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It’s difficult to be critical of Brian Williams’ new primetime magazine show which debuted this week on NBC: Rock Center has stated only noble intentions in the swampy landscape of broadcast news.

The new Comcast executive team has committed two years for building what they hope will be an important, in-depth news show to rival 60 Minutes. That said, Rock’s launch needed some paper and scissors. More than anything: stronger news stories for a primetime news magazine.

Where was Brian Williams’ Lead Story?

Given the greatly hyped mission statement of the broadcast, along with the hiring of two newsmen highly identified with competing networks, I wasn’t expecting NBC’s premiere anchor to “weigh in” with a rambling fluff piece and juvenile sparring with Jon Stewart.

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Watch this video at your own risk of emotional upheaval, sleep disturbance, nausea, possible desensitization to human suffering and other serious side effects. Or not.

So soon after all the navel gazing of whether or not to broadcast the Michael Jackson autopsy photo of the superstar lying on a medical examiner’s table so painfully thin, naked and lifeless, CNN somehow embraced a marathon film festival featuring the violent killing of the deposed Libyan dictator.

UPDATED 10/27:THE NEW LIBYAN GOVERNMENT HAS VOWED TO PROSECUTE QADDAFI’S KILLERS FOR THE CRIMES U.S. NEWS ANCHORS FAILED TO MENTION.

Once upon a time, we let these images live online and not enter our homes uninvited. This week, however, marked a watershed moment for emotional assault by violent news video.

And it wasn’t just CNN. They just happened to be the network that caught me off guard first.

I had selected CNN for this story cycle early on, when my morning sampling showed their coverage was immediate, smart and very measured.

I had switched over from ABC News after George Stephanopoulos delivered the unofficial report that Muammar Qaddafi had been killed and, after a brief interview with Christiane Amanpour, moved off the story for a Lara Spencer interview with one of the young actresses from ABC’s comedy hit, Modern Family.

CNN, in contrast, was live from the Pentagon and Libya as they set out to verify the breaking news which, in that part of the world, is often riddled with half-truths and propaganda, occasionally disseminated by our own officials. Case in point: the fairy tales of Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch.

During the Arab Spring we first heard Mubarak’s sons were safe in London. Then they weren’t.

CNN certainly captured a classic exchange as their reporter pressed the Libyan Minister of Information who, while refusing to provide an official statement, seemed to confirm many of the details of Qaddafi’s demise.

History was in the making and I was glued to the set. But despite having spent nearly 20 in network news, I was completely ill-prepared to see the Qaddafi “cell phone” footage which CNN obtained and rushed to air. There was no warning that I was about to see a snuff film.

Read the rest of this entry »

HAVE WE LEARNED NOTHING FROM HOW WE HANDLED THE BIG STORIES OF THE PAST?

A former colleague of mine, someone I consider a real treasure in journalism, posted on my facebook page her reaction to my continuing dialog about Chris Brown’s behavior: “why does anyone care about these people?”  Here’s my fast answer:

Nicole Brown Simpson and Rihanna: battered faces of domestic violence

How O.J. Simpson Tried to Bat Us Back on His Story

In June 1994, the great Roone Arledge, then president of ABC News, put me in charge of O.J. Simpson coverage for all his primetime magazine shows.  At the time, there were four hour-long shows each week: Day One, Turning Point, PrimeTime Live and 20/20.

I had missed the first few days of the Simpson story.  Ironically, I was in Washington, D.C. with Sam Donaldson, working on what, until then, was the biggest story of the year:  an exclusive interview with Paula Corbin Jones who had filed a sexual harassment suit against the President. (Funnily enough, I had to debate an ABC News vice president on “why we should give airtime to this woman and her lawsuit,”  which might be argued today was the first step which led to the President’s impeachment.)

The Paula Jones  interview aired not as the lead but in second position on the show Thursday night, behind the O.J. Simpson updates.  I quickly returned  to Los Angeles early the next morning, on Friday,  the day Simpson was supposed to turn himself in to police but instead led them on that fateful “low-speed white Bronco chase” that turned the story upside down and created a national viewing event that would continue for another year and a half.

