and there are some kinds of vagueness that have to be confronted. For instance, the fact that Romney says he can cut taxes but keep things revenue neutral by also cutting loopholes, yet steadfastly refuses to say which loopholes he'll eliminate, is just absurd and should be called out. Yet if he came out tomorrow with a dozen new lengthy policy papers, would the campaign reporters on his bus stay up late studying them so they could produce one policy-dense analysis after another? No, they wouldn't. Just as candidates often want to seem substantive without actually being substantive, the reporters want to judge substance without having to actually examine substance. Which is why this Politico article is so...

Newsweek: Is Asking Inane Questions the Future of Journalism?

Was Mussolini Right? "He made the trains run on time," they said about Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, and it was more than just a cliché. It was a statement about a government that works, a government that means what it says and does what it wants. Sure, there were some problems with the treatment of dissidents. But some very smart political analysts are asking a question that would have been surprising just a few years ago: Is it time to give fascism another try? To be clear, no one is proposing a Fourth Reich. This isn't about Germany in the 1930s, and it isn't about genocide. It's about fascism as an economic program, where the government stops being ashamed about merging with corporate interests. It's the ultimate pro-business position, and that's why the wonks proposing a new look at an old philosophy have a catchphrase sure to draw adherents: "Fascism means jobs." If they're right, it could remake the American political landscape over the next decade. Our Future Is...

The Simple Question That Never Gets Asked

Flickr/Alexander Drachmann
Yesterday, conservatives got all outraged because a microphone picked up a few journalists discussing with each other what questions they would ask Mitt Romney at what turned out to be his disastrous press conference on the events in Cairo and Benghazi. Aha! they shouted; Michelle Malkin told the Mensa convention that is "Fox & Friends" that "If it looks, sounds, talks like journo-tools for Obama, it is what it is." As Erik Wemple patiently and carefully explained , in contexts like press conferences—by both Democratic and Republican politicians!—reporters often plan out what questions they'll ask. And you know what? They ought to do it more often. Maybe they wouldn't ask so many dumb questions. It's certainly a problem that politicians are so sneaky and evade the questions journalists do ask. And the reporters don't really have time to sit down and engage in a process of deliberation so they can use their collective knowledge and wisdom to arrive at the questions that will prove...

What's Up With Naomi Wolf's Vagina?

Relax, folks. I don’t have any firsthand experience with Naomi Wolf's Vagina , carnal or otherwise. Everything I know about it comes from what other people have told me. And let me tell you, am I ever grateful for those reviews, which tell me I never want to put my hands on it. In fact, as far as I can tell, the entire public purpose of Naomi Wolf, at this point in her brilliant career, is to be the target of other folks’ smart sentences. Let’s start by assuming that you’ve already got the basic outline and flaws of the book from Jaclyn Friedman’s review here . Every review I’ve seen has essentially the same gripes with the book. And can we take for granted that Naomi Wolf’s “feminism,” while it once may have had some political content, has now morphed entirely into narcissism, in which she mistakes her own emotions for meaningful thought? The Beauty Myth, the book that’s the foundation of her outsize reputation, rehashed things that had been written and said before by second-wave...

Ladies to Watch

I've mentioned here before that I'm an enormous fan of rising young editor Ann Friedman, whom I met when she was both an editor here at the Prospect and was involved in WAM! (Women, Action, and Media). Several people told me she was going to change the world, and I have come to believe it. She left the Prospect to become the editor of GOOD magazine, and made making it a must-read location on the interwebs until the owners of that online community changed its direction and fired most of the editorial staff. Since running a magazine wasn't enough to keep her occupied, she also created many smaller online projects that instantly went viral. If you like knowing about folks on the rise, Sam Meier has an excellent in-depth interview with Friedman over at PolicyMic. An excerpt: SM: I found something you wrote recently about work/life stories which target women. ... AF: It’s a self-perpetuating problem. If you say, OK, let’s talk about work/life balance only in terms that are gendered towards...

First Night of the DNC: A TV & Twitter Review

Did you watch it last night? It was an amazing night of TV, of Twitter (that instant snark convo), and of politics. My twitter feed was full of journos saying to each other: Wow, there’s a lot of energy here! Don’t you feel more buzz than in Tampa? I thought this was supposed to be the dispirited convention, but these folks are excited. You could see that in every breakaway shot of the convention floor: Folks were cheering, nodding, yelling back in witness. Over and over again, the Dems boasted proudly about standing up for health care, equal pay, LGBT rights (including the freedom to marry), and yes, reproductive rights, without apology. (CNN political commentator Erick Erickson got roundly swatted for tweeting, "First night of the Vagina Monologues in Charlotte going as expected.") Whoa. Way to respect your lady viewers! But he was right about this: The Dems were indeed standing up for the ladies’ power over their own bodies and paychecks. Up on stage, the speeches were just on fire...

