Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Why Does Marty Kaiser Want To Be My Friend?

I have written a lot of awful songs through my many years of amateur folk-rock pretension.  But one I wrote over 30 years ago seems to have some staying power, even though the subjects of the song have not.  It's an ode to the three network anchormen (yes -- men) who dominated TV news dissemination from their desks and chairs after the pioneering days of Walter Cronkite and Huntley/Brinkley had passed.

These were the days before Ted Turner's revolutionary CNN created the 24-hour news cycle, eventually leading to the current niche-ification of the news, where you can now browse per your preference for the trivial (sadly, CNN), the (sometimes) thoughtfully substantive MSNBC and the nut-right fact-and-attitude alternate universe of Fox News.  As helpfully instantaneous as these news outlets often are to the chronically vicarious  ("Let's go live to Los Angeles, where a car appears to be going the wrong way down a one-way street...wait, we are breaking away to Ames, Iowa, where Newt Gingrich's head is about to explode..."), more means less in a world where there is no longer a standard set of news-facts we can all argue about and work to change.

Anyway, my song -- "(Why Does) Dan Rather (Want To Be My Friend)" --  is about the three network news anchors as they existed in the post-Cronkite, pre-cable '80s and how they tried to sell themselves to a too-salable public. As essential rock critic Robert Christgau used to write (or still does), here are some Inspirational Verses:

Why does Dan Rather want to be my friend?
I can tell by the way he smiles right at the end...

Why does Tom Brokaw wanna get to know me?
If he's got some news, man -- I wish he'd show me...

Why does Peter Jennings want to read my mind?
I'm just a demographic -- I'm just a certain kind...

...and so on. These days, only Brian Williams on NBC maintains the traditional anchor gravitas, albeit with the occassional knowing smirk.  The revolving chair at CBS has made the Cronkite network irrelevant and over at ABC, former Nixon speech writer Diane Sawyer is still, well, Diane Sawyer. But the network anchor as cultural icon or anything but an occasional curiosity is over.

But, in this post, we are not concerned with TV heads trying to charm us (or, in the case of Fox and Friends, right-wing nobs providing us enough comic fodder for a month of Daily Shows).  We are immune to their supposed charm anyway, bombarded as we are with promotional shots of news show hosts posing in front of the Hoover Dam or in coffee shops. 

No, today, Journal Sentinel President/Publisher Elizabeth Brenner and Editor Martin Kaiser are the ones who want you to like them -- really, really like them. The newspaper, you see, is about to jump off the cliff of pay-for-content in its on-line offerings, starting January 4th.  To prepare you for this abrupt change of paying for the crap you now get for free, the paper ran a full-page ad for itself this morning [can't get a link to it], explaining (sort of) the change and trying to convince you how great it is. Details about how to give them your credit-card information to begin the extractions will follow in due course.

In the ad, er, "letter" (not available at JSOnline and, although there was no companion story in the business pages or anywhere else in today's paper, a story popped up on-line this morning), "Betsy" and "Marty" are featured in glossy pictures like the kind you would see in a Flomax or funeral home ad.   After patting themselves on the back for making themselves irrelevant by endorsing Scott Walker and fighting the recall campaign -- oops, I mean for winning Pulitzers and covering the Brewers' and Packers' playoff runs (tough job, that), they drop the bomb. "Now, it’s time to look ahead," they write.  Oh, oh.  Here it comes.  Hold on to your wallet or prepared to be less informed about the Journal Sentinel's version of Milwaukee and Wisconsin.

The pay-for-content scheme is branded as JS Everywhere -- who, after all, could argue with that, being everywhere, isn't that wonderful? The dwindling number of people who subscribe to the dead-tree version of the paper can be everywhere for no additional cost. And, like the current scheme at the New York Times, you can be everywhere on the website, until you've hit 20 links in a month, then ya-gotta-pay, somehow.  Wonderful apps are promised for all mobile devices "or whatever the next big thing is". Oh, that Journal Sentinel -- always looking forward, except when it comes to radical Republican governors who they could have predicted would run roughshod over Wisconsin tradition, progressivism and bipartisanship.  

I understand all legacy news content providers (i.e.: newspaper companies) around the country are stuggling with a new world where people no longer need their publications to stay what they consider to be informed.  And there is no substitute for the numbers of reporters built up over the years (even with the decimation of staffs at the J-S and everywhere else) to report on local, national and international events.  The economic model has obviously collapsed. 

