May 23, 2017

The Media Equation: Parodying Cable News With a Talk About Race

It was a joke. Actually, there were two beats to the joke. The young people they were talking about were white. And the whole discussion was a put-on, a satire meant to show how lame the hoary race tropes of cable news have become.

As a comedy bit, it was very well done. Both men were straight-faced and earnest. Mr. Hayes, tapping his inner Bill O’Reilly, did a fine job of bloviating his way through an introduction heavy with outrage: “The story of the white criminal culture is not a story the mainstream media will tell you. But once you scratch the surface, these stories are everywhere you look.”

Mr. Jefferson, whose post on Gawker prompted the TV bit, was the designated finger-wagging scold — a black man taking measure of white pathology — said “they are learning this kind of behavior in lacrosse camps, they are learning this during spring break, they are learning this kind of behavior at Ivy League fraternities where drug use and binge drinking are normalized behavior.”

Cable news and humor are generally matter and antimatter, with self-selected audiences listening intently while self-serious anchors lion-tame guests fighting for the last sound bite. Nuance doesn’t do well on cable, and complexity goes there to die. As a result, something as fraught as race often ends up being covered in cartoonish ways during signal events like the death of Trayvon Martin.

All of the familiar trademarks of cable silliness were there in the faux news segment. Mr. Hayes and Mr. Jefferson prattled on while a video news loop showed, over and over, a handful of individuals trashing outhouses and a bike store after a surfing contest, all the while drawing lessons from thin air and moralizing over fake sociological claptrap. It was, in other words, a very standard bit of cable news.

As such, it was both striking and very much of a piece with the universe it was parodying. Is “Fox and Friends” real? Does Chris Matthews really feel all shout-y and frantic about every little wobble in the political debate? Can Mr. O’Reilly really be as deeply offended by almost everything he sees, or Rachel Maddow as surprised as she acts about things that aren’t that surprising? At some point, we all know that Anderson Cooper’s bottomless pit of empathy and umbrage is running on empty.

Speaking by telephone on Thursday, Mr. Hayes said that the risks of inserting satire into a format built on sobriety were worth it.

“It’s definitely entering dangerous territory because the social contract assumes that when I express opinions, those are genuinely my opinions,” he said. “You don’t mess with that lightly, but we thought it would be illuminating to play with those conventions.”

The segment on “All In” began with a written warning — “the following is a satirization of recent news analysis” — and ended with a return to preachiness, with Mr. Hayes wagging a finger, this time he meant it, and suggesting that viewers needed to see that coverage of black America was just as silly.

But it was still a bit of a moment. Instead of waiting for Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert to clip and annotate cable vapidity, MSNBC was temporarily acting as a kind of self-cleaning oven, parodying the excesses of cable from a very near distance.

“I think it was sort of brilliant,” said Jeffrey P. Jones, the director of the Peabody Awards at the University of Georgia, and the author of “Entertaining Politics.” “What they did has been done before in all kinds of ways, but the context, of putting the satire right into a cable news show, makes it very powerful.”

Pop culture is perishable. Certain things that seem like givens — that there will always be people at desks on television telling us what we should think about what happened that day — can eventually run out of gas.

E-mail: carr@nytimes.com;

twitter.com/carr2n

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/05/business/media/parodying-cable-news-with-a-talk-about-race.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Obama Says Income Gap Is Fraying U.S. Social Fabric

Upward mobility, Mr. Obama said in a 40-minute interview with The New York Times, “was part and parcel of who we were as Americans.”

“And that’s what’s been eroding over the last 20, 30 years, well before the financial crisis,” he added.

“If we don’t do anything, then growth will be slower than it should be. Unemployment will not go down as fast as it should. Income inequality will continue to rise,” he said. “That’s not a future that we should accept.”

A few days after the acquittal in the Trayvon Martin case prompted him to speak about being a black man in America, Mr. Obama said the country’s struggle over race would not be eased until the political process in Washington began addressing the fear of many people that financial stability is unattainable.

“Racial tensions won’t get better; they may get worse, because people will feel as if they’ve got to compete with some other group to get scraps from a shrinking pot,” Mr. Obama said. “If the economy is growing, everybody feels invested. Everybody feels as if we’re rolling in the same direction.”

Mr. Obama, who this fall will choose a new chairman of the Federal Reserve to share economic stewardship, expressed confidence that the trends could be reversed with the right policies.

