Thursday, October 21, 2010

Freedom of Newspeak

Author's Note: A version of this post appears at

When I began traversing the blog world in 2004 it was commonly argued that the Internet was the last bastion of free speech.  If my arugment regarding mainstream media "bias" holds true, then it makes sense that the blogosphere plays home to the last vestiges of communication liberty.  After all, it isn't like most of us bloggers are actually pulling in a salary and benefits for typing about what we believe, so we don't have to worry about what our bosses will think when they read our blogs or listen to our podcasts.  Oh, if only freedom paid the bills, then we could all say what we really thought without fear.

Isn't that right, Juan Williams?

When I read in the news this morning that NPR fired one of their Senior News Analysts, Juan Williams I didn't need to eat breakfast; I was too busy scraping my jaw off the floor.  I've listened to this guy for years; he's calm and collected, incredibly professional and well informed.  He is not Rick Sanchez.  What the hell could Juan Williams have done to get fired from NPR?

Oh, that's simple:  He admitted to being nervous around traditionally-garbed Muslims in airports.  According to the NPR story on Williams's demise, his exact words were, "Look, Bill, I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."

The official NPR stance is that Williams' "...remarks on The O'Reilly Factor this past Monday were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR."  The "editorial standards and practices" NPR is talking about refer to their policy that News Analysts like Williams are not permitted to express opinions on the stories they cover. 

Okay, so NPR doesn't want their "Analysts" expressing their opinions on air.  Williams must have known this when he was hired and accepted that unwavering objectivity was part of the job.  Nina Totenberg must have as well when she wished AIDS upon Jesse Helms on the air in 1995 and proceeded to be-- oh, wait, Nina Totenberg was never fired for proclaiming that if there was "'retributive justice' in the world... Jesse Helms would 'get AIDS from a transfusion, or one of his grandchildren will get it.'" Over a decade later, in fact, Nina Totenberg is NPR's Correspondent for Legal Affairs in DC.

Maybe she can refer Williams to a good First Amendement lawyer.

It is one thing to claim Fox News leans right and MSNBC leans left.  It is quite another for a national radio network that operates on taxpayer dollars to fire one of their employees for expressing an opinion they obviously didn't like.  But it was about more than just one slip of the tongue for Juan Williams.  Apparently, NPR has been building a case against their former employee since he signed on as a contributor to Fox News in 1997.  The NPR story on Williams' firing states blatantly that, "Williams' presence on the largely conservative and often contentious prime-time talk shows of Fox News has long been a sore point with NPR News executives."

NPR seems to be developing a track record for taking aim at employees who do business with Fox News.  Back in December, Politico reported that NPR political correspondent Mara Liasson was asked " reconsider her regular appearances on Fox News because of what they perceived as the network’s political bias."  According to the report, "NPR’s focus on Liasson’s work as a commentator on Fox’s Special Report and Fox News Sunday came at about the same time as a White House campaign launched in September to delegitimize the network by painting it as an extension of the Republican Party."

Isn't the idea of the White House "controlling" the media supposed to be the stuff of fiction?  Didn't the days of yellow journalism die with William Randolph Hearst?

Last week I was concerned because one host walked away from another.  Now we have a publicly funded news network firing employees who dare to "talk to the other side".  Bernard Goldberg is right, media bias is rampant.  Perhaps the blogosphere is the last, true bastion of free speech after all.

Speaking of which, Fox News reportedly offered Juan Williams  "...a new and more lucrative contract" that "...would be worth “nearly $2 million, a considerable bump up from his previous salary.”

Maybe it still does pay to speak your mind in the mainstream media after all.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Shanda fur de Bill O'Reilly

So, Bill O'Reilly was on the purile morning pap known as The View this morning. 

Anyone who watches The View has no doubt of the political persuasions of the majority of its hostesses.  If you're like most thinking Americans and you don't watch The View (except when a particularly humorous excerpt shows up on The Soup) compare the treatments of 2008 Presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama and the political views of Walters' women reveal themselves fairly quickly.

