It Really Is Time for TV News to Grow Up.

A moment of wishful thinking, if you don’t mind. About a week ago CNN’s Soledad O’Brien had Romney spokesman/flack and ex-New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu on her show. Political junkies know that Sununu is not just a crusty old bastard, but a veteran deep DC-insider crusty old bastard, a guy who long ago came to understand how the mutual stroke fest of politics and media goes, what the rules are, and who to avoid for routinely breaking those rules.

The fascinating thing that happens in what should have been just another completely forgettable celebrity anchor-flack interaction was that O’Brien clearly decided ahead of time that not only was she going to go in armed with actual homework, but also crusty bastard or not, she was not going to put up with Sununu’s bullshit. Here’s the link to what happened.

For those of you too busy to watch … O’Brien, armed with various fact-checkers’ indictments of the Romney campaign for flagrantly “misleading” assertions about Medicare “cuts” in Obamacare, demands that Sununu acknowledge reality — those damned pesky facts — and explain how what is verifiably not true can be asserted as truth just because it is emitted as an official campaign position of Team Romney. Sununu doesn’t like this, accuses O’Brien of being in the tank for Obama — as by inference would everyone else who refuses to accept unreality as reality, and what’s false as what’s true.

But she doesn’t back down.

Sununu eventually departs, looking an awful lot like a gaseous hack, and probably was on the phone to CNN’s news chief and a couple of Time-Warner board members within the following hour, threatening, by God, to hold back an “exclusive” with Mittens or Paul Ryan in retribution for a network anchor so flagrantly violating the accepted rules of political theater. Since then O’Brien has played the same fact game with Our Boy, T-Paw, who at least had his usual sociopathic good sense to laugh and smile while accusing her of … being in the tank for the Democrats. Later she also had a fine moment questioning Christine “I Am Not a Witch” O’Donnell about what exactly she means when she prattles on about “socialism”. (Spoiler alert: O’Donnell doesn’t know what she means.)

You may have heard that over the next nine weeks the two campaigns are going to drop something in excess of a billion and a half dollars of ad money into the television industry, mainly corporately-owned television stations in major media markets in the so-called “battleground states”. Viewers elsewhere, like us here in Minnesota, will get a taste — a nauseating one to be sure — of that action, but still, our local network affiliates will enjoy a very nice, very fat windfall of easy money from the theatrics of the election season.

The point is that it really is time for TV news to grow up, and it may be happening, in part because the internet and social media can roast a reporter’s reputation in a heartbeat if/when they get played for a chump — which is what they look like if they don’t come armed with homework and a touch of “confrontation”, instead of merely observing the hoary rules of the game. We all know the vibe: the chummy, excessively respectful/reverential celebrity “get” attitude where even the most flagrant deception/lying is tolerated as “just part of the shtick”. Did you catch the poor rube in Denver who accepted Mittens’ conditions for a … five-minute “exclusive” with her station?

Conversely, some like O’Brien, by remaining persistent and poised in the face of rhetorical turpitude and blustering accusations, very quickly build a reputation among colleagues and sectors of the cyber-universe for having gonads where so many others dare only to perform a limp eunuch flop.

If there’s a trend building, why now?

Well, for one very significant thing, this year’s Republican campaign(s) are so far over the line in terms of flagrant distortion — which they shamelessly repeat in the face of repeated repudiation — that the sheer damned outlandish bogus-ness of their charges becomes the story. This allows normally queasy reporters to easily substitute out the usual “he said – he said” in their interviews about Medicare “cuts”, or Obama stripping work requirements from welfare, not to mention the “legitimate/forcible rape” fiasco. Where that average corporate TV employee/reporter, under implicit orders to be “balanced”, is reluctant to wade anywhere close to where they might be accused of “taking sides” or being “confrontational” (God forbid!), it becomes a different context when the essence of an entire campaign strategy is an unflinching wall of deception and outright lies. At that point, demanding a direct answer to already heavily reiterated facts becomes a much less risky game. There’s cover. It’s OK, because, “Hey, everybody’s talking about it!”

Also, and here I concede a dense whiff of wishful imagining, I suspect that among the actual press corps, the buffoonery of the entire GOP election cycle to date, is having its effects.

Much as they have a journalistic responsibility to play “fair”, treating a candidate like Romney as though he has (detectable) serious beliefs, and pretending that guffaw-inducing caricatures like Todd Akin, or (today’s contender for the Gaffe Crown) Pennsylvania Senate candidate Tom Smith, or GOP executive committee member Pat Rogers who is still standing up for George Armstrong Custer, have anything like adult credibility is a whole series of bridges too far. More to the point, continuing to pretend otherwise, that these are mature, intelligent, sensible people is simply asking too much. When a guy presents himself with a fright wig of orange hair, a red rubber nose, a garish smile and size 52 shoes it’s fair game to treat him (or her) like a clown, or risk looking like one yourself.

