Sunday, June 22, 2008

1992 vs. 2008

It's easy to forget in this fast paced media environment how political elections were once covered. In fact, leaving out the election meme, it's easy to forget how television looked, period.

This YouTube clip features the 1992 Presidential Election coverage of CBS, featuring Dan Rather at the anchor desk. The things that stand out to me are:

* the simplicity of the set
* the calm tone
* the lack of slick graphic packages
* the reliance on journalists, rather than pundits
* the lack of music
* the lack of commercial interruption
* the amount of face time Rather gets

I consider all of these things a preferable style of coverage than we get today. That's not to say that the current style of coverage isn't improved in some respects. Appropriate set changes are great, especially when they involve a break from the studio, for example. Hits from the campaign trail are valuable ways to take the pulse of the electorate. The urgency and hyperactive presentation of modern political coverage may be a way to duplicate the immediacy of the internet. Just a theory, but when you really want to know something you often click between several sites, or hit refresh on your browser. TV drama may be a way to duplicate that sense, or it may simply be a technique for scaring viewers out of changing the channel.

The overproduced opens, bumps, and closes are hokey and John Stewart/Stephen Colbert do a fine job of mocking them. The good graphic additions have been those dedicated to data or to electoral maps. There are, however, too many flying pie charts and bar graphs of minutia that need to be cut.

The use of journalists for the primary coverage of events is something long since passed away. Pundits rule the airwaves now, so much so that anchors are often pundits themselves. The art of journalism is such a thing of the past that far too many Washington Correspondents are actually op-ed types who have an agenda. A lot of these people get cushy TV jobs and don't want to give them up. Who wants to do all the hard work behind the scenes without a by-line? Better yet, who wants to do all the heavy lifting in the field and have some hairsprayed goon get all the credit, especially when I can be a hairsprayed goon.

The point about music goes hand in hand with the graphic packages. The news used to avoid any music whatsoever to remove any subliminal, psychological tone that might skew perception in one way or the other. Now, music is integrated just for that purpose. Thanks Fox.

The commercials in the 1992 clip are simply 5 second taglines accompanying a corporate logo. Would that fly in 2008? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAA!!! Right. The news are corporate logos already. They are brands in and of themselves. They spend more time promoting their own coverage than actually practicing any journalism. The advertisers rule the airwaves now. That cat's out of the bag. Remember that next time you're watching CNN cover environmental issues (you'll have to watch very carefully for the 2 minutes a day they want to promote "Planet in Peril") and the logo and tag for "Clean Coal" comes up.

Rather is one of those "last of the good ol' boys" anchors, who actually paid his dues in the field prior to becoming a talking head. Now we're so specialized that the anchor is little more than a traffic director who spins you around between pundit one, pundit two, graphic mashups, ads, and pundit three. Think Wolf Blitzer.

I'm including a clip from the 2008 Primary coverage to give a little contrast. See if what I wrote isn't accurate, and also think about how political news (elections in this case) are best presented. TV is an entertainment medium, so the answer is unquestionably 2008, but for the purpose of an informed democracy, I'd have to go against the ecological grain to say that it fails on too many levels. My reasoning? The points made above show how the information value of political coverage has been drowned in the entertainment value. That's the nature of the medium. The problem with leaving it at that is that drowning information for the sake of entertainment may work for the bottom line, and it may work according to the logic of television, but there is still room for journalism in entertainment. There is room for entertainment and information to work together successfully. One would argue that television can never be the most effective means of acquiring and integrating political information, but it can be better than it is now without sacrificing its own nature to the doldrums of 1992.

The internet has changed the way we cover news, and politics, just as it's changed the coverage of sports. They are all one and the same. The horse race wins out over the wonkish policy issues. Wonkishness on the internet works by integrating media forms. The long form text of the internet allows for detailed information to be communicated, while hyperlinks and video embeds give a more dynamic and entertaining vibe. The embedded YouTube clip, for example, is the sauce or the salt or the chocolate topping. It's the part of the information that you WANT. The text is the vitamins, minerals, protein,'s the information you NEED. Television has less opportunity to do this, but it can still make a better attempt.

