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Saddest Ghost Lamp

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Welcome Back

Your dreams were your ticket out. Welcome back to that same old place that you laughed about. Well the names have all changed since you hung around. But those dreams have remained and they're turned around. Welcome back.

Well Fuck You Too, Chertoff



Beautiful pre-State-of-the-Union moment between Stephen Breyer and Michael Chertoff that I had to capture with my digital camera and present for your viewing pleasure.

Breyer is standing with Alito. Chertoff walks over to Alito to shake hands. Breyer stands by politely, smiling, trying to engage Chertoff to say hi. Chertoff ignores him and gabs with Alito. Breyer tries to make eye contact with Chertoff, and smiles when Chertoff breaks with Alito, looking like he's ready to say hello. Chertoff walks away. Breyer waves at him. Chertoff doesn't acknowledge him. Breyer rolls his eyes as if to say, "Asshole."

Here's the video. Just watch Breyer's face. It's worth it.

Couple Things

1) Yay.

2) Aren't humans animals? Just asking.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Oh, Ted

Ted Koppel's inaugural New York Times op-ed, which I will gladly e-mail in its entirety to anyone who wants to read it, seeing as how it's stuck behind an idiotwall, does a wonderful job of recapitulating old explanations of how the business of television and cable news changed 15 years ago. (It's not that he's entirely wrong, but how many times do we have to read about how demographics changed news, and niche viewing in the cable world blah blah blah foreign bureaus blah blah blah publicly traded blah blah blah?) Can you point me to a network owner or manager that wasn't a miser? That didn't spend precisely as few dollars as he or she could on news to be competitive in the markplace?

Anyway, Ted is definitely wrong about one thing that gets repeated all the time and drives me nuts:
Oddly enough, there is a looming demographic reality that could help steer television news back toward its original purpose. There are tens of millions of baby boomers in their 40's and 50's and entering their 60's who have far more spending power than their 18-to-34-year-old counterparts. Television news may be debasing itself before the wrong demographic.
It has nothing to do with spending power. In television, eyeballs are a commodity. And there are fewer 18-to-34-year-old eyeballs out there--younger people watch less TV--so they are more expensive to reach. Old people, on the other hand, are always there. As one ad-buying executive put it to me a few years ago for a Chicago Tribune column I wrote about my role as a then-30-year-old viewer: "The reason that you're a valuable target right now is because you're difficult to reach--you avoid advertising and understand it. Older people are easy. They just sit and watch TV."

Couple that with the (probably false) belief among "brand theorists" that younger viewers have less brand loyalty, and are therefore likelier than old people to, say, buy a six-pack of Budweiser when last week they were drinking Miller, and you get a hotter market for younger viewers. It's not about how much money they spend, it's about how likely they are to spend it the way an advertiser wants them to spend it.

In other words, Ted: If you want the network news divisions to stop debasing themselves before the false god of youth, watch less TV. As soon as the 50-and-older crowd becomes as hard to reach as their children, they'll become more valuable to advertisers, and we'll start to see the news divisions deploy the same sorts of shameless tactics to rope them in. Who knows? The networks could even go nuts "covering" health, because it's on the mind of those rapidly deteriorating hard-to-reach boomers, and start shoving cameras up their anchors' colons or something.

Chicago to Get Slightly Less Twee

I don't know how I missed this--nor do I quite understand why the Gawkers of the world haven't been chewing it over and using it as an occasion for mockery of some sort--but This American Life is up and moving to the real world, pursuant to its deal with Showtime to televise its preciousness.

Such a move has been rumored for some time now--I remember calling Ira Glass once to check it out when I was at the Tribune more than a year ago--so it's not really a surprise. But seeing as how the presence of Glass and his Show of Shows here in Chicago has long been central to the "we're just as good as New York" line of argument, you'd think his defection to the First City would merit a mention in the Chicago Tribune. You could spin it as a local boy makes good story.

