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Pop Culture with Paul Farhi: TBD.com, reality TV in D.C., Wyclef Jean, Doug McKelway

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Paul Farhi
Tuesday, August 10, 2010; 1:00 PM

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Paul Farhi: So, we've got a new kid on the ol' media block here in Washington, name of TBD.com. It's a local-news website, and it debuted on Monday. Quite the buzz in media circles and maybe outside of them, too. The buzz, I think, has been stoked less by the site itself than by who's backing it--in this case, Allbritton Communications, which owns Channel 7, cable newser Newschannel 8 (now renamed TBD, too), and--most notably--Politico.com, the web site and newspaper. Politico made quite the splash when it appeared in 2007, and that has raised expectations for TBD (which stands for "to be determined").

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Paul Farhi: "power." In fact, most of the Washington region is as ordinary and boring as any other place (and we like it that way!). "Real World" (and "Housewives/DC," too) failed because it kept trying to graft the "power" story line onto its characters. The result wasn't just phony; it was boring. What both shows really should have done was to find some truly despicable people (we're looking at you, Snooki) and let them throw down. Anyway, I think City Paper is/was on to something. Maybe you agree.

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Paul Farhi: In other words: "I've got money. Next question." I hope to use that one someday. That's my No. 1 thing. Okay let's go to the phones.

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TBD: In your last piece on TBD, you seemed to insist there's enough local news coverage going on in the area to allow room for another site. Do you really believe that? You must not live in SE like me, where we only get to read about crime.

Paul Farhi: by positioning itself as your handy-dandy, one-stop source to all that coverage. Their main strength may lie in "curating" (hate that trendy word) all the news, blogs and video that's out there now.

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Lazy Reporting on Wyclef Jean: I feel like op-ed writers are basically recycling their columns on Caroline Kennedy's senate bid and replacing her name with Wyclef Jean.New York State isn't Haiti, the poor nation in the western hemisphere. It just bothers me because the op-ed writers are turning this into "bad celebrities" stories but it's clear that they don't much of anything about Haitian politics and the other candidates involved.

Paul Farhi: I'm sure you're right about writers not knowing much about Haitian politics. But the question being raised, fairly, I think, is not so much about Haitian politics as about Wyclef Jean. Why is he a candidate? Is he qualified? Does he know much about Haiti's situation and can he do much to improve it? Those are all pretty legit questions, seems to me.

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Salahis member of "Real Housewives of DC" TV show: Somebody please explain to me why folks like Mrs. Salahi was cast as a member of the Bravo Channel "Real Housewives of D.C." show. Frankly, a person like Mrs. Cafritz is a far better cast member, and representative of the D.C. community than Mrs. Salahi.

Paul Farhi:

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Sean Penn: While you have to admire his work in Haiti, you should also note that his idea of a great president is Hugo Chavez.

Paul Farhi: He's so loveable that way.

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WJLA news team: I see Doug McKelway has been suspended at Channel 7 (ABC) for mouthing off on camera but more importantly for mouthing off to the news director. Are his colleagues backing him, backing the boss or just trying to avoid the whole thing? I noticed none of the morning newscast's regulars were on-air there this morning.

Paul Farhi: My impression--and it's just an impression because how exactly do you measure these things?--is that people are keeping their heads down over there at WJLA. I don't sense any Free Doug movement growing in Rosslyn.

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Doug McKelway: It looks like everything is being subsumed into the TBD brand (For example, last night, Maureen Bunyan advised viewers that they could learn more about a story if they went to tbd.com, clicked on ABC7, and then clicked on the story link. It used to be that they would tell you to go to ABC7.com).

Paul Farhi: He was covering a protest rally about the BP spill and inserted some observations about how the oil industry buys influence in a Democratic Congress. True enough, I guess, but perhaps a little wide of the immediate news. And, no, WJLA isn't changing its name to TBD, but Newschannel 8 has.

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Haitians decide: I'll give to Wyclef Jean. It's done more to get Haiti back in the news cycle this past week then anybody else. Good for him. My position is let the Haitians decide who runs Haiti. Considering how murderous and corrupt their previous presidents have been, how bad can he be?

Paul Farhi: I agree with you. Haiti has been totally absent from the American public's consciousness for months and months. I guess the problems there are all solved. Or maybe we got tired of hearing about them/covering them. As for how bad Jean could be for Haiti--well, that's the point of covering him.

