The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

Category: Politics

'Moneyball's' Michael De Luca: Rick Perry not ready for prime time

Mike de luca When Michael De Luca was on the film-festival circuit earlier this month, touting two films he'd produced -- "Moneyball," which just opened this weekend, and the upcoming political satire "Butter" -- he managed to lose his California driver's license. When he finally went to the DMV to apply for a new one, he also was given the option to update his voter registration, and was asked to declare his political party affiliation.

He opted for Democrat. In la-la-liberal Hollywood, this would hardly be a shock, except for the fact that in recent years, De Luca had been a vocal convert to the Republican cause. A longtime political junkie, De Luca had abandoned the Democrats after 9/11, believing that the GOP had the right muscular approach to national defense at a time when the country was engaged in a war on terrorism. When I staged a mock Hollywood debate during the 2004 election, De Luca happily argued for George W. Bush, with fellow producer Lawrence Bender taking the liberal position. De Luca cast his presidential ballot in 2004 for Bush. And when Arnold Schwarzenegger ran for governor in 2006, De Luca voted for him too.  

In 2008, even though his foreign policy views were more in line with those of John McCain, he voted for Barack Obama, believing he could steer the country out of the Great Recession. But even though De Luca remains skeptical of Obama -- "I still think he's a hopeless amateur in a lot of ways" -- he is even more disenchanted by the Republican presidential field. Call him a political contrarian. At a time when so many liberals are disenchanted with Obama that The Hollywood Reporter just ran a big story headlined "Disappointed Hollywood Giving Obama Cold Shoulder," De Luca is willing to give Obama a second chance.

The recent Republican debates were the clincher. "Watching them on stage, there were just too many Republicans saying crazy things that didn't make any sense," he told me Monday. "I just couldn't connect with anyone there. Normally I'd be attracted to Romney, but he doesn't even seem willing to stand behind his own ideas. I have a lot of problems with Obama's health care plan, which in some ways offers up the worst of all worlds, but we're really in a bizarre alternate universe when Romney can't brag about what he did to help people out with his own health care program in Massachusetts just because it goes against the party's orthodoxy."

De Luca is also appalled by what he calls a Republican "jihad" against government spending designed to get the economy back on track. "Obama may have taken a real wet noodle approach," he says. "But at least he's trying to do something. [Mitt] Romney and the other Republicans are buying into this deficit-reduction craziness, which is a disastrous scenario in the middle of what's becoming a double-digit recession. And at the debate, they seemed to care a lot more about social issues than getting America back on track. The country is melting down and they're arguing about the HPV vaccine."

He wasn't impressed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry; De Luca said that, judging from his debate performance, the candidate was "clearly not ready for prime time." 

So isn't De Luca worried about being labeled another latte-sipping Hollywood liberal? "Not me," he said. "I'm still not comfortable being around all the hard-core lefties who believe that America was conceived in original sin. I believe in American exceptionalism. Our experiment in democracy, as constructed by the founding fathers, is better than any form of government in any other place in the world."

If New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were in the presidential race, De Luca -- who grew up in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn -- might still end up voting Republican. But for now, he's on the Obama team. "Call me a flip-flopper, but as long as the Republicans are going to use the economy as a political football at a time when jobs and people's livelihoods are at stake, I'm going to hold my nose and vote for Obama. I guess that makes me a conservative Democrat, but right now, that's better than being a nutty Republican."

RELATED:

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New Oscar rules: Can the Academy curtail awards season excess?

-- Patrick Goldstein

Photo: Michael De Luca, right, with producer Lawrence Bender, photographed after a mock presidential debate in Los Angeles in 2004. Credit: Los Angeles Times


Are rednecks in 'Straw Dogs' an insult to Mississippi?

Rod Lurie

My family is from all over the South -- Mobile,  Montgomery, Atlanta, Chapel Hill -- so I'm always quick to defend the region against nasty cultural slights, whether it's a lack of culinary appreciation for fried okra and biscuits with gravy or having to endure hearing yet another New York actor do a bad Southern accent.

On the other hand, I'm not a mindless defender of Southern backwardness, like James Frazier at the Washington Times, who has penned a lengthy essay defending Mississippi against the hordes of Hollywood liberals who have, as he puts it, "cemented the state's image in American culture as a brutal, benighted backwater teeming with violent bigots."

