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18 April 2008


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frank durkee

I wonswews why you hadn't been on in some time. I agree. The"on the one hand, on the other hand" stuff doesn't particularly advance one understanding, which i take it to be the function of a news program. I regret you won't be on and I admire your stand.


Couldn't agree with you more on this, and I don't blame you for not showing up there anymore though they really could use your knowledge.

They've been going down this road for quite a while. Time was when they used to have people like Juan Cole on regularly, but even he got dumped very early in the Iraq war, if I remember correctly. Academics and other professional neutrals used to be the staple of the show.

I think the big change came when the right-wing congress put so much pressure on their funding about a dozen or so years ago. Now they need to dance to their sponsors' tunes. The wingers over-reached with their tool at, I think, CPB, but the impulse and necessity are still there.

For viewers the result is exactly what you describe-- you can watch with the sound off and not miss a thing, once you know where the talkers are affiliated.

Kind of sad, really, for all of us who aren't tied in with the sponsors.


I think the journalistic integrity of National Public Televison and Radio have been compromised over the years by constant attacks by the far right.


To my mind The News Hour is the last bastion of Journalism on TV. I can't watch the network or cable news shows anymore.They are entertainment, not Journalism.
It seems like we are sinking like a stone. I never thought I would look back on Nightline with Ted Copple as part of "the good old days" .
A democracy of uninformed idiots?
It's hard to feel optimistic.


Yes, just look what happened to ABC's "Nightline" when Ted Koppel left--it became Entertainment Weekly. I think the reason they put on rabidly partisan opposites, as opposed to a panel of experts with nuanced differences, is to move more towards "Dr. McGlaughlin's Gong Show," as one pundit called The McGlaughlin Group--where you have to fight to be heard.

There was a funny story that Robert MacNeil told about the PBS Newshour when it was only a half hour and did one story. It was about the Portuguese Election. MacNeil said, "In the first fifteen minutes we told you more than any American wanted to know about the Portuguese Election, then in the last fifteen we told you more than any PORTUGUESE wanted to know about it." Well, they've certainly moved away from that, haven't they?


Theoretically we oughta be able to ignore who's talking and concentrate instead on the merits of the talk. After all, so what if a person has an agenda that they're wed to advance regardless of the merits? Basing an opinion on who is giving it rather than the merits is just the old "argument from authority" all over again. And look at all the "authorities" who thought this Iraq thing was gonna be just dandy.

What's depressing though is how sophisticated so many of these folks come across now. They're all so savvy-smooth in presenting what they say as if they'd really change their tune if the facts were different.

And that's the problem it seems to me. People who reasonably *do* change their mind as the facts dictate, or acknowledge that an issue is difficult and that they may therefore be wrong or etc. aren't reliable, and therefore tend not to get hired anymore by the think tanks, or even, sadly, by ideologized university departments. And then even the fair-minded media tend to shy away from calling such folks because they too need a person they can rely on to present this or that side of an issue.

Seems to me maybe the single biggest challenge facing democracy in this sophisticated modern environment might just be distinguishing polemicism from analysis.

Of course it seems horrible on both sides of every issue now, but I can't help but think that the worst recent example is the relative lack of hesitance in going along with a "war on terror." That is, incomprehensibly, a war on a mere *tactic.*

Sure can seem that the path ahead might be a long and problematic one.



I no longer watch Newshour nor listen to NPR. I'd rather watch Jimmy Kimmel and read internet news.
How many of those lapel flags are made in the US?


Col. Lang:

As well as suffering from the usual problems such as entropy that afflict a mature organization, I think the previously mentioned threatened loss of funding due to concerns about liberal bias, has had an enormous negative impact on the program. The Newshour no longer seems able to present news without ensuring that it is presented in a politically correct, i.e., fair and balanced way. Tonight's discussion about Carter and Hamas is a good example.

I also think that The Newshour is experiencing a lack of leadership. Jim Lehrer has been a steady and positive force since MacNeil left in 1995 but recently his on-air presence has not been the constant it had been. The uncertainty as to who will be tonight's host comes across to me as a lack of interest in maintaining The Newshour brand.

Similarly, featured players, such as Shields and Brooks could well be replaced. Their ideas are no longer fresh or stimulating although their role as analysts is an invaluable one.

I think the only correspondent who could replace Lehrer would be Ray Suarez who has the presence and intellectual chops the job requires.

Gwen Ifill would do well but she has her own show and might not want to take on the responsibility for maintaining and rejuvenating this 33 year old TV icon.

