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Josh Nelson: Television News Gleefully Trades Integrity for Access

July 19th, 2009 admin No comments

Between the continuous coverage of Michael Jackson for weeks on end, Pat Buchanan’s barrage of racist comments on MSNBC, and the death of Walter Cronkite, it has been an awfully bad few weeks for television news.

Things are about to get worse.

On Friday afternoon, the Charleston Post and Observer uploaded 570 pages of emails (PDF) they obtained from Mark Sanford’s office. The emails were all between reporters/anchors/producers and Sanford’s Communications Director, Joel Sawyer. This document is chock full of examples of what is wrong with journalism today. Two especially troubling practices are seen repeatedly in the email exchanges:

1. Direct assurances or strong hints that the Governor will be given glowing coverage and will have the opportunity to spin the story however he likes, if he grants access to a particular outlet.

2. Attacks on other media outlets, or the press in general, for asking so many tough questions. The clear implication is that, if given access, the “reporter” in question will be much more fair and reasonable.

Both of these are symptoms of the same problem — sacrificing journalistic integrity to gain access. This is something we expect of outlets like Fox News and The Washington Times, but the brazenness with which TV personalities like David Gregory, David Schuster and others engage in this practice is truly disturbing.

Below I’ve compiled some of the more egregious emails in the document (PDF). I have started with some that are more predictable, and saved some of the best for last. All emphasis is mine.

First, here are some emails that fall into the first category I mentioned above: assurances of friendly coverage.

Erick Erickson, of Redstate.com, offers himself up as a stenographer for the Governor. Gush!

If he wants something more personal for the blog to push back, I’m happy to help, but I’ll get this up now. Obviously he’s got more than just the usual suspects trying to make hay out of this thing and we’re big fans.

George Stephanapolous of ABC’s This Week offers a civil forum in which Sanford can discuss other policy issues (Page 397):

Know you must be besieged. If governor looking for civil forum to address this week’s events (and significantly, other policy issues), we’d love to have him on This Week. Please email or call to discuss. 202-230-XXXX.

Hang in there, George

Griff Jenkins of Fox News, who recently got his ass handed to him by Adam Green, shows his true colors:

Joel-

Good to talk to you – I would like to get the Gov. to call in TODAY for 5-10 min between 10-11a to be on the Strategy Room (Fox News’ live streaming channel) to set the record straight on the hiking story.

Following up, super-journalist Griff Jenkins tries to secure some soundbites of the Governor “dispelling this flap…” (Page 302):

Hey Joel – Just a fast update – I have an hour again this afternoon frm 4-5p. If the Gov does an interview and its exclusive, it will make air on the tv channel and our radio news service all across the country. And I’m not sure if you’ve seen the stuff I do on the channel as a reporter, but I work mostly for our primetime coverage – Oreilly, Hannity, Greta, Beck — so there would likely be primetime coverage as well for some soundbites of the Gov. dispelling this flap…

Beth Rotatori of CNN feels bad for the governor — his hike was cut short! She also wants to offer him the opportunity to “help clear the air” (Page 288):

Hey Joel,

Appreciate you keeping us looped-in on this. Sorry to hear the Governor’s hike was cut short – but glad to hear he’s safe.

We’d still love to talk to him about all the interest this generate and help clear the air on where he was, etc. Any chance you’d be able to join us on the show tomorrow or Thursday – whenever he gets back to Columbia?

David Schuster of MSNBC is especially honest about his intentions (Page 132):

Hey Joel,

My producers want us to do a short reader on this at 4:30pm. Have you seen the Governor since last Thursday? Did he have plans for the weekend? Anything unusual about this? The first lady doesn’t know where he is?

Let me know… I’d be happy to kill this story.

First, David Gregory, host of NBC’s Meet the Press promises “a fair shake” that will put all of this to rest: (Page 69):

Hey Joel …

Left you a message. Wanted you to hear directly from me that I want to have the Gov on Sunday on Meet The Press. I think it’s exactly the right forum to answer the questions about his trip as well as giving him a platform to discuss the economy/stimulus and the future of the party. You know he will get a fair shake from me and coming on MTP puts all of this to rest.