But much of the Journal Sentinel's increased local coverage (encouraged by newspaper industry consultants to sustain relevancy) has devolved into simply providing hysterically sensationalized stories to give right-wing talk radio something to talk about.  This is especially the case when it involves the struggles of underclass African-Americans, whether it's co-sleeping or child-care providers.  Interesting information to a point, but there is nothing a racist like Mark Belling enjoys more than sneering at the failures of blacks in the inner city.

As long as Journal Communications Inc., through Charlie Sykes and its other wing-nut squawkers on the radio, the rest of their properties -- including the Journal Sentinel -- will always be compromised.  JCI also contributes to the poisoning of the airwaves in other parts of the country, sending the reprehensible J.T. Harris to its station in Tucson and former WISN part-time wing-nut Nick Reed to Springfield, MO.  The question isn't whether the Journal Sentinel will survive in its increasingly-digital form, but whether it deserves to.

As James Brown once said, Take it to the bridge:

I grew up -- with space shots and assassinations
Saw riots in the street -- I watched with fascination
I watched the revolution -- on my TV
Watching Walter Cronkite at my daddy's knee

There, on the floor while we watched Cronkite, were the afternoon Milwaukee Journal and the Sheboygan Press.  That was back when newspapers were newspapers -- not audience-seeking multi-media conglomerates, using consultants rather than news judgement to squeeze every last dollar out of their collapsing circulation.  The Journal Sentinel's pay-to-read experiment will rise or fail on the merit of its content, not because of Betsy and Marty's sugar-coating their own harsh reality.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

620 WTMJ Can Run But It Can't Hide

Democratic Spokesperson Graeme Zielinski is on to something with his direct challenge to the WTMJ radio station for its pathetic hosting and promotion of Charlie Sykes on their valuable airwaves.

If you haven't heard his excellent sandbagging of the hapless 620 news dweebs last week, take 5 minutes and listen to it now.

Here it is.

Zielinski digs in from the get-go, lumping news director Jon Byman and morning host Gene Mueller (who he repeatedly calls "you guys") in with Sykes, whose daily Walker Protection Show immediately follows them on the Journal Communications Inc. flagship biggest-stick-in-the-state radio station.  You can almost hear Byman and Mueller's eyes roll as they try to control the unexpected and badly-needed attack on their straight news credentials.  As the obedient Byman tries to promote the GOP-designed multiple-signature-and-Mickey-Mouse-signing meme to smear the recall effort, Zielinski was having none of it. "You guys are doing a great job hyping the case," he said. "You guys are running around 24 hours a day with this false narrative...promoted by your friends at the MacIver Institute..." The whole performance was a beautiful take-down of the TMJ brand, which has been forever tarnished by their association with the likes of Sykes, Jeff Wagner, and all of the other False Prophets of The Nut-Right.

Gene Mueller has been a welcome voice on Milwaukee morning radio for decades -- especially his many years teaming up with the legendary Bob Reitman on the late WKTI.  His everyman-from-Sheboygan shtick is still a welcome addition to the 620 morning show, but, as Byman tries to getting a word in edgewise with the on-a-roll Zielinski, Mueller says the stupidest thing in the segment.  "Graeme, what happens on this station after 8:30 is none of my concern," he said.  This from the guy who makes happy-talk with Sykes about his upcoming lies at 8:25 every morning.  This from the guy who often sticks around to provide supposedly straight news reports during the Sykes hours.  If the kind of poison Sykes spews into the air every day after 8:30 is really none of his concern, maybe he should make it of his concern.  Gene Mueller's formerly rock-solid reputation as a regular-guy-on-the-radio and a half-decent newsman is put in jeopardy every time he engages with or promotes the Garbage Within his own radio station.

TMJ radio honcho Steve Wexler -- who is responsible for much of the poisoning of the Milwaukee airwaves, from his days at WISN where he promoted, if not hired, the reprehensible Mark Belling, to today where he promotes Republican causes through Sykes, Wagner, (until recently) the ridiculous J.T. Harris, and runs national wing-nuts such as failed comedian Dennis Miller and the knuckle-dragging Michael Savage -- responded to Zielinski's hijacking of the segment by claiming "Our listeners are smart enough to understand that our news programs consistently present opposing viewpoints but that our talk programs have a different mission."