Hey, they never claimed to be journalists. 

Well, in any case, they never claimed to be unbiased.

On The View, the problem has never been having a particular view (unless you're Elisabeth Hasselbeck) so much as it has been having to encounter guests whose views aren't in line with your own. 

Usually, this problem can be handled fairly easily through tactics like playfully mocking you if you're an elderly man, or shouting over you if you're a young blonde woman.  But when you encounter a middle-aged white male (demographic alert!  demographic alert!) with a pair of big clanging balls who could care less if he strikes a few sour notes in your ear... walk off-set.


To summarize the clip, Bill O'Reilly argues that Americans are "seeing a widening gulf between the President and them, personally," and when questioned on that, he goes on to cite a CNN poll that indicates nearly 70% of Americans do not approve of the building of the Ground Zero Mosque, in comparison to President Obama's refusal to "comment on the wisdom" of building a mosque in that location. 

Immediately, Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar become so offended that Bill O'Reilly agrees with the 70% of Americans cited in CNN's poll and not the two of them (as they shout, "But I'm an American!  I'm an American!") that they literally get up and walk off the set.

What?  Shouting and witty repartee weren't good enough this time around? 

I am Jewish, which means that I know a good argument when I get into one.  There is a reason we need ten men to say a prayer and 70 to make a decision; to say we are opinionated is an understatement.  So, needless to say, when I see the Jewish woman in the room get up and walk away from an argument, something in my kishkes makes me squirm. 

Whoopi I can understand; after all, she's just a poser anyway.1  But, Joy Behar, how could you?  Shanda fur de goyim!  Seriously, what kind of Jewess are you that you can't have a good argument?  Agreeing to disagree is the fourth pillar of our faith!

The situation brings to mind a conversation I had with a friend (who also happened to be Jewish) a few years ago about television news networks.  For some reason, Fox News came up and she immediately remarked, "They're SO biased!"

I replied that I thought all news networks were biased, one way or the other.  The first thing any good media professor will tell you is that television is a business.  The entire point of television is to appeal to a demographic in order to make money through advertising.  Therefore, most television programming is geared towards the particular age/gender/race Neilsen says will be watching at that particular time of the day.  Hence, Saturday morning cartoons are on at 9 am on Saturday morning and not 9 pm on Tuesday night.  So, if Fox News is biased, they are only biased inasmuch as they are seeking to appeal to a demographic previously underserved by their peers (in this case, the political right wing) in order to win ratings and, in turn, increase advertising revenue. 

Her grand reply was, "Well, I don't agree with them, so they are biased."

Wait, is that how we justify who we do and don't talk to, by whether or not they agree with what we have to say?  Where's the Jewish in that?

One scholar, Deborah Schiffrin, wrote an article stating that "Jewish Argument" is a social tool used to "display solidarity."  In other words, getting up and walking away from someone because they disagree with you is about as Jewish as eating pork at the Passover seder.  It is antithetical to the Jewish neshama to turn your back on someone who disagrees with you.  If anything, it is your responsibility to make them dinner during the discussion!

Why is it that Jewish Americans like Joy Behar have lost their ability to argue peacefully, and to disagree and remain on friendly terms?  While her "talk or walk" opinions may promote political comraderie, they do nothing to unite the Jewish American community at large, of which roughly 1/2 do not currently approve of the President's performance, let alone the American Jewish community's relationship with their fellow Americans, of which roughly 1/2 do not currently approve of the President's performance.  Even more importantly, in losing our ability to interrelate with people who hold different opinions, we are losing a key element of our Jewishness that has ensured our survival for thousands of years: The ability to see another person's point of view while holding onto our own. 

Stated simply: What do you think gives a person their character, their ability to echo an opinion, or their ability to express one?

If Netanyahu threatened to walk out of this latest round of proposed peace talks as often as Abbas did, Jewish Americans of Joy Behar's political persuasion would be in an uproar.  How will we ever achieve peace, they would argue, if we can't at least sit at a table together and talk things out?!

