The Failure of Post Radio

by Rick Rockwell

Questions are hanging in the air after the announcement this week that Washington Post Radio will call it a wrap next month.

How is it that two savvy media corporations, the Washington Post Co. and Bonneville International could fail so miserably?

Washington Post Radio basically allowed Bonneville to rent The Washington Post’s brand as a way to sell talk radio. After 18 months though, the experiment could get barely one percent of the metro area in and around Washington, D.C. to listen.

There are many reasons why this joint venture failed. But it really boils down to one word.


Some of it was arrogance at the Post and some of it was arrogance at Bonneville.

The arrogance at the Post was classic newspaper arrogance. The Post is the king of newspapers in a town with one-and-a-half newspapers. (And even calling The Washington Times half a newspaper is a compliment.) So perhaps there is reason for the arrogance.

Nevertheless, broadcasters encounter this arrogance often: newspaper journalists say they know how to do broadcasting better. If only those broadcasters would just move over and let some journalists with depth do the work (as if there are no journalists with depth in broadcasting: there may be fewer than ever, but they still exist!) you’d see a better product and a more informed audience. That arrogance says newspapers are the superior media product (even though television has attracted a bigger audience for decades) so of course newspaper journalists know best.

That arrogance carried over to the air, where even reviews in the Post took note of how clumsy newspaper journalists sounded on the radio and how some of them even tried reading their material from the newspaper verbatim. (So much for all the books available that could have told those all-knowing newspaper folk that the style of writing for broadcasting is very different.) Besides a book on broadcast writing, maybe some of the reporters at the Post and their bosses needed to pick up a history book or two. In the 1920s and 1930s, such experiments blending newspaper and radio operations either evolved into professional radio operations with separate staffs or they died, just like Post Radio. Of course, we know what happens to folks who don’t read history.

More arrogance: the Post has an entire broadcasting arm to its corporation and that broadcasting wing didn’t have much if anything to do with Post Radio. That’s because, Bonneville basically paid the Post for access to its columnists and reporters as a way to fill this attempt at talk radio. Bonneville still controlled the editorial content though which set up some angry editorial clashes as Bonneville’s producers opted for ratings grabbers while Post editors wanted more substantial fare. When Bonneville started discussing leavening Post Radio with talk radio programs from Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck as a way to boost ratings, the marriage was over. (Bonneville will use the radio frequency to launch a talk format with those syndicated shows after Post Radio is closed.)

Bonneville’s arrogance was thinking it could dominate the information airwaves in Washington and beat National Public Radio (NPR) in its own backyard. Bonneville saw an advantage because its highly-rated WTOP is the top news and information station in D.C. WAMU* the top NPR affiliate looked vulnerable to WTOP because its news team has been in transition. When another NPR affiliate, WETA fielded a new and aggressive public affairs and reporting staff, Bonneville engineered a complex format swap to make WETA an all-classical music station and change Bonneville’s WGMS from classical to pop and eventually to gospel. In effect though, the move closed a feisty news competitor for WTOP. Washington Post Radio was designed as the knockout punch to lure NPR’s audience to one of Bonneville’s stations.

The final piece of arrogance was thinking that by stretching a news product from another medium, Post Radio could somehow beat NPR, one of the quality broadcasting operations in the U.S.

But the audience was too sophisticated to fool.

Of course, the audience realized that with the exceptions of a few programs (including the sports talk of Tony Kornheiser, which was a major ratings draw) Post Radio was just a warmed over version of the newspaper instead of fresh and aggressive news.

This was one of those projects where media executives piled into a room chanting their favorite mantras about synergies, added values, convergence, multi-media, and of course their favorite topic: building profits without investing in sufficient personnel. After almost 18 months, a few million dollars in losses and some tarnished reputations, they are about to get what they deserve. Dead air.

*WAMU-FM is licensed to American University, which employs the author of this piece.

(Photo by Takomabibelot via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)

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Inside Those Sedate Cubicles, Anarchy

For the new readers, and there are a few dropping around in the past week or so, you may or may not realize this blog has carved out a niche as the music center for bored workers in the bureaucracy.

This past month was no exception. Readers took to Jeff Siegel’s series on punk rock in a big way. So readers were rockin’ to the video clips while reading the series at the National Academy of Sciences and the Library of Congress. The serious know where to come to rock out.

Not that the serious are the only ones secretly rockin’ out in their cubicles. The intelligentsia and the media stop here too. Perhaps that’s why folks at The San Antonio Express were reading Jeff’s other series this month on wine. And what about folks at The Washington Post taking up Molly Kenney’s latest about her new obsession with craigslist? And of course, it usually comes back to music, even for our readers in the newsrooms: for instance, The Chicago Tribune was checking out Stephen Tringali’s review of the new release from Spoon.

