NEWS AS ENTERTAINMENT – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Something tragic happened to America’s news media in the early 1980’s. Before then, the news divisions of the major television networks were not expected to make money. They were considered to be a public service designed to give people the information they needed to be well-informed voters and intelligent citizens. At some point in the 1980’s, the news was suddenly expected to make a profit, like the other divisions.

News budgets got cut, investigative journalism, which takes time and personnel, went out the window. The emphasis shifted to what “sells” the news and gets good ratings.

The most trusted man in America during his career

The phrase “infotainment” got coined and the percentage of accurately informed citizens plummeted. The internet became a big source of news for many people, but the standard remained – give people what they think they want, not what they should know to make well-reasoned civic decisions.

Our news reporting tends to be ethnocentric. All forms of American news media report every word the president utters and every tweet he writes. Yet there is very little coverage, if any, of things going on in other countries which can often affect world politics and economics. This is what sells and doesn’t sell in U.S news.

Our news media also tend to focus on violence and sensationalism here at home, again, because this is what sells. Violent crimes in the U.S. are covered ad infinite – murders, assaults, rapes, police shootings, mass shootings, etc. Many of these are valid news stories, but so are the massacres, crimes against women and government sanctioned murders that happen daily elsewhere in the world and get little coverage.

Sports, celebrity and local government scandals are also wildly popular and omnipresent news stories. But I wish they were covered less and more was reported about the massive corruption in our system that allows Big Pharma or Big Food, insurance or oil lobbies, for example, to determine what drugs, food, insurance, oil, etc. we get and at what prices. These stories get some play but not with the frequency, enthusiasm and decibel level of the latest psychopathic murderer or morally questionable politician or media star.

No one has the time today to read or watch everything out there purporting to be news and decide for ourselves what we need to know to understand what is going on in our country and in the world. I wish we could go back to the days when we trusted an impartial media to sift through the world news and honestly decide for us what was important to know.

THE ” WAR OF THE WORLDS ” MYTH – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I went to a presentation celebrating the 80th anniversary of Orson Welles’ 1938 radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds”. The reason this particular broadcast has lived on in history and is still remembered and talked about today is really quite interesting.

Orson Welles broadcasting “The War of the Worlds”

The radio play starts with a typical program playing music from a live band. This fictional program is then interrupted by a realistic sounding “newscaster” reporting an increasingly destructive invasion by Martians. The Martians wipe out New Jersey and proceed to annihilate Manhattan. They are reported to be landing all over the east coast of the United States. The U.S. army is reported to be vanquished and the audience is told that we have no defenses left.

Rehearsal of War of the Worlds

Newspapers the next day, including the New York Times, headlined a nationwide panic that made this incident the most notorious event in broadcast history. The unprecedented mass hysteria was talked about in newspapers, books, articles and radio and TV shows for the past 80 years.

The day after the broadcast

There were reports of thousands of panicked calls to police and radio stations across the country. There were stories of traffic accidents, near riots and hordes of panicked people in the streets and on the roads, fleeing the Martian invasion. There were even reports of suicides and deaths due to the hysteria caused by the broadcast. It was claimed that the stories continued in the newspapers for two weeks, with over 12,500 articles about the panic.

The day after the broadcast

Today, however, this version of history has now been debunked and fallen out of favor. The current belief is that whatever panic occurred, it was small and not widespread. Most listeners understood this was a dramatization. While some may have been scared by the story, few panicked. Evidence shows that at the time of the event, newspaper reports of the story actually stopped after a day or two, not weeks. The story was not the long-lasting, national headline grabber we believed it to be.

In addition, far fewer people heard the original broadcast than most people believed. This fact makes the magnitude of the reported panic much more implausible. A rating service the night of the broadcast reported only 2% of listeners were even tuned in to The “War of the Worlds.” This was true, in part because Welles was scheduled opposite one of the most popular shows on the air – Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.

In addition, several important CBS affiliates, including in Boston, didn’t even air Welles’ show. Instead, they aired local commercial programming, which further reduced Welles’ national audience.

