Today, Jim Romenesko posted an update to his article about a female cardboard cutout, which appears to resemble the stereotypical, white, on-the-go soccer mom, that is apparently being posted around various TV news stations as an example target audience for writers and on-screen personalities. In the original post, Romenesko was curious to know whether WSPA in Spartanburg, S.C., rolled out its cutout “mom” named Michelle on the advice of a TV consultant.
A female TV journalist responded to the question with the following rather damning critique of the type of advice a male consultant has been giving to Raycom Media-owned TV stations, which carry similar firefighters-to-the-rescue-type local coverage as WSPA. Consequently, Raycom owns WTNZ here in Knoxville; WSPA is owned a company called Media General.
The journalist had this to say about the consultant’s sage advice:
To answer your question regarding whether media consultants nationwide are giving similar advice, WSPA’s “Michelle” is a copy of the “Female Switchable” that [a consultant] has been preaching to Raycom Media-owned stations around the country for more than two years.
[He] describes her as a mother short on logic but long on social media obsession, terrified of her neighbors, needing constant updates on the weather and consumer trends, with the attention span of a fourth-grader and much less understanding of the greater world around her. She wants “lists,” wants to know how things “affect her.” She’s self-centered, myopic and terrified.
She is nothing like the women I know, and I’m glad you finally called television news out on this caricature. I’d really like to see the data that’s used to build that caricature, because as far as I can see, she’s the sexist mythology of overpaid consultants.
This consultant’s fallacy of the “female switchable” isn’t good for anyone. And it isn’t good for the company.
According to Romenesko, the consultant declined to comment other than to dispute these claims. Needless to say, if this critique is even half true, Raycom is putting forth a rather dim view of its own target audience, casting its female viewers as fearful, short-sighted and selfish. And that’s just what this consultant, or people like him, allegedly think about the target audience for local news, which apparently is the white, female, working mom demographic. I wonder what glowing traits these same consultants would bestow on black and Hispanic families, single moms and blended parental units?
In any case, I previously questioned whether white working moms should even be the target audience for a station located in Spartanburg, S.C., which isn’t exactly a mecca of affluent white suburbia. More than half of the population of the city of Spartanburg is black, after all; only parts of the county outside city limits are a majority white.
Reality has never really stopped local TV news stations from catering to stereotypes and offering shallow and trite coverage of their communities in the past; why should Michelle be any different?
Longtime blogger Andrew Sullivan with The Dish, and previously with Time, The Atlantic and other publications, has decided to stop blogging for the immediate future after 15 years of commentary on the Interwebs. He did it with a heart-felt message to his readers, concluding:
I want to thank you, personally, for the honesty and wisdom of so many of your threads and conversations and intimacies, from late-term abortions and the cannabis closet to eggcorns and new poems, from the death of pets, and the meaning of bathroom walls to the views from your windows from all over the world. You became not just readers of the Dish, but active participants, writers, contributors. You trusted us with your own stories; you took no credit for them; and we slowly gathered and built a readership I wouldn’t trade for anyone’s.
You were there before I met my husband; you were there when I actually got married; and when I finally got my green card; and when Dusty – who still adorns the masthead – died. I can’t describe this relationship outside the rather crude term of “mass intimacy” but as I write this, believe me, my eyes are swimming with tears.
How do I say goodbye? How do I walk away from the best daily, hourly, readership a writer could ever have? It’s tough. In fact, it’s brutal. But I know you will understand. Because after all these years, I feel I have come to know you, even as you have come to see me, flaws and all. Some things are worth cherishing precisely because they are finite. Things cannot go on for ever. I learned this in my younger days: it isn’t how long you live that matters. What matters is what you do when you’re alive. And, man, is this place alive.
When I write again, it will be for you, I hope – just in a different form. I need to decompress and get healthy for a while; but I won’t disappear as a writer.
But this much I know: nothing will ever be like this again, which is why it has been so precious; and why it will always be a part of me, wherever I go; and why it is so hard to finish this sentence and publish this post.