The Media Whinefest Commences

Members of the news media arrive at RNC in Tampa, prepare to talk about nothing. (Flickr/NewsHour)
I have a lot of sympathy for campaign reporters. Their time on the trail can be exhausting, a weird combination of high stress and utter boredom. Every day they have to follow their candidate around to another event that was just like the last one, where he'll say exactly the same things and they have to figure out how to write a story that isn't precisely the same as what they wrote yesterday. And now that their news organizations want them to produce content for a wide array of platforms, it gets even harder. That being said, reporters can sometimes get seriously whiny. To wit, this story in Politico about how the members of the traveling press corps all think campaign 2012 is a total bummer: If there is one narrative to anchor what often feels like a plotless 2012 campaign, it is media disillusionment. Reporters feel like both campaigns have decided to run out the clock with limited press avails, distractions, and negative attacks, rather than run confident campaigns with bold...

No, National Review. Mitt Romney Is Not a Sex Symbol.

(Flickr/AlaskanLibertarian)
As election season slides into its final stretch, some members of the punditocracy, from lack of sleep and abuse of caffeine, start to lose their minds. Or at least that’s the most generous explanation for how Kevin Williamson came to write—and the editors at National Review came to approve—a bizarre love letter to Mitt Romney that falls somewhere between a hagiography and a letter to Penthouse . Williamson’s thesis—and you’re going to have to read his piece to truly understand that I’m not making this up—is that Romney’s wealth and fertility make him the sort of sex symbol that should be able to just waltz into the White House, if he just had the guts to be himself and stop trying to relate to the little people. While ordinary people might wonder about the decision-making process that led National Review to publish this bit of erotic fan fiction, those who watch the conservative movement closely have no doubts about the rationale. The piece is a smorgasbord of misogyny, contempt for...

Can Journalists Stand Up to a Candidate's Lies?

Maybe, but probably not.

Flickr/mnwatts
I've made my case that Mitt Romney just might be the most dishonest presidential candidate in modern history, but the question is, what should we do about it? Or more specifically, what should reporters do about it? One of the worst things about "objective" he said/she said coverage is that it basically gives candidates permission to lie by removing any kind of disincentive they might feel for not telling the truth. After all, candidates are (mostly) rational actors, and if lying isn't accompanied by any kind of punishment, they're going to do it as long as it works. I'm not sure that Mitt Romney's Medicare lies are actually producing a positive effect other than tickling the Republican base deep down in the secret corner of its id, but he's certainly sticking with it. All of which led Prospect alum Garance Franke-Ruta to suggest one possible solution: Fact-checking was a great development in accountability journalism -- but perhaps it's time for a new approach. It's no longer enough...

Back Off, Masculinity Patrol

This Olympics, we witnessed the results of an American gender revolution. Did you notice all those American women athletes who excelled on the field? As Amanda Marcotte noted here with pride and praise, our gals have clearly shaken off the pressure to overcompensate for their athleticism by playing sweetly feminine off the field. Once upon a time, you had to be seriously gender-nonconforming— i.e. , a lesbian—to risk your feminine credentials by playing sports. (Based on an entirely unscientific but extremely appreciative view of some of the other women's soccer teams, I would guess that dykes are still the ones venturing onto the field in some countries like, cough, Japan.) American women clearly know they can be strong, powerful, and kick some ass on the field. American girls can, from a very early age, play with trucks, wear pants, and run, kick, and throw without sanctions. As I've written about here several times, however, boys have no such freedom . Their behavior is overseen by...

The Boy Scouts' Learning Curve

(Flickr/David Blumenkrantz)
Since the Sandusky horror story first broke, we’ve seen a lot of articles exposing horrific behavior from the 1970s and 1980s. Serial abuse at the Horace Mann School. Philadelphia sprtswriter Bill Conlin 's long history of molesting children. Surely, there are more to come. This week's news comes from The Los Angeles Times, which has published an explosive, in-depth account of how the Boy Scouts of America have responded over the decades to child sexual abuse: by keeping a central file of volunteers banned for molesting Scouts, with detailed information about the relevant allegations and investigations. The headline, subhead, and introduction (the “nut graf,” in the lingo) suggest that the system failed: Boy Scout files reveal repeat child abuse by sexual predators Los Angeles Times review of Boy Scout documents shows that a blacklist meant to protect boys from sexual predators too often failed in its mission. A Los Angeles Times review of more than 1,200 files dating from 1970 to...

Why Mitt Romney Needs to Get His Instagram On

The presumptive nominee should follow in the footsteps of Ayatollah Khameini.

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
To say that Mitt Romney has a "Richie Rich" image problem might just be the political understatement of the century; there is the Romney-residence “car elevator,” Ann’s dressage horses, the bevy of offshore bank accounts, and the fact that some of his dearest friends own NASCAR teams. It ain’t the best time in American history to ooze money from all your orifices, but if you’re going to run for public office while doing so, you might at least desist with the robotic consultant-speak. But let’s face it, Mitt’s unlikely to change his marble-mouthed ways any time soon (and he can kiss that bid for mayor of the West Bank goodbye), so the Romney campaign needs to start leveraging their guy’s real strengths in order to gain some likeability points; his face, his family, and not speaking in public. Enter Instagram. Romney is perfect for the social media photo-sharing app; he should be seen, not heard. Those kind eyes, that strong jaw—who wouldn’t want to hand over the nuclear codes to a face...

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