Category Archives: media news

Take a bow, Brian Lamb

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Brian Lamb is a genius.

He might the smartest journalist in America. Why do I say that? He founded a network that has managed — through all the revolutions and incarnations of other media outlets — to keep the organization he founded free of the partisanship that has poisoned the dissemination of news.

Lamb founded C-SPAN — which is an acronym for Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network.

C-SPAN tweeted out a message with some testimonials from those who appreciate the contribution it makes to informing the public about politics and policy.

Count me as a huge fan.

Has anyone ever guessed the political leanings of Lamb and the team of reporters and talking heads he employs at the network?

Lamb has made it his policy to ensure that such questions never come up. When you listen to his interviews with public officials, you never know where he leans. Left or right? Doesn’t matter. It’s hidden.

Unlike the other cable networks — whether it’s Fox on the right or MSNBC on the left — viewers get a taste of the bias that spews from the commentators/pundits/talking heads.

They have bored me for years.

Lamb invented pure-bred public affairs programming when he launched C-SPAN in the early 1980s. He persuaded Congress to let his network televise the floor speeches from senators and House members and immediately the public learned a dirty little secret about both legislative chambers: Members quite often pontificate before an empty room. We didn’t need the C-SPAN staffers to tell us; they just broadcast it, without comment.

So it has been with C-SPAN. Brian Lamb’s creation has enlightened us simply by allowing us to look inside these institutions, hear our elected representatives speak for themselves and then giving us a chance to decide whether they’re full of wisdom . . .  or something that stinks to high heaven.

 

 

 

Trump wins by not showing up

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And the winner of last night’s Republican Party presidential debate is . . . ?

The guy who wasn’t there.

That would be Donald J. Trump.

Why did he win? Because he’s the individual most of American political pundit class is talking about this morning.

This individual’s ability to manipulate the media, those in the know, the public is simply astonishing. It’s the sole reason he remains the Republican frontrunner for the party’s presidential nomination.

His ability to control the media narrative, of course, has not a single thing to do with any single idea he’s put forth. Trump’s showmanship is beyond belief.

He staged a rally for veterans while the rest of the GOP field was bashing each others’ brains in. Trump even lured a couple of his rivals from the “undercard” debate — Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum — to the vets rally to yammer about how they, too, were going to be faithful to veterans’ concerns and needs.

The veterans rally, of course, was a plug for Trump and had little to do, really, with the issue of veterans care. Every American already wants to do all they can to care for the veterans who are returning home from war. It has become a mantra — as it should.

Trump’s manipulation of this event, though, is what is so astonishing and is what gives this guy his political staying power.

The record is full of events that would have doomed a candidate who didn’t have Trump’s self-promotion skill set. The insults he has hurled at his foes, at media representatives, at foreign leaders, at voters themselves would have sent any other candidate to the proverbial showers long ago.

Not Trump.

He’s still standing at the head of the line. He boycotted a GOP debate because he’s feuding with one of the moderators.

But we’re still talking about him.

The guy’s a genius at one thing . . . and it has nothing at all to do with becoming president of the United States of America.

 

In other news, Challenger blew up 30 years ago today

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Republican presidential candidates are debating at this very moment.

I’m a bit weary from listening to it all, so I’ll recall a tragic moment in U.S. history.

Thirty years ago today, the phone rang on my desk at the Beaumont Enterprise. I answered it. It was my wife, who worked down the street in downtown Beaumont, Texas.

“What’s going on? I just heard the shuttle blew up,” she said.

I turned to my computer, punched up the wire and saw the bulletin: “Challenger explodes.”

I blurted out a curse word and told her “I gotta go!”

I turned on the TV. The video was horrific.

Seventy-three seconds into a flight the shuttle Challenger blew up and seven astronauts were dead . . . in an instant.

We were stunned at our newspaper. We stood there, transfixed by what was transpiring. We heard over and over the radio communication to the Challenger, “Go at throttle up.” Then came the blast. It was followed by silence before the communicator told the world, “Obviously a major malfunction.”