Moreover, what does this mean for WBEZ, the public radio station here that produced This American Life, and presumably minted a good deal of money selling it, through Public Radio International, to public radio stations around the nation?

As for the show itself, I doubt it will make a difference. I guess the worst that can happen is that a TV-addled Glass, finding himself surrounded by pale sycophants in a soulless, expensive city that thrives on the accumulation of wealth and buzz, begins to whore his name out to the manufacturers of hip lifestyle gadgets. Or did that already happen?

Indie Rock at Big Box Prices

A fascinating debate on the business and ethics of independent music has been raging for the past week at the Merge Records message boards and the Saki Store Blog, which is run by Carrot Top Records and Carrot Top Distribution founder Patrick Monaghan.

Monaghan threw a fit when he saw this Best Buy circular, which advertises "20 impress-your-friends selections" from "indie heroes" like the Arcade Fire, Cat Power, and Antony and the Johnsons on sale at Best Buy stores nationwide for $7.99. That's less than wholesale. In other words, Monaghan is scraping by making a living on independent music, buying records from the likes of Merge (the Arcade Fire's label) and selling them to independent records stores around the country, only to see Merge cut a deal with Best Buy to sell the same CDs in their stores for less than they're charging him as a distributor. So he wrote an angry open letter to all the labels whose bands are part of the Best Buy promotion, and posted it on his blog. The upshot of it is: Dealing with big box stores is bad for indie music and indie record stores, for some tired-sounding reasons--they don't care about the music, man!--and some real ones--they bankrupt the labels by over-ordering something that smells like a sleeper hit, fail to sell it because they're not a music store, and then saddle the label with exorbitant return costs.

Monaghan's post sparked some very measured and thoughtful responses in the comments sections from the likes Merge co-founder Mac McCaughan, Matador Records co-president Gerard Cosloy, Secretly Canadian and Jagjaguwar co-founder Chris Swanson, and a host of other indie bigwigs and smallwigs. I won't summarize the back-and-forth, but it all makes for interesting reading if you care about good music and are at all curious at how the nuts-and-bolts economics of the music business play out in the ideologically charged, anti-corporate world of indie rock.

Two things worth noting: First, I was shocked at how heavily the specter of the snotty, cooler-than-you kid behind the counter at your neighborhood record store hangs over the debate. On all sides, the people who make, distribute, and retail independent music are acutely aware of how annoying the sales staff at independent record stores can be, and they view it as an actual problem for the long-term health of the business. As one anonymous label owner put it:
"Another thing that is going around in my head that needs to change is the indie record stores themselves. I've worked and shopped at many of them and have noticed that often when somebody comes in and asks about something new or even older/hard to find records that they need help finding, sometimes they are treated like idiots and given attitude for not knowing what the hip thing is at the moment. Isn't it the job of the indie store to turn people on to the next cool thing in a FRIENDLY/helpful way?" Half of me says, "Right on!", but the other half feels like steeling yourself for an onslaught of over-pierced condescension is part of the charm of walking into a place like Reckless Records (which isn't really so bad, by the way).

Point Two: The best record store in Chicago is the Virgin Megastore on Michigan Ave. There, I said it. You can bash the chains all you want, but Reckless Records does not have the Small Faces best-of I was looking for. Neither does Laurie's Planet of Sound. And they don't have "Greetings From Asbury Park," and they don't have "Something Else by The Kinks," and they don't have half the records I've been meaning to buy for years. But the Virgin Megastore does, and it has the Magnolia Electric Co. record I bought last time I was there, and my choice of three Okkervil River records, and "Zen Arcade," and every other record I've ever wanted in the last four years, plus well-displayed random records that I've picked up because I like the label, or I heard the band name somewhere once. It was only recently that I stopped even bothering to check Reckless for a record before heading straight downtown.

