Archive for the ‘television’ Tag

Lara Logan story botched by LA Weekly

On February 15th the LA Weekly published a post by Simone Wilson under the headline “Lara Logan, CBS Reporter and War Zone ‘It Girl,’ Raped Repeatedly Amid Egypt Celebration.” The opening paragraph stated that Logan had been “brutally and repeatedly raped” — with that phrase emphasized in bold type.

The LA Weekly apparently got the story wrong. Logan had suffered a horrifying sexual assault while working in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, disturbing details of which came to light in subsequent media coverage. But according to reporting from three different news outlets — The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, and IOL News of South Africa (Logan’s native country) — Logan was not raped. Those articles were cited in a MediaBugs error report posted last week by Tracy Clark-Flory, a journalist who covers women’s issues. (Disclosure: Clark-Flory is a friend and former colleague of mine at Salon.) Since the report was posted, MediaBugs sent three emails to LA Weekly editors seeking a response. We’ve received none.

It’s understandable how a news organization might have made this kind of mistake; while many initial reports about Logan’s attack adhered to a statement from CBS News describing “a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating,” LA Weekly wasn’t the only outlet to make the leap to “rape.” (See Jen Phillips’ post on MotherJones.com for more on this.)

Still, it’s troubling that more than three weeks later the LA Weekly has not posted a correction on its piece, or explained why it believes no correction is warranted. To say that accuracy is important to a news organization’s credibility is stating the obvious — but it seems particularly crucial when public understanding is distorted around a story as emotionally and politically fraught as Logan’s.

Here’s one small anecdote showing why. Last weekend I described the issue to a friend who is well-read on current events. He said that he’d seen the LA Weekly piece, among others. When I told him that Logan apparently had not been raped, he was surprised — he’d understood that to be a central fact of the story.

The LA Weekly’s silence on the matter could in part be due to the withering criticism it came under for Wilson’s piece, which ran with a curvaceous photo of Logan and used various sexualized descriptions of her, including “firecracker” and “gutsy stunner.” Newsrooms tend to circle the wagons when under attack.

That uproar, ultimately, was a matter of editorial judgment and (brutally bad) taste, one that LA Weekly editors may or may not choose to address at some point. (Wilson did so, to some degree, in an update to her post on Feb. 16.)

But this issue is more straightforward. By not addressing the apparent factual mistakes brought to its attention, the LA Weekly not only damages its reputation but also does a disservice to Logan’s story, which has cast a powerful light on a previously underreported problem faced by female journalists. The uncorrected errors take a piece that already comes across as insensitive and make it seem irresponsible, too.

[Note: This post first appeared on PBS.org’s MediaShift blog.]

UPDATED: It seemed worthwhile to include this subsequent exchange I had with an anonymous reader in the PBS MediaShift comments thread:

Anonymous: “I agree with you for the most part, however… no named source has yet contradicted their account. It could be that Lara was raped. We still don’t know.”

My reply: “True, the details of what happened still aren’t entirely clear. But since all the evidence we do have points to Logan not being raped, reasonable readers have a right to raise questions — and they deserve an answer from the LA Weekly. Perhaps the Weekly knows something it hasn’t shared, though the piece appeared to include no original reporting and that seems unlikely. Regardless, if the public raises legitimate questions the onus is on the newsroom to support — or correct — its account.”

UPDATED, 3/15/11: LA weekly has since posted a correction notice stating that it “erroneously interpreted CBS’ report of what happened to Logan on February 11, 2011.”

As of this update the original article’s headline and repeated references to “rape” in the text remain unchanged.

For additional details, see the updated mediabug.

The art of Amy Poehler

It was an amusingly good time interviewing one of the great comedians of my generation for the Jan/Feb issue of Arrive magazine. If you don’t have any plans to ride the rails in the northeast over the next few weeks you can read my cover profile of Amy Poehler here. She talked (and joked) with me at length about her current TV show Parks and Recreation, which returns to primetime tonight, as well as about her Saturday Night Live days, parenthood and some action-packed projects she is pondering next. (“I want to be killed in a movie,” she said. “I want to have a really spectacular end.”)