Some of our friendly readers were also looking for a chuckle. Perhaps that explains why workers for Maricopa County in Arizona were gleefully reading "Osama Owes Me a Fifth of Rum," along with cubicle denizens in D.C. at the Department of Interior. (But were those folks at Interior also chuckling when they were reading Laura Snedeker’s commentary about the resignation of Alberto Gonzalez?) The search for comedy may also explain why readers at the Army Information Systems Command, in Aberdeen, MD were reading Molly’s review of The Simpsons Movie or why folks at the Inter-American Development Bank wanted to see what Caitlin Servilio had to say about the TV series Who Wants to be a Superhero.

Finally, it really does come back to music. The seemingly staid and reserved folks at the World Bank probably don’t know some of them still check out one of this blog’s most popular postings, the review of the Live Earth concerts. Which raises the question: are they reading that for the music or to gauge the future success or failure of Al Gore?

(Cubicle photo by milesgehm of San Jose, CA via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)

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Changing of the Guard

The seasons come and go, and so too do some of the writers who contribute to this blog.

As summer turns into fall, we say goodbye to some of our contributors.

First, we send off Hilary Crowe with warm wishes and confidence she will make the music pages of The Eagle sing like they never have before. The Eagle, the student newspaper at American University is lucky to have her concentrating all of her extracurricular efforts there this year as the paper’s music editor. Hilary is one of the original writers on this blog, someone who has filed regularly since its inception. Her concert review of Iggy & The Stooges remains as one of the best pieces here, and her review of the DVD release of The Last King of Scotland was her most popular piece this summer.

We also bid adieu to McKayle Davison yet again. McKayle was among the original set of writers on the blog who came back for a second stint this summer. Her film review of La Vie en Rose stands as one of the blog’s most popular summer posts.

We wish them well. They will be missed.

(Photo of sunset at Fredriksborg fortress near Stockholm, Sweden by guldfisken of Moscow, via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)

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craigslist: The New Reason for Rehab

by Molly Kenney

As my time in D.C. draws to a close and I prepare to head abroad, I am faced with an apartment full of furniture and no place back home to store it. Keeping in mind my empty wallet and those of my roommates, I decided to brave the world of craigslist, uncharted territory I thought only for the savvy e-shopper. What I found was a downward spiral of addiction, riding the highs of a quick sell at a good price. I’m simply hooked.

In mid-July, I posted my couch, naively thinking that I should list it then if I wanted a response by the end of August when the lease expires. To my complete amazement, I had more than a dozen offers within the first hour of my posting. The couch was sold and picked up within the week. Unfortunately, my roommates and I far undershot the market price for fear that it wouldn’t sell, parting with a very nice couch for very little money. Also, we haven’t had much seating since then.

But I quickly learned the tricks of the trade. Over the last month, I’ve perfected the timing of my postings, the phrasing of my listings, and, out of necessity, the tone of my consolation e-mails to prospective buyers whose desired item has already been sold. I’ve sold a bed, a desk, a computer chair, side tables, storage bins, a bookcase, and even a futon, and I just want to sell more. Sure, I’ve dabbled in the Facebook Marketplace, but it’s only child’s play compared to the big game on craigslist. With craigslist, there’s a rush in the sudden influx of e-mails after a post and the struggle to schedule a convenient pick-up time. The pace of it gets my adrenaline pumping, and my roommates have become avid spectators to my e-sport.

I find myself getting desperate to feed my addiction. I sell things that my roommates and I were given for free. I continually set a stricter standard response time, discarding buyers who do not schedule a time within roughly 19 hours of our first e-mail conversation. But I’ve made so much money! Each roommate in our apartment, myself included, stands to make a $40 profit on the furniture we’ve used. That makes it okay, right? I’m helping my roommates make money. They need me. They don’t mind that we have no furniture in the apartment, and a week left on our lease.

Don’t worry, I haven’t hit rock bottom yet. I haven’t sold my roommates’ belongings without their permission, and my clothes are still on my back. Plus, I’ll never start buying things on craigslist. No one wants that crap.

(Photo by sideshowmom of Kansas City, MO via morgueFile.)

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In the Mud with Alberto Gonzalez

by Laura Snedeker

Exit Alberto Gonzales, enemy of corruption and crusader against terrorists everywhere.

The embattled attorney general, the second Bush administration official to cut and run in less than a month, resigned Monday to mournful goodbyes and sighs of relief. The president wasted no time before setting the record crooked: “It’s sad that we live in a time when a talented and honorable person like Alberto Gonzales is impeded from doing important work because his good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons.”

Attorneys general may come and go, but the president’s truth remains the same. Mr. Bush either lives in an elaborately concocted fantasy world shielded from reality by his advisors, or he strongly believes that “a lie told often enough becomes the truth.” Talented? Honorable? Gonzales was perfectly capable of dragging his own name through the mud. This is the same man who wrote the Justice Department memos authorizing torture at Gitmo* and set up secret military courts.