Of course, we could just end this argument right here by saying that if you've ever studied the history of Mississippi, home of such virulent racist demagogues as Sen. Theodore Bilbo, Gov. Ross Barnett and Sen. James Eastland, you'd know that the state's image as a brutal backwater teeming with violent bigots is well deserved, having been cast in stone by its own actions long before Hollywood had anything to say about it.

That brings us to "Straw Dogs," which barely opened over the weekend, making a paltry $5 million and earning a measly 38 Fresh Rating at Rotten Tomatoes, meaning that its days at the multiplexes are numbered. But is the Rod Lurie-directed film a slap at the South, as Frazier and other conservative critics have argued? The remake of the Sam Peckinpah classic does offer a number of uncomplimentary Southern stereotypes, substituting Mississippi rednecks for the British working class tormenters from the original film.

According to Frazier, Mississippi has spawned a host of great writers and musicians, but "in the imagination of Hollywood, Mississippi has long since ceased to be a place and become instead a facile metaphor for violent racist bigotry and hostility to outsiders." He recruits a gaggle of academics to back up his theory, with Kathryn McKee, associate professor of Southern studies at the University of Mississippi, saying that "the idea of Mississippi has functioned in the American imagination as a kind of holding bin for negative things about the nation."

That may have been true in the days past that gave us "Mississippi Burning" and "Ghosts of Mississippi." But what about "The Blind Side," which presents a very idealized vision of a Mississippi family that helps raise a homeless football prodigy? Or "The Help," now a huge box-office hit, which offers an upbeat take on the ability of black maids to stand up for themselves in the midst of the racial upheaval of '60s era Mississippi?

Frazier acknowledges their presence, but views them as exceptions to the rule. But I think he's missing a much bigger trend. If you watch reality TV, you see far more negative stereotypes about the South in such shows as CMT's "Sweet Home Alabama" and tru TV's "Lizard Lick Towing," where the South is viewed as such a backward, thickly accented region that many of the shows have subtitles for their characters, worried that a well-educated reality TV viewer wouldn't understand what they were saying.

Reality TV doesn't make any pretense about pushing the cultural envelope. If it portrays the South as benighted, it's because it thinks that is what its audience wants to believe. I suspect that the South is often portrayed as a poor relation because most of America needs to feel superior to someone, so why not the South as a good starting point?

But it's a stretch to say that "Straw Dogs" is part of Hollywood's overall hostility against Mississippi, just because the villains in the movie are rednecks. Conservatives are always up in arms about some new Hollywood excess, just as they were when they greeted "Avatar" with a storm of complaints that it was somehow anti-American because its military characters were portrayed as warmongering invaders. Stereotypes are everywhere in storytelling. Rod Lurie may be guilty of a lack of imagination, but he's not guilty of giving Mississippi a bad name. The state did that all on its own.

--Patrick Goldstein

RELATED:

'Avatar' arouses conservatives' ire

'Straw Dogs' remake sees the humans in us

Photo: "Straw Dogs" writer-director Rod Lurie photographed at his office last month in Los Angeles.  

Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha/Los Angeles Times


Newt Gingrich bashes Politico's John Harris, media in debate ploy

Newt Gingrich Rick Perry

This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

The role of stalwart chief executive already had two suitors in Rick Perry and Mitt Romney. Casting the rest of Wednesday night's Republican presidential debate, Ron Paul nailed the libertarian puritan and John Huntsman cornered reasonable moderate. So what job remained for onetime House Speaker Newt Gingrich, struggling to make a mark on a stage stacked with eight candidates?

How about Chief Media Basher and All-Around GOP Team Guy?

It may have amounted to a bit part, but one offering scene-stealing opportunity, especially given that the event at the Ronald Reagan Library & Museum in Simi Valley was being broadcast by MSNBC. The liberal-tilting cable network gave the also-ran Gingrich the perfect foil, the chance to play Republican Party uniter and -- who knows? -- maybe begin positioning himself for some future Cabinet appointment.

Gingrich's turn will be most remembered (and already celebrated by multiple conservative commentators) for attacking Politico's John Harris, when the debate moderator tried to get him to take sides between fellow GOP candidates on the issue of healthcare.

