How Do We Overhype Media Stories? Let Me Count the Ways
In the rush to uncover every unsavory tidbit of the modern media process, sometimes we spend a little too much time obsessing on stuff that really isn't much of a scandal.
A few recent examples (click on any photos to enlarge):
Misstep #1: Attributing Political Bias to Boneheaded Mistakes
CNN anchor Kyra Phillips has never struck this critic as a candidate for MENSA. So when I heard to story about how she wore a live microphone into the bathroom and proceeded to have a conversation with another woman about her "control freak" sister-in-law that was broadcast over a speech by President Bush, I chalked it up to typical newsanchor knuckleheadedness.
But the conservative media watchdog site Newsbuster.org seems to be implying that the Phillips gaffe is a bit more -- tacking a plea for donations to oppose "liberal media lies" at the end of a rather exhaustive account of Phillips' blunder.
I'm probably reading too much into Newsbusters' reflexive hatred for all things CNN. But still, seems like a lot of bandwidth to waste on an essentially innocent mistake.
Misstep #2: Overanalyzing CBS' Push for Couric
Alert media hounds noticed something strange about a photo of soon-to-debut CBS news anchor Katie Couric in the CBS/Viacom promotional magazine Watch!
See if you can spot the difference:
Yes, they photoshopped the image to make Couric's waist look a little smaller (some news accounts say she looks 20 pounds lighter; I'm not buying that, though she is obviously slimmer).
Having seen Couric in the flesh several times, I'm not sure why they felt this was necessary -- she's already a tiny thing without any digital help. But I'm less than alarmed that a promotional magazine published by CBS' public relations department would tweak the picture to make her look better (As I type this, an MSNBC anchor has actually compared this teapot tempest to the Dan Rather Memogate scandal; have we learned nothing from overblown Karr coverage?) Next, you'll be telling me they let Couric review the article before it was published!
Addendum: The next most overhyped portion of this story is the Huffington Post grousing because blogs weren't credited with breaking this story or the Kyra Phillips story. So let me acknowledge here that TVNewser and Wonkette were out front on these blockbuster scoops.
Misstep #3: Overanalyzing the President's Reading Habits
We journalists know that Bush's man of the people shtick is mostly that. He's actually a son of one of the most powerful families in America, who attended elite universities like Harvard and Yale, and made a career of turning his family's political connections into failed commercial ventures before going into the family business: politics.
So I understand why NBC anchor Brian Williams wasted precious minutes of his Katrina anniversary interview with the Presient asking why he was reading a French absurdist author like Albert Camus. Williams' problem: most viewers probably don't even know who Camus was.
Here's an excerpt:
"WILLIAMS: We always talk about what you're reading as you know there was a report that you just read the works of a French philosopher. (bush laughs)
BUSH: The Stranger.
WILLIAMS: Tell us the back-story of Camus.
BUSH: The back-story of the-the book?
WILLIAMS: What led you to...
BUSH: I was in Crawford and ah I said I was looking for a book to read and Laura said you oughtta try Camus, I also read three Shakespeare's.
WILLIAMS: This is a change...
BUSH: interrupt. Not really. Wait a minute.
WILLIAMS: A few months ago you were reading the life story of Joe DiMaggio by Richard Ben Cramer
BUSH: Which was a good book
WILLIAMS: You've been on a Teddy Roosevelt reading kick.
BUSH: Well I'm reading about the battle of New Orleans right now. I've got an eclectic reading list.
WILLIAMS: and now Camus?
BUSH: Well that was a couple of books ago. Let me-let me- look. The key for me is to keep expectations low.
WILLIAMS: Is that what everyone doesn't get?
BUSH: I don't know Brian what they get or don't get. Here's the thing the great thing about the presidency is that you are totally exposed. And people spend a lot of-- particularly if you're making decisions, and hard decisions, people spend a lot of time, not only analyzing decisions, but analyzing the decision maker. And I understand that, but a president must never let-- let that get him off track.
WILLIAMS: Even if you're frustrated that we're getting something wrong
BUSH: You have to do what you--- if we're getting something wrong, we change it.
WILLIAMS: How have you been read wrong?
BUSH: I dunno. I frankly don't pay that much attention-I don't wanna hurt people's feelings, but...
WILLIAMS: Still not watching television, huh?
BUSH: I watched a good baseball game."
Nice try, Brian. But Bush will always outfolksy you in the trenches. Let's spend more time talking about his actual policies, rather than what's on his reading table, huh?