With the return to pre-pandemic behavior in newsrooms, critic David Zurawik reflects: “Adaptability, resilience, being nimble and the willingness to improvise are some of the lessons TV can teach us from the last 15 months. But there are deeper aspects of our relationships to the screen that bear further thought, such as how important those screens and the stories told on them have become to our lives.”
David Zurawik: There are some curious decisions by the administration of President Joe Biden that make me a little skeptical about his media strategy. Like no news conference during his first 50 days in office. Or going on the road this week to sell his landmark relief package and using local TV stations to “speak directly to the American people.” In fact, if I wasn’t so pleased to finally have someone in the White House who at least talks about transparency and honesty after four years of Donald Trump’s lying presidency, I might make a bigger case out of the fact that these strategies feel eerily similar to some employed by Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon in the 1960s to avoid media scrutiny.
Educators might not be teaching civics as well as they used to in middle and high school, but cable TV is doing a good job of it. Viewers are getting a firsthand lesson this week with coverage of Tuesday’s Senate runoff vote in Georgia and the planned challenge Wednesday to the certification of Joe Biden as president. And some mainstream cable channels like MSNBC and CNN have been doing an outstanding job teaching, as well as covering, the news by explaining the Constitution and how government is supposed to work — something too few Americans seem to understand these days.
David Zurawik: “A boy can hope. On the eve of a new year and at the end of one of the most challenging ones I have faced in decades of media coverage, here are some of my best hopes for media in 2021 locally and nationally.”
David Zurawik: Confusion over statements from the current administration “is why I have come to so value the medical doctors and public health experts like Dr. Vin Gupta on MSNBC and Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Dr. Leana Wen on CNN. I have watched hundreds of appearances by them on cable TV the last eight months and have found their analyses and advice consistently informed by science and always easy to understand.”
Once upon a time in a far more stable America, our national agenda was largely shaped by network news, The New York Times, weekly news magazines like Time and The Associated Press. Media productions like the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite not only determined what we would talk about, but also how we would talk about it. Today, the Times and AP are still playing an important role in what we talk about in Congress, at the White House podium, in the media and at dinner tables around the country. But cable TV is the medium most responsible for shaping the national agenda. Yes, that cable TV with all its opinionated talk, conflict, vitriol and coverage often based in ideology more than journalism on a channel like Fox News.
David Zurawik: “While Mr. Trump and enablers in the Republican Party and the media are clearly at the core of the problem, we are at a point where others in our information ecosystem also need to look in the mirror and ask themselves if they have done and are doing enough to give their fellow citizens the information needed to help us stem and survive this pandemic.”
David Zurawik: “Sounds of coughing and moaning throughout the room. Corridors overflowing with gurneys bearing COVID-19 patients, some in postures of distress. Sheets of plastic taped to walls, makeshift borders aimed at protection and some semblance of privacy. This is what ground zero looks like in the war on COVID-19, according to a CNN report that aired Monday. I believe we need to see more of these images from media outlets of the horrible truth shown here.”
David Zurawik: “This has been a decade of revolutionary, existential media change most of which would have happened had he never stepped off that elevator into the heart of the nation’s political life.”
David Zurawik: “As this year of the TV hearing comes to a close, I should be singing [the broadcast and cable networks] praises. There has never been more overall political coverage in any one year than in 2019. But the question that demands not just being asked but also honestly discussed is whether all that television coverage has made any real-world difference. And if not, what does that say about the belief I have long held in the power of TV, which remains the principal storyteller in American life, to change the world with its cameras?”
David Zurawik: “Baltimore TV news needs to get better if this city is ever going to improve. And in all the years I have been writing about media at The Sun, I have seen very little evidence that any of the major stations here are committed to making that happen. That’s one of the most disheartening things I know about Baltimore media. And it was reinforced this month by an outside review of local TV news.”