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McKelway: What did this guy say exactly ??? That Democrats are taking bribes from the oil industry ? Which is why it was Joe Barton that apologized to BP and Palin, Jindal et. al. have been pressing for more drilling ??Is he some kind of local Bernie Goldberg ?? You know, suppressed by the liberal media elite ??

Paul Farhi: Though I haven't talked to him (I tried), I suspect that Doug DOES feel the media can tilt leftward. When he left Channel 4 in 2001, he was quite public about saying he'd made himself persona non grata in his newsroom with various complaints about alleged liberal bias in his newsroom.

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Confusing to me: Lamenting the problems on Islamic religion in terms on the NATO missions in Afghanistan is like saying that there won't be in Northern Ireland until Catholic women are allowed into priesthood.There are two seperate issues, freedom of worship, which is a founding principal of this Union. The other is issues within that religion, which I find very different.

Paul Farhi: I'm sorry, but I think you wandered into the wrong chat. Gene Robinson is over on Channel 3. Second door on your left....

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Doug McKelway: I was sorry to see him go from NBC4 and actually started watching WJLA instead. Now that he most likely will be gone from there I don't know what else to watch for news. Barbara Harrison is mildly amusing at best. For example, today she was talking about one of the escaped convicts in Arizona who was seen standing by the road holding a "hijacking sign".....Right.

Paul Farhi: Uh oh. I fear a wave of Barbara Harrison hate coming on. Why do people love to hate her so?

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TBD continues the dumbing down of media: I don't get all the fuss about TBD. All they did was change the name of NewsChannel 8 and start a low- cost Web site loaded with unpaid bloggers and articles lifted from other sites like the Post. While we're at it, somebody needs to tell Morris Jones to use less black shoe polish in his hair!

Paul Farhi: Wait. I thought we were doing Barbara Harrison hate. Now it's snark-on-Morris time?

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McKelway : You'd think a veteran media guy would be savvy enough to know not to criticize Democrats. No wonder they took him off the air.

Paul Farhi: reporter isn't supposed to insert comments that a) could be perceived as partisan by viewers, and b) could be perceived as irrelevant to the subject at hand. Besides, I'm not sure what he said on the air was really the deal-breaker. What transpired after he was called in to discuss it may have been...

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Doug McKelway: Mr. Kelway has previously exhibited offensive and unprofessional behavior (threathening to hit a guest, making anti-gay slurs, etc.). Why he has lasted as long as he has on TV is a mystery to me. What an arrogant shmuck.

Paul Farhi: I've always thought he was a very good anchorman. No nonsense. Clear and straightforward. Which is why his "performance" while interviewing the blogger last year was so remarkable. It seemed so out of character.

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Wyclef: How much has come up about Yele Haiti? I recall that lots of people had issues with how they spend their money and that Yele ended up getting squeezed out of benefits post-earthquake. To me, if you can't manage a small nonprofit, you probably can't manage a country.

Paul Farhi: There have been questions raised about Yele's handling of about $400,000 of donations. Wyclef says everything's under control, but there seems to be some dispute about that.

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"The Real Housewives of Orange County," which is still the gold standard in repulse TV.: Are you sure? I'd vote for "Wife Swap," or that woman with 8 kids first.

Paul Farhi: Admittedly, there's a lot of competition for that title these days. Anyone remember "Temptation Island"? Anyone still watch "Big Brother"?

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Barbara Harrison: I don't hate her but what good is she if she can't even read a teleprompter without making mistakes? It isn't as though she is a great reporter.

Paul Farhi: Harrison has been around a very long time. I won't defend her or condemn her, but she's been a part of Channel 4, and the local community, for many years. Okay, I will defend her on one score: Her "Wednesday's Child" adoption segments really are a public service.

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The Airless Cubicle: I'd be impressed if Michaele Salahi announced she was running for Mayor of D.C. on TBD.com while completing the Haynesworth conditioning test.

Paul Farhi: Today's leading "ThreadWeave(TM)!" Well played, sir and/or madam.

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TBD: First off, stupid name. Secondly, I used to go to WJLA.com for news -- not to find out that mojitos are now being served at a local bar. I'll still watch WJLA news (I like Leon Harris), but I'll direct my Web browsing elsewhere.