That said, I still think that The Newshour continues to do well in other, perhaps less politically controversial areas. For example, the piece they did tonight on the impact of David Shribman on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was both interesting and timely. And the work they have done on health and education has also been excellent.

I'd hate to see us lose The Newshour. A makeover, however, that avoids the mistakes of "cable news" is certainly warranted.

William R. Cumming

The News Hour is now part of MSM! The basic problem is that federal money brings federal controls. They may be hidden, or indirect, but they are there. Once Congress gave up protecting CPB independence the result was preordained. Now the more fundamental question arises, if TV is a federally regulated industry both both as to its finances and content, as other MSM is to a large degree, then how do the people in a democracy predicated on the need to know of the people in order to remain a democracy get its information? Added to compartmentalization and diversification of interests very few are able to synthesize the dynamics of the MSM and their coverage and presentations. Interesting to speculate on what 24/7 MSM coverage, and MSM concentration have really led us to or where it is leading us! A famous Sci-Fi story is about a future where because of the dynamics of information overload, the totalitarian government issues one new word each day and that is the "NEWS." Here's to the future.


It's going the way spats went. It is a corpse for the very reasons you point out. It provides aid and comfort to a particular part of a governing class. It reaffirms the echoes in their heads. It is a mirror, really, for acceptable debate in America these days.


Col., I hope you might reconsider your decision not to appear on that show. Certainly you have your reasons and are entitled to do as you wish. But how is the public to learn and come to informed conclusions if they are never exposed to facts and reasoned analysis?

I recall my mild surprise in the run up to the first Iraq war, when my middle east studies professor appeared for a 30 second spot on one station. He provided concise, reasoned, accurate facts and analysis, with historical perspective. A tour de force, without slant or posturing. I never saw him again. It was clear that the network had been hoping for a cheerleader.

I have great faith that I and your esteemed readers above are not the only market remaining for accurate and incisive news and analysis. Yet we are reduced to finding unvarnished news in the cracks, in their absence, in what has been overlooked and considered too unimportant to suppress or twist, and on page C87 - behind the stock tables, classifieds or box scores.

Last night Bill Moyers interviewed McClatchy's baghdad bureau head. Her few minutes on screen easily provided more information and clarity on the situation than a full year of any network's coverage. For that alone I'd give her a Pulitzer, a raise, and an extra bodyguard. I wish we could demand and expect such quality on every news outlet and every subject.

Duncan Kinder


At a certain level, what you are noting is the increasing tendency of American journalism to report "dog bites man" rather than "man bites dog" type stories.

Dog bites are settled, routine, and classifiable. Man bites are rare, startling, and eclectic. So discussions of dog bites a predictable. Boring.

The entire Israeli-Palestinian issue is such an old saw that it is largely a dog bite story. As you have noted, we can have the pro-Israeli guy and the pro-Palestinian guy - and the rest of us can fill in the blanks... There are novelties in this story. For example, the recent Israeli Lebanon assault has given all of us much new stuff to chew on.

But whether we should "legitimize" Hamas by talking to them? Bring out the No-Doze.

( There is obviously an important place in the general American polity for serious, critical policy analysis of the MidEast - or of dog bites, for that matter. The settled, well- known aspects of this are just not the stuff of journalism. )

What a news organization might do to overcome this battle of competing cliches, would be to have a paradigm shattering series. "Here is the guy with the new, startling, upsetting, even weird approach to the MidEast."

For what it may be worth, I recently have become interested in the role that slums are playing in the MidEast - the idea being that, worldwide, slums are a problem and that various MidEast problems are part of this larger slum problem.

See, e.g. Forbes:

For decades, governments around the world simply abdicated responsibility for this massive urban influx. One result is that most of the world's slum dwellers--a billion people--remain cut off from the legal economy, working outside the tax system and with only tenuous rights to the land on which they live. Into this vacuum of power have stepped all sorts of organic movements. Some are potentially positive: Pentecostalism is on the rise in slums, according to Davis, and Indian slums have spawned influential groups that fight for squatters' rights. But for every benign community organization that rises to power in a slum, so does a criminal gang or a militant movement like Hamas.

This is just a new perspective. Hopefully there are many more. E.g. why are there no Romeo and Juliet stories about the Palestinian boy and the Israeli girl? I once was told that - for all the Israeli and Palestinian strife, the Israeli and Palestinian mafias actually get along quite well.

With respect to MidEast policy, "let a thousand flowers bloom." We will prune them later.

Gene in Chicago

Mainstream Israelis have various views, often views that AIPAC would attack as anti-Semitic. I wouldn't characterize the AIPAC spinner an Israeli, rather a representative from the Likud party.