After Sanford’s Communications Director balked at the offer, Gregory pulled out all the stops, explaining that “Meet the Press allows you to frame the conversation how you really want to” (Page 68):

Look, you guys have a lot of pitches .. I get it and I know this is a tough situation … Let me just say this is the place to have a wider conversation with some context about not just the personal but also the future for him and the party … This situation only exacerbates the issue of how the GOP recovers when another national leader suffers a setback like this. So coming on Meet The Press allows you to frame the conversation how you really want to…and then move on. You can see you have done your interview and then move on. Consider it.

Ann Edelberg of NBC Universal explicitly offers an “open invite to a friendly place”. The friendly place in question? None other than Morning Joe (Page 262):

Hi J,

Hope you are well. Would not be doing my gig I I did not reach out. Of course, the Gov has an open invite to a friendly place here at MJ [Morning Joe], if he would like to speak out. Just let me know.

Jessica Gibadlo of MSNBC takes it one step further. She actually helps Sanford’s staff come up with a positive way to spin the story (Page 253):

As you know I’m close to Contessa [Brewer] who has been in my ear on this. She said that the tone in the news room is that Mark could spin this favorably if he talks it up as the outdoors man in the woods etc. For all we know he’s contemplating the last year of his term and thinking through his priorities before he goes on his family vacation.

Joseph Deoudes of the Washington Times is quite explicit as well (Page 240):

Good morning. I see the reports of the Gov.’s break everywhere. If you all want to speak on this publicly, you’re welcome to Washington Times Radio. You know that you will be on friendly ground here.

Kendall Heath of ABC offers a pretty good take into the type of interview George Stephanapolous wanted to give on This Week (Page 49):

Hey Joel,

Just tried you at the office…. would Gov. Sanford be able to join George this Sunday on This Week? After all the hoopla surrounding his whereabouts this past week, would be great to have him on the show to clarify everything, put a stop to the Lt. Gov’s claims, respond to the DNC ad and look ahead to the important challenges the GOP face in the months to come. Think it’d be an important step for him to address this then move forward and talk about the real issues out there.

Tim Miller of the local Fox Affiliate tries to secure the Governor’s favor by mentioning that he isn’t giving any airtime to those who “want on to bash”(Page 39):

Joel,

This stuff really has taken on a life of its own (I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know!) The Governor can have the floor tomorrow for 10 minutes and reach over a million people on the show tomorrow.

I’ve already have calls from others who want on to bash….I’m not doing that!

Here are some emails that fall into the second category I mentioned above: attacking other media outlets for pursuing the story too aggressively.

Jake Tapper went after those mean liberals at MSNBC, first sending this (Page 313):

David Gregory of NBC just tweeted: FM First Read re Gov Sanford: U should be concerned if “your wife say(s) that she doesn’t know where you are but that she isn’t concerned”

Then following up with this (Page 20):

For the record, I think the TODAY Show spot was pretty insulting…

Griff Jenkins of Fox News came back for more:

Having known the Governor for years and even worked with him when he would host radio shows for me – I find this story and the media frenzy surrounding it to be absolutely ridiculous!

Yea, Griff — Who knew a story about a sitting Governor disappearing for a week to hook up with his Argentinian mistress would attract a media frenzy? The nerve!

Stewart Moore, of local WISTV takes a shot at the Today show as well (Page 269):

I couldn’t believe the Today show thought it was such a big deal that they sent a national correspondent. Since he is on the road back tomorrow morning, any chance we can get him on the phone then.

So we can finally put this story to rest…

In a separate email, Stewart Moore writes:

Off the record, I think this whole thing is ridiculous. Sounds like slow news day stuff.

On the record: For the sake of good journalism, is there anyway we can get the Governor of for a phoner @ 6:30am? I think that will end the crazy situation we both find ourselves, more so you, in.

John King of CNN is probably still wiping the egg off of his face this one (Page 156):

Open Invite. Is he back by Sunday?

Mrs. Sanford saying doesn’t know where is what has your many conspiracy theorist friends abuzz.

I’m all for anonymous escapes myself!

Brendan Miniter of Dow Jones lashed out at the Wall Street Journal (Page 267):

Someone at WSJ should be fired for today’s story. Ridiculous.

