Politics and Grassroots

The most convince-able President in recent memory

Earlier this week, I posted a piece on LinkedIn discussing how the failed Republican health care push showed how much President Donald Trump is willing to let others handle the details for even his biggest policy goals.

This business in Syria makes that even more obvious.

President Trump’s shift on Syria – from isolationist to hawk – isn’t something typically seen of politicians. But it tracks pretty closely with the way plenty of Americans view the situation. It also fits with his over-arching message of renewing the perception of America’s strength on the international stage, even if the specific policy (military involvement in Syria) runs against what he has previously advocated.

None of this is necessarily a bad thing. Cynics will note – correctly – that such willingness to change course suggests a President who lacks grounding in a set of deeply held core beliefs. We typically long for elected leaders who take bold stands and stick to their guns.

Look at the Senate this past week to see how those qualities don’t always work out as planned.

But there is a positive side to having an opportunistic deal maker in the big chair. It means that if you can make your case for your cause – regardless of party or philosophical lines – you might just win an ally.

First with healthcare, and now with Syria, President Trump is showing he’s more pragmatist than ideologue. Will anyone take advantage?

 

 

 

 

media, Sports, Uncategorized

TV sportscasting is getting it wrong

Tony Romo is now the top color commentator for CBS football games, and Phil Simms is out.

The New York Daily News reminds us that Romo is getting this promotion despite no experience in sportscasting.

(Sidebar: It’s funny, isn’t it, that Romo had to toil as a little-known backup quarterback for years before taking on a job that generally goes to a top, high-profile draftee, but he walked right into a job that normally goes to someone who toils for a couple of years at a lower level?)

Romo might be good. He might suck. But he would have to suck awfully bad to get people to turn off the channel, wouldn’t he? People will tune into CBS to see football and tolerate the announcers. No one is turning the dial to figure skating on Sunday afternoon. So Romo’s “qualifications” and “abilities” are actually irrelevant. Unless he pulls a Jimmy the Greek, he’ll be fine.

Speaking of sportscasting, this week the Dodgers opened their season and will play the year sans Vin Scully for the first time since the 1940s. Scully’s style of calling television games was different, as anyone who watched Dodgers broadcasts will surely recall. Sitting alone on the microphone, Scully would talk and tell stories – like a talk radio host without the ferocious outrage – while incidentally mentioning the game action. It worked especially well on television.

To watch Scully succeed this way begs the question: Why do TV announcers spend so much time describing the action that viewers can see? Think about it next time you watch a game. Then, for extra fun, count how many times they read graphics to you. Michael Kay of the YES Network is particularly guilty of this sin (though I have probably watched so many of his games that my bias may be showing).

It makes sense why they do this – many sportscasters get their start in radio, where there is no visual support. But one would think that some media outlet would try something different. After all, television news programs stopped presenting the same way as radio news. We have had televised sports for something like seven decades, why do we still adhere to radio-era traditions? This is especially true for football, America’s made-for-television sport.

There might be a new model emerging from networks that use “whip around” coverage. The MLB Network does this particularly well with MLB Tonight, where a host and two in-studio analysts watch each night’s action and comment over teams’ local broadcast feeds. Their easy, joke-filled banter makes it fun to watch, mirroring conversations you might have watching games with a bunch of friends. And it’s different from most baseball broadcasts, where an announcer narrates events as you watch them.

This could work for a single team, as well. Wouldn’t that be more fun to watch than some former athlete rhythmically rattling off recaps of the obvious during breaks in the action as most color commentators do? Think of the familiarity and rapport fans could develop with the on-screen personalities.

Television sports is not a high-risk place to experiment – generally, ratings are driven by the games more than the broadcast. CBS gets that, which is why they’re willing to stick Tony Romo in a broadcasting booth with only a few postgame interviews under his belt. It’s time to try something even bolder. The radio era is over.

It’s time to try something even bolder. Sportscasting should evolve past where it was during Vin Scully’s rookie year.

media, Politics and Grassroots

Dumb politics

Last week the Boston Globe quoted me in their story about young conservative activists (despite the fact that it has been more than a decade since I organized campuses for the Leadership Institute). Reporter Dugan Arnett picked just about the perfect quote to sum up our discussion:

“There are always people who are going to say, ‘This is my ticket; I’m going to make sure my campus burns down, I’m going to be on Fox News a bunch, and that’s going to be my path to the spotlight,’ ” says Jim Eltringham, formerly of the Leadership Institute and currently a Republican campaign consultant. “The problem is: That’s a spotlight that burns out quick.”

Our discussion centered on how some campus activists welcomed controversy for controversy’s sake, provoking outrage on purpose to gain attention with little substance behind the actions. It seems like a lesson some in Washington need to learn, too: In a piece on Medium, I argue that there’s a direct link between this type of superficiality and last week’s Republican failure on health care .

