Wednesday, April 7, 2010

...and Rudy on CNN

Continuing my complain from yesterday and before...

Greg Sargent wants the networks to stop booking Rudy Giuliani to talk about national security, because "walking through the smoke and dust on 9/11 does not give him any authority or credibility on foreign policy and national security issues."  As I said yesterday about Newt Gingrich and the Today Show, this is a Republican story, not a media story.  I'm confident that if Republicans wanted someone who actually knew what they were talking about to represent them on the Nuclear Posture Review, they would let Wolf Blitzer know that Senator Dick Lugar was available.  But you know what?  Dick Lugar probably wouldn't just repeat GOP talking points, might not be willing to say whatever Rush was saying, and can't be counted on to oppose Barack Obama regardless of what Obama does.  Nor if Dick Lugar probably willing to make a fool of himself by getting the basic facts of the issue wrong in order to slam Obama as an appeasing Frenchified terrorist lover.  That's not what the Republicans want on TV; they want Rudy, and so that's what they get.

One more time: it's not Wolf Blitzer's job, nor is it the job of liberals, to pick who represents the Republicans.  If Republicans were unhappy about Giuliani giving their talking points, you can be sure that they would complain to CNN, and someone more in tune with the party would replace him -- but these complaints are all coming from the liberal side, not from conservatives.  That's who Sargent and Benen should be addressing.

(And by the way, Sargent's belief that John McCain knows what he's talking about on these issues is, in my view, quite a stretch; like Giuliani, McCain does appear to care a lot about security issues, but doesn't seem to think that means doing his homework about them.  At least in my opinion).


  1. I'm not sure it's clear from Sargent's post that he's saying one way or the other that McCain "knows what he's talking about" -- as I read it, he's saying McCain holds a position that signals his voice should be listened to; that he is, in effect, the appropriate person to go to for the GOP critique. Which is maybe not so far different from the claim you're making about Rudy, though obviously you're using different evidence.

    Also, a question: Sargent says, "Wolf, perhaps unprepared for this interview, didn’t bother challenging Rudy by pointing out that the new nukes policy exempts Iran, which seems like a relevant fact." Would you agree that that's a failure by Blitzer? And if so, do you think that if the media were to regularly call Rudy on this stuff, Republicans might start putting someone like Dick Lugar on TV instead?

  2. Are you saying, Jonathan, that it is just fine for CNN to invite people who are bald-faced liars on their program and allow them to spout these lies unchallenged?

    You have a different expectation, I guess, for people who call themselves journalists than I do. Sure, that's what the Republicans want, but I'd think that a network journalist might want someone who is actually credible, or at least not a bald-faced liar. Obviously, that doesn't include CNN. But that's CNN's fault, not the Republicans' fault.

    That's what liberals are complaining about. The deck is always stacked towards the Republicans, who are invited to go on shows and lie with impunity and to misinform the network's audience unchallenged. The Republicans have gamed that system for years.

  3. Also, to take that thought of what a journalist's job is a little farther, let's look at a news program like Jim Lehrer's News Hour.

    Now, journalists on that show DO think it is part of their job to invite guests for interviews that actually know what they are talking about. They actually don't invite the likes of Rudy Guiliani to talk about nuclear policy. They don't allow guests to filibuster with canned talking points, and have in fact declined to invite someone back who acted that way.

    And consequently, the News Hour audience is far more knowledgable and informed than any CNN audience. Here's some data for you. Public Knowledge of Current Affairs Little Changed by News and Information Revolutions: Summary of Findings - Pew Research Center for the People & the Press

  4. it's not Wolf Blitzer's job, nor is it the job of liberals, to pick who represents the Republicans

    This blatant straw man argument (no one has even come close to suggesting that it is the job of liberals to pick who represents the GOP on TV) is a strong indication you've lost the argument, Jonathan.

    You seem to think that CNN has no choice in the matter; if the GOP wants Rudy on, they get Rudy on. This is ludicrous. CNN is a damn news organization, not a free soap box/bullhorn for hand-picked party representatives.

    For example:

    GOP choosing Bobby Jindal to give a SOTU response speech = GOP problem.

