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Dissecting NPR

The Origin Of The ‘Surrender Monkey’

groundskeeper_willie_monkey.jpgWho knew the Supreme Court was a dysfunctional family? We learned that this week from Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick, telling On the Media the Court does itself a disservice by releasing audio only of the most controversial cases, not the boring ones where the justices all sing in nine-party harmony. And Nina Totenberg, NPR’s Supreme Court reporter, should let her hair down more often. Who knew she could do such fun impressions of Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsberg? Nina, how about a Souter?

In OTM’s piece on the new “France 24” channel, Brooke filled us in on the origins of surrender monkey,” which last week fronted the NY Post: The phrase first appeared, she said, in 1995 on The Simpsons (Groundskeeper Willie called the French “cheese-eatin’ surrender monkeys”), it was “reinjected … into the mainstream media” in the late ’90s by National Review columnist Jonah Goldberg” and “gleefully repeated on Fox News and other apparently Francophobic news outlets” during the run-up to the Iraq War. But we know Brooke’s no-cheese-eating, Francophone: She thought “Art de Vivre” is the “art of life” until her guest gently told her it’s “the art of “living,” which is supposedly the raison d’etre of France 24 — to get more of that French cheese in our news.

Garfield: ‘Because Zimbabwe Was Booked Solid’

So, why was On the Media in Turkey? Because show co-host Bob Garfield had another reason to go. Here’s his answer:

“Because Zimbabwe was booked solid.

“Har har. Actually, in my capacity as an ad critic for Advertising Age, I go around the world giving speeches — lately about the collapse of the old media/marketing model before the Brave New World is built out. (I call it “The Chaos Scenario.”) Over 20 years, I’ve done 80% of my on-location NPR reporting (100s of pieces from, like, 25 countries) while on Ad Age business. This trip I was in Oslo, then Istanbul. Freedom of speech in Norway isn’t a big issue, so I decided to focus on Article 301.”

Article 301, of course, being … oh, yes, the part of the Turkish penal code which criminalizes “insulting Turkishness” and is often used to prosecute writers and journalists.

Off the Media: Turkey, Elections and Repeats

On the Media this week couldn’t resist the post-Thanksgiving pun, when Bob Garfield (do we have to call him co-host every week?) went slightly outside the usual Mideast sphere for a visit to Turkey, where he revealed that the press still isn’t completely free — though things are better.

Ana Marie Cox (still funny for us to hear the Wonkette referred to as expounded on the nuance behind the election headlines: some of the Dems elected were conservative, and the all-important “swing voters weren’t thinking so much about the Iraq war; they were thinking about wanting a change for a lot of different reasons,” like corruption (which you already know if you paid attention).

And a couple of reruns, one on the create-a-pundit industry of media coaches by John Solomon, and a another from New Yorker Jay Rosen, speaking about “legacy media … saddled with an outdated or heavy infrastructure in an age when to be nimbler and lighter might be a lot better.”

Off the Media: Dobbs, Fox and Auletta

There’s no love of cable news on OTM this week, what with co-hosts Gladstone & Garfield taking it out of CNN’s Lou Dobbs (our previous on that is here) and Fox news. The short bit by Bob on Fox is quite the sendup. Quckly noting a HuffPo-provided unsourced piece the channel ran on how Iraqi insurgents are “pleased” with Dems winning the US elex, he asks: “What’s the source?” then quips, “We report. You decide.”

Also, Brooke’s interview with an astute Ken Auletta tells why family-owned newspapers — even families as committed to journalism as the Sulzbergers — may not be able to overcome newspapers’ current economic realities:

“I think it’s real important to say this on behalf of the Tribune Company or Wall Street or anyone who says, my God, what’s your plan for growth in the future? And that’s a fair question to be asking, and it’s one that journalists should climb out of our bunkers and not just, look, how do we do good journalism, but how do we attract readers?”

Off the Media: Fork Bending Liberal Journalists!


We couldn’t hide our amazement this week at having “On the Media” host Brooke Gladstone confirm that she is not only married to a liberal, she probably IS one. Yep, the host of “On the Media,” in an intelligent piece about whether journalists are able to have beliefs or not — at least of the political variety — disclosed that she had been looking to vote for Hillary Clinton on a non-Democratic ticket. That means it was most likely the Working Families Party, whose politics are aligned with the likes of Pete Seeger and other certified lefties.

Not that we lose any respect for Brooke. Far from it. One could, in fact, argue, as some do in her piece, that disclosure is most the honest form of flattering the audience, and is much more honest than pretending there’s a priesthood (when everyone knows there’s fooling around behind the scenes). If the Washington Post‘s Len Downie really does, as he claims, avoid having any partisan thoughts about which dopes of a politician are better than any others, then our hats are off, and he’s a better man than most. “Does he say he can bend forks with his mind?,” quips Michael Kinsley. “You know, some people can do remarkable things.”

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Off the Media: Biz 2.0 Editor Says Blogosphere Is ‘All About Talmudic Commentary’

beastie_jew.jpgWe were reminded this week about how Jewish other places find the New York media. What with Business 2.0 editor Josh Quittner giving us this gem while telling On the Media about his mag’s new blog lineup:

“The blogosphere is all about the Talmudic commentary on the text.”