Earlier in the week from Washington, D.C., I had quietly asked a freelancer/friend to get me the Simpson divorce papers from the courthouse.  The story was moving so fast, the PrimeTime Live producers on the scene had no time at all to even look at the file.  But late Friday night, as I read page after page, I saw it was all there — the admission of O.J. Simpson’s prior violence against his wife and the details of the domestic violence program he was supposed to complete.

Saturday morning I called my old friend Roy Firestone, the former ESPN sports anchor who I was certain must have interviewed Simpson.  It turned out, Roy had actually interviewed him years before about the wife beating charges.  The tapes were somewhere in storage and he was more than happy to dig them out for me, but he warned me that back then, in more innocent times, he had not pressed O.J. Simpson very hard to account for his behavior.

Later that nght, we aired a one-hour Turning Point, a broadcast that would drive O.J. Simpson into a fury. From behind bars, he insisted that his only lawyer at the time, Bob Shapiro, call me and Barbara Walters on his behalf to demand apologies, retractions and more.  We got it all wrong, Simpson had declared, even though we hadn’t strayed from the exact language in the divorce documents and his own words on tape.

We now know that Nicole Brown kept a diary which noted O.J. Simpson’s first abuse of her in 1977.  She kept the photo of her battered face in a safety deposit box.  She called 911 after Simpson broke the door jam of her condominium while kicking down the door.  Mark Fuhrman answered another 911 call after Simpson shattered the windshield of her Mercedes Benz with a baseball bat. And we also know that on June 12, 1994, O.J. Simpson’s violence escalated to a double murder when he slashed Nicole’s throat from behind, as if slaughtering a farm animal, and stabbed to death a bystander:  her friend, Ron Goldman.

DOES NICOLE’S BATTERED FACE NOT LOOK JUST LIKE RIHANNA’S?

Nicole Simpson’s battered face was once so beautiful, it haunts.  So does Rihanna’s.

The bruises on their foreheads look so similar.   I wonder, is that where blood coagulates when you’re beaten on the top, or side of your head? Read the rest of this entry »

CHRIS BROWN’S VICIOUS CYCLE: THE OUTBURST, THE APOLOGY, THE FALL OUT ***UPDATED WITH NEW VIDEO,  AND REACTIONS

***UPDATED WITH FULL DETAILS OF THE MELTDOWN


I must say, I am confused, very confused.  As we all now know, on Monday  Chris Brown performed on GMA and after went back stage and had, shall we say,  a serious anger management issue — screaming in the face of a segment producer, screaming at his manager and throwing, depending on which report you read or which staffer you talk to, either a cooler or a chair which shattered the dressing room window, sending shards of glass to the sidewalk below.   This extreme behavior because Robin Roberts asked him about the changes in his life since his court-ordered restraining order against Rihanna was “relaxed.”

***THIS JUST IN: Chris Brown threw both a cooler and a chair at different times.  After he left the set, his behavior was described as “batshit.”    He spotted a  cooler by the props department and  threw that towards the office of the executive producer. He then continued the tirade as he walked down to his dressing room.   Once he and his entourage were in the dressing room, the door was closed and  a chair was thrown thrown through the window, presumably by Brown.

Now Brown has explained what happened and apologized, sort of, not on GMA, but on BET. I, for one, think apologies should at least sound more heart-felt than obligatory. And I don’t think they should come with a soundtrack, as this does.

I also feel strongly that this one should have been directed to the GMA segment producer and to Robin Roberts who has chosen to remain publicly friendly to the star. In the BET video, Brown asks fans not to threaten Robin Roberts, as he says he’s learned  of on twitter. (No outrage on his part there, however.)

A sincere apology  should also be given to internet fans for whom he was to perform a second song before storming shirtless out of the studio. And, of course,  the hair and make-up team who were frightened enough to call security.

TMZ first published Rihannas assault photo

Chris Brown also owes an apology to the Superior Court judge who, just weeks ago, modified the court order (questions about which really ticked him off) that barred him from contacting or being near ex-girlfriend Rihanna. Part of the order  is still in effect; he’s still prohibited from  harassing or annoying her.

