Thursday, September 8, 2016

Infotainment in the Public Interest

Media cyberspace is all a-Twitter over actor Matt Lauer's dismal performance in NBC/Comcast-Universal's poorly scripted "Commander in Chief Forum," broadcast on Wednesday night.

The network staged the festivities in the Intrepid Air, Sea and Space Museum to see whether Matt Lauer would have enough air and space to stick it to two political sharks as intrepidly as he once stuck it to the fake predators in Sharknado 2.

MSNBC seemed to have forgotten that Lauer was quite literally eaten alive in the third episode of the Sharknado franchise. It was his recent star turn in   "grilling" bad boy Ryan Lochte during the Rio Olympics that probably made them think that he could also hold two much more powerful and seasoned storytellers to account.

Lauer challenged Lochte's story about getting robbed at gunpoint, so isn't it logical that he'd also challenge Hillary Clinton's promise not to send ground troops to Iraq and Syria by pointing out that there are already hundreds, if not thousands, of boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria? Who would have thought he'd give Donald Trump a pass over his "secret plan" to defeat Isis? And Lauer unbelievably didn't seem to know that Trump had told shock jock Howard Stern he supported the Iraq War way back when.

 Lauer delivered his scripted questions with all the annoying gravitas that he could muster. But those real sharks sure can get slippery, even when they look fake and sound fake.

Don't blame Lauer, a $28 million-a-year media personality, for not being a real journalist and for treating a presidential election like just another game. Blame his greedy bosses and Wall Street investors and advertisers for making it a spectator sport in the first place and for caring more about ratings and profits than they do about informing the public.

Broadcasting in the public interest has largely gone the way of the rotary phone. People who can still afford cable have neither the time nor the attention spans to devote to mulling over public policy. In any case, there is no longer much of "the public" in neoliberal policies decided by market-based technocrats and military contractors.

  It should come as no surprise that the corporate media-political complex has to make the presidential contest into a reality show to attract our limited attentions and to sell us lots of products. We're consumers, not citizens.

So first, they put on a contrived show with the ostensible purpose of honoring the troops. They invited a few carefully selected, attractive, articulate, not obviously maimed or damaged military veterans to pose questions to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. (No Howard Stern trolls were there to spoil things, thank goodness.) The candidates mouthed their platitudes in carefully truncated soundbites, and the viewing audience was urged to feel appropriately guilty about how little we think about the troops and how patriotic we ought to feel.

Next, the candidates tried to instill fear in the viewing audience by pointing out what a violent mess the world is in, and what a violent mess their opponent is. The camera panned to the scowling generals in the audience to further instill the terror and the respect in our hearts and our minds. Or, so the Masters of the Universe are hoping.

Third, Matt Lauer made it all about his vapid self with his frequent outbursts of rudeness and vapidity. He was designed to make us circle the wagons around our favored candidate. And better yet, to pick a side in case we were still undecided or disgusted with both of them.

Finally, the rest of the mass media is fulfilling its own assigned role by making the presidential town hall all about Matt Lauer's horrible acting skills and his basic ignorance, arrogance and ineptitude. The common complaint is that he bullied Hillary over her emails, and gave Donnie a pass. Thus the show fulfilled its useful idiotic purpose of adding more fuel to the Defense of Hillary (DOH) fire. It deflected attention from war for war's sake, to the alleged sexist war on Hillary.

Lauer is being castigated both for being too much of a shark and for acting like a guppy.

  For example, here was Michael Grynbaum's front page New York Times review:
Charged with overseeing a live prime-time forum with Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton — widely seen as a dry run of sorts for the coming presidential debates — Mr. Lauer found himself besieged on Wednesday evening by critics of all political stripes, who accused the anchor of unfairness, sloppiness and even sexism in his handling of the event.
Granted 30 minutes with each candidate, who appeared back-to-back at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in Manhattan, Mr. Lauer devoted about a third of his time with Mrs. Clinton to questions about her use of a private email server, then seemed to rush through subsequent queries about weighty topics like domestic terror attacks.
When an Army veteran in the audience asked Mrs. Clinton to describe her plan to defeat the Islamic State, Mr. Lauer interjected before the candidate could begin her reply.
“As briefly as you can,” he said, one of several moments where the anchor spoke over Mrs. Clinton to remind her that their time was running short.
Nobody in the mainstream media is questioning this country's pathological addiction to trillion-dollar wars, illegal coups, and drone assassinations, or why and how the Pentagon and the CIA and Homeland Security and the NSA have all become so unaccountable in the first place. They're ignoring the awful reality that the Deep State is now our all-powerful fourth branch of government.

Once upon a time, that honor and duty was reserved for our vaunted free press, a/k/a the intrepid Fourth Estate.


Ste-vo said...

Well, I missed the forum, making Ice Cream Pie for 50 people for Birthday Camp last evening. But I am reading the Times article right now about it and of course focusing more on the comments and this one in particular had several words that I found excellent choices for why I so intensely dislike Mr. President Peace Prize. Here is the comment, copied and pasted: "President Obama has made himself "fair game" now that he has fully entered the fray vs Trump. His snobbish condescension and hauteur in attacking Trump plays negatively in the minds many Americans who resent his Gollum-like precious intellectualism, and who prefer instead decisiveness over political calculation and prevarication. The same goes for the establishment media. The more they try to diminish Trump with a drumbeat of negative coverage, the less seems to be the effect of peeling support away from him." Riclys, Brooklyn, New York
I had read an article previous to this one, in that nauseating series the Times is doing on his legacy about the Climate Change agreement, whatever it is, with China that was just announced. It had a video of him speaking and I turned the audio off. And thinking to myself how much I dislike him, as much as George W. Bush. Then I read Riclys comment and it hit me over the head like a ton of bricks. Snobbish Condescension (I want to write condensation!) Hauteur - excellent word and Gollum-like precious intellectualism - win, place, show. So obviously from your piece and the comments to the article I did not miss a damn thing. So thanks. And it is a perfect day on Lake Dunmore with some trees showing a hint, just a hint, of fall color.

