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Dissecting NPR

Off the Media: Journalists Lie, Cheat, Wimp Out

DaveRabbit_insignia_sm.jpgJournalists sure are one lying, conniving, law-avoiding, panty-wasted bunch. Or at least that’s the impression we could come away with from listening to this week’s (engaging) version of “On the Media.”


  • are unwilling to call Iraq’s conflict “civil war,” even though they all, according to former Ambassador Peter Galbraith, know it is.

  • went into Sudan without a getting the required visa, and were held in jail for more than a month. (A
  • good look, by the way, at how foreign correspondents have to make tough calls in tough places, where getting a visa can be impossible, or mean you can’t do a real story. We’ve had our wrist slapped in China, though never been in jail).

  • lied and self-aggrandizingly framed a woman who wasn’t Tokyo Rose. She then spent more than 7 years in jail.
  • are too lazy to do real work on science articles, and instead happily lap up embargoed material, getting what academics call an “information subsidy” and in the process ignore valid science that’s not spoon fed. (We remember feeling a little odd putting that “Hold for Release” note on wire service articles we were sending out to thousands of editors.)
  • are, in the case of underground Vietnam radio guy “Dave Rabbit” (pictured, Radio First Termer, the name of his original show), cooperating with the military instead of fighting it. “Rabbit” is flying from Travis Air Force Base in California to Iraq to create a new version of the Vietnam-era show, only this time he’s got some a deal with the military he doesn’t want to talk about. (Will he be willing to say “civil war”?) We hope we can listen in the US. Meanwhile, here’s the writeup in Salon.
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    Off the Media: Jailed for Interviewing ‘Sopranos’

    ellsberg_off_the_media.jpgWith Bob Garfield away this week we were thrilled to see Brooke Gladstone get to be the snarky one, at least compared to guest host Mark Jurkowitz. Let’s see, in a nutshell:

  • Popeye’s spinach may actually have been hooch. (Brooke, were you smiling that entire interview, or just laughing?)
  • Daniel Ellsberg (pictured) is paying penance for not leaking from the Nixon White House sooner by urging everyone in Bush II land to become a sieve.
  • Canadian officialdom uses media to smear, too.
  • OTM has discovered “Second Life,” and the fact that Mark Warner tried to use it for political gain. We do think someone flying around a press conference is a pretty cool idea, and we think Brooke enjoyed asking Warner if, as president, he’d be able to regulate the (virtual reality) game.
  • AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll, in sticking up for the AP Iraqi “fixer” in prison for no stated reason, notes that reporters often hang out with unsavory types, but that doesn’t mean we are them. “How could anybody in Boston, Chicago, New York or Philadelphia have covered the Mob if they didn’t get to know all these colorful characters a little bit? Does that mean that they should go to jail without charge because they hang out with guys that have names from ‘The Sopranos?’”

    We were even more thrilled to actually meet Brooke at a breakfast panel at Reuters, where she was the only thing keeping Columbia U’s Todd Gitlin from smacking Vanity Fair‘s Michael Wolff [SEE VIDEO!]

    And Brooke, since you were kind enough to ask, here’s a quick hit on what we thought of last week’s show:

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  • Off the Media: Human Anchor, Klingon Quotes

    Brooke was in fine form this time, noting that it’s not been “five years since 9/11,” but rather, maybe “five years of 9/11 — that is, of the ensuing wars, bitterly divisive politics and widely fluctuating appraisals of the press.”

    In her interview with CNN’s former anchor Aaron Brown, he sounds very un-anchorish (in the “voice of god” sense), sighing, even admitting he’s only human. “I’m not as good as I wish I was,” he says, while also saying reporters aren’t cowed by the administration and need to look in the mirror every day and remember what their purpose is again. Sure, we heard Aaron gossip once in a very human sense. But that was in the privacy of a London taxicab. Fascinating, as Mr. Spock might say, to hear him be so non-plussable on air.

    Brooke also gives her bona fides for a whole different crowd, knowing enough to call Star Trek fans “trekkers” — not “trekkies” — on the 40th anniversary of the show. But anyone in the know knows all this behind-the-scenes fandom was around well before the Internet. Or were we the only ones who, sweaty-palmed, went to someone’s lobby to pick up a mimeographed copy of underground Kirk/Spock fan-written fiction? And what about those official paperbacks of imagined Star Trek fiction? “Qapla!” indeed.

    OTM also trots out one of their (ok, and our) favorite suspects, Jay Rosen, this time to talk about something like a citizen-plus-journalist initiative, and it too sounds fascinating, but we’re still not sure we get it after listening twice. (There’s links to Rosen’s explanations on the OTM site, if you want to help us figure it out.)

    Off the Media: We Really Hope LonelyGirl’s Fake

    This week OTM followed in the footsteps of BusinessWeek‘s Jon Fine (yes, our CEO’s spouse), writing about YouTube’s LonelyGirl15, who co-host Bob Garfield followed on his blog, saying if she’s really who she says he’ll “Remove My Right Kidney on a Live Webcam With My Bare Hands.” Which is why we really really really hope she’s some sort of marketing ploy or hoax and not really just a forlorn 16-year-old with religious parents.

    Meanwhile, the Times has a perfume critic, isn’t afraid to say what stinks even when the stinker buys zillions worth of ads that we know is the real reason for his existence at the paper.

    Can it be true that New York police have trouble “keeping their mouth’s shut”? (Which proves a boon to British reporters unable to report news on their isles.)