Michelle Moryc of Fox News offers to present it as a non-story that was “blown up in the media” on Neil Cavuto’s show (Page 265):

Hi Joel! I’m sure you’re incredibly busy – but I wanted to check in on the Governor’s availability tomorrow for an interview — whether it’s a phoner/on cam… either are great. We wanted to talk about how his hiking trip was completely blown up in the media -when it was really just a non-story. Is this something he would be able to discuss with Neil [Cavuto]?

So much for solidarity in the 4th estate. While it is somewhat comical to see these outlets trash each other and trip over themselves to offer Governor Sanford the friendliest venue possible, it really is a major problem for journalism. If refraining from asking hard questions is a prerequisite for gaining access to the halls of power – nobody will ask the hard questions when they most need to be asked (Iraq War, anyone?) Stephen Colbert summed this up nicely in his epic correspondents dinner speech a few years ago:

But, listen, let’s review the rules. Here’s how it works: the president makes decisions. He’s the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put ‘em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know – fiction!

TPM Muckracker’s Zachary Roth has a smart take on all of this:

When you read the emails by Gregory, King, Stephanopoulos and others, you start to understand why most major network interviews with politicians tend to be a lot less hard hitting than they need to be to really hold their subjects accountable. The politicians themselves have the power to make or break the networks, by granting or withholding access. That ends up meaning that, consciously or not, the networks soften their approaches — both in their pitches, and in their actual interviews — in exchange for that access.

We have known about the access of evil phenomenon for some time now, but I think this document is the best hard proof of it we’ve yet seen. So the next time you see any of these “journalists” interviewing someone powerful on television, ask yourself a few questions:

* What promises did they make in order to secure the interview?
* Did they agree not to broach a certain subject?
* Was there an agreement beforehand to try to spin a potentially negative story in a positive light?

You may not have proof that the answers to these questions are yes, but you have ample reason to be highly skeptical.

More on Mark Sanford


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Fred Goldring: Reflections of a Would-Be Astronaut, 40 Years Later

July 19th, 2009 admin No comments

When I was a kid, I was pretty convinced I was going to become an astronaut. In fact, I was obsessed. I memorized tons of facts and figures about the space program, learned the names and backgrounds of all the astronauts in each of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space projects, and was even on the NASA mailing list.

My Dad was a mechanical engineer whose company did major work in the aerospace industry, and I spent hours pouring over insider magazines I found in his office, cutting out pictures of the latest space vehicle prototypes and hanging them in my bedroom for inspiration. I constructed, painted and launched just about available every Estes model rocket, including the huge Big Bertha I launched in my 6th grade science class at Penn Wynne School. After a successful countdown and launch, the entire class ended up running about a quarter-mile down the street chasing the rocket to retrieve it as the wind carried the parachute far away from our athletic field, much to the chagrin of our teacher, Mr. Fritz.

I spent countless hours doodling pictures of rockets, astronauts, and the LEM, the lunar landing module, which I thought was just the coolest alien-looking thing I had ever seen, imagining what it would be like to be one of the astronauts landing on the moon for the first time. My crowning achievement was building and painting a 4-foot Revell plastic model kit of the Saturn V rocket, which I proudly displayed in my room.

So imagine how I felt when I learned that the moon landing was going to happen on July 20, 1969 — right smack dab in the middle of when I would be at summer camp at Camp Saginaw in Oxford, Pennsylvania — where we didn’t have a television set. I would be missing what to me would be the most important event of my then-young life. As much as I loved camp, I told my parents that I would be willing to forego going that summer just so I could watch the moon landing live.

Luckily, a number of the counselors and older campers didn’t want to miss it either so the camp director, Herb Cohen, arranged for some televisions to be brought in for the evening. So those of us who were interested were allowed for just this one special occasion to stay up late in order to be able to watch the moon landing as it happened.

Although it was forty years ago, I can remember that night as if it were yesterday. Walking up the hill to the camp cafeteria from my bunk in my pajamas in the still, humid night to the sound of chirping crickets and the lights of fireflies, ripe with anticipation. A bunch of us crowded in the dimly lit cafeteria around the small black and white TV sets with the fuzzy pictures being beamed in live from the moon.

The feeling of disbelief, wonder and amazement upon seeing Neil Armstrong take that “One Small Step For Man, One Giant Leap For Mankind”. The spontaneous, emotional eruption of hoots, hollers and backslaps. And walking back to my bunk in the late night when it was over, looking up at the moon on the starry night thinking to myself, “wow, they’re actually up there!”

