Is the R.N.C. convention just an exercise in media marketing?
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CLEVELAND — Richard Gizbert, a Canadian who hosts the most international TV show on media worldwide, walks down "Radio Row" at the Republican National Convention and is struck at first by the clothes. Specifically, how they're all alike.
Wander toward CNN's area, he says, and it's like a Washington, D.C.: Brooks Brothers, blue button-down shirts and khaki pants. "The folks at CNN look like the conventioneers." He's struck by "the girth of Americans," too. Yes, the elite press is fat in more ways than one. "They're obviously well-fed."
He also opines on a matter of media practice, not physiology, "I see people walking through here with cameras on selfie sticks, and it strikes me as a marketing exercise." As he says that, a reporter passes by, holding aloft her camera and selfie stick ("WSJ," or Wall Street Journal, it says). "What the fuck is going on here?" says Gizbert. "Is that what it's come to, that technology is so powerful and distracting, it's not used for the right purposes?"
His acidic cultural observations aside, take Gizbert seriously for this reason: His London-based "The Listening Post" on Al Jazeera English (and not really available in the U.S., even online, for legal reasons involving cable companies) is superb. It's an 11-person operation (they speak a total of 14 languages) that produces stories on the press from everywhere.
You'll find battles between the press and government in Peru; Iraq's crackdown on media; an Australian government-enforced media blackout on two offshore detention centers for migrants and refugees; how cozy Italian-Egyptian economic relations impacted Italian coverage of outrageous civil liberties abuses in Egypt; a look at a Brazilian evening newscast with 70 million viewers; and reporting on press crackdowns by right-wing regimes in Hungary and Poland. It goes on and on. Check out this interactive graphic for stories they've done around around the globe.
He's here not to cover the convention but as part of a larger attempt to be rigorously cold-blooded for a piece on press coverage of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. People blame the media for a lousy job, and some claim that economic imperatives prompt de facto shilling for Trump by giving him inordinate air time (count me in on that one).
Gizbert swears he has no preconceptions. So few of the existing claims, he believes, are "data-based." About all that he's sure of is, first, that America erred in 1987 when the Federal Communications Commission ditched the "Fairness Doctrine," which mandated that public broadcast license-holders present important issues to the public and give multiple perspectives when doing so. (Time)
Second, the lack of a "significant state-owned player" like the BBC is unfortunate. In his mind, the BBC raised the game of its commercial competitors through the diversity and quality of its programming, forcing them to even do high-end music coverage.
But, "It's easy to see what's on the air and what's wrong, harder to see what's not on the air," he says. "When I walk through here, I toy with the idea of looking at demographic differences between this slice of people (the media) and those to whom they report." He might also juxtapose what they cover and don't. There are, after all, 15,000 accredited journalists here, or five times the number of actual delegates (2,472).
You need not wax overly righteous in mulling what's not being covered these days by most media, be it back in state capitals, town councils or nonprofit sectors (the latter is a true wasteland even for top news organizations).
If you merely had what's being spent on free food and drink by many major media organizations, like CNN, The Washington Post, Bloomberg and others as they boost their brands, you could start your own news operation. And this is the new age of media austerity for most. If you're here, you can chew on that — and brisket or pulled pork, maybe with a pint of craft pale ale.
Ailes death watch
"Executives at 21st Century Fox decided to end the tenure of Roger Ailes after lawyers they hired to investigate an allegation of sexual harassment against him took statements from at least six other women who described inappropriate behavior from Mr. Ailes, two people briefed on the inquiry said Wednesday." (The New York Times)
Amid the speculation as to when he exits, there is this cosmetically parenthetical that could have been brought to you by Estee Lauder:
"Fox News makeup artists are known for producing a homogeneous beauty-pageant look, not only for the anchors but also for women who come on to offer their expertise — Middle East scholars, for example, as the journalist Liza Mundy pointed out in a 2012 article for The Atlantic. Meli Pennington, a makeup artist and blogger Mundy interviewed, described the way the Fox-lady look appealed to male viewers, especially older ones: 'You think of Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends. As he got older, they all get brighter and blonder.'" (The New Yorker)
A remarkable night
"Ted Cruz doesn't endorse Trump, then upstaged by him." (CNN) "Cruz snubs Trump: In a stunning convention moment, the Texas senator told Republicans to vote their conscience — but refused to endorse the nominee." (Politico) "The GOP convention just turned ugly, because the Trump-Cruz feud never really ended." (The Washington Post) Blogging for New York magazine, Andrew Sullivan offered this at 10:34 p.m.: "Gingrich is going on too long. Cruz stole the night. It feels post-coital." That stunning, damning, campaign-changing Melania Trump plagiarism scandal the media was convulsed with? Well, Newsheimers kicked in, and that seems so very long ago. Or, as Michael Keaton said in "Beetlejuice," it's "dead, dead, dead, deadski."
