Monday, February 26, 2007

Cable news, vox populi, and professional sleaze

For two weeks all four cable news channels have wallowed in the Anna Nicole Smith story with breaks to bring us the latest on Britney Spears. Hogs love slop almost as much as the people who run the "news" networks love tabloid sleaze.

Interestingly enough, bloggers--those hopeless amateurs -- have not followed suit. Instapundit, Powerline, Michelle Malkin, et. al. find it easy to resist the tawdry allure of these stories. For some strange reason the blogosphere sees no need to wallow in the sordid details of celebrity death and self-destruction.

Bloggers are supposed to bow down to the great god Journalism? Viewers are supposed to believe MSNBC because the network has Professional Integrity? They tell us that we can have faith in their reports on Iraq because they are Serious Newspeopleso serious that they devote five solid hours to the ANS body grab hearing.

On Reliable Sources Catherine Crier of Court TV blamed the viewers. ANS meant ratings and the networks have to follow the ratings. John Gibson of Fox News uses the same argument when callers to his radio show complain about cable’s obsession with Natalie Holloway, Jon Benet Ramsey, or ANS. Of late, he has complained that Neil Cavuto’s refusal to cover ANS on his FNC business show has hurt Gibson’s ratings on TV.

Gibson and Crier are only telling half the story when they lay the blame on the audience. It is not that these stories grab the biggest audience; it is that they grab a big enough audience at the lowest expense and least effort. Nancy Grace and Greta van Susteren have honed their skills to the point that they can crank out a sixty minute show on these cases even when there is no real news. They managed to keep the Holloway case going for months when there was nothing significant to report. These shows (even Crier’s) are still making hay out the Scott Peterson trial even though he has been convicted and sent to Death Row.

Here is a typical night on GVS when she is in full Holloway overload:

10:00 pm Hype "shocking new details" in the case.

Break for commercials

10:02-10:10 Talk on phone to someone in Aruba who can only repeat what was on the AP wire at 3.00 pm. Have them speculate about meaning of new revelations. Establish that they do not know if revelation is true or meaningful. Draw a blank when attempting to fit new information into the welter of fact, opinion, and myths that surround the case. Bash Aruban authorities.
Show video of Natalie Holloway throughout the segment.

Break for commercials.

10:13-10:23 Interview Beth Holloway Twitty. Let her emote. Have her lash out at Aruba, the Dutch kid, his father, their lawyers, whoever.

Break for commercials.

10:26-10:37 Bring in panel of lawyers or barking seals. Let either group run through their well-rehearsed routine. Bark, speculate, bark, denounce, joke, bark.

Break for commercial but first remind everyone that the lawyer/seals will be back to discuss missing bride/ cruise ship crimes/ Duke lacrosse/ Anna Nicole Smith.

10:40-10:51 Seals bark/ lawyers bloviate. No one has any new insight or information.

Break for commercial.

10:54-11:00Dim-witted observations by host. Promise of new revelations tomorrow. Hype next show in the line-up.

Fade out to commercials.

What an easy way to fill an hour of TV. All it takes are a couple of amateurs willing to play straight men, some trained seals or shameless lawyers, an even more shameless host, and advertisers willing to pay for that handful of brain-dead obsessives who happily tune in every night.

The four "news" networks are racing to the bottom while trying to grab the biggest share of 2% of the audience. They have nothing to appeal to the healthy 98% of America who care nothing for these stories. Breaking away from the cable pack would require effort and imagination. These are in short supply on television.

I’m also surprised that there are advertisers who find these shows a good venue for their commercials. Although, come to think of it, the traits that mark a true-blue Nancy Grace fan -- limited education, poor reasoning skills, a preference for emotional release over cold logic--are traits that a slick ad man can exploit.

Is that what cable news has become? Shameless attention whores working for cheap con-men? Now there is something for a journalist to aspire to.
Credit where due

Dorothy Rabinowitz takes on the "crude falsifications" of TV drama especially Law and Order and 24.

L&O used to be a pretty good show. But it is long in the tooth and its relentless ideological slant has become laughable. They brag that their stories are "ripped from the headlines" but they are circumspect about what the whole L&O treatment entails: "Rip it, bleach it, bless it, and move it up-market."

As whores are wont to do, the network suits appeal to the god of the marketplace. L&O draws ratings, so all must be forgiven. There are limits to the obeisance. The appeal to the ratings will never work with a show that was accused of being anti-gay, anti-feminist, anti-Muslim, or racist. L&O managed to work an anti-Ken Starr storyline into a New York cop show, but i'm not holding my breath for them to tackle the issues raised by Mike Nifong's travesty in Durham.

See also:


Hollywood and the war on terror
He has my vote

In a king’s world ...

SAN FRANCISCO - I know not when ye Royal Election shall commence, yet a catalog of edicts have I preemptively prepared. Thusly, when I am King of ye Sports World ...

Two points in his platform won me over:

This:
Any sports scribe who is compelled to include the names of Anna Nicole Smith and/or Britney Spears in his work, whether said inclusion is in jest or in true intrigue, shall have his keyboard stretched on the rack until its vowels pop out. Ours is a sporting world; we care not for the excruciating minutiae of the lives of glorified pole dancers.
And this:
When I am King, the Duke lacrosse team shall be advanced to the NCAA finals post-haste, where they shall be led by the falsely accused Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann — on the same day their lying accuser is being led to prison for her perjury.
i disgree with his anti-NASCAR prejudice. It is a shame that hockey is not more popular, but that isn't NASCAR's fault. The NHL should take some lessons from NASCAR on how to promote their sport and build their brand.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The problem with secret sources

Tim Rutten is just outstanding on the BALCO/San Fran Chronicle case:

Protect public interest, not journalists' self-interest

Two San Francisco Chronicle reporters — Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams — have made themselves poster children for advocates of a federal shield law by risking jail to protect the source who leaked them federal grand jury testimony by three professional baseball stars, including Barry Bonds.