Many years later, on the day I finished my last law school final exam, I convinced my classmate and friend, Jeff Shapiro, to drive with me up to Cape Canaveral from Miami to watch the launch of the Space Shuttle. We drove out the night before, and slept in lounge chairs we had set up on the shore directly across from the launch site a couple of miles away. We awoke to the sounds of a three-ring circus as hundreds of others had somehow joined us during the night. It’s hard to describe what it was like to actually experience the sights and sounds of a real rocket taking off right in front of me after years of only watching launches on TV and shooting off model rockets. For a day, I was that young kid again.

Last year, I had the honor of meeting one of my childhood heroes, Captain Gene Cernan, at the Seoul Digital Forum we were both attending. Captain Cernan was the last man on the moon as Commander of Apollo 17 (and previously was the second man to walk in space as part of the Gemini 9 mission and also flew Apollo 10). What most people don’t realize is that Captain Cernan actually spent much more time on the moon than the Apollo 11 astronauts, sleeping for three nights on the lunar surface in the LEM. Watching him talk about that experience, and seeing the look in his eyes as he spoke, it was clear he had been deeply and permanently moved by it. What seemed to have affected him most was his being able to look back at our small, blue planet from his unique perspective on the moon and truly realize that we all live together on it as one.

I kept the New York Times from July 20, 1969 and later framed it along with the first-day covers with the stamps commemorating some of the anniversaries of the moon landing, which for years I hung in my office. Although I obviously never did follow my dream to become an astronaut, the “can do” attitude of our country during that time clearly affected me in a major way.

So for those that say reaching for the stars is a waste of time and money when we have other far more pressing endeavors back home to deal with, I beg to differ. There is nothing more important than inspiring young people to think big and believe that they can do anything — even what is seemingly impossible – if they just put their minds to it. And by looking up and out, rather than just in and around, we are reminded of something we all too easily forget — the commonality of what all we all share on this planet. On July 20, 1969, regardless of our nationality, religion, age or creed, we all shared in something amazing as citizens of the earth. On the 40th anniversary of this remarkable event, it is certainly a bond worth remembering.


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Gretchen Rubin: 4 Steps To A Happier You

July 19th, 2009 admin No comments

FourI realized that I’ve never done a post about my Four Splendid Truths, although I think about them all the time.

I named these realizations the “Four Splendid Truths” because I was reading a lot about Buddhism when I started to come up with the list.

I get a tremendous kick out of the numbered lists that pop up throughout Buddhism: the Triple Refuge, the Noble Eightfold Path, the Four Noble Truths, the eight auspicious symbols: parasol, golden fish, treasure vase, lotus, conch shell, endless knot, victory banner, and dharma wheel. (After I formulated the First Splendid Truth, I just had to assume that I’d end up with more than one.)

Each one of these truths sounds fairly obvious and straightforward, but each was the product of tremendous thought. Take the Second Splendid Truth – it’s hard to exaggerate the clarity I gained when I managed to identify it. Here they are:

First Splendid Truth
To be happier, you have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.

Second Splendid Truth
One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy;
One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.

Third Splendid Truth
The days are long, but the years are short. (click the link to see my one-minute movie)

Fourth Splendid Truth
You’re not happy unless you think you’re happy.
corollary: You’re happy if you think you’re happy.
[Many argue the opposite case. John Stuart Mill, for example, wrote, "Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so." I disagree.]

Now I’m trying to come up with my personal eight auspicious symbols for happiness. Let’s see — bluebird, ruby slippers, dice, blood, roses…hmmm. I will have to keep thinking about that.

* Ah, I love the blog Zen Habits.

* If you like the blog, you’ll love the book! Pre-order The Happiness Project.

More on Happiness


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John Lundberg: Sarah Palin, The Anti-Poet

July 19th, 2009 admin No comments

Watching Sarah Palin resign the other week, I remembered how frustrating it is to listen to her speak. She uses simple words, but combines them into a fog that’s hard to penetrate, out of which a few political clichés like “freedom” and “reform” appear. Most politicians, of course, obfuscate to some degree, but Palin is a master, and she does it constantly. Look at how she turns a simple statement into a mind-numbing puzzle (this is from Hart Seely’s terrific collection of found poems taken from actual Sarah Palin quotes):

You know,
Small mayors,
Mayors of small towns–
Quote, unquote–
They’re on the front lines.