Red meat lines
To be on the convention floor last night was to be up close to the automatic jeering of the press. The disdain among the GOP delegates was clear when radio talk host Laura Ingraham kicked off the session by bringing the crowd to its feet by hailing Trump for having "dared to call out the phonies and corruption that has gone on too long," in part referring to the press.
"America is onto you." The assembled were in disdainful harmony as she declared, "Let's send the pollsters, consultants and lobbyists packing." The Republican consultant standing near me did not join in on that one. He knows where his bread's buttered.
The ever-important local angle
There's a certain predictability to most coverage, including that of local TV outlets at conventions to bird-dog their delegation. It was pretty much the same as I watched Jon Delano, political reporter for KDKA TV of Pittsburgh, on the floor with a cameraman standing in an aisle adjacent to the Pennsylvanians. He asked some unavoidable questions to several delegates ("What would you like to hear from Donald Trump tomorrow?") and, at one point, was approached by a delegate from Ohio who hankered to impart some of his wisdom. "How come you don't do me?" the gentleman asked Delano. "You're not from Pittsburgh," responded the reporter.
From your friends at Twitter
So what was the most-mentioned moment at the convention on Tuesday night? Was it: Donald Trump Jr. criticizing Hillary Clinton as the "first president who couldn't pass a basic background check"; Chris Christie's mock prosecution of Hillary Clinton; Ben Carson discussing Hillary Clinton and referencing Lucifer? Time's up. It's Christie.
Oldies but goodies
Unscientific survey conducted while bored stiff in the arena garage that serves as a media center: The two most popular journalists when it came to conventioneers and others' requests for smartphone photos were Dan Rather, 84, and Ted Koppel, 76.
So why does he need private security?
Whipping by me at one point yesterday in the garage that serves as a media center was TV personality Montel Williams with an entourage of five, including private security. He's an important fellow, I guess.
I was there at a big video board the precise moment that Google Trends revealed a big change in searches about Wednesday night speakers at the convention. As Ted Cruz held fast to his No. 1 spot, Eric Trump passed Mike Pence for No. 2. Among the most popular questions: "Who is Meredith McIver?" a reference to the ghostwriter who penned Melania Trump's lifted speech.
There was also a question that's not exactly a ringing endorsement of our education system and the deep faith and respect for journalism: "What is plagiarism?" You could mull the same thing as you ambled to the nearby Google kiosk with free coffee of various sorts, tea and pastries for one and all.
All in a family
Journalist Jonathan Alter is part of the lineup on SiriusXM Channel 102 with "Alter Family Politics," a show that airs on Thursdays at 10 a.m. and features gabbing among him and his kids, Charlotte, 27, a writer for Time, and Tommy, 25, a producer for HBO.
The Radio Andy channel is brainchild of Andy Cohen, a CBS News producer long ago and now a bonafide celebrity with a popular Bravo show, "Watch What Happens Live." A sort of special edition of Alter's show is on at 6 p.m. each night of the Republican and Democratic conventions.
I watched as he buttonholed Jake Tapper, Ted Koppel and Hugh Hewitt for a joint appearance last evening. Alter directly asked them this: Is Clinton or Trump more likely to get us into a war? It was potentially tricky territory for a journalist and, with help from Hewitt, both Tapper and Koppel avoided a direct response but engaged in a serious chat about temperament. As for host Alter himself, he said Trump would be a disaster and get us into war.
Banned from Twitter
"Twitter has permanently banned a right-wing writer and notorious troll for his role in the online abuse of Leslie Jones over her role in the 'Ghostbusters' reboot," meaning "Ghostbusters" sequel. "Milo Yiannopoulos, the technology editor for Breitbart.com, tweeted as @Nero. Before he was banned, he had more than 338,000 followers and called himself 'the most fabulous supervillain on the internet' for his provocations online."(The Guardian) Yiannopoulos says he's a victim: "My suspension has made one thing clear — Twitter doesn't stand for free speech." (Yahoo) It's a good week for him to sound Trumpean.
As you arose this morning
On MSNBC's "Morning Joe," co-host Joe Scarborough said, "Cruz should've stayed home, played it safe and been a wimp. He clearly killed himself." A "portrait in smugness," said Mike Barnicle. "An incredible piece of political theater," says Willie Geist. "Everybody is talking about this so-called train wreck of a convention...and it works," reiterated Scarborough.
This followed MSNBC giving viewers a live edition of "Saturday Night Live's" "Weekend Update" shortly after midnight. It had moments both very sharp and lame, forcing smart analysts and co-hosts to cool their heels until the comedy was done. It just might have worked better after a pedestrian convention session.
But this wasn't such a night, and talented comics Colin Jost and Michael Che arguably were a distraction, despite a subsequent on-air lovefest with Chris Matthews, who came off as an admiring gramps who found them "brilliant."
Still, the quest for coolness was ironically fitting given the much of the left-leaning media's derision of Donald Trump as an entertainer. It's now the pot calling the kettle black. Perhaps tonight brings us Al Sharpton and the Flying Wallendas.