    CNN having Gingrich and Giuliani as their go-to men for the GOP point of view = CNN's problem.

  5. Greg, James, and Andrew...

    Thanks for the great comments. First, I should be clear: I absolutely do think that Wolf Blitzer should challenge Giuliani, or anyone else giving partisan talking points. I didn't make it clear in the post above, but I did in yesterday's post on Newt -- to the extent that Blitzer failed at that, then I would join Sargent in that portion of his criticism. Also, yeah, I was trying to take a shot at McCain, not Sargent, with that comment, and I probably misfired.

    But beyond that -- I'm not seeing an argument that is convincing. For example, James -- yes, CNN scores lower on the Pew data than does NPR or PBS...but O'Reilly and Rush listeners score just as high or higher as NPR and PBS. What that suggests to me is that either the causation runs the other way (high interest news consumers, who are also high information citizens, are most likely to seek out those shows, rather than the shows making them informed), or else there's another factor that's pushing it. At any rate, one cannot claim that CNN is doing a bad job of informing viewers because they give unfiltered GOP talking points by citing evidence that shows that Rush has highly informed listeners.

    And, no, Andrew, I don't think it's a straw man at all. Benen and Sargent (liberals both) are in fact telling the networks which GOP hacks are appropriate to have on.

    Part of this is, I suppose, an empirical question: do the Republicans effectively narrow the choices that TV networks can choose from to give the GOP point of view? I've never seen a study on it, but I have run across plenty of anecdotal evidence that they in fact do (as do the Dems on their side). Perhaps Greg Marx can weigh in on it...really, it's evidence enough for me that Republicans aren't publicly complaining (as I've seen liberals do when Joe Lieberman shows up on those shows to represent the Democrats).

    One last thing. James, you believe it's an advantage for the Republicans to send out "bald-faced liars." Perhaps...or perhaps it's an advantage for the Democrats that they trot out (relatively) well-informed people to talk on TV. I don't know! But I do know that Republicans aren't doing very well these days, and it's an iron rule of politics that all partisans think the other side is more crafty, better organized, and better spinners. I don't think these things are all that important, but to the extent they are, I hardly think Republicans are helping themselves by putting Newt on TV, and I mostly doubt they're helping themselves by putting Giuliani on.

  6. I still think you're wrong, but thanks (as usual) for the reasoned response!

  7. I thank you for your response as well, Jonathan. I have much to say about the Pew data, but let me address your other point.

    The Republicans don't "send out" Guiliani to CNN. The cables have their Roladex and *invite* these people on. The producers give Rudy's people a call, or Rudy's people give them a call, and the facetime is set up that way. How do you think that McCain gets so many gigs on Sunday talk shows? The producers need to fill a spot, they flip their Rolodex to McCain, or Rudy. The GOP has nothing (or little) to do with that. In fact, they probably wish McCain would stay OFF the Sunday shows.

    The GOP has a hotline for anyone to call in if they are getting some face time, giving the daily talking points. In fact, the GOP sends out scores of emails every day to journos and politicos alike with all the daily talking points.

    You don't think it is all that important, but I think it is important in the sense that CNN is misinforming their audience. I understand you are looking at it from the perspective of how the parties are doing, but I am coming from the perspective of my friends and colleagues in real life being grievously misinformed, as respectable citizens who believe they are keeping up with the news by watching CNN, who sell themselves as a "real news" station but in reality field political hacks and choose to allow them to lie and distort with impunity and without challenge. And so they ended up completely misinformed about HCR, confused about, for example, whether a 40-year old woman with a lump in her breast would be denied a mammogram, whether they would or would not have MediCare when they retire. They are the ones who still kind of believe that Saddaam had perpetrated 911. Not stupid people, Jonathan, misinformed people, because they think that Wolf Blitzer and John King are the second coming of Walter Cronkite. And they believe that they are responsibly keeping up with current events by watching CNN. That's a big, big CNN FAIL in my estimation.

  8. It seems to me that we can bridge this divide as follows:

    1. Party representation should be explicit. If CNN wants a Republican point of view they call the RNC and the RNC arranges someone who is then identified onscreen as representing the Republicans. Why suppose that if the Party did not want Rudy/Newt they would call to complain and CNN would learn?