The Georgian got in a few other not-so-subtle digs at the media and advanced a much broader thesis: Attempts to tease out differences between the Republican hopefuls were thinly veiled maneuvers "to protect Barack Obama, who deserves to be defeated."

That proposition is enjoyable raw meat for the GOP base. And it would make a lot of sense, except for the fact that the entire cumbersome, protracted and heavily covered primary-election process is designed to expose and explain differences among a political party's various candidates. Is there any other way to help voters decide which product to finally pull off the shelf? (Well, probably, but this is the system we are stuck with, for now.)

Yet Gingrich and a sizable pack of post-debate commentators expressed dismay, even outrage, that NBC anchor Brian Williams and Harris would try to get the candidates to talk about their differences. Obviously, given MSNBC's well-deserved reputation for liberal political commentary, this had to be a partisan plot.

This raises many questions: Did all these people sleep through the last several presidential campaigns? Don't any of them recall how the media, to take just the most recent instance, spent months reporting and glorying in every possible distinction between dueling Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton? Have political debates, three years later, been redesignated as "friending" circles?

You would think so to listen to the undeniably bright (and, in this case, cunning) Gingrich. From his first answer, he made clear he would be school-marming and parrying the debate moderators, while playing shamelessly to the partisan gallery.

Asked about writing the forward for Perry's book "Fed Up" -- which outlines the Texas governor's serious doubts about all sorts of federal programs, including Medicare -- Gingrich would have none of it.

"Look, he's said himself that was an interesting book of ideas by somebody who's not proposing a manifesto for president," Gingrich said. "And I think to go back and try to take that apart is silly."

Even though the book was published just last year, Gingrich suggested to Williams that questions about "Fed Up" made no sense. So Check One, on Gingrich's new debating rules: Would-be presidents should not have to talk about their previous scribblings, even ones they wrote as visions of the Oval Office danced in their heads.

Near the end of the debate, the former Speaker would have to straighten Williams out again. In response to a question about Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke (whom he would fire "tomorrow"), Gingrich pivoted to an earlier question. A much earlier question; actually from a previous GOP debate.

"We were asked the wrong question at the last debate," Gingrich said. "The question isn't, would we favor a tax increase? The question is, how would we generate revenue?"

Gingrich said the conversation should be about cutting government and opening vast tracts of Alaska to gas and oil extraction. Never mind that many economists and public-opinion surveys would seem to put some tax increases (for higher-income earners) on the table for most Americans. We nonetheless have Gingrich's Check Two: No more questions about higher taxes. For anyone.

He saved his third rule, and sharpest barb, for Harris, the longtime political writer and co-founder of Politico.com.

Harris suggested that the two GOP front-runners -- Romney and Perry -- had "a genuine philosophical disagreement" over healthcare. As governor of Massachusetts, Romney passed a reform that required residents to buy health insurance. Perry and other Republicans have designated such a "mandate," a key to President Obama's national healthcare law, as just the sort of big-government solution that is anathema to economic recovery and American values.

Harris asked Gingrich to weigh in on the side of Romney's Massachusetts plan or the small-government approach in Texas, where one-quarter of residents are uninsured.

"Well, I'm frankly not interested in your effort to get Republicans fighting each other," Gingrich snapped. Harris interjected that there is a real choice to be made -- requiring citizens to buy health insurance, or not.

Gingrich remained unmoved. He huffed that he would "repudiate every effort of the news media to get Republicans to fight each other to protect Barack Obama, who deserves to be defeated." Check Three: the media should never expect one Republican to speak ill of another.

It seems abundantly clear, as Gingrich pointed out, that Republicans are unified in opposing Obama's healthcare changes. But not so clear, or true, is Gingrich's contention that only slippery, scheming journalists want to talk about Romney's healthcare record. The record of the last few months will show any number of occasions in which Republicans on the stump, with little aid from villainous reporters, used "Romneycare" to bludgeon the former Massachusetts governor.

Could the news media in clear conscience cover the current campaign and not raise one of the front-running candidate's major policy initiatives, one that was also a substantial public policy watershed? Wouldn't a moderator who failed to question what other candidates felt about that initiative be guilty of sloppiness, if not malpractice?

That Gingrich has begun flailing to draw himself attention is not just a conclusion of crazy liberals. Speaking on Fox Business Network on Thursday morning, anchor Chris Wallace said of Gingrich: "He is doing this stunt, which he did with me and he did with John Harris yesterday, which is attack the messenger. If he thinks that works, fine. I find it kind of sad."