As a person who has read his blogging intermittently the last five or so years, I will say that Sullivan was his strongest when he was actually commenting on the news of the day, and his essays for The Atlantic and The Daily Beast were some of his finest work. At times, his blog, which often included up 20 or 30 or more posts in a single day, often seemed more like a news aggregate than a bona fide web log of thought and opinion, so I am happy to see him returning to the land of long-form writing, which I think was his best medium in the first place, and I’m eager to see what he can offer by way of a book down the road. For sure,whatever his method of choice away from the blog, I’ll be reading.
I’m sure you are probably ready with the easy answer: Nothing has changed. She has been giving half-cocked, barely coherent speeches for years, and this year, just a few days removed from the grand oratorical opus she delivered at the 2015 Iowa Freedom Summit, she’s still offering up the same rambling diatribes — with or without a teleprompter, it makes little difference — consisting of a strange mix of middle-America colloquialisms and a tinge of bitterness that comes from losing badly in 2008 and being relegated to the hinterlands of reality television ever since.
But Matt Lewis with The Daily Beast has touched on something that I don’t think most people have pointed out, at least not recently. After 2008, Palin actually had a chance to dust herself off and hit the reset button on her political career. He lays out the scenario thusly:
In fairness, Palin was once a reform-minded governor who enjoyed an 88 percent approval rating. But something happened on the way to Des Moines. I suspect the most vicious attacks (especially the “Trig Truther” stuff) radicalized her and embittered her, but I also suspect she also took the easy way out. Instead of going back to Alaska after the 2008 defeat, boning up on the issues, continuing her work as governor, and forging a national political comeback, she cashed in with reality-TV shows and paid speaking gigs.
This isn’t an original or new observation, In fact, back in July 2009, I wrote: “The tragedy of Sarah Palin’s recent press conference announcing her resignation as governor of Alaska flows from the sense that so much potential has been wasted.”
The trouble with taking the easy way out is that it doesn’t last forever. The people who truly last in this business don’t rely on shortcuts or good looks or gimmicks; they survive on work ethic, wit, and intellect. (That’s why, no matter how grandiose he gets, Newt Gingrich will always have a gig. Newt will always be interesting, because he will always have something to say—something to contribute.)
This is why — and it seems many conservative writers are now ready to concede this point — that Palin never really had any staying power or substance in the first place, without laboriously going back to Alaska to study up, and when she is left to her devices, especially without the teleprompter, this is what we get in raw form, which is a shell of someone like Gingrich or John McCain, who are, however much I might disagree with them on specific points, at least capable of manufacturing interesting ideas independent of anyone else.
At the same time that a slew of potential Republican presidential candidates, none of whom will likely be in contention for the presidency, were courting far-right voters this past week at the Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Gov. Bobby Jindal was off crusading in Baton Rouge, La., at The Response prayer meeting held by the American Family Association, as he joined about 3,000 fellow evangelicals — and I don’t think this language is an exaggeration — “to save America, through prayer and fasting, from the threats of Sharia, homosexuality, pornography, and abortion.” Indeed, according to Slate’s report:
Materials promoting the event described natural disasters including Hurricane Katrina, as well as the national debt, as the just result of America’s sins, punishments akin to the biblical wave of locusts.
Despite claims to the contrary, and despite federal tax law stipulating that preachers and religious organizations can’t take political positions or endorse candidates lest they run the risk of losing their tax-exempt status (Section 501(c)(3) of the IRS tax code), The Response gathering contained numerous political elements:
Jindal and other speakers prayed for the different branches of government and for President Obama. Louisiana state Sen. Jonathan Perry called for more “born-again Christians” to be elected to political office. Another speaker said, “When our government sanctions [abortion], it brings reproach upon our land.” She insisted that “the right to abort will be overturned,” but in the meantime, the “payment for bloodshed is blood.” Pastor Bob Phillips announced that a group of pastors was “rising up” against “America’s pestilence” and fighting against people who wanted to “silence the voice of those who would make biblical application” to politics. He said that pastors were ignoring requirements of their churches’ tax-exempt status that they not make political speeches from the pulpit, and they were sending the IRS videos of themselves endorsing political candidates in their sermons.