History does show, however, that the story grew in magnitude and in detail as time went on. So the 1940 claim that one million people heard the broadcast is grossly exaggerated.

Just as the size of Welles’ audience has been inflated, so have the reports of mass hysteria. There is no documentation of any deaths or even hospital visits, as claimed, due to the shock of the broadcast. In reality, there were almost no contemporaneous news accounts of mobs in the streets or highways jammed with fleeing people. In fact, people later reported walking through the streets of major cities at the time of the broadcast and finding them as empty as usual at that time of night.

There is another piece of evidence used to counter the mass panic scenario. If the terror and chaos had been as bad and as widespread as reported, CBS and Welles would have been severely reprimanded or even punished. But no sanctions were levied and no official rulings or regulations were promulgated by the FCC.

Welles facing the press the day after the broadcast

So why was the mass panic story started and why did it survive for so long?

One credible theory is that newspapers were to blame for the origins of the story. Radio was still a relatively new medium in 1938 – only 18 years old. But already radio was taking advertising dollars and audiences away from the newspaper industry. So the newspapers seized upon this opportunity to trash the radio as an unreliable source of news. A newspaper trade journal at the time wrote: “The nation as a whole continues to face the danger of incomplete, misunderstood news over a medium which had yet to prove …that it is competent to perform the news job.”

You can’t trust the radio! Fake news!

People are now debating why this myth has persisted for so long. One answer is a man named Hadley Cantril. He wrote a scholarly book in 1940 that gave academic credence to the panic. He used numbers and statistics that made his story seem plausible, but which have subsequently come into question.

He had no hard facts to back up any of his assertions. And he is the only legitimate academic source that claims there was a sizeable panic. Yet his writing has kept this version of the story in textbooks, as it still is today.

There is a more philosophical explanation of the persistence of the mass hysteria myth. In 2000, Northwestern’s Jeffrey Sconce wrote an article called, “Haunted Media”. In it, he suggests that the “War of the Worlds” myth captures our unease with mass media and the internet’s power over us. We all fear, on some level, the media and the internet “…invading and colonizing our consciousness.” The myth is “…a cautionary tale about the power of the media.”

Jeffrey Sconce

Radio opened up a new means of mass communication and shared experiences. Now the internet is doing the same thing. Sconce states that “…today the internet provides us with both the promise of a dynamic communicative future and dystopian fears of a new form of mind control; lost privacy; and attacks from scary, mysterious forces.”

This is particularly true with today’s epidemic of fake news, foreign intervention, and manipulation of the internet and domestic political dirty tricks. We deal with political misinformation being spread to millions of people every day. A national panic may not have occurred because of a radio broadcast in 1938, but it is more likely to occur today because of the abuse of the internet.

Wasting away in MAGA-ritaville – REBLOG – THE SHINBONE STAR

I can’t write about these last two horrors. I’m literally too angry and upset … and on some level, scared. If this election goes wrong, our geese (or is that gooses?) are cooked.

THE SHINBONE STAR

MAGA-ritaville, infested with MAGATs.

Sunday, first day of a new week still dripping with horror from the one that went before.

We’re wasting away in MAGA-ritaville, people, a place where Americans of conscience must divide their attention between a plot to assassinate high-profile foes of President Donald Trump by one of his acolytes, and the horror of a Pittsburgh synagogue shooting where a right-wing extremist who called Jews the “children of Satan” murdered 11 of them.

And the president? No acknowledgement that his hate-filled agenda has anything to do with either case, even though one suspect’s vehicle was a rolling shrine to MAGA ideals, while the other’s hatred for a Jewish group that provided assistance to immigrants is a page from the course syllabus for Trumpism 101.

Facebook — swarming with news of both horrors — says I must be angry or sad, with no possibility of being both. And…

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PIZZA WITH PINEAPPLE AND CRISIS ACTORS – Marilyn Armstrong

WEEKLY Word Prompt: Question


The answer to most serious questions is another question. Serious things don’t have simple answers. For example, “Does this pizza require a longer time to cook or will it dry up?” There are no quick answers to any questions pertaining to pizza.