The president speaks often of sacrifice in the so-called War on Terror, but the nature of this sacrifice is uncertain. Gonzales had no choice but to resign. Faced with increasingly uncomfortable Senate questioning over his role in the firing of eight U.S. attorneys and warrantless wiretapping, he showed himself to be either a liar or an incompetent boob unfit for service.

If Gonzales lied under oath about his involvement in illegal political espionage, then he perjured himself and could be jailed. He has now removed himself as the main focus of that investigation. In addition, the longer the Senate hearings continued, the greater the chance became that he would either contradict himself or implicate the president. On the other hand, if he truly did not recall as many events as he claimed, then his faulty memory severely limited his ability to function as the nation’s top prosecutor.

The White House and the Senate have reached a stalemate: Gonzales is gone, so if the Senate is merely satisfied with his departure, it can move the investigation to the backburner. Democrats claim they will “get to the bottom of this mess and follow the facts where they lead, into the White House,” (as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid from Nevada put it) but Democratic leaders have indicated time and time again that impeachment is too divisive. Once an investigation reaches the White House, there’s too much momentum to stop it before impeachment becomes a political necessity.

President George W. Bush may regret the departure of the last of his Texas-era loyalists, but few on either side of the aisle miss him. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) insisted that while Gonzales hadn’t committed any crimes, he did “make management missteps” and “didn’t handle the spotlight well when they were exposed.” Gonzales wasn’t cool enough under pressure.

Perhaps Gonzales quit to save the party’s 2008 election chances. Candidates must distance themselves from the president and his minions while upholding their political strategy and must defend the excesses of the “War on Terror” while condemning the excesses of the administration.

Two top officials have now resigned before the Labor Day deadline set by White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten, set to create stability during the final stretch for a lame duck president. The first to leave this month, Karl Rove was a political manipulator; Gonzales was a Bush loyalist who helped the president get out of jury duty and cover up a DUI. His comical answers before the Senate were largely interpreted as a cover for the president, and his departure signals a loss of faith in the administration by even the most loyal.

Gonzales was always expendable, which is why it was he who fielded the Senate’s questions and not the president. Like another war, the fight for the Bush administration’s legacy is lost whether Gonzales stays until the bitter end or not, but it is better for him personally to declare the battle over and watch the fallout from a distance.

*Gitmo is the military abbreviation for the U.S. military's base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

(Editorial graphic courtesy of DarkBlack and used with permission. For more material like this, please see DarkBlack's blog.)

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Delayed Gratification: The Format & 1001 Openers, Part I

(This is the first part of a two-part concert review. To see Part II, please click here.)

by Caitlin Servilio

The Format took the 9:30 Club in D.C. by storm last weekend — but only after the audience had to endure some fairly unpleasant drizzle beforehand.

The Format, the stubbornly independent band from Phoenix, AZ was touring with four (four!) openers: Reubens Accomplice, a pop band also from Phoenix; Limbeck, an alternative country outfit from Southern California; Steel Train, a New Jersey emo band; and Piebald, an indie rock band from Andover, Massachusetts. And though I’ve been to some shows where the openers stole the spotlight from the headliner (for instance, last spring’s Of Montreal show), that didn’t happen this time.

Reubens Accomplice started off the night with nothing remotely approaching a big bang. There wasn’t anything particularly wrong with them, but there was nothing particularly right either. Their sound was generic and seemed overly trendy. A long whistling segment brought to mind the songwriter of the band thinking, “Hey, Peter Bjorn and John do it, so why not us?”

A sad moment occurred when they asked the crowd, “Did any of you guys see us when we played here five years ago?” Crickets could be heard chirping in the silence that followed, as Reubens Accomplice digested the fact that after five years they were still the first opener for a five-band show, and had no recognizable D.C. fanbase.

Limbeck, which came on directly afterward, was a welcome change. The fresh energy they brought to the set reinvigorated the still-thin crowd, along with their good-natured banter and country-tinged rock. Songs like “Big Drag” connected with the audience and entertained with tongue-in cheek humor and catchy hooks. Everyone in the band actually looked healthy and well fed, which is certainly nice to see in an age when starveling hipsters dominate the music scene in their size 00 jeans. Perhaps it was the three square meals a day that gave Limbeck the strength to write and perform decent songs.

Steel Train, by far the worst act of the night, could have learned some valuable lessons from Limbeck. Instead, Steel Train's brand of emo pop rock went beyond the generic sound of Reubens Accomplice to attain the rank of stereotypical and dumb. Every song was an uninterrupted stream of clichés with barely a transition to render the lyrics any actual meaning. “Kill Monsters in the Rain,” the band’s new single, included winners like “Let’s kill monsters in the rain/ because we are the same/ but you are to blame.” At one point the lead singer Jack Antonoff (Internet research turned up the fact that he used to date Scarlett Johansson, an experience which has apparently been incorporated into at least three Steel Train songs) explained emotionally “This song is about coming to DC from NJ.” And then members of the band actually got up, put their arms around each other, and sang the acoustic “Road Song,” which by the way referenced neither DC nor NJ. It was one of, if not the most, cringe-worthy concert experience I have ever had.