I wouldn’t feel that kind of shock until, oh, the 9/11 attacks 15 years later.

But what happened next at our newspaper was that we would plan to do something the paper hadn’t done since the attack on Pearl Harbor. We decided to publish an “Extra.”

It contained eight pages of text and photos from that ghastly event. It contained an editorial page, which I cobbled together rapidly. I wrote a “hot” editorial commenting on the grief the nation was feeling at that very moment.

We went to press about noon that day and we put the paper in the hands of hawkers our circulation department brought in to sell the paper on the street. It went into news racks all over the city.

Through it all the tragedy reminded us — as if we needed reminding — of how dangerous it is to fly a rocket into Earth orbit.

Of course, it would be determined that a faulty gasket malfunctioned in the cold that morning in Florida. The shuttle fleet would be grounded for a couple of years while NASA figured out a way to prevent such tragedy from happening in the future.

We would feel intense national pain, of course, in February 2003 when the shuttle Columbia would disintegrate upon re-entry over Texas, killing that crew as well — including the mission commander, Amarillo’s very own Air Force Col. Rick Husband.

They both brought intense pain to our nation.

Challenger’s sudden and shocking end, though, remains one of those events where we all remember where we were and what we were doing when we heard the news.

And to think that some Americans actually thought those space flights were “routine.”

 

Media need an intervention for poll addiction

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Frank Bruni has it right.

The New York Times columnist has declared that the American media are addicted to polls. They can’t report on them enough. The issues driving the Democratic and Republican presidential primary campaigns? Who needs ’em!

We need to write about polls.

Broadcast outlets lead with them. Print media report on them constantly.

Bruni noted that during the Christmas-to-New Year break, Iowa voters were polled 11 times about their presidential preferences. The media reported on those polls dutifully.

The most hilarious element of all this is how media types keep bemoaning the fact that the media cover these campaigns like “horse races.”

I’ll admit that I am one of those who become fixated occasionally by polls.

Some of them are quite ridiculous, actually. National polls showing voter preferences between party primary candidates present one example. I’ve noted in this blog before how meaningless those polls are, given that the candidates — say, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders — won’t face each other nationally; they are running state by state.

But hey, let’s poll voters nationally anyway.

Perhaps we can lay some of the blame for this fixation on Donald J. Trump, the leading GOP candidate for president. He loves polls. They’re huuuuge, as he says often . . . especially when they place him in the lead. Polls that place him behind someone else? Meaningless. They don’t count. Who cares about ’em?

Bruni notes in his essay, though, that Trump often starts his stump speeches off with results from the latest polls.

The media then report it.

I hope to hear it from a major newspaper newsroom or a broadcast/cable TV studio: Stop us before we report on polls again!

Trump to skip debate because . . . of moderator

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What in the name of all that is petulant do we make of this latest development in one of the strangest political campaigns in anyone’s memory?

Donald J. Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican Party’s presidential nominating campaign, is going to skip a GOP debate coming up Thursday, according to his campaign manager.

Why? He doesn’t like the moderator. He doesn’t think the moderator, Fox News’s Megyn Kelly, will treat him fairly.

It’s all about the moderator.

Trump is demonstrating a level of narcissism that, frankly, takes my breath away.

During the first GOP debate, Kelly started the questioning by asking Trump about some statements he’d made about women. It went downhill from there. In a hurry!

And it hasn’t gotten any better.

Trump now is sounding like a candidate who actually fears a journalist who — during that first debate — was just doing her job.

OK, Trump won’t say he fears Kelly. It just looks that way.

This is astonishing in the extreme. A man who says he wants to become commander in chief of the world’s most powerful military establishment, who wants to become head of state of the world’s most exceptional nation, who wants to tackle the most difficult problems any human being ever can confront is now going to boycott a debate because he doesn’t like the moderator.

Amazing.

I am done projecting that the latest Trump stunt spells the end of his campaign. I thought that moment had come many times before, only to be proven wrong by those poll numbers and the so-called “loyalty” of Trump’s supporters.