The economy is “far stronger” than four years ago, he said, yet many people who write to him still do not feel secure about their future, even as their current situation recovers.

“That’s what people sense,” he said. “That’s why people are anxious. That’s why people are frustrated.”

During much of the interview, Mr. Obama was philosophical about historical and economic forces that he said were tearing at communities across the country. He noted at one point that he has in the Oval Office a framed copy of the original program from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom 50 years ago, when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.

He uses it, he said, to remind people “that was a march for jobs and justice; that there was a massive economic component to that. When you think about the coalition that brought about civil rights, it wasn’t just folks who believed in racial equality. It was people who believed in working folks having a fair shot.”

For decades after, Mr. Obama said, in places like Galesburg people “who wanted to find a job — they could go get a job.”

“They could go get it at the Maytag plant,” he said. “They could go get it with the railroad. It might be hard work, it might be tough work, but they could buy a house with it.”

Without a shift in Washington to encourage growth over “damaging” austerity, he added, not only would the middle class shrink, but in turn, contentious issues like trade, climate change and immigration could become harder to address.

Striking a feisty note at times, he vowed not to be cowed by his Republican adversaries in Congress and said he was willing to stretch the limits of his powers to change the direction of the debate in Washington.

“I will seize any opportunity I can find to work with Congress to strengthen the middle class, improve their prospects, improve their security,” Mr. Obama said. But he added, “I’m not just going to sit back if the only message from some of these folks is no on everything, and sit around and twiddle my thumbs for the next 1,200 days.”

Addressing for the first time one of his most anticipated decisions, Mr. Obama said he had narrowed his choice to succeed Ben S. Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve to “some extraordinary candidates.” With current fiscal policy measurably slowing the recovery, many in business and finance have looked to the Fed to continue its expansionary monetary policies to offset the drag.

Mr. Obama said he wanted someone who would not just work abstractly to keep inflation in check and ensure stability in the markets. “The idea is to promote those things in service of the lives of ordinary Americans getting better,” he said. “I want a Fed chairman that can step back and look at that objectively and say, Let’s make sure that we’re growing the economy.”

The leading Fed candidates are believed to be Lawrence H. Summers, Mr. Obama’s former White House economic adviser and President Bill Clinton’s Treasury secretary, and Janet Yellen, the current Fed vice chairwoman and another former Clinton official. The president said he would announce his choice “over the next several months.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/28/us/politics/obama-says-income-gap-is-fraying-us-social-fabric.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

‘The Bible’ Producers Deny Suggested Obama Link

The producers of the hit mini-series “The Bible” on the History Channel scoffed Monday at online suggestions that an actor who plays Satan on the series was intentionally made up to resemble President Obama.

“It is absolute utter nonsense,” said Roma Downey, the actress who created the series with her husband, the prolific producer Mark Burnett. “This has been a phenomenal show and a phenomenal hit, and we’ve just been waiting to see what would be thrown at us in terms of trying to discredit the show. I didn’t see this coming.”

Several Web sites posted a photo of the Satan character, who is played by a Moroccan actor named Mohamen Mehdi Ouazanni, adjacent to a photo of the president. The striking resemblance led to questioning online, given previous attacks on Mr. Obama from some conservative religious circles, which have compared him to the Antichrist.

Mr. Burnett, who has donated money to Mr. Obama’s campaigns, said the idea that the show was somehow trying to tie the president to Satan was more a joke than anything else.

“The president is a fellow Christian,” Mr. Burnett said.

Ms. Downey was scheduled to see President Obama on Monday night as a guest at a White House event celebrating women in history. “I’m honored to be invited,” she said.

Mr. Burnett noted that Mr. Ouazanni is a well-known actor in Morocco who has played in other biblical productions and has even played Satan before. As for his look, Mr. Burnett aggressively denied there was any attempt to make the devil look like a black man. He said the idea was to give him “a gray-green look” using makeup.

“The Bible” has been among the most successful shows on cable television this year, pulling in more than 13 million viewers for its premiere. It has two episodes left, and it ends on Easter Sunday night with a show that will portray the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.

Mr. Burnett said he expected the finale to be even bigger than the premiere.

As for the controversy on Monday, Ms. Downey said, “I knew from the beginning that Satan himself was going to try to find a way to discredit this.” But, she added, “The ‘Bible’ project is about light and love, and the light and love will shine.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/19/business/media/the-bible-producers-deny-suggested-obama-link.html?partner=rss&emc=rss