How the Media Should Have Covered the Book Burner and the Mosque Movers

In case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t posted in a while. I was sick and bogged down with crap for the past two weeks. But even in the midst of that haze, I simply could not avoid all the stories about the one guy who wanted to burn some korans on September 11th, and the people who are all upset over a recreational facility, called Park 51, complete with mosque, being built at Ground Zero.

The greatest thing about these two stories is that ignorance knows no region. The book burners are in Florida, but the mosque protestors are all over the country with many in New York.

The second greatest thing about these controversies is that many in the media, belatedly, acknowledged that it bears some responsibility for fanning the flames of the story about the book burner–and, by proxy, endangering the troops. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any in the media talk about how they should have covered these stories. Sure, saying that perhaps the shouldn’t have covered the stories at all, or given them as much attention, is great. But in this world of 24 hour news where we are constantly aiming to scoop a scoop, not covering something becomes more difficult each second another network gains viewers by feeding the mob. And giving a story that is growing in popularity “moderate coverage” is way too much to expect.

Rather than talk about whether or the the media should have covered the stories, I’d rather focus on HOW they should have covered them. Or, shall I say, how they shouldn’t have covered them. And that is, with legitimacy.

Sure there are some who’d say that treating a Preacher, like Rev. Terry Jones, who has a congregation of less than 100 like an influential figure as he plans to do something clearly bigoted is warranted. But there’s really not much to back that up. I can only assume that this story was covered for ratings purposes–but there’s a way to do that fairly responsibly as well. All you have to remember is this:

Just because there are two ways of thinking about something, doesn’t mean you have to treat both opinions with legitimacy.

This is the mistake the media made.

In conversation after conversation, pundits, talk show hosts, etc. asked their guests “What do you think of Rev. Jones’ plan to burn korans on September 11?”

Huh? Is there more than ONE way to intelligently think about this? No? Then why pose the question as though there is?

Of course most people opposed Rev. Jones plan–almost no one could be found to defend it — that alone should tell you how silly the whole thing is.

The best thing to do in a situation like this is to assume that there’s only one reasonable opinion to have and proceed to elevate the conversation.  A better question to ask a guest would be “How can we begin to help everyone in America understand that we are in a war with terrorists, not Islam?” with the Jones story as the umbrella.

Same thing with the people who want to move Park 51. The question is not “Should the mosque be moved?” rather, “If we focus our anger and resentment on a “religion” how does that jeopardize our efforts to combat terrorism?” This is a method by which the media could actually elevate a conversation rather than leaving it in the slums where it began.

Additionally, in my research of the Park 51 story, I didn’t see any one articulate any reason NOT to put a mosque near Ground Zero that wasn’t bigoted or rooted in emotion. Asking people “Do you believe there should be a mosque near ground zero?” is something very different from asking “Should it be illegal to build a mosque near ground zero? If not, how should building owners decide when its tasteful to build and when not? How do we reconcile such opinions within the idea of capitalism?”

The latter form of questioning forces the responder to think about how you would structure such language that would prohibit the mosque from being built or in what circumstances would you ask a builder not to build something based on matters of taste. There’s really no way to answer that question in favor of prohibiting a building containing a mosque without sounding bigoted or uninformed e.g. not realizing or acknowledging that all Muslims aren’t terrorists.

One last note, in terms of responding to questions about the mosque, I felt influential Americans should have responded by dismissing Rev. Jones as the rare small scale bigot, pointing out that his following is near nil and in no way reflects the feelings of most Americans nor the values we hold dear in this country. Unfortunately, many of the statements I read droned on and on and elevated Rev. Jones’ status rather than briefly putting his existence into perspective and moving on to more important matters.

Perspective on these stories was grossly lacking on all sides.

I think that if the media concerned itself a little more with talent, it could probably elevate conversations and still make them interesting enough to get ratings. Either way, to cover two very low brow stories with such vigor and to then critique your coverage of it with no serious analysis of or attention toward better ways to cover such stories in the future is disingenuous.


Don’t Follow Jason Whitlock’s Example and Publicly Bash Your Old Bosses

I’m the first to admit that I’m not a fan of former Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock. I think he’s popular not because he’s a good writer or because his analysis of sports is on point, but because he’s controversial. And in today’s environment, whatever gets page views, ad clicks, or attention wins the day. On Friday, Whitlock took to the airwaves to talk for over an hour about why he was leaving the Kansas City Star for the Fox network.

Whitlock accused the Kansas City Star of all sorts of improprieties, but what his problem boiled down to was that he asked for something from his bosses and didn’t get it.

Join the club.

Obviously, Whitlock didn’t just notice the ethical issues at the Star just prior to quitting his job. The reality is, he was more than happy to overlook those flaws as long as he was getting what he wanted. But when he went to his bosses and asked for them to “maximize” their use of him (he wasn’t specific during the portion of the interview I heard, but I take that to mean giving him a lot more attention and money) suddenly everything he’d witnessed at the paper became an issue of concern.

Much like Lebron James’ silly “Decision” special, Whitlocks “Explanation” episode was just as lengthy, tired and narcissistic. And while such a stunt may go over fine in the world of entertainment (notice, I didn’t say journalism), for the rest of you 9 to 5ers and freelancers and other people who care about whether or not you ever work again, making a point of publicly dissing your former employer isn’t the right call.

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When It Comes to Dr. Laura, Why Are We Upset?

