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Why does so much rhetoric against gay marriage sound like the arguments against civil rights in the 1960s?

CNN panel debates similarity of gay rights struggle to civil rights fight.

CNN via YouTube

CNN panel debates similarity of gay rights struggle to civil rights fight.

"All the bayonets in the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, our schools, our churches and our places of recreation."
-- Then-presidential candidate Strom Thurmond in a 1948 speech.

"The whole thing bespeaks of something much deeper and more insidious than "We just want to get married.' (Homosexuals) want to change the entire social order."
-- Mychal Massie, conservative columnist and member of Project 21, a Washington-based alliance of conservative black people, in a November 2003 Associated Press article.

The rhetoric used by those who oppose gay marriage sounds an awful lot like the rhetoric used when America was caught up in the debate over another important civil rights question: Do black people deserve the right to live, work and play in the same places as white people?

To a generation which can barely fathom life before the Internet or cable television, it must sound like a tale from the Stone Age. But it was less than 50 years ago when America struggled to decide how much freedom to give a people who had been freed from slavery 100 years earlier.

And we’re in the middle of the same kind of struggle, yet again.

The mistake many people make in the gay marriage debate is thinking that this issue is about marriage alone. That is the one thing both proponents and critics can agree on: This is about something much more.

Back in the 1960s, black Americans demanded the country give them their full freedoms under U.S. law; no hedging about separate-but-equal schools, restaurants and movie houses. It was time for America to fulfill a promise it had made a century earlier.

Now, gay Americans are asking for the same action. I wrote about this for the St. Petersburg Times nearly ten years ago; in many ways that are important, the struggle for gay rights mirrors the struggle black Americans fought for their civil rights a half-century ago.

I wrote: “As the country prepares to celebrate the birthday of one of the country's greatest civil rights leaders Monday, the question resurfaces: Is the fight to expand gay rights comparable to the civil rights struggle for black people that remains Martin Luther King's greatest legacy?

If so, will those opposing gay marriage laws, gay adoption rights and openly gay military service wind up on the same side of history as segregationists and alarmists who once opposed so-called "race-mixing"?

And if not, why not?”

Nine years later, I think the answer to that question is plain. The only question left, if whether our Supreme Court is honest enough with itself – and aware enough of our nation’s history – to finally admit it.

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As CNN announces new morning anchor team, I note onscreen diversity often comes down to simply counting heads

The new anchor team for CNN's yet-untitled morning show: Chris Cuomo and Kate Bolduan with newsreader Michaela Pereira.

The new anchor team for CNN's yet-untitled morning show: Chris Cuomo and Kate Bolduan with newsreader Michaela Pereira.

It’s a sad reality that, in a media world where racial equality seems far away as ever, judging success often comes down to counting heads.

MSNBC host Chris Hayes admitted as much in an interview with Columbia Journalism Review in which he acknowledged that his show Up maintained a wide diversity of guests – bucking the trends of many other Sunday politics shows – by simply making sure they didn’t feature too many white males.

“We just would look at the board and say, ‘We already have too many white men. We can’t have more.’ Really, that was it,” Hayes says in the story. “Always, constantly just counting. Monitoring the diversity of the guests along gender lines, and along race and ethnicity lines.” Out of four panelists on every show, he and his booking producers ensured that at least two were women. “A general rule is if there are four people sitting at table, only two of them can be white men,” he says. “Often it would be less than that.”

What surprises me most about this quote is that it seemed so newsworthy to other media news outlets. One thing I’ve learned in my years of writing about the need for diversity in media, is that substantive change doesn’t come without sustained, focused effort.

That often means insisting on a slate of guests, sources or story subjects that cover a wide range of cultures, with ethnic and gender balance. Which means counting heads.

I'll be talking about this subject at 11 a.m. Sunday on Howie Kurtz's media anaysis show for CNN, Reliable Sources. I'll be joined by former ABC anchor Carole Simpson and I'll likely be referencing material from my new book, Race-Baiter.

