Wall-to-wall tragedy TV as press covers Orlando
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Good intentions mixed with denture ads
"What a story," Megyn Kelly of Fox News intoned last night, with her characteristic knack for theatrical understatement. Over at MSNBC, Brian Williams' new role as "breaking news" specialist was vividly on display as he smartly anchored "Terror in Orlando" for many hours and at one point segued right into commercials for Allstate, the Alzheimer's Association, Experian, Esurance, Trivago, Flonase allergy relief and WeatherTech car mats.
Over on CNN, a large assemblage of on-air talent air-lifted into Orlando included Don Lemon, who reassured us that people "in the community" were "happy we're here to tell the story." It was then time for ads for CenturyLink, Uber, Super Poligrip and CNN's own Morgan Spurlock. Commerce was a cable handmaiden for tragedy. If you can turn presidential debates into a profit center, why not a mass shooting?
Amid the "condemnation and shock" around the world, Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan noted the broad, characteristically divergent contours of the actual initial coverage. "If you favored gun control, this was further evidence of the legislative failures to stop slaughter. If you were wary of Muslims, this was an opportunity to paint an entire faith as terrorists. If you supported gay rights, this was a hate crime targeting the LGBT community." (The Washington Post)
Unavoidably, the politics of this mess could not be avoided. The Washington Post was good in contrasting Donald Trump's exploitation of the mess with Hillary Clinton's characteristically measured response. Trump was in fact-deprived high dudgeon, finally both taking credit for “being right on radical Islamic terrorism” and bashing President Obama gratuitously by asking, “Is President Obama going to finally mention the words radical Islamic terrorism? If he doesn’t he should immediately resign in disgrace!” (The Washington Post) Yeah, Trump's aims were clear. (The New Yorker) Ah, well, maybe there was a valid point, even if the proposed remedy was over the top. The shooter pledged allegiance to ISIS and you don't even allude to Islamic terrorism? And he was a licensed security guard but you talk about gun control?
But will all the deaths leave him slightly restrained as he heads to New Hampshire for a scheduled Monday afternoon attack on Hillary Clinton? Well, he can rest assured that the press will surely set aside "Terror in Orlando" for "Malevolence in Manchester" or, perhaps, "Weakness at the White House" if he probably retools (as indicated by his ideological confreres at Fox) his oratory to accentuate his claim that Obama should head to his new Washington home eight months earlier than now planned.
This morning, cable was was on its sadly well-honed tragedy TV cruise control: correspondents doing stand-ups behind yellow police tape, grieving families, local politicians, witnesses of the aftermath and lots of speculation on the killer's possible mental illness, misogyny and radicalism.
Was the killer in contact with any terrorist comrades anywhere — or just, as MSNBC "Morning Joe" pundit David Ignatius suggested from national security sources, a "lone wolf?" And there was fleeting, delicate mention of the performance of the Orlando police department given the duration of an attack. In sum, lots of questions remained to keep tragedy TV on cruise control until its short if intense attention span is again diverted elsewhere amid, of course, the ads for Prevagen, which will presumably help our memory to recall all this coverage.
The show goes on
Nice headline last night: "The Tony Awards and the Audacity of Joy on a Day of Hate." (The Daily Beast) Indeed, "there was speculation over whether Sunday night’s Tony Awards would be — or should be — postponed. The ruling, in one of the more poignant iterations of the classic phrase, was that the show must go on."
Florida sports reporter "didn't know Mexicans were that smart."
"Fox Sports Florida and Fox Sports Sun sideline reporter Emily Austen has been pulled from her assignments after a controversial taped appearance on the popular, raunchy sports and entertainment website Barstool Sports. Austen...is seen making statements like: 'I didn’t even know Mexicans were that smart,' and 'you guys know that the Chinese guy is always the smartest guy in math class.' Austen also told a story about 'the way I used to talk to the Jews' while working as a waitress in Boca Raton, Florida, and referred to Cleveland Cavaliers Forward Kevin Love as 'a little bitch.'" (Adweek) Well, he's probably smarter than Austen since he should still be employed even if the Cavaliers' season ends Monday night against Golden State in the NBA Finals.
