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The oversimplified coverage of 'tough-talking' Rahm Emanuel

Rahmbo: The tough-talking Emanuel, former White House chief of staff, is a popular press caricature.
Rahmbo: The tough-talking Emanuel, former White House chief of staff, is a popular press caricature. (Tim Boyle/bloomberg)
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In the case of Christine O'Donnell, those Bill Maher videos, in which she talks about witchcraft, masturbation and evolution, are certainly fair game in her Senate race. There must be more to the Delaware Republican than some wacky things she said a decade ago. But by walling herself off from the media, O'Donnell made it impossible for journalists to cast her in a fuller light.

O'Donnell has now relented, talking briefly to CNN and to the Times' Mark Leibovich for a profile in which her family described how her father had once played Bozo the Clown. Unfortunately, this claim came into question, and Leibovich wrote in a follow-up blog post that "I was mortified to have possibly played a small role in perpetrating such a falsehood." Daniel O'Donnell later told the reporter he had been a part-time clown but not an official Bozo.

Even accessible politicians have had the media crowd brand them with clownish labels. "I'm guilty of it," Mason says. "Look at the way we write about Joe Biden: the backslapping, glad-handing, gaffe-prone goofball. That doesn't define him at all."

Meanwhile, the White House press corps is left with someone who is hard to caricature as anything other than colorless. There are few anecdotes about interim Chief of Staff Pete Rouse, a behind-the-scenes guy so averse to publicity that he didn't speak at his own announcement ceremony. Some reporters will be tempted to fly to Chicago and cover Rahm's race for mayor, hoping for some fireworks. If he wins, though, he may fade from the national radar, much as Arnold Schwarzenegger did when he completed the transition from celebrity candidate to workaday governor. This label for the press, at least, is accurate: far better at covering campaigning than covering governing.

Leaning which way?

MSNBC has a new slogan -- "Lean Forward" -- that has skeptics wondering what the network of Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow is trying to say.

"A rather halfhearted attempt by MSNBC to gloss its same-old lefty line with a coat of empty post-ideological babble," Daniel Foster writes on National Review Online.

Nonsense, says MSNBC President Phil Griffin, recalling that he got the idea watching Bryant Gumbel lean forward in his chair. "Lean forward has so many meanings," he says. "One is, be engaged. Don't be scared. Don't lean back and be dismissive. Be passionate. Don't lean right, don't lean left. It's a sensibility."

But the extent to which the cable channel's reputation poses a marketing challenge is reflected on its Web site. As the New York Times reported, MSNBC.com is considering changing its name to distance itself from the liberal network. The problem: A different moniker might reduce traffic for one of the most popular online portals.

Follow the money

This is one way to underwrite journalism: ABC News will launch a year-long examination of health crises around the world with a $1.5 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The network will kick in $4.5 million and retain editorial control.

Editor ousted

Bill Marimow was canned as editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer last week, a casualty of the infighting over the bankrupt paper's future.

The new owner of the paper concluded that Marimow -- a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner -- did not have the necessary background in digital media, the Inquirer reported. Philadelphia Media Networks, owned by 32 financial institutions, bought the Inquirer at a bankruptcy sale. Stan Wischnowski, the deputy managing editor for operations, was named acting editor.

Marimow had been editor of the Baltimore Sun, but was replaced in 2004 after battling budget cuts at the paper. He became a top executive at National Public Radio before being tapped for the Inquirer job in 2006 by the man who bought it from McClatchy Newspapers.

The latest owners, of course, get to install whomever they want. But dumping a proven journalistic commodity such as Marimow, who will stay on as a reporter, speaks volumes about what the new company values.


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