Media Calibration


Take It From Whom It Comes

UPDATE: This piece remains archived. But with regret, while I originally gave the 'go-ahead' to watch FOX News (among other sources) at the time of its writing, the cable news network would since become increaingly 'weird' and angry on a near-patholigical level. A shame. As a liberal - one to be open to the exchange of ideas, as true liberal idealogy - I'd welcome a real news network with a conservative perspective (as suggested in the piece). FOX News just isn't it. While it stands as a fine 'booster shot' for the embittered malcontent, there's little left to commend for either open-minded liberals, open to debate - or true and actual conservatives. Now, the original piece as written ...

I would find a certain sense of amusement when I witnessed, on FOX News, three conservative authors fighting among themselves over who had the highest book sale figures.

It all began when Bill O’Reilly wished to forward a piece of advice from Bernie Goldberg to Ann Coulter. Ann quipped that she would only take advise from those who had sold more books than she had … O’Reilly then implied that she could take advise from him, as he had outsold the Coulter Catalog.

“Oh, no you haven’t”, asserted Ann. From there, it then degenerated into a cyclical round of, “Did too … Did not” …

The following evening, Bernie Goldberg proclaimed that his tome, ‘Bias’, had sold more copies than any of the Coulter offerings.

Of course, Ann was merely serving up a quick quip as a bitchy taunt, true to personal form. But the boys were taking the matter very seriously.

Let’s put aside the fact that book unit sales figures are most commonly kept as confidential, proprietary information by large mainstream publishers, whereby even the author can sometimes experience some degree of difficulty in deciphering the convoluted figures presented to them as they endeavor to calculate their royalties (even Neilsen BookScan is typically 30% off, relative to actual sales). And, as such, none of the three “contestants” would likely know the sale figures associated with their competing contemporaries. The fact is, to put it in sobering perspective, as it relates to the non-fiction genre, a ‘best-selling’ book typically represents less than 10% of the units sales more commonly enjoyed by a top-selling, hit music CD. Yes, in 2009, Beyonce’ would tower over Dick Morris. But who, after all, doesn’t?

The abbreviated and neckless, Dick Morris, first coming to the attention of the American public by way of his villain cameo appearances as Dr. Loveless in 'The Wild, Wild West' television series.

Of course, the more pertinent question would be, between Goldberg and Coulter, who served up the more plausible arguments in support of a general thesis? In that regard, the nod would have to go to Ann. And why? Simply because – as it relates to Goldberg’s book, ‘Bias’, if I had worked in a major, high-traffic newsroom for 28 years – with its wide-ranging assortment of peculiar characters and heterogeneous occurrences – I could cough up enough anecdotal evidence to support any claim or premise. Enough to, say … fill a book.

This is not to say that Goldberg’s general assessment of the media having a liberal bias is necessarily incorrect. Rather, Goldberg’s book should be considered as a ‘good read’ that invites consideration of the premise, instead of providing any definitive ‘proof of concept’. It, after all – like most books of the genre – is an argument. And as arguments often go, it isn’t always settled – ever.

In a related aside, at least Coulter and Goldberg write their own books. But many associated with this ‘book breed’, in fact, don’t have much input into their … ‘output’. From Bill Bennett (‘Book of Virtues’) to Michael Savage (books of little virtue) to Rush Limbaugh (‘The Way Things Ought To Be’), the bulk of their ‘works’ are, indeed, farmed out. And not merely to a single ghost writer, mind you. Rather, to an entire staff. These examples, among many more, are essentially franchise operations … all while the hapless fan base hangs on to every word of the ‘ensemble production’. Sad, really. This isn’t to say that the aforementioned couldn’t write their own books, necessarily. Rather, I merely pass on what was relayed by conservative publisher, Judith Regan.