It was interesting to hear Poehler’s take on the humanity beneath the antics of “Parks.” She mastered sketch comedy long ago, and her acting interests have broadened in recent years. I hadn’t watched much of the show until I took this assignment; from what I’ve since seen, it has its moments but can be rather uneven. And yet, it was also quickly apparent to me that Poehler’s charisma and comedic talents could carry the show, at least for a while. The future of “Parks,” now in its third season, appears to be riding on how the ratings tally this spring.

Particularly fun in going back over Poehler’s incandescent career to date was revisiting one of her early breakthrough characters (and one of my favorites), “Stacy,” who brought hilarious combustion to Late Night with Conan O’Brien in the late 1990s. Thanks to YouTube, of course, you can watch her again in glorious action.

The snazzy layout for the print issue of Arrive is also worth checking out via the link above, not least for the gallery of Poehler’s many memorable SNL characters, from Dolly Parton and Dennis Kucinich to Hillary Clinton and Kim Jong-Il.

AP’s complicated Seinfeld episode

Recently a MediaBugs user reported that an Associated Press story had misidentified the “Seinfeld” character George Costanza as Jerry’s “neighbor” on the show. Eventually the AP’s west coast entertainment editor, Steve Loeper, responded to an inquiry about the matter, and the AP subsequently decided to publish a correction.

It was a positive outcome, but here’s the rub: Getting to it involved no less than contacting five different people, sending eight emails and making three phone calls — and it took more than three weeks to get a result.

Indeed, one of our early observations with MediaBugs has been that reporting an error to news organizations — even (or is it especially?) large, reputable ones — can be difficult and time-consuming.

When the “Seinfeld” bug appeared on our site on April 28th, I searched online for a specific channel through which to contact the AP regarding errors. I couldn’t find one. (Apparently one does not exist; more on that in a minute.) The AP story had no byline but was datelined Los Angeles, so I looked up the LA bureau and sent an email to the news editor there, Brian Melley. Having been a news editor myself at a busy national media outlet, I knew his inbox was likely to be inundated. I followed up with another email two days later. A couple days after that I tried calling, and emailed again on the heels of that. Then I also tried emailing the LA bureau chief, Anthony Marquez.

Next, I thought to contact an acquaintance who works as a reporter for the AP in Washington, to see if I was even poking in the right place. I learned from her that the news service has a decentralized system for corrections; the AP reporter and/or editor on a specific story apparently is responsible for handling any potential correction. I had been poking in the right place, if to no avail.

Next I tried emailing another person I knew of who used to work in the AP’s LA bureau, to ask if there was anyone else there I might try. He suggested contacting Loeper. After a couple of emails and a voicemail, Loeper responded in timely and good-humored fashion, and we were on our way to a correction. (While the bug ostensibly had been posted by a “Seinfeld” devotee, Loeper subsequently told me via email that the AP “got the definitive word from Rick Ludwin, the NBC executive in charge of the ‘Seinfeld’ series back in the ‘90s, who noted that Kramer and Newman lived in Jerry’s building, but George had his own apartment in another building and also lived with his parents for a time.”)

In the end, AP did right by the error. It wasn’t an earth-shattering one. But rather than getting into whether it’s important for such errors to be corrected (see here and here for why we believe it is), a simple question instead: why does it have to be so hard to get an error fixed?

You can almost hear Jerry working it into one of those nightclub monologues he used to close the show with: “What’s the deal anyway with these newsroom people? You see a simple mistake, so you try to let them know — you email and you call, and you call and you email, and… nothing. Really? What’s the deal with that?” (Cue laugh track.)

[Cross-posted to the MediaBugs blog.]

Dick Cheney’s 9/11 conspiracy

The former vice president took a break from hunting and fishing this week to return home to Fox News and fire away once again at Barack Obama. Headline-grabbing potshots this time included characterizing the sitting president as “radical” and calling the Obama administration’s decision to put Khalid Sheik Mohammed on trial in New York City “a huge mistake.” Cheney stopped just shy of labeling Obama’s policy as treason. “It’ll give aid and comfort to the enemy,” he said of the pending terrorist trial.