    If the Party declines then whoever the news organization picks is ipso facto not a representative of the Party.

    2. News organizations have a duty to hire interviewers who are smart, well prepared, and knowledgable. Interviewers should reliably challenge non-factual or misleading statements. Soon enought the RNC won't be sending Rudy or Newt. They'll send Lugar even though he is less reliable on the talking points.

    Jonathan is right that Parties (or any group) should choose their representatives; the commenters are right that journalists have a duty to help the audience suss out the truth, a duty they neglect.

  9. Tom,

    On your first point, I believe that *is* what's happening now (not the mechanics of it -- the RNC doesn't do that -- but generally, I think CNN chooses from a list of party leaders that is essentially provided by the Republicans.

    On your second point, I agree with the first part, but not the second. I have no problem with criticisms of the interviewer if he or she accepts lies as truth. But I don't think that good interviewers would lead to the demise of Rudy and Newt.

  10. Hi Jonathan,

    Thanks for the thoughtful response. Unfortunately, I can't offer any insight into that issue, though I think you're flagging the right heuristic; certainly the GOP doesn't seem to object to Rudy's continued visibility.

  11. While I'm in total agreement that the hosts on CNN (and, really, most of our media) do an awful job, I want to focus on this question of "duty" of "journalists."

    I think that many of the commenters, and I think Jon himself, think that journalists have a duty to not let nonsense go unchallenged. But my question is: how is that duty understood and communicated to journalists? The incentives for the networks couldn't be clearer; financially, you make much more money with a point of view than with straight news. So, we can't expect pressure for straight news to come from the top unless the organization is funded by some philanthrope, but even then, we would wonder about that person's agenda. And what about the journalists? We might expect two possible sources for this duty: training and/or hiring/promotion opportunities. For hiring/promotion, it's sad but true that much of that depends on three factors: having a big name, being attractive, and being in the right place and the right time (luck). We could only consider having a big name to be tangentially associated with calling some talking head on their crap, and tangential is kind. So, there really aren't any workplace incentives from either management or economic incentives for a journalist/anchor to correct them. This leaves the only source for this duty to be journalism training, whether through junior service like internships or through J-schools. I know that, in my time at Berkeley, it was rare to find students from the J-school ever asking the political scientists about politics. Susan Rasky brought them down the hill to talk to Nelson Polsby every year or so, but, in all honesty, there really wasn't much of that and it seemed to be limited to her students.

    Thus, it seems to me the only possible source of imprinting this "duty" on people is from their textbooks and from vague notions that this is what they "should" do that are held by the public. But, against that, they face an array of forces that incentivize letting the idiots speak. Economic forces, in that the idiots at home who believe what the idiot from their side is saying and don't want to be told they are wrong won't want to watch an argument that proves them wrong. Time forces, in that it involves very little preparation to allow two idiots to yell at each other and end it with "we're out of time; we'll pick this up later," but calling someone on something stupid involves knowing about that subject which takes research. And (I don't know what to label this force), if they call out an idiot on TV, you might quickly get a reputation as a difficult interview. (Case in point: Katie Couric generates HOW many viewers by getting the Palin interview, which she gets because she's seen as an easy interviewer.)

    Thus, while MANY of us want journalists to do this "duty" (myself included), where I run into problems is that I can't readily see a way to incentivize such behavior. Democracy solves the principal-agent problem by the use of elections; it seems to me the problem is that too many of our fellow Americans seem to WANT bad coverage or NO coverage. In that sense, perhaps we just have to realize that our hopes for better media coverage are just that: hopes.

  12. "it seems to me the problem is that too many of our fellow Americans seem to WANT bad coverage or NO coverage. In that sense, perhaps we just have to realize that our hopes for better media coverage are just that: hopes"

    Bleak words. Since they ring true my arguments are pretty weak.

    My arguments are: NPR and the BBC.

    NPR is really popular. So is the BBC. It seems that it is possible to get public-spirited high quality non-profit media to take off, and once it takes root it is a hardy perennial.

    It just hasn't yet happened in the US in on TV.


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