Thursday, we learned just who they were protecting when Troy L. Ellerman, a defense lawyer for one of BALCO's vice presidents, pleaded guilty to contempt of court, obstruction of justice and filing a false declaration with a federal court. Ellerman leaked the testimony to the Chronicle reporters, then went out and argued that the ensuing publicity would deny his client a fair trial. Worse, he actually filed motions with the court alleging that prosecutors had leaked the testimony and that charges against the BALCO official should be dismissed.

The two reporters maintained their silence while all this occurred. Worse, Fainaru-Wada returned to the defense attorney's office to obtain still more leaked testimony after their source had lied in public and to the court.

To assert any form of journalistic privilege in a situation like that is something far worse than moral obtuseness. Conspiring with somebody you know is actively perverting the administration of justice to your mutual advantage is a betrayal of the public interest whose protection is the only basis on which journalistic privilege of any sort has a right to assert itself
.


See also:

On leaks, bias and truth

Leaks, Journalsim, and the Right to Know

The rotten heart of investigative journalism

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Radio

Howard Kurtz writes:
The reason these two companies have 13 million subscribers willing to cough up $12.95 a month for something we all grew up thinking should be free is that commercial radio has self-destructed.

All these folks (including me) are paying for satellite because they're tired of cookie-cutter radio formats stuffed to the gills with commercials. They're also fed up with focus-grouped music stations that play the same 60 songs until you start hearing the chords in your sleep
.
Very true. I've had Sirius for over two years. My reasons for getting it are (in order of importance) 1. to get NFL games, 2. to have radio reception when i drive through the big empty that is Central Pennsylvania, 3. to have some choice when it came to radio even when i was around home.

Sirius is not a panacea, but it does provide listening options. On the other hand, their talk stations are loaded with commericals for the same handful of advertisers (gotomeeting.com, ditech.com, etc.) which makes it hard to listen to them. There is too much sameness on the talk stations ( I can't tell Mike Church from Glen Beck from Alexander Willkow from Colin Cowherd.)
There are lots and lots of music options. All that choice has allowed me to come to a couple of realizations about my musical tastes.

1. I can live a long and happy life without ever hearing another Beatles or Who song.

2. I don't ever want to hear anything by Pink Floyd ever again.

3. Jimi Hendrix is timeless. I never get tired of hearing any of his songs.

4. The Allman Brothers fall into the same category.

5. For the last thirty years the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan have been competing to see which one wins the coveted title of Greatest Artist who Produced the Most Bad Albums and Songs.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Stolen Valor, circa 1944


George Polk's Real World War II Record

The fictional career of a famous newsman.
Does it matter if a journalist lies on his resume?

Maybe. After all, Jayson Blair and Janet Cooke lied to their employers before they lied to their readers. Should the profession of journalism name a prestigious award for a journalist who lied about his war record?

Tough question. I know that some will argue that the Polk prize honors his journalism, not his biography. Hence, the errors in the latter should have no bearing on the quality of the former.

The sticky part is that his employers and others defended his journalism with appeals to his wartime exploits.

When Polk's reporting from Greece came under challenge, LeSueur, acting as anchorman for CBS News, defended Polk as a "wartime Navy fighter pilot twice wounded over Guadalcanal." After Polk's death in May 1948, Murrow told listeners that Polk had "flown both fighters and bombers for the Navy during the war, was wounded in the Solomons and decorated for bravery." Paul Gallico eulogized Polk as "an American ex-Navy fighter pilot and War Hero." Gallico was outdone by George Walker, who told Americans that Polk was "a flyer who faced 60 Japanese Zeros in the bitter early days of Guadalcanal-and who suffered nightmares of being aflame as his permanent memories of being three times shot down." Drew Pearson advised his audience that Polk had sustained a broken back when he "crash landed at Guadalcanal."
Would a man who lied about his war record and faked government documents be willing to lie about sources to get a big scoop or to further an ideological agenda? Seems to me that the answer has to be a resounding “quite possibly.”

His defenders ask us to believe that a man can be terribly dishonest in one phase of his life, and absolutely honest (hence credible) in another.

Against that view, we have C. S. Lewis:

I would sooner play cards against a man who was quite sceptical about ethics but bred to believe that 'a gentleman does not cheat' than against an irreproachable moral philosopher who had be brought up among sharpers.
Even if his journalism was impeccable, there is still something unseemly about a man who tries to steal a bit of the honor that is due real heroes.

The one point that is very clear is that his colleagues in journalism are a pretty credulous bunch. They bought his stories hook, line, and sinker, when there we plenty of warning signs. Was this out of ignorance? Or is it one more example of the guild applying one set of rules to themselves and a much more rigorous set of rules to everyone else.




Monday, February 19, 2007

A true hero is finally recognized

A Hero of a Helo Driver

In a few days - 41 years after the events of a long-ago November - a white-haired retired guy named Bruce Crandall will receive the nation's highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor, from President George W. Bush.

He's always been a hero to the men of the 1st Battalion 7th U.S. Cavalry who counted on Crandall and his wingman, Ed (Too Tall to Fly) Freeman, when the chips were down in a fire-swept clearing called Landing Zone X-Ray in the remote Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam's Central Highlands
.
Duke lacrosse: Nancy Grace

Durham in Wonderland looks at her "coverage" of the case.

Graceless
Sadly, her behavior during the lacrosse travesty is just her SOP.

Which raises the really important question: Why does CNN still give her a show?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Here are two recent articles on the Balkans

Radical Islam's Dupes

The Straight Story On Yugoslavia

In Iraq, CNN covered up the crimes of Saddam Hussein. In Yugoslovia, they went all out to condemn the Serbs and grossly exaggerated their crimes. At the same time, they covered up and minimized those of their opponents. (As they do to this day.)
Duke lacrosse: Pieces of the crime spree

William Anderson has a very important article up:
Duke and Durham: The Criminal Cover-up Continues
ISTM that he has a stronger circumstancial case against Durham than California had against Scott Peterson.