Paul Farhi: WJLA.com had a surprising degree of loyalty. But I guess it made more sense, cost- and "synergy"-wise, to collapse that into the TBD "brand." Corporate cross-promotional strategies R them.

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TBD: So it's mainly a news aggregator, and it will feature links to the sites of competitors, such as WUSA-9. How do those "aggregated" competitors feel about that? Don't they want to be your "news central," instead of just a supplier to someone else whose readers may or may not click on the link? Can they cut themselves off from being linked to TBD, if they consider them to be a parasite?

Paul Farhi: Well, the web is all about link-i-ness (link-u-losity? link-ociousness?), so every site is happy to have links from as many other sites as it can get. Sending people to a competitor is just a reality of the web. The theory is, people will browse anyway; if you link, you prove yourself useful and will be rewarded with return visits.

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renamning Channel 7:: "TBD on WJLA"You know, like "ESPN on ABC".

Paul Farhi: Hmm. You may have given the suits at WJLA an idea. If so, they should give you an IOU.

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Changing the subject: How about that ad -- I think it's for Aamco -- where people are describing the various noises their cars are making? A woman points a light on her dashboard that has the shape of an engine with the work "Check" under it, and says "I don't know what this light means." The mechanic says, "That's the Check Engine light." The woman is a blonde, of course.

Paul Farhi: It's possible that market research turned up a whole segment of people (blondes and non-blondes) who couldn't figure this out. So, the ad may actually be "educational" to a lot of people. The moron demographic seems to be expanding all the time.

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embarrassingly enough...yes: I watch "Big Brother." But please don't tell anyone. It's pretty much the only summer fare that my husband and I indulge in. I'm so ashamed.

Paul Farhi: Our support group for People Who Watch Terrible Reality Shows and Are Ashamed of It will convene after the chat. No names will be taken.

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Liz Cheney on Fox News: I know Howard Dean once guest- hosted for two nights on MSNBC's "Countdown." It didn't bother me that much. I guess because Howard Dean is retired from politics. He did found a PAC, but he resigned from it and his brother runs it now. But I'm more bothered by Liz Cheney guest-hosting for Sean Hannity. I guess it bugs me more since Keith Olbermann is more open about being a lefty while Sean Hannity is one of those "man of the people journalists" according to him. If he was more open about his obvious politics, it wouldn't bug me. Plus Liz Cheney is still very active in politics and rumored to run for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Virginia in 2012 against Democratic incumbent Jim Webb.

Paul Farhi: You weren't aware of Sean Hannity's politics before? You may agree or disagree with him, but Hannity (and Fox News) are pretty upfront about where he stands on just about everything.

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TBD JLA DVM: It always bugs me when they refer to themselves as ABC7, NBC4, etc. Those aren't unique names -- New York has NBC4 also, for example. If they want to be local they should focus on the call letters.

Paul Farhi: Those are brand names, and in NBC4's case, they're names imposed long ago by corporate decree (I think all of NBC's owned stations around the country, including Ch. 4 in Washington, use the same identifier). I think they're actually very good. In one easy-to-remember name, you get the network affiliation ("NBC," "ABC," whatever) and the channel number.

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NewsChannel 8: Excuse me, "TBD". Anyway, do you know anything about the news anchor on the early-morning show these days? She must be new to the area - I've never seen her before. I miss waking up and seeing Melanie Hastings.

Paul Farhi: I met her on Friday. I know zero about her.

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link-u-losity: A lot of sites don't like having links directly to their content, since that by-passes the ads on the site's home page. They therefore try to block all such links.

Paul Farhi: Kind of a tough game to play, though, don't you think? And self-defeating, too: You're blocking a potential visitor/reader from coming to your site. Plus, couldn't a site simply duplicate its home-page ads on the linked page in question?

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McKelway: No question. This man will have a Fox show within 6 months, giving him free expression of his views and a bigger bank account.

Paul Farhi: Ha! I guess it's worked for Bernie Goldberg.

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"check you engine" light: Actually, most of the time it doesn't mean anything at all. It's often set to go off after 5,000 miles just to get you to come back to the dealer for routine (and costly) maintenance. So asking what it means is a perfectly legitimate question. It can mean pretty much anything or absolutely nothing.

