It’s 1951. Underneath the stands at Old Yankee Stadium, Joe DiMaggio dresses after a game, a gaggle of sportswriters crowding around his locker eager for a nugget of wisdom from Joltin’ Joe. A cub reporter from the 78 daily newspapers New York City had at the time elbows his way through and asks if he plans will celebrate tonight’s win with a late night rendezvous with Marilyn Monroe.
Joe’s eyebrows raise in a mixture of mockery and disbelief. ”I’m not going to answer that,” he chuckles. ”That’s a clown question, bro.”
As the entire world knows now, that quote didn’t come from the Yankee Clipper but the National Treasure, Bryce Harper. There were t-shirts for sale by the next morning, there are video mash up jokes, and, of course, tweets-a-plenty.
Mark it down: this is when Washington DC officially accepted baseball. For all Ryan Zimmerman’s heroics as the franchise’s first home-grown star since the relocation from Montreal and Stephen Strasburg’s at-times otherworldly pitching and always otherworldly hype, nothing feeds this particular home town crowd like a witty retort to the press. Inside the Beltway Bubble, pundits pondered over whether the quote might find it’s way to the podium at the White House briefing room.
Jokes aside, it’s a valid point. And one the other Mormon looking to stick around DC might think about. Harper’s disdain for the reporter (if not his word choice) might work for politicians. Remember the infamous 2008 interview where Katie Couric asked inane inquiries about Sarah Palin’s news consumption habits? Palin did herself no favors trying to answer what were pretty dumb questions.
When done right, a snarky, off-the-cuff comeback is more powerful than answering a question “the right way.” That reporter who wanted to know if Harper was going to crack open a cold one might have been put off by Harper’s flippant response, but it didn’t matter. The rest of the world saw it, and liked it, and unless that reporter is friends with Cole Hamels there isn’t much he can do. Harper’s message is out.
It’s doubtful that the communications firms in town are prepping an office for Communications Strategist Bryce Harper after his playing days are over – he may be a whale of a ballplayer, but his wisecrack was just a wisecrack. Maybe there’s a second lesson there though: that if you have to overthink your response to a question, your answer will suffer.
Or as Yogi Berra put it, you can’t think and hit at the same time.
The Associated Press and Reuters joined Mitt Romney in not attending this week’s Republican quasi-Presidential debate. A story written by the AP covering the AP’s decision quoted an AP official:
The opening stages of an event as important as the presidential selection process should be as accessible as possible to all forms of journalism,” said Michael Oreskes, the AP’s senior managing editor. “These candidates want to lead the country. The country has a right to see them from various angles, not only where the TV cameras are positioned.
Remember, Journalism school students, there’s no reason you can’t quote yourself in a story you write about yourself. That’s completely fine.
The AP isn’t clear exactly how the rights of the voting public are trampled by Fox News in restricting still photos during the televised event, but not by the AP in refusing to cover the event at all.
The only potential problem is that there will be no embarrassing pictures capturing candidates with their faces scrunched up or with mouths gaping ajar while they pronounce words like “sure” or “capital.” The restriction on pictures would be horrible for the AP if they sold pictures.
Oh, wait, that’s right: they sell pictures.
It is also tough to stomach the spin used by both AP and Reuters in holding up their readers and news consumers like human shields as the aggrieved parties. In reality it was the news organizations who were slighted by the picture ban. This isn’t a First Amendment problem; it is similar in that such cases the “public right to know” is used as shorthand for “the news company’s right to publish.”
But luckily for the voters, the AP is pretty much irrelevant as a news gathering organization anyway. By using their platform for political speech, they become even less so.
“The problem with this whole thing is does James O’Keefe have enough credibility to continue to do” undercover video journalism? Beck asked his listeners. That kind of journalism, he said, is “just really not something that you necessarily want to get into.
Beck, of course, is a media trailblazer himself, who rose to national prominence through his revolutionary and original radio program. He created a similarly original television program and online magazine.
