MEGA MEGYN

What stands tallest in news, the message or the messenger? These days it’s a toss-up.

Meet the latest addition to media’s Mount Rushmore.  Actually, you already have. So ubiquitous is she, how could you not? In case you’ve spent the year hermetically sealed in the Middle-earth, though, try this:

Anchors a week-night newscast. Check. Smart, articulate, quick witted. Check. Blonde charisma galore. Check. Laser blues with lots of lash. Check. Face of Fox News, talk shows and magazine covers. Check. Soon-to-be author of a memoir sold to HarperCollins for a reported $10 million. Check.

And Tuesday night she’ll head her own prime-time special, boasting a marquee sit-down with of all people, the famously flawed and offensive Trumpet. You remember him, the insult geyser who ballooned her already thriving career into something much, much HUGER!!!!!

Our sympathies; cosmic fame is a heavy burden. Yet she appears to be adapting nicely. The title of her Fox special is Megyn Kelly Presents. A more accurate title:

Megyn Kelly Presents Megyn Kelly.

These are amazing times for journalists in an election season conferring celebrity on many of the used-to-be anonymous.  For that we can thank ever-orbiting social media and cable news channels that fill their gaping news holes with panels of pundits titled “contributors.”  The result is not just endless repetitive chatter—the same people jawing about the same people—but also fame for the conga line of participants, most of them once-obscure ink-stained wretches now queueing for their close-ups.

Kelly beams high wattage in this expanding galaxy of star media, a phenomenon that is worrisome. Anchors and other celebrity journalists flourish largely because of their stature as personalities, the problem coming when their renown overshadows the news they cover. And it often does.

Here was the headline on a Yahoo News account of a recent Kelly interview whose subject, Dan Patrick, didn’t make the cut: “Megan Kelly Hits Hard Against Texas Lt.  Governor Over Trans Bathroom Laws.”

Tom Grunick2As Aaron Altman, the newsroom conscience of James Brooks’ film, “Broadcast News,” says sarcastically, “Let’s never forget, we’re the real story, not them.”
“Broadcast News” is a needle in the eye, its mocking of the ego and ethical values of TV news as relevant now as when the movie was released in 1987.  In one pivotal sequence, the network’s Washington anchor Tom Grunick (William Hurt) wraps a live report following a swiftly resolved military flare-up between the U.S. and Libya, assuring viewers, “I think we’re okay.”

Whereupon his bureau chief mutters: “Who the hell cares what you think.”

In other words, messengers should stay the hell out of their stories, a commandment that benefits everyone. In fact, just the presence of a celebrity journalist can intrude, especially in interviews when the high profile of the questioner threatens to overshadow the interviewee.

Anderson Cooper4

That’s certainly so with CNN star Anderson Cooper, whom a recent poll found to be the nation’s most recognizable newscaster. And no wonder; the guy is everywhere. He’s had his own syndicated daytime talk show. He’s on “60 minutes” in addition to anchoring a weeknight prime-time newscast and hosting most of CNN’s special events, including its giggly annual New Year’s Eve bash with comic Kathy Griffin. Prior to this election season, he would cap each newscast with The Ridiculist, an infantile comedy monologue that stomped on a new hapless schnook each night. And he’s published two memoirs.

There’s a reason why news anchors from San Diego to Slippery Rock are paid more than everyone else on the staff, and it’s not because they are smarter or better journalists. Don’t be shocked if the opposite is true. I know Los Angeles anchors who have had a pretty fair day when they get their shoes tied in the morning.

Newscasts, both national and local, have always been built largely on personalities, with focus groups and other high-priced audience research put in as bricks and mortar.

Back in the day, that Cro-Magnon Walter Cronkite was paid top dollar by CBS News not because he parachuted over Normandy with U.S. troops during World War II. He became the nation’s Uncle Walter—a must watch—because he was magnificently avuncular, something indefinable in his face, voice and manner earning America’s trust.

He, too, was the personification of celebrity. As was ABC News icon Barbara Walters, whose tell-all celebrity chats in prime time generated giant ratings along with tears. I once proposed a new show  titled “Me,” in which a different celebrity would interview her each week. Tonight, Julia Roberts shares secrets about Barbara’s life, loves, secrets and regrets.

All of that is quaint measured against the ego journalism epitomized by media-blitzing Kelly. In the grand tradition of celebrities, she is completing a week-long press tour promoting her prime-time special that The Los Angeles Times splashed across the front page of Sunday Calendar, selling the “Kelly-Trump show” as a clash of titans ala David Frost quizzing Richard Nixon in 1977.

“TAKES TWO TO TANGLE.”