Facebook and guns
"In January 2016, Facebook responded to calls from gun control advocates and vowed to clamp down on potentially dangerous gun sales on its site. Legitimate gun dealers with Federal Firearms Licenses — carrying out necessary background checks — are allowed to go about their business. But private sales are prohibited and, in theory, should be taken down immediately. But is this happening? Not exactly." (BBC)
This agriculture bulletin
Journalist Richard Conniff brings to our attention via a tweet that there's now an acoustic algorithm to count how often cows eat grass. (@RichardConniff) Yes, a "real-time algorithm for acoustic monitoring of ingestive behavior of grazing cattle." This is in case you've misplaced the latest issue of "Computers and Electronics in Agriculture." (ScienceDirect)
The mess at Viacom
There was an alluring lede on a Wall Street Journal story dissecting how Sumner Redstone's daughter has gone from being at odds with dad to now being in a position of control. "As Mr. Redstone’s health declined markedly, she was back." Those who'd show up at his home to visit the clearly ailing mogul "would bet on basketball games with the mogul and reminisce about the glory days, such as the time he won a bidding war for Paramount Pictures or spent time with the crown prince of Dubai, people familiar with the meetings say. Ms. Redstone, a chair pulled close, would rub his shoulder and say playfully to Mr. Redstone, 'Who do you love? Shari!'" (The Wall Street Journal)
The Yahoo auction
"To begin, think about this a little like there is a house called Yahoo that a few people are looking to buy. Once a beauty, it's become run-down and in a neighborhood that is no longer that nice, but it's not a complete teardown either. Over time, each potential bidder gets a closer and closer look at the property and forms their own thoughts about what it's worth. With a little paint and some renovation, some think its value could rise; others are worried about termites. Lots and lots of termites." (Recode)
The Donald's spelling
In one of his many weekend tweets, Trump did a 180-degree turn on his making fun of a New York Times reporter's disability. He said he'd never "moch" the disabled. This prompted a tweet from Washington congressional scholar Norman Ornstein, himself a king of quotes for journalists. "Hey give him a break. He would never moch disabled. But mock? That's a different story!" (@NormOrnstein)
Disney's Chinese roll of the dice
"The acrobats are practicing their flips. Chefs are learning to cook dumplings by the thousands. And invited guests are test-driving the Tron Lightcyle Power Run, a roller-coaster that races through a fluorescent space landscape at 60 miles per hour. All systems are go for the June 16 opening of the $5.5 billion Disney Shanghai Resort, the largest foreign investment ever from the world’s biggest theme-park operator and a career milestone for Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger." (Bloomberg)
Bill Simmons redux
Bill Simmons has been a curious success story who rose to somewhat improbable ESPN fame, was given the boot and now is re-launching his career at HBO, with a new company, The Ringer, and a "new talk show about sports and pop culture called 'Any Given Wednesday' that makes its debut on June 22." (The New York Times) And even though he represents a cautionary note about how NFL-reliant sports media handle criticisms of the league, such as those Simmons leveled, he might also suggest "hope that firebrands like him can find ways to operate independently at this opportune time in media." Perhaps. But his ascension can still prompt head-scratching.
Tweet of the day
From NBC's Andrea Mitchell: "In time of national sorrow and loss we salute @GeorgeHWBush a role model for politics as a higher calling Happy Birthday Mr President." (@mitchellreports) Well, that higher calling included his approval of the notorious Willie Horton ad used against Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential campaign. (YouTube) Yes, some academics now dispute its actual potency and argue that it's morphed into media mythology. (The Washington Post) But at least that moment in history was not quite part and parcel of any higher calling.