Paul Farhi: Really? That makes sense to me; my check-engine light has been on for the past 20,000 or so miles I've driven my car--and my car works perfectly fine. I kinda figured it was just a malfunctioning light. On the other hand, I know it means "check engine."

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Barbara Harrison: Barbara Harrison ! Slowly I turn, step by step, inch by inch,......

Paul Farhi: As I said, here it comes...

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The moron demographic : This would be the target audience for the movie Jackass 3-D.

Paul Farhi: Hey, I resemble that remark! I watched the first Jackass movie with my then-teenage son. It WAS moronic and appalling. We both loved it. It totally understands something about teenage guys (and maybe guys generally)--that they're crude and a little sadistic and love to physical challenges and risks, even to the point of humiliating or harming themselves. What's not to like?

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perspective: In the last week or so, hundreds of thousands of people in Pakistan have been displaced by terrible floods in Pakistan and now Kashmir. Mudslides in China have killed about a thousand people. In the USA, we're worried about the Real Housewives of D.C.

Paul Farhi: We can do two things at once. Stop flattering yourself, Mr./Ms. Serious News Consumer.

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Hannity : I disagree with you.Of course Mr. Hannity is upfront on his politics. I mean he headlined rallies for John McCain.But I think on his TV show, he's not as upfront on his politics. It's "American people say" or "the great Americans panel." It's "I'm an American" rather then "I'm a conservative activist" from his mouth despite it being obvious where he stands on politics.It's not what I or anybody else can clearly figure out, but how he describes himself that bugs me.

Paul Farhi:

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"On the other hand, I know it means "check engine.": Actually, it means "get a little piece of black tape..."

Paul Farhi: Hahaha! MUCH cheaper than seeing a mechanic!

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More about CHECK ENGINE: Mine comes on if I haven't fastened my gas tank cap securely enough. A couple more twists and the lite goes away. Doesn't seem to have that much to do with the engine...

Paul Farhi: Yep. I figured that one out...I wouldn't mind the light being on, by the way, but you can't pass the Maryland vehicle emission test if your dashboard light is on. So, I guess I gotta get it fixed soon. Or get new tape.

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"resemble that remark": It's "resent", I think.

Paul Farhi: An old Three Stooges reference. I'm dating myself (and, by the way, I've enjoyed dating myself in the past; I'm a great conversationalist and always pay for dinner).

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McKelway and criticism of Democrats: What's funny, though, is when Keith Olbermann did it against Republicans, he got a glowing profile in the New Yorker, and received plaudits from across the MSM-sphere. So, yeah, there's a clear gap between bloviating on Repubs and the Dems.

Paul Farhi: Oh, come on. This is what Olbermann does. He's a pundit, a partisan, and plainly in the liberal camp. McKelway was in a different role; he was acting as a reporter. The standards and expectations are way different.

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the check engine light: Sorry Mr. F: just because your car appears to be working fine with the light on all the time doesn't mean it is. Could be something as simple as a computer malfunction, or could be something which is damaging the engine until, one fine day, it quits working, and you're out big $$$$.

Paul Farhi: Thanks for the info, but I'm going to take my chances. The car is nine years old and has 127,000 miles on it. It runs great (as they say in the classified ads). Every time I get the light checked, the mechanics don't find much, if anything (and I'm out another $85).

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Wyclef Jean: I read in the paper the other day that people who run for president in Haiti must have spent the previous five years in Haiti. If that's true, how can Jean run? He has apparently been in the U.S. since he was a small child.

Paul Farhi: Yes, that's another question. He says he's made many visits to Haiti since leaving to live in New York and New Jersey when he was nine years old. Whether that qualifies him to serve is, I guess, up to Haitian law.

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more about "More about CHECK ENGINE": Go over to one of the chain auto parts places. They'll put a code reader on for free, tell you what the code says, and re-set the light in some cases. You may not have anything to worry about, or you may be in a world o'hurt, but you'll know.

Paul Farhi: Great suggestion! Was not aware anyone would check it gratis. Thanks loads.

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I'm dating myself (and, by the way, I've enjoyed dating myself in the past; I'm a great conversationalist and always pay for dinner).: Yeah, but nobody eats free...do you, y'know, put out?