The retired veep is as entitled to his opinions as the next guy, one supposes, however politically motivated they may remain. But particularly since Cheney’s arguments depart ad nauseam from his views about the 9/11 terrorist attacks (see the saturated transcript linked above), it seems an apt moment to point out some news that bubbled up a few weeks ago regarding Cheney and that fateful September day. Newsworthy indeed, although it seemed barely to register in the media: A new book by John Farmer, a former attorney general of New Jersey who served as senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission, says flat out that Cheney lied about how the U.S. government handled the Al Qaeda strikes on New York and Washington as they unfolded.

As someone involved in producing much coverage on the story of 9/11 (including this wide-ranging series for Salon in 2006), I can say that this is one conspiracy worthy of attention. (Numerous others, not so much.)

According to Jacob Heilbrunn’s recent review in the Sunday Times of “The Ground Truth: The Untold Story of America Under Attack on 9/11,” Farmer handily debunks the Bush administration’s storyline that the White House acted decisively and effectively that day. He describes how both Cheney and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz “provided palpably false versions that touted the military’s readiness to shoot down United 93 before it could hit Washington,” according to Heilbrunn. “Planes were never in place to intercept it. By the time the Northeast Air Defense Sector had been informed of the hijacking, United 93 had already crashed.”

Moreover: “Farmer scrutinizes F.A.A. and Norad records to provide irrefragable evidence that a day after a Sept. 17 White House briefing, both agencies suddenly altered their chronologies to produce a coherent timeline and story that ‘fit together nicely with the account provided publicly by Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz and Vice President Cheney.’”

Farmer’s damning conclusion? “History should record that whether through unprecedented administrative incompetence or orchestrated mendacity, the American people were misled about the nation’s response to the 9/11 attacks.”

It gets one thinking about a comment Cheney made to Fox’s Sean Hannity on Tuesday night, discussing the memoirs he’s currently writing about his 41 years in Washington, dating back to the Nixon administration: “There are some fascinating stories and interesting things I was involved in.”

Do tell, Mr. Vice President.

Roger Federer’s impossible shot

The dazzling play of tennis titan Roger Federer does not cease to amaze. Following his U.S. Open semifinal victory on Sunday against Novak Djokovic, Federer said in a TV interview that he had practiced the between-the-legs return many times, but that “it never worked.” In case you missed what he called “the greatest shot I ever hit in my life” — that’s a bit like Michael Jordan trying to point out his single greatest dunk — take a look:

It must be noted that Djokovic himself played rather phenomenally, and likely would’ve vanquished just about any other opponent in the hard-fought three sets.

But when Federer is on, he seems to reach a truly singular plane of performance. David Foster Wallace captured it artfully in his 2006 essay, “Federer as Religious Experience.” (Which I wrote about here recently.) After stating that a top athlete’s beauty is “impossible to describe directly” or “to evoke,” DFW did just that, in one of his most memorable pieces of nonfiction. With Federer on the cusp of his sixteenth career Grand Slam title, it’s worth (re)reading the essay in its entirety. One line that has always stuck with me: “Federer’s forehand is a great liquid whip.” It’ll likely be on cracking display again in a couple of hours at Arthur Ashe Stadium, as he takes on 20-year-old Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina in the championship match.

UPDATE: Indeed, Federer hit no shortage of zingers in the five-set battle, but his serving fell short while the youthful (and towering, at 6-foot-6) del Potro dug deep to pull off one of the bigger upsets in U.S. Open history.

Mark Bowden battles the bloggers

The esteemed journalist Mark Bowden is back with another thought-provoking article on the digital media revolution. It is at once deeply reported, crisply written — and strangely myopic in its conclusions.

In the October issue of the Atlantic, Bowden tracks the story of how a partisan blogger armed Fox News and the rest of the TV noise machine with the primary attacks used against Supreme Court nominee (and now Justice) Sonia Sotomayor. (As I wrote in May, an early riff suggesting that conservative Republicans would wisely refrain from attacking Sotomayor — another echo in the chamber — would prove plain silly.) Bowden shows how a blogger by the name of Morgen Richmond dug up and helped disseminate obscure video clips that would soon have every talking head focused on Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” and judicial “policy making” comments from the past.

Fox-SotomayorBowden asserts that the deployment of those comments was “the work not of journalists, but of political hit men.” Although he acknowledges that partisans supplying material for TV news broadcasts is nothing new, he sees a dark trend, one to be blamed squarely on the proliferation of blogging. “With journalists being laid off in droves, savvy political operatives have stepped eagerly into the breach. What’s most troubling is not that TV-news producers mistake their work for journalism, which is bad enough, but that young people drawn to journalism increasingly see no distinction between disinterested reporting and hit-jobbery.”

