April 1, 2020

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;


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

Week in Review: Sarah Palin and the Politics of Winging It

You betcha it did — as evidenced by the all-terrain coverage that, true to precedent, trailed Sarah Palin wherever she motored last week.

But how dare she disregard the media like that?

That was a subtext of so much of the press grumbling that followed Ms. Palin and her family as they zigzagged through a Northeast itinerary of “biker caravanning” (at a veterans’ motorcycle rally), historic sightseeing (Gettysburg, etc.), office politicking (the headquarters of her employer, Fox News) and Donald Trump (his own category). By “winging it,” or at least not telling journalists where she was headed next and leading them on what some called a “wild goose chase,” Ms. Palin once again showed contempt for a class of people she plainly despises.

“I don’t think I owe anything to the mainstream media,” Ms. Palin said in an interview aboard her bus with Greta Van Susteren of Fox News.

Ms. Van Susteren’s husband, John Coale, a longtime Democratic fund-raiser who became a Palin friend in 2008, marveled at the media’s nerve. “They have trashed her every which way, and they still expect to be kowtowed to?” he said.

You could argue — as many exasperated bus-chasers argued — that dispensing the most basic of logistical information would not fall under the category of “kowtowing.” Rather, they would say, it would fall somewhere between common courtesy and rudimentary public relations.

But whatever. This is all part of the familiar Palin approach. Call it “The Politics of Doing Whatever the Heck I Want.” There she went again, disrespecting the almighty “process,” playing by her own rules and seeming not to give a flying hoot what anyone thought about it. That included the so-called key Republicans, party insiders and self-important activists whom she also seemed to ignore en route. These are many of the same people who trashed Ms. Palin’s bus tour as ill-conceived and disorganized in (often anonymous) comments to the wild-goose-chasers.

These are many of the same usual suspects who complained that Ms. Palin had breached campaign decorum by showing up in New Hampshire last week on the very day Mitt Romney was formally announcing his presidential campaign there. Never mind that Mr. Romney has essentially been running for president for six years (or since kindergarten). He had designated Thursday as his “announcement day,” and, the decorum police felt, the rest of the field was obliged to stay out of the way in deference to the “unwritten rule” that says Mr. Romney should have the stage to himself on these special occasions. Likewise, the political media was obliged to treat Mr. Romney’s impeccably choreographed non-news event as a news event. And everyone pretty much abided by their designated “unwritten rules;” everyone except Mrs. Palin, for whom “unwritten rules” are just another category of the political orthodoxy to run over like roadkill.

What was most striking about the bus odyssey was the apparent relish Ms. Palin seemed to take in driving reporters nuts. While there have been numerous media-loathing politicians over the years, no possible candidate of Ms. Palin’s wattage has so blatantly blown off (or actively thwarted) the trailing press corps to the degree that she did.

This resulted in some comic spectacles that included Ms. Palin’s using her bus as a decoy at the back entrance of a hotel in Pennsylvania so she could slip out a side entrance; or encountering a Sarah Palin impersonator in Boston and instructing her to “go talk to all these reporters” on her behalf.

Why does Ms. Palin behave this way? The simplest answer is, “because she can.” Despite her scorn for much of the press corps — a scorn not infrequently reciprocated — they covered her anyway. It brings to mind the oft-stated belief that if the press really wanted to punish Ms. Palin, they would ignore her. “What’s the sound of an 18-wheeler when not trailed by a caravan of reporters?” asked Mark Salter, a longtime aide to Senator John McCain and top adviser to the McCain-Palin campaign of 2008. “The answer is silence.”

Not likely anytime soon, in other words, wherever Ms. Palin turns up next.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=0faaae706e8199d511beaecedd622715