[For the Record: 2:08 p.m. Sept. 9: A previous version of this post said anchor Chris Wallace spoke on Fox Business News.]

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-- James Rainey
Twitter.com/latimesrainey

Photo: Texas Gov. Rick Perry, right, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich greet after a debate among GOP presidential candidates at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Musuem in Simi Valley on Wednesday. Credit: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images


Britain riots, Fox's O'Reilly asks: where are the guns?

BillOreilly Fox News personality and sometime media critic Bill O’Reilly thought he detected yet another case of liberal media bias last week, this time coming from England. The subject was guns.

As my "On the Media" column suggests, the recent riots in Britain have raised a lively discussion about whether social networks and cellphone communications should be limited.

O’Reilly suggested on his Fox News program that the social unrest should spark another debate. But he said “the BBC and the other liberal British press” had been remiss, failing to report how  British cops and shop owners weren't armed well enough to rein in the chaos.

If you “don’t have a gun, you’re in real trouble,” facing rioters, O’Reilly said.

"The difference between America and Great Britain is that here in America many of us are armed because of the Second Amendment," O'Reilly began. "In Great Britain they don't like guns . . . .the cops don't even carry guns."

No doubt a loaded firearm would have caused some hooligans to think twice before, as the Brits say, pinching (shoplifting) a pair of trainers (sneakers), or attempting much worse.

Of course, arming the populace can have other consequences, as O'Reilly should recall, since he was in Los Angeles at the time of the 1992 riots.

Fifty-four people died in L.A., about two-thirds of them from gunshot wounds. (Eleven of the dead were shot by police or the National Guard.) In the riots that swept several British cities this summer, a total of five died. One of them was by a gunshot. (Three others died after being intentionally run over by a car. One  man was beaten to death.)

A Los Angeles Times account a few months after the riots showed the mixed impact of private gun ownership. Widely distributed pictures showed Korean American shop owners defending their stores. But not all the gunfire went toward the right targets. The story described a group of Korean American youths who went to help the shop owners, only to be mistakenly shot themselves. Edward Song Lee, 18, died of his wounds.

Fox News Correspondent Amy Kellogg told O’Reilly last week that, despite the London riots, the debate about arming the police, or allowing more guns in the hands of private citizens, “has not come up.” O’Reilly is not ready to drop the subject, it seems. He ended the discussion predicting that, in the event of continued trouble, “the gun debate will ramp up.”

--James Rainey

Twitter: latimesrainey

Photo: Fox News' top-rated host, Bill O'Reilly has helped drive the entire cable network's ratings higher. Last week, he wondered why the media had so little to say about the lack of guns in rioting Britain. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

 

 


Juan Williams: Muzzled, but still talking all the time

JuanWilliamsNPR Among the striking non sequiturs in Juan Williams' new book "Muzzled," besides the title, is the author's simultaneous embrace of Fox News and despair at what he says is a national discourse that has become overly ideological and coarse.

Those two ideas may coexist in the nearly 300 pages of Williams' book, but they will ring jarringly dissonant to anyone who has spent more than a few minutes watching Fox hosts batter anyone with an opposing (read: liberal) position.

Fox is the leading practitioner of the full-contact partisan commentary that's spreading across cable television (most notably to MSNBC) and, arguably, to the body politic. Williams won a $2-million contract with Fox over three years after being booted from NPR last fall.

He charges it is the public radio network that is a safe haven for liberal political cant.

I have a longer discussion of the Williams book in my On the Media column, but there wasn't room to mention all the disconnects there. One other misnomer from the onetime Washington Post journalist: In a section of "Muzzled" in which he discusses how much the public liked his work at National Public Radio, Williams notes that the "ombudswoman said she got more response to my work than to any other voice on the network." What he fails to write is that much of that public feedback was negative--complaints about Williams' screeds on Fox.

The book and the discussion accompanying it raise many questions. One for NPR: If Williams was as ineffectual and overly opinionated as you suggest, why did you keep him around for a decade? Perhaps it had something to do with the star status he had achieved in part, ahem, by appearing on Fox. For Williams: If NPR was as corrupt and politically correct as you now report, why didn't you quit before they fired you?