The problem here is twofold. First, Bowden levels blame at the wrong target. As blogging expert Scott Rosenberg writes, “Surely the failure here is on the part of the TV news organizations that turned it into a marquee soundbite without looking more deeply into it. Wasn’t that their job, their process, their vetting — the safeguard that ostensibly distinguishes them from the unwashed blogging masses? Aren’t they the ones who are supposed to be after truth rather than scalps?”

That may be giving cable news a little too much credit, but as Rosenberg also points out, most bloggers don’t even purport to contribute journalism. And the failure to appreciate what blogs do contribute — especially collectively — is the other shortcoming in Bowden’s discussion. Morgen Richmond himself explains this clearly, in his response to Bowden’s piece:

[W]hile I wholeheartedly disagree with Bowden’s ultimate assessment that the Sotomayor “court is where policy is made” and “wise Latina” comments were non-controversial when taken in full context, the truth of the matter is that literally within hours (if not minutes) of posting both of these, there were an assortment of bloggers across the political spectrum dissecting and analyzing these finds. And not just the short clips which ultimately played on TV. I posted a link to the full Duke Law video almost immediately, and embedded as much of the “wise Latina” speech as I could in my initial post, so anyone who was interested had access to as much context as they wanted. Many highly-regarded blogs, such as the Volokh Conspiracy, concluded as Bowden did that these statements were not as controversial as they seemed on their face. And of course many others were not so willing to give Sotomayor the benefit of the doubt. The point is that this started taking place within hours on the internet, long before any of this made it’s way into the broader media. (Remember that I posted both of these statements before Sotomayor was even nominated.)

Bloggers often are lazy about providing useful context for readers — political agenda or no, it’s not easy to do well in the short space the genre typically requires. Yet, the linking that so often serves as a blogger’s shorthand points up the powerful information ecosystem of the Web. It is the information consumer’s charge, as much as ever, to dig deeper, to explore widely and to question orthodoxy. (Including his own.) The digital medium allows this far more readily than a television broadcast or print article does.

This isn’t the first time I’ve criticized Bowden for his media analysis — see my recent writing on his takedown of New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger, as well as Bowden’s response.

He’s one of the best and most respected in the business, and I couldn’t agree more with Richmond when he says the world needs more journalists like Bowden, not fewer. Surprisingly, though, Bowden’s own legwork on the role of blogging in the Sotomayor story didn’t help him to get past his seemingly jaundiced view of the digital medium and its democratizing power. I think he tips his hand when toward the end he says: “There’s more here than just an old journalist’s lament over his dying profession, or over the social cost of losing great newspapers and great TV-news operations. And there’s more than an argument for the ethical superiority of honest, disinterested reporting over advocacy.”

But that’s precisely his thrust. With no small whiff of nostalgia he reiterates that an old-school reporter, proceeding from curiosity over political conviction, is more likely to discover the unexpected and reap the rewards of “speaking wholly for himself, without fear or favor.” Maybe so. Yet, Bowden could just as easily be describing bloggers when he concludes that reporters have “the power to stir up trouble wherever they go. They can shake preconceptions and poke holes in presumption. They can celebrate the unnoticed and puncture the hyped. They can, as the old saying goes, afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.”

Brevity, brainpower… and Obama’s beer hour

If attention spans these days are indeed being digitally obliterated, you may not get very far past this sentence. But if you’re looking for a few good places where you might actually go a little deeper (besides this blog, of course!), here are a few recommended links — a quick rundown of What Else I’ve Been Reading Lately.

Benedict Carey continues an engrossing series about the human brain, with the latest installment looking into the science of gut feelings. What is it that might give some U.S. soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan exceptional ability to detect roadside bombs? It could be that cognitive abilities matter most — whether innate or gained potentially through training.

NPR has a look at how Bryant Neal Vinas, a 26-year-old aspiring jihadi from Long Island, made his way pretty darn close to Osama bin Laden. According to terrorism expert Sam Rascoff, “Vinas’ experience tends to undermine the story we’ve been telling about what it takes to get inside the hard-core al-Qaida.”