Pineapple pizza
Credit: Getty

Let’s discuss pineapple. Whose idea was it to put fruit on a pizza and why does anyone actually order it? I can understand anchovies, even though no one can force me to eat one. Salty is okay on pizza, but FRUIT? Seriously?

And then, there are politics. How can you look at yourself in the mirror when you are caging children … for any reason? How can you face a kid who survived a mass school shooting, tell him or her that “it didn’t happen” and “he/she is a ‘crisis actor'”?

What’s a crisis actor?  How do you recruit them? Do you advertise in a special “Help Wanted” section of some undercover actor’s journal?



HELP WANTED – CRISIS ACTORS FOR FAKE SLAUGHTER

Are you the kind of actor who plays dead really well? Can you stay very still while buckets of blood pour out of you? If you are under 18, white, and ready to play dead, we want you. Resume required. Non-union.



You’d need a second advertisement, too. For families. Grieving parents, friends, and teachers.



HELP WANTED – GRIEVING FAMILY FOR MURDERED KIDS

Can you cry on cue? If you can convey deep sorry and heartbreak on camera, we need you to play the devastated parents of crisis actors for mock, mass school shooting. Standard rates apply. Send headshots, color only. Ability to cry with real tears mandatory. Non-union.



So many questions, so little time!

LET IT BE – Marilyn Armstrong

As did many others, I thought a few people might develop a conscience and a spine and not put Kavanagh on the Court. We thought someone might use their head for something other than a hat rack and realize jailing children was immoral. We thought they might hear the kids who had not been shot at their own school, hear their voices.

They didn’t do any of these things.

So we have an immoral drunkard Supreme Court Justice, babies in jail, lots of dead kids, and jailed babies many of whom may never find a home.

It didn’t happen. No spines, no consciences.

There’s only one thing left. Vote.

Please vote. Make sure all the people you know who can vote and have their heads outside their asses vote too. Drive people who need a lift to the voting place.

To put it simply, this is it. We’re out of time. The world has a dozen year to repair itself before we can’t stop the descent of Earth into…? I don’t even know what we will be if we can’t stop the planet’s destruction, but sometimes, being old has some advantages. I won’t live to see the end.

Pogo – Walt Kelly – 1971w

We can’t fix everything, but we can give it our best shot. We can do our best to try to talk to people who are still able to listen — and there aren’t many of them left. Everyone is dug into position. I don’t think there are a lot of minds we can change. If nothing else, these past two years have ossified the minds of everybody. We all need to unfreeze our minds. A lot of things need changing — fast — and we have to forget there is a box and think in new and different ways.

To all my younger friends, everyone does the best they can with the world they inherit. No generation gets a map showing you how to fix things. For each of us, the world is a different place with unique issues. What worked for us probably wouldn’t work today. Moreover, even when you get it right, your “right” isn’t permanent.  You can pass the “right” laws and un-pass them before your not-yet-born kid makes it to kindergarten. There is no forever.

Governments and countries are not forever. There is no Roman Empire, though it lasted a long time. FYI, the Roman Empire began with the crowning of Gaius Octavian Thurinus in 31 B.C. and fell to the German Goths in A.D. 476, for a total of 507 years. The Byzantine Empire, Rome’s eastern half, did not fall until the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453.

What happened to the Assyrians and the Babylonians? How about the Philistines or the Greeks? Or, for that matter, the British? Empires and governments come and go and this country is very young. If we were to end right now, we wouldn’t even make the historical timeline. We haven’t been around long enough.

Nothing is permanent. Not governments,  politics, religion, or morality. Not culture or society. We reinvent ourselves over and over. Good times, bad times. That’s just how it goes.

My generation can’t fix it. I’ll vote as I have always voted: liberal and democratic. But after that, it’s up to other people. If they don’t vote, we will lose. History happens. Each of us is part of it, like it or not. Be a good part of history. Do the right thing. Vote. We have a planet to fix.