Last week, I wrote a couple of stories about such head-counting among cable TV news anchors. Because, as cool as it is to have a balanced mix of guests, it is the anchors who set the tone for each show and who, in a loose aggregate, form the face and focus of the news organization.

Today, CNN announced the new team who will lead the morning show it has developed to replace Soledad O’Brien’s Starting Point at 9 a.m.: Chris Cuomo and Kate Bolduan, joined by news anchor Michaels Pereira. Judging by the photos and bio information circulated by CNN, Cuomo and Bolduan are white, while Pereira, who is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists, is not.

My earlier pieces noted that, if you were counting heads, it was tough to avoid noticing that CNN was eliminating a regular presence by its highest profile anchor of color, O’Brien, only to hire two correspondents and now a newsreader who are also people of color.

Various reports already quoted new CNN worldwide president Jeff Zucker pronouncing former ABC News-man Jake Tapper as the new face of CNN. And considering that Tapper and Cuomo are currently the channel’s highest-profile new hires, both white men, it’s worth asking whether anchors of color are destined to be supporting players in CNN’s new incarnation.

This is about more than hurt feelings or social justice. As I noted in my book Race-Baiter, crucial contributions by journalists of color helped add important context to news stories ranging from the death of Trayvon Martin to the life, death and funeral of pop star Whitney Houston.

In the end, a diverse newsroom, practicing the highest standards of journalism, can bring greater accuracy and context to new stories.

TV news faces the same demographic shifts which are forcing political parties to face issues f importance to people of color, from non-sensical voter ID laws to non-sensical immigration procedures.

At some point, it’s time to ensure that our newsrooms and TV newschannels reflect the country’s growing diversity; both in the guest and anchor chairs.

And I’m not sure how you make any of that happen without simply counting heads. Full Story

My NPR adventure: Why ABC's Nashville is the best musical drama on TV; and why that may not be enough

NBC's Smash moves to Saturdays on April 6

NBC's Smash moves to Saturdays on April 6

As a longtime musician, I have never been satisfied with the way TV portrays how music gets made.

Invariably, the difficulty of the process gets glossed over, in the same way TV police get a DNA sample analyzed in hours that might take months to decode in real life. The emphasis too often falls on singers and the glamorous performers; few capture how much like a dysfunctional marriage even the best bands can become.

But then came ABC’s Nashville, a TV drama which gets at the soap opera-quality of performer rivalries, the mystery of the creative process and the inexplicable joy which comes from creating a tune you know is a great song.

The key, of course, is great songs. More than anything, when Nashville's drama promises you're about to hear a great song, the tunes -- chosen by legendary producer/songwriter T Bone Burnett -- deliver.

That inspired me to cobble together a commentary for NPR on just why Nashville stands head and shoulders above the other musicals on TV -- Fox’s Glee and NBC’s Smash. I also explain why that might not be enough to make it a truly great musical series.

Check it out below or by clicking here. And feel free to offer your own thoughts in the commentary sections.

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New report says 30 percent of TV shows have no minority writers, including Breaking Bad, Homeland and Two and Half Men

Breaking Bad had no minority writers on its staff in the 2011-12 season, according to a new report.


Breaking Bad had no minority writers on its staff in the 2011-12 season, according to a new report.

It’s a truism about the TV business that all the power resides in the writer’s chair.

Unlike in movies, the top executive on a TV show, known as a “Showrunner,” is usually also the top writer. Their vision controls the arc of the series, while directors come and go with each episode – the reverse of the power dynamic in film, where directors such as Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese are gods.

That’s why, for those of us who care about diversity in TV roles, Tuesday’s report by the Writer’s Guild of America on diversity in the ranks of television writers matters so much. Because these are the people who control the images we see on all manner of television programs. And their diversity levels look nothing like America.