You're better off with Battlestar Galactica. They've got better looking actors.

Mad Dogs

I too, no longer find The Newshour worth my while.

As for the broadcast networks, a pox on their houses. Katie "But I'm a cheerleader!" Couric has all the gravitas of...well, of a cheerleader!

The same goes for almost all of the cable news networks.

I started watching the BBC America news hour exclusively a few months ago as our political silly season went into overdrive.

Each of the American corporate cable networks claiming they were the "best political blah-blah-blah". Pfui!

Non-stop political gotcha gossip repeated endlessly 24x7 because that's cheaper than having real journalists doing real journalism. Double pfui!

While BBC America too has its "entertainment as news" faults, at least they do it in the typical British understated manner.

The best reasons I watch the BBC America news hour are the facts that they present a more "worldly" viewpoint and far less American-centrism.

Heaven forbid we Americans find out that the universe does not revolve around us.

Lastly, my candidate for a replacement anchor on The Newshour?

Aaron Brown, formerly the best thing CNN had going for it, and unceremoniously dumped for more CNN "trash is news too!"

Yes, Aaron Brown might have worn his liberal flag too high for some, but he was (and is) engaging, thoughtful, articulate, heck, even principled.

None of those characteristics have any value to the American corporate media moguls and their pet trash-collectors news producers.

If you can't dance or sing, you ain't gonna be an anchor on American TV news. Pfui!

Richard Whitman

Lets face it. It is the only real news program available, even if flawed. I thought the piece on Carter/Hamas was informative but incomplete. No one mentioned that Carter was not acting alone but probably on behalf on someone or some group in the US.

David W

Most of the MSM has now evolved into a House Organ for reporting on the 'circuses' (the 'bread' being the Bush tax cuts, I suppose). Presenting a spectacle has become the agenda, as has promoting the Cult of Personality (Have you seen the Hardball ads lately? Do you think Lehrer, Cronkhite or Murrow would have agreed to be pimped like some kind of movie star?)

Reportage and analysis of substantive issues has been replaced by 'he said/she said' soapbox editorializing, which panders to both sides by presenting each side as equally worthy (a tactic always appreciated by 'the wrong side,' as it legitimizes the talking points of their side). Obfuscation of this sort is simply meant to kick the can down the road, which again, is to one side's advantage.

So, today, you have a MSM that focuses on such important issues as flag pins and bowling, which they apparently can't get enough of, while the real stories, such as the battle in Sadr City that SP mentioned in the last post, disappear down the hole, because, imo, they are so compellingly one-sided that there is no way for the Right to spin them--so they keep waving shiny objects in front of the Press, to lead them to new, ever more irrelevant circuses.

Sadly, the News Hour has been co-opted by the Right, and it bears little resemblance to what it was back when it was a real news show:

Critics have accused The Newshour, along with mainstream American media, of being "stenographers to power" with a pro-establishment bias. In October 2006, a study by the left-oriented media analysis group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) accused The NewsHour of lacking balance, diversity, and viewpoints of the general public, in favor of Republican and corporate viewpoints. FAIR studied NewsHour's guest list for the 6 months October 2005 to March 2006. Republicans outnumbered Democrats 2:1 (66% to 33%). People of color made up only 15% of US sources. Alberto Gonzales accounted for 30% of Latino sources, while Condoleezza Rice accounted for 13% of African-American sources. Hurricane Katrina victims were 46% of all African-American sources. On Iraq, "stay the course" sources outnumbered pro-withdrawal sources 5:1 (this ratio continued even after polls favored a withdrawal from Iraq). Not a single peace activist appeared. Public interest groups were 4% of sources. Current and former government and military officials were 50% of sources.[1]
PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler agreed with FAIR's report. These are "perilous times," wrote Getler in his Ombudsman column. "As a viewer and journalist, I find the program occasionally frustrating; sometimes too polite, too balanced when issues are not really balanced, and too many political and emotion-laden statements pass without factual challenges from the interviewer."


Poor Jim Lehrer--how hard it must be to see these corrupt hacks in action, and in having take the public sliming from party hacks like Kenneth Tomlinson.