    Oh, and we’re so over Facebook, because, like, we’re members, y’uh, using, our, y’know, college email addresses? But, um, it’s all about people puking and kissing and stuff, and not really for politics. Okay? We’re now waiting for this Saturday’s report on the brouhaha over Facebook’s new news feeds that irk some who want more privacy. And the obligatory list of stories the media didn’t hype enough. Check out today’s Newsfeed and Update for links to those.

    Off the Media: Bob Cackles Maniacally

    It’s so hard to be self-absorbed, shallow media-celeb-stalking types when “On the Media” keeps reminding us about all these overseas places trying to bomb people to smithereens or courageous journalists exploring child pornography (and how we’re all perhaps a little guilty). It’s not so hard to give a “bravo” for exploring these issues and getting guests willing to talk so openly, even if the child porn stuff from the TimesKurt Eichenwald (left) made us a little squirmy (Eichenwald, himself noted how he needed counseling).

    Bob Garfield was again alone as host this week, and so we’ll let him off the hook for running a repeat story about how no one friggin’ knows what really moves financial markets. Even though we’re now half an MBA, we find no flaws in the 2003 piece that points out how financial reporting is just a little too facile in pegging market ups and downs to one or the other specific cause (an Osama bin Laden tape, a presidential speech, “profit-taking,” investor optimism, take your pick).

    Another story about financial news being done by computers that are fed numbers and, Mad Libs-like, making a story, reminds us of a computer program a decade or so ago that we heard about doing the same thing from sports agate (that’s stats, for you civilians). Computers are scary enough. Just be glad that people in Bangalore working for cheap don’t speak English. Oh, wait. OK, then, be glad about China.

    And, we just have to point out another little clip of Bob letting his eccentric interview technique show.

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    Off the Media: Bob’s Really Thankful

    It’s a day when the Long Tail outside the Web means even terrorists-cum-political parties can have their own TV channel. Which begs the question, why don’t the Dems or Repubs have their own channels (Fox news not withstanding)?

    And how Radio Marti isn’t successful, not because it’s jammed, but rather because it’s pandering to Cubans. Which is why, we think, the BBC is more successful than VOA ever was.

    This week, Garfield – going it alone, we might add — was exceedingly thankful to guests. (Why do we pay such attention to Bob? Because he’s one of the few non-comedians we hear on the air every week who’s got a personality and isn’t either all schmaltz or “aw shucks.”)

    Transcript 1: “Mark, thank you very much for joining us.”
    Transcript 2: “All right, Michael. Well, as always, thank you so much.”
    Transcript 3: “Okay, Jonathan. As always, thank you so much.”

    And he was exceedingly honest about the fact that their piece on movie blurbs was a reeeee-run from years ago. Funny, how Hollywood excerpts movie reviews, though. Kind of like:

    Laurel Touby … good people.”
    Dylan Stableford… rock star.” NYPress
    Dorian Benkoil … sober.” Gawker

    Which begs the question: Why does OTM have so many reruns? Guys, need some stuff?

    Off the Media, Darling

    Yeah, they genuflected to Buffalo Springfield and let that other Baby Boomer fave of NPR listeners, Sara Fishko, imply she has a glamorous work life. But what really got us was when Bob Garfield summed up …

  • His psyche
  • On the Media
  • Our obsessions

    … in one short bit of audio that will henceforth be the unofficial FishbowlNY anthem.

    Here it is, again.

  • Off the Media: Sex to a Led Zep Song

    On the Media. Wherein we learn this week that:

  • Brooke knows her books. (“You’re quoting from Ron Suskind‘s book, The One Percent Doctrine.”)
  • Sen. Arlen Specter‘s “major breakthrough” on Bush administration wiretapping may in fact be a sop to the White House.(“The Specter-Cheney compromise would remove these cases challenging the NSA operation to a secret court, called the FISA court. This secret court was designed to approve warrants for searches. It’s like taking Marbury versus Madison and sending it to a traffic court.”)
  • Celebrity journalist Jancee Dunn
    - knows rock musicians don’t want to be upstaged by the drummer.
    - had sex the first time to a Led Zep song.
    - asked Kelly Ripa about using sex toys. (But didn’t seem to get the answer!)

  • Off the Media: Brilliant Brian

    We know it’s Friday, so, before they put their new show to bed tonight …

    In between On the Media‘s foreign sandwich this week (Lebanon comes first for two segments, and the show wraps with a father of free speech, Britain’s John Wilkes), comes a segment on the tenth anniversary of troubled cable TV network MSNBC. The brilliant commentary and analysis came from none other than our own TVNewser all star, Brian Stelter, interviewed by co-host Brooke Gladstone.

    Some of his notables:

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    Off the Media: La Verdad

    The show does its foreign thing again this week, this time talking all about the Mexican elections and society. Interesting enough, and we couldn’t help but find parallels with what’s going on in our own El Norte.

    Like allegations of voter fraud. No we’re not talking about Florida in 2000, but rather all over the U.S. in 2004. At least if you listen to Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who made a very persuasive argument in Rolling Stone and on TV shows about why Kerry won the election — though we doubt it will get much traction since a lot of what he said revolved around statistical analysis of exit polling. And Kennedy isn’t exactly a non-partisan name.

    Or how the journalistic objectivity we Americans profess to hold so dear might not always be what best serves humanity. Sometimes, if something’s wrong, you can try to fix it, and maybe even still be a good journalist. To wit:

    “A border town sustained by multinational factories that draw workers from across the country, Juarez has seen the kidnappings, rapes and murders of some 400 girls and women since 1993. … Many locals say if the Juarez mystery is ever solved, it will be because reporters have stretched the boundaries of their jobs. Local coverage has attracted international attention and the murders are slowly becoming a worldwide human rights issue.”