In “The Kill Company,” Raffi Khatchadourian further investigates the dark side of U.S. military action in Iraq. In the fog of this long war, where is the line between killing and murder on the battlefield?

With a thought-provoking Op-Ed in the Times, Haaretz’s Aluf Benn suggests Barack Obama has blown it by not talking to Israelis, while just about everyone else in the world has been hearing directly from the Diplomat in Chief. “This policy of ignoring Israel carries a price,” Benn says, especially with respect to the incendiary issue of the settlements.

After spending a chunk of time back in June writing about the election upheaval in Iran, it was inspiring to read this high-quality exchange between bloggers Ethan Zuckerman and Robert Mackey about the challenges of covering events in Iran. Would that this kind of open discussion, at the nexus of technology, politics and journalism, be much more commonplace.

RedStripeBeerAnd last but not least… Gates-gate. Since you made it this far, I’ll go a tad deeper here. Obviously, a bunch of media folks have no choice but to waste a bunch of time obsessing about and over-analyzing what brands will be consumed during the imminent beer summit at the White House. (How revealing that the black Harvard professor is going for a Red Stripe! Etc.) It’s not as if there’s an array of daunting issues in the world on which to focus. Nonetheless, CNN’s “Situation Room” today has been featuring a “beer chat” countdown clock onscreen, along with graphic deconstructions of where the gathering will take place in the White House rose garden, and with Wolf Blitzer practically beside himself teasing the event every 60 seconds. (Jon Stewart no doubt is hailing the cable news gods ahead of tonight’s sendup.)

In the end, I think Obama “acted stupidly” himself by getting so directly involved in this whole kerfuffle. He has done wonders to help push America forward on intractable issues of race. (His March 2008 speech in Philadelphia on race was perhaps the high-water mark of his tidal wave of a presidential campaign.) But I agree with Glenn Loury that Obama spent his political capital poorly on this — even if, as Charles M. Blow recounted quite poignantly, America still has a long way to go.

SamAdamsUPDATE: An important twist in the paramount beer summit story: It turns out that Gates recalculated and went with a Sam Adams instead. We can only ponder the significance… also see Michael Scherer, on how the White House press corps got played on this one.

Sharp turn on Wall Street

My cover story for the July/August issue of Arrive is now riding the northeastern rails, a look at the nation’s economic crisis and the role of the financial media. CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo, the Wall Street Journal’s David Wessel and others ponder the end of days on Wall Street and what the American economy will look like on the other side of its most vicious hangover in decades.

CNBC has taken some big lumps this year for the behavior of some of its on-air personalities, perhaps deservedly so. But during a lengthy chat for the story earlier this year, after pushing past a bit of canned stuff, I found Bartiromo to be quite knowledgeable, engaging and forthright. And I happen to agree with her take on Jon Stewart’s big beatdown of Jim Cramer and CNBC back in March.

wall_street_signWill America’s investment banking sector soon be a miniature of its turn-of-millennium self? (And would that be a good thing?) Who are the most deserving villains in the blame game? Read on… Meanwhile, during a quick ATM stop at a Chase bank branch yesterday I witnessed an exchange that seemed in some small way encouraging — perhaps an indication that America has started to move beyond the denial/anger stage, and into the acceptance/change stage.

A bank employee was walking out just as a long-time customer was walking in. The customer asked the bank employee if in the past few weeks it had gotten any easier to get a loan. (The specific type wasn’t clear, though it was obviously either a home mortgage or small business loan.) “No, it hasn’t gotten any easier,” the bank employee said, with a cheery smile. “As you know, they’re asking a lot more questions now.” The customer smiled back, unfazed, and headed into the bank, paperwork in hand.

Moonwalk for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

The embattled Iranian regime couldn’t have dreamed up a better reprieve from scrutiny than the worldwide media frenzy over Michael Jackson’s death, only just getting underway.