I tried to get Williams through a couple of Fox representatives this week. They did not respond to my inquiries.

--James Rainey

Photo: News analyst Juan Williams is now a commentator at Fox News, full time, after being ousted from his job at National Public Radio last fall. His new book, "Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate," discusses the controversy and his thoughts on runaway political correctness. Credit: Richard Drew / AP

 

 


No joke: Jon Stewart voted Republican, at least once

Johnstewart Jon Stewart may have surprised some people when he told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday” that he voted for Republican George H.W. Bush for president in 1988. “There was an integrity about him that I respected greatly,” Stewart told the Fox host.

Not so greatly that he made Bush 41 immune to his “Daily Show” barbs. As Stewart said repeatedly to the seemingly incredulous Fox host, “I am a comedian first."

Stewart’s Comedy Central program came on about seven years after the elder Bush left office, so he did not give the 41st president a full satiric working over. But over the years, he lobbed a few gentle darts at the retired chief executive.

When Bush went skydiving in 2004 to celebrate his 80th birthday, Stewart showed the clip. “OK,” he said, “we’re sorry we called you a wimp. Let it go!”

More than once, Stewart lumped the elder Bush in with the last half-dozen presidents in segments that castigated the entire group for failing to make the U.S. energy independent.

Around the time of Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009, Stewart showed the incoming president meeting with predecessors Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Stewart said it looked like a “World’s Greatest Grandpa” competition, declaring Bush 41 the winner because “his pockets are filled with hard rock candy and penny whistles.”

Fox's Wallace invited Stewart on the program Sunday to challenge the comedian's suggestion that the Fox News channel functions as a conservative political organ more than a news outlet. Stewart neatly rebuffed Wallace’s arguments, saying ideology was only a secondary motivation for him.

"My comedy is informed by ideology, there is no question," he said. "But I am not an ideologue."
As I was looking for Stewart’s previous “Daily Show” mentions of Bush the elder, I ran into plenty of clips that would tend to back his comedy-first claim.

To cite just one: a June 25, 2009, segment in which the comedian contrasted Obama’s lofty election talk about transparency with his administration’s record of withholding information and documents, including background about a government eavesdropping program.

Stewart had one other quip for Wallace about why he voted for Bush. The then-vice president's opponent was then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. Referencing an infamous Dukakis photo faux pas, Stewart said: “There’s something about tiny people in helmets.”

-- James Rainey

Twitter: latimesrainey

Photo: Jon Stewart of the Daily Show debated Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday." He said comedy drove his show, not ideology. Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3 / "The Daily Show"


CNN Presidential Debate moderator: fast, not furious

GOPDebate CNN's solid political host John King was game to keep Monday night's Republican presidential debate moving, but speed and thoroughness don't  go together, especially in a discussion overflowing with seven candidates.

That meant the would-be GOP nominees got away with a fair amount of bobbing and weaving in one of their first mass debates. Mitt Romney wouldn't directly say whether he would raise the federal debt ceiling. Michele Bachmann punted on whether her anti-abortion stand would apply to victims of rape and incest. Ron Paul wouldn't say whether a 5-year-old illegal immigrant child should receive medical care at an emergency room. And Newt Gingrich backed what sounded like loyalty tests for Muslims who would want to enter his presidential administration, without any serious follow-up.

Whether it was the large size of the field or the desire to speed through many topics, the candidates mostly had it their own way Monday night at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire.

King can't carry all the responsibility for the lack of accountability in the two-hour debate. Even when the CNN host pushed for a little combativeness, the candidates wouldn't take the bait,  at least against each other.

Most noticeable for a lack of inter-party aggression was former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who declined to repeat his early challenge to Romney's Massachusetts healthcare plan. Pawlenty would only acknowledge that he compared Romney's plan, crafted when he was governor of Massachusetts, with President Obama's plan because Obama had said he modeled his legislation on the Massachusetts health law. On the weekend talk show circuit, Pawlenty had belittled "Obamney Care," since both the Massachusetts plan and the national healthcare reform require individuals to purchase insurance, a "mandate" vehemently opposed by most Republicans.

All the fire on Monday night remained on President Obama.

The next debate hosts might also want to rethink the notion of informal time limits. King tried to keep the discussion moving without a set limit. That meant he spent much of his time burbling "all right, all right, all right," under the GOP hopefuls as they went well past the parsimonious 30-second response time.

