Just Above Sunset
June 5, 2005 - "Maybe a little less of the pervert of the day..."













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As Friday began I sat down to with another cup of coffee to check my emails and noticed this from Bob, our columnist here at Just Above Sunset -

 

I think that if there is a quick decision, it will mean MJ (Michael Jackson) walks.

Any thoughts?

 

No.  I hadn’t thought much about the Michael Jackson trial.  And I do not wish to speak of it, for reasons laid out here and much earlier (November 2003) here.  I maintain the whole business is not so much fascinating to some of us as it is... well... distasteful.  Something you turn away from, or at least politely ignore.  Like a guest at a formal party mistakenly making a really off-color remark, or your host inadvertently breaking wind - best to be polite and ignore it.

But Bob is hot for this story.  In ways subtle and not so subtle he urges that we cover it in the web log and weekly – and I resist.  He had previously suggested, several times, that I charge up the Nikon and we hop in the Mini and haul off to Santa Maria to, at least, cover the coverage.  It’s a long drive.  I said no, although it might be fun to interview some press people and find out what the hell they think they’re doing.

In any event, as Friday ended there was no quick decision, as the Associated Press reported: "SANTA MARIA, Calif. - The child molestation case against Michael Jackson went to the jury Friday after the defense begged the panel to acquit the singer, portraying Jackson as a victim of grifters trying to pull "the biggest con of their careers." Jurors spent about two hours deliberating before going home for the weekend. … "

Bob is disappointed.

No verdict?  Who cares?

Of course the reason I wanted to chat up some of the press people is that I do want to ask them why they are covering this.  The news media has pretty much ignored a number of stories some of us think merit attention – the Downing Street Memo for example.

Well, journalists, George Bernard Shaw once said, "are unable, seemingly, to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization."  And the role of the press has come up here before. April 10, 2005 it was CNN and the Death of Serious TV News - The Inside Story featuring a column from Rick Brown, the News Guy in Atlanta, who was one of the founders of CNN.  (And among the other items on the role of the press see this, this and this.)

Rick and I have been trading emails on and on about this, and I recently sent him this item, on what Jonathan Klein has done to CNN in the last few months, and what the founder thinks.

Turner: CNN Focuses Too Much on Perverts
Kristen Wyatt, Associated Press - Wed Jun 1, 6:12 PM ET

 

CNN should cover international news and the environment, not the "pervert of the day," network founder Ted Turner said Wednesday as the first 24-hour news network turned 25.

Turner, an outspoken media mogul who started CNN in 1980 but no longer controls the network, said he envisioned CNN as a place where rapes and murders that dominated local news wouldn't be emphasized, but he's seeing too much of that "trivial news" on the network he created, now second in ratings to Fox News Channel.

"I would like to see us to return to a little more international coverage on the domestic feed and a little more environmental coverage, and, maybe, maybe a little less of the pervert of the day," he said in a speech to CNN employees outside the old Atlanta mansion where the network first aired.

"You know, we have a lot of perverts on today, and I know that, but is that really news? I mean, come on. I guess you've got to cover Michael Jackson, but not three stories about perversion that we do every day as well."

His remarks won applause and laughter from CNN employees, but the moderator for Turner's remarks, CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour, said: "But everyone else is doing that. Why do you think it's important not to?"

Turner replied: "Somebody's got to be a serious news person. Somebody's got to be the most respected name in television news, and I wanted that position for CNN.

"I wanted to be The New York Times of the airwaves. Not the New York Post, but The New York Times. And that's what we set out to do, and we did it."

The brash Turner acknowledged that CNN wasn't all highbrow when he was in charge, either. "We followed O.J. Simpson ... It was pretty trivial, but high-interest."

As usual, the 65-year-old Turner made his remarks with a roguish smile.

The media pioneer called CNN his greatest professional achievement….

 

And now it is pretty crappy.

Well, Rick and I have had this discussion before – see June 27, 2004: What journalism is and what it is not. A dialog. - and that covers his discussions with Christiane Amanpour when they worked together.

Rick’s latest response is this –

 

Good point about Jon Klein. Interesting that nobody's asked Ted about him -- or more to the point, about Klein's boss, Jim Walton. But Ted did stress, when Wolf Blitzer interviewed him live on CNN Tuesday, the fact that he was no longer running things "wasn't by my choice."