How much Jackson coverage will be too much? (Whatever that is, we’re likely to find out.) His death is tragic but unsurprising given his condition in recent years. A great sadness for his family, friends and fans — and arguably a great relief, as the world can finally stop fixating on the downtempo horror show of misery and self-mutilation, and instead remember Jackson for the extraordinary music and artistry he gave, particularly in his earlier days.

youngMJ

Indeed, the postmortem coverage will be ceaseless for days to come, while Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s sham of a reelection and attendant brutality recedes from the headlines. But what continues unfolding in Iran remains worthy of top billing. Prospects for the beginnings of rapprochement with the Obama administration now appear to be on ice. The regime is claiming the election was fraud-free. (The voting populations of various Iranian towns must have swelled overnight.) Clerics close to Ayatollah Khamenei are calling for dissidents to be punished ruthlessly and savagely. Veteran journalists anticipate that the country’s media lockdown will continue for a long time. (NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel: “We’re openly being called the instigators of a revolt.” More details here on the media crackdown.)

mahmoud_ahmadinejadDecentralized digital communications may become ever more critical to publicizing what’s transpiring inside Iran. As of Friday afternoon Michael Jackson commanded the top three slots for Twitter hashtags (#MJ’s; #RIP Mj; #michaeljackson), but Iran was still trending at fifth and sixth (#Iran; #iranelection). Also of note: The UK blogger whose Iran cyberwar guide mysteriously vanished last week is back online and has a second installment, an interesting rundown for tech and politics junkies alike. Meanwhile, this recently posted mash-up evokes the strange confluence of the historical moment, setting images from the Iranian election upheaval (some of them graphically disturbing) to Jackson’s controversial song “They Don’t Care About Us.”

A fevered case of swine flu hype

Will the outbreak of the H1N1 virus get historically serious? According to global health experts, the answer is that nobody really knows. Pandemics tend to hit in waves, and the biggest danger could come this winter.

pigFor now the news media is maintaining its fever pitch as long as possible, of course, hungry to feast at the ratings trough. As one analyst told Howard Kurtz yesterday, “Cable news has 24 hours to fill, and there isn’t 24 hours of exciting news going on. If you scare people, they’ll tune in more.” Still, when flipping past CNBC on Monday afternoon I was a bit shocked to encounter the blaring graphic “Pandemic Pandemonium” accompanying a discussion about reaction on Wall Street. (In fact, the market barely budged early this week.)

Naturally, some news consumers are caught up in the hallucinatory chatter. From an inquiry to Bay Area physician and blogger Doc Gurley — posted, I kid you not, under the headline Swine Flu Sex? — on SFGate today:

Dear Doc,

My husband and I are trying to get pregnant. We’ve just recently “put the pedal to the floor” and are undergoing fertility treatment. Now I’m concerned that I may be putting myself and an unborn fetus at extra risk for the Swine Flu that is wending its way down the pipeline. Included in this concern is the fact that I’ve heard that anti-virus medications can adversely affect a developing fetus, which means it would be a lose/lose case scenario if I had the opportunity to prevent an imminent case in the future. Should we shelve this project for a few months or what?

Gurley replies that pregnant women do have “very mildly” suppressed immune systems. However, she continues, “The fact is, given the way the world (and media coverage) works, there will, undoubtedly, never be a time when the world looks rosy, all-welcoming, and risk-free. Yesterday’s potential nuclear annihilation is today’s swine flu. It’s a wonder, in fact, that any baby ever sticks its head out.”

If they only knew about the likes of AC360 or Countdown with Keith Olbermann.

Mexico, meanwhile, now suffers from a confluence of maladies. As GlobalPost’s Ioan Grillo reports from Tijuana: “Amid a U.S. recession, a fever pitch fear of the Mexican drug war and now an epidemic of swine flu sweeping across Mexico, Humberto Beltran says business at his border city store has nosedived 85 percent this April compared to the same time last year.”

From North America to the Far East, another pressing question has arisen amid the swine flu scare: Is it still OK to love bacon?

UPDATE: As of Wednesday afternoon the World Health Organization has raised its alert level, determining that a “pandemic is imminent.” So too is plenty more cable news yammer.

Ricky Gervais goes toe to toe with Elmo

So what happens when a friendly little red monster sits down with a top British comedian for an interview? Mayhem, of course.

gervais_elmoOuttakes from Ricky Gervais’ visit to “Sesame Street,” an appearance to be aired during the show’s 40th anniversary this fall, have been floating around recently on the Web. It’s potent stuff, and probably works well as an antidote to, say, lingering rage about AIG, or worries about the invasive drug war, or the grim economic headlines, or personal pain from the recession, or etc.