Better to bring back the red warning light for the next debate--and a more generous time limit.

CNN tried to lighten the serious subject matter with a "this or that" feature, as the cable outlet cut into, and away from, commercials. King asked the candidates about such lite preferences as Coke vs. Pepsi, thin crust vs. deep dish pizza, Johnny Cash vs. Elvis Presley and Blackberry vs. iPhone.

That produced little spark and less insight. If you're going to insist on bringing a pop culture or lite sensibility to the proceedings, at least challenge these pols. A few more challenging choices: LeBron James or Dirk Nowitzki? Bourbon or scotch? Craps or blackjack? Iowa or New Hampshire?

That last one would really make frontrunner Romney squirm.

--James Rainey

Twitter: latimesrainey

Photo: Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, left, talks to CNN's John King, as Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), right, joins in during the first New Hampshire Republican presidential debate at Saint Anselm College in Manchester. Credit: Jim Cole / Associated Press

 

 


FCC report suggests more disclosure of 'pay-to-play' news

FCCGenachowski An FCC report on "Information Needs of Communities," released Thursday, proposes an increase in reporting requirements for television broadcasters that have "pay-to-play" relationships with companies.

In response to reports in the L.A. Times and other media about deceptive news reports, the report suggests that stations should have to maintain an online record of when they are paid to include advertisers in the heart of programming.

The broadcasters have previously been required to alert the public via a notice during the programs. An Internet reporting requirement would be new.

A team of researchers suggested the additional "sponsorship identification" in the voluminous report that covered many issues about local news broadcasting. The reporting would be designed to help the public better discern what is real news and what is airtime companies paid for.

If adopted, the reform "would create a permanent, searchable record of which stations use these arrangements," said the agency's report, released in Washington, "and afford easy access by consumers, competitors and watchdog groups to this information."

In my On the Media column last year, I disclosed how local TV stations were airing content from advertisers as if it were real news, without disclosing the practice to the public, as required by FCC regulations.

KCBS, for example, promoted City of Hope Medical Center. KTLA (like latimes.com owned by Tribune Co.) hyped the Ford Motor Co. A paid tout for the toy industry reported on multiple news channels around the country. Yet it would have been hard for the public to know that all of those reports came as a result of payments by the advertisers.

The FCC cited The Times' reporting, along with other media critiques of pay-to-play content on TV, in its assessment of the condition of local media. "This trend, if not checked by the industry itself, will rot away the community’s trust in local TV," the report said.

Previously, the sponsorship identifications could be made either via an on-air announcement or with an on-screen message. But even as advertisers seem more intent on getting their products into the middle of shows (to avoid ads, which viewers have learned to TiVo around), many do not clearly disclose the sponsorship arrangements.

It's unclear whether the disclosure proposal will go anywhere, or whether TV outlets will abide by it. History suggests they might not. The public interest group Free Press has been waiting for nearly five years for a resolution of its complaints against TV stations that did not disclose pay-to-play arrangements. There has been no indication if, or when, the FCC will move on the complaints.

An earlier study by the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities prompted the FCC inquiry. That 2009 report described the serious lack of journalism in many American communities. It found a particular need for more "accountability journalism," the investigative reporting and analysis that, in particular, scrutinizes public officials and agencies.

The new report suggests that those problems remain. "This is an emerging gap in local
news coverage that has not yet been fully filled by other media," said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. "And the less quality reporting we have, the less likely we are to learn about government misdeeds."

A group of journalists, scholars, and government officials, led by entrepreneur and onetime journalist Steven Waldman, suggested that nonprofit organizations, universities and public media outlets could provide some of the feet-to-the-fire journalism that has gone missing.

One source of potential revenue: The study suggests some of the $1 billion the federal government spends annually in advertising could be redirected to local news sites to give them a better chance of thriving.

“Government has been slow to move on those issues,” said Alberto Ibargüen, president of the Knight Foundation. “We're hopeful that the FCC's 'Information Needs of Communities' report will move us from debate to action.” 

Anyone looking for more of the feds take on the crisis facing the media will get it in a reported expected out later this year from the Federal Trade Commission.

