Monthly Archives: October 2009

CNN leaves it there

Jon Stewart’s Monday night rant
included a very important statement about the media’s role in society.

“Fact-checking is the the function of news,” he said. “That is the public service they provide.” Tongue-in-cheek, he added, “That’s why the debate over health care has been so fruitful.”

Unfortunately, CNN, the premier news provider on cable, has not been adhering to its duty. As Stewart points out, too often CNN anchors and hosts end conversations early without asking for citations about where certain facts and figures come from.

Take Republic Senator Jon Kyl’s claim that medical malpractice reform could yield savings of $100 billion to $200 billion. Try, half to one-quarter that amount.

According to a Reuters article last week, “Limiting medical malpractice lawsuits could save the U.S. government $54 billion over a decade, congressional budget analysts said on Friday…” CNN’s John King did not question Kyl’s number at all. It’s understandable CNN has to quickly get into commercial breaks, and King was probably busy listening to his earpiece instead of Kyl, but should not CNN have someone in the newsroom watching the broadcast, analyzing every interviewee’s statement?

Tony Perkins, President of a conservative organization known as the Family Research Council, had no idea how many uninsured people there were in the United States. He dropped the number as low as five million to 10 million. CNN’s Tony Harris provided some blabbering thoughts, saying something along the lines of that there was not a consensus number and left it there. “Why leave it there,” Stewart calls out. “There is a terrible place to leave it!” Stewart is exactly right.

In fact, there are 46 million uninsured people in America, according to Census Bureau statistics. Part of the problem is the number of Americans uninsured in America is actually lower. That’s why NPR has issued a suggestion to its stations to say “people” not “Americans when talking about health care reform.

CNN brings two people to the screen, has them explain their views and then leaves it there. After the presidential debates, they devoted much coverage on-air and online to analyzing the President’s statements. So, why doesn’t this happen after these mini-debates between political experts? Is it too hard to have someone sitting at computer with Google revved and ready to go?

Offering 24/7 coverage of news, CNN commands a great audience that deserves the service the station promises to offer. It’s seem to often that CNN is in rush to end the debate and let illegitimate statements stand as they may. But I won’t leave it there.

Many people expressed anger yesterday when during an interview CNN’s Wolf Biltzer failed to follow up on a statement made by balloon boy that he had been told to do it “for the show.” The ambiguity of that phrase remains unresolved. Are these hosts not listening to what is being said? I have no answers, so I’ll leave it there.

Different Takes on Obama’s Prize

An announcement made Friday surprised much of the world.

The media, so often on top of top breaking stories, with sources giving them hints to what might be coming was also among those dumbfounded. President Obama was awarded the Novel Peace Prize early Friday, and the media had to quickly adapt to the news. Even the President was shocked upon hearing the news, originally suspecting that the news was a joke. From the national stage to international stage, various media outlets took different takes on the subject. Immediate opinionated reactions became more well-thought out as the weekend progressed.

The New York Times by virtue of maintaining a political blog on its website was able to comment on the coverage of others, providing links to other perspectives. Before giving examples to some of those perspectives, a pair of writers on the Caucus blog summarized, “Nearly all agree it’s a rather stunning award for someone who hasn’t been in the presidency even a year, coupled with two wars, an economic downslide, the Iranian threat as well as the intractable Mideast problems.” The ability of the Times to provide different views makes their coverage stand out because it moves away from bias and short-sighted view.

The best news reports provide context to stories and answer the important question of “why.” In this case, why Obama won the award was left up to interpretation. Reports like on the Caucus that pointed to a Foreign Policy magazine article from earlier this year that described the motives and choices of the Nobel Prize commission as without a doubt political helped move in the right direction toward answering that question of why. For a news story so simple that it could be summed up in six words—Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize—opinionated coverage such as those from editorials and blogs seem to provide the best context. Everyone wanted to know why and what it meant.

Time Magazine’s Joe Klein’s editorial seemed to ask more questions than it answered: “In the end, this premature prize is a significant challenge for the President: Will Barack Obama use it to demonstrate that he actually has the courage, moral fortitude, intelligence and creativity that the award portends?” Back at the Times, Ross Douthat was much more blunt and straightforward, “…he’s made failure, if and when it comes, that much more embarrassing and difficult to bear…he’s etched in stone the phrase with which critics will dismiss his presidency…Jimmy “Malaise” Carter. Dubya the Incompetent. And now Barack Obama, Nobel laureate.”

David Gergen, the media and the Language of our Culture

Originally, I was going to disagree with the statement made by David Gergen that we need to elevate the level of discourse in this country. Change happens. That’s a fact. Like Gergen said at the speech at USC’s Bovard Auditorium, the advent of blogging has changed the way we write, speak and comment. I completely agree with his point that we cannot make personal attacks, resort to name-calling and all the “vitriol” that we see on media which fails to provide fair and balanced coverage. However, I originally dissented with the other part of his argument that it is bad thing that our language has sort of become degraded. People are more simple and fast-paced now. We like to receive our information in a lightweight form, so it follows the most basic language and structure would suffice. Then, I realized the argument went beyond that basic thought. Change comes from the bottom up. As everyone know acknowledges, Obama did so well in the election because of the grassroots campaign support he lived. The community organizing skills he developed in Chicago paid off for him the long run. Similarly, it should not be the media that leads an elevation in discourse. It must come from the bottom—especially from the schools were our children. The media must, I agree, maintain a high level of innovation, thought and integrity, and they must wait for the general public to catch up. If that means they suffer through poor ratings, so be it. Our nation’s enterprises have suffered and recovered from tough times before. Our teachers need to challenge more. Programs like Teach for America try to help improve struggling schools by implanting brilliant minds into them for two years. Out of 30,000 applicants, one figures the 4,000 the organization picks have to be well-qualified. That’s not enough, however. As Gergen mentioned, China, India and Brazil are taking the educational and technological lead. America is not a group of followers. We are strong individuals, who have the capability to come together as one group—one family—and enact great change. We saw that with Obama. It’s time we see it with our schools. After we are all set with good, affordable health care for life in a clean, green environment, education has to be the next time tackled. Green jobs and teaching jobs will play a part in improving the economy. Obama has made promises to enhance the salaries of teachers—and make the profession more desirable on paper—I believe that needs to happen if we want to start from the ground up and elevate the level of political discourse in the United States. Look at the definition of elevation itself: “the event of something being raised upward.” Upward means starting at low point and reaching high point. America is no where near its high point, but that does not mean it cannot get there.