The event was so political that the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, despite participating in a pro-life march nearby, declined to take part. Rob Tasman, the LCCB director, said, “The event was viewed more as an evangelical event with a political tone to it, and the bishops don’t participate in such events.”
Kudos to the bishops. Needless to say, the nation apparently didn’t miss much, as a significant amount of attendees had already cleared out by the time Jindal got up to talk about his religious conversion:
The Response kept reminding me of high school. Jindal’s story of his conversion was couched entirely in his high school experience, including a pivotal moment in which he talks with a “pretty girl,” whom he had a crush on, about her dream of becoming a Supreme Court justice and overturning Roe v. Wade. Everything was superficial and black and white, in the way adolescents see the world. Jindal didn’t want to look deeper than this: “In the end, our God wins.”
Jindal might have been better served, politically, by casting lots with the sea of crazies up the road in Des Moines. At least then he couldn’t be accused of trying to conflate politics and religion. As a Slate commentator named Stafford opined:
Wasn’t Jindal the one who, only a few years back, called on the GOP to stop being so stupid? He should have stuck with that.
WSPA, which is a local TV news station about an hour north of where I grew up in Spartanburg, S.C., is apparently intent on making its reporters pitch all of their news stories and write all of their stories for a cardboard cutout of what appears to be an on-the-go middle class soccer mom with kids.
Here is the internal memo News Director Karen Kelly apparently sent to her staff (as posted by ftvlive.com):
Subject: MEET Michelle
Michelle is who you want watching your newscasts, your stories.
She will be in every editorial meeting with us and in the newsroom during the day. She will likely make occasional trips to Greenville and Anderson.
When you pitch, pitch to her. When you write, write to her.
This is who we need watching in February.
Women 25-54 is her demo.
She has children and she cares about:
Recalls that have impact on her family
Even if you think a story doesn’t directly impact Michelle find a way to write it to her.
Give her additional information that is relevant to her.
Post stories and send alerts on stories she cares about.
The problem, as I see it, is that the demographics in Spartanburg aren’t exactly whitewashed with soccer moms, which belies the notion that the WSPA newsroom should be writing exclusively for Michelle here. According to the most recent census estimates, the city of Spartanburg is 50.7 percent black (!) and 44.3 percent white, while Spartanburg County is 74.7 percent white and 20.9 percent black.
Media blogger Jim Romenesko wonders if this was a recommendation from a TV consultant. If so, that person should be fired. Or, this could just be the handywork of a newsroom “leader” who feels the need to justify her job, so she whittles away at some silly ideas to try to keep the product relevant. First, she might want to work on not scaring off her staff. But then again, for an enterprising young reporter being mandated to write for Michelle, rather than for the real people walking the fair streets of Spartanburg city and county, might be a pretty disturbing experience in and of itself.
Zack Beauchamp writes that the Clint Eastwood-directed movie “American Sniper,” which seems to have garnered gushing reviews from many of the right-of-center folks on my Facebook feed, not only gets history wrong, but it does a “disservice” to viewers, and much worse, Iraq War veterans and their families. As Beauchamp notes, the movie falsely gives the impression that the Iraq War was fought as a direct result of Sept. 11, 2001:
From the get-go, Chris Kyle’s military career is all about responding to terrorism. Kyle joins up after al-Qaeda bombs the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. We see him and his wife Taya’s stunned reactions to 9/11.
And then, bam. Kyle’s at war in Iraq. The film does not contain, as best I can tell, a single reference to George W. Bush, Saddam Hussein, or weapons of mass destruction. There’s no Dick Cheney, no Colin Powell at the UN, no anti-war protests. The film implies that the Iraq War was a deliberate response to 9/11.
In fact, the Bush administration premised its 2003 Iraq invasion primarily on the alleged threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. As National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice memorably put it, “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” The Bush administration repeatedly asserted that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was actively developing nuclear weapons and other programs it might use against the United States. Bush and some his top advisers had come into office, before 9/11 even occurred, believing that Saddam was a threat and discussing possible ways to remove him.
The war, in other words, was not actually about 9/11. And, crucially, the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that were the basis of the war turned out not to exist.