Paul Farhi: Rude question. But I will ask myself that on the next date.

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"check engine" light that annoys you: You can turn it off yourself. The trick is to hold down the button that switches the odometer between cumulative and recent miles, while you switch the ignition from "off" to "accessories". Or something like that; I always have to Google it. Anyway, it really works!

Paul Farhi: Even better consumer news I can use! Thanks....And this reminds me of old Seinfeld stand-up bit (it's on YouTube somewhere, as is everything) about the absurdity of raising the hood of your car when you have a break down and looking at the engine. Most people, he says, have no idea what they're looking for, and wouldn't know what to do if they found it (that's me). He observes, "Unless there's a giant on-off switch that's on 'off,' most people have no idea what they're doing."

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But wait a minute...: Wasn't Keith O. a sportscaster before he decided to become political? He needs to go back to that era of his career...he was better at that!

Paul Farhi: He just lost his "Football in America" commentator/host job on NBC on Sunday nights.

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Check Engine: You can buy a little gadget for $40 that will read the computer and tell you the code that's responsible. Then you google the code and decide for yourself if you want to take it in. It's a godsend for those of us with old cars.

Paul Farhi: You people are a goldmine! Thanks again...(And, no, there is no truth to the rumor that we are changing the name of this chat to "Car Talk").

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re: perspective: Oh, there's always someone who likes to chastise others for watching a stupid show when bad things are happening in the world. I got a news flash for you, there is ALWAYS something terrible happening in the world. If I want to watch a dumb TV show to forget about it for awhile what's wrong with that? Just because I know about the Real Housewives doesn't mean I don't know about anything else going on in the world.

Paul Farhi: Amen, bro/sis.

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Check engine light workaround: My last car used to have its check engine light on almost all the time. It was a stuck thermostat, so nothing critical. It's usually a loose fuel cap or an emissions problem that causes it. By disconnecting and reconnecting the car's battery, I could reset the light and just make it through an inspection before it came back on.

Paul Farhi: Now that's a new one. I would try that, but my total car incompetence would get the better of me, I'm sure. I would probably re--connect the battery wires in a way that would create a really spectacular fireball the next time I started the car, just like you used to see on "The A-Team" or "Dukes of Hazzard."

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Olbermann: How far down can your career go? Canned by ESPN as a failed sport news reader and now on the cable news network with the smallest audience . An audience even smaller than when EPSN first started. And it wasn't for O'Reilly be the worst person he wouldn't have any material at all.

Paul Farhi: Olbermann has actually done quite well for MSNBC. He doesn't beat O'Reilly (no one does) but he has captured a solid following.

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Criticism of media coverage of, um, media coverage: So, Paul, I've become your temporary editor. I was really peeved at today's story on McKelway. You spoke to off-the-record sources at the station to give you some background on what happened. But nobody could provide you with a tape of what he actually said? The Post wouldn't spring for you to buy a copy of the newscast from the services that tape newscasts and sell copies of the broadcasts? You had no way of finding out what exactly it was that he said on the air? I'm sorry, I found that lame.

Paul Farhi:

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Text messaging: Sunday's Post had an by Ian Shapiro about how younger Americans prefer to text and e-mail their family and friends rather than chat with them over a phone line, and that the parents of young Americans seem peeved that their kids won't call them anymore. Well, as a younger American, I want to say that I don't use text messaging to spite my elders. We aren't trying to be jerks; it's just how we communicate with others. Please rest assured that we still love our parents.

Paul Farhi: Phew! Thanks for the reassurance. As the father of text-mad teenage daughter, this is REALLY news I can use.

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Check engine: My check engine light never came on during the first 170K miles until just before a trip. We brought it in to the dealer and it turned out to be a malfunctioning part in the exhaust system. Driving with that part wouldn't have killed the engine, it would have lowering the gas mileage and polluted more.So I call bull on that every 5K claim. There are cars with a light that goes green/yellow/red to denote when to change the oil, but that's completely different from a check engine light.

Paul Farhi: If there's this much discussion of the check-engine phenomenon among us, you just know that the auto industry has invested millions of dollars into the research and development of superior check-engine technology. Heck, there's probably a Check Engine Institute out there.