Well, no.  First of all, anybody who listens to Charlie Sykes and believes any of the GOP talking-points he drives on a daily basis isn't "smart enough" for anything, much less making a distinction between straight news and Sykes' blather.  And, what exactly is the "different mission" of the talk shows?  It must be the promotion of nut-bag radical Republicanism and the protection of the FitzWalkerstan.  Nowhere does the station provide a disclaimer, such as "Charlie Sykes' insipid reading and artistic rendering of Republican press releases does not represent the views of station management..." Which can only mean it does. 

On all the Journal Communication entities -- including and especially the newspaper -- talk-radio is the tail that wags the news dog.  From Byman and Mueller in the morning to John Mercure in the afternoon, the so-called "news" programs are only there to provide context and material for the Sykes show, setting up stories he wants to talk about to continue his Save Walker campaign. [Another great element in the Zielinski rant is his reference to "millions of dollars of in-kind contributions" that the station provides to the Walker campaign via the Sykes show.] Do you think, if they wanted to, one of the news guys (I'm looking at you, Gene Mueller) could get on the air and speak un-Sykes heresy or, god-help-us, do a PolitiFact-type fact-check on Sykes' daily lies? 

Don't kid yourself.  Sykes is TMJ's biggest asset in the angry-white-man demographic and is paid accordingly.  He is the Face of WTMJ and every other on-air personality is just his support staff.

As if to prove Zielinski's point, Scooter Walker himself visited the WTMJ studios this morning for a full-fledged love-fest with the supposed newspeople.  Hey, Governor -- you who destroyed careers and schools, drove your agenda like a bulldozer through a pliant legislature, who is about to kick tens of thousands of poor and working class children and adults off of BadgerCare, who is about to remove women's access to cancer screenings -- let's have some of those yummy frosted pecans of yours. After more than three minutes of this happy holiday drivel, the Sykes Support Group on the morning show set up a few softballs for their beloved Scotty, with no follow up to his deliberate lies about the source of the recall effort (out-of-state union "bosses" and blah de blah blah) or anything other questions worthy of a radical, damaged, beseiged soon-to-be former governor. 

After that, the morning team handed Walker off to -- you guessed it -- Charlie Sykes, who "interviewed" the governor in the same studio, with the extra enhancements, I would hope, of mood music, scented candles and flavored oil for the romantic encounter to follow.  I mean, I hope Sykes had the good sense to warm him up a bit instead of just diving right in.  He was hosting, after all.

Yesterday, the Democratic Party launched a brilliant fundraising effort based on the Sykes/TMJ pro-Walker team, encouraging recall supporters send in $6.20 to support the recall effort.  I think we can do better than that: how about $6.20 squared.  That would be $38.44. Graeme Zielinski, congratulations.  The check is in the mail.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Recalling Walker Against All Odds...and Journal Communications Inc.

The growing network of Koch-Scaife-Bradley-ClearChannel-funded media outlets in Wisconsin are in full defense mode to protect the radical regime of Gov. Scott Walker from the recall he has so richly earned. 

The complete stable of radio clowns on WISN aren't so funny anymore as they provide in-kind contributions to the Republican cause on every hour of every show every day, driving talking points generated by their GOP script-writers in Madison and Washington. 

New "organizations" have appeared from the depths of Republican hell, with pretty names like "MacIver Institute", "Media Trackers" and "Wisconsin Reporter". The phony fronts, following the lead of the fake-news pioneers at Fox News, are created of lies and whole cloth, all designed to poison the well of the straight media and to provide the radio squawkers with conveniently false and slanted content, propping up Walker and smearing the loyal opposition.

All of this is made possible by plenty of money from the various Monte Moneybags active in keeping the world safe for the Rich, desperate as they are to prevent reality from intruding on their shrinking privileged world.  From the dirty Koch Brothers to our own local source of national shame -- Michael W. Grebe of the Bradley Foundation and the Walker campaign -- these self-appointed Kings of Industry have radically politicized not only the media, but also traditionally non-partisan organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, into polarizing, Us-vs.-Them campaigners.  They were defending the 1% for years before anyone thought to point out that maybe the other 99% should, like, have a voice.

But, for all of the deliberate lies and ridiculous spin generated by the bought-and-sold other right-wing-by-design media conglomerates, the real Big Dog in the Protect Walker consortium is Journal Communications Inc.