One point he makes is of special interest to me:
The crime occurred when a lacrosse player supposedly emailed his teammates to tell them that he was coming forward to testify. However, the player never sent that email. Instead, it was manufactured by another party. Was it the police? That is where the evidence points, but the "blue wall of silence" is not giving in at this point.

That should not be surprising, since manufacturing "evidence" is a felony, as is obstruction of justice
.

This email has bugged me for a while. (See Duke Lacrosse: Assessing the News & Observer). I am amazed that no part of the press has been interested in finding more about who sent it. If it had been for real, it would have been the blockbuster Nifong needed. But since it is apparently fake there are only two choices. 1. The police sent it. 2. Someone inside of Duke hacked the system and sent it.

In either case we are looking at a serious crime.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Duke lacrosse: “Totalitarian whiff”

KC Johnson:

In recent months, there’s been a totalitarian whiff to events in Durham, as we witness attempts to rewrite history.
His post demonstrates just how blatantly the Durham Herald Sun is trying to airbrush its history as it scrambles to remain relevant on this case. Regrettably, that is not the only example of totalitarian thinking that has skulked in the shadows of this matter.

From the beginning, the lacrosse players were presumed guilty because of who they were: white, male, rich, athletic. Early on, the vocal faction at Duke and Durham sought to transform this from a simple criminal case into a show trial. Impartial justice took a backseat to political agendas.

The Herald-Sun is not the only one trying to rewrite history. Ruth Sheehan has done it. The Gang of 88 has done it. Relentless revisionism has become a full-time preoccupation with the Duke administration.

The memory hole has been used nonstop since the last fall. Journalists like John Saunders are quick to attack Nifong or bemoan the “tragic rush to judgment”. They piously worry about the pain inflicted on the falsely accused players. They hope that no one will remember what they wrote and said back in the spring.

The party-liners have twisted themselves into pretzels to explain away inconvenient facts. They go to absurd lengths to justify the continuation of the hoax when the DNA evidence screams innocence. They happily minimize Nifong’s misdeeds while trotting out red-herrings about underage drinking and bigoted insults. They are adamant that “something happened” but are evasive about what happened and when. They accept the accuser’s credibility no matter how often her story changes. The more she prevaricates, the louder the party-liners proclaim that she is a brave and honest witness. In April they recounted the terrible injuries she suffered; in December they were outraged that anyone would dare bring up the lack of injuries as evidence in a rape case.

Perhaps worse than those who try to fit the facts into convoluted theories are those who simply dismiss inconvenient facts altogether. Hannah Arendt noted that totalitarians are quick to turn statements of fact into questions of motive. This mode of “debate” has been on constant display during the lacrosse case. Wendy Murphy dismissed the DNA evidence as “defense spin” when even Nifong conceded that there was no lacrosse DNA on the accuser or her clothes. Georgia Goslee played the race card to marginalize anyone who complained about the DA’s tactics in this case. Bloggers who raised questions about due process and the presumption of innocence were branded as racists, misogynists, and rape apologists by the pot banging blogs. When Dan Abrams looked at the discovery and reported that the evidence was weak, the apparatchiks were quick to point out that he was a Duke alum.

Murphy and Goslee also fell back on the classic totalitarian tactic of the Big Lie. Murphy told fantastic stories about the injuries suffered by the accuser. We now know that these were the product of her fevered and twisted imagination. Goslee retails dark rumors of a $2 million payoff offered to the victim months after the accuser denied any such offer took place.

All in all, it has been a sad spectacle.

UPDATE: 2/18/07 DIW gives us another example in this post. The party-liners do not allow for the possibility of honest disagreement. There are only enemies and conspiracies. Marcotte knows nothing about the facts of the lacrosse case, but she is certain that anyone who disagrees with her is "anti-feminist" and part of "the right-wing noise machine".

UPDATE 2 2/18/07 Speaking of enemies and conspiracies, here's a classic example:

Duke Sexual Assault Allegations Astroturf

A blogger gets a bunch of critical comments after posting on a high-profile subject. Is it because what she wrote was debatable? No. Could her facts be wrong? Absolutely not! The only acceptable explanation is that there is an orchestrated astro turfing campaign underway on behalf of the lacrosse players.
Nontraditional learning

Here’s an New York Times article on the problems at the University of Phoenix:
Troubles Grow for a University Built on Profits
The story lays most of the blame on UoP’s for-profit business model. I don’t doubt that the pressure to meet earnings targets made it easy to cut corners. I also think that the distance learning model for education suffers from serious flaws.

After all, from Socrates in ancient Athens, to the first universities in the Middle Ages, to our modern campuses, traditional education has meant gathering students around teachers. The model persists through the ages despite technological, economic, and ideological changes. Maybe there is something intrinsically valuable in that model.

Such ideas are anathema to the flacks of the Next New Thing. By suggesting such I have labeled myself an enemy of the future.

One of the “benefits” of non-traditional universities is that they accelerate the attainment of a degree. This feature is also a bug. Philosopher and psychologist William James wrote that “we learn to swim during the winter, and to skate during the summer.” Or oin the words of Jacques Barzun: “the inner integration of experience takes place slowly and during inactivity.” Speed kills. In the case of these programs what they murder is a real education.

Charles Taylor has an interesting idea about personality. He suggests that an important facet of it is inherently dialogical. We grow and mature inside “webs of interlocution.” One signal advantage of the traditional college education is that the student is immersed in new webs; they initiate new dialogues. Online learning, in contrast, is bereft of such opportunities.
Time runs backward

Hmm.
After 13 long years with a PDA of some form or fashion, I’m excusing myself from the synchronization wars and going back to an old-school paper planner from Franklin-Covey.
I've always liked the idea of the PDA. (I was even rooting for the Apple Newton back in the day.) I've never owned one because they never seemed to be as useful as my notebook and Day-Times pages.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Mall Shooting and future terrorism

Newsday uses the Salt Lake City shooting to remind us that malls could be terrorist targets.

Malls emerge as another front in terror war
The author notes that Rochard Clarke used mall attacks as as part of his Atlantic article two years ago. ( I discussed it here.)