I wonder if Rihanna found the GMA outburst annoying or harassing.  And I wonder if it triggered any post traumatic stress disorder she might have resulting from the beating he gave her that fateful night before the Grammy Awards.

Last December 21st, Brown tweeted to fans, “‘im done with class” and sent out to fans a copy of his domestic violence course completion certificate.   In a follow-up tweet, he wrote, “i have enough self respect and decency to be proud of accomplishing this DV class.. Boyz run from there (sic) mistakes.. Men learn from them!!!thx”

After pleading guilty to assaulting Rihanna,  giving her a bruised face (a photo of which would be leaked to TMZ)  the 21-year-old R&B singer was sentenced to five years probation, 1,400 hours of community service and ordered to complete that one-year domestic violence course. Read the rest of this entry »

PREDICTION: NO ONE WILL PAY NEW ONLINE ACCESS FEES
The toothpaste is out of the tube.  The public has been getting news online for years now, the most recent Pew Study showing the majority of people 30 and under use online sources as their “go to” for news.  And it’s been free.  So why does the New York Times think anyone will be willing to start paying $15 a month for the same access (after you’ve clicked on 20 times.)
As of March 28th, you’ll have to pay for anything past the home page and section fronts.  The fee for unlimited access to online content will be $195 a year.  Add on iPad access, it’s $260.  Unlimited digital access: $455.
Let’s get real.  I have been a news junkie my entire adult life.  I consume more news than just about anyone I know.  I get ill on vacations where I am removed from the news.  I have worked in the news business for three decades during which time I will take responsibility for destroying too many trees, perhaps forests. I am a heat-seeking missile for the latest coverage, the most in-depth coverage, the most creative or thoughtful coverage.  I have never balked at spending money on subscriptions for newspapers and countless magazines.  But I, for one, am not going to pay for the Times online.

Now, admittedly, I won’t have to:  my daily newspaper subscription entitles me to free access online.  I’m just sayin’, that if I was asked to, I wouldn’t.  The New York Times, and every other publication,  is going to have to figure out a more sensible business model.  Company chairman Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. is calling it one of the most significant days in the Times’s 159-year history: “Our decision to begin charging for digital access will result in another source of revenue, strengthening our ability to continue to invest in the journalism and digital innovation on which our readers have come to depend.”

I agree it’s a significant day for the New York Times.  Only I think it day that will go down  as the worst miscalculation of consumers in the company’s history.  Sulzberger seems to believe the world is invested in good journalism.   Sadly, they don’t care.

This isn’t a critique of the New York Times and what many see as its mistakes or declining standards over the past few years. This is not about Judith Millers’s war drums before the invasion of Iraq, or Jason Blair, or the embarrassment of the front page John McCain faux mistress story in the middle of the presidential campaign.

I believe the New York Times, on balance, is still an outstanding newspaper, worthy of its many Pulitzer prizes.  Their obituaries of the 9/11 victims, focusing on who they were as people instead of what they did for living, was a defining moment in journalism.  Their science, health and medical reporting is in a league of its own.  Their willingness to take on pharmaceutical companies separates them from network news which has become co-dependent. Tom Friedman, Maureen Down, Paul Krugman, I love them even when I don’t love them.  I will miss Frank Rich.

After all, a brilliant mind, even one with whom you disagree, is a terrible thing to waste.  Which brings me back to the wacky decision to charge for the New York Times online.

WILL CONSUMERS PAY FOR NEWS ONLINE?  JUST ASK RECORD EXECS HOW CHARGING FOR DOWNLOADS IS WORKIN’ FOR THEM? Read the rest of this entry »

NOTE TO FELLOW REPORTERS: LET’S NOT VICTIMIZE LARA LOGAN A SECOND TIME

Lara Logan in Tahrir Square shortly before her attack

First, my beef today with some of the newsies: one had to resign after tweeting Lara Logan was trying to one-up Anderson Cooper, another says she and CBS were “complicit in a news cover-up.”  Others have noted “something fishy” in her lack of details.