A little over a year ago I had the pleasure of spending a day watching Gervais work and interviewing him at length for a magazine profile. He was thoughtful and engaging, and at turns quite zany. But really I had no idea.

“Elmo is so glad Mr. Ricky Gervais is here,” the little guy chirps at the outset, and it’s quickly downhill from there. Soon Elmo admonishes a producer off camera. “Where did you lose this interview?” he demands. “Where? Where?”

“You call yourself professional,” Gervais retorts. “You can’t even control a muppet and a fat guy. Just calm down.”

Both are in top form — Elmo with his radiant third-person observations of self, Gervais with his ever tasteful subversiveness. Elmo points out that the dust-up “wasn’t Elmo’s fault,” and things ratchet back down a notch. But Gervais can’t let it rest. “Listen,” he says, “these are the no-go areas: Drugs. Child Abuse. The Holocaust. OK? Let’s stay off those three things.”

His riff about necrophilia probably won’t make final cut, either. Enjoy.

About that big Jim Cramer beatdown

Jon Stewart is getting showered with praise for his showdown with CNBC’s Jim Cramer Thursday night on “The Daily Show.” The culmination of a week-long “feud” (egged on by the salivating media at large) was riveting to watch. (The video is here.) Stewart, long a savvy media critic, brutalized Cramer both for his own and the financial news network’s direct role in the economic meltdown that has vaporized untold wealth and hobbled the United States of America.

stewartcramer

If that sounds a tad overdone, well, indeed. There is plenty of truthiness in Stewart’s point. It’s easy to sift through footage from various CNBC shows and find no shortage of their hosts making wrong calls about the financial markets, cheering on suspect CEOs and exuding what in hindsight was obviously misguided optimism about the economy and the stock market. Not to mention analyst Rick Santelli’s puerile, faux-populist tirade last month about the mortgage crisis.

But there is also some intellectual dishonesty suffusing the big CNBC takedown so in vogue right now. It’s easy to level simplistic snark at the network per above. But few seem willing, Stewart included, to acknowledge what the popular financial news network is mostly about, as I wrote about here recently: daily infotainment, emphasis on tainment.

Let’s be honest, we’re all plenty hungry at present for the villains of Wall Street to be strung up in the town square. But blame-the-media is the easy way out. It’s a bit silly to assign the degree of culpability that Stewart just did to a guy who, on his daily stock picking show, bounces around detonating obnoxious sound effects and exclaiming “Booyah!” like a frat guy on meth.

Stewart has other smart thinkers in the media following right along. David Brancaccio, host and senior editor of “Now on PBS,” told CNN that Thursday night’s show marked an important moment in journalism, especially for financial reporting, and that it may serve as a cautionary tale for those in the media who would fail on due diligence. “I don’t think any financial journalist wants to be in Cramer’s position,” Brancaccio said. “I think [journalists] may redouble their efforts to be dispassionate reporters asking the tough questions.”

That’s just goofy. Jim Cramer is not a financial journalist. He’s a self-cultivated nut-job host of a popular sideshow for Wall Street wonks. His script brims with speculative investment ideas, clumsy jokes and useless if marginally entertaining financial prattle.

The truth of the matter is that while CNBC certainly is ripe to take some lumps in this new era of Great Recession, the network is the easiest of targets. It’s also worth noting that there is substantive reporting in its mix. Last month, in fact, I spent some time interviewing CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo and correspondent Bob Pisani at the New York Stock Exchange for a forthcoming magazine article about the financial media. Mostly I found them to be informed, thoughtful and dedicated to their work as reporters. For one example, see the high marks Bartiromo got for grilling ex-Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain on her show back in January. For another, watch this recent Frontline documentary, which recounts how in spring 2008 CNBC reporter David Faber helped pull the curtain back on Bear Stearns and impacted the timing of the investment bank’s collapse.

No doubt they and others on the network also had craven moments of their own during the boom times. As did so many in American government, business and, yes, out there in TV-viewing land. A dramatic and bloody round of the blame game is quite satisfying to watch right now, especially in the able hands of Mr. Stewart, but the culpability for our economic predicament extends far, far beyond the spectacle of one television channel.

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