Jon Stewart, My Hero

Apparently, Jon Stewart just totally bitchslapped Tucker Carson of CNN’s Crossfire. I haven’t seen it yet, but you can read the transcript, and there’s reportedly video here [update: link deleted, see below] (though I can’t get it to work). Here’s just one of many great quotes:

What you do is not honest. What you do is partisan hackery. You have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably.

It’s about time Jon got a chance to take the media to task in their own forum (he’s been doing it for years on the Daily Show, of course). Jon Stewart is my hero!

Update: OK, I’ve actually seen the video now and the transcript just doesn’t do this justice. Media Matters has the video. Go watch it.

What’s the Frequency Kenneth?

So last night, I’m watching the news about the convention in NYC, right? And here’s the thing I notice right away: What’s with the headsets, Dan? Over on NBC, Tom Brokaw and his crew aren’t wearing headsets, and look, there’s Brian Williams down on the floor with a big ol’ microphone. But all of Dan Rather’s crew? Wearing those dorky headsets. Why? Are they trying to show us they’re mobile and wired? Plus, why are they so BIG?

Tangentailly related: On the same news broadcast, a story about the helmet cams the well dressed riot cops in Manhattan are wearing. The guy answering questions said it was so they could see if action on the streets is as bad as the cops are saying, but the paranoiac (is that a word?) in me thinks it’s so they can ID the protestors.

I’m focusing on the trivial so I can choke down the RNC. I really think I should know more about what rhetoric the opposition is using.

SL Trib to press: “drop dead”

More, now, of our continuing coverage of the press covering the press’s coverage… First Draft (a great new blog) points us to the unceremonious slapdown delivered by the Salt Lake Tribune to the media vultures who keep flogging the story of the guy who killed his wife. (The headline? “Go Away.”) I tried to edit it down, but it’s all so good. So here goes:

Police have determined that a young woman reported missing a couple of weeks ago was murdered. They say her husband did it. Even the suspect’s family says he has confessed. He is in jail.

Hundreds of volunteers who were scouring the foothills and putting up posters have been thanked and sent home. Police are left to dig through the local landfill.

Incessant national media attention no longer serves any purpose.

Unlike the Elizabeth Smart case, there is no reason to hope that Lori Hacking will be spotted at a truck stop in North Platte, or a trailer park in Yakima, no point in spreading the all-points bulletin to everyone with a television set and a cell phone.

So, with all due respect and thanks, we have a simple message to the national media paratroops who have parachuted into Salt Lake City for another juicy story on a missing white woman:

Go away.

This is a local story, involving the pain of local people, investigated and prosecuted by local officials and thoroughly covered by the local media. Further reporting of this story for any other audience, beyond short updates, is a waste of videotape, ink and, most of all, time.

When this story is all over it might, in the hands of a perceptive writer, make a good magazine article. But it really appears no different than the sad tales of hundreds of other women who, each year, are killed by those they trusted the most.

For Fox News, MSNBC and, most disappointing of all, CNN – the Network of Record – to be spending so much time hashing, rehashing and, most of all, speculating on the gory details of this single case is an excellent example of what’s wrong with the mass media today.

Every minute spent by Larry King or Fox News on Lori Hacking or Laci Peterson is a minute they don’t spend on health care, education, environmental quality, national security, the economy or other real issues that should be the center of public attention, especially in an election year.

A nation full of people who know more about Scott Peterson’s defense strategy than they do about Donald Rumsfeld’s is not a nation that shows much ability to govern itself.

Local folks have a right and a duty to look over the shoulder of their criminal justice system as it does its job. Reporters from other media outlets can and should be available to backstop the locals whenever there is reason to believe that those closest to the story were seduced into joining either a lynch mob or a whitewash.

But for so much of the talent, time and resources of our worldwide media to be spent on a story of strictly local importance displays no courage and little imagination. Instead, it is a symptom of a perverse laziness on the part of both the media and its audience.

So it’s time for the circus to pack up and leave town. Don’t worry. If anything happens, we’ll let you know.

Enough said… except to add one note from First Draft’s commentary: “This says everything I could say about Lori Hacking and Laci Peterson. Why do I know how to spell their names? I’ve avoided news coverage of their killings because every single fucking day in my town young black men are shot to death on the street and we can’t even get our own media to descend on the scene … The only reason we know Laci Peterson and Lori Hacking is because they’re white, pretty and dead. And that’s revolting.”

One of the Problems with War

America is fond of calling a challenging, unfortunate situation a “war”—particularly the government is fond of doing this. I think this is so because it appears to demonstrate that the one making the pronouncement is serious about getting results and won’t through lack of vigilance allow dangers or opportunities to slip by. Declaring war on something pleases both the hu-ah-he-men and the inflexibly certain in a way that “doing everything we can” or any deliberative approach will not.