Women were just 30 percent of TV writers while ethnic minorities were 15.6 percent of a total 1,722 writers on 190 broadcast and cable shows in the 2011-12 television season, according to the study. U.S. Census figures show women are 50.8 percent of the general population, while ethnic minorities are 36 percent.

The study notes 10 percent of TV shows had no female writers at all. Nearly 30 percent had no minority writers. And because Hollywood worships youth, the WGA includes over-50 writers in its diversity category; nearly 30 percent of shows had no writers over age 50.

The shows with no minority writers included: Breaking Bad, Anger Management, Homeland, Last Man Standing, Once Upon a Time, Revenge, One Tree Hill, Mike and Molly, Two and Half Men and Weeds.

Shows with no female writers included: Futurama, Psych, Big Time Rush, Teen Wolf and Magic City.

And a few shows managed the feat of having no minorities or female writers, including Julia Louis Dreyfus’ HBO comedy Veep, ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, HBO’s canceled Laura Dern comedy Enlightened and Showtime’s Californication. Enlightened and DWTS both each had just one writer.

Critics might note shows criticized for a lack of diversity or sensitivity to women’s issues might struggle in part because they lack minority or female staffers.

But I note that some shows which feature strong female and minority characters – Homeland, Veep, Breaking Bad, Enlightened – didn’t have writers from those groups on staff. So Hollywood has even fewer excuses for not getting these issues right onscreen, regardless of diversity numbers.

As I prepare to lead a discussion on these issues from the heart of Hollywood at a Los Angeles bookstore Thursday – click here for details – this report should provide more interesting fodder for discussion. Click here to read more.
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As Supreme Court considers ending gay marriage ban, I name TV's top portrayals of gay people which helped get us here

Cover of Time magazine where comic Ellen DeGeneres revealed she is gay.

Cover of Time magazine where comic Ellen DeGeneres revealed she is gay.

It’s a stock line I often deliver during speeches: In America, media helps define how the majority culture views a minority within its borders.

Want to see the country’s evolving struggle over its view of the poor, or Southern people or young people of color? Watch an episode of COPS or Duck Dynasty or Southland or MTV’s The Real World.

And nowhere has that idea been more evident than in the journey America’s gay people have taken in modern media.

As the Supreme Court today considers the constitutionality of gay marriage, I remain convinced that few corners of the country were more powerful than the nation’s media outlets in cleaning up stereotypes about gay people and pressing the case that they deserve equal civil rights in all areas.


It’s hard to remember just 15 years ago, when comic Ellen DeGeneres landed on the cover of TIME magazine just by declaring “Yup, I’m gay.” Her ABC sitcom’s episode on her character’s coming out as a lesbian was titled “The Puppy Episode” to fake out media reporters trying to guess if she would publicly reveal what many in show business already knew.

I have seen recent media reports which suggested this had the effect of a dam breaking, bringing rushing flood waters of equality as the world realized its mistake. But what I remember from that time, was that the world remained divided about DeGeneres’ decision – a number of religious leaders signed an advertisement condemning the episode published in major newspapers – and her sitcom Ellen died not long after the coming out episode aired.

I also remember telling out and proud rock/pop singer Melissa Etheridge back then that those who opposed gay rights then would be regarded with the same disdain notoriously sergegationist and racist Alabama Gov. George Wallace is regarded now. Repeating those words at a journalism seminar years ago drew disagreement – even from some gay journalists in the room.

But here we are, in that reality. And media images helped get us here. So I’m listing my favorite media protrayals which I think helped the image of gay people in America.

Billy Crystal as Jodie Dallas on ABC’s satire Soap (1977). He wasn’t the greatest gay role model, especially before they jettisoned a storyline where he wanted a sex change. But Crystal’s Jodie was one of TV’s earliest sympathetic gay characters, played by an up-and-coming comedy star who gave him an earnest, funny appeal.