And yeah, he said these same things in an interview in this month's Atlanta magazine, specifically that "CNN would be different if it still reported to me." He also said those same other things during that article, except instead of "perverts," he said "murder of the day":

"It's not just the murder of the day - now there are several of them. I don't like turning it on and seeing a bunch of murder stories in a row. With what's going on in Iraq and the Middle East and the economy, there are a lot of more important issues. There are six and a half billion people in the world, obviously someone's going to get murdered every day, but that doesn't need to be the lead story." (Still, he did add, "I think CNN's doing a pretty good job.")

When I read all of that, I was proud of him. If he ever started a new network -- contrary to the way I felt about him when I first signed on in 1980 (I thought he was pretty much a drunken sailor) -- I'd even consider seriously helping him set one up all over again.

As I've said before, my theory is that we suffer from too much democracy in corporate ownership in this world nowadays. When I went to work for Turner in 1980, he owned 83% of his own company, which gave him the power to do things his way, no matter how weird his way may have seemed to Wall Street at the time. His big mistake was ever giving up control, first to TMC and Time-Warner when he got them to back up his purchase of the MGM film library in 1985, and later when he signed on to allowing Time-Warner to "merge" (buy) the company named after him. I think he reckoned he could eventually outsmart Jerry Levin and end up running the place, but at some point, (my guess is) he changed his meds and let it all slip through his fingers, especially when the combined company was later swallowed by AOL.

Whoever runs CNN News Group these days reports to whomever runs Turner Broadcasting, who in turn reports to whomever runs (AOL) Time-Warner, who in turn reports to whomever OWNS Time-Warner, who in turn happens to be -- me!

Well, not just me -- if it were just me, things would be different -- but me and everyone else who owns a mutual fund or runs a pension fund in this country, folks (like me) who don't really look very closely to see if their fund invests in companies that "do the right thing" but only companies that "enhance shareholder value" -- that is, make me money for my eventual retirement.
Which is to say, alas, Pogo was right about where the guilt belongs: "He is us!"

I keep wondering if Ted might ever somehow regain control of the genie and put it back in his bottle. First of all, maybe he'd have to go off his meds to even consider it.

But second of all, no. The way things are today? Probably not even then.

 

Too bad.  I’d sign up if there was anything I could do to help out.

Earlier we had discussed this –

CNN Seeks New Ways to Battle Fox News
Jacques Steinberg, The New York Times, March 23, 2005

This was an analysis of what Klein has done to CNN – and it’s not pretty.

 

One of Mr. Klein's mantras - a version of the same one he invoked when announcing in January that he intended to cancel the afternoon shout-fest "Crossfire" - is that the network's prime-time programs should spend less time reporting the news of the day and more time spinning out what he hopes are emotionally gripping, character-driven narratives pegged to recent events.

But he has also sought to take a page from the playbook of local television news and encourage some reporters to put more of their personalities in their reports. It is not insignificant that he is being advised in this effort by Joel Cheatwood, a former news executive in Miami and Chicago who is well known for using loud sound effects to amplify crime stories and for the failed effort to make Jerry Springer a commentator in Chicago in the late 1990's.

 

Rick replied with some comments that he said I could not publish – involving conversations with folks who would not want to be quoted.  So use you imagination.

I told Rick I don’t watch CNN much any more - I go to CNN for news but more and more if find myself wandering over to MSNBC - as their association with the Washington Post and Newsweek gets me Milbank and Myerson and first-rate analysis of facts and events, without the false "narrative."  They dumped Michael Savage two years ago and Frank Luntz late last year - and seem to be building something respectable now.  They do less and less "compelling and heartwarming" crap - and get down to what's going on.  And Keith Olbermann just gets better and better.  CNN is going the opposite way.  So they'll lose me but gain many other viewers.  Go figure.

Nancy Grace?  I find I cannot watch her - and Larry King?  I'm just not interested in that stuff.  Others are, it seems.  I used to flip on CNN Headline News for basic events - and sports scores in the crawl.  But now whole half-hour blocks are given to Grace and to that entertainment thing - so I don't do that any longer.  Maybe they'll rename it eventually.  It was Rick’s baby, I believe.  All things change.

But it is not just CNN – everyone in all over the "pervert trial" this weekend.  Oh, to be fair, this is the trial of an "alleged pervert."  No one has been convicted of anything.

It’s corporate coverage – as Rick notes.

I guess I’ll scan the foreign press.  I’ll leave the Jackson trial to Bob.































 
 
 
 

Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
 
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