Twittering a McCain FCC

Cross posted at DailyKos:

In a recent first, the Personal Democracy Forum held a "Twitter Debate" between Obama and McCain surrogates. The PdF is a really interesting collection of people from various backgrounds, who jointly hope to promote, understand, and evolve technology in democratic uses.

The moderator of this debate was none other that Wonkette Emeritus herself, Ana Marie Cox. The surrogates in question were RNC Director of Communications, Liz Mair and Michael Nelson, Clinton's Director for Technology Policy at the Federal Communications Commission, IBMer, and Visiting Professor of Communication, Culture, and Technology at Georgetown University.

First of all, this exercise was a fascinating use of new media. Twitter is a fairly untapped tool at this point, and the variety of applications that are being generated in support of it are adding to a new landscape of old media forms. The Tweetboard application that hosted the debate is little more than a glorified conference call, using chat style instant messaging as its code. The Lincoln-Douglas debates, which lasted for days are being played out over the course of days again via the PdF's Twitter experiment, although I think it's safe to say that the number of words communicated per second/minute/hour/day pale in comparison to the oral presentations of 1858.

For those of you interested in seeing this media technology in action, just follow the links above. Also, feel free to add me to your list of tweeters by clicking here.

Beyond the technology, one of the interesting things that's come up in the course of this communication was the name dropping that Ana Marie Cox engaged in when asked about potential FCC appointments by John McCain, were he to be elected president. The direct cut and paste (bold mine):

anamariecox: (Jun 21 20:12:00) Forgot "#pdfdebate" in my last q. Asked both @LizMair & @MikeNelson abt possible FCC chair. Will return 6ish for today's last round of q's.

LizMair: (Jun 21 21:33:43) @anamariecox Just a few big names for you, beyond C Fiorina: Meg Whitman, John Chambers, Chuck Fish.#pdfdebate

LizMair: (Jun 21 21:38:42) @anamariecox And I have to plug my boss, Cy Krohn (ex-Yahoo and Microsoft) who's RNC eCampaign Director :)#pdfdebate

Let's review the names for a moment to see who we're dealing with.

1. Carly Fiorina (from her Wikipedia page)

Her tenure as H-P's leader included a 50% drop in the company's stock price, and thousands of employee lay-offs (done to cut expenses quickly). She was fired by H-P's board of directors due to dissatisfaction with her performance, in February 2005.

Fiorina is also a contributor on the Fox Business Network.

Bad CEO-ing and then a job with Fox. Sounds like someone we'd be thrilled to see working at the FCC. Another reason to soundly reject John McCain as president.

2. Meg Whitman

Whitman, like Fiorina has been bandied about as a potential McCain VP. She joined the McCain campaign as Finance Co-Chair after serving with Romney in his failed bid for the nomination. She's been rumored as a political figure for some time, but only after leaving eBay to support Romney did this materialize. A number of very unpopular fee increases and some shady happenings with the auction mega-site left Whitman the target of a massive user boycott this past year, although it's been argued that the effect of the boycott on eBay's bottom line was negligible. The real critique of Whitman's performance was made by Silicon Alley Insider, Henry Blodget:

In the past few years, as eBay's core business has matured, Meg has overseen several decisions and non-decisions that were, at best, weak:

* Failing to move the eBay brand perception beyond "auctions"--a retailing concept that will forever appeal to only a small segment of the overall retailing market.

* Failing to focus on the core site interface, which for more than a decade has been considered a joke.

* Buying Skype, which never had any real strategic synergy with eBay (despite several years of management insistence to the contrary), which distracted eBay from its core business, and which ultimately disappointed.

* Failing to kill, buy, copy, or at least partner with Amazon, whose superior customer service and site has now become the gold standard for any consumer interested in an end-to-end research, buying, and fulfillment experience.

Kim Peterson at MSN's Money Blog also had this analysis of Whitman's recent tenure at eBay:

Putting politics aside, is it time for Whitman to step down? If you're an eBay shareholder, you might think so. The stock was abysmal in 2006 and continued to disappointment in 2007, staying mostly in the $30-$35 range when companies like Amazon saw shares go through the roof. (Ebay closed yesterday at $32.49.)

Ebay has seen huge growth and international expansion during Whitman's 10-year tenure as CEO. The company is in nearly 40 markets, and has about 250 million registered users. Ebay says it has 100 million listings on its site at any given time, with 6 million added each day.

