We watch the news so's you don't have to.
MSNBC announced a lineup change for its daytime broadcasting. Two of the new shows are to be hosted by Joy Reid and Ronan Farrow, the son of Mia Farrow and (perhaps) Woody Allen. In announcing the change, MSNBC president Phil Griffin said, “Ronan and Joy are two of the most thoughtful and impressive journalists out there and I’m excited for what they will bring to the afternoon.”
Ronan Farrow is an extremely bright and talented guy. He may well host an absolutely wonderful show. He's an accomplished lawyer and political activist. He is not a journalist -- and most especially not an "impressive journalist." As far as I know, he's just written a bunch of op-ed commentaries for newspapers. But that doesn't make him a journalist, it makes him an expert. This is a minor point, but there's a reason I mention it. It's one thing for someone to refer to him as "an impressive journalist." It's another for the president of a news organization to do so. I can accept others having some wiggle-room in their definitions. I expect the president of a major news organization to be demanding with high standards of what makes journalism. Call Ronan Farrow a thoughtful and impressive political analyst. Say he will soon be one of the most impressive journalists on television. But please, if you're the head of MSNBC News, don't say someone who has zero experience as a journalist is a journalist, let alone one of the most "impressive journalists out there." It puts your standards in deep question.
Frank Rich had a fascinating article in New York magazine in which he makes the case that Fox News is in decline, to the point of being in trouble. His thesis is that the audience for Fox is a quickly aging, white, limited-focus audience in a changing world. There is a lot of merit in his perspective, even while acknowledging how huge that audience is today. However, there's one particular passage I had more trouble with. It's when he writes,
"The only people who seem not to know or accept Fox’s decline, besides its own audience, are liberals, including Barack Obama, whose White House mounted a short-lived, pointless freeze-out of Fox News in 2009, and who convinced himself that the network has shaved five points off his approval rating."
While the "freeze-out" may have been pointless -- or not, that's subjective -- it happened in 2009, five years ago, when the landscape was very different from the "dying" audience Frank Rich is describing today. And also, though Fox New may be "dying" (or not), that's something for the future, not today when, as Rich acknowledges, it still has the most mass audience of all news channels. So, to suggest that such a powerhouse today would have no impact on shaping approval ratings over five years of attacks, seems thoughtless.
I think the world of Frank Rich. I love his writing, his thinking, his perspective and talent. But he's either way off base here or being a bit disingenuous.
Andrea Mitchel is one of the most actually thoughtful and impressive journalists around today. So, it came as a bit of a shock when she interrupted her interview with Rep. Jane Harmon for the big "breaking" story that Justin Bieber had been arrested. To her credit, she publicly addressed the flack and clearly wasn't happy about it, saying, ""It was obviously awkward and unplanned. All I can say is, so be it. It's the luck of the draw." She noted correctly, "I have more foreign policy coverage five days a week on my program than any other program on television, so you can imagine that this was unusual."
It was unusual, and unfortunate. If MSNBC wanted to cover the "story," at least don't interrupt the actual news -- especially when it's from the accomplished Andrea Mitchell -- and present it instead at another time when people who might care would be watching. More unfortunate though was the comment CNN president Jeff Zucker, who said he was "incredibly comfortable" with how his network dealt with Biebernews. Given that it was Jeff Zucker though whose heart for real news coverage is probably not terribly high, I suppose his comfort level is to be expected.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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