Be that as it may, pissing contests among authors – be they real or imagined, as writers – are rather silly, in any event … and no less so as it relates to the boastful comparisons of cable news. Bill O’Reilly claims to smoke MSNBC. And Keith Olbermann, in turn, continually taunts O’Reilly with ‘Bill-O’s’ ratings ‘down-cycle’. Meanwhile, CNN claims to be ‘The Most Trusted Name In News’ (which would seem to imply that, numerically, more people prefer obtaining their news from sources less trustworthy) … But, in sad truth – much like books to pop music CDs – more Americans get their “news” from ‘Entertainment Tonight’ than all three cable news networks … combined. So much for boasting rights.

And, with this, do I really have to compare the circulation numbers of The New York Times to that of People magazine? And yet … conservative pundits cite ‘The Times’ as a conspiratorial, mind-altering substance designed to corrupt the collective psyche of the American people who, for the most part … don’t read it. If true, as described by the conservative alarmists, then The New York Times … oh, they’re good. Real good. 'The Times', as a virulent strain, must be airborne.

Now, the people who hone and polish their world view by way of ‘Entertainment Tonight’ aren’t hanging over here at Left-Brain, I know. This allows the elite among us to speak privately. You are the ones who watch cable news, read a few newspapers – whether online or in old-school pulp form – and further listen to talk radio. After all, you get all of the juicy celebrity rehab bulletins interjected within the cable news feed, anyway. There’s really no need for dedicated, entertainment programming. And Greta Van Susteren can keep you up on all of the missing and murdered children to complete your tabloidian infatuations.

But the issue that seems to garner the greatest attention isn’t among ‘the issues’, per se. Rather, it’s an all-encompassing, umbrella topic: Media Bias. The news, itself, has become subordinate to the matter of how it’s being delivered – and who’s conveying it.

But do not complain, dear reader. For the news you get, and its presentation – no matter how seemingly biased it may be – left or right, is the very one that you – yourselves – have asked for. Every ratings book and other objective media tools of measurement has said so. The days of Journalism 101 – with it’s mantra of ‘who, what, when and where’ – has long since passed. And it was you who buried it in your desire for confrontational and opinionated news analysis … with an attitude. As such, it makes Bernie Goldberg’s book … irrelevant. Now live with it.

With that, the larger question or point to ponder is how to live with it ...

Between my media room/recording space, kitchen and bedroom, I can freely walk in on MSNBC, Fox News, or CNN (though the latter with less frequency). The cable news networks are the standard default selections on all screens in the house, and they’re all on – at once – at any moment, though seldom switched to the same feed. I know, this isn’t terribly ‘Green’ of me as it relates to power consumption. But any room that doesn’t have something on seems disturbingly still to me, as well as empty. And the kitchen screen remains active, even in my sleep – just so it will ‘be there’ when I get a slice of pizza in the middle of the night. It also makes for an excellent ‘night light’ in that trek, incidentally. In addition, even a Mac computer resides in the kitchen remaining only in the ‘snooze mode’ (never off), ready for a quick awakening with the jitter of a mouse. Summarily, if shit happens – at any moment – I want to know about it ... and right then, even as the microwave warms the pizza at 3 AM (or nominally about 30 minutes after I climb into the bed).

The point of this isn’t to reveal my obsessive-compulsive news media fetish (I do watch some other things, further performing additional and unrelated tasks as the screens blaze). Rather, I wish it to be an indication that I’m not fixated on any one news source. They all work for me and, with the cyclical encore rebroadcasts, I can see O’Reilly and Olbermann, Chris Matthews and Sean Hannity. There’s little need for either-or. They all have value and the ‘who, what, when and where’ of Journalism 101 can be plucked and extrapolated from any one of them – or the entire array.

Similarly, as it relates to the Internet, you could find me perusing a variety of opinionated sources, from the Huffington Post to – yes – the weekly column of Ann Coulter.

There’s an odd thought that one must maintain an exclusive accord with the news sources that correspond, in near-perfect alignment, with one’s own political and philosophical perspectives. In fact, a plausible argument could be made for the opposite. Why, after all, offer exclusivity to those who serve up perspectives that you’re already entirely familiar with – the very ones that currently reside in your own head? Or are selective members of the media little more than your personal cheerleaders? For many, they indeed are. And for those who take in their news and opinions with such superficiality, you’re doing yourself a disservice – at your own hand.