And that's not to say that Chicago's indie records stores suck. It's just that Virgin proves that you can actually run a shitty mega-retailer well enough to satisfy a lot of different people. Selection and shelf-space matter. Whoever does the buying at Virgin is clearly making an effort to appeal to the indie-store customer, and they're doing a damn good job of it. I hate to think of myself as the sort of person who shops at any retail outlet that un-self-consciously refers to itself as a Megastore, but having almost everything you want in one place goes a long ways toward tamping down that elitist impulse.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Steve Johnson Briefly Loses His Agile Mind

My friend (really!) and former colleague Steve Johnson has been admirably and correctly incensed about Freygate for the past couple weeks, howling at the moon about the centrality of a correspondence between utterances and the actual, verifiable circumstances to which those utterances refer. Truth, etc.

Sadly, his pursuit of forthrightness and actuality in discourse seems in this instance to have corresponded, Ahab-like, with a descent into madness. Because, if I read him correctly, it is his judgment that Chicago's ABC affiliate erred grievously in choosing to break into this morning's live broadcast of the Oprah Winfrey show, an entertainment chat show on which Mr. Frey happened to appear today for his punishment from Oprah, for news coverage of a press conference with President Bush.

In other words, the public interest is better served, Steve argues, by airing live footage of Oprah yelling at some tool who wrote some book than by airing live footage of some tool who runs the goddamned country.

Priorities, Steve. The thoughts of the President of the United States, on a morning when Hamas won the elections in Palestine, and at a time when pressing questions about domestic spying need answers, and just days after a Osama bin Laden sent another postcard from Waziristan, are more important than Oprah Winfrey's Clintonian efforts to maneuver into the slipstream of anti-Frey public sentiment.

Steve has put in a call to WLS, the Chicago ABC affiliate, to ask why they cut away from such a riveting live TV event to something so flimsy and pointless as a presidential press conference. I just wish I could have seen the looks on their faces.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Unbearable Hackdom of Bill Carter

Leslie Moonves' batboy over at the New York Times is at it again. Here's how Bill Carter leads off his story on the merger of the WB and UPN:
Two small television networks became a large one yesterday when CBS and the Warner Brothers Entertainment unit of Time Warner joined forces to form a new, youth-oriented network out of the programs on UPN and WB.
This would lead the reasonable reader to believe that something about the merged network will be in some sense larger than its constituent antecedents. Will it be larger in that it airs more programming? No, it will air precisely the same number of hours of network programming per week that the WB aired. Will it be larger in terms of the number of people who work there? Perhaps, though no reporting has indicated that, and it would defy logic to hire substantially more people to work at the CW than worked at the WB or UPN, since the new network will air no more content than the old ones did and will have precisely the same mission--snag young viewers. Will it be larger in terms of viewers? Well, let's see--if you count the fact that there's ABSOLUTELY NO EARTHLY REASON to assume that any more people will tune into the CW than separately tuned into the WB or UPN, then no. On the other hand, if you count the fact that LES MOONVES IS AWESOME, than sure, why the hell not? Larger it is.

Moving on:
The move underscored the expanding power in the television industry of the CBS chief executive, Leslie Moonves, just a few weeks into his tenure atop a stand-alone media company. He will now oversee not only CBS, the most-watched of the broadcast networks, but also an enhanced part-time network aimed at viewers under 35 years old -- the audience that CBS reaches least well.
This would lead a reasonable reader to believe that, after the merger, Moonves will have more power than he had prior to the merger. Well, let's see: Right now, pre-merger, Moonves controls a massively powerful broadcast network in the form of CBS, a struggling mini-network in the form of UPN, and a bunch of other shit. Post-merger, he will control a massively powerful broadcast network in the form of CBS, share control in a 50-50 partnership with Warner Bros. over a mini-network that for all we know could lose more money than UPN and the WB put together, and the same bunch of other shit that he controlled pre-merger. Sounds like an expansion to me.

Way to swing for the fences, Bill.

Monday, January 23, 2006

I Guess They Added a New Pulitzer Category For Blogger Profiles

Number of words in the New York Times' obituary of Rosa Parks: 2,073

Number in Sunday's profile of David Lat, the blogger who takes over* at Wonkette next week: 3,147

*Along with "co-editor" Alex Pareene, who needs a new publicist.