And don’t forget to think before you vote!

I’ve been waiting to find intelligent life on earth. I’m still waiting.

A SURREAL DAY – Garry Armstrong

“This has to be one of the most surreal days in a surreal administration,”   CNN Anchor Jake Tapper offered this assessment, opening the late afternoon segment of his newscast.

Tapper was referring to rapper Kanye West’s bro-mance visit to the Oval Office today. Rambling and profane, West’s rant apparently left Commander-In-Chief 45 speechless,  a formidable accomplishment in itself.  The West-Trump bro hug was the perfect photo-op in a scenario that ventured where even Mel Brooks would not go.

WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 11: (AFP OUT) U.S. President Donald Trump hugs rapper Kanye West during a meeting in the Oval office of the White House on October 11, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Oliver Contreras – Pool/Getty Images)

West, presumably speaking for some segment of the Nation’s African-American populace, had nothing but praise and atta-boys for the President who sat with a broad smirk on his face as West delivered rambling compliments.  On the surface,  it seemed like a  boost for a racially divisive administration with the midterm elections less than two weeks away. Kanye West, to be kind, is not generally held in high regard by people of color.   Music?  Yes.   Politics and all things concerning civil rights, NO.  It’s a given that Kanye West’s high-profile salute of Commander 45 will have “legs” and be on a continuous loop for GOP spinmeisters. It’ll be fodder for the late-night comics, but who’ll have the last laugh?

I wouldn’t be surprised to see clips of Kanye West, in his MAGA baseball cap, pop up frequently as GOP candidates shift into high gear for votes with the days dwindling down to a precious few.

It’s shrewd politics on a day when most of our attention is focused on Hurricane Michael’s devastating wrath.  Once the major newscasts wrap their hurricane coverage,  the Kanye West story will get lots of play.  It’s win-win for the administration trying to spin away from the residual anger and bitterness that surrounds Brett Kavanagh’s Supreme Court nomination.

All the Kanye jokes will play well in the Trump hinterlands where minorities are regarded as fools or tools whose collective cord isn’t long enough to reach the socket.

Here’s hoping the political reporters and commentators are shrewd enough to dissect the controversial rapper’s White House rapport for what it is.  A one-way love affair with between two mentally defective guys who will do anything for attention — with no real affection from the West Wing where they are probably snickering over their cheeseburgers and smoothies.

Yes, it’s a surreal day but it’s also a sad day.  Time for some encore plays of “Send In The Clowns”.

REAL REPORTERS – Garry Armstrong

Word Prompt: Credibility

It’s never been a one-man show.

I logged more than 40-years in TV and radio news,  including 31 years at one Boston TV Station.  I’m always flattered when people say they remember me and my work. The body of work is considerable. Usually 3 or 4 daily newscasts, 5 to 6 days a week,  48 or so weeks a year times 40.  That’s a lot of news, good, bad and ugly.

A reporter,  the face in front of the camera,  gets the credit for everything. The images of life, death and the furies of Mother Nature.  Wars and Peace. Happiness and sorrow. You see the reporter, center screen with a name graphic, proof that he or she saw everything in the visuals that tell the story.

It’s a false premise.  It’s impractical. The reporter couldn’t possibly be in all the places seen in the story that has you riveted to the screen.

We’re called “talent” in business lexicon.  That should be a dead giveaway. We’re the human, face connection, to all those images on your screen.

The real reporters are the people behind the cameras.  The men and women who frequently put their lives on the line to bring you the pictures, the video seared into your sense memory.

I’m proud of all the awards I’ve received over the years. I’d be a liar if I said the hardware didn’t mean anything to me. They are reminders of the stories covered across four decades – on the local, state, national and international stages.  The awards have my name clearly etched, front and center. But I can see all the faces of those responsible for bringing the stories to life.