My guess is whatever veteran war correspondent Lara Logan is going to do or say, it won’t quite fit what some news people expect of her. Despite the trauma, the physical and psychic pain of a “brutal and sustained sexual assault,  her news peers (and I use the term loosely) now are now examining the handling of her own horrific story. Shame on those who dare to judge her or CBS.

In today’s Boston Herald.com, columnist Michael Graham takes her and her network to task:

“Five days of silence — not even “60 Minutes” coverage of the Egypt story. No mention of the “mob of more than 200 people whipped into frenzy” who attacked their own reporter.

“How is that not news? adding, “I’m with liberal columnist Richard Cohen of The Washington Post,” who wrote, “The sexual assault of a woman in the middle of a public square is a story  . . .  particularly because the crowd in Tahrir Square was almost invariably characterized as friendly and out for nothing but democracy,” Cohen wrote.

“Watching the same complicit media we all saw, Cohen notes most journalists covered the mobs “as if they were reporting from Times Square on New Year’s Eve, stopping only at putting on a party hat.”

I agree with Cohen that most journalists covered the mobs as if they were reporting from Times Square on New Year’s Eve.  (see daily Xpress February 6th,  “…This isn’t Woodstock.)

But these are two separate issues;  Lara Logan’s personal trauma is her personal story and it’s up to her when, how and if she ever wants to discuss it.

IT’S NOT TOO LATE , MICHAEL GRAHAM, TO LEARN HOW TO BEST REPORT ON SEXUAL ASSAULT CRIMES

So who is Michael Graham and why is he weighing in?   Is he dedicated to upholding journalism standards?  Is he an advocate for women’s rights?  Has he been a part of an advanced dialog on the reporting of rape before now?

No! Michael Graham is a radio talk show host and it looks like this is his first op ed article on any of this.  During the past month, while democracy was painfully birthing in Egypt, Graham wrote about Obama’s budget cuts, the Boston mayor’s “jihad” on Wal-Mart, and how his driveway looks like an amateur luge course.  So I guess I have to ask why  Matt Drudge  linked to it high up on our daily news bible?

It would be different if Michael Graham, or any of the current critics, bothered to note the irony of the CBS Logan report appearing on the same day that a landmark federal lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., accusing our own Department of Defense of allowing a military culture that not only fails to prevent rape and sexual assaults, but often promotes the perpetrators of those crimes.

Which brings me back to my note to President Obama, our commander in chief. Read the rest of this entry »

BARBARA WALTERS TELLS PIERS: “I AM NOT A MIDDLE EAST EXPERT,” BUT IN FIVE MINUTES OR LESS, SHE OFFERS MORE HISTORY AND CONTEXT THAN  ANYONE ELSE

I’m totally exhausted.  After nearly two weeks of Egyptian protests which has included the promise of the President to step down in September and begin democratic reforms right away, followed by “thugs” entering Tahrir Square, the molotov cocktails and the roughing up and intimidation of  foreign journalists, I’ve been busier than ever digging daily for research to supplement our great 24/7 American media.

Yes, we all love a demonstration by people yearning for democracy.   But  the coverage of Egypt as some kind of Woodstock has left me scrambling for something more.   One of the low points for me was stumbling across  Elliot Spitzer, excitedly telling viewers he can’t wait to see what happens next in Alexandria.  Continuing on the primetime schedule for CNN was Piers Morgan, covering his first ever live news story.  (Perhaps they might have tried breaking their new anchors in on a car chase or two.)

Neda: the face of the failed Iranian Revolution

Over on Fox, Shep Smith was blaming Mubarak for sending thugs into the main square to attack  peaceful demonstrators  journalists.  First I wondered how anyone knew who was behind the “thugs,” and then I wondered, as I did all week, why not one journalist worried in advance that it might turn as ugly as the 2009 protests in Iran.

Perhaps they subliminally  knew not to paint Mubarak with the same brush stroke as Ahmadinejad who put an end to his country’s pro-democracy demonstrations in 2009 by cutting down people like Neda, the Iranian girl shot in the heart in front of her father.