Jay–Ottawa said...

I admit it. I receive the digital Times every morning. But I don't inhale; that is, I don't click open up the articles. I just go through the headlines and teasers to see what serious people think is important today. Because clicking open the articles only opens the door wider to propaganda and the need for more medicine to calm me.

But the slant in the headlines of the top story in the digital this morning was a jaw dropper. Steve-o mentioned it too. It paints Obama as long concerned about climate change, therefore it will be the top accomplishment––or the top failed effort––of his legacy.

"More than health care, race or the economy, Mr. Obama believes his efforts to slow global warming will be the most consequential legacy of his presidency."


Obama has done much less than nothing on the environmental front. By which I remind you he helped the folks who churn out carbon and methane. THAT is his legacy. He was no supporter of green energy. He issued more permits for Deep Water Horizon type wells after the big BP spill in the Gulf; opened up the Atlantic seaboard to more offshore exploration whose booms will knock the whales senseless; did nothing at the Copenhagen get together; opened up Arctic sea floor beds to drillers who, thank Poseidon, backed out because it was too damn cold; and Obama finally made the USA number one in carbon production, better than Saudi Arabia, by giving Big Oil carte blanche in fracking the Homeland.

I raced to see the comments. Maybe Karen put this right. No, she's been too busy on the DOH front lately, a full-time job. So it was up to the bench for a killer comment. Well, there is no backup for Karen today. The top comments go along with the con: Obama tried hard, but the Republicans obstructed his dear, good-willed and eloquent efforts. Again, Huh?

There are liars, damn liars, and the New York Times.

Karen Garcia said...

Sorry that I wrote no Times comments today. Yet. Gimme a little more time. I was up too late watching the stoopid presidential forum and the ensuing "discussion" led by the intrepid Rachel Maddow. D'oh! I am slapping myself upside the head right now for having wasting a couple of precious hours.

Loved the comment by Riclys of Brooklyn. Thanks for reposting, Steve. I have to admit that I avoid the comment sections lately because an authoritarian mindset seems to have swallowed up free and independent thought. Inverted totalitarianism is on parade (or rahter on the interminable scroll of the threads) and it is proving to be a resounding success.

Scott W. said...

@Jay-Ottawa: The NYT's comment section will never include a top pick that is in any way critical of Hillary. Even Socrates and Gemli seemed to have lost their brains defending Hillary, joining in with the other parrots. My lowly rated comment compared Hillary supporters to Palin supporters who charged Katie Couric with going after Palin when she asked her what newspapers she read. Remember "Gotcha journalism"? Seriously, Lauer a tough interview? But to the Hillary crowd the private email server, FBI report, FOIA and Federal Records Retention Act violations are irrelevant. The fact Hillary supporters attacked Lauer makes me wonder if they weren't a bit dissappointed with Hillary's answers. More likely the goal of the Lauer haters is to try and intimidate future moderators from asking Hillary questions about the private email server, foundation, speaking transcripts, special interest donations, etc. The only acceptable question is: "What is going to make you the most awesome President we have ever had?"

We have low information Trump voters and selective information Hillary supporters.

Jamie said...

Hillary looked like a hellish shrew and Trump looked like a confused, puffed-up Mussolini.

annenigma said...

Hey Scott W, good to see you here! I always give your comments at the NYT a 'recommend' as I do with Karen's. Great minds think alike.

Meredith NYC said...

Scott W....yes I've noticed with dismay how some of the long time intelligent, knowledgeable, critical commenters have now been defending and idealizing Hillary. And also Obama.

As I commented to Edsall’s op ed ‘the paranoid style in our politics is back’.....

The long time extreme, paranoid, personal attacks on Obama and Clinton have an unfortunate result of making their supporters idealize them, as a defense. Thus we can't criticize their views and policies properly as the voters should in a democracy. They're seen as victims of the great Gop right wing conspiracy. This is what's holding back our politics from facing reality.

The public will swing from paranoia to over idealization. We have to recognize and guard against this. Otherwise our leaders, even the better ones, can get away with not representing us properly. Tis may be the real damage Trump causes.

We let them get away with too much, while it's all blamed on the Gop congress. We see lack of representation in our downward economic mobility, and our handing over to the big money the financing of our elections.

Meredith NYC said...

Karen.... Excellent sum up of the show on the Intrepid. I missed it and am amazed, reading how bad it was.

Also see nicely sardonic NY Times review of this fiasco--that the morning show star interviews the reality TV star.

"Matt Lauer Loses the War in a Battle Between the Candidates", by James Poniewozik

“The NBC presidential forum on brought together the Clinton and Trump to try to determine who has the strength, preparation and presence of mind to lead during a time of crisis.
It sure wasn’t Matt Lauer.
..., the “Today” host was lost at sea. Seemingly unprepared on military and foreign policy specifics, he performed like a soldier sent on a mission without ammunition, beginning with a disorganized offensive, ending in a humiliating retreat.

There’s a difference between an interviewer who has questions and one who has knowledge, and Mr. Lauer illustrated it.

That interview was the apotheosis of this presidential campaign’s forced marriage of entertainment and news. The host of NBC’s morning show interviewed the former star of its reality show “The Apprentice,” and the whole thing played out as farce.”

My thought --- we have to analyze why this huge media conglomerate with a vast staff of long time political experts picked Lauer for this, instead of others on their staff for this event?
Why do the standards of the morning shows predominate?