Speaking of MPR: My favorite member drive segues

It’s gymnastics season on MPR. What? You haven’t noticed any additional sports coverage this past week? You have to listen closely, but it’s there.

One of the best parts of the membership drive at our local public radio station is the verbal gymnastics the on-air hosts regularly perform to bring any number of disparate topics back to the task at hand; asking for support in the form of members and dollars.

As I listened to an especially tricky dismount performed by John Moe, it occurred to me that this endeavor is most likely an exercise in pushing the limits of credible segues and a hell of lot of fun for the put-upon hosts in an otherwise dreary week of on-air panhandling.

With that in mind, I listened a bit more closely this past week and heard some fantastic conversational bridges and share some of my favorites below. Please note that these are much paraphrased and as many were heard while driving, showering, procrastinating or other instances where listening is but one of the many tasks being performed by the author, I do not claim total veracity. However, I do promise that none have been intentionally augmented for entertainment value.

An Assortment of Memorable Segues

Wrapping up an interview with an author discussing her book on the decade of your 20s: “and if you are out there in your twenties, you have some loose cash lying around, so consider sending it to us so we can continue to bring you these discussions…”

Just following a Civil Conversations show on the abortion debate and the importance of hearing the other side:  “We hope you enjoyed that last hour where we discussed the importance of listening and if you listen to NPR, you may want to think about making a donation…”

After a segment debunking a political ad’s claims: “How much is this kind of fact checking worth to you? 10 dollars? 15 dollars? If so, then we hope you will consider…”

At the tail end of a story on the Red Rooster Restaurant: “And you just heard us discussing the positive impact the Red Rooster brings to the community, which is just what MPR does and why we need the community to respond in kind by supporting us here through your member dollars…”

And my personal favorite: “As we just reported, the Obama Campaign just released a new ad featuring Big Bird. Now you will hear that ad discussed on this station but you will not hear the actual ad played over and over and over because we don’t run political ads. We can make you that promise because we are funded by member dollars and without yours…”

And a Few of My Own

But why should the on-air hosts have all of the fun? I don’t see why we can’t play “the home version.” So in the spirit of “contributing” to our friends at MPR, I offer a few additional ideas to effortlessly go from regular news topics to donation procurement.

For instance, coming out of a Planned Parenthood story: “And to ensure you don’t end up with any unplanned advertisements, consider donating so that we may stay on the air without having to resort to commercial advertising….”

Or after a story on affirmative action rulings: “And much like the diversity that affirmative action provides in many areas of society, MPR offers you a similarly diverse range of news and information with the support of your membership…”

Following a discussion with an author who penned a book about finding her birth parents: “And just like the adoption agencies that bring children to loving homes, we at MPR deliver the news and information to you without the hours of labor that go into searching for quotes, facts and sources…”

Ending a report that Tom Brokaw was found in a western North Dakota sweat lodge with two exotic dancers, a local animal control officer and Cher: “If the thought of missing out on any of this great news and information we bring you each day also makes you sweat, then please consider a minimum donation of…”

And of course, immediately after a passenger jet lands due to engine failure:  “Like that United Airlines Boeing 767 that successfully turned back and landed on the foamed Salt Lake City runway sans landing gear, hear at MPR, with your support, we can continue to offer you soft landings as we report on especially turbulent news and events.”

Fun, huh? Feel free to try one of your own.

Fox News Fakes News

Just about four years ago to the day, I criticized my industry, the public relations industry, for its use of video news releases (VNRs). VNRs are video segments designed to look exactly like a TV news story. But they are produced by PR pros, not reporters, often with PR people acting out the role of faux reporters. Just as PR people and their clients hope, VNRs often get run unedited or lightly edited on actual newscasts, which has caused watchdog groups like PR Watch to label this crowning achievement of the PR industry “fake news.” This brand of fake news has been shamelessly used over the years to sell everything from widgets to wars.

Ever the killjoy, I argued back in the day that VNRs are qualitatively different than written news releases: “The use of PR people mimicking the dress and conventions of news reporters without real time disclosures of their mimicry crosses the line from briefing reporters to impersonating reporters.”

VNR’s just do not pass a reasonable person’s smell test.

My quixotic propsoal was for PR pros to be proactively ethical, and disclose the funder of the VNR, via a continuously on-screen chyron, to make it impossible for a TV news producer to use any VNR footage without proper attiribution.

This proposal did not catch fire in PR salons.

But the issue hasn’t gone away. In fact, last week the FCC penalized the local Fox affilate, KMSP-TV, for airing a story about the automobile industry that was, it turns out, exactly how General Motors would tell the story, if it were telling the story itself. Because it was. Because the KMSP-TV news team borrowed heavily from a GM-funded VNR advertisement.

Continue reading “Fox News Fakes News”

Who Are Minnesota’s Most Heinous “Job Killers?”

These days Minnesota’s GOP state legislators mutter the word “jobs” several hundred times per day — sometimes with Tourette-esque usage and timing — to assure us how very, very committed to job creation they are. Similarly, any initiative Republicans oppose earns the label “job killing” _____ (fill in the blank).

The limitation both parties’ aspiring “job creaters” face is a’ $5 billion budget shortfall, which the Minnesota Constitution says must be eliminated every year. Both major options for closing the shortfall – increasing taxes and cutting assistance to families and communities – hurt the employment picture. Both approaches are job killing, but the question remains, which kills more?

Continue reading “Who Are Minnesota’s Most Heinous “Job Killers?””

Ron Schiller, Tellin’ It Like It Is.