The Baltimore Sun’s David Zurawik: In 2016, I wrote a piece about the fall of Fox News chief Roger Ailes in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations. I thought of him as a monster because of the sick, toxic, misogynistic workplace environment he created at Fox News as he harassed, assaulted and abused women and put people in power who did the same. But three years and multiple allegations of similar behavior by Les Moonves and Charlie Rose at CBS, Matt Lauer at NBC, Bill O’Reilly at Fox and, of course, film mogul Harvey Weinstein at Miramax, it is clear that Ailes’ actions were not some extraordinarily evil, beyond the pale kind of behavior, as the word monster might imply. Instead, we now know Ailes’ actions were closer to the norm for too many men of power in the news and entertainment industries. But it gets worse.”
The Baltimore Sun’s David Zurawik: “I held my tongue when ABC announced that Sean Spicer was going to be on Dancing with the Stars. I thought there were a million more pressing matters on the media beat that deserved coverage. Besides I felt like I was written out on denunciations of him and his lies from the podium of the White House by the time Donald Trump pushed him out as press secretary. But after watching Spicer’s debut Monday on the show’s season premiere, I started to seethe.”
John Hane: “It’s a complicated series of laws, regulations and court decisions that spurred the rapid growth of pay-only platforms, weakened profits (and caused significant losses) for broadcasters and resulted in necessary cost cuts in almost all aspects of their business.”
David Zurawik: One of the big problems with the media in recent years is the way we always seem to be chasing the latest tweet. When a tweet is news or contains news, we have to chase it. No problem there. That’s a big part of what we do and have always done: chase news. But when we do that to the exclusion of enough analysis and reflection to help viewers and readers make sense of and find meaning in the news, we are failing the audience and democracy. More and more downsized news organizations are failing in just that way.
“False equivalence” is the term for a mistake some of us are making today when we talk about there being two different ways of seeing the world, depending on what cable channels and media we get our information from on this story. But when we state it that way, it also sounds as if the two ways are comparable, perhaps even equal. They most definitely are not.
The Baltimore Sun’s David Zurawik: “On CNN’s Reliable Sources on Sunday, I explained how Sinclair used its WBMA Birmingham, Ala., last week to try to attack the credibility of a Washington Post article in which a women says Senate candidate Roy Moore sexually assaulted her when she was 14 and he was 32. I also explained how Breitbart promoted the WBMA report with a headline on its homepage saying: “Alabama ABC affiliate can’t find one voter who believes [Washington Post] report about Roy Moore in man on the street segment.”
Two months ago, Sinclair warned its viewers about the media’s ‘fake news.’ Now it’s about to take over some of the nation’s biggest stations. Aside from concerns about Sinclair’s political leanings, critics of the Sinclair-Tribune deal also worry about the effects from the increasing consolidation of broadcast station owners.
David Zurawik: “A lot of things puzzle me about the presidency of Donald Trump. But none quite so much as how he went from being one of the most effective media candidates in modern history to one of the most inept media presidents.”
Baltimore Sun columnist David Zurawik: “Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is going to be part of the election-night coverage on ABC. She will be there as one of several analysts. ABC News hiring Rawlings-Blake even for one night after she banned a local reporter from her weekly press briefing is as wrong in its own way as CNN hiring former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski as an analyst.”
It’s time for media in Baltimore to get real with the police. A police department doesn’t get as sick as the Department of Justice says Baltimore’s is without lots of help. And if the media want to really make Baltimore a better place to live, they have to push back against the police — as unpleasant as it might be. In their timidity and abrogation of a watchdog role, too many in the media have become enablers.
You have to admire the financial muscle, if nothing else, of Baltimore’s Sinclair Broadcast Group. How many companies in Baltimore can pony up just under a billion dollars and become headquarters to a high-visibility Washington media institution like WJLA, the ABC affiliate in the nation’s capital? Here are five things I consider worth thinking about as Sinclair moves up into bigger journalistic and political leagues with this deal. They are based on two decades of watching Sinclair operate.
As a media critic, I will limit myself to the disingenuous attack on the media from NRA VP Wayne LaPierre. Of course, it’s a shameless attempt to avoid accepting any responsibility by his organization. But in the interest of a sane discussion about media violence — rather than the demagogued, crazy-right-wing-paranoid speechifying of LaPierre — some social science research, facts and context need to be presented.