Ellen DeGeneres’ Puppy Episode (1997). As the beginning of DeGeneres’ wrenching attempt to reconcile her showbiz life with her real life, this brilliantly funny episode featured Laura Dern as her love interest, Oprah Winfrey as her therapist and a boatload of jokes to ease the discomfort. It killed the sitcom, which couldn’t figure out how to make her newly-lebisn life funny, but it liberated DeGenres, who no longer had to shoehorn herself into uncomfortable roles as a tomboyishly asexual character.

Will Truman, Jack McFarland, Will & Grace (1998)
. This was an important step but a tentative one. Will and Jack were never romantically involved; the primary emotional relationship onthis show was reserved for Eric McCormack’s gay man Will and Debra Messing’s heterosexual female Grace. The show outsourced the more stereotypical features of gay male characters to Sean Hayes’ McFarland (promiscuity, flambouyant attitude, self-centered behavior), while McCormack was the centered, sensible gay man. This twosome – always white, always middle class always male – would continue through sitcoms such as Modern Family and The New Normal.

David Fisher and Keith Charles, Six Feet Under (2001)
. As the horribly repressed gay brother in a funeral home owning family, Michael C. Hall was note perfect as good son David Fisher. His messy side sometimes showed in his relationship with police officer Keith Charles (Mathew St. Patrck), with whom he eventually adopted sons.

Cameron Tucker and Mitchell Pritchett, Modern Family (2009)
. As the modern version of the gay twosome first brought to television in Will & Grace, Cam and Mitchell not only get to have a relationship, they are married with a child and thinking of adding another. Now, all we need are more gay characters who can be non-white, working class and perhaps even outside big cities.

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As a surprisingly beloved character is killed, Walking Dead co-star Lauren Cohan reflects on how "we all (die) at the hands of our closest"

Merle (Michael Rooker) lies dead, killed by his brother Daryl (Norman Reedus) on the Walking Dead.

Merle (Michael Rooker) lies dead, killed by his brother Daryl (Norman Reedus) on the Walking Dead.

Even though she hasn’t yet seen the episode, Walking Dead co-star Lauren Cohan knows all about the poignant, emotional action which floored viewers in Sunday’s episode of AMC’s zombie drama – as fan favorite and all around jerkface Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker) sacrificed himself to save his loyal brother Daryl.

“It’s shame because we’d all just begun to love the character and understand where he coming from,” said Cohan, who plays tough farmgirl-turned-zombie killer Maggie Greene on the show, which airs its third season finale Sunday. “To make this ultimate sacrifice for his brother and have everybody be wrong…It comes at a time when we could be wrong about Michonne and – big surprise! – we were wrong about Merle.”

The episode was a slow reveal, focused mostly on the band of heroic zombie apocalypse survivors led by Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), anticipating an armed conflict with the show’s increasingly twisted villain, The Governor (David Morrissey).

Merle, always shown as a racist, violent thug (and once The Governor’s enforcer), spent Sunday’s episode admitting to Rick that he doesn’t know why he’s driven to make impulsive, often horrific life choices. Stuck with Rick and his people in an old prison because his brother Daryl insists on staying there, Merle first tries to give up a fellow survivor, Michonne, to The Governor, to stop an attack.

Then, he decides to try killing as many of the villain’s men as possible, getting killed in the process and turned into a zombie “walker” his own brother must put down.

It’s become a trademark of the show; just as we get to know – and care about -- a sketchy character, he gets killed, deepening the audience’s shock.

“It was such a shame, even with Iron E (Singleton, who played survivor T-Dog), you had a moment of ‘Oh he’s becoming more noticed' – not more noticed, actually -- but he’s becoming a more prominent leader in the group, and then he goes,” said Cohan, an American-born, England-raised actress whose British accent flavors her words. “It's so flipping sad...but everybody goes out as a hero.”