--James Rainey

Twitter: latimesrainey

Photo: Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski will study the recommendations in a report on local journalism. The FCC study found a serious lack of "accountability journalism" in many parts of America. It suggested that nonprofits and universities could be among the institutions to help fill the gap. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

 


Abramson, a New Yorker down to her tattoo, takes over at N.Y. Times

JillAbramson The ascension of Jill Abramson to the editor's chair of the New York Times is both revolutionary and only a modest departure from the newspaper's fusty leadership norms.

Abramson will break a barrier in September when she becomes the first female editor in the Times' illustrious 160-year history. But she will also spring from a somewhat familiar mold--a commendable history inside the paper as a reporter and editor, most notably in the paper's Washington bureau, long a crucible for forging Times leaders. Before that she worked at the Wall Street Journal.

The newspaper announced Thursday that Abramson, 57, will replace Bill Keller, 62, who led the Times for eight years following its most troubling scandal. Keller succeeded in restoring stability and renewing its luster as journalism's top brand after a young reporter, Jayson Blair, had sullied both by lobbing concocted stories into the paper.

Abramson's challenge will be to keep that momentum going, as the Times struggles to cope with the sweeping changes that continue to rip ad dollars away from newspapers--threatening to force reductions in one of the largest newsgathering staffs in America.

She'll also have to learn the delicate public politics of leading one of the world's most scrutinized news organizations. That skill seemed not so much in evidence in Abramson's first quote for her own paper. She said that becoming editor was like “ascending to Valhalla.”

“In my house growing up, the Times substituted for religion,” she added. “If the Times said it, it was the absolute truth.”

That honest, heartfelt sentiment may have pleased her colleagues. But there's another audience out there,  already too ready and willing to believe the Times is populated by nothing but godless liberals. Abramson might have found another way to summarize her devotion to the paper.

That's not to say that the new editor needs to be a shrinking violet, or think she will catch a break from some quarters, even if her public stands are impeccable.

Keller and the paper have, in recent weeks, signaled a new determination to face down rivals. With the launch of a column in the New York Times Magazine, the editor has taken to fierce dissection of, for instance, the Huffington Post and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Keller found the former to be a showy and shallow aggregator of the content dug out by real news organizations. He found suspect not only Assange's motivations and tactics, but made note of his bad body odor and lack of social graces.

The columns seemed to confirm what Keller had been telling friends for some time--that he really wanted to get back to writing full time.

Keller had a much-lauded career as a foreign correspondent in Africa, Russia and other locales and occasionally traveled overseas as editor to get a personal look at big stories. Come September, he will write for the paper's Sunday magazine and its revamped opinion pages.

Some were surprised that he will step aside before reaching 65, the age at which the Times requires its newsroom leaders to move on. But he is close to Abramson and saw her as more than ready to take over.

The paper also announced that Washington Bureau Chief Dean Baquet, previously editor of the Los Angeles Times, will become the New York paper's managing editor for news. Baquet was thought to be a candidate for the top job right now, but his new assignment seems to position him to lead the paper after  Abramson's tenure.

Baquet is very popular with his staff in Washington. He's known there, as he was here in L.A., as an editor who likes to roll up his sleeves and get into the thick of stories, pushing investigative reporting with special vigor.

It's not clear what direction Abramson and her new No. 2 will take with the paper. "She loves Washington stories, and stories about pop culture sort of entering the nation's bloodstream," said one staffer. She made a point of watching Oprah Winfrey's final show.

Here's the sort of detail that might appear in one of those pop stories: As a tribute to her deep ties to her city, Abramson has a tattoo on one shoulder of the old New York City subway token. She was said to have inked herself, while moving out of town for a time, as a tribute to her hometown.

Several years back, Abramson was severely injured when she was run over by a truck in Times Square. She's made a complete recovery, though pain from her injuries lingered for years.

The resilience learned from that episode may come in handy, given the ferocious challenges facing the newspaper business in 2011.

--James Rainey

Twitter: latimesrainey

Photo: Newly appointed New York Times Managing Editor Dean Baquet, left, newly appointed Executive Editor Jill Abramson and Bill Keller, who is stepping aside as executive editor of the newspaper. The three gathered in the paper's newsroom on Thursday for the announcement. Keller will return to writing for the the New York Times Magazine and the newspaper's Sunday opinion and news section. Abramson is the first woman to edit the paper. Baquet previously served as editor of the Los Angeles Times. Credit:  Fred R. Conrad / The New York Times

 

 

 


Weiner Twitter-pic story just won't go away

AnthonyWeiner Rep. Anthony Weiner's television appearances Wednesday confirmed what you might have suspected: Congressmen don't win when they have to discuss crotch shots.