The SLC shooting followed Clarke's scenario in some aspects: there was panic, helplessness, and an off-duty policeman played a key role in stopping the gunman. In one key feature, though, it challenged his assumptions. In Clarke's world, the mall gunmen executed shoppers by the score. In the real world, the Utah nutcase was stopped before he reached Clarkean levels of carnage.

In my critique of Clarke i suggested that civilian CCW holders could be a significant counter-force to mall shooters just as they have prevented new Columbines in some cases. Civilians did not play a role in stopping the Trolley Square killer. I think this article helps explain why.

But such rules may have caused the high number of deaths at Trolley Square, argued Larry Correia, chief financial officer of Fuzzy Bunny Movie Guns store in Draper.

"How many people left their firearms home Monday night because they were afraid of violating a rule," he said, referring to the signs at Trolley Square prohibiting firearms
.
Once again, a "gun free" zone became a happy hunting ground for a nutcase.
Auto de fe

Miriam sees parallels between the Inquisition and the anti-war left. The same thing happened down in Durham with the Gang of 88.

Maybe we over-state just how much progress we've made over the centuries.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Plame-gate: The Revised Standard Version

I watched the first part of this Frontline program. Color me unimpressed. They bounce from one interview to the next and skip from one idea to another. Plame-gate keeps appearing and disappearing in their narrative. The disjointed storyline allows the charges linger because the key revelations that refute them get lost in the clutter.

For instance, they never make it clear that Wilson was less than honest in describing his trip to reporters and in his famous op-ed. Nor do they pin Ambassador Joe down on his accusations that Karl Rove was the ring leader in the effort to out his wife.

The net result is that the viewer is left with the impression that “something bad happened” with pre-war intelligence. Joe Wilson knew it and said so. Then the White House “did something else bad” to Wilson’s wife in retaliation. Then great harm was done to the press and the First Amendment.

There was also the obligatory detour to Watergate and Deep Throat and the importance of anonymous sources in breaking Nixon’s cover-up.

Judith Miller was interviewed and she came across as a surprisingly sympathetic figure when she defended her reporting on WMDs.
Outstanding

News networks can't resist Anna Nicole fodder

AMERICA Held Hostage by Anna Nicole Smith: Day 6.

I take no satisfaction in the passing of a human being at the young age of 39, especially one that leaves a baby motherless.

But at the same time, I am slack jawed at the fact that the death of a Grade B celebrity whose claim to fame was a pair of oversized breasts and a sketchy marriage to an aging oil billionaire continues to dominate the media.

Welcome to the brave new world of tabloid-driven news where tawdry trumps substance time and time again.

Consider: NBC's "Nightly News" devoted 14 seconds to Iraq compared to 3 minutes and 13 seconds to Anna Nicole, according to one report. CNN referenced Anna Nicole 52.2 percent more frequently than it did Iraq. MSNBC was even worse - 70.8 percent more references to Anna Nicole than Iraq
.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Larry Miller: Gentleman

The tabloid media is in a frenzy picking at the bones. Larry Miller goes against the grain and shows how a classy guy handles things.

Anna Nicole, 1967 - 2007
Marcotte resigns; Kurtz spins
Howard Kurtz gets paid to do media criticism. That's because he's better at it than all those bloggers who give it away free on the world-wide web. Kurtz shows why he's worth the money as he covers the resignation of Amanda Marcotte.

He underplays the most offensive aspects of Marcotte's anti-Christian ranting and allows her to paint herself as a victim of a handful of rightwingers.

Kurtz frames the issue this way:

But many of these bloggers have a long cybertrail that leaves them vulnerable to criticism in the more buttoned-down environment of national politics.
And

She also questioned, in explicit language, what would have happened if the Virgin Mary had taken the emergency contraceptive called Plan B.
This is what Marcotte actually wrote:

Q: What if Mary had taken Plan B after the Lord filled her with his hot, white, sticky Holy Spirit? A: You’d have to justify your misogyny with another ancient mythology.
Kurtz is acting more like a PR flack for Marcotte instead of a fearless press critic or even-handed reporter. Maybe he feels sorry for her. Maybe he just doesn't understand Christianity. Maybe the pervasive liberalism of CNN and the WaPo has corroded his critical faculties. Whatever the reason, he did not help enlighten his readers with this piece of hackwork.

UPDATE: This post from Cathy Young provides a better picture of Marcotte's writing.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The WTF moment of the day

Prosecutor: Serial rapist stalked man for days

Outside the car, Hill lay with his naked victim in a field, Calligan said, then took photos that he later posted on his My Space Web page. After cutting the ties off of the victim's hands, Hill hurriedly left.
This creep posted pictures of his victim on My Space?
Was he crazy, stupid, or just pathologically arrogant?

Or was he clever? Wonder what his defense attorney will try to make of this.
Outstanding article

Mark Bowden has an article in the latest Atlantic that is just unbelievably good and important.

Jihadists in Paradise

A kidnapping at a Philippine resort triggered a yearlong hunt for pirate terrorists and their American hostages. A behind-the-scenes tale of intrigue, spycraft, and betrayal.
A sampling:

Trudging behind their captors, the missionary couple endured. They focused on staying alive, attending to basic bodily needs—eating, sleeping, staying clean. No strangers to religious conviction, the Burnhams gently engaged their captors in theological discussion and found these jihadists to be shallow, even adolescent, in their faith. Unfamiliar with the Koran, the outlaws had only a sketchy notion of Islam, which they saw as a set of behavioral rules, to be violated when it suited them. Kidnapping, murder, and theft were justified by their special status as “holy warriors.” One by one they sexually appropriated several of the women captives, claiming them as “wives.”
*** This example of the post-9/11 mindset in CIA deserves more investigation:
For most of early 2002, thanks to the CIA, the marines had at least a periodic fix on the meandering guerrilla band. When Tilao boasted in radio interviews—saying, for instance, “It’s really an embarrassment [to the authorities], because the superpower can’t do anything to us”—he was doing so on a CIA-supplied satellite phone, which gave away his position as he spoke.