Cohan, who is appearing April 7 at the Tampa Bay Comic Con with fellow castmember Emily Kinney (Beth Greene), gave me a much longer interview for a later Tampa Bay Times story on that event. But she also was willing to talk a bit about the shock of losing Rooker as a castmate, and how the cast always seems to be in mourning -- a bit like the characters they play.

“The thing about Rooker, even though his character is such a baddie, he’s one of the softest castmembers ever…such a little pussycat,” she said. “It’s kinda how you go through life thinking ‘Well, if I love less or don’t love as deeply, maybe it won’t hurt as much when I lose someone.’ But it kinda doesn’t work like that. You kinda just have to live life fully and…well, it’s a very difficult show to do, sometimes.”

Sunday’s episode seemed to nearly complete a season-long arc, in which Rick and The Governor started as seemingly very similar figures and now have landed in very different places. Rick embraced his humanity by deciding against giving up Michonne and pushing away visions of his dead wife, while The Governor has become more of a monster – biting off Merle’s fingers during a fight and secretly holding former lover Andrea in a torture chair at his Woodbury compound.

Some critics say the show struggles because it has no story. But I remember people saying similar things about series such as Mad Men and The Sopranos at different points, mostly as a protest when the storytelling got too slow.

The eternal question which hung over The Walking Dead this season: How much of your humanity can you retain in a world gone insane, while still keeping yourself and your family alive?

Rick’s answer seemed to come in bringing an end to the “Ricktatorship,” telling his group they would make choices by majority vote in the future. Assuming the Governor finally gets his comeuppance in next Sunday’s finale, the question remains how some other characters – Michonne, Tyreese, Milton – will get folded into the family, if at all.

For now, fans are left to simmer over the poignant sight of Daryl killing his brother Merle – whom The Governor shot dead in a way which ensured he would return as a zombie “walker.”

“It’s kind of a call back to (Rick’s son) Carl having to shoot (his mother) Lori,” Cohan said. “We always go at the hand of our closest, I guess. I just (realized that) as I said it."” 

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As The Voice and Revolution returns to new episodes, NBC's fate as broadcast network hangs in the balance

NBC's Revolution returns to new episodes tonight; can it save NBC?

NBC's Revolution returns to new episodes tonight; can it save NBC?

Tonight, the TV industry will learn the answer to a pressing question.

Is NBC still a broadcast TV network or just a particularly high-rated cable channel?

That’s a blunt way of referencing the ratings cliff NBC fell off after its three most-watched shows disappeared in winter. Without Sunday Night Football, singing competition The Voice and  new drama Revolution, the peacock network plunged from Number One among viewers aged 18 to 49 in November to fifth place in February – behind its top three broadcast competitotrs and Spanish-language network Univision.

Didn’t help that highly-hyped new shows unveiled in early 2013 such as the soapy crime drama Deception, the Jekyll and Hyde ripoff Do No Harm and presidential comedy 1600 Penn haven’t caught fire with viewers.

And its reinvention of last-year’s anticipated Broadway drama Smash failed so badly the network will move the show to low-watched Saturday nights on April 6 – the equivalent of putting it in hospice care.

(NBC entertainment head Bob Greenblatt is reportedly so upset about the situation he exchanged a series of testy emails with late night host Jay Leno after the Tonight Show star told a series of pointed jokes about the network’s fifth-place status.)

So tonight’s return of The Voice and Revolution are a crucial moment for a network nearly down for the count. Football won’t come back until fall, but NBC might avoid the shame of a fifth-place finish if viewers haven’t lost their love for the network’s singing competition and serialized story about a world without electricity.

The Voice returns in risky fashion, replacing two of its most attention-getting judges, pudgy eccentric Cee Lo Green and flamboyant diva Christina Aguilera. In their place, R&B star Usher and Colombian pop diva Shakira will sit in the show’s trademark red spinning chairs, next to past “winners” Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine and country star Blake Shelton.