That obviously is the ground-level press corps and their anchor brethren. It’s their faces hanging out. They’re the ones getting mocked on Jon Stewart and YouTube. I strongly suspect a whole other attitude (continues) to pervade the offices of their supervisors and executives. Those would be the people tallying up the campaign windfall and conveying an “understanding” to the minions, that “confrontational” isn’t something to pull on your best clients.

40 thoughts on “It Really Is Time for TV News to Grow Up.

  1. Joe Loveland says:

    Re: “it really is time for TV news to grow up, and it may be happening, in part because the internet and social media can roast a reporter’s reputation in a heartbeat if/when they get played for a chump”

    Holy crap, you’ve got me walking on sunshine, you cockeyed optimist you. I’ll have whatever he’s drinking.

  2. Newt says:

    Brian, whatch Sununu manhandle Andrea Mitchell in this interview. She looks SO stupid and pathetic …

    The blood really starts to flow at the 3:00 mark.

  3. Newt says:

    P.S. You must be the only one on the planet that belives Soledad controlled the interview, won the debate (which by the way isn’t a “reporter’s” job). She was totally flumoxed. And Ron Brown looks like he saw a ghost.

    1. So you believe Sununu carried the day, that he proved the validity of his charges, completely rebutted O’Brien’s points and she became unglued?

      Quick test, Newt. In which direction does the sun set?

      1. Erik says:

        Are you actually conversant with the subject matter Bri? Or just “parroting”.

        Whats the lie in question?

      2. Erik says:

        I’ll help, Bri.

        The CBO scores the reduction in Medicare spending as $716B. That’s not contested.

        Politifact basically acknowledges the Romney / Ryan claim about $716B taken from Medicare to fund ObamaCare as true. They have two beefs. First with the idea the idea the cuts come from the “trust fund”. And this is fine, ya know, since the trust fund is in many ways a construct of imagination. Second beef is to essentially throw a bone to the Obama administration, who would argue the cuts don’t come from plan benefits. This is basically fairy and unicorn territory, but affirming it allows Politifact to strike a neutral tone. In any event, they call the cut True. It’s real, mandated by the statute, the money goes to ObamaCare. And I think Loveland will affirm that if Politifact says it’s true, it is. Game, set, match.

        http://www.politifact.com/florida/statements/2012/aug/20/mitt-romney/romney-says-obama-cuts-716-medicare-pay-obamacare/

        The President has talked about and acknowledged the cut. He acknowledges the money moves to Obamacare.

        http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/08/president-obama-in-2009-pledged-to-veto-attempts-to-undo-medicare-cutshttp://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/08/president-obama-in-2009-pledged-to-veto-attempts-to-undo-medicare-cuts/

        Where’s the lie, Bri? And if it ain’t, then Soledad ain’t “fact-checking”.

      3. Newt says:

        Brian, if you google “O’Brien Sununu interview,” virtually headline describe’s Sununu in terms of “smacking down” O’Brien.

      4. Try reading this right side up:

        http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2012/aug/15/mitt-romney/mitt-romney-said-barack-obama-first-history-rob-me/

        ” … the health care law instituted a number of changes to try to bring down future health care costs in the program. At the time the law was passed, those reductions amounted to $500 billion over the next 10 years.

        What kind of spending reductions are we talking about? They were mainly aimed at insurance companies and hospitals, not beneficiaries. The law makes significant reductions to Medicare Advantage, a subset of Medicare plans run by private insurers. Medicare Advantage was started under President George W. Bush, and the idea was that competition among the private insurers would reduce costs. But in recent years the plans have actually cost more than traditional Medicare. So the health care law scales back the payments to private insurers.

        Hospitals, too, will be paid less if they have too many re-admissions, or if they fail to meet other new benchmarks for patient care.

        Obama and fellow Democrats say the intention is to protect beneficiaries’ coverage while forcing health care providers to become more efficient.

        Under the new law, the overall Medicare budget is projected to go up for the foreseeable future. The health care law tries to limit that growth, making it less than it would have been without the law, but not reducing its overall budget. So claims that Obama would “cut” Medicare need more explanation to be fully accurate. In the past, we’ve rated similar statements Half True or Mostly False, depending on the wording and context.”

      5. Erik says:

        We covered those statutory details already and there’s presumably nothing there on which anyone can disagree. If you choose a paragraph closer to the conclusion what you find out is that Politifact is rather pedanticly concerned about the literalness of the word “robbed” to describe the accounting maneuver with ObamaCare.