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Floods, famine, pestilence: The poster who complained of us "worrying" about the D.C. Housewives needs to lighten up. Sometimes you have to have a light dessert of reality viewing after a heavy meal of war and sadness.

Paul Farhi: Yes, the news is always grim. Was talking about this with a friend the other day: We in the news media don't sell much happiness, do we? War, pain, misery--we're much more comfortable telling people about those things.

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RHofDC: I watched the first episode last week. Beyond boring.

Paul Farhi: The debut show did very well in the ratings. Well, relatively speaking--it drew something like 1.6 million viewers. That's not exactly great in absolute terms, but it's way better than the debuts of every other "locale" in the series (Orange County, New Jersey, New York, Atlanta). I'm sure the suits at Bravo are happy.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Re: TBD.com NewsChannel 8 was running an ad this morning on WTOP saying that the government should step in and stop the merger of NBC and Comcast because it would hurt local news coverage. My head spins! Can you help me unravel this thread? (I am particularly interested because I only have free broadcast TV in my home).

Paul Farhi: Ah, yes. More to come on this topic, but the basics are these: Those ads are coming from Allbritton Communications, which owns TBD/Newschannel 8 and WJLA. Allbritton is worried that Comcast--which distributes both the Allbritton stations via local cable systems-- would have too many vested interests after a merger with NBC. Particularly: Comcast would own WRC, channel 4, a direct competitor of WJLA and NC8. In essence, Allbritton is worried that Comcast-NBC would be in a position to favor its own properties at the expense of Allbritton's. Comcast says it will treat everyone equally after the merger, but Allbritton isn't buying that. Make sense?

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Paul's Car: "My check-engine light has been on for the past 20,000 or so miles I've driven my car--and my car works perfectly fine."Tell that to the driver behind you who's completely blinded by the enormous cloud of black smoke pouring out from the underside of your car.

Paul Farhi: smoke must be the invisible kind because neither I nor the driver behind me can't see it.

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The real worst reality show: has got to be Millionaire Matchmaker. A bunch of beautiful bimbos are paraded in front of some older guys who claim to be looking for wives.

Paul Farhi: Some of my foreign friends tell me that the worst reality show ever is the much-franchised "The Farm," which has swept through Europe and South America but has never made it to our shores. Premise: D-list celebs thrown together on a farm, and must perform icky farm chores to avoid elimination. Sounds a bit like "I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here" and the Paris Hilton-Nicole Ritchie show of some years ago. But I can see how "farm chores" could be abused for "fun" and ratings.

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We in the news media don't sell much happiness, do we?: This is why Web sites like Cute Overload exist. I get my daily does of cute puppies to lighten my mood.

Paul Farhi: To each his own!

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resemble that remark: If I'm not mistaken, I thought that was a Groucho Marx line...

Paul Farhi: Wait. I think you're right. Thank you, fellow old person.

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In the USA, we're worried about the Real Housewives of D.C.: It's actually unhealthy to think about nothing but bad news all day. If I were to think about nothing but the mudslide all day long, not only would I not be helping the victims, I'd make myself go insane. I used to work for a cable news channel and it depressed me. I quit and now I get my bad news in healthier doses.

Paul Farhi: One needs to ration one's exposure to bad news, I guess. Or not get personally invested while being immersed in it.

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Paul Farhi: The Post and AP are reporting that former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens was among those killed in the plane crash this morning. Check our site for more, of course.

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Rocci Fisch: Former Sen. Stevens dies in Alaska plane crash; 5 fatalities reported

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Comcast/NBC merger: Sure, they would favor WRC-4 over WJLA-7 and TBD-8. They would also favor NBC-owned Bravo over cable channels that don't host a Salahi show. This latter is sufficient reason that Congress or the FCC should squash the deal, IMHO!

Paul Farhi: That's Allbritton's rationale, yes. I guess the question, for Congress and the FCC, is: Do you buy Comcast's assurances of fair play and non-abusive behavior? If you don't, you could reject the merger or place specific conditions on it to prevent the theoretical harm.

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Paul Farhi: Folks, thanks for the discussion. I'm not only better entertained than I was when we started, I'm also better informed about that damn engine light. I appreciate all the suggestions! Please stop by again next week, when, I promise you, my personal car issues will NOT be discussed. More then. In the meantime, as always, regards to all!....Paul.


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