August 1, 2009 - The Priorities of the Press

August 15, 2009

The New York Times recently reported that approximately 1,000 news media representatives were in attendance at a press conference held by South Carolina University’s football coach, Steve Spurrier. The burning issue that prompted the gathering was that Spurrier’s was the lone ballot that did not include Florida University’s All-American quarterback, Tim Tebow, on the pre-season Southeast Conference All-Star Team.

You will excuse me if I wait for a more urgent issue. But the media reps – all 1, 000 with cameras and notepads – were there.

The status of the media is at an all time low. Considering the history of America’s press… going back to Hearst’s war mongering that led to the Spanish-American conflict, it takes some doing to reach the nadir. Of course, reports are flourishing that daily newspapers and news magazines are on their last leg, victims of the internet, website, blogs, and all the other gadgets that pass for progress. Electricity has superseded responsibility and the passing on of information.

Twenty-four hour news cable stations, at best, are irrelevant. They have 20 minutes of news and 23 hours plus of speculation, gossip, rumors and vocal but uninformed opinions. Many of the TV shouters have learned from the hateful radio mongrels, Rush Limbaugh, Bob Grant and Michael Savage to name a few. To justify their existence, they have to top their latest shock statement. Cruel attacks on public figures and slashing commentary maintains their ratings but dissolves the meaning of a free and open and responsible press. They are bottom line hucksters.

President’s Obama’s press conference on his health plan is a perfect example of media on the loose. Obama spoke with clarity for about 58 minutes, enlightening us on the complex aspects of his proposed national health plan. In the final two minutes, he responded to a question about Harvard Professor Gates’ recent incident in his own home.

Two things happened. Immediately after the press conference, talking heads became our interpreters of what we just saw. Fox folks droned on about the President’s failure to fill in the blank spaces…and CNN and other cable news shows sounded as if they had prepared their comments before the press conference. But the two minutes devoted to the Gates – Officer Connelly situation dominated the tabloids and the second-guessers. The New York Post even put Michael Jackson to rest for a couple of days. A crybaby reporter on Fox has determined that Obama is anti-white, i.e. a racist. It is interesting because Fox pundits like Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly…along with radio babblers like Limbaugh and Savage are consistently oblivious to America’s long history of slavery, segregation, selective imprisonment, and racial profiling…and they have collectively determined that any proud, outspoken person of color is automatically anti-white, rather than angry about a lifetime of injustices. They move the dialogue of race away from our shameful history of discrimination and second class citizenship, sliding it into a barrage of allegations that satisfies the frightened people who perceive the loss of power and entitlement.

More and more, the media has become the story rather than the tellers of the story. The passing of Walter Cronkite reminded us of that… as a few sparks of media civility remain – Bill Moyers being the best example of Cronkite’s and Edward R. Murrow’s legacy.

Obama’s beer summit with Prof. Gates and Officer Conley was another example of responsible leadership defusing a conflict and searching for understanding – if not resolution. Much of the coverage of that was about the preconceived notions of the reporters rather than the result of delving into the implications of such a confab.

What the press seems incapable of covering is the fear of white men and their perception that a Black man in the White House somehow lessens their potential and their access to the corridors of power. It is a curious and complicated aspect of social reality…one that when mentioned brings a response of anger rather than reflection. Alpha males always have such difficulty revealing what they fear. It is difficult to begin a dialogue…attempt to find paths for solutions, as revealed this week by the President of the United States. Obama’s effort is almost unparalleled in this country…he being at the opposite end of the male arc from our recent Vice President who saw fear as a weapon to exploit. Most of the editors and reporters and producers who determine what you will read, see or hear are caught in this same maelstrom.

Frightened people cloud the issues…avoid rather confront them. The headlines, prompted by what some are calling “Gates-gate”, reveal more about the messengers than the participants. It is a story about race in America…but it goes deeper than that. It is about justice and fairness and how things are interpreted and received. It is about the fear of losing an indefinable something… a perceived loss of power rather than a sharing of the responsibility.

The messengers have been nurturing the insecurities because it often finds a bottom line that provides big dollars for them. But in President Obama they are confronting a man who is comfortable enough with what he believes and he is proceeding in spite of their collective shouting. It will be interesting to see where and how and who the American public will follow.