The only hitch was that the spy agency was not allowed to relay the precise coordinates—in part to cloak the capabilities of the CIA’s equipment, in part because the agency had not been given a “lethal finding”—permission to pass along potentially lethal information. When its agents on the ground pressed, their request triggered an argument in Washington. The Pentagon wanted the precise coordinates turned over to Philippine forces, but the CIA refused, instructing its agents to give Sabban and his men only a five-mile radius.
Big game quarterbacks: do they exist?

Steve Sailer doubts that they do. He argues that it is wrong to draw conclusions about the post-season records of Manning and Brady because the sample size is too small.

He has point, maybe. The lack of data might make it impossible to say that Brady is better. But it also makes it impossible to say that Manning is better than Michael Vick or Kordell Stewart.

His point about Brady acting like a more decisive leader than Manning is a good one. Obviously, appearance counts (hence the vast attention paid to Vick.) John Elway looked like John Wayne when he walked to the line of scrimmage. Manning, unfortunately, lacks that swagger.

As for Brady, I wonder if this is a case where the eye sees what the mind tells it to see. Neither Brady nor Montana look like Elway behind center, but we know their history as cool winners. So we see a "command presence". If Brady was 7-5 in the play-offs with only one ring, we might not see that intangiable.

Manning is the anti-Elway. Only one other great quarterback looked as clumsy and out of place in the pocket -Johnny Unitas. Unitas, though, possessed two advantages over Manning. First, Unitas burst onto the national scene by winning his big games in 1958 and 1959. So there was no question about his leadership ability. Second, Unitas had a steely-eyed manner with the press that made it impossible to label him "soft". Manning's politeness after those play-off losses worked against him with the media.

It is the same trap that ensnared Bart Starr-another soft-spoken southerner who does not receive his due. While Manning gets most of the blame for the Colts post-season losses, Starr receives too little credit for the Packers's unmatched post-season success. He led them to three consecutive championships, five titles in seven seasons, six title games in eight years. He was MVP in the first two Super Bowls. The drive to win the Ice Bowl was as masterful as anything turned in by Brady, Montana, Elway, or Unitas. Ye, somehow, Starr is often overlooked when the press writes about great quarterbacks. Nice guys may not finish last, but quiet guys will get less ink.
Metros, retros, and that Super Bowl ad

I see the Snickers ad has been deep-sixed. Mars got the buzz it was hoping for, but discovered that not all buzz is good buzz. A few million dollars thrown away because some creative guys wanted to be edgy and no one in marketing had the guts to tell them "no".

The commercial itself was stupid and offensive in so many ways it is hard to know where to start. So, like all good pundits, I'll ride my pet hobby horse.

The two guys in the ad fit the media stereotype of retrosexuals. They were paunchy slobs, dull-witted, without charm, grace, or style. Similar caricatures appear on most sit-coms. They are the preferred "spokesmen" in ads for products that aim to appeal to retrosexuals-Dial soap, Miller beer, TV dinners, pizza, etc.

That's how TV advertising works. Everything gets viewed through a metrosexual lens because metros are over-represented in the advertising racket.

Marketers waste a ton of money out of ignorance and fear. No one wants to be a "suit" with no sense of humor and no grasp of "great, edgy creative." Peter Drucker said marketing and innovation were the only real functions of a corporation. Yet all too many companies have marketing departments that lack the courage and strategic mindset to live up to their responsibility.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Ted Haggard's other secret life

Well, here we go with the second act of a made for Oprah scandal.

Ousted Pastor ‘Completely Heterosexual’

Forced by a gay sex scandal to resign as president of the National Association of Evangelicals, the Rev. Ted Haggard now feels that after three weeks of intensive counseling, he is “completely heterosexual,” says an overseer of the megachurch Mr. Haggard once led.

The church official, the Rev. Tim Ralph, said in an interview published yesterday by The Denver Post that Mr. Haggard had also told the board of overseers that his only sexual relationship involving another man had been with Michael Jones, the onetime Denver prostitute who exposed that three-year affair last fall. Mr. Jones said then that he was making it public because Mr. Haggard
had acted hypocritically in promoting a constitutional amendment to bar same-sex marriage.
This is particularly interesting in light of the latest Atlantic. There is a very interesting article on the local politics of gay marriage:

They Won’t Know What Hit Them
by Joshua Green

The software mogul Tim Gill has a mission: Stop the Rick Santorums of tomorrow before they get started. How a network of gay political donors is stealthily fighting sexual discrimination and reshaping American politics

A tough loss can be hard to swallow, and plenty of defeated politicians have been known to grumble about sinister conspiracies. When they are rising stars like Danny Carroll, the Republican speaker pro tempore of Iowa’s House of Representatives, and the loss is unexpected, the urge to blame unseen forces can be even stronger—and in Carroll’s case, it would have the additional distinction of being justified. Carroll was among the dozens of targets of a group of rich gay philanthropists who quietly joined forces last year, under the leadership of a reclusive Colorado technology mogul, to counter the tide of antigay politics in America that has generated, among other things, a succession of state ballot initiatives banning gay marriage. Carroll had sponsored such a bill in Iowa and guided it to passage in the state House of Representatives, the first step toward getting it on the ballot
.

Ted Haggard makes an appearance in a most interesting way.

One component of Gill’s strategy includes courting that element of the Republican Party that’s open to compromise, while at the same time making clear that gay bashing will now come at a price. “You have to create an atmosphere of fear and respect,” said Trimpa, “and set up the proper context for them to do the right thing.” But neither Gill’s checkbook nor the Republicans’ woes have stopped social conservatives from pressing their agenda. Last year, when it became clear that Colorado Republicans intended to back a ballot initiative banning gay marriage, Gill and his allies moved first to frame the debate by pushing Referendum I, a bill endorsing domestic partnerships, and spending $5 million to promote it.