Good stuff that punk’d interview with (former) NPR fund-raising exec, Ron Schiller. As an admitted fan of guerrilla tactics that flood light on otherwise discreet activities — like lobbying, government-to-business palm-greasing and anything else relevant to impoverishing the common culture and the pocketbooks of the unwitting — I can not criticize this latest “attack” on a vaunted liberal institution. Other than to say I wish the institution, NPR, was actually as dangerous an advocate for liberal causes as the punksters believe, or that what Schiller said over that two-hour lunch wasn’t all but completely defensible. (His worst moment is not saying anything when the two fake Muslims go off on a Jewish/Zionist/media control bender. But come on, Schiller’s a professional fund-raiser who I’m sure has trained himself to listen to all sorts of crackpot things from potential donors.)

The heavily-edited 11-minute video making the YouTube rounds emphasizes the familiar, primary arguments of public broadcasting’s detractors. The full two-hour video provides a bit more context, but since NPR and Schiller have already folded on this one, (with NPR CEO Vivian Schiller — no relation — announcing her resignation this morning), there’s no point getting into a heavily finessed argument over what Schiller was really saying. He said what he said, and I agree with practically all of it.

The crown jewel of the punk is Schiller asserting that NPR, and by extension, public broadcasting, would be better off without federal money. He’s absolutely right. The relative pittance in taxpayer money that goes to all public broadcasting, equivalent last time I looked to about $1.21 for every man, woman and child in America, reaps a blowback in constant, raging, irrational, uninformed invective far beyond that modest number. (You have to wonder how much CPB/NPR/PBS staff time is taken up every year schmoozing gutless politicians to retain that staggering windfall of socialized loot.)

On the video Schiller points out, correctly, that big market public stations — like MPR here in Minnesota — would get along pretty much fine, but that smaller stations, like those in northern Wisconsin and other rural areas could possibly go dark. (More likely those smaller stations would get folded in to large regional networks … like MPR … and become less local.) But his underlying point is that NPR’s service has a unique value. Namely, in bringing a much greater diversity and depth of story selection (science, arts, etc.) and reporting to markets where 90 seconds to three minutes of headlines at the top of the hour, before returning to Classic Rock, Hot Country and 30 minutes of commercials is pretty much the norm. (Good God, try picking up any useful information from Sioux Falls to Denver sometime if you can’t find a public radio station. You’d be convinced that Charlie Sheen and the NFL draft really were  the lead stories of the day.)

Schiller, who again was NPR’s exec for fund-raising and had been invited to a lunch by two men offering a $5 million contribution, (NPR declined), agrees that weaning NPR completely from the public teat would give it more independence when reporting on federal government issues, (not something I’d call NPR’s greatest weakness), and would lessen confusion in the minds of some “philanthropists” who mistakenly think the network gets most of its funding from the Feds, not just 10% . I’m skeptical that any savvy philanthropist is all that confused about the percentages involved. Schiller’s better argument is that committed philanthropists, of which public radio at least has many, would probably give more if NPR said adieu to taxpayer cash.

The punksters are of course the same crowd that concocted the notorious, heavily-edited, fundamentally dishonest but in the end politically effective hit on ACORN, every gormless Teabagger’s spoon-fed idea of a radical, transformative force in American politics. But when it comes to punking, ethics are never really the critical question. Again, I only complain that more of this sort of thing isn’t aimed at defense contractors sucking literally hundreds of billions out of taxpayer coffers, or self-righteous, religion-wrapped politicians exchanging hot intern phone numbers over prayer breakfasts. But, whatever.

Where Schiller of course has it exactly right is when he gets into describing the current state of the Republican party and its association with anti-intellectualism. I eagerly wait a convincing argument that the Tea Party, which the Republicans and Republicans only pander to and enable in the most preposterous misconceptions, is anything other than anti-intellectual. Or for that matter that the Tea Party is not primarily white, rife with weirdly obsessed “gun-toters” and seriously racist — which includes a hysterical suspicion of  Muslims and not just tough-looking black dudes in sagging jeans. (What I’ll get instead are the usual trolls outraged over “liberal elitism”, which is another way of saying, “How dare you call stupid people stupid!”)

The implicit connection between Schiller’s view of modern Republicans and NPR is that the latter provides a vital counter-balance to anti-science, anti-teacher, anti-liberal arts, anti-intellectualism. Which it clearly does … without question.

What he doesn’t get in to is that rejecting taxpayer cash might mean more inflow from philanthropists, but it would also have Schiller’s replacement out whoring for more corporate cash, which is a problem for public broadcasting far beyond taking government money.  There are all sorts of inside-government stories I’d like to see NPR do, or do better, but the far more suspicious omissions of coverage invariably involve major business organizations.

Point being that Republican anti-intellectualism is not only threatened by the deeper, broader reporting of NPR, but it wants NPR driven down to the thoroughly bought-off, professionally-compromised and irrelevant levels of your average FoxNews Newsbreak.

Try getting all intellectual-ly and elite-y with a straight diet of that.


Checking the Checkers’ Checking

small business association I’m a fan of reporters doing regular fact checking analyses of claims made by their sources, particularly elected officials. Pat Kessler at WCCO-TV’s Reality Check and Tom Scheck at Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) are among those who do a decent job with that locally, but there should be more of it.

But who is checking the checkers? The University of Minnesota’s Smart Politics blog did an interesting analysis of the fact checking done by the Pulitzer Prize winning Politifact, which is affiliated with the St. Petersburg Times. doing business

Dr. Eric Ostermeier of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance (CSPG) at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs notes that Politifact analyses have found that Republicans lie more often than Democrats or Independents. A lot more.

But Dr. Ostermeier asks a fair question, whether this is because of Politifact’s selection bias. When asked about its selection methodology, Politifact’s Editor told C-Span: small business start up

Continue reading “Checking the Checkers’ Checking”