With others from the right falling all over each other with admiration for O’Keefe’s NPR sting, Beck stands out as a rare dissenting voice.
But more than that, O’Keefe’s brand of activist journalism is simply more interesting than Beck’s platitudes from behind a microphone. For months,critics have been crowing about Beck’s flagging ratings. O’Keefe is a threat to Beck from a pure business standpoint.
After all, if you were Fox News, what would be more likely to get ratings – Glenn Beck’s chalkboard with notes about the GDP or James O’Keefe sending someone with a hidden camera into a government office?
Keith Olbermann’s final “good night, and good luck” on Friday makes for an interesting media interest story.
Olbermann was a key voice of the left during the 2006 and 2008 election cycles, so he surely could have been fired for being “too liberal.” With the Comcast/NBC merger complete, several corners of the internet were abuzz with gossip that the new parent company had something to do with the iconoclastic Olbermann being showed the door. Or, he could just be a jerk who has a history of being fired for not getting along with coworkers. That’s probably the most likely answer.
For years, Keith Olbermann was the face of the new MSNBC’s left-oriented opinion programming; his aggressive style countered the conservative and populist voices of Fox News with something a bit punchier than CNN’s vanilla lineup.
MSNBC hasn’t shied away from that. They’re keeping the “Lean Forward” campaign, and their evening lineup still boasts Ed Schultz, Lawrence O’Donnell, and Rachel Maddow. Maddow will be the lineup’s new cleanup hitter – and for MSNBC, that seems to be the best motivation for the move.
This is unscientific, but do a Google image search for Olbermann and another for Maddow. Sure, as a liberal lightning rod, there are plenty of pictures of Olbermann designed to make him look dumb. But as you scroll through, a pattern becomes obvious: few of his pictures, even official ones, include him smiling. Much like the “special comments” he delivered on his program, Olbermann frequently looks stern, as if the next words out of his mouth might just be the most important in the history of the universe. (See picture above.)
Maddow, on the other hand, is smiling in most of her search results. When delivering opinions on her show, Maddow is smug and smart-alecky, but clearly enjoys poking fun at her targets. It’s not necessarily good-natured humor, but it’s humor. Much like the gruff Bill O’Reilly, one can picture a calmer, non-political side of Maddow, as if she understands that the topics on her show are important, but not likely to mean the end of the world any time soon.
Public relations 101 for anyone who wants to be on TV is to smile… and keep smiling… and smile some more. It helps the speaker relate to the viewer. Even when discussing difficult or contentious topics, smiles go further than furrowed brows. Maddow seems to know this, and thus is a more effective host – and, by extension, messenger of liberal ideas.
That means that the real winners in Olbermann’s dismissal are the far left activists for whom the erstwhile Countdown host was a beacon in the night of the Bush administration. While he created a place for overt leftist thought on cable news outside the guise of objectivity, Maddow is now the better caretaker of that tradition.
Whatever the real motivations were, the result of the decision is that Maddow, and not Olbermann, is the signature voice of MSNBC as they move (or lean) forward. That’s pretty good news for MSNBC, but it’s even better news for left-leaning activists.
The Onion debuts two cable television programs this month. The fake newspaper turned fake internet news site presents a unique and specific genre of comedy – the obviously false presented as seriously real. It’s similar but a bit different from slapstick comedies like Airplane! or Spaceballs. It’s closer to Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update as delivered by the more deadpan performers, like Kevin Nealon in the early 1990s. The 1970s spoof talk show Fernwood 2 Night and the long-forgotten short-lived Nick at Night television review series On the Television may be the best examples, even if short-lived. Because the audience is in on the joke but the performers are apparently not, it depends as much on performance as it does on clever writing.
Since this type of humor is so specific, it’s unsurprising that the Onion’s television ancestors met with limited success. What has given the Onion its staying power?