I Swear, I Seen It on the CSI.

Rep. Roger Hunt, a South Dakota state lawmaker, has introduced legislation to ban abortion procedures in the state because "DNA testing now can establish the unborn child has a separate and distinct personality from the mother."

It's true: Fetuses tend to be much more quiet and withdrawn than their mothers, a phenomenon only recently revealed by the advent of DNA testing.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

So, Honey, How Was Your Day?

Kevin Roderick points out that Catherine Elsworth, the London Telegraph's Los Angeles correspondent, filed two stories for Wednesday's newspaper. Here are the ledes:

Story No. 1: "The oldest prisoner on California's death row was executed yesterday, a frail, blind and wheelchair-bound convicted killer who turned 76 hours before he died."

Story No. 2: "Keira Knightley lost out on a Golden Globe but that didn't stop her dancing the night away at the Beverly Hills Hilton."

Tip Your Soundguy

Gary Schepers, a Chicago sound engineer and musician who has handled the soundboard at just about every venue in town at one time or another, has fallen ill with diabetes and a nasty flesh-eating bacterial infection in his foot. He's racked up six-figure medical bills and, naturally, has no health insurance. Gary's worked sound for a couple of Cooksie shows, and he's friendly and professional and comically diffident in the way that all good soundguys are. He also plays tuba in Devil in a Woodpile, an anachronistic, unamplified country-blues outfit.

A host of benefit shows to pay off Gary's medical bills are coming up in the next week or so, and you should attend at least one of them:

Friday, January 20th:

Fitzgerald's
Robbie Fulks
Jay Farrar
Corky Siegel

In the side bar:
Devil in a Woodpile
Dolly Varden
Bunker Town
Jane Baxter-Miller
Prohibition Orchestra.

Tickets are $25 for the main room, and $10 minimum donation for the side
bar.

The Abbey
New Duncan Imperials
Mr. Rudy Day
Diamond Jim Greene
Tickets $10 advance, $12 at the door.


Sunday, January 22nd:

The Hideout

Kids show: The Blisters
Wee Hairy Beasties (featuring Jon Langford, Sally Timms, Kelly Hogan, Scott
Ligon and Devil in a Woodpile)
Nora O'Connor
Starts at noon and goes until 4.
Adults $10, kids $5

Evening show:
Califone
Edith Frost
Chris Mills (solo)

Thursday, January 26th:

Martyr's

Kelly Hogan
Dave & Jim Boquist and Mike Heidorn
Eric Noden
Mark Sheehy aka Sleepydog
Lisa DeRosia & Lush Budgett

Tickets on sale now for $15.

Friday, January 27:

Schuba's

Bottle Rockets
Tijuana Hercules
Great Crusades

Tickets on sale now for $12.

Saturday, February 4th:

The Hideout

Afternoon show starting @ 4:30

Freakwater
Jim Elkington
Deanna Varagona
show 4pm-7pm

If you can't make any of the above, a trust has been set up in Gary's name at National City Bank, 1520 N. Damen Chicago IL 60622, or you can send donations to Bloodshot Records, 3039 W. Irving Park Rd. Chicago, IL 60618

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Spy v. Spy

As Eric points out in Today's Papers, there's something off in the way the New York Times decided to play this morning's NSA story, which featured FBI sources whining about all the false leads generated by the NSA wiretap program (and very forcefully deflecting any blame for the program). "[V]irtually all of them, current and former officials say, led to dead ends or innocent Americans," according to the Times. But three grafs later we get this: "More than a dozen current and former law enforcement and counterterrorism officials...said the torrent of tips led them to few potential terrorists inside the country they did not know of from other sources and diverted agents from counterterrorism work they viewed as more productive." (Emphasis mine, obviously.)