(Really, Josh? We thought it was all about what congressional staffer someone slept with.)

… and co-host Bob Garfield referring to the humor-challenged John Kerry as “Shecky Green” — a reference that those who don’t know from the Borscht Belt may not get.

… and Slate columnist David Plotz talking about his Bible blog. By “Bible,” we think he means “Old Testament.”

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Off the Media: Obama-O-Rama

Obama with New Yorker editor David Remnick at the American Magazine Conference in Phoenix last week

On the Media this time is, uncharacteristically, obsessed with the same things as everyone in the media (and it’s not even a foreign story). In covering the Barack Obama love-in, co-host Brooke Gladstone interviews the National Journal‘s William Powers, who talks about the various stages of someone going through the pre-election lovefest phenomenon — from “arrival,” to “meta-piece” to Meet the Press to cut down and — we’re still waiting for this one — big mistake. But while OTM’s right that Obama is the Democrats’ great black hope, they leave out one stage in the process: the coverage of the coverage on On the Media.

And then the good GarStone (or is it GladField) duo wonder off into further well-charted waters: coverage of the upcoming elections coverage, and the layoffs at NBC. In fact, by the time they reached the 30th anniversary of Network — by the dulcet-toned Sara Fishko — we were nearly sweating with anticipation, wondering where all this week’s news about Middle East news had gone. (Just kidding, on more than one level. But you knew that.)

An OTM ad this week promised more on the elections. We can’t wait.

But while we’re on the topic of layoffs, our friends Howie Kurtz of WaPo and Jeff Jarvis are having it out. In a (poorly formed) nutshell: Should editors recognize competitive realities and reshape the newsroom (Jarvis), or are the cuts led by finance people who could give a crap (Kurtz)?

Off the Media: Fixers, Like Bilal Hussein, In a Fix

hussein.jpgA lot of Iraq this week on “On the Media.” What sticks out to us is the story about “fixers,” meaning the natives in foreign lands who do everything a foreign correspondent can’t — because the corro can’t speak the language, doesn’t know how to do simple stuff there like rent a car or get a room or buy supplies, or, in the case of Iraq, might get killed or kidnapped because he’s a Westerner.

Fixers are often the reason a reporter gets a story — in fact, sometimes are the real reporters. When you see a byline in a newspaper or magazine from a dangerous foreign land, be it Iraq or Afghanistan, the Sudan or Mindanao, chances are an unnamed local has risked his neck to help out.

Jon Alter of Newsweek was looking into the topic some 15 years ago in Asia, but we’re not sure he ever did a story. What we do know is that the AP’s Bilal Hussein (pictured), who had been a fixer in Iraq, then became a photographer, is still in U.S. custody for unclear reasons the AP finds suspect. He has not been charged, though the Pentagon last week stood by his detention.

When we bumped into AP chief Tom Curley on a train to Washington earlier this month, he was on his way to an Aspen Institute conference on homeland security, where, he tells us today, he got “no traction” from the assembled power players, including senators and CIA officials. Members of Congress are still telling him “they will inquire” but have not taken real action, it seems.

“We remain concerned for his life,” Curley reports, because Hussein is Sunni and the majority of people he’s in jail with are Shiite, an opposing strain of Islam — the religious flashpoint in what many are calling the civil war.

Off the Media: Foreign Un-Coverage

kim_jong_puppet.jpgOTM starts off this week with a lament on how little we know of North Korea or what its very important Asian neighbors think of its new nuclear status — a sign, in our estimation, that the American un-penchant for foreign news coverage is coming home to roost. (How can we run a global empire without good foreign news coverage, fer cryin’ out loud?)

And it’s not news to us, but probably would be to many Americans, that our supposedly high-speed Internet service sucks when you compare it to that of more advanced nations like, say, Korea — and that’s true at least in part due to our telcos’ not delivering on their promises of fiberoptic to homes. Nor, sadly, was it news that Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya was killed (nor if you read the Newsfeed), either, although OTM did find a couple new angles on exactly why such journos get killed. (It’s not just for reporting corruption, but rather reporting who’s getting their unfair share of the take, says their guest.)

American media types will be gladder to learn (if they missed the Newsfeed) that it’s now a wee bit harder to get sued for libel in the British empire (which understands the need for a fulsome press).

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Off the Media: Breaking Journalistic Boundaries

First a little fan rant.

We’ve always been avid listeners of “On the Media” (does anyone else remember the days of Alex Jonespictured — as host?), but unlike most groupies, our love is conditional.

We’re very happy they promise to make the show available by podcast at 9 on Friday nights, but hate that they often don’t keep the promise. Ditto their vow to make transcripts live by Tuesday afternoon.

Oh, and we love the archness of OTM, but also find it a little strange that they make stuff up, you know, like their hilarious but fictional NPR local station sendup. Or this bit that embellishes the Keith Olbermann-Bill O’Reilly hate-fest long before the current dustup.

Then again, we’d rather have the yucks than not. Maybe we’re just jealous that we don’t get to be that funny.

We haven’t learned to love the grindy, whiny music that starts each show and reminds us of cats mating.

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