The most obvious gift JCI gives to the Walker Survival Effort every day is their proud presentation of the Charlie Sykes radio show, in which the formerly respectable journalist wallows in the muck of his own filth for three-and-a-half hours every day.  Well-paid (as all the right-wing mouthpieces are) by not only JCI but the Bradley Foundation through his position as "editor" (heh) of a publication of yet another pretend think-tank, the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, and god-knows who else, Sykes uses his snarky "charm" to sell all manner of pro-Walker/anti-recall lies over the formerly respectable WTMJ-AM airwaves. The JCI radio station also recently took national consumer talker Clark Howard off the afternoon schedule in favor of an extra excruciating two hours of talentless local wing-nut Jeff Wagner, showing, if anyone doubted it, their firm commitment to the Walker campaign in the run-up to the recall.

But Journal Communications provides its most important support to the governor they refuse to apologize for endorsing in the pages of its flagship newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  There, the newspaper that not only validated but approved and promoted the recall of Milwaukee County Executive Tom Ament for the sin of believing some bad accountants now stands opposed to any recall of any official associated with the radical Republican jihad that took power in January of this year. 

Earlier this year, the paper's editorial page officially stayed out of the Senate recalls.  Pooh-poohing and tut-tutting the constitutional process the whole way, the J-S refused to endorse in any of the recall elections that resulted in an important narrowing of the Republican margin to one seat (and soon to result in a Democratic majority after more recalls next year).

With the long-awaited Walker recall effort finally underway, the Kings of State Street have become a little more perturbed about their readers ignoring their anti-recall bleatings.  "Recall fever and other illnesses", they call it dismissively, concluding "We don't think Walker's opponents have made a compelling case to recall the governor." Well, that's easy for them to say, since they insist on getting the motivation of the recall effort all wrong. "And make no mistake," they claim in the same editorial, in words echoing Republican talking points, "the recall is proceeding over one issue: Walker's decision to sharply limit collective bargaining for most public workers."

No, the recall is not over a single issue or even about a number of policy differences.  It is about the entire radical Republican agenda, driven not by Wisconsinites, but by Washington think-tanks and Koch-type elites. It is about the way the Republicans drove through their attack on Wisconsin workers and the democratic process (through voter-suppression and gerrymandered redistricting), without review in committee, in the dead of night, without notice, without quorums and without shame. 

The Lords of the Journal Sentinel pretend not to understand the radicalism of the Walker Republicans or the legitimate outrage their actions and processes have produced.  But, like all of the radio talkers who are smart enough to know better, their feigned ignorance and pretended offense at those who would dare to recall is just a facade.  They know they made a big mistake endorsing Walker and refuse to admit (in the case of the Walker regime's forthcoming decimation of BadgerCare) the blood that will literally be on their hands.  So, they defend Walker by pretending to be anti-recall as a general policy.  But then there was that Ament thing...well, that was different.  Somehow.

Not satisfied with pissing on the recall effort in its editorial voice, the newspaper handed over some of its valuable opinion page real estate this past Sunday to the most insipid, childish garbage to run in the Journal Sentinel opinion pages since Patrick McIlheran went on the government dole to shill for our embarrassing Sen. Ron Johnson.  In the column, Tim Keane, the apparently delusional "Entrepreneur in Residence" (heh - really, check the link - it's hilarious) at Marquette University (makes you wonder about them, too) trivializes the very ability to recall. "And," he "writes", "if you're unfortunate enough to wind up in court, well, just get going on recalling those nasty judges. If they rule in ways we don't like, out they go." He goes on to compare the recall movement to "the path to the dictatorship...first plowed unknowingly but unerringly by Tiberius [Gracchus]".

It's a ridiculous, crap piece.  And, from what I can gather, he doesn't even get the history right.  "The killing of a tribune [Tiberius] by the senators was as much an illegal act as was the deposition of Octavius [by Tiberius]. Both parties had disregarded the law, and the revolution was begun."  What has that got to do with anything?  Nothing the recall movement is doing is illegal -- in fact, the process itself is ensconsed in the Wisconsin Constitution for just such circumstances as this -- an out-of-control, radical governor and legislature, doing real damage to Wisconsin itself.

But the Journal Sentinel runs Keane's putrid column to drive another part of the Republcian talking points -- that the recallers only want chaos -- not real, legitimate change.  If they keep trotting out people like Keane, I don't think the Journal Sentinel is going to stand on the sidelines on the Walker recall.  I fully expect them to endorse him -- again -- when the recall election inevitably occurs.  The newspaper has hit the bottom of its long slide, from community leader to obstacle.  It is yet another obstacle that we will overcome. 


OK. I'm back.  Miss me? No more Mondo Media -- back to Plaisted Writes. I'll try to write regularly.