It also changes the rules under which we’re willing to live. That which we would not accept under (our belief about) normal circumstances is cooperatively or willfully given to assist in the war effort. The thresholds of acceptable levels of liberty and consumption (mostly the former, since the latter has such an effect on the corporate purse) drop, and we agree to it because of the war effort.

At least, that’s what I think of when I think of the war on drugs or the war on terrorism. It’s funny, though, to think about the attitudes in play in those two realities and how out of place they seem if one thinks about a war on illiteracy or a war on homelessness. There’s just not enough aggression involved to get anyone worked up.

In Iraq, the U.S. is apparently focused on rehabilitating the country—into our model of rightness—and winning the hearts and minds of the residents into the same. What if we had the same level of dollars and attention flowing into our own distressed cities and peoples? At first, I thought this sounded great, but I’m not sure that it wouldn’t feel like forcible indoctrination (though there shouldn’t be much convincing required when it comes to food, clothing, and shelter).

I’m rambling now. But I started this post with the idea of linking to this story in the Seattle Times (from the Los Angeles Times) about a Chinese woman who was beaten up by an officer of Homeland Security. When I started reading the story, I was expecting that there would have been some suspicious activity, like she was seen moving quickly away from a wastebin after dropping into it a bulky package or she fit the description of the suspect in a recent mugging. None of that, no—the agent had thought she was associated with someone from whom they had just confiscated some marijuana.

“Pounds”, the story notes later, but still—even a hundred pounds of that material is exceptionally unlikely to be involved in causing any deaths (especially if legalized), hampering public safety, or disrupting the institutions of government. We could wish that every terrorist sleeper cell gets turned on to some good weed and never quite gets around to doing that other thing. (You can bet that if their drug use ever attracted enough police attention for them to be raided, that the bomb-making equipment and photos of public spaces discovered in a closet would be reported as additional proof that drugs are bad and not as leftovers of some plan now lost in their quest for a better buzz.)

One last tangential thought: while I was cycling in the gym this morning, I saw Mayor Bloomberg talking about the alleged threats to various New York-based financial institutions. Listed among those was the IMF, which seems like a more specific target for opponents of U.S. hegemony than I’ve heard named before.

Ahmed Chalabi, meet Jayson Blair

This story in the SF Gate mentions a story in the NY Times about a number of stories that were published by the SF Chronicle about the Iraq war that may turn out to be less than accurate. (Thanks for that Heavy Meta category!)

Here’s an excerpt from the NY Times article:

The most prominent of the anti-Saddam campaigners, Ahmad Chalabi, has been named as an occasional source in Times articles since at least 1991, and has introduced reporters to other exiles. He became a favorite of hard-liners within the Bush administration and a paid broker of information from Iraqi exiles, until his payments were cut off last week.

The NY Times goes on to discuss their own poor fact checking, willingness of the editiorial staff to go for the scoop, downplaying of subsequent information that questioned the veracity of previous published reports…

There’s this, too:

It is still possible that chemical or biological weapons will be unearthed in Iraq, but in this case it looks as if we, along with the administration, were taken in. And until now we have not reported that to our readers.

It’s unclear what inspired the NY Times to look in the mirror, though the defrocking of Chalabi is likely to have something to do with it. I’m pleased to see that the Times is taking some responsiblity, but it’s not enough, it’s just not enough. Questions remain.

What the hell is going on at the NY Times when Ahmed Chalabi, the (previously) US annointed heir to the throne in Iraq is a more credible source of information about Iraq’s WMD program than Hans Blix? Where’s the independent reporting? What does the press think it’s job is during this war? Has the media really turned into an arm of the White House propoganda machine?

I get that I’m late to the table on this issue and that reporting has been of questionable quality ever since the Bush administration muzzled the White House press corp. But I find this news about the NY Times as depressing as anything I’ve read lately. It’s like finding out someone I love has been lying to me. How could I have been so naiive?

Ask, receive, deconstruct

I always give Paulette what she asks for–it’s the least I can do–but “metacritic” is kind of taken. But I think this fits the bill pretty well, and it’s a great idea. But it does make me kind of sad.

“Heavy meta” is, kind of like “deep background,” symptomatic of an age when the impossibility of originality priviliges the “story behind the story” above anything so mundane as le degré zéro de l’ecriture. (And no, I’m not being glib by referring to Post-Structuralism as mundane–really, after three years with W kicking around in our national attic we’re probably post-Baudrillardian, beyond help of even the French mediaphilosophes.)

So let’s revel in it… let’s root around in the story about the story about the story about the media’s coverage of the of media’s coverage of the White House spin of the alleged event, the popular response to the critical reception to the movie about the screenwriter writing the script for the movie of the same name. Just watch out for the Ouroboros, because this category could end up eating itself.