        “Now, to address the word “robbed.” We know the civility is at a low ebb these days, but we think it’s worth pointing out that the money was not robbed in any literal sense of the word.”

        What we have here is a political argument, and “rob” is not literal, but it’s neither inaccurate nor a lie. It’s hyperbole. I’m quite sure the Democrats in this state used “rob” to describe the various education $ shifts done under Pawlenty. But your premise is hitched to an unwillingness / inability to recognize hyperbole and a literal interpretation of the word robbed.

        It’s either a bad faith argument or you’re profoundly obtuse. The self-righteousness is farcical.

  4. Rob Levine says:

    Good points Brian. I wonder, though, if most reporters/anchors are even capable of putting up a fight (or if they have the cajones to risk confrontation). Stewart has been fileting reporters and anchors for years yet they still come on his show. One big problem, in addition to those noted above, is that we live in a post-shame world.

    1. I wonder about that shame thing. If your news director is hammering to “stay fair”, (translation — do not persist in pressing obvious bullshit) — most working drone reporters aren’t going to risk their paychecks on something like this. But among their peers there is still credibility to be acquired by being the one who didn’t play the usual patty-cake with the campaign team. More to my point, when things get as egregious as they are with Romney and the Tea Party ilk, it becomes much easier to press to issue to the point of confrontation.

      i still say TV stations (i.e, their corporate owners) should pay some kind of windfall tax on all this campaign bonanza, with proceeds going to fund maybe a 10 minute segment in each of their local news segments “fact-checking” campaign statements and advertising.

    2. Joe Loveland says:

      Re; “Post shame world”

      I don’t know if you coined this, Rob, but it is spot on. I’ve been trying to articulate what feels so different about my present than my past. That’s it. More people now seem to feel no shame about saying things that are demonstrably false. So dangerous.

      1. Joe Loveland says:

        Romney pollster Neil Newhouse, defending the campaign’s demonstrably false ads claiming Obama removed work requirements from welfare: “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.”

  5. barbara says:

    You’re absolutely right, Brian Lambert. Your perpetual trolls will be apoplectic as usual. This will devolve into a snide pissing match and the matter of tough journalistic integrity gone AWOL will fade quickly into the background of this post. This has become a forum for right wing rage.

    1. Barbara: Despite the best intentions — for creating a forum for a civil discussion of issues — most blogs, assuming they have some interest in “provoking” a conversation, eventually degenerate into a mire of troll talk, troll logic and creepy troll obsessions.

      But short of moderating out the chaff what can we do? It’s America.

      My on-going concern is that there are people who might want to add their thoughts but are quickly put off by the snarling tone and see no reason to subject themselves to someone else’s unhappy high school experience.

      1. barbara says:

        My point exactly (your ongoing concern). I had a blog, but let it go dormant because civil discourse (bwahahahaha!) became impossible once the trolls surfaced. Am I saying there is/was no place for words from the right? Absolutely not! Gotta have it to make conversation possible. But your dudes seem interested only in put-downs, one-ups, insults and no small amount of virtual bullying. That said, I’ve seen worse elsewhere.
        You’re tougher than I am. Keep on truckin’!

      2. Mike Thoams says:

        Barbara,

        It’s funny when someone disagrees with a liberal they are a troll, if someone disagrees with a liberal they are an extreemist, if they do not vote with a liberal they do not compromise. That being said you have a history on this blog of demonizing others you disagree with or condescendingly dismissed a non “left” opinoin as stupid or otherwise, as well as some good old race baiting. Very hypocritical.

        Civil discourse is a wondeful thing, and until people start demonizing and generlizing entire groups of people they do not agree with it is going to be hard, and I hate to break it to you, it’s done right here on this blog too. Can you point out one moment a conservative or non-liberal was even given a sliver of respect?

      3. Erik says:

        Good, bad, or indifferent, “civil discourse” is in no way a goal of the blog writers here at SRC. They write for writer’s vanity. Which is fine (… I comment for writer’s vanity). But let’s not kid ourselves. It’s the internet.

        The big thing about SRC is all the post authors traffic in absurd assumptions that have the ulterior effect of complimenting themselves as liberals. It’s patronizing, and its bad faith. Under the circumstances I don’t feel much guilt about my “one-ups”.

      4. Jim Leinfelder says:

        Erik, please. At every opportunity you gratuitously attack Lambert ad hominem from the safety of on-line anonymity. You’re well-equipped both intellectually and rhetorically to engage his, or anyone’s here, arguments without these personal affronts. So, at a minimum, stow the pious lectures about the sin of vanity.

      5. PM says:

        Mike:

        You and others who consider yourselves to be conservatives had a chance to engage with the facts and the issues in the book club discussion set up by Austin earlier. None of you took it up. So much for any committment to civil discourse on your part.