In the 60’s,  I was a green rookie, assigned to the national and international news,  landscapes that ranged from Vietnam, civilian dissent against the war, Civil Rights marches and violent opposition,  assassinations of national leaders,  a historic walk on the moon and a music-culture changer called Woodstock. I was a 20-something, agape at all these events I was covering for Network News.  It truly was baptism under fire.  I survived because of veterans whose careers began with the birth of radio and television news,  The great depression and World War Two.

The 20 something was handed the keys to the news kingdom.  Right place, right time. I may have often been driving the big car but those veterans always rode shotgun,  guiding me through some very difficult mazes of network news closed-door battles with the Pentagon,  the DOD and the White House.  I had a grizzled news manager who always counseled me, “Just tell the truth…make sure you’ve corroborated 2 or 3 times at least.

Don’t let the Pols or Generals faze you…make sure the stories are short, punchy…dump the adjectives”.

All that was behind me when I landed in Boston in 1970. If I thought I knew it all, I was dead wrong.  Boston was just edging its way into a golden era of TV Journalism.  The technology was rapidly changing and changing the way things were done.  TV news was still viewed with skepticism and contempt by many old-school journalists who believed the word was stronger than the picture.

Boston is a highly regarded news market. It can be tricky for a newcomer not versed in the proper pronunciation of towns and cities or the political landmines in seemingly benevolent Norman Rockwell like settings.

I was thrust into local celebrity by being a general assignment reporter covering blue-plate special stories of murders, fires, prison riots,  sexual predators, bad weather, and quirky politics.

I quickly learned to lean on the experience of the people shooting the stories.  They knew the players, the back stories,  the dos and the don’ts.

A news director (one of nearly 3 dozen I survived) told me to keep the camera crews under my thumb.  He said they were just ‘picture takers’, ‘lumpers’ and ‘complainers’.  That news director was history before I figured out how wrong he was.

Those picture takers really were reporters who saw everything around them. They knew when someone was just using his “face time” to dance around the truth and delay legal consequences. They warned me about the “frauds” and “fakers,” political and community leaders who could clean your pockets while shaking your hand.

I am especially thankful for the photojournalists who covered “the mean streets.”   They’re the ones I always saw at 3 o’clock in the morning at a devastating fire,  a triple homicide or drive-by shooting.  They always knew more than the eye-witnesses or law enforcement people just catching the case. I apologize to those whose names are omitted.  It’s impossible to do justice to all of you who were there for me and other reporters over all those years.

Boston is a unique TV news market because the competition is benevolent.  Everyone wants to be FIRST with the story, especially with the advent of electronic newsgathering.  Everything is “Now”.  It happens and,  in a few minutes,  you’re expected to be “live with breaking news”.  Truth and facts often become victims in the quest to be fast and first.

Reporters feel the pressure.  They often feel their jobs are on the line if they are not first.  The folks behind the cameras become a calming force.  They’ve observed the scene, the people, possible evidence.  Often, cameramen and women can figure out the story while fielding frantic and demanding calls from newsrooms.  Over the years,  I’ve leaned on camera and tech crews, not only from my station but also competitors.

I’ve been slipped pieces of paper with key information during live shots and looked like the best damn reporter in town.  In truth,  I was saved by a competing cameraman who saw me struggling and threw the lifeline.

I’ve been praised for memorable “standups” — those on-camera appearances where we look you in the eye and deliver riveting reports. The truth is those words often came from the people behind the camera.  Their words, repeated with sincere conviction by me.

The camera folks also correct information that we, seasoned reporters,  are sure is true.  I was often interrupted with,  “Garry, I don’t want to tell you what to say.  You always know what you’re doing…”   The bulb in my brain flashes — “Listen, know-it-all breath”.

So,  this is a thank you to Richie, Andy, Nat, Jack, Premack, Warren, Eddie,  Susan, Leslie, Noot,  Messrs. Richard Chase, “Fast Al”,  Stan The Man and all the other REAL — behind the camera reporters.

These were the journalists who enabled me to have such a long and satisfying career. Thank you!