So why isn't the headline, "Secret NSA Wiretaps Led FBI to 'Potential Terrorists"? I don't know what a potential terrorist is, but it seems pretty clear that the NSA program turned up at least one. It seems like the FBI sources are attempting to attack the wiretap program on bureaucratic and pragmatic grounds: Screw the Constitution, it's a waste of time and shoeleather anyway. But that's a very tough argument to make, because all you need is one good hit to justify all the effort. And the FBI obviously can't make the case that zero good leads have emerged, or you wouldn't have all that ass-covering language attributed to counterterrorism sources.

Of course, if you oppose the illegal wiretaps, as I do, you have to be willing to do so even if they work. Their utility or efficacy shouldn't enter into the argument.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

MLK Day

No posts today. Holed up in a basement making a rock and roll music record.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Last Call For Avocet

To repeat:



Tonight. At the Viaduct Theater. With Trio in Stereo and the Lesser Scene. 3111 N. Western Ave. 773.296.6024. 10 p.m. $8. Please to come and listen. Thank you. Love, Avocet.

Why I Am Glad I Don't Work For a Newspaper

James Ellroy spoke at the Television Critics Association gathering in Pasadena this week, flacking for some show or another he's involved with. Here's how he addressed the press (using a tired formulation that Ellroy trots out all the time): "Good morning, peepers, prowlers, pederasts, panty sniffers, punks, and pimps."

Here's how that showed up in the Washington Post: "peepers, prowlers, pederasts, [knickers enthusiasts], punks and pimps."

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The View From Room 101

It's not just the NSA that's sharpening the waterboard (um, so to speak) for James Risen these days: The CIA is also miffed that "State of War" has disclosed a Clinton-era Agency effort to supply Iran with secretly booby-trapped nuclear plans. The CIA has naturally declined to confirm the details, but the aptly named spokes-spook Jennifer Millerwise Dyck gave Newsweek a brilliantly specious quote on the matter (emphasis in original): "If it's false, it shouldn't be in his book. If it's true, it shouldn't be in his book."

Keep Your Friends Close and the Gleeful Chroniclers of Your Ignominous Decline Closer

Gawker has naturally had a field day in documenting and amplifying James Frey's outing as that guy at the end of the bar who claims to have done a nickel in Sing-Sing and has a whole bunch of girlfriends in Canada that you shouldn't try to get in touch with.

Which is why this tidbit, dated December 7, 2005, on Frey's web site made me choke up a bit at the Fox and the Hound-ness of it all:
Have a friend Jessica Coen doing a reading next week in NY she runs a great site called Gawker ceck [sic] her out if you have a chance.

Someone Appears to Be Awake at the Chicago Tribune

Something very strange is going on. A cultural news story of some significance and interest to the general public emerged over the weekend on a web site based in the realm of the coastal elites. It was followed up on in the New York Times yesterday and today. The normal courses of action at the Chicago Tribune in response to such a story would be to a) ignore it, b) throw some wire copy in the Metro section and call it a day, or c) wait roughly two months and then ponder it in a lengthy Tempo essay ostensibly devoted to a comically overbroad broad topic ("On Truth").

The interesting cultural news story at hand is the revelation that James Frey made a bunch of stuff up, and it is an ideal candidate for being sidelined by the Tribune's "Interesting + Timely = Too Much Work" ethos. It would require acknowledging the existence of New York City, for one, which is exhausting. And who reads books anyway?

But lo! What is this? James Janega has not only written a news account of the Frey flap, but he actually traveled to Frey's hometown of St. Joseph, Mich. And in the course of actually reporting on a cultural news story, he appears to have advanced it, uncovering previously unreported police records that buttress the case the Frey was more of a reckless frat boy than a self-destructive monster. And it appeared in today's Tribune. I'm speechless.

The implications are astounding: The Tribune is now seemingly prepared to not only acknowledge interesting, culturally significant news stories that don't relate to White House-appropriate footwear or dognapping, but they actually approved travel to catch up on a story almost immediately after reading about it in the New York Times.