If 2013 proved anything, it’s that The Voice’s ratings propped up a lackluster slate of fall shows at NBC, feeding audiences into comedies The New Normal and Matthews Perry’s Go On that the shows never achieved on their own.

As I write this, critics haven’t yet seen the new Voice episodes and may not get a look until it debuts at 8 tonight. But we did see tonight’s episode of Revolution, which promises more of whatever audience liked about it in the fall.

Turns out, there’s a cadre of scientists at the center of the world’s loss of power and there’s two slimy bad guys who seem to be collecting them like trophies. Our team of heroes, led by Billy Burke’s Han Solo-ish fighter Miles Matheson, has just liberated one of these scientists who also happens to be his sister-in-law, Elizabeth Mitchell’s Rachel Matheson.

In the face of a post-apocalyptic drama as riveting and explicit as the Walking Dead, Revolution feels like a cartoon, with characters making choices which seem a lot more about continuing the epic storyline than survival. Still, tonight’s episode offers the death of a character crucial enough that our heroes will soon get another motive: revenge.

It’s not enough to turn me into a fan, but I’m betting it’s enough to hold a good portion of the Voice’s audience in the same way the show managed last year. NBC better never air Revolution away from The Voice, though; they’re likely discover what a real lack of power feels like.

I’m not encouraged by a look at the first four episodes of NBC’s next new series, Hannibal. The concept is stellar; a look at the partnership of effete-yet-brilliant psychologist Hannibal Lecter and FBI profiler Will Graham before the world learns that Lecter is a twisted serial killer who consumes his victims in elaborately-prepared gourmet meals (for fans, it would essentially be a prequel to the films Manhunter and its remake Red Dragon).

Unless you count Laurence Fishburne as FBI boss Jack Crawford, there is no movie star to hold the audience’s attention as Kevin Bacon does in Fox’s serial killer drama The Following. There is, however, lots of gore, including a killer who impales victims on deer antlers and another who peels off parts of victims’ backs to serve as fleshy “wings” transforming them into angels.

Perhaps the gore, increasingly intrusive scary music and Casino Royale alum Mads Mikkelsen -- who offers a particularly bloodless performance as Lecter -- is enough to draw audiences hungry for a new Silence of the Lambs-style story.

But NBC needs more than moody music and explicit crime scenes to become a broadcast network again.

The question at hand tonight, is whether The Voice and Revolution will buy them more time, or serve as the sad capstone to an awful  winter season.

The Voice returns at 8 tonight, Revolution airs at 10 tonight and Hannibal debuts at 10 p.m. April 4. All air on WFLA-Ch. 8.

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Race-Baiter update: Deggans speaking at TEDxBloomington conference at 3 p.m. today

The stage at TedXBloomington


The stage at TedXBloomington

At first, I felt a little like a rock star.

Standing on the stage at the Buskirk-Chumley theater in Bloomington, Ind. Thursday, I was just testing my microphone for today's TEDxBloomington speaking event. But it felt like standing in the center of a well-oiled entertainment machine.

The TED series is a well-known conference featuring thought leaders from all corners of the globe, discussing all manner of issues. And when a group of folks in Bloomington began to organize a version of the series for their town, I was honored when they allowed me to participate.

As an alum of Indiana University, I once sent seven yeas living, working and studying in Bloomington. It feels like a homecoming to return, stepping on a high-tech stage with the conference's trademark, wireless headset microphone, to speak on how to talk about race across racial lines.

If you're intrigued, and you should be, feel free to check out the event's live stream here. My talk is scheduled at 3 p.m.; the theme for the day is "Jump In." And i'll be encouraging people to Jump In to difficut conversations aout race difference. …

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Why NBC should move slowly in replacing Jay Leno with Jimmy Fallon on the Tonight Show

Jimmy Fallon entertains Jay Leno on the Tonight Show


Jimmy Fallon entertains Jay Leno on the Tonight Show

Few people in show business get less sympathy for their woes than Tonight Show host Jay Leno.