(To see the second part of this concert review, please scroll down or click here.)

(Promotional photo of Limbeck from Doghouse Records. To see the video for Limbeck's "Big Drag," please check below.)

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Delayed Gratification: The Format & 1001 Openers, Part II

(This is the second part of a two-part concert review. To see Part I, please click here.)

by Caitlin Servilio

Piebald was the last opener, and clearly the most experienced and talented of the four bands. It seemed as if Piebald had almost as many fans in the audience as The Format, judging by the amount of noise, jostling, and drinks that got spilled on me by the fringe victims of the impromptu mosh pit that sprang up in the middle of the floor. Piebald's loud, often funny set showcased an appealing rock sound that half of the audience really enjoyed and half stood stonily through, by this time too glazed over to do anything but yearn wistfully for The Format to finally come out.

When they did, the audience went completely wild. The collective thought seemed to be, “I have waited this long for The Format, and now I plan to rock out.” The Format opened their set with “She Doesn’t Get It,” and the audience yelled along to every word of the catchy, melodic song about a one-night-stand gone wrong. Continuing with more favorites like “Oceans” and “Janet,” Format front man Nate Ruess fed off the crowd’s energy and couldn’t seem to keep a goofy, happy grin off his face. Clearly, no one in the band had been expecting such an enthusiastic reception.

The unconventional indie band formed their own record label (The Vanity Label) and has never had a single on the radio — more, it seems, out of choice than because the radio wouldn’t welcome their infectious, original sound. Still, they’ve managed to gather a loving fanbase, which had turned out in full force for the show.

“This is our first time ever headlining in DC,” Ruess said, “So we really didn’t know what to expect. But this is really one of my favorite shows ever.”

Ruess is one of those rare singers who sound even better live than on studio recordings. It’s obvious that no sound technician has to electronically smooth his vocal flaws. His range and clarity were amazing, especially on the poignant “On Your Porch,” which Ruess and band co-founder Sam Means performed acoustically (but thankfully without hugging each other). The rest of the band also played their instruments with talent and flair, happy to be so loudly welcomed by the D.C. crowd.

Although The Format didn’t even go on until 11:45 p.m., the band was having such a good time that they played an extremely long set. After the band came back for an encore, Ruess sang four more songs, including the single “Time Bomb,” and ended with a brand new song that members of all four previous bands came out to play.

“Now I can’t wait to come back,” Ruess said near the end of the night. The Format's fans can’t wait either, but maybe next time The Format could leave a couple of their opening bands behind.

(To read this review from the beginning, please see Part I.)

(Photo left to right of Sam Means and Mike Schey of The Format taken at a show in Baltimore in April of this year by Joe Cereghino. The photo is from Flickr, using a Creative Commons license. The Format brings its five band show to Cincinnati tonight — Aug. 28. To see The Format's video for "On Your Porch," please check below.)

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Justice Dogs Michael Vick and the NFL

by Rick Rockwell

Today, Michael Vick reflects the cliché: it truly is the first day of the rest of his life.

When Vick appears before a federal judge, he will be changed from arrogant superstar quarterback into the don of a sleazy gang of illegal dog fighters and gamblers, seeking mercy before being sentenced to his penance. Doing penance is the next stage of Vick’s life. And he has more than a judge with a stern reputation to deal with now. He must also deal with the wrath of the National Football League (NFL).

Or maybe Vick knows something about the NFL that most won’t admit, and he really only has the judge to worry about. Because the Vick case is a test for the NFL’s new commissioner Roger Goodell and it will set the tone for his tenure at the top of the league.

For those who have been enjoying a sleepy summer away from news (and not just the sports pages), Vick will be formally changing his plea to guilty today on conspiracy charges that he ran an illegal dog fighting operation. As part of his deal with prosecutors, Vick will admit (his lawyers have already filed papers with these admissions) he directed the killing of dogs and killed dogs himself. Vick will also admit to financing illegal betting, although his attorneys have structured his admissions with the NFL in mind, saying he never actually transacted specific bets, leaving that to his co-conspirators. Vick’s superstardom began unraveling when the feds raided a mansion he owns in rural Virginia looking for drugs and instead found more than 60 dogs and the trappings of an illegal dog fighting ring.

Some have tried to defend Vick with various excuses. Some wonder why dog fighting has grabbed the imagination of the public and some say if Vick had been abusing a girlfriend it would have received less attention. Some wonder why dog fighting is a crime at all. Some have said prosecuting Vick is an assault on African-American culture (although it really is an assault on the thug life-style that wants to attach itself to various cultures, and some like Bill Cosby just want to stomp on it like the parasite it is).

