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MSNBC vs. PBS (News In Broadcast And Electronic Media, November 2012)

petraeusKQED vs. MSNBC (written for BECA 460, News In Broadcast And Electronic Media, November 2012)

The afternoon shows on MSNBC are oriented slightly more towards straight news reporting than the prime time lineup’s better-known opinion journalism. On Monday, Nov. 12 at 2:00 PM, I tuned in to Martin Bashir’s show, which was guest-hosted by Michael Eric Dyson, an African-American radio pundit who often fills in for Ed Schultz and provides a similar tone of populist proletarian bombast. Dyson maintained a relatively less agitated tone filling in for Bashir, which was a plus for me as I usually find him a bit much. Being MSNBC (“the place for politics”), the news was all-national, with an emphasis on what’s going on in the political sphere. The spin was still liberal, but more analytical and less overtly advocatory than the evening shows.

The first story touched on Petraeus as expected, but here it was part of an overall theme that the President is not going to have even a momentary “honeymoon” period as his second term approaches. The main implication was that this is mainly an inconvenient embarrassment for Obama at a time when he’s trying to move the country forward. One could argue that there is more to consider, with today’s revelations in Talking Points Memo and Crooks & Liars that the FBI agent who facilitated the investigation had also been sending shirtless photos of himself to Jill Kelley (the woman being harassed by Patricia Broadwell…I feel I need a flowchart to cover this story) and was also the one who leaked the story to GOP House member Eric Cantor before the election; meanwhile, Kelley was also exchanging saucy e-mails with another general. It appears that we have a segment of the population that finds war so irresistibly sexy that our Military Industrial Complex is filled with groupies.

Other stories included the “fiscal cliff” and what the executive and legislative branches are going to do about taxes. We got a surprising clip of GOP pundit Bill Kristol arguing that Republicans need to be more flexible on raising taxes on the wealthy, which caused much eyebrow-raising among the panel. Dyson quoted Speaker Boehner: “We have as much of a mandate as Obama.” Jonathan Capehart responded “HE LOST.” Julian Epstein, a Democratic strategist, emphasized that Obama has a chance to enact “real entitlement reform”, which arouses my own skepticism: more compromise, after all this? Sometimes, I admit, MSNBC is actually insufficiently left-wing for my own liking.

Dyson showed a clip of Grover Norquist talking in his usual fashion about how there is no support for any tax increases on high-income Americans. Dyson: “Does Grover Norquist have a mandate?” Epstein: “NO.” Epstein recommends Obama be tougher and more ruthless while Republicans continue their soul-searching. They cut to a commercial with the intro to “Natty Dread”, but a more relevant choice of Bob Marley songs might have been “We No Know How We And Dem A-Go Work This Out.”

The remaining stories of the hour, aside from a panel discussion on the “GOP media bubble”, were all about honoring veterans, as one would expect, but particular attention was paid to the number of homeless and jobless veterans in the country and how this problem can be addressed.

Later that day at 6 PM, I tuned in to the PBS Newshour on KQED. I appreciated their depth; each story was about 15 minutes, interspersed with quick news bites in between. (Israel and Syria trading fire across the border, a NATO soldier killed in Afghanistan, a new “austerity budget” introduced by the Greek Prime Minister. Also, a quick overview of the BBC scandal clarified matters far more than Timescast’s longer piece. Apparently, conflicting charges of child molestation were involved.) The obligatory Petraeus story had many more details, and a panel brought up some pertinent points. Washington Post reporter Sari Horwitz responded to allegations of a cover-up by saying “In a criminal investigation it is not appropriate to reveal details to Congress or the White House.”

The next story covered the LGBT victories of the last election: same-sex marriage approved by referendum in several states; the first out lesbian Senator; the first out bisexual Congresswoman. Illustrating PBS’s commitment to objectivity, two commentators were brought out to debate what all this means: a young man from the National Organization for Marriage and an admirably patient lesbian activist. The NOM man avoided selectively quoting the Bible and concentrated on talking nervously about strategy and how these results are aberrations and America still “supports marriage.” (Note here the way both sides define themselves as “pro-marriage”; we are left to judge by their actions which one really is.) The spokeswoman for marriage equality kept stressing the long-term evolution of people’s views and how people are coming to understand the value of love and commitment for all. It was like watching a painfully polite, civil debate between Lester Maddox and Martin Luther King in 1961.

An uplifting story covered a school in Belmar, NJ that, even before power was restored in the area, opened up to serve lunches to hurricane-devastated residents in town. The school is now opened, but worryingly, not all of the students have been located yet.

The hour was filled out by various Veterans’ Day-related stories; the first was extremely troubling, with implications for not just the veterans in question, but the country as a whole. Apparently, veterans of the Iraq and Afghan Wars have had problems receiving their benefits because new record-keeping policies mandated that all military records were kept on computers only, with no paper trail, and many hard drives have been lost or “accidentally” erased. Peter Sleeth of ProPublica, who has been covering this story, was interviewed.

What struck me, watching this, was that this story was only being covered because of the Veterans’ Day angle. Otherwise, this issue is not being talked about outside of places like the ProPublica site. Consider this: during two highly controversial wars begun by an administration with a record of being less than forthcoming about any of its activities, military records have been destroyed with no backup available. This means that investigators and historians will never be able to research many of the questionable actions taken during this time. If we want to be concerned about potential “conspiracies”, cover-ups, and military corruption, isn’t this a rather more pertinent news story than what David Petraeus did with his penis? At least KQED brought it up; this story merits a lot more attention, and now is as good a time as any, when legislators like Darryl Issa are holding highly-publicized, politically-motivated investigations of the Obama administration at every opportunity. I don’t find it unreasonable to apply words like “high crimes and treason” to this issue. There are certainly enough unanswered questions here to justify bringing in Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and others for questioning, unless we feel that our public servants should not be held accountable for their actions. (Or does that only apply to Democrats?)