Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Seeing smoke

Yesterday, the mainstream media once more revealed just how low journalistic standards have sunk in this hour of 24/7 spin and obfuscation.

While driving to Boston and MIT to watch my son and his Wheaton College mates do battle on the baseball diamond with the Engineers, I decided to disengage my brain and listen to sports talk radio. In all fairness, I shouldn't be so dismissive of the format, as some of the analysis is quite detailed. For me, I am so tired of the daily drumbeat of half-truths and political grandstanding coming from both the right and the left. In my book, Al Franken isn't much better than Rush Limbaugh; oh, and have I mentioned that Air America now has Jerry Springer hosting a show?

While listening to Boston's WEEI, the quintessential sports talk station, detailing all things Red Sox, I couldn't escape the intrigue of the Pope's election, as even Dale Arnold (a former Mainuh) mentioned that he was watching Fox News (Dale, say it 'ain't so!) and the smoke coming out of the Vatican stovepipe appeared to be white. Well, that was all I needed to desert the sports talk to seek my scan button and get some "hard news" about the goings on in Rome.

From NPR, to talk stations like WBZ in Boston, the commentators were engaging in their best imitation of news caricature. From the rampant speculation about the color of the smoke (is it white; it looks white Tom, but it's a cloudy day here in Rome and its hard to tell), the fact that if it's white, then the bells hadn't chimed, etc., etc. God forbid that these supposed journalists would just let the story unfold at its own pace. For Christ's sake, the Vatican sends up smoke signals, like they have for 800 (?) years! Why do these condescending media whores think that the news has to cater to their own sense of soundbite reality?

Salon's Heather Havrilesky writes about the coverage (you can view it by signing up for a free site pass) that is quite accurate. As Havrilesky writes, "From the second the white smoke started to rise above the Sistine Chapel, the network talking heads were working themselves into a lather over the announcement of a new pope. But even after spending several minutes analyzing the color of the smoke wafting out of the chimney at the Vatican, NBC announcers were still skeptical. "Vatican radio has pronounced this smoke black," one commentator said, "but the crowd is cheering as if the smoke is white." But if the smoke was really white, weren't they all promised that there would be bells, too? Why were there no bells?"

The commentators were all pretty miffed that the smoke was white, but the necessary bells were slow on the toll. ABC's Charles Gibson, a media empty-suit if there ever was one, got visibly agitated because the damn uncertainty stretched beyond 10 minutes. Showing his absolute lack of journalistic credibility, Gibson was heard saying, "I must say, they're going to have to work on this." Yes, Charles, we all must work on making your high-paying, pseudo-journalistic gig easier than it already is. Why must Gibson and his lot of poseurs insist that every news story to be turned into another media event the equivalent of the O.J. Bronco chase!

With most mainstream journalists (I hate to even use this term in their vicinity) and their Columbia Journalism School pedigrees behaving so poorly, it makes me proud to be an outsider, with my lack of credentials, irreverent attitude and much better understanding on what investigative reporting used to be, and still is in some quarters.


weasel said...

"I must say, they're going to have to work on this" has to be the quote of the month. As much as I hate the Vatican for its hypocricy, I love the fact that the unveiling of the 265th Pope in unbroken line since pre-viking days managed to inconvenience a man whose co-workers are Barbara Walters and Mickey Mouse. That's right Gibbo, ancient institutions need to adapt to ABC TV.

Jim said...

Gibson is just another so-called m'stream "journalist" that's more caught up in his own cult of personality, rather than focusing on presenting some hard-edged journalism.

The sooner new media bypasses the dinosaur that's network news, the better.