Democracy Soup

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NYT reporters who wrote Glenn Beck puff piece without context get the Media Putz

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Originally published on MediaPutz.com on April 2, 2009

Brian Stelter and Bill Carter

Brian Stelter and Bill Carter are entertainment reporters for The New York Times. As entertainment reporters, they fall into the trap of treating entertainment figures as if they do no wrong. And that works if they are writing about Julia Roberts’ new movie or the latest CD from Coldplay.

But when you are writing about such a volatile figure as Fox News Channel’s Glenn Beck, and you leave out the volatility, you produce a puff piece with extra puff.

Stelter and Carter get right to their point: Beck’s audience is rather huge. As they point out, the show “typically draws about 2.3 million viewers, more than any other cable news host except Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity, despite being on at 5 p.m., a slow shift for cable news.”

But is this why The New York Times — “The Gray Lady” — is writing about Beck? Ratings?

Glenn Beck is so out there that even his fellow FNC on-air colleagues think he’s out there. Imagine how the rest of us feel. Stelter and Carter completely ignore this. Yes, more people are watching Beck, but not necessarily because they like or agree with him. If you were fairly certain you would see a train wreck of a host, you might tune in.

Stelter and Carter avoided any significant online research, especially Media Matters and BuzzFlash. But they should have been watching television, something they supposedly do for a living, to see what Beck has been like and the reaction to him.

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have been mocking Beck for some time. Unlike Stelter and Carter, Stewart and Colbert appear to have watched Beck’s show and respond based on what they saw. Though Colbert’s latest Beck parody aired after their story came out, Colbert’s 10/31 Project said way more about Beck’s show than the 1159 words devoted to the topic.

The irony of their writing and subject matter is as close as a 52″ inch screen 6 inches from your face, and they completely miss it. They note that “Mr. Beck says he believes every word he says on his TV show” but also quote him as saying “if you take what I say as gospel, you’re an idiot.” That might be worth exploring, but apparently not to them. Plus, if someone goes out of their way to say they believe every word they say, isn’t that suspicious in itself?

The article points out that Beck says America is “on the road to socialism” and that “God and religion are under attack in the U.S.” He even addressed whether FEMA was setting up concentration camps. But is any of that true? Any context? Not from Stelter and Carter.

When you talking to an unstable person, whether that person is on television or not, it’s okay to humor them in the moment. Stelter and Carter go out of their way to humor Beck as if he’s in the room when they are writing the story, walking over every 5 seconds to see what new words are on the screen.

They work really hard not to present anything negative about their subject matter, Glenn Beck. But you could say, well maybe they don’t press anybody.

But let’s look at this Bill Carter piece on Keith Olbermann from July 11, 2006:

“Because of his personal demons, Keith has imploded everywhere he’s worked,” Ms. (Irina) Briganti, (the spokeswoman for the channel) said. “From lashing out at co-workers to personally attacking Bill O’Reilly and all things Fox, it’s obvious Keith is a train wreck waiting to happen. And like all train wrecks, people might tune in out of morbid curiosity, but they eventually tune out, as evidenced by Keith’s recent ratings decline. In the meantime, we hope he enjoys his paranoid view from the bottom of the ratings ladder and wish him well on his inevitable trip to oblivion.”

Or we could look at this Brian Stelter piece on the MSNBC hosts from September 7, 2008:

MSNBC tried a bold experiment this year by putting two politically incendiary hosts, Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews, in the anchor chair to lead the cable news channel’s coverage of the election.

and

But in the past two weeks, that line has been blurred. On the final night of the Republican convention, after MSNBC televised the party’s video “tribute to the victims of 9/11,” including graphic footage of the World Trade Center attacks, Mr. Olbermann abruptly took off his journalistic hat.

“I’m sorry, it’s necessary to say this,” he began. After saying that the video had exploited the memories of the dead, he directly apologized to viewers who were offended. Then, sounding like a network executive, he said it was “probably not appropriate to be shown.”

Those were pretty harsh takes, the equivalent of which was missing from the Beck piece. Journalistic hat? Matthews may be loud, obnoxious, offensive, and annoying, but he’s too boring to be incendiary. By that logic, Chris Matthews is “incendiary” and Glenn Beck is “capturing the feelings of an alienated class of Americans” “with a mix of moral lessons, outrage and an apocalyptic view of the future.”

For writing a virtual press release without any context or any dimension of actually watching Glenn Beck’s show, we proclaim that Brian Stelter and Bill Carter share this week’s Media Putz of the week award.

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Written by democracysoup

April 2, 2009 at 6:00 am

Posted in media criticism, MSM

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