There is nothing Jewish about walking away from an argument.  Disagree with Bill O'Reilly and you certainly won't be the first.  But, if you really want to make a statement, invite him to lunch after the show.

After all, what good Irish Catholic boy would say no to a lox and whitefish buffet?

1. "Born Caryn Elaine Johnson...  Goldberg also adopted her stage name, which began as Whoopi Cushion, but later adopted the "Goldberg" surname because her mother felt the original was not "Jewish enough" to make her a star."  For more on this offensive idea, see last week's entry regarding "Joos Controlling the Media".

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The World's Oldest Profession

Pardon me while I dump the vomit out of my yarmulke.

I didn't need Rick Sanchez to throw accusations of a Jewish-controlled media in my face to make me realize that some people still think we own the world.  All I needed was to sit in the backseat of a beat up Ford (oh, the irony ) and get eyed up through the rear-view mirror by a lanky, brainless grad student and his Turkish gal-pal.

"Why are there so many of you in the media?"  His beady eyes betrayed him; his girlfriend already told him the answer, he was just testing me.  WASPs can be so sneaky sometimes.

"What?"  You see, not knowing I was a twin--let alone multiples in any amount--I was grammatically confused and decided to play it from that angle.  Jews can be so gracious sometimes.

"Why are there so many Jews in the media?"  This time he asked point-blank.

Silly me, I answered like a reasonable, educated individual, explaining why this was a popular assumption based on a period of time when us "Joos" weren't allowed to be doctors, lawyers, or any number of other accredited "professionals" so we resorted to owning our own businesses--one of which happened to be, at first, movie theaters and then, movie studios.  But, since that era is long gone, there is a virtual panoply of ethnicities, genders, sexual-orientations, and creeds (we're talking "United Colors of Benetton" here) "in the media". 

The Turkish exchange student gave her protoge a sideways glance that said, "Told you she'd say that."

The two shared a knowing grin.

And I left the car.

The first thing I did when I got in the door was call the President of my campus chapter of Hillel.  I told him the whole story.  His grand response was a half-hearted,  "Yeah, well, that's a shame, isn't it?"

Then I got the lowdown on the annual Kosher Chili Cookoff.

Today, Entertainment Weekly asked, "So, should Jon Stewart accept Rick Sanchez's apology?" after detailing Stewart's on-screen response in which he mocked Sanchez but, quite honestly, couldn't really give a damn about his accusations.

Sanchez's official statement is as pathetic as any other media persona's "official statement" about their verbal faux pas.  Reading that was like listening to a nine-year old forced to say they're sorry to the kid they tortured on the playground so their guidance counselor can close the case file and get home for dinner.  Say what you will about Mel Gibson, at least he actually apologized to "the Jewish community" and not just "anyone else" he "might have offended."

Jon Stewart's response is equally as pathetic.  He's the kid on the playground who got punched, and he's willing to play nice in front of the guidance counselor as much as he has to, in the hopes that the bully won't follow him home and try to beat him up again.  Only, this time, Sanchez was really disciplined--he got fired-- and Jon Stewart still played nice.

In the end, nothing was ever done about the two grad students who eyed me up in the backseat of their car.  Nor, in a related note, was anything done about the other grad student (this time a Pakistani from Dubai) who cornered me alone in the grad student lounge and confronted me with the now-disproven "evil actions of my bretheren in Jenin".  

And, in the end, Rick Sanchez's antiSemitic outburst will be lost in history's database of old information, something for our kids to find one day as they browse through the Wayback Machine. 

All the while, the stereotype lives on to surface another day.  Let's see; it was about two months between Oliver Stone and Rick Sanchez's matching accusations.  What'll be our Hanukkah present from Hollywood this year?

Wait a minute...I thought we were in charge?

Well, then again, I guess we are as long as we keep imitating Jonny and taking it like a man.