Barbara Walters give a history lesson to Piers Morgan

What a joy it was to finally hear Barbara Walters join Piers Morgan mid-week and offer him, and us viewers, a history lesson.  As he pressed with indignation to find out why Obama wasn’t insisting  Mubarak step down immediately Barbara Walters gently, respectfully and very clearly,  explained that the region is full of dictators and always has been.  We support the ones who share our interests.

Yes, yes, yes! Finally someone  spoke who was not giddy about the overthrow of Mubarak.

Like Barbara Walters, I will qualify my observations as those not of a mideast expert, but as a journalist with strong interest in the region who has covered stories there…  certainly not as many as Barbara Walters who has sat down one on one with many or most of their 20th century titans.

Leslie Gelb,  president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations wrote this weekend in the Daily Beast, “all who ignore this history are naive...   The Muslim Brotherhood jumps immediately to mind… (for the potential to hijack democracy) but don’t overlook the potentially equal or greater threat …  from Egypt’s beloved armed forces. The history of venomous domestic and foreign-policy pronouncements by the MB should keep us all awake at night. And never forget that the murderers of the great President Anwar Sadat were Muslim Brothers embedded in the army.”

Now I didn’t watch all channels all the time, so I might have missed  the coverage where you get context and  keen insights.   But  I’ve felt pretty much on my own.   So as someone who has more than an average interest in both the story and how it’s covered, here’s my own personal briefing book for anyone else who might need it. Read the rest of this entry »

IT’S NOT YOUR MOTHER’S MOTHER JONES: OLD “LEFTY” HAS GREAT  24/7 COVERAGE , ANALYSIS

It’s been five days of hard work for many of us searching for the inside, untold, and full story of the revolution in Egypt and its global implications.  I certainly didn’t find what I needed on any of the broadcast networks or even cable news channels.

CNN did have great video on Thursday and even convinced Piers Morgan to dump his Colin Firth interview and roll live with it. CNN has great reporters there led by Ben Wedeman and Nic Robertson who live and breath the region and are the most nimble and knowledgeable.

But you can get their coverage and a whole lot more if you follow the Mother Jones updates 24/7 and link to YouTube.

You can also hear the silent screams of those frustrated by what they’re seeing day in and day out.  Like those from the Abu Muqawama blog from the Center for a New American Security, an independent and non-partisan  non-profit research group based in Washington, D.C.

This sample is a reaction after watching MSNBC’s Morning Joe.  All television news bookers, get out your pencils.

Egypt: People Who Might Actually Know What The %$#@ They’re Talking About (Updated)

January 29, 2011 | Posted by Abu Muqawama – 10:25am | 12 Comments

I was home in Tennessee for a brief 24 hours and woke up yesterday morning to MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” which Mama Muqawama likes to watch before work. Nothing against the people on that particular show, because it’s probably just representative of U.S. cable news in general*, but I was absolutely stunned by the willingness of the show’s guests to opine about Egypt without having any actual experience in or expertise on Egypt or the broader Middle East. Is it really that tough to say, “Hey, that’s a great question, Joe, but I am not really the best guy to give the viewers at home a good answer?”

Instead, guest after guest — most of whom are specialists in or pundits on U.S. domestic politics — made these broad, ridiculously sweeping statements about the meaning and direction of the protests.

I traveled to Egypt twice in 2005 and lived there between January and August of 2006 while studying Arabic after having completed my master’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies at the American University of Beirut. I am by no means an expert on Egypt. But I like to think I know the people who are, so as a service to the readers, I am providing you all a list of no-%$#@ experts on Egypt. This list is, happily, by no means exhaustive: unlike the lack of informed commentary on Afghanistan, the United States has thousands of people who have lived and studied in Egypt as civilian researchers and students and can thus provide some reasonably informed commentary on events there. The following list is filled with some people whose opinions matter and whose analysis might actually be informed by study and experience. This list is in no particular order except for the first two people on the list, who are both good friends as well as two of the world’s best experts on Egyptian politics.