        Maybe if you aren’t getting the respect you think you deserve, you might consider engaging in a factual discussion without either ad hominem attacks or endlessly repeating talking points.

      6. Mike Thomas says:

        PM,

        If I do not go to book club I am not committed to civil discourse? I have engaged in factual discussion here, I do admit when some of the commentators here get self righteous, condescending, personal, and disrespectful of backgrounds or level of subject knowledge I engage in back and forth.
        Brian Lambert while I do not always agree with his politics has a way at least of engaging with commentators and those in his crowd he disagrees with respectfully and humor, something that some commentators here lack.
        Again, because an opinion is not of your own it is not “talking points” disagreeing with a liberal does not make one “extreme”. Disent is not trolling. To tack on to Barabara’s one sided point above, virtual bullying is not limited to those on one side of the political aisle.

      7. Erik says:

        Mike, you’re being an obsequious toady. By taking the high road you get to pat your own back but the feeling is not mutual. There’s scant evidence he has “a way” of engaging his commenters and there’s no evidence he respects you or any other conservative here. Ask him. You’ll not get an uplifting warm fuzzy answer.

        I’m the problem commenter here, right? It ain’t Newt, It ain’t Mike. I will TRY to not be so snide / caustic. I’m not “obsessive” but I am a creature of habit. I already committed to not poking Barbara and the reverend guy Paul. I’m not the only problem though. I think we all have things to work on. Here’s my thoughts:

        Jim – be less crabby

        Newt – No more hit and run. Spend more time on detail and nuance.
        Barbara – You need to make an argument rather than rely on estrogen to make your case.

        Mike T – no more Al Franken. It’s completely immaterial. Make an effort.

        Mike K – most of your stuff is boilerplate. Often true, but it’s boilerplate. ZZZzzzzzz

        Joe – recognize that it’s OK to be skeptical of the CBO and Politifact.

        PM – bow to my superior knowledge and reasoning.

        Lambo – stop being an obtuse, bigoted self-righteous clown.

        But seriously. I like SRC, and get something out of it I don’t from other places. But I don’t think this is discourse, and I don’t think I’m the reason it’s not discourse. Nonetheless, I’ll chillllllllll. I’ve already started to feel the peace from an imminent Romney victory.

      8. Joe Loveland says:

        Re: “Joe, it’s okay to be skeptical of CBO and Politifact.”

        CBO and Poltifact are non-partisan organizations that weigh in on policy issues where the partisans are in heated battle. As such, they’re like referees in sports.

        Can you question referees if the replay shows they are wrong? Sure. Go for it.

        But is it credible to say that all of the referees’ decisions that hurt your team are automatically invalid, and to make that claim without offering any evidence whatsoever. No, that’s not credible.

        So, yes, CBO and Politifact are fallible referees. But they’re a hell of a lot more credible than the partisan combatants they are refereeing, and if you’re going to question their call, you have a responsiblity to show some evidence to the contrary.

  6. barbara says:

    Hunh. Been wondering what feels so weirdly familiar about much of this and other post SRC comment threads. Just realized it’s totally about Brodkorbing. Someone either is or is channeling that MDE dude. Seriously! Note that “Mike Thomas” misspells his own name. Hunh.

  7. Mike Thomas says:

    “barbara” it’s called a typo. Don’t know as much about MDE as you do, but again disagreeing with a liberal is not trolling. Having an alternative opinion is not just a talking point, disagreeing with a Democrat does not mean one’s views are extreme. Engage in dialouge, it can be enjoyable.

    In regards to Al Franken wounds don’t all heal fast, and after eight years of my friends with Bush Derangement Syndrome I am not apologetic about bringing up the hypocrisies of Franken when the topic permits.

  8. Newt says:

    We’re a scant 60 days from “morning in America,” when college graduates no longer have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life.

    Our long national nightmare is almost over.

    1. Brian Lambert says:

      Newt: Does that mean we get Dick and George W. back? BTW, where were our boys? Save the tax cuts!

    2. Newt says:

      I am fascinated by the Dem’s choice of “Onward” as a theme.

      It’s as if we are supposed to forget about present-day failures and hardship and look ahead.

      But to what?

      Obamacare that – even before its full implementation – is already projected to result in massive cost overruns (while “savings” was its ostensible justification?).

      Skyrocketing energy costs.

      Skyrocketing food costs.

      A failed monetary system.

      9% unemployment.

      An inevitable collapse due to runaway government costs.

      “Onward!” (with good reason)

    1. Newt says:

      Sorry PM. I’m not part of the fringe micro-audience that follows John Stewart. He’s not nearly as bright as tells people he is.

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