From stories of how he eavesdropped on conference calls among NBC brass deciding who would take over Tonight from Johnny Carson, to the way he publicly supported and eventually undercut his last successor Conan O'Brien, Leno's tenacious grip on his job has earned him few friends in showbiz.

That's why the entertainment press seems particularly gleeful in reporting that NBC is developing plans to replace Leno with his current 12:30 p.m. successor, Jimmy Fallon. A notoriously good guy in a cutthroat business, Fallon enjoys all the goodwill Leno does not, making columnists like me savor the possibilities of seeing him move the Tonight Show back to the Manhattan location, as reported today in the New York Times, where it started more than 50 years ago.

But I think, once again, NBC could be making a big mistake by pushing out Leno too soon, much as some people might prefer to see him sent packing right now.


He still does well in the ratings. The reason why the O'Brien-for-Leno transition didn't make sense remains a reality; Leno still does well in the ratings, beating both longtime rival David Letterman and ABC's new upstart Jimmy Kimmel. Of course, NBC fears Kimmel may corner the market on young viewers and scoop up the most profitable part of the late night audience. But so far, that hasn't happened.

Where will older viewers go? When Fallon taes over the Tonight Show -- and various sources are saying it is now just a matter of time, expected by fall 2014 -- NBC and ABC will be locked in a war for young viewers with two hosts from a generation younger than Leno and Letterman. Which leaves older viewers (age 50 and up, by network sensibilities) with just one option. Letterman's CBS show might get many of the traditional late night viewers who haven't yet warmed to Fallon's Millenial vibe, hurting both competing shows.

Who will host the 12:30 a.m. hour behind a Fallon-led Tonight Show? In one sense, there's a long list of young comics available to try taking over the Late Night slot behind an 11:35 p.m. Fallon show. But that also means there's really no front runners for the gig, which could be a problem. Right now, Saturday Night Live host Seth Myers has the pedigree and presumed close relationship with SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels, who championed Fallon as Late Night host and seems to have more juice at NBC than ever. I wonder if the network might consider a young turk like Daniel Tosh or a left-field choice like Community star and The Soup host Joel McHale.

Where will Leno land? If there's any lesson to be learned from what happened with O'Brien, its that NBC likely must cast out Leno, whose heroic work ethic will make him a formidable competitor no matter where he lands. As a former fan, I'd love to see him land at a cable channel which would push him to drop his populist shtick and return to doing comedy for comedy's sake. What would a Leno show on, say, HBO or Showtime, freed from the need to pander for audience and given free reign to be explicit, look like?

There's no doubt that visions of a New York-based Tonight Show led by Fallon, who has managed to grow into a late night host who completely embodies a fun, entertaining Millenial attitude onscreen, is exciting.

But NBC better be careful how it gets there. Or it could be stuck with another reputation-shattering, Conan-style transition debacle. Full Story

Criticism over CNN coverage of Steubenville rape verdict also highlights journalism's struggle to cover sexual assault and juveniles

CNN anchor Candy Crowley and correspondent Poppy Harlow reporting Steubenville rape trial verdict

CNN video

CNN anchor Candy Crowley and correspondent Poppy Harlow reporting Steubenville rape trial verdict

It’s something every cub producer learns in their first days on the job: TV news is often as much about channeling emotion as it is reporting facts.

That seemed to be the problem Sunday, when CNN got caught up in the emotion of seeing two teenagers convicted of rape in a widely-watched Steubenville, Ohio case; an international story, in part, thanks to photos and footage of the victim circulated on social media.

Unfortunately, reporter Poppy Harlow and anchor Candy Crowley’s reaction to the initial verdict included lots of sympathy for the convicted rapists, who were football stars in the town, with little mention of the victim. Condemnation on Twitter quickly followed, while two different pettitions on calling for an apology from CNN have drawn more than 196,000 signatures each.