Issandr el-Amrani, Arabist.net@arabist

Elijah Zarwan, Crisis Group

Michael Wahid Hanna, The Century Foundation, @mwhanna1

Marc Lynch, GWU/CNAS/FP.com@abuaardvark

Steven Cook, CFR@stevenacook

Samir Shehata, Georgetown University

Josh Stacher, Kent State University, @jstacher

Amil Khan, Abu Muqawama, @Londonstani

Max Rodenbeck, The Economist

If you can, follow the live feed on al-Jazeera Arabic, which has made for the most exciting television I have watched since the Red Sox came back from three games down in the 2004 ALCS. (These events are arguably more geostrategically significant.) If you can’t follow that feed, try al-Jazeera English or follow the updates on Robert Mackey’s most excellent New York Times blog The Lede.

*An exception to the rule: Ben Wedeman at CNN.

Update: Someone in the comments suggested Shadi Hamid (@shadihamid), and I second that. Again, my list was happily not exhaustive. There are a lot of very smart analysts out there who can thoughtfully opine on Egypt — in large part thanks to the legions of Arabic-language students who pass through Cairo at some point in their training.

Here’s an excerpt on “why good journalism matters:”
January 26, 2011 | Posted by Abu Muqawama – 11:08am |

Perhaps unsurprising for someone who grew up working in a newspaper, I spend a lot of time analyzing journalism and often criticize journalists. So I need to highlight when journalism is frankly awesome. Do yourself a favor and listen to this amazing audio recording of the Guardian‘s Jack Shenker reporting from inside an Egyptian paddywagonafter being beaten by plain-clothed state security thugs and imprisoned. Pretty freaking great.

On a related note, where the hell was al-Jazeera yesterday?

HERE’S MORE OF WHAT YOU MIGHT FIND ON MOTHER JONES

The human chain protecting the Egyptian Museum from looters

 

 

Here is a sample of  24/7 updates from Mother Jones:

UPDATE 26, Friday 12:20 p.m. EST: The White House has released a photo of President Obama receiving a briefing on the Egypt protests:

What's wrong with this picture?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(What else have you missed?) Read the rest of this entry »

****UPDATE: FINAL RATINGS SINK LOWER

WHEN MORE TUNE IN TO WORLD NEWS THAN ABC SPECIAL, WHAT WILL IT TAKE TO WOW VIEWERS?

A few disclosures will be sprinkled throughout this post, but first, I think I have a news crush on the astronaut, Mark Kelly.  You know how when you meet a guy who’s so spectacular but taken, so you think, “is there a brother like him at home or did they throw away the mold after this one?”  Well he’s got an identical twin.

my news crush began when I saw the healing hand of Capt. Mark Kelly

My news crush on Kelly began the moment I saw that photo: the close up of his hand grasping hers, “hers” being Gabrielle Giffords who the world now knows has been fighting for her life, and now is  just fighting to return to her husband.  Their love story was told by Diane Sawyer Tuesday night in a special edition of 20/20.

This ABC News exclusive,  a story that is still developing daily,  played to all the strengths of Sawyer. (Disclosure #2: I produced Diane’s interviews for 15 years.  I acknowledge this not to reveal any personal bias, but more to state a truly academic knowledge of the art of the interview.)

In the broader Tuscon story, Capt. Kelly was “the get.”  From the start, the killing rampage in Tuscon captured the hearts and minds of America.  Anchors rushed to the scene.  The nation was captivated.   Over 2 million more people watched the combined evening newscasts than the week before.

The individual stories of the victims were both heart-breaking and heart-rendering… the nine year old who wanted to learn about democracy, the 30-year-old congressional aide who had just proposed to his girlfriend, the husband who was killed throwing his body over his childhood sweetheart to save her life.  And now, the story of Gabby Giffords, the congresswoman who was shot in the head by the disenfranchised community college student who appears to be off his rocker.