Yes, I understand that one often wishes to hear or read a common point of view to see how others simply articulate a shared position. But to do so with the complete dismissal of the opposing side only diminishes and weakens you intellectually. Indeed, my more liberal-minded contemporaries could potentially learn more with a look and listen to, say, Sean Hannity … even if it’s to better justify – or solidify – your own opposing viewpoint. And yes, I know that Hannity often comes across as a hopeless shill who uses hyper-selective reasoning to support his generally predictable positions. But I also know that such is the nature of his 'gig'. It's what he does ... what he was hired to do – not to suggest any lack of general sincerity on his part. It's merely a matter of form.

Be that as it may, as it relates to 'openess', I would offer similar advice to conservatives regarding, say, Keith Olbermann ... or Chris Matthews, perhaps, if Olbermann only makes you want to open up a vein. In either case, my conservative friends, neither one is always wrong, you know.

Believe me, there’s no danger of ‘Drinking The Kool-Aid’ or being subjected to a behavioral-modification regimen, akin to the ‘strapped-in’ Alex of ‘A Clockwork Orange’. And even if there were such hazards, it would only indicate that you’re, perhaps, not as strong in your position, as thought. And this may not necessarily be a bad thing – no matter which side you believe you’re on, liberal or conservative.

It should be cautioned, however, that if you give the opposition a mere perfunctory look-see, attended with arrant dismissal from the start, you might as well not engage in the exercise at all. It would be quite pointless … Simply continue to ‘tune out’, as before. It’s where you would seemingly be the most comfortable, without challenge …

But there seems to be a somewhat undue concentration, related to ‘slant’. Yes, FOX News does have a decidedly conservative lean, despite promotional credos. And MSNBC unabashedly tilts towards liberalism, seemingly without apology. But in either case – among others – this doesn’t matter. Of greater significance – and personal importance – is how you calibrate the news source. The solution to this over-hyped problem is to find the ‘null point’ of the source, much as one may ‘zero’ a meter or a simple bathroom scale, prior to measurement. That is, consider … with consideration, relative to the skew.

This should be obvious, it seems to me. So much so, my words read back as something that borders on the trite. And yet … so many are seemingly unable – or unwilling – to calibrate. They feel they shouldn’t have to work ‘so hard’, preferring – expecting, even – the uninvolved spoon-feeding of content. But, in truth, the media isn’t actually responsible for the processing of its content – you are. And analysis, from any or all sides, should be regarded as mere tools by which you tailor your own, proprietary evaluation.

Finally, I feel somehow compelled to briefly address another form of ‘media’ that is frequently – if oddly – linked to the news media, most commonly by my conservative friends, but I speak to all groups …

To pull a page from the conservative’s own, ‘Personal Responsibility’ treatise … If you go to the Hollywood film industry for your history lessons, that’s your fucking problem. Oliver Stone isn’t your teacher, lecturer, professor, instructor, school master, or provost. He’s a film director. And, as a director, he has one – and only one – responsibility: To engage an audience. And, in that endeavor, he may rightfully lie, cheat, twist, distort, and pull rabbits out of hats to secure that engagement in a mediumnot a med-ia – that is innately illusionary, at its core. Don’t blame any film director – even those with a purported 'agenda' – for potentially skewing public opinion. That fault would be in the public, themselves – not Hollywood.

This is not to say that theatrical film releases – no matter how ‘imaginative’ – can’t be useful snippets of more inclusive history lessons as a primer to generate an interest in a topic to be further explored with additional ‘readings’. It is the personal responsibility of the public – not the director – to disallow a lesson to be terminated with the disposal of the popcorn container at the lobby’s trash disposal. Said another way, don’t blame the director for a lazy-ass public that willingly volunteers for the ‘Clockwork Orange’ treatment, without resistance or objection.

And the same, my dear readers – with your straightjacket and eyelid clamps at the ready, can be said … of the news media.


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