By now you’ve heard that Dr. Laura was heavily criticized for saying nigger 11 times on air. You probably also know that she announced she was ending her long standing radio show and found a convenient excuse to do so. An excuse that will only lead her to more money and glory among her audience.

What I wonder about this “controversy” is what really upsets us when these things happen and whether there is a point (i.e. positive result) to the outrage. When Mel Gibson threatens that his girlfriend’s provocative wardrobe will get her raped by a “pack of niggers” or when Imus calls a group of young female basketball players “nappy headed hoes,” we go through the same dramatic steps: outrage, minor consequence, and rebirth or redemption.

Imus, who I was fan of (and remain a fan of), was back on the air the following year. Gibson’s most recent outburst wasn’t his first. Since we enter this rinse, wash and repeat cycle ever so often, I have to ask, what matters more, the words or the point of view? And what is it we want from these language-offenders?

Clearly, Dr. Laura has said any number of racist and homophobic things over the last 20 years without uttering slurs in the public sphere. There’s also any number of people expressing racist, homophobic, and sexist perspctives that take to the airwaves every day. Is it okay for them to spew their hate as long a they use accepted language?

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Why Cathy Hughes Should Stop Her Radio Ads–NOW

I’m not an avid listener of the radio. Typically, I only listen to the radio when I’m in the car and have somehow forgotten my MP3 player. Even so, I have not been able to avoid hearing the radio ads voiced by Radio One founder and Board Chairperson Cathy Hughes.

The radio industry is coordinating to fight a so-called performance tax that would require radio to pay record labels for the music it plays. On the effort’s web site, No Performance Tax, there are ads available for broadcasters to download. However, Hughes has recorded her own ads in an effort to personally appeal to listeners. As we all know, mainstream radio is a dying industry and a performance tax could be the final nail in the coffin if radio doesn’t make drastic changes to its format and business model. Nevertheless, Hughes’s ads are problematic.

For those of you who haven’t heard the ads, there are at least 3 different ones. In the ads, Hughes uses an indignant and professorial tone. The ads incorporate samples of music from the group New Edition and also clips from a Michael Jackson interview on the recording industry, among other sound bites. One of the ads even features the chorus from Ludacris’s “How Low Can You Go.” The sound bites aim to help Hughes prove that the recording industry isn’t kind to your favorite artists and radio is yet another victim of their greed. In the ads, she mentions specific members of Congress who support the performance tax and asks listeners to consider this information when they go to the polls.

Putting Hughes’ condescending tone aside, the ads make the mistake of assuming listeners are satisfied with radio as it stands. If listeners support Hughes’ attempt to beat the performance tax then that means that radio will almost certainly remain the same. And how many urban listeners would say there’s nothing about radio they would change?

Listen to Cathy Hughes talk about the performance tax:

Radio Needs to be Improved

The fact is radio needs to be improved. Up until the recording industry started to lose money to file sharing services, radio had a very cozy relationship with radio. Though it’s illegal for record labels to pay radio stations to play music, certainly even when the rules aren’t broken labels can provide radio DJs and other employees with perks to get artists on the radio.

Not only does this practice prevent up and coming artists from being played, it also means that many of the same artists (and many of the same songs) are played repeatedly thereby decreasing the listener’s enjoyment of radio. I think it can be assumed that this is one of the many practices that has contributed to radio’s decline. And now that there are all sorts of music services and file sharing sites listeners are even more hyperaware of how much music radio stations DON’T play.

The Performance Tax Doesn’t Sound That Bad On Its Face

To Hughes’s point about how artists are treated, there are very few artists actually played regularly on mainstream radio. Therefore, if radio no longer existed, due to its reliance on relatively few artists, only those artists would be truly impacted. In thinking about how that could play out (possibly a sort of leveling out of the playing field), on the SURFACE** level, it’s hard to justify NOT supporting the performance tax unless you are viciously anti-music label. The average listener probably doesn’t feel a sense of urgency around this issue.

The Ads Are Insensitive

As we sit in the midst of a war, a recession, a major debate about health care, and now, an oil spill that is becoming more disastrous by the second, asking listeners to vote based on the future of radio is out of touch. It’s hard to imagine people basing a vote on radio given it’s relative insignificance to most people.

What Hughes SHOULD Do

Use Real Artists NOT Soundbites

If Hughes must continue recording personal ads, she should perhaps find some independent artists who will say something to the effect of I can’t afford to pay radio to play my music (which is basically what independent artists have been saying for years). But of course then she’d actually have to play the music of non-major artists.

Focus on Regular People

Also, she should actually explain how the performance tax would impact people rather than how they would affect artists. Remember, Cathy Hughes’s audience is urban. Urban listeners are bombarded with music in which artists brag about having material goods. It’s really difficult to get the average listener to feel sorry for how the performance tax would cheat Beyonce and Jay-Z.

Hughes would be better off explaining how the tax would impact regular people. If radio is dismantled there’s an impact beyond what music the listener hears. For many, in particular in minority communities, radio is a source of important information about local events and businesses as well as how to obtain available public resources.

Show That Radio Wants to Be Better Not Stay The Same

Finally, Hughes should make mention of any improvements that radio is attempting to make that would be stifled by the tax. Once again, it’s very hard to make a case for why people should be satisfied with radio in its current state.

**MediaSTRUT is a web site devoted to media tips and analysis. Media strategies are critiqued based on how the target audience would receive them. The full implications of the related policies are not necessarily considered. For those interested, the Obama administration appears to support the performance tax.




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