(I am left to wonder, however, whether they would have jumped on it so quickly it had Oprah Winfrey's name not been attached--she was an early champion of Frey's and is largely responsible for his success. Half of me has to assume that the only way anyone in the Tribune Tower even came across the story was via an "Oprah Winfrey" Google News Alert. On the other hand, Janega's story manages to name her without citing her connection to Chicago, another astounding shift in the Tribune's news principles.)

Monday, January 09, 2006

Avocet Flies Again



Celebrated rock and roll band Avocet is headlining this Friday night--Friday the Thirteenth--at the Viaduct. That's the theater right by the, um, viaduct at Western and Belmont. It's a great and odd venue: Off the beaten path, theater seating, with actual theatrical productions earlier in the evening and rock later at night. Plus a full-service bar and the hospitality of co-owners Rob and Whitney. It's a very cool place to play, and a fun place to see a show. So come on by:

Avocet, with Trio in Stereo and The Lesser Scene
The Viaduct
Friday January 13th
3111 N. Western Ave.
773.296.6024
Doors: 9:30 p.m.
Show: 10 p.m.
$8 Cover

Here are some Avocet live recordings if you want to prepare yourself.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Allan Johnson

A former colleague, Chicago Tribune staff reporter Allan Johnson, died on Friday night of a brain hemorrhage. He was 46. He fell ill three weeks ago without warning, apparently of an aneurysm, and had been in the hospital, with good days and bad, ever since. His daugher was born eight months ago. I didn't know Allan very well, but I talked about him virtually every day during my time at the Tribune. He was my predecessor on the television beat--he was always extremely helpful in showing me the ropes and putting me in touch with the right people when I needed help--and without fail, every regular TV source or publicity contact I ever called asked after Allan. He was enormously well-liked, and it's unspeakably sad.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Great Moments in Drudgery

Friday, January 6, 2006, 8:58 a.m. Central Standard Time:


9:00 a.m.:


9:14 a.m.:


9:44 a.m.:

Martin Peretz, Real-Time Curmudgeon

When the New Republic launched the Plank back in October, it was billed as a group blog written by Michael Crowley, Franklin Foer, Jason Zengerle, and "TNR's staff." I hadn't picked up a copy of the New Republic since the days of Stephen Glass (weren't those stories great?) and most of the magazine's copy is behind a paywall, so I figured I'd check in on the Plank occasionally to reacquaint myself with the magazine. It has been exactly as you'd expect: Earnest, sincere, sober, and various other synonyms for earnest. If you really struggle as you read, you can actually see in your mind's eye a pair of spectacles being pushed back up at the completion of each paragraph. All the bombast and wit of a poli sci seminar.

So what was this wild wind blowing through the Plank yesterday? "And, instead of what one might think would have been from the 'other side,' at least in elementary fairness, NPR presented the misanthropic left-wing Israeli novelist David Grossman sputtering the bile that only a very few still feel for Sharon in Israel." As I read the post--an unreconstructed, angry rant about NPR's (you know, National Palestinian Radio) coverage of Sharon's stroke bearing all the subtlety of a Free Republic dispatch--I had a sense that the unhinged correspondent on the other side of the screen couldn't be a blog regular. And lo, the sign-off at the end revealed that it was none other than Martin Peretz, the doctrinaire owner of the New Republic and Grandpa Simpson of the blogosphere.

That was the first I'd noticed of Peretz popping up on the Plank, and since then he's contributed two more communiques that point to a T. Herman Zweibel in the offing. Here's Peretz in an apparently unprovoked and utterly baffling attack on Jack Shafer for a percieved slight incurred two decades ago--it's marred only by Peretz's failure to note that, back then, a gentlemen wore an onion on his belt, as was the fashion at the time:
Every time I see Jack Shafer's name, as I did on The Plank this morning, I recall him writing a nasty squib about me in the Washington City Paper some 20-odd years ago apropos my obsession with the Syrians thinking that Lebanon and other independent states (including Turkey and Israel) were actually parts of Greater Syria. Squib, squat. Now, Shafer knows just about squat of the Middle East, let alone the Syrians' view of their historic destiny. But recent events--like the Syrian assassination of Rafik Hariri after the nearly three decades occupation of poor Lebanon--also stirred my memory of Shafer's haughty ignorance. Did you, dear reader, know for example that Syria never had an ambassador in Lebanon? What does that mean about Syria's ambitions and designs?
Ha! Take that, Shafer, you vile squibster, you!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Stranger in the House

Barry Gibb has purchased Johnny and June Carter Cash's home.