Right-wing commentator Andrew Breitbart  began pushing the story over the weekend that a photo showing a man's crotch in snug underwear had been posted from the congressman's Twitter account.

Those initial reports suggested that the  provocative photo had been sent in a direct Twitter communication (not visible to other Twitter users) to a young woman in Seattle. The woman denied receiving any photo. The New York Democrat said he had never sent such a picture, or ever met the woman in question.

She agreed that she had never met Weiner, though she acknowledged calling the lawmaker her "boyfriend" on the social network. She explained this as a fangirl gesture, delivered from a distance,  rather than evidence the two had any sort of real relationship.

Weiner got so agitated about being asked about all of this on Tuesday he called CNN's Ted Barrett a "jackass" during a confrontation on Capitol Hill. The lawmaker later said he lashed out because the reporter was interrupting him.

Weiner acknowledged that wasn't such a great performance and that he needed to do more to clear the air. So he was back on cable TV Wednesday, this time granting interviews to Luke Russert of MSNBC and Wolf Blitzer of CNN.

Weiner was calmer in those interviews than he had been a day earlier. He insisted he had never sent the picture in question to the Seattleite. But he also said he could not say for sure that the picture was not of him.

“It certainly doesn’t look familiar to me," Weiner told Blitzer. "But I don’t want to say with certitude to you something that I don’t know to be the certain truth.” Hmmm. Not exactly conclusive. And things got a little bumpier and more halting as the congressman tried to explain whether he had ever taken such a picture of himself.

“I can tell you this, that there are, I have photographs, I don’t know what photographs are out there in the world of me," Weiner said. "I don’t know what things have been manipulated and doctored. Um, and we’re going to try to find out what happened.”

Weiner declined to answer when pressed by Blitzer as to whether he had ever communicated by direct message with the Seattle woman. “Look, I am not going to get into how I communicate with people on social media," he said.

Asked to explain why he would have received another message, this one allegedly from a stripper, Weiner suggested his Twitter account might have issued a "pro forma" response, like ones that would have gone to others of the roughly 45,000 people who follow his 140-character missives. Weiner keeps up a lively, sometimes combative narrative on Twitter, making him one of the most popular lawmakers on the social media site.

Weiner, 46, tried a lot of angles to make the mess go away Wednesday. There was humor: “It seems like a prank to make fun of my name. When your name is Weiner that certainly happens a lot.” There was empathy: "I would just hope you would leave these people alone," he said of his Twitter followers. "They didn’t do anything wrong for following me.” There was the commonweal: "I want to talk about the debt limit and health care reform."

Weiner married former Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin last summer, in a ceremony officiated by Bill Clinton. When Blitzer asked if his responses were designed to protect someone, Weiner replied, "Yes, I am protecting my wife."

The congressman said the pursuit of rumors in the story had gotten so silly that a blog's list of attractive women he followed on Twitter included his sister-in-law. But the furor seemed unlikely to conclude at least for a few more days. Those who wanted to keep it alive looked for a bigger public policy issue: If a congressman's social media account had been hacked, wasn't this a potential security threat to all of Congress? And shouldn't an investigation take place, to make sure the lawmakers could keep their online accounts secure?

Others were questioning Weiner's tactics in trying to blunt the questions. "Anthony Weiner's non-denial denial about the pic sure undermines his defense," said Daily Beast media and political writer Howard Kurtz on, yes, Twitter, "and casts doubt on hacking tale. Why'd he wait almost a week?"

On CNN, commentator Gloria Borger talked about the advantages and pitfalls of interacting with constituents on social media sites. “It establishes this sense of intimacy," Borger said, "and that can be good and sometimes it can be really bad."

--James Rainey

Twitter: latimesrainey

Photo: U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) as he met with reporters on Capitol Hill Tuesday to dicuss a photo from his Twitter account. The lewd picture was a close-up of a man in tight underwear. Weiner denied that he sent the photo via social media, but he said he couldn't be certain it was not of him. Credit: Alex Wong / Getty Images

 

 

 

 

 


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