Vick’s crimes are indefensible. He murdered dogs with callous disregard of the law (which has been around in many states for at least 150 years) and morality. If the judge follows the plea agreement and sentencing guidelines, he will actually get less than the maximum he deserves: five years and a $250,000 fine.

Will Goodell step up and ban Vick for life from the league once the NFL’s own investigation is over? Not likely. Some are already debating if Vick will be back in pads in 2009 or 2010 or maybe in the back half of 2008. Probably not for the Atlanta Falcons but for some other team in desperate need.

This is because Vick is a fantastic talent who lights up highlight reels. He’s good business for the league. This is the same league with a poor record for disciplining players for violence against women, drugs, and other crimes. In the past, the league has been willing to let millionaire players pay fines (which seem big to the middle class fans until you see the players’ total income) and get along on minor suspensions. Few players are like Adam "Pacman" Jones of the Tennessee Titans who is suspended for all of this season due to his various run-ins with the law. And no player of the stature of Vick has been suspended from the league for more than a year for a very long time.

So will Goodell go with the prevailing wisdom and suspend Vick for the term of his sentence and maybe a few games beyond that for good measure? Or will he step up and set a tone for justice? If Vick is suspended for anything less than the five years he should serve for his crimes then the message is clear: it’s just business as usual in the NFL.

(Editorial graphic from Mike Licht of D.C. via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license. More of Licht's work can be found at his website, NotionsCapital.)

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Gone Fishin'

For many who work on this blog, these are the last few days of summer before school begins anew.

Others who have no connection to schools are off on vacation or exotic assignments. While yet others are recovering from vacations just completed.

We are at the sunset of the summer.

So as we try to relax and enjoy those last few glimmering rays, the blog will be on hiatus until early next week. Why not take our example and get out and enjoy yourself?

But for those diehards who must have something to consume, why not a sampling of some of this blog's summer fare? If you must, try these posts:

Until next week: we are kickin' back and takin' life easier than it usually comes.

(Photo of a fisherman on Stradbroke Island, Australia by mur308 of London via morgueFile.)

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Music Review: Silverchair's Young Modern

by Stephen Tringali

Silverchair’s newest release in five years, the curiously titled Young Modern, finds the band exploring new sonic landscapes that both divorce them from previous grunge idols Nirvana and Pearl Jam and worship a new set of idols, including David Bowie, Queen, and bar-band rock and roll.

Those who have followed Silverchair since their rise as 15-year-old Australian all-stars know that their music is built on hero worship. The group’s first album, Frogstomp, was a loving, if ill-composed, ode to the grunge music that they listened to while growing up. But despite all the wisdom that went along with imitating the best of that breed (Nirvana and Pearl Jam), Silverchair fell short of their ambition — to be just as good as the bands they admired.

Cut Silverchair some slack, the fans might say. They weren’t afforded the comforts that most aspiring young artists get. Their music never found maturation within the thick walls of someone’s basement or within the hallowed spaces of another’s empty barn — places where few people, if anyone at all, could hear them.

Instead, Silverchair fell under unfortunate circumstances. You might wonder how making it big at such a young age might be an unfortunate circumstance. It’s really quite easy. Dump three 15-year-olds in the middle of the alt-rock limelight and see how they fair.

Silverchair’s music grew up in front of an audience. Never able to iron out the wrinkles in their song craft, they succumbed to the somewhat embarrassing and very adolescent practice of hero worship.

But that was 13 years ago. Now each Silverchair member is 28 years old. They’ve had five years since their last release to rethink their approach. But they still arrived at the same conclusion: cheap imitation is better than experiment or innovation. Take an audience that already exists, write music that suits their ears, and capitalize.

No way am I going to cut them any slack.

Silverchair’s first single, “Straight Lines,” is catchy enough with its cooing backing vocals, its swelling chorus, and its piano and keyboard-heavy instrumentals. But there’s an impending sense that the album just won’t hold. And the next song immediately confirms this.

“If You Keep Losing Sleep” finds Silverchair dabbling in rock that owes more to show tunes than to adult alternative. But it would seem that Silverchair’s done with Coldplay listeners. Instead, they’re hedging a way into the musical market. So watch out High School Musical — your days on the Billboard charts are numbered.

A seven-minute track entitled “Those Thieving Birds (Part 1) / Strange Behavior / Those Thieving Birds (Part 2)” continues the show tunes theme with even more embellishments. Lead singer Daniel Johns serves up some dramatic sap, while an orchestral accompaniment tickles the gag reflex like Mr. Mistoffelees prancing about in beer-soaked flannel.

Like that drunken image of the magical street cat, Silverchair have disguised their music in the clothes of legitimacy. But there’s a problem with this kind of imitation — it’s never as good as the real thing. And you can always spot the fakes.