Tuscon is an epic tragedy with, it turns out, many tenacles. It developed into a political drama as well and not just the debate sparked over use of crosshairs graphics or incendiary rhetoric. After the President of the United States arrived bedside and offered words so powerful and healing, his biggest critics agreed his speech to the local crowd in the gymnasium could mark a turning point in his presidency.

Obama’s revelation that Gabby Giffords had opened her eyes reminded us all, “Yes, we can.”   And when the astronaut, or rather her knight in shining armour agreed to tell his story, their story to Diane Sawyer, I knew it was an hour not to miss. Who better to mine the interview, write the narrative and weave the various threads together into a tapestry of  hope, faith and personal challenges.

*** UPDATED RATINGS Oddly, I was in the minority.  Among adults 18 to 49, ABC News’ “Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly: The Congresswoman and The Astronaut” came in third Tuesday night with a 1.3 rating . CBS’ “The Good Wife” and NBC’s “Parenthood” tied for first with 2.1 rating each.

Among total viewers, (still preliminary) ABC News came in a distant second with an audience of 6.12 million viewers, less than Sawyer averages for World News. “The Good Wife” garnered 11.34 million total viewers. (These are The Nielsen Company Fast Affiliate, Live + Same Day Ratings, 1/18/11, which were posted on ABC.com, and may be adjusted Friday.) Read the rest of this entry »

One Day Left to Bag the Canned Oprah Intv, Replace it With a Real Newsmaker

Piers Morgan's launch statement: Oprah interview

From the moment it was first announced that Oprah would be the first guest for the launch of Piers Morgan Tonight, I feared it would be a problem.  What if a really big news story captured the imagination of the entire nation?

What if that news story sparked a unflinching dialog that crossed political parties, all generations, one story that involved  the entire spectrum of modern debate: gun control, mental health resources, parental responsibility, anti-Semitism, marijuana, free speech, the presidency and more.

My “what if” happened on January 8th in Tuscon, Arizona and CNN’s coverage today, eight days later,  remains riveting and relevant.

WILL ANYONE ELSE CHALLENGE  “OPRAH”  ON THE FIRST SHOW?

This morning, Fareed Zakaria analyzed America’s gun culture and toxic political rhetoric,  but first looked forward to next week’s White House guest, the president of China. (I will try to resist any references to “Hu’s on first.)

Up next, Howie Kurtz reviewed the role of mainstream media which, he noted for the second week, got in wrong from the beginning when NPR, ABC News and others reported that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had been shot and killed.  Kurtz went on to discuss the rhetoric and the media’s role and responsibility in covering the president, Sarah Palin and more.

Dr. Fred Frese and his "beautiful mind": a great guest for Piers Morgan?

The most riveting  of all CNN’s coverage was Candy Crowley’s hour with a father of an adult schizophrenic and a truly amazing man named Fred Frese III, who is director of psychology at  Western Reserve Psychiatric Hospital.  To call Dr. Frese’s 30-year career distinguished is an understatement.  Once an officer in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, Frese had numerous involuntary hospitalizations in state, private and military psych wards. Despite a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, he pursued a medical degree and earned a doctorate in psychology from Ohio University.

I had more of my questions about the  Arizona shooting answered by this hour on CNN than any other.  Dr. Frese,  with all his twitchy charm, explained schizophrenia — its real threats, challenges and  treatments — like no other.  He began by invoking the pride his (schizophrenia) community had in Dr. John Nash,  the nobel laureate portrayed by Russell Crowe in “A Beautiful Mind.”  The mental health community should have equal pride in Dr. Frese who, in the most disarming way, explains that as with alcoholics where there are happy drunks and mean ones, he’s a happy schizophrenic.  Dr. Frese, for one, would make a great first guest for Piers Morgan. After that, someone should open up on-air phone lines for Dr. Frese, for about three hours.

In between all these better-than-usual CNN hours: Piers Morgan’s promo with Oprah who says, “Whew, that was the toughest interview I’ve had in 20 years.”

If that’s really true, then it will hold.  Of all people, Oprah will understand.  It’s more important for Morgan to show he’s more nimble than safe, more relevant than star struck. Read the rest of this entry »