The Onion – which started as a small, regionally distributed newspaper in 1988 – became an early example of the internet’s power of viral distribution. It may be difficult for a network television show to find the audience it needs to build a niche following; the Onion’s following grew over time as its stories were forwarded by email. When the Onion’s television shows air this month, they will have already recruited their niche audience online over approximately 15 years.
There’s one final layer to peel back, and that’s the Onion’s business model based on generating large amounts of free, high quality content. The term “viral growth” is overused, but is applicable to the Onion’s rise through virtual word-of-mouth. The content brought traffic, and the traffic brought money – both in terms of advertising, book deals, and now television shows. None of it would have worked without something that was worth sending in an email to a friend. Funny always came first – and the money followed. Other small, regionally distributed newspapers who are struggling may want to take note.
The Washington Post told it’s journalists to keep off of Twitter after a staffer spent 140 characters defending the publication of an unpopular editorial. The piece, by the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, made a case that gay teens committed suicide because they were mentally unhealthy. It predictably raised the hackles of gay activist groups, who criticized the very idea of allowing such opinions to be published – which just as predictably led to the Post’s representative standing up for the First Amendment and the need for a broad marketplace of ideas.
It may seem ironic that, after a representative of the post contributed to this public conversation by citing the need for a public conversation, the Post shut down public speech from its employees. In fact, Mashable roundly criticizes the new policy:
The Post is clearly trying to do some damage control, but in a time when it is often difficult to encourage traditional journalists to embrace social media and dialogue with readers, this will only discourage it further. News organizations should be encouraging dialogue and debate, not stifling dialogue between readers and journalists.
Actually, the Post’s policy is a good one.
Think of this in terms of a classroom debate. A teacher poses a question. A few students argue for one side, other students argue another. The teacher provides facts and information, but shouldn’t be taking one side versus the other, right? In fact, by removing their journalists from the discussion, the Post can do more to promote a discussion by not taking a side.
It’s important for media outlets to connect with their audience – as purveyors of information, they have to know what’s relevant, understand the various viewpoints are out there, and appreciate which issues pieces of information is most important to readers or viewers. But if a journalist is supposed to (try to be) an objective resource, why would he or she want to participate in the debate? Wouldn’t any journalist who did start to lose some credibility or give evidence of having some sort of agenda or bias?
What might be the best wrap-up of yesterday’s primary results was published before the returns came in. As media outlets keep dropping over-simplistic terms like “tea party support” and “outsiders vs. insiders” to explain what happened, the Washington Examiner’s Timothy Carney boils the divide in Republican politics down as “the Tea Party Wing against the K Street Wing” – a divide which is not simply ideological or experiential:
The main distinction… might have less to do with policy platforms and more to do with a politician’s attitude toward the Washington nexus of power and money. Nevada’s Sharron Angle is anti-bailout and anti-subsidy. [Kentucky candidate Rand] Paul could try to shrink defense spending and ethanol subsidies. In Florida, Republican Marco Rubio isn’t a game player like [former Senator Bob] Dole’s buddy Crist is.
This morning, we hear that Lisa Murkowski is in trouble against “tea partier” Joe Miller, that John McCain bested an insurgent challenge from a more conservative candidate, and that established Republican Bill McCollum lost out to Rick Scott.
So if you’re scoring at home, “the establishment” won some and lost some, with Alaska up in the air – at least, according to most of the talking heads you see.
But can you call McCain an establishment Republican candidate? McCain had bucked national party leadership in his own way for decades, often lashing out at the K Street types Carney mentions above. As Matt Lewis noted – again, before polls closed yesterday – he fought a serious race against an opponent with more clear ties to K Street establishmentism. Last week, the New York Times saw fit to print that Alaska’s rugged individualism was either inconsistent or an outright sham because of its dependence on federal money; regardless of how the final tallies go for the scion of the Murkowski family goes, her ability to keep winning earmarks did not lead to an easy victory lap. And Bill McCollum was part of a Republican establishment in Florida rocked with a spending scandal earlier this year.