(The promotional photo of Silverchair performing in Manchester, U.K., this month is from Eleven Music. Silverchair will continue their world tour with a performance in Paris tonight. To see Silverchair's video for "Straight Lines" please check below.)

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Anchorwoman & TV's Sleazy Truth

by Rick Rockwell

There is much handwringing today in journalism circles about the premiere of Anchorwoman, the new series on FOX. For those expecting an echo of those sentiments here, forget it.

The battle for journalistic credibility in television news was lost long ago. So why keep crying about it?

For those who haven’t followed the articles about Anchorwoman, the premise is rather simple. FOX has created a reality series (the term “reality” is always used advisably with primetime television programs that aren’t documentaries – often such programs are as manipulated and directed as any fiction series) that follows the reactions of a newsroom after a new anchorwoman arrives. However, the new anchor is Lauren Jones, a former model and competitor in the Miss USA competition (also a stage presenter for The Price is Right) who likes to show off her still model-perfect body on the air. In some ways, the series also borrows some of the themes from the funny and successful satirical film, Anchorman.

The Society of Professional Journalists has led the way in criticizing KYTX-TV, a CBS affiliate in Tyler, Texas, for participating in the series. The Washington Post and other newspapers have also jumped on that bandwagon. (And typical of newspaper criticism, the critics want to have it both ways. The critics poke fun at KYTX for opening the door to the FOX series, but also chastise the journalists who fight the idea as being “too serious.”)

But what’s the point in that criticism?

The debate about the need on television to mix entertainment with information has been tipped in favor of the entertainment side at least since the 1970s. That’s when journalists started welcoming consultants into their newsrooms who cared almost solely about marketing rather than journalism. For instance, at one time, journalists in television newsrooms actually argued against news teases and newsbreaks that were nothing but teases. But watch television news and you’ll see the consultants won that battle long ago.

And likewise the battle over trading sex appeal for television ratings is decades-old too. For instance, when television stations started bringing in former models to do the weather in the 1960s (as opposed to men doing the weather sometimes accompanied by puppets, puppies, birds or other animal mascots) critics also rightly harpooned television for selling out, although that was an early entry point for women into newsrooms that were once all-male.

In the 1980s, Shelly Jamison broke a barrier of sorts as the first television news reporter to pose nude for Playboy. Although Jamison was pressured out of her job at KTSP-TV in Phoenix, this author worked for a news director in the Tampa Bay area who openly contemplated hiring her for the potential ratings boost. Instead, that news director hired a former Miss USA who had thin journalism credentials but who looked good in front of a camera. Nowadays, anchorwomen such as Jennifer Santiago at WFOR-TV in Miami have posed for Playboy and still hold on to their jobs. Some stations, such as KTLA-TV in Los Angeles strongly defend their decisions to employ anchorwomen with sex appeal who also pose for magazine photo spreads which focus on their bodies rather than their journalistic credentials.

With standards at that level, why is there any debate about Anchorwoman? Although there are better documentary projects that uncover the sleaze in how television stations are managed, perhaps this series just shows how laughable local news has become.

(Promotional photo of Lauren Jones in Anchorwoman from FOX. The series debuts tonight at 8 p.m. EDT. To see Good Morning America's take on Anchorwoman, please check below.)

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Students, That Hand in Your Pocket may be a Loan Officer

by Jeff Siegel

In the old days, which is when I went to college, student loans were fairly straightforward. You borrowed the money from a federally-affiliated lender called Sallie Mae, which offered lower interest rates than banks since the federal government guaranteed the loans. I still have the cancelled check for my final loan payment, as a matter of fact.

But these are not the old days. These are the government is a burden, so let's privatize everything Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush days. These are the let the marketplace determine the most efficient way to lend students money, and if students get screwed, that's not our problem days. Student lending is an $85 billion a year business, Sallie Mae is just another private lender among dozens (and which had a $25 billion buyout deal in place until this month), and no one cares about the taxpayers.

In short, the student loan business is just as corrupt as Pentagon procurement, Congressional lobbying, and seemingly everything else that goes on inside the Beltway these days.

In one respect, what has happened in the student loan business, uncovered when the New York state attorney general's office started issuing subpoenas this spring, is no different from any other Washington scandal. College loan officials took cash, trips, stocks and assorted other goodies from lenders to steer students to the lenders. My favorite peccadillo? At least two federal officials who oversaw the student loan program owned stock in companies they were regulating – and had the nerve to claim it wasn't a conflict of interest.

But in another sense, this is much, much worse. This isn't about K Street wise guys sticking it to Indian casinos and their Congressional patrons. As bad as that is, it's one of those everyone gets dirty when they wrestle with pigs things. This is about college students getting cheated by their schools – and some pretty impressive ones, like Penn, Columbia, Johns Hopkins, Texas, and USC. It's one thing for this to happen at Big Al's School of Truck Repair and Rat Extermination; it's another when a Johns Hopkins loan officer gets 65 large in "consulting fees" from a lender.