The company is undoubtedly an auction powerhouse. The problem is that it has remained just that, despite numerous attempts to expand to new areas. Perhaps the biggest black mark on Whitman's time at eBay is the $2.6 billion acquisition of Internet calling company Skype in 2005. What an expensive mistake. Skype never meshed with eBay and should be spun off as soon as possible.

Ebay is trying other things, like introducing its own "Neighborhoods" social networking service, but so far that doesn't seem to have taken off either. (Check out eBay's sad, sad iPod neighborhood).

Whitman has more to crow about than Fiorina, but still leaves something to be desired as an FCC Chair.

3. John Chambers

Chambers, the chairman and chief executive of technology giant Cisco Systems Inc., was tapped to serve as the national co-chair and economic and technology adviser of McCain's presidential exploratory committee. He previously served on the education committee of President Bush's transition team and on a Bush admin advisory council on national infrastructure. He also worked on a trade policy committee under Bill Clinton.

The ties to Bush and infrastructure and education would seem to be an automatic two strikes for Chambers, as would be his role in trade under Clinton a check swing, but this interesting note from a March article at Networkworld may be something positive:

Chambers and Bostrom outlined Cisco's efforts to cut carbon emissions in the way it runs the company and also in the power consumption of its products. The company has what it calls the Eco Board, a group of employees charged with finding new ways to cut emissions. Chambers said the company cut its carbon footprint 20% and saved $150 million after it was challenged by the Clinton administration to do so.

Chambers said businesses seemed to be taking more concrete steps than government, but he agreed that leadership from the United States and China - two of the biggest polluter - would be a big step toward solving the problem. "In Silicon Valley we can make dreams come true," Chambers said, "but you can't do it without government leaders."

I have some questions about Chambers and his attitudes towards deregulation, since Cisco has taken great advantage of it in India to score a huge vertically integrated stake in their national IT infrastructure, but I also don't come across anything overtly dangerous in my quick research of his past statements. In fact, I like what he had to say back in 2001 about broadband penetration:

Korea has the highest broadband deployment in the world because it has subsidized a build-out to the tune of $7.5 billion over five years. John Chambers of Cisco says, "I'd like to see the administration and Congress, both the Democrats and Republicans, make this a major project, like putting a person on the moon. Let's give broadband to every American home by the end of the decade who wants it." Of course, such a program would be a boon to Chambers' company. But it might also help recharge the economy.

4. Chuck Fish

Fish is a member of the Advisory Committee to the Congressional Internet Caucus, where the following bio excerpt can be found:

Chuck Fish is Vice President & Chief Patent Counsel of Time Warner Inc. He is a 1984 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, where he was a national champion parliamentary debater and achieved two coveted Black N awards. After commissioning, he served on a destroyer and a Patrol Wing Staff in the Western Pacific until "President Reagan won the Cold War and we ran out of targets." He then attended Wayne State University Law School, graduating cum laude in 1992. While in Detroit at Wayne State he founded the Wayne Law Film Society and was active in the Federalist Society.

Hmmm....until, quote, President Reagan won the Cold War and we ran out of targets, unquote. That's not good. Also, active in the Federalist Society isn't a promising start. I see that Fish has worked on the Telecomm Immunity issue for the McCain campaign. Maybe he's had something valuable to contribute (although I suspect not):

"First, we need to be explicit we are not talking about granting indulgences," Fish said, clarifying that he meant forgiveness must be matched with repentance.

"There would need to be hearings to find out what actually happened and what harms actually occurred," Fish said, adding that immunity would need to be coupled with clear rules to make sure private records would be protected in future.

In the wake of that statement, the McCain campaign had to reassure their friends in the industry that they are still very much for complete and unequivocal amnesty. Julian Sanchez of ars technica summarizes the discussion held between Fish and Obama surrogate Daniel Weitzner, giving us this look into the future at a McCain administration:

Fish outlined the four core principles that would guide a McCain administration's approach to technology. First, ensuring the availability of risk capital in order to promote investment and innovation.

Second, creating a skilled work force, by means of education, but also tax and immigration policy. (On the latter front, Fish claimed that for each H1-B visa hire, 20 domestic jobs are created. I have only been able to find a study supporting the far more modest claim that H1-B visa requests are correlated with 5–7 new domestic jobs, which may simply indicate that expanding firms hire more workers, both local and foreign. Fish did not respond to an e-mail seeking a source for his claim.)