It’s not just that American Sniper weirdly excises all of this history; it’s that the film replaces it with the implication that 9/11 gave America little choice but to invade Iraq, that the 2003 US invasion was something that happened to us, not something we chose to do. Chris Kyle repeatedly explains that he’s fighting to protect his family, again suggesting that the invasion was a necessary preemptive defense against Iraqi terrorists, when no such threat actually existed.
Nationalism. Portraying most Iraqis as “savages.” An overly simplistic, black and white worldview in which the hero must defeat the terrorists at all costs with no time or need to fret about gray areas in combat and diplomacy. Revisionist history. Sounds like a perfect Clint Eastwood joint. By all means, we should honor the service of the real man on which the movie is based, but mucking up history that wasn’t all that long ago isn’t the way to do it or honor other soldiers who sacrificed equally for the nation.
But I can’t say that I expected much more from Eastwood, an NRA nut who, just 2 1/2 years ago, was having an extended conversation with an empty chair. In a bit of last-minute double irony, the war hero who was “untouchable” in Iraq, as The New York Times described Chris Kyle, was killed at a shooting range in Texas on a trip trying to help his friend recover from PTSD.
Samantha Allen, with The Daily Beast, has seemingly been bemused by the unholy stew of proselytizing, racism, end-times rhetoric and religious symbols that vie for drivers’ attention on billboards across the South, from South Carolina to Texas. For what’s it’s worth, some atheist groups have purchased billboards in the South too — arguably a waste of time and money — but traveling through parts of the American Bible belt, one gets the real sense that the people who at one time commanded influence among the unlearned and easily led masses, peddling inequality and what little empowerment comes from being at the top of the white trash heap, no longer have any real way to affect life in modern America, such that they are only left to resort to gaudy billboards that threaten us with hellfire and brimstone, attempt to raise our spiritual conscience with giant crosses and religious messages and then tries to prick at our conscience with misleading one-liners about the supposed ethics of the pro-life position.
Allen is right to point out that these tactics come to us, more or less, in stillborn form, as their proponents now sit at the fringe of society watching a world influx pass them by, having long since lost the message:
The rural Southern political billboard is truly the dick pic of the Interstate, a surefire way to force others to witness your own self-satisfaction but an ineffective way to accomplish anything other than that. These billboards and roadside displays aren’t a form of rhetoric so much as they are what Walt Whitman might call “barbaric yawps,” inchoate assertions of presence in the wilderness. They are bumper stickers for people who don’t feel like bumper stickers are big enough. But as futile as these roadside displays may be, they do have cultural consequences. For non-white Alabamans, white supremacist billboards are a reminder that they live among people who perceive them as a threat. For black travelers on the Interstate, a Confederate flag evokes an all-too-recent history that many white Southerners still wish was their present. And when I drove past South of the Border with a Latina friend, her discomfort was much more palpable than my own.
But the fact that the dying gasp of fundamentalists, secessionists, and supremacists is taking place along the Interstate, of all places, is perhaps a heartening sign. These groups are much more adept at buying useless physical ad space then they are at, say, influencing public opinion on a platform like Twitter, although the most recent Alabama billboard tried to start the hashtag #WhiteGenocide. With social conservatism on a downward trend across every generation of Americans and faith in God plummeting among those born after 1981, these roadside displays come across more like death throes than they do as declarations of faith or confident warnings of the apocalypse. You can put a fundamentalist Jesus on a big poster with guns and tanks and claim that he’s still in control but that doesn’t make it true. And sure, you can paint a message about the impending white genocide on an Alabama billboard, but you’d only be hanging your own cultural irrelevance out to dry.
You mean Fox News invited a guest to go on national TV and let him spill some unchallenged, baseless claims about how Muslims are supposedly taking over a fair city in merry old England? Say it ain’t so?
A commentator named Steven Emerson apparently went on the air and said that Birmingham, England, was a “totally Muslim city,” and anchor Jeanine Pirro, apparently not one to be one-upped in the conspiracy theory category, said, “It sounds like a caliphate within a particular country.” Sort of like a mini-caliphate corroding free British society from within, I guess:
Notice how Pirro disingenuously just breezes through reading the lines like a spoiler child having to admit failure. Bad acting can’t mask insincerity.