They have confounded almost everyone with an interest in this presidential campaign.

Me included.

Trump is fond of calling his opponents and critics “losers.”

He now wears that label himself. My guess is that he’s so very proud of himself. For what? For chickening out of facing difficult questions from a broadcast journalist.

 

Newspaper endorsements: do they matter?

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Near the end of my career in daily print journalism, I began to question the value of newspaper “endorsements.”

We didn’t really even like to refer to them out loud as endorsements. We preferred the term “recommendations.” We’d recommend a candidate of our choice while understanding that voters are independent thinkers — or so they say — and wouldn’t take whatever the newspaper said as gospel.

These days I’m beginning to wonder about voters’ independence. The plethora of social media and big-money advertising are having the kind of influence on voters’ thought process that, well, newspaper endorsements might have had a half-century or longer ago.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry perhaps demonstrated better than anyone in recent times how newspaper editorial endorsements’ value has diminished.

When he ran for re-election in 2010, Perry announced he wouldn’t even talk to newspaper editorial boards. He’d go straight to the voters. He didn’t need no stinkin’ newspaper editors’ approval.

How did Gov. Perry do at the ballot box that year? He thumped Republican primary opponent Kay Bailey Hutchison — no slouch as a Texas politician herself — and then clobbered Democratic nominee Bill White that fall. White, by the way, garnered virtually every newspaper endorsement there was to get in Texas — including from the Amarillo Globe-News, where I worked as editorial page editor; it did him virtually no good at all.

So now, in this presidential election cycle, newspapers are weighing in. The “influential” Des Moines Register endorsed Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Hillary Clinton in advance of the Iowa caucuses. Over the weekend, the Boston Globe endorsed Clinton as the neighboring New Hampshire primary approaches.

There will be others coming along as the campaigns proceed along the long and winding road toward the parties’ conventions. Newspaper editors and publishers will extend the invitation for the candidates to make their cases. Some of them will accept; others will follow the Perry model.

In the end, however, none of these endorsements — or recommendations — likely will be decisive.

Voters are getting their heads filled by ideologues on both sides of the divide. Their minds are made up.

What’s more, during the more than three decades I practiced my craft in daily journalism, I never heard first-hand any voter say they changed their mind on an election based on a newspaper endorsement.

Maybe they’re out there.

Back to my initial question: Do these endorsements really matter?

 

When did National Review become a GOP pariah?

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I’m puzzled.

I’ve always thought that the National Review was seen as the “bible” of conservative thought. The magazine founded by the late, great William F. Buckley was the go-to publication for conservatives to get their view distributed among the masses.

The National Review was the magazine to read.

What in the name of all that is holy is happening?

The Republican National Committee has cut the National Review out of its debate participation. GOP presidential frontrunner calls the magazine a “failing” publication.

Times are changing, yes?

William Buckley might not recognize what’s happening these days to the conservative movement.

Or that his once-revered publication has been shoved aside. There once was a time when thoughtful conservative leaders would occupy the platform that the National Review provided. They would offer their policy views on this or that issue.

Conservatives would embrace them; liberals might not join in the group hug, but they would at least consider the argument made, if only to shore up their own bias.

We have not entered a new age of wisdom when we toss aside thoughtfulness in favor of anger and shoot-from-the-hip talk-show rhetoric.

Mr. Buckley, wherever you are, I wish you were around to talk some sense into these guys who have redefined the conservative movement you once led.

 

Internet proves, um, wrong!

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Back in the day — when I toiled at a daily newspaper — I actually had the following exchange with a reader of the paper who had submitted a letter to the editor and asked me to publish it.

Me: Are you sure about your facts here? This stuff looks kind of fishy to me.

Reader: Of course I’m sure. It’s the truth. I got it on the Internet.

Suffice to say we didn’t publish the individual’s letter.

The Internet is a lot of things. The purveyor of the whole truth all the time, though, is not one of them.