A quick analysis reveals why understanding Palin can be such a challenge. She follows a folksy “you know” with a clear misstatement–”small mayors”–which she follows with a clarification, which she then amends with the inexplicable “quote, unquote.” By the time she gets to her point–that small town mayors are on the front lines (which she could have simply said)–one is too bogged down in misstatements, repetitions, poor syntax and folksiness to know what to think. This is, no doubt, why her interviewers often look a bit stunned, jaw slightly agape, when Palin finishes answering a question: they don’t have a clear idea of what she said.

When you extend Palin’s speaking style (if it’s even a style) to a more complex issue like the bailout, it becomes a sort of verbal Armageddon. Here’s another found poem by Seely called “On the Bailout”:

Ultimately,
What the bailout does
Is help those who are concerned
About the health care reform
That is needed
To help shore up our economy,
Helping the–
It’s got to be all about job creation, too.

Shoring up our economy
And putting it back on the right track.
So health care reform
And reducing taxes
And reining in spending
Has got to accompany tax reductions
And tax relief for Americans.
And trade.

We’ve got to see trade
As opportunity
Not as a competitive, scary thing.
But one in five jobs
Being created in the trade sector today,
We’ve got to look at that
As more opportunity.
All those things.

Your head should be spinning at this point.

Julian Gough of the UK’s Prospect Magazine opined facetiously this past December that “Palin is a poet, and a fine one at that. What the philistine media take for incoherence is, in fact, the fruitful ambiguity of verse.” His example of this “fruitful ambiguity” is a found poem he termed “The Relevance of Africa:”

And the relevance to me
With that issue,
As we spoke
About Africa and some
Of the countries
There that were
Kind of the people succumbing
To the dictators
And the corruption
Of some collapsed governments
On the
Continent,
The relevance
Was Alaska’s.

Gough elaborated on his tongue-in-cheek theory: “A great poet needs to leave open the door between the conscious and unconscious; Sarah Palin has removed her door from its hinges. A great poet does not self-censor; Sarah Palin seems authentically innocent of what she is saying. She could be the most natural, visionary poet since William Blake.” Great poets, of course, do self-censor (even the Beats), at least during the editing process.

Gough’s editorial got me wondering if there’s any legitimacy to viewing Palin’s peculiar speech as a sort of poetry, but I can’t think of a poetic movement with which Palin has much in common. Almost all poetry–regardless of its aims– strives for clarity, precision and some sort of communication. Even if a good poem is difficult, or even surreal, it’s carefully crafted to be that way, in order to facilitate a type of understanding. Palin’s speech, intentionally or not, works against understanding. Her tangle of folksy obfuscation is the antithesis of poetry, and perhaps more than any other public figure today, she’s something of an antipoet.

I do think there are similarities between Palin’s statements and a Buddhist ko-an–a deliberately provocative and unanswerable question like “what is the sound of one hand clapping?” But whereas the ko-an aims at enlightenment, Palin offers delightenment–if that were like, you know, a word. Quote unquote. All those things. (Sigh)

More on Sarah Palin


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Clinton, in India, Cites Solidarity

July 19th, 2009 admin No comments
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Painting Apollo

July 19th, 2009 admin No comments

CNN’s John Zarrella tells the story of a lunar astronaut who paints what he and the other 11 experienced.

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Top Barclays fundraiser set to leave – report

July 19th, 2009 admin No comments

LONDON (Reuters) – Roger Jenkins, the executive who secured billions of pounds in overseas funding to help Barclays remain free from direct government investment, is poised to leave the bank, the Sunday Telegraph reported.

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Zuma replaces central bank chief

July 19th, 2009 admin No comments

South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma names former deputy governor Gill Marcus as the new governor of the central bank.

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Helicopter shortage ‘a scandal’

July 19th, 2009 admin No comments

Tory leader David Cameron questions the government’s commitment to UK troops in Afghanistan claiming shortages are not just about money.

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Mauritanian candidate alleges election fraud

July 19th, 2009 admin No comments

A challenger in Mauritania’s presidential election alleged fraud after partial results Sunday showed an ex-junta leader headed for victory.

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