What’s next for Kelly?  No one has said, but don’t rule out “Dancing with the Stars.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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WALKING THE (PARTY) PLANK

walk-the-plankPrediction:

In the coming months, you will hear much about internecine squabbles over the 2016 Republican and Democratic Party platforms. With much media fanfare, these mission statements (This is what we absolutely stand for but not necessarily…) are created every four years by party nobility during their national conventions to name a presidential ticket.

This year’s noise has already begun, amplified by Bernie Sanders threatening a floor fight should he not be fairly represented on the Dems standing committees that codify the party’s plank and convention rules (who will speak and for how long?).  And like a drum roll at a public execution, this low hum will build toward a deafening crescendo at nominating galas where media hordes will gather in hopes of witnessing mayhem.

Major media’s biggest nightmare: they spend big bucks to mobilize for pandemonium at each convention, and oh, m’God, orderliness breaks out.

As if platforms mattered, by the way.

Pop quiz:

Name one plank in the 2012 Republican or Democratic Party platform. Not the entire platform, one plank. C’mon, smarty pants, one itsy bitsy crummy plank. Even one itsy bitsy crummy sliver of one itsy bitsy crummy plank.

Can you do it?

Uh-huh. As I thought, you have no clue. Nor did I until consulting Google.

That’s because party platforms are meaningless throwaways. That will be the case even if the Dems, for example, do officially endorse Bernie’s call for a $15 federal minimum wage and sweeping campaign finance reform. The reality: platforms are obscure political footnotes suitable for archives, scrapbooks and lining the bottoms of bird cages.  They’re swept from memory as soon as they are officially rubber stamped by their respective parties. After which, off they go to the attic, where they sit in the dust beside other abandoned platitudes, as deprived of sunlight as Miss Havisham’s chalky wedding table in “Great Expectations.” In other words, you have to part the cobwebs to find them.

So why all the fuss? Because, with few exceptions, fuss is the adrenalin of this millennium’s Internet-driven, social media-nourished journalism. And conflict is the fuel of fuss.

So beware: if Trumpet and the GOP are somehow reborn as Mister Rogers Neighborhood and the Dems’ Band of Bernies discovers serenity, expect media to fill the conflict void with party planks fought over by party hacks.

******

SPEAKING OF CONFLICT…I had a spirited chat with a very bright conservative Republican about the toxic campaign atmosphere. Yes, he was distressed by his party’s farcical 2016, but adamant: if required to choose between Hillary Clinton and the GOP’s last standing kazoo, put him down for the kazoo.

No, he doesn’t like Trumpet, but would take anyone over Hillary, whom he really, really despises, echoing a visceral response to her shared by many others that is rarely based on anything rational or specific.

Which I find boggling.

Dislike her policies, dislike her judgment, dislike her troubling lack of candor, dislike her body language, dislike her voice, dislike her responses to her husband’s diddling, dislike her.  And boy, oh boy, the woman cannot tell a joke. I get all of that.

But flat-out hatred? As if she were the Lucifer of 2016? This level of animosity transcends partisanship and policy disagreements. Its origins are organic, a revulsion rising from deep within that only a shrink could comprehend.

As for revulsion, I told my friend that even if Trumpet were a Democrat who shared my lefty ideals, I would not vote for him. Not because he is intellectually lazy, which he is. Not because he is unprepared, which he is. Not because he is deceitful, which he is. Not because he’s predictably unpredictable, which he is. Not because he is a jerk, which, c’mon, you know he is.

cubanmissilecrisisBut definitely—slam dunk—because he is demonstrably, perilously unstable. I can envision many scenarios in which his presence in the Oval Office would be not just risky, but lethal. Flash back, for example, to the nail-biting JFK/Khrushchev stare-down during the 13-day Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Imagine if Trumpet had been President.

Kablooie!
A chilling hypothetical, right? Which is why I’d vote for anyone, anyone over him.

Anyone? My GOP friend, knowing my political proclivity, threw out some names as a test:

Ted Cruz? Yes.

Carly Fiorina? Yes.

Richard Nixon? Yes.

George W. Bush? Yes.

Dick Cheney? Oh, boy…but yes.

No one likes a spoil sport. What about Trumpet the entertainer and showman, his pithy tweets and crowd-pleasing monologues that have even many in the media slapping their knees? Do we not all look forward to them? And are they not just a hoot?

On his good days, sure, which, when you think about it, carries its own risk.

In 1985, the great Neil Postman published a prescient book whose warning is relevant now to Americans and media swooning over the fun value of a certain presidential candidate. Its title:

“Amusing Ourselves to Death.”