This effort also included some shrewd inside maneuvering. Colorado is home to a prominent Christian-right movement, centered on James Dobson’s Colorado Springs organization, Focus on the Family. Gays held no realistic hope of defeating the marriage ban. So to create a more favorable environment for domestic partnerships to become law, Gill’s operatives worked to divide their opponents into two camps: those conservatives who wanted to ban only marriage but would countenance partnerships, and the rest, like Dobson, who wanted, as Trimpa put it, “to ban the whole ball of wax.” They reached an informal truce with the moderate element of the conservative movement to back only the marriage ban and to not oppose the referendum on domestic partnerships. Among this faction’s leaders was an adversary of Dobson’s within the evangelical community, the Reverend Ted Haggard of the New Life Church
.
So the scandal about evangelical hypocrisy actually brought down the moderate force that was supposed to blunt the impact of Dobson.

Just goes to show that politics is unpredictable and that the headlines and punditry of the MSM usually only covers about 20% of the real story.

UPDATE: I think that the JunkYardBlog's statement on the power of grace perfectly captures the best response to these sorts of scandals.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Hollywood and the war on terror

At the very beginning of this blog i noted that Hollywood was AWOL in the war on terror. This recent op-ed in the LA Times confirms that this is still true.

Is Hollywood too timid for the war on terror?

In the history of our time as told by the movies, the war on terror largely does not exist.

Which is passing strange, you know. Because the war on terror is the history of our time. The outcome of our battle against the demographic, political and military upsurge of a hateful theology and its oppressive political vision will determine the fate of freedom in this century
.
Klavan is not afraid to point to political correctness as a culprit.

In all fairness, moviemakers have a legitimately baffling problem with the nature of the war itself. In order to honestly dramatize the simple truth about this existential struggle, you have to depict right-minded Americans — some of whom may be white and male and Christian — hunting down and killing dark-skinned villains of a false and wicked creed. That's what's happening, on a good day anyway, so that's what you'd have to show.

Moviemakers are reluctant to do that because, even though it's the truth, on screen it might appear bigoted and jingoistic. You can call that political correctness or multiculturalism gone mad — and sure, there's a lot of that going around. But despite what you might have heard, there are sensible, patriotic people in the movie business too. And even they, I suspect, falter before the prospect of presenting such a scenario
.

That is a brave stand to take in the pages of Hollywood's home town paper. But i think it lets the studios off the hook.

For one thing, he could have expanded on the crasser motives of the "film community." He touches on it:

Television — more populist, hungrier for content and less dependent on foreign audiences — reflects this fact with shows such as "24" and "The Unit." But at the movies, all we're getting is home-front angst and the occasional "Syriana," in which "moderate" Islam is thwarted by evil American interests.
but then moves on to the tortured soul of the movie makers burdened by guilt over the American past. That sounds so much better than the lure of filthy lucre. Nevertheless, Hollywood is in America, but its eyes are fixed on the global box office.

"Offshoring the Audience"

The movie business is booming abroad precisely because Hollywood is making pictures for the world market —at the expense of customers in America, where, not surprisingly, business is tanking. It's that hoariest of economic clich├ęs, a zero-sum game.

[snip]

If France makes movies for the French, and America makes movies for the world, who's left to make movies for America
?

While the WoT is essential to the American story, it does not resonate overseas. It would take a Mel Gibson-like monomaniac to make a movie to do it justice. The bean counters at the studios will get hung-up by its limited foreign box office potential.

It is fine to say that Hollywood is afraid of appearing bigoted toward brown-skinned Muslims. That rings true. But that delicate concern is part of a larger, moral conscience. Hollywood is unafraid to generalize and stereotype when it suits their purpose. The PC mentality works within a hierarchy as rigid as anything found in the old British Raj. There is a long list of those who must be treated sensitively. There is a much shorter list of those who can be stereotyped mercilessly and gratuitously:

Male evangelical minister? Perfect job for the character who is an oily hypocrite.

Muslim imam who sends young men out to die in a Holy War while living comfortably on the infidels's dole? Still waiting to see that in a movie or TV drama.

Want to tell a true story that has a big message? Hey, the murders of Matthew Shepherd or Teena Brandon tell us alot about the dark heart of America.

The story of Flight 93? That's only about courage and loss. There is no big message to be found in the history or identity of the hijackers. No Message. NONE. DON'T you dare try to find one. Well, maybe if you want to say something about the forced alienation of the poor immigrant in the racist West. That might be OK.

Have a twisted serial killer you want to explain? The possibilities are almost endless. You can have your basic Bible-thumping mother, your harsh football-coaching dad, the pediphile priest. Just make sure it is a Bible being thumped, never a Koran. The father has to look like Bear Bryant (can he be from Texas?) not Saddam Hussein. And those molestation flashbacks had better take place in a rectory, not a maddrassa.

Finally, i am troubled by Klavan's blithe dismissal of the problem.

It's a shame for so powerful an art form to become irrelevant because we can't find a way to dramatize the central event of our time. It's a shame that we live under the tireless protection of lawmen and warriors and don't pay tribute to them. And purely in artistic terms, it's a shame that so many great stories are just waiting to be told and we're not telling them.

But thanks, anyway, to the men and women of the FBI, for the seminar and, oh yeah, for trying to keep me alive and free. You truly have my gratitude. Just don't expect to see it at the movies
.
Klavan is honest enough to admit that Hollywood has a problem, he doesn't think it is a big problem. I'm not so certain about that. I think that David Gelernter does the best job of explaining why:

What matters is our communal response to the crime. Evil is easy, good is hard, temptation is a given; therefore, a healthy society talks to itself

Such ritual denunciations strengthen our good inclinations and help us suppress our bad ones. We need to hear them, and hear good acts praised, too. We need to hear the crowd (hear ourselves) praising good and denouncing evil.

Goodness is unnatural, and we need to cheer one another on.


(From "Unresolved Evil", The Weekly Standard, 6 April 1998)

Monday, February 05, 2007

Super Bowl ads

I just remembered that i haven't posted anything about the SuperBowl ads. Which, in a way, is a pretty good verdict on the lot of them. By and large they were lame, lame, lame.

With the exception of the Budweiser ads of course. No surprises, but good execution on their usual themes.