Note to students: They are stealing from you. They are taking money out of your pocket, and for no other reason so they can gorge themselves. You need to do something about this, and not just let a bunch of old farts like me who still believe in quaint concepts like social justice rant. This is why we have voting – so you can throw the bums out of Congress, of whichever party, who allowed this to happen. I've paid off my loan; how long will it to take you to pay off yours, given how you have been double-crossed?

(The political cartoon is by Thomas Nast of Harper's Weekly circa 1870 from a famous series on corruption. This cartoon is from a collection of Nast's work from 1904 and is now in the public domain.)

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Karl Rove Waves Goodbye from His Rathole

by Laura Snedeker

Karl Rove knows when to quit. According to an interview with Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot, the White House deputy chief of staff will resign effective Aug. 31.

Like numerous other administration officials, he too wishes to spend more time with his family (which is conveniently far away from Washington). Unlike those of John Ashcroft, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, or Donald Rumsfeld, Rove’s departure isn’t part of a second-term re-alignment or disgraceful resignation.

Unlike Rumsfeld, who resigned after the midterm elections in which the Democrats captured the House and Senate in a perceived repudiation of the government’s war policy, Karl Rove won his battle when he escaped indictment in the Valerie Plame scandal. Adding insult to injury, the CIA even refused to allow Plame to disclose the length of her tenure as an operative.

White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten told senior officials they would either have to leave before Labor Day or stay until the end of the term, but it’s unlikely that this rule was meant to apply to the Architect himself.

There are other administration officials who should be jumping at the opportunity to make a break for it. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who faces questions over his role in the government’s warrantless wiretapping program, could save himself from further embarrassment by resigning gracefully. It’s only his loyalty that keeps him Bush’s last line of defense.

Condoleezza Rice, now the moderate of the Bush administration, could have many years ahead of her in government or in the private sector. Given America’s poor standing in the world, it might be better for her to slink away and let another poor sap deal with the fallout.

Karl Rove is smart enough not to latch his career to one man. The names of those who follow Bush to the end will be etched in popular memory. Americans most revile Gonzales for corrupting the Justice Department, although Ashcroft’s actions during Bush’s first term were just as sinister. Although Colin Powell made the original case for war, the public blames his successor for the failure in Iraq.

He’s done everything he can to keep the Bush administration afloat, but impeachment or not, the president is out the door in 18 months. Like the king rat on a sinking ship, Rove would rather not be there for the inglorious end. He worked dirty tricks campaigns while Bush waited out the Vietnam War in his National Guard champagne unit, and his loyalty lies with a process rather than a person.

Is it a coincidence that this announcement comes right after the Iowa straw poll? If Rove could make the spoiled, bumbling son of a former president look like the Second Coming of Ronald Reagan, than he can make a shifty Mormon flip-flopper look like a born-again Christian conservative.

The antics of the Bush White House put Rove firmly in the spotlight, an uncomfortable place for a man more accustomed to the political underground. Rove is what American politics are all about when we get below the shiny, superficial surface. He’s a parasite without a host, but there’ll be plenty of bodies in 2008.

(Editorial graphic courtesy of DarkBlack and used with permission. For more material like this, please see DarkBlack's blog.)

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The Basics of Enjoying Wine 101.4

(This is the last installment of a four-part question and answer series about wine. To read part III, click here.)

by Jeff Siegel*

OK, tell me about sweet wine. Every time I order a glass of white zinfandel at a restaurant, people make fun of me.

That’s because wine snobs like to make fun of people. The most important rule of wine – the only rule of wine – is that the best wine is the wine you like. Josh Wesson, the founder of the Best Cellars wine chain, put it best: “Would you eat vanilla ice cream, even if you didn’t like it, because I told you to eat vanilla ice cream? Of course not. You’d eat chocolate. Why should wine be any different?”

That’s easy enough to say. But how do I find out what I like?

Drink a glass, of course. If you like it, then buy something similar. If you don’t like it, pour it down the drain and try something else. Wine is not rocket science. You don’t have to go to school to learn how to like it. If it tastes good to you, that’s enough. Start with inexpensive wines, and work your way up. And don’t be afraid to try different wines. Just because you like white zinfandel doesn’t mean that’s the only wine you can drink. Try a rose or a German riesling. They are similar to white zinfandel, but more sophisticated.

Well, I suppose. But there are so many wines to choose from. How do I get started?
Walk into a wine store, or a grocery store with a good wine department, and ask for help. Do you want to learn about reds? Whites? About a region? About wine for picnics? About inexpensive wines? Don’t try to learn everything in one day. It can’t be done, for one thing, and it’s not any fun either.

Tell the staff how much you want to spend, if you have any preferences (dry vs. sweet, red vs. white, and the like), and ask them to recommend something. In addition, ask if they offer classes or tastings. These days, as wine becomes more popular, more and more stores do those things. They’re cheap and easy ways to taste even more wine.