Politics and Grassroots, Sports

Spike Lee is wrong about Colin Kaepernick… for now

Over the weekend, Capital One spokesman, Reggie Miller antagonist, and filmmaker Spike Lee mused publicly about quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who remains unsigned in a busy NFL free agency period. “How Is It That There Are 32 NFL Teams And Kap Is Still A Free Agent?” Lee wrote in a creatively capitalized post-brunch Instagram post, poetically implying that Kaepernick is considered radioactive for his race and outspoken politics.

He might be right, but it’s too early to say. Right now, NFL teams fall into four broad tiers in terms of quarterbacks:

  1. Teams who have their quarterback for next year, and are content with that person.
  2. Teams that are pretty sure they have a quarterback for next year but have some doubts about injury or effectiveness. An example here might be the Bills, who are still feeling out what they have in Tyrod Taylor, or the Steelers, who are rightly concerned about the getting-up-there Ben Roethlisberger missing a few games.
  3. Teams with a nominal starter who would probably upgrade if they could.
  4. Teams with no clear plan at quarterback. There are really only two teams here, and ironically they are the two who made the biggest offseason trade of a quarterback so far: the Browns and the Texans.

Looking at these groupings, the market gets tough for Kaepernick. He’s only 29 and has a Super Bowl run under his belt; his struggles in the years since that run mean he isn’t a clear upgrade over most established or nominal starters. If you are an NFL general manager, looking for an extra arm to throw in camp or a capable backup, there will be plenty of options as training camp approaches. There’s no need to sign a guy like Kaepernick yet.

The only market for him now are teams looking for a high-upside fallback option who would definitely start the season on the bench. For that reason, it might be in Kaepernick’s better interests to wait. If the Houston Texans can’t get Tony Romo, or the Raiders find Derek Carr isn’t all the way back from injury, or the Vikings’ Sam Bradford gets hurt in minicamp, Kaepernick might find himself in a better situation than becoming the next Browns quarterback whose career gets sacked into oblivion.

On the other hand, as training camps get closer and rosters take shape, someone really ought to sign Kaepernick, baggage and all. If the season kicks off and finds Kaepernick in a Tim Tebow-esque purgatory, we might find that Lee was right all along.

This assumes, of course, that Kaepernick wants to sign. He might find it more amenable to his long term health to use his experience as a social commenter and provocateur to craft a career more in the mold of his pal Spike Lee.

media, Sports

ESPN’s bad week

In a post at Medium, I reacted to Jayson Stark’s long piece assuming that America needed baseball players to speak out on politics. The short version: We disagree. More than that, his assumption – that political rifts have created wounds in need of healing – show disconnection from the broader public who, honestly, just doesn’t care about politics.

Then came this week’s news: ESPN expects to lay off a good on-air talent. The two stories have a common thread.

It would be tempting for anyone on the center right to point to ESPN’s socially progressive programming choices and blame that for alienating its core viewership, but the reasons are a bit more nuanced. ESPN’s tunnel vision and lack of self-awareness has prevented it from adapting to a new media environment. Once the sole source of 24 hour sports on TV, ESPN’s networks now compete with national sports channels run by Fox and NBC, regional sports networks, and – notably – networks run by sports leagues themselves. On top of that, Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, and the National Basketball Association all offer direct-to-consumer online packages.

That ESPN missed these changes suggests they overestimated their value in consumers’ minds. Like Jayson Stark, they’ve misread the public vibe.

Politics and Grassroots

Embracing chaos

Matt Lewis likened President Donald Trump’s White House to the “Bronx Zoo” New York Yankees of the 1970s and 1980s, and there is a fair amount of merit in the comparison. By now, the hand-wringers so worried about the chaotic Trump Administration should understand: This is a feature, not a bug.

As President Trump prepares to  launch his policy agenda in a congressional address, don’t expect the chaos to dissipate. But, as I wrote in a post on LinkedIn, that represents a big opportunity for anyone laying groundwork for the 2018 elections – or, for that matter, future policy battles that come up before .

Culture, media

Getting out of the bubble

NBC’s 90th anniversary show last weekend featured a heavy dose of former and current stars sharing memories of how certain shows were so “important” or “ground-breaking.”

“Come on,” I found myself thinking at various times. “This is television. This is passive entertainment we watch because it’s easier than reading and we don’t feel like putting on pants and going out.”

On Medium, I wrote about NBC’s inflated perspective – and how such a mentality might bleed over into the news division. But it isn’t hard to see how this would happen – and it doesn’t come from a place of arrogance. Anyone who works in a field, or in a given place, runs the risk of an altered perspective. People who work at NBC for years, and develop an understanding of its history, could be excused for over-inflating its importance (especially on a program designed to showcase the network’s programming). Similarly, it’s understandable why someone in the news division might conflate any attack on a media outlet as a full-on assault on the First Amendment.

Cultural bubbles exist. And while they may not pop easily, you can at least see outside of them, if you’re looking. For reporters, that’s going to become even more important in the coming years.

That’s not to say that television shows have not had meaningful cultural impact, nor that criticisms of the press could devolve into the erosion of press freedoms. It just means that the occasional dose of bubble-popping perspective is healthy and necessary.