Third, Fish stressed the importance of a employing a light regulatory touch and respecting open markets. He noted that misregulation can impede innovation, and invoked what he called the "futility principle": There are some genuine problems that are only made worse by attempts to meliorate them.

Finally, he stressed McCain's "commitment to discovery," and noted that while we currently spend some 2.7% of GDP on research and development, "more can be done."

Just what I expected from a Time Warner VP. A strong commitment to deregulation, or non-interference in markets. Bah. Enough of him already.

5. Cyrus Krohn

From his Personal Democracy Forum bio:

Cyrus Krohn is Director of the Republican National Committee's eCampaign Division. Prior to joining the RNC, Krohn developed election websites & political advertising programs for Yahoo and Microsoft as well as launching, formerly owned by Microsoft.

Krohn has no shot at the Chair of the FCC and it's clear that Mair was just giving her boss some kudos, but the irony is that he's probably just as qualified to hold that position (if not more) than the people named above. He's the only one (that I can tell) that has a blog, several social networking profiles, and direct hands on experience with the web. The field here is unsurprisingly heavy with CEOs of major corporations, primarily fallen or lackluster CEOs and I'd have to say that only John Chambers seems remotely promising as a potential McCain administration FCC Chair. Ugh, just typing that is painful.

For the record, Mike Nelson took a pass on naming names for the Obama side. I give you the pertinent debate comments here:

MikeNelson: (Jun 21 21:48:19) I do policy, not personnel. The list of talented, senior people supporting Barack who COULD be FCC Chair is a long one. #pdfdebate

MikeNelson: (Jun 21 21:49:05) Here's the list of tech supporters from last November: #pdfdebate

MikeNelson: (Jun 21 21:50:24) The requirements for FCC appointees: 1) believe in open, transparent processes and 2) understand new and old media. #pdfdebate

Vague, but not altogether unexpected. One might look over the list of Obama supporters named in the link embedded in Nelson's 2nd comment, but there are far too many people to draw any serious conclusions. In the end, I'd expect Obama to pick a CEO of some kind for the post as well. I operate under no illusions that the FCC is going to be run by real communications thinkers anytime soon. I hope I'm surprised, but I'm not counting on it.

The PdF debate continues today. Look in via Twitter and the Tweetboards and post your comment below on what you see there, and what you think about the people floated for McCain FCC Chair.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

McCain: You....Tube? What's that?

Jonathan Alter speaks to Keith Olbermann about the impact of YouTube on the modern political John McCain's expense. Enjoy.

Friday, June 6, 2008

War is in His Blood

John McCain launched the 1st ad of the general election today, featuring an "I Hate War" theme. The problem is, his grandfather fought, his father fought, he fought, and now his son is fighting. In some ways this is honorable patriotic duty that should be commended. In other ways this is evidence that John McCain is blind to the idea that war is a last resort. Avoiding war is harder work and far more honorable a pursuit that fighting it. The people who hear honor in this ad will vote for him anyway. The people who know his record and want this war to end, and the fighting to stop should hear the hypocrisy in it.

I hear both, but I face reality knowing the hypocrisy of this war and that far too distant war in SouthEast Asia that were both fought on the backs of the poor and disenfranchised over the wealth and power of a few. John McCain would keep the military-industrial-complex churning away to suit his own "family business" sensibilities and that is something we can't allow to happen.

Worst. Speech. Ever.

The reaction to the McCain speech is priceless and dead on. The notable speakers in this clip are the people at Fox News, who should probably be touting the speech's brilliance, but who know just how awful it was.

There's some interesting advice for McCain's people at Politico today, which I generally agree with, but I think the only thing that's going to save McCain in 2008 is a combination of straight ticket Republican voters in the reddest of the red states, and racists. Oh, and maybe a handful of disgruntled and utterly stupid Hillary Clinton robots that will scuttle the Democratic Party and their own reproductive rights over a cult of personality. The question is, are there enough of any of these people to stave off the Obama tidal wave? I think not.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


First, McSame:

Then, Obama:

Can we vote today? This thing is over.