Friday, February 15, 2013

Jon Stewart gets it right, sort of

Jon Stewart spent a good share of a recent show poking well-deserved fun at CNN for its round-the-clock coverage of an icky but otherwise safe dead-in-the-water Carnival cruise ship while many more important things were going on around the world.

Watch the clip (then come back to me): Daily Show clip

Point taken. But there's a reason why Stewart is doing essentially a comedy show instead of a real news magazine -- we live in the Age of Entertainment, and he recognizes, as do CNN, Fox and the rest of the cable world, that Americans won't sit still for serious news any more. So, CNN sends helicopters out to stricken leisure vessels instead of following what's happening in the world's hot spots. CNN, like Stewart, has to pay the bills, and interviews with the secretary general of the United Nations won't do that.

It's really not CNN's fault, nor is it Stewart's. We want to be entertained, not informed. Stewart actually does pretty well at accomplishing both, but he's the first to admit that his goal is not to commit journalism. From his perch, he gets to poke fun at CNN while engaging in the very thing he derides. He gets a pass, though, because his stated goal is to be funny while CNN ostensibly wants to be seen as a serious news organization. Pity them for that.

You have to assume that Wolf Blitzer, who once ducked bombs in Baghdad, cringes every time he has to say, "And now, let's have an update on that Carnival cruise ship, where people are eating onion sandwiches and pooping into Baggies." He's a serious-minded news guy (perhaps to a fault), but there's no doubt that the beast that is the American appetite for entertainment must be fed. It also must piss him off more than a little to be the target of potty humor from Jon Stewart, who, as I've said, gets to do the very thing he is making fun of.

Stewart, in other words, is in a can't-lose situation while Blitzer (despite his awesome name) and CNN are in a can't-win deal. If they focus on hard news, they quickly lose viewers and become irrelevant. If they do goofy things like circle a stricken cruise ship in a helicopter "reuniting" loved ones who haven't seen each other for all of six days, they are not serious journalists.

One of the most telling things about Stewart's CNN monologue was that his funniest line went over the heads of his audience. His comparison to the Shackleton expedition drew only a polite giggle or two, largely, I suspect, because no one had heard of Shackleton. In case my better-informed readers need a refresher, the Shackleton expedition got caught in Antarctic sea ice in 1915. What followed was a harrowing yearlong marooning during which no one died. The people on the Carnival ship were made terribly uncomfortable, but, well, you see the point Stewart was trying to make.

Meanwhile, let's check in at HuffPo, which wants to be seen as a serious journalism-based web site. At least Arianna has eliminated the "Celebrity Skin" page, although it's not uncommon to see photos of "wardrobe malfunctions" leading the site's most popular links. Today, things are relatively substantive by comparison; the top three stories are a non-existent feud between Brian Williams and his network, some sassy questioning of bank regulators by Elizabeth Warren (HuffPo's favorite person for some time now, unless Kim Kardashian lets a nipple show), and breaking news that a hamburger joint once visited by President Obama is closed.

HuffPo is making an effort to be taken seriously, but Ms. Huffington understands that she has to feed the beast.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Say it isn't so, Suzi

It can, apparently, happen to anyone.

A Washington Post blog recently reported -- falsely -- that Sarah Palin planned to become a contributor to the Al Jazeera America network, which has recently purchased Al Gore's failing Current TV. The post was made by Suzi Parker, who is described by Politics Daily like this:

"Suzi Parker is an award-winning journalist and author, focusing extensively on politics, sex and Southern culture.

"She is a regular contributor to The Economist, US News’ Washington Whispers column, and The Christian Science Monitor. Her stories have also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, where she worked as Arkansas’ correspondent for seven years, Alternet.org., Salon.com, Nerve.com, The New York Times Magazine, The New Statesman, Penthouse, The Washington Post, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Memphis Commercial Appeal, The Washingtonian and several other national and international magazines."

So, Suzi Parker is a legitimate journalist, published all over the interwebs and in print. Her scoop about Palin came from the web site Daily Currant, which wrote:
After leaving Fox News, Palin said she was hoping to reach a broader audience with her message. When contacted by phone, Palin said Al Jazeera - with its extensive international network - offered her the best opportunity to broadcast to millions of people.
“As you all know, I’m not a big fan of newspapers, journalists, news anchors and the liberal media in general,” Palin said. “But I met with the folks at Al-JaJizzraa (sic) and they told me they reach millions of devoutly religious people who don’t watch CBS or CNN. That tells me they don’t have a liberal bias.”
Here is how Daily Currant describes itself, on its own web site:
The Daily Currant is an English language online satirical newspaper that covers global politics, business, technology, entertainment, science, health and media. It is accessible from over 190 countries worldwide - now including South Sudan.
Our mission is to ridicule the timid ignorance which obstructs our progress, and promote intelligence - which presses forward.
The site even offers this Q and A:
Q. Are your news stories real?
A. No. Our stories are purely fictional. However they are meant to address real-world issues through satire and often refer and link to real events happening in the world.
And yet ... and yet, Suzi Parker took the news of Palin's imminent move to Al Jazeera seriously, including it as part of her apparently serious attempt to opine on Palin's current circumstances.

I have been pretty hard on people who pass along as fact the garbage often found on the Internet without checking it out first. Perhaps I should lighten up a bit. Suzi Parker is clearly no amateur, yet here she is, publishing a correction on a Washington Post blog because she hadn't bothered to make even a cursory attempt to verify something she found on a web site that is so obviously satirical that one of its headlines today is "Catholic Church Considering Jerry Sandusky as Next Pope."

How did this happen? It's simple. Suzi Parker so dearly wanted to believe the story about Palin that she didn't pursue its veracity. It happens millions of times a day across the information cesspool called the Internet, and experienced journalists are clearly not immune.

Parker has also written a book titled, "Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt." Perhaps she should stick to sex.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Another sneak peek from Yellow Light of Dusk

“Is your cigar tolerance sufficient for another?” Alex asked.

“It is, I regret to say,” I said, and Henry opened the box and brought it to me. I selected a Cohiba corona, small enough that it wouldn’t take all night to smoke. Henry closed the box and held out his hand. I placed the cigar in it and he clipped the end. I lit it is I had the first. It was milder than the first, generating gorgeous white smoke. We sat in contemplative silence as dusk turned to evening and a low mist seeped along the ground in the distance.

“I am duly impressed,” Alex said as I approached the halfway point of the stogie. “Most people would have turned green by now.”

“I’m a man of few talents, and the few I possess are considered vices by most people.”

“What about journalism?” Alex inquired.

“I rest my case,” I said.

Alex and Nicole laughed, and Alex closed her eyes. I knew a quotation was coming.

“Churchill once said, ‘I drink a good deal. I sleep a little, and I smoke cigar after cigar. That’s why I’m in two-hundred percent form,’” she said.

I tried to match her.

“A good cigar is like a beautiful chick who knows the box scores,” I said. “Klinger said something like that.”

Both Alex and Nicole turned their heads and stared at me.

“From the TV show, M*A*S*H,” I said, looking away after giving them a quick look of satisfaction with a quick raising of my eyebrows. I looked back as they simultaneously rolled their eyes. Then Alex closed her eyes again, signaling another quotation.

“Journalism is popular, but it is popular mainly as fiction. Life is one world, and life seen in newspapers is another,” she said. We waited. “That was G.K. Chesterton, I believe.”

“You win,” I said.

“She always does,” Nicole said.