Chris Can Be Quite Saucy When The Fancy Strikes

From David Carr's profile of Ana Marie Cox this morning:
She is perpetually described as saucy but has been married for years to Chris Lehmann, a writer for Congressional Quarterly.
What is that supposed to mean? You can't be both saucy and married to Chris Lehmann? Or any CQ staffer?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Klein Lowers the Bar

CNN president and former professional enabler of corporate flackery Jon Klein is proud of CNN's performance on Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning, during which time Anderson Cooper proclaimed for three hours, based exclusively on the testimony of a few misinformed and gleeful West Virginians parading around him, that a miracle had occured deep in the Sago mine when, as we now know, the actual consequences of the explosion were perfectly ordinary and fatal.

"Our coverage was outstanding on every level," Klein told the Associated Press. "Unlike print, which has to live with its mistakes etched in stone, TV is able to correct itself immediately. I think the audience accepts that."

Two things. Firstly: No matter how you assign the blame, to describe as "outstanding" your network's uneqivocal, unsourced, and unleavened assertions over the course of three hours that 12 miners survived, when in fact only one did, is sophistry. This is not an instance of "we just report what we're told." No matter how you cut it, and even if you accept no blame for reporting the word of 12 survivors, any reasonable and self-aware leader of a news organization would have to regret, given subsequent events, the fervor and conviction with which Cooper and others asserted an essentially unsourced fact. Maybe CNN did the best job they could--I don't think they did--but even if all are blameless, someone in Klein's position ought to have the tact to recognize that misreporting crucial details of life and death for three hours is not outstanding journalism.

Secondly: So what if TV is able to correct itself immediately? Does that mean that it's OK to say things that you don't know to be true, so long as you stop saying them if you find out that they aren't true? The only thing CNN flacks have left to trumpet is the perception that CNN is more reliable and trusted than its cable competitors. I know that everyone got it equally wrong on the miners, and I am singling CNN out here. But if Klein actually believes that CNN's commitment to the accuracy of the assertions its anchors make ought to be less rigorous than that of a newspaper, then he's taking away the one last feather in the poor, lost network's cap.

Bill Hemmer's Mother Says She Loves Him

Before the newly Cooperized crusading cable-news anchors start peddling their outrage over International Coal Group's do-over in West Virginia, just remember this: The bullshit spasm of celebration and miracle-mongering on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News Channel last night continued for hours without a single official confirmation of any survivors aside from the one who was hospitalized. It was based solely on second-hand information provided by the families. The International Coal Group never confirmed reports of 12 survivors, nor did any state officials (according to one now-disappeared AP report, the governor's spokesman confirmed the discovery of 12 miners, but declined to comment on their condition--which was, for almost all of them, dead).

In other words, the cable news channels elevated a bullshit rumor to a miracle last night, despite the protestations of some of their own--Bob Hager on MSNBC made an honorable but futile attempt to puncture Rita Cosby's increasingly desperate proclamations of heavenly intervention by pointedly noting the lack of a company news conference, but he failed to articulate exactly why it should be troubling.

The whole bunch behaved like third-rate rookies who'd never seen a false rumor overtake a media frenzy. It was a shameful performance.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Do the Seats Recline?



Now we know why Anderson Cooper jetted off to West Virginia at the very first whiff of methane:
Cooper: Some perspective now on what these crews and, we hope, what these miners are still going through. Bruce Dial, a mining consultant, is with us in Charlotte, North Carolina, tonight. Bruce, thanks for being with us. What exactly is a manbus?
And where can I get one?