Can't quite figure out what Chevy is trying to do with their ads with all the fuzzy emotion and the celebrities. OTOH, The Toyota Tundra ad was dead solid perfect "We're a big, tough truck that works hard." I drive a GMC but the Toyota commercial gave me a reason to check them out.
Colts 29, Bears 17

Glad to see Dungy and Manning win. Both men handled defeats with grace and dignity. Now they are winner and the sports hacks will have to find some other whipping boy.

Grossman played poorly at the end, so he is apparently the designated goat. Lost in the discussion will be the fact that the vaunted Bears defense was unable to stop the Colts running game while the Colts defense shut down all phases of the Bears offense.

Steve Young was especially hard on Grossman on ESPN. No one asked him about his Super Bowl performance when he was Grossman's age. Young QBs will sometimes play like young QBs. Unless they ride the bench like Steve Young did in San Francisco.

I wonder what Tampa Bay thinks now that Dungy showed he can win the Super Bowl. They got that Lombardi Trophy in 2002 when Gruden took over. Since then it has been a rather pathetic slide. Dungy, OTOH, did not skip a beat when he went to the Colts. He's a winner and a builder. Something the Bucs could use right now.

UPDATE: I like this comment by Mike Wilbon from his live blog of the game:

To quote Tony, "I believe I called that." I watch this team too much and know the tendencies as well as their coaches...And one of those coaches, offensive coordinator Ron Turner, just killed his team. You're finally moving the ball, you're mixing the run and pass effectively down only five points, and you either call or let your shaky QB select a play you gave him the option to select....That's the fifth interception this year return for a touchdown against Grossman...Yes, I blame Grossman...But you have to really blame the coach for not putting a player in the best position to succede...I've increasingly disliked Turner's offense all year...It's too bad, too, because the Colts--while the better team--were beatable tonight...And the Bears don't have a sophisticated enough an offense to do it...And Turner, once again, has Grossman throw it deep with 10 mins. to play when it isn't necessary...
I think coaches frequently get a pass on this sort of thing. Players have strengths and weaknesses. Coaches, of all people, should know what their players can and cannot do.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Duke lacrosse: Losing the battle in comments and email

I'm on the record as hating blog comments. Nor do i like the idea of urging people to send email to opponents when passions run hot.

The Duke lacrosse case just reinforces my conviction on this. i agree completely with this comment from KC Johnson's blog:


Anonymous said...
KC -- I might consider closing the comments section down. Your blog is now the go-to site for the real truth on this disaster of a case and the Duke faculty's disgusting use of it to further its agenda. The comments section, however, has often become a mix of race-based IQ blather and some hateful vitriol. There certainly is a place for such discussions, but I submit that this is not that place, particularly with the whole world watching now.

10:24 AM

Many, many people are sincerely concerned about the travesty in Durham. But the case has also drawn bigots. They may be few in number but they taint everyone who oppose Nifong and the Gang of 88. Even worse, the time KC Johnson spends policing his comment threads is time he cannot devote to covering the case.

Same thing with emails. People may think they are helping the players when they send emails to Cash Michaels or the Gang of 88. In reality, all they do is help Cash write his columns and build sympathy for the professors.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Tank Johnson and the vast chasm of media ignorance

Tank Johnson is the designated bad boy of this year’s SuperBowl. He was arrested on firearms charges and then his friend was shot dead in a nightclub. He became the posterboy for the problem of “guns in the NFL”.

Once again, we see the sport press take an arrest and run with it to push an agenda. (Shades of Duke lacrosse.) The death of his friend is an even worse example of egregious exploitation. Johnson’s only involvement was that he went to the club with his friend. The only gun was in the hands of the killer.

I guess he could have stayed home. That is what the sports press implies. Yet, that same media mob waxes ecstatic about the vibrant club scene in Miami and brag about the bashes they attend. That seems a little hypocriticalthe scribblers are allowed to party, but the players, the stars of the show, are supposed to be homebodies.

Beyond the hypocrisy, the other striking thing about the commentary is that sportwriters have the same liberal animus toward private ownership of firearms as the rest of the MSM. They don’t like guns, they don’t understand guns, they know no one who likes guns, and they don’t understand people who own guns.

A sampling:

From the LA Times:

Today's players live in a different world. The average American will think they understand what they are watching. The average American will have no idea.

Just listen.

OK, Tank, so why does a 6-foot-3, 300-pound man need so many guns
?

From Sports Illustrtated:

As much as I applaud the desire of Goodell and NBA commissioner David Stern to stem the tide of mayhem in their respective leagues, I think the answer is pretty clear. It goes beyond the NFL, NBA or NCAA, the street culture in which many athletes grow up, and even the common locker-room pressure to prove your manhood in the face of a challenge, on the field or off.

America is a gun-and-violence-happy culture
.

From the New York Daily News:

The Bears, the NFL, the judge and prosecutor in Johnson's case all had a chance to send a different message about guns and violence. The Bears suspended Johnson for one game following his arrest. They could have left Johnson back home for the Super Bowl. Imagine what message that would have sent?

[snip]

How does he reconcile the fact that his friend was killed by a gun?

"I don't like violence in this world. It's terrible. It's glorified in movies and music. I'm not a violent person," he said. "My friend was killed with a gun. It wasn't like he had a gun and the guy had a gun and they were shooting at each other. He was killed by a man with a gun. Does that mean that everybody who has a gun is bad? No. He was just killed by a man with a gun."

It's the old "guns don't kill people" argument. But if people didn't have guns, that would solve half of the problem
.

From the Orlando Sentinel:

I'd get indignant, but what's the use? Johnson is just the latest proof that being an NFL star is a license to kill, or at least have enough ammo to wipe out a small town.

[snip]

"I just got caught up in being a normal guy," Johnson explained.