Perhaps Coach Spurrier should call a press conference – pretending to comment on another football player and just tell the flock that he is in favor of the President’s health plan or endorse his meeting with Gates and Connelly.

I wonder how they would cover that.

I’m David Rothenberg…out on a limb!


June 27, 2009

August 11, 2009

As the world views the turmoil in Iran, which is both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time, it fascinates me how the talking heads on cable news shows are so self-assured about the solutions. The Fox pundits, of course, in their predictable knee jerk reaction, sit in judgment of President Obama, second-guessing him at every turn. No matter what position he takes, on any issue, they will find fault. We should only be thankful that Dick Cheney is not calling the shots these days because...

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July 11, 2009

July 28, 2009

I don’t despise Sarah Palin.

It has been mentioned, more than once, that critics of the former vice presidential candidate and present Alaskan governor despise her, loathe, hate, abhor her. The right wing radio loves to make her a victim. In fact, I think that she just suffers from delusions of adequacy.

When she is not making headlines, I give her little thought. I am more concerned that someone of such limited capabilities could be given serious consideration to be President of the Unit...

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July 4, 2009

July 28, 2009

In recent months, increasingly more people are saying that they no longer read the daily newspapers, including the New York Times. They are gaining their news or information from the internet and television. The rationalization is that they “don’t have time” to sit down and read a newspaper.

This is of great concern because this is not an isolated sentiment and is in evidence in the apparent thinness of several editions of the New York Times. Because advertisers have dramatically shift...

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June 13, 2009

June 20, 2009

If you look northward towards Albany, I’m not sure if we should laugh or cry. What is happening with the state government is difficult to define…part Greek tragedy, part Marx Brothers movie.

Whatever it is, let me alert you to one thing…follow the money.

The Democrats, in total power for the first time in nearly four decades, were positioned to make dramatic and progressive changes in the state. Then Governor Spitzer with an impressive prosecutorial history was exposed by a sexual da...

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May 30, 2009

June 6, 2009

A few weeks ago a listener called me – off-air – and railed about my views on criminal justice. “What about the victim?" he shouted, sounding as though he’d made an original accusation. “Don’t you care about the victims?” he repeated.

In the more than 40 years since the Fortune Society began, that cry has been bellowed at me…usually sanctimoniously…as if the accuser had made an original allegation, and was blessed with saintliness.

I often want to respond “What have you ...

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May 23, 2009

June 6, 2009

Last Sunday afternoon, I was propped before my TV set – hand on the remote – prepared to alternate between the Lakers - Houston NBA playoff game and the Yankee - Minnesota baseball encounter.

Tip-off was moments away and a phone call alerted me that Obama’s Notre Dame speech was going live. I surfed and found the talking heads at CNN and Fox. I stayed with CNN. Sports would have to wait for the evening wrap-ups. CNN was offering a predictable debate of the camera focused on the incomin...

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May 9, 2009

May 16, 2009

You don’t have to be an economist to recognize GREED or a social scientist to realize that people who have prospered most from America’s opportunities are the most resistant to provide financial resources to restore the nation’s strength and health.


That is the sum and substance of our current economic situation, inherited by President Obama…a condition nurtured by Ronal Reagan and both Bushes – Daddy and particularly, Baby Bush.


As reported earlier this week President Obama...

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May 2, 2009

May 16, 2009

As long as there are individuals or groups perceived as disposable, our democracy is compromised.

That was certainly the heart and soul of the Civil Rights struggle in the 1960’s…the fact that an entire segment of our population was segregated by law was a contradiction to every concept of human decency, to say nothing of a nation that boasts of its democratic principles. It is difficult for young people today to imagine that – by law – we had segregated movie theatres and public toi...

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April 25, 2009

May 16, 2009

I have a few impertinent questions I would like to pose…and like jesting Pilate, I’ll wait not for an answer and provide them myself.

For example, as I listen to reports about would-be Texas secessionists protesting against the Obama stimulus package or anything else he does, I want to ask them if they have any idea what their tax burden would be if they assumed independence. Let me answer that for the Texans…but first couldn’t you have suggested secession before Bush and Cheney, two...

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About This Blog

These Out on a Limb blog postings are read on David Rothenberg's "Any Saturday" show on WBAI. See