Breitbart.com posted a story that has Amarillo abuzz with concern. It describes the city as a haven for Middle East refugees and that the city is being “overrun” by them.

Not so, says Mayor Paul Harpole.

I’ve got to give Amarillo Globe-News reporter Kevin Welch huge props for exposing this nonsense.

Harpole said the city is working to control all immigrants, which include refugees. The issue isn’t limited to just those fleeing bloodshed and misery in the Middle East.

But according to the Welch’s story, Brietbart.com and some other conservative websites are disseminating bogus “information” about the state of affairs in little ol’ Amarillo, Texas.

It’s been a given for years that Amarillo has been a magnet of sorts for immigrants. Community faith-based and secular organizations have done a lot over the years to welcome immigrants, as Welch reported.

The city, though, isn’t being swarmed, swamped and swallowed up by hordes of refugees, as some Internet sites have said.

The fallacy of this kind of alleged “reporting” contains several lessons.

One of them ought to become required of all who consume news and commentary. It is that the Internet is a source for fiction far more frequently than it is a source for fact.

 

Penn fails to make the case

Bloomberg's Best Photos 2014: Drug trafficker Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted to a helicopter by Mexican security forces at Mexico's International Airport in Mexico city, Mexico, on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014. Mexico's apprehension of the world's most-wanted drug boss struck a blow to a cartel that local and U.S. authorities say swelled into a multinational empire, fueling killings around the world. Photographer: Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sean Penn invented a word last night on “60 Minutes.”

He called himself an “experiental” journalist.

I’ve been working with words for, oh, damn near 40 years. I consider myself a journalist. I worked at four newspapers in two states. I enjoyed some modest success during my career.

“Experiental”? What the . . . ?

Penn is a movie actor of some renown. He recently ventured to Mexico, where he shook hands with Joaquin Guzman, aka El Chapo, the then-fugitive drug lord; he had escaped in early 2015 from a maximum security prison in Mexico. Penn interviewed this supremely evil individual for a 10,000-word article he wrote for Rolling Stone.

I watched with considerable pain in my gut as Penn sought to explain to CBS News correspondent Charlie Rose what he hoped to accomplish by writing a story about El Chapo, who was recaptured by Mexican authorities the day after the magazine article hit the streets.

I think I heard a tinge of sympathy in this guy’s voice as he tried to relay Guzman’s reasons for peddling drugs, for delivering so much misery to so many millions of people, for being responsible for the deaths of thousands of individuals with whom he has come in contact.

I also believe I detected a look of incredulity in Rose’s face as Penn offered his explanations.

And then Penn would drop that hideous, made-up adjective that he put in front of the word “journalist.”

This thought doesn’t come from me, but I’ll pass on what a friend of mine said this morning on social media.

My friend, too, is a trained journalist. He wants to know if he can now seek to become an “experiental movie actor.”

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This just in: I’m advised that “experiental” is a real word. I stand corrected on that particular point.

 

 

What’s with this ‘national poll’?

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More often than not I’m going to look carefully at public opinion poll results.

In this election season, we’re being inundated with them. Republican-leaning polls say one thing; Democratic-leaning polls say another. I prefer to look most closely at polls unaffiliated with either party, or certain ideological think tanks, or media outlets I know to have bias in either direction.

But one recent poll has me wondering: Is this one even relevant to anything?

Hillary Clinton leads Bernie Sanders by 25 percentage points nationally, according to a poll released by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal.

The relevancy issue?

Well, consider a couple of things.

They’re both running for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, which means that they’re not going to face each other in a national election. Therefore, they are battling state by state: Iowa, then New Hampshire, then South Carolina . . . and on it goes.

They’ll get to Texas in early March.

Therefore, whether Clinton beats Sanders by a single percent or a million percent in a national poll doesn’t matter one bit.

How are they faring in each state?

The poll does compare the candidates’ chances against a potential Republican nominee and it shows Clinton faring better against the GOP foe than Sanders.

That’s relevant, I guess.

However, these polls pitting one candidate against the other running in the same party primary simply doesn’t register with me.