Normal if you're the Unabomber or a Shiite militiaman. Police found a .44 magnum revolver, a .50 caliber handgun, a .45 caliber handgun, a .308 caliber rifle and two assault-style rifles in Johnson's house

Tank Johnson is not the first guy to get this treatment from the MSM and he won’t be the last. Local reporters mindlessly repeat what the police tell them and cannot separate fact from spin. After all, is a scoped .308 a sniper rifle or a deer gun? Is 500 rounds of ammunition a lot? Based on what criteria
?
Here’s a little primer on “gun culture” for any journalist who might read this:

1. Guns are just tools.

2. An individual weapon is a very specialized tool. A given type (rifle, shotgun, revolver, semi-auto pistol) works for certain purposes, but not for others. People who shoot and hunt often end up with a variety of guns in their safe.

3. Guns do not wear out very fast and it takes a century or more for them to become obsolete. So when we upgrade, we still have a useful tool that often has sentimental value. So we hold on to the old gun even when we buy new ones. This does not mean we are amassing an arsenal. We are just collecting.

4. Even with a single gun the ammunition can be specialized. You use different shotgun shells for turkey, pheasant and quail. (If you are a serious birdhunter, you use different shotguns for turkey, pheasant and quail.) There is premium ammunition and practice ammunition. Ammunition for varmints and ammunition for big game.

5. Birdshot is sold in boxes of 25 shells. Handgun ammo usually comes in box of 50 rounds.

6. The most common firearm in America is the .22 rimfire. The most convenient and economical way to buy .22RF ammunition is in bricks of 500 rounds each.

7. So dig a little bit before you mindlessly repeat “arsenal” and “hundreds of rounds of ammunition.” It makes you sound silly to a big chunk of your audience.

8. Sure, another part of your audience doesn’t know much about guns and your breathless reports grab their attention. But did you really become a reporters to scare the ignorant? Isn’t that a little, ignoble?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Putting 9-11 into perspective

This LA Times op-ed is getting lots of blog attention. It’s an odd piecedisjointed, muddled, without a well-argued thesis, but filled with sweeping generalizations that do not stand up to scrutiny.

Was 9/11 really that bad?

The attacks were a horrible act of mass murder, but history says we're overreacting.

That said, he makes a very important point about the War on Terror:

A war it may be, but does it really deserve comparison to World War II and its 50 million dead? Not every adversary is an apocalyptic threat.
Very true. Now then, where is the evidence that America is over-reacting? Sure some polemicists have compared the Islamo-fascists to Hitler and some, like Podhoretz, may talk about World War IV. That is pretty thin evidence of an American over-reaction.

If we look at what the Bush administration has done (as opposed to what some pundits have said) it is crystal clear that the US is not using the World War Two model for the WoT. In no way have we waged total war in Afghanistan or Iraq. So why drag the Soviet experience of 1941-1945 into the discussion?

Professor Bell wants us to know that over-reaction is in our Western heritage. We can blame it on the Enlightenment!

The Enlightenment, however, popularized the notion that war was a barbaric relic of mankind's infancy, an anachronism that should soon vanish from the Earth. Human societies, wrote the influential thinkers of the time, followed a common path of historical evolution from savage beginnings toward ever-greater levels of peaceful civilization, politeness and commercial exchange.

The unexpected consequence of this change was that those who considered themselves "enlightened," but who still thought they needed to go to war, found it hard to justify war as anything other than an apocalyptic struggle for survival against an irredeemably evil enemy. In such struggles, of course, there could be no reason to practice restraint or to treat the enemy as an honorable opponent.
Here’s a good rule of thumb--be suspicious of historians who deal in Big Ideas and Sweeping Generalities. Often, there is less to their argument than meets the eye.

How is it that the most important wars of the nineteenth century do not fit into his schema? Prussia’s wars against Austria and France lack the apocalyptic trappings he posits as inherent to modern war. The American Civil War saw slaughter on a massive scale, but the post-Enlightenment armies of the North and South were more solicitous of civilians than were the pre-Enlightenment armies of the Thirty Years War. The men who led those armies recognized their opposite numbers as honorable men. Neither Grant nor Sherman sought a Carthaginian peace. Lee and Longstreet accepted an honorable defeat rather than continue their “apocalyptic” struggle through guerilla war.

The question that nags at me is this: Why is the LA Times (and other MSM big dogs) so eager to “put 9-11 into perspective”? It reminds me of the media frontlash provoked by United 93.

Only certain issues get the perspective treatment; only certain positions command precious op-ed space even when the argument is feeble and sloppy. For example, I cannot imagine the LA Times running columns that apply the Bell method to the subjects of date rape, lynching or the civil rights of Muslims.

Date rape is a horrible crime. But the current efforts to raise the visibility of the crime overstate both the risk and the long-term damage women face. Women in America are infinitely safer than the European women liberated by the Red Army. In 1944-45, over 2,000,000 women suffered brutal attacks (often gang rapes) at the hands of the victors. Yet as the post-war revival of Germany demonstrates, recovery is possible without the Oprah treatment.

****

Lynching is a horrible crime and a terrible blot on American history. But as Stanley Crouch points out “since 1980 street gangs have killed 10,000 people in Los Angeles, which is three times the number of black people lynched throughout the United States between 1877 and 1900, the highest tide of racial murder in the history of the nation.” Our obsession with the sins of the distant past is blinding us to the real problems that confront our cities today. Black History Month is no longer a tool for education; it has become the instrument of denial and neglect.

*****

Some Muslim leaders worry that the post 9-11 mood has placed their community under unfair and unjustified scrutiny. They point to racism as the driving force to the investigations. Their quickness to play the racism card is a debating trick and shows that they do not know their own history. When the Arab nation of
Syria confronted the terrorism of the Muslim Brotherhood they leveled the town of Hama with artillery and killed between 10,000 and 30,000 inhabitants. By world standards, the FBI response to 9-11 has been the epitome of restraint.

The op-ed editors at the LA Times would immediately reject any of these columns (rightly) and could point out a host of logical errors and rhetorical tricks. They have a blind spot, it seems, when it comes to 9-11.

NOTE: I see that the LA Times has changed the headline on the column. I'm going to keep the original. One small blow against the memory hole.