Thursday, September 3, 2009

We Didn't Start The Fire

Thought of this video this morning. A brief reminder of when news meant news not endless speculation.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

To Explain the title....

Words of Wisdom from Edward R Murrow speech to Radio Television News Directors Assocation Convention Speech 1958 
  • This just might do nobody any good. At the end of this discourse a few people may accuse this reporter of fouling his own comfortable nest, and your organization may be accused of having given hospitality to heretical and even dangerous thoughts. But the elaborate structure of networks, advertising agencies and sponsors will not be shaken or altered. It is my desire, if not my duty, to try to talk to you journeymen with some candor about what is happening to radio and television.
  • I have no technical advice or counsel to offer those of you who labor in this vineyard that produces words and pictures. You will forgive me for not telling you that instruments with which you work are miraculous, that your responsibility is unprecedented or that your aspirations are frequently frustrated. It is not necessary to remind you that the fact that your voice is amplified to the degree where it reaches from one end of the country to the other does not confer upon you greater wisdom or understanding than you possessed when your voice reached only from one end of the bar to the other. All of these things you know.
  • I have no feud, either with my employers, any sponsors, or with the professional critics of radio and television. But I am seized with an abiding fear regarding what these two instruments are doing to our society, our culture and our heritage.
  • Our history will be what we make it. And if there are any historians about fifty or a hundred years from now, and there should be preserved the kinescopes for one week of all three networks, they will there find recorded in black and white, or color, evidence of decadence, escapism and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live.
  • During the daily peak viewing periods, television in the main insulates us from the realities of the world in which we live. If this state of affairs continues, we may alter an advertising slogan to read: LOOK NOW, PAY LATER.
    For surely we shall pay for using this most powerful instrument of communication to insulate the citizenry from the hard and demanding realities which must be faced if we are to survive. I mean the word survive literally.
  • If radio news is to be regarded as a commodity, only acceptable when saleable, then I don't care what you call it — I say it isn't news.
  • One of the basic troubles with radio and television news is that both instruments have grown up as an incompatible combination of show business, advertising and news
  • I have said, and I believe, that potentially we have in this country a free enterprise system of radio and television which is superior to any other. But to achieve its promise, it must be both free and enterprising. There is no suggestion here that networks or individual stations should operate as philanthropies. But I can find nothing in the Bill of Rights or the Communications Act which says that they must increase their net profits each year, lest the Republic collapse.
  • I am frightened by the imbalance, the constant striving to reach the largest possible audience for everything; by the absence of a sustained study of the state of the nation.
  • If we go on as we are, we are protecting the mind of the American public from any real contact with the menacing world that squeezes in upon us. We are engaged in a great experiment to discover whether a free public opinion can devise and direct methods of managing the affairs of the nation. We may fail. But we are handicapping ourselves needlessly.
  • Just once in a while let us exalt the importance of ideas and information.
  • We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable and complacent. We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. Our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.
  • We are to a large extent an imitative society.
  • This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.
    Stonewall Jackson, who knew something about the use of weapons, is reported to have said, "When war comes, you must draw the sword and throw away the scabbard." The trouble with television is that it is rusting in the scabbard during a battle for survival.
  • ...if what I say is responsible, I alone am responsible for the saying of it...

Hang Fire

Despite being a new media convert, journalism purists will be pleased to know that The New York Times on Sunday, along with coffee and a bagel is still being championed. So Frank Rich wrote an op-ed piece today titled "Is Obama punking us?" the general sentiment being the disillusionment of the American people and "the larger fear...that Obama might be just another corporatist, punking voters much as the Republicans do when they claim to be all for the common guy." I cannot help but wonder if Rich is just feeling lazy. We are told every day of this disillusionment furthermore the stark warning at the end of the article that Obama needs to get healthcare in the bag is hardly revelatory. Yet how many people are content in endlessly discussing this disillusionment? Americans are like kids at Christmas who didn't get the present they wanted. They cannot stop harping on about the gift they didn't get. "Nothing has changed for the common guy". I simply say, it's been six months. Did you expect rainbows with pots of gold to sprout up in your back yard with leprechauns chirping "Yes We Can"? 

As a Brit living here, I could be tempted to say "only in America" could such an entirely quixotic presidency come into effect but I don't think that would do anyone justice. However, what I will say is that only in America could the press take a candidate under their wing in the way that the media did in the 2009 campaign. It was astonishing and we were all accomplices. I cannot count the number of conversations I had about the media pandering to Obama and his carefully crafted Obama story. Hilary was pushed from pillar to post, McCain, Palin and co. torn apart for being doddery and naive at the same time. We knew there was a slant to the press coverage, Obama was built to God like status. However, a lot of people, including myself gave Obama the benefit of the doubt, rationalizing that he was the smartest guy in the field and a fresh face to end a dynasty of Oval office occupiers. 

But now six months after the inauguration every cable station has gone from The Gentle News Network(see clip)  reporting on Obama to being his biggest critic. Palin is saying that Obama's healthcare bill is going to kill her downs syndrome baby and Newt Gingrich is following up with a supportive "The bill is a thousand pages of setting up mechanisms," he said. "You are asking us to trust turning power over to the government, when there are clearly people in America who believe in establishing euthanasia, including selective standards."  The liberal press are painting Obama as a corporate luvvie. And everyone else is saying that he is just a let down.

Hang fire.  You guys wanted universal health care (and as someone with the NHS I can understand for the most part why) and fast.  This is a plea to hang fire for a second. In the UK we expect the worst from our politicians and as commenter George F Will put it "the nice part about being a pessimist is that you are constantly being either proven right or pleasantly surprised." Perhaps one of the syndrome's of being such a young country is that patience just isn't a virtue that is in abundance here.  He has been in power for six months. I would like to see Gordon Brown attempt such a feat in six years.  A radical overhaul will take time. What cannot be denied is that America elected a smart man with a smart wife, who has hired smart people. It has been six months. Expecting universal health care to appear overnight and for it not to add to the deficit, this is asking for miracles from the messiah. You did not elect a messiah, you elected a smart man. Bill Clinton was a smart man too and let us not forget that the Clintons could not do it in the 90s. Second time around may take some time. Hang fire.

The Gentle News Network clip from the Dana Carvey show (featuring a very young Stephen Colbert) seems strangely relevant at the moment while the media kicks itself for treating Obama like the saviour. Very funny.