And of course, there’s the big caveat that each race has its own local interpretations of who counts as “the establishment” and who really is an “outsider.” All the more reason to look at the results through Carney’s prism rather than the crystal ball which other analysts are trying to use.
If you thought Al Franken would give up the laughs just because he sued his way into the Senate, think again. The SNL alum has some of his best writing since the Stuart Smalley movie up on CNN.com, which gave him a platform to discuss internet regulation:
“Net neutrality” sounds arcane, but it’s fundamental to free speech. The internet today is an open marketplace. If you have a product, you can sell it. If you have an opinion, you can blog about it. If you have an idea, you can share it with the world.
And no matter who you are — a corporation selling a new widget, a senator making a political argument or just a Minnesotan sharing a funny cat video — you have equal access to that marketplace.
An e-mail from your mom comes in just as fast as a bill notification from your bank. You’re reading this op-ed online; it’ll load just as fast as a blog post criticizing it. That’s what we mean by net neutrality.
So here’s the internet we have: a free and open landscape where the merit of ideas matters more than how much money you have. So we want to oppose net neutrality legislation and regulations that would change that landscape, right?
Apparently, not in Al Franken’s world. Franken likens the evolution of telecommunications companies to his work on network television, and the media consolidation that went on in that medium.
Back in the 1990s, Congress rescinded rules that prevented television networks from owning their own programming. Network executives swore in congressional hearings that they wouldn’t give their own programming preferred access to the airwaves. They vowed access to the airwaves would be determined only by the quality of the shows.
I was working at NBC back then, and I didn’t buy that line one bit. Sure enough, within a couple of years, NBC was the largest supplier of its own prime-time programming.
There are two rebuttals to this. First, networks buy programming from other providers all the time. In fact, one of the biggest hits NBC had this decade, Scrubs, was produced by Disney ABC. The second point is… well, how is that all-Universal-produced prime time lineup working out for NBC right now?
Today, if you’re an independent producer, it’s nearly impossible to get a show on the air unless the network owns at least a piece of it.
True, but has getting a show “on the air” ever been less relevant for success? An enterprising content producer wouldn’t get the same audience online that he or she might get on a broadcast or cable network, but they aren’t being shut out of the media landscape. If that’s the yardstick for success, wouldn’t we have to say the internet as it is works just fine?
Franken starts to make an analogy between internet services providers and cable companies – which is, incidentally, the argument on net neutrality’s side that makes the most sense. But that assumes the market stays static – that is, that everyone continues to have a wire coming into their house, hooked up to their desktop computer, delivering the internet for the whole family to gather around.
But that isn’t where internet consumption is going.
At the risk of using myself as an example let me use myself as an example: in the morning, I usually check work and personal email on my Blackberry before rolling out of bed. I check my home computer to see if the Yankees won the night before. At work, I check sites like Politico routinely, and if an issue I’m working on is about to come up for a Congressional vote I might dial up CSPAN and watch online. After work, I might go over to Starbucks with the laptop to work on a post or answer emails, using their WiFi. Count ‘em up – that’s four internet providers in a single day. If I was traveling, there might be more connections – airports, hotels, even planes. I dare you to try to keep content away from me.
The internet is not a utility like cable, it’s a communications infrastructure. The providers can’t afford to simply keep content from you, because you can figure it out and change easier than you can if, for example, Comcast refuses to put the NFL Network on a basic cable tier.
Regulating the internet like telephones, or cable, or even broadcast radio and television doesn’t work because those are different technologies and consumed differently. But don’t blame Franken’s lack of insight on the fact that he made his bones in old-school broadcast network television. After all, he’s been trying to appeal to net neutrality cheerleader Google to wire Duluth for broadband. Maybe he’s just trying to scratch their back in hopes they will return the favor later on.