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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Good Night and Good Luck

Finally got to see George Clooney's attempt to show that we've been here before. It should be mandatory viewing.

We can skip the questions of who today's McCarthy is -- Bush or Cheney (my money's on Darth although I may switch to Maureen Dowd's nickname of Vice.) We can quickly glide past the eerie similarities between the war on communism and the war or terrorism.

The Bush administration's broad brush strokes painting anyone who disagrees with them "against us" has been well covered here. The use of the smear -- whether it was McCarthy on Murrow or Vice on Joe Wilson (actually a thousand times worse because it involved an undercover operative) -- is a classic tactic for the armies of the right.

No I'd rather focus on the most depressing question: where is the media today? Who is the next Murrow? Sadly, the answer is I don't know.

Dan Rather? Say what you will about Dan but he is one of the last cast from the Murrow mold. The verification process used to check the Texas National Guard records left something to be desired but lost in the right wing heat over last year's allegations is that others, particularly the Boston Globe's Walter Robinson, got it right.

Ted Koppel? He's getting out of the network news biz, perhaps only a few steps ahead of the entertainment division folks. Maybe the independent company he and Tom Bettag will achieve the Murrow standard.

Brokaw? Retired. Jennings? Brian Williams?

Sadly, most of today's TV journalists have all the gravitas of Ted Baxter. The jury is out on Anderson Cooper but the early returns are not promising. Aaron Brown? It takes a network. George Stephanopoulos or Tim Russert? They are trained as politicians, not journalists, a crucial distinction. Local anchors? Fuhgedaboudit.

The TV magazine shows are principally fluff -- murder mysteries and makeovers greenlighted by the news divisions that know they need advertisers in prime time. Long gone are the days that the hosts could offer to pay for the spots the way Murrow and Fred Friendly did.

Fox News and its "fair and balanced" hooey represents the wisdom of the right in following the simple rules of revolution: the first thing you do is capture the TV stations. Stephanopoulos and Russert are amateurs in the political wars compared to Fox boss Roger Ailes. Think Willie Horton. And of course the godfather of all of this empire is Rupert Murdoch.

What about print? Aside from the fact that dead trees delivery is a failing medium who's the first person you think of on the print side: Judy Miller if you are charitable. Jayson Blair if you are not.

The news business is in bad shape, brought on by its own failings: predictability, carelessness and the fact that too many reporters enjoy being that close to the action (I know, I was one of them though I didn't let it affect my reporting).

The public is saying (or at least the consultants are saying the public is saying) that they are tired of the petty stuff and don't care about the real but boring stuff that is government at work. Unless it is a scandal guaranteed to gin up ratings of course.

And that's just fine for the media companies: large, focused on Wall Street, not Main Street. Newspapers are the only business where a 20 percent profit is not enough.

Have I depressed you yet?


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