While accusing Harlow and Crowley of being apologists for rapists seems extreme, the long minutes CNN spent telling the rapists' story did reveal why so much journalism goes wrong when it focuses on rape, juveniles and other serious crimes.

I first had this thought back in January, when the Today show interviewed a couple who had once served as guardians for one of the teen boys charged with raping a 16-year-old girl while she was intoxicated and unconscious, as pictures and video footage were taken which were later distributed over social media.

Because of the way modern journalists cover rape and sex crimes involving juveniles, the victim’s name is usually withheld from stories. In the case of juveniles, often parents and close relatives aren’t identified either, to make it tougher for others to connect the dots and deduce who the victim might be. (that didn't keep some news outlets from airing her name when one defendant uttered it during an apology.)

But particularly in the Steubenville case, those practices also removed the victim from all but the most fleeting presence in stories. While people who stood behind the accused rapists spoke freely to TV cameras and journalists, the victim was a girl with a blurred-out face in a photo which showed her being carried across a party.

And in modern media, if you don’t speak up and define yourself, its hard to exist in the world of the news story.

For me, CNN’s fault in its early coverage of the verdict was failing to keep that idea in mind, reminding viewers regularly that there was a victim who was not immortalized in news footage or public statements.

It’s worth noting that the victim’s mother did eventually speak to CNN and others have observed how emotional the courtroom scene was during the verdict, including the victim's lawyer.

But Anderson Cooper Monday night seemed to sum up the sort of perspective-setting required on his 8 p.m. CNN show -- admittedly after the channel had been lambasted publicly for its coverage -- showing video of one convicted teen breaking down into tears before noting those same youths first denied committing a crime. One of the youths, Ma’lik Richmond, tearfully admitted in court that his actions ruined a young girl’s life.

Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute suggests critics instead focus on journalists who got the story right. But I also think unless journalists learn from the mistakes made, they're just going to make them again.

It’s a tough request for television; requiring it to keep the emotion of a breaking news event in perspective. But it’s the only way to preserve the journalism part of the process – providing proper context along with the facts.

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WDAE-AM host Steve Duemig off the air due to contract dispute with Clear Channel

WDAE-AM host Steve Duemig


WDAE-AM host Steve Duemig

Longtime WDAE-AM sports talk host Steve Duemig didn’t appear for his 3 p.m. show Monday and may not show up for a while, sidelined by a dispute over contract negotiations with executives from owner Clear Channel Radio, according to Duemig.

The host said his deal allows for negotiating with other companies 60 days before the agreement ends in May. But Clear Channel executives pressured him to sign before that window opens, perhaps to keep him from talking to rivals such as CBS Radio, owner of the area’s first FM sports talk station, Sportsradio 98.7 the Fan, Duemig said.

“They’re benching me and paying me,” said the host, 58, who told fans on Facebook and Twitter that he wouldn’t be on air Monday, after Clear Channel executives notified him at noon. “I’m still under contract; ready, willing and able to work.”

Executives from Clear Channel could not be reached for comment. But Duemig’s name seemed to be removed from the station website by Monday evening; Tom Krasniqi hosted in Duemig’s normal 3 p.m. timeslot.

Duemig was one of the first on air personalities hired when WDAE began broadcasting as a sports talk station in the mid-’90s. Still, he said he planned to talk with other companies about his future, in accordance with the terms of his contract.

“I’m surprised,” he said. “I’m planning on exercising my right to explore other options.”Full Story

Can Jake Tapper's The Lead redefine CNN in a TV world where talking about news works better than reporting it?

Jake Tapper


Jake Tapper

When we first meet on the telephone, CNN anchor and chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper tells me my voice sounds nothing like my Twitter comments – whatever that means.

In truth, it's a joke referencing the fact we’d communicated on Twitter for a while before our first telephone interview last week; a measure of how things happen in today’s social media-fueled