How can you tell if your retailer is any good? If they don’t tell you what wine you should drink, but ask you what you want to drink. It’s your money – don’t let a snooty retailer with inventory to move make you buy something you don’t want to buy. And if you buy something you don’t like on a retailer’s recommendation, it’s perfectly acceptable to tell them the next time you’re in the store.

That makes sense. But aren’t there some simple rules of thumb, just to start with?
Sure. Remember these, and you’ll always be able to come up with a decent bottle in a pinch. First, all wine doesn’t have to be a varietal like chardonnay or cabernet. The best values, especially for inexpensive wine, will be blended from several different grapes. It’s very difficult to find a terrific cabernet for less than $10, but there are a dozen red blends that will do the same thing the cabernet does for one-third less. Second, younger is better, since less expensive wines were not made to last as long as their more expensive cousins. Stay away from red wines older than 3 and white wines older than 2. It’s better to have a wine that’s a little too young than a little too old.

That should you get you started. The rest is up to you. The most fun part about wine is the journey – so much wine to taste, and so little time to do it.

*Jeff Siegel is the wine columnist for the Star-Telegram newspaper in Fort Worth, Texas, and Advocate magazines in Dallas.

(To read this series from the beginning, please click here.)

(Photo by tore urnes of Oslo, Norway via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)

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The Basics of Enjoying Wine 101.3

(This is the third installment of a four-part question and answer series about wine. To read part II, click here.)

by Jeff Siegel*

What does it mean when someone says a wine is oaky or tastes like grapefruit? A grapes tastes like a grape, doesn’t it?

Yes and no. Keep in mind that a grape is a fruit, which means that it has many of the same chemicals that influence flavors in other fruits. Tomatoes are the same way – some can be very sweet, some can be beefy, some can be more tomato-y – yet all are tomatoes. Grapes are the foundation the winemaker builds on (and remember that chardonnay grapes are different from cabernet, which are different from sauvignon blanc), and he or she can change the flavor by how they make the wine. What kind of barrels (steel, French oak, American oak) do they age it in? How long do they age it? When do they pick the grapes? What was the weather like?

Generally, white wines taste lighter and more like citrus fruits; red wines are heavier and have flavors that include dark berries. Having said that, keep in mind that most inexpensive wine won’t taste much like the label description. Too many wineries and winemakers insist on intimidating consumers by claiming that an $8 cabernet tastes like black pepper and spice when the label should suggest wine and food parings.

Boy, you can say that again. How can I figure out what wine to serve with what food?
That’s easy. Serve what you want. If you want to drink sweet wine with prime rib, that’s your choice. I might not approve of it, but you aren’t me.

There are traditional pairings – white wines with chicken and fish, red wines with beef – but there are no wine police to arrest anyone who does it differently. One rule of thumb: the heartier the entree, the heartier the wine, which means a light red wine goes well with roasted chicken or salmon, and a dry white wine might be perfect for a pork tenderloin. The goal is for the wine to complement the taste of the meal, not to obscure it.

You just used the term dry. What does that mean?
Most red wines are dry, because they aren’t very sweet. (There’s also a chemical explanation, involving something called tannins, but that’s way too complicated.) White wines are less dry than red wines (they have less tannin), and there are many sweet white wines.

*Jeff Siegel is the wine columnist for the Star-Telegram newspaper in Fort Worth, Texas, and Advocate magazines in Dallas.

(To read Part IV, please click here.)

(Photo by ralphunden of Stuttgart, Germany via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)

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The Basics of Enjoying Wine 101.2

(This is the second installment of a four-part question and answer series about wine. To read part I, click here.)

by Jeff Siegel*

Is wine from France better than wine from California? How do I know where to buy it from?

Good wine is good wine, no matter where it comes from. Some Missouri wine can make a French or California bottle taste like it was made in a bathtub. Real estate matters for price and style of the wine. A great wine is a combination of the skill of the wine maker and the quality of the grapes.

That sounds pretty esoteric – the skill of the wine maker and quality of the grapes. What does it mean when I need to take a bottle to my boss’ house for dinner?

That’s where the price/value ratio comes in. Today, wine fits into four price/value ranges – $15 or less, $15 to $20, $20 to $30, and really expensive. There are wonderful wines in the first group, some really terrific wines in the second group, a lot of overpriced wines in the third group, and very little wine in the fourth group that most people would drink if they had to pay for it. After all, is a $100 wine four times better than a $25 wine?

It’s also where real estate matters. Wine from regions with less expensive land – the south of France and Alsace, Australia, South America or Spain – is usually a better value.

*Jeff Siegel is the wine columnist for the Star-Telegram newspaper in Fort Worth, Texas, and Advocate magazines in Dallas.

(To read Part III, please click here.)

(Photo by Peter Dutton of Forest Hills, NY via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)

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