For those who may have lost track of Tomlinson amongst all of the Bush cronies who have left office in disgrace, he left the PBS board after a number of illegal activities were alleged:

Tomlinson was appointed as chairman of the CPB board by President George W. Bush, for a two-year term, in September 2003. He embarked upon a mission to purge CPB of what he perceived as "liberal bias.[5]" His efforts sparked complaints of political pressure. His close friendship with Karl Rove[6], is one of many concerns the public has had about his own bias and his intent with respect to CPB, and accusations that he was attempting to turn the balanced content to a right wing agenda similar to FOX television[7].
Tomlinson commissioned a $10,000 study into Bill Moyers' PBS program, "Now with Bill Moyers" without informing the board of the investigation.[8] He also retained two Republican lobbyists to try to defeat a Congressional proposal that would have increased the representation of broadcasters on the board, again without informing the board of the contracts.
The inspector general's report issued 15 November 2005 said that Mr. Tomlinson appears to have violated both the federal law and the corporation's own rules in raising $5 million to underwrite The Journal Editorial Report, a PBS program by the conservative editorial board of The Wall Street Journal.

source: Wikipedia

He remains under investigation, although this investigation has expanded, because former State Department IG Howie Krongard stonewalled the original investigation--like he did for many others, including Blackwater. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krongard

I guess that the only people who don't believe there is a Right-wing Conspiracy in this country are the same people who refuse to believe we are in a Recession, or that there is a Civil War in Iraq, or that Global Warming exists. And if you watch the MSM these days, you may find yourself in that group whether you realize it or not!


Dear Col.:

Watching last night reminded me of the segment they had with Nir Rosen and Fred Kagan. I was dumbfounded by Kagan’s presence. Question: what languages does he speak? Does he speak Farsi, Urdu, Pashto? Anyone know?

The Newshour has generally declined, as has NPR, under the relentless attack from the right and the employees know it.

What to do?


The Colonel's succinct explanation for why he sees no need to prove his patriotism by wearing and showing the Flag reminds me of a Texas Sheriff who was asked why he didn't wear the customary "hogleg" pistol: "I've found that I can run faster without one."
I guess he figured that the kind of people that such a useless show would impress weren't worth impressing.


tv journalism is dead.
this web thing is pretty good for news and information, though it does still require ability to evaluate sources,a skill that most of america seems to have missed out on.
i way like your"not a post office" comment, it addresses the core issue. when we try to own the flag as individuals we detract from the"idea".
no, i haven't read obama'a full comment on "the flag as idea" but i was happy to see that someone else still had that, general, understanding.


Yes. Watch Battlestar Galactica it's actually a very entertaining show. And unlike most of what I see on TV news, at least it's not actively working against it's viewers forming any kind of coherent understanding of the world around us. Plus on BSG you occasionally get angry, hateful Cylon on human sex.

This is a bit of a flippant answer I realize, but the serious answer is really depressing.


Basically the Bush administration has done the same thing to The Corporation for Public Broadcasting that they have with every other federal agency they've touched. Appointed loyalist conservatives to leadership positions with an eye to using it to further their political objectives.

Nancy K

My husband and I turned off our TV sets for good over 2 years ago. We really only watched the News Hour and didn't like the way it was going. Col Lang we always loved it when the 3 Colonels were on.
Now we read Foreign Affairs, Atlantic Monthly, and of course your blog.
We have great conversations to, my husband served in the Israeli Army in 67 and 73 and I donate money to the Carter Center. I find we are much more interesting that TV.


Suggest you try the Spanish news stations. My son in law does, though he does not understand a word. As he says turn off the sound and just watch the beautiful women.


It seems to me the "news" media is in a state of flux and the end-state is not yet completely clear. I think the trend toward serving niche news markets will probably continue for the forseeable future with a few outlets possibly trying to serve all sides. Even The Newshour can't completely ignore this trend and it appears that perhaps the choice of guests invited to discuss issues is a reflection of that.

It may also be a reflection of rampant claims of bias from all sides towards others that characterizes so much of our media criticism. Perhaps the Newshour is hoping to avoid bias accusations by hosting two extremes and calling that "balance" instead of inviting experts without hardened agendas to promote. The latter may risk too much agreement or analysis that falls too much on the "wrong" side of an issue which would surely invite accusations of bias in the current media environment. Unfortunately, even PBS and NPR are not immune from the hyper-partisan environment we live in today.

As an aside, it would be interesting to see the audience demographic for the Newshour and how it's changed over the years. Anyone know if that kind of data is public? Personally I'm not able to watch anymore since it falls right in the middle of the kid's bath and bedtime routine, but I do manage to catch it on occasion.

Mark K Logan

PBS still manages to crank out some good journalism, though. Most recently Leila Fadel got about 20 minutes
with Bill Moyers:

Frontline also produced something really needed in the healthcare debate, a look at how others are doing it on Frontline.

Frontline also produced
"Bad Voodoo", which gives the cameras to the soldiers to tell it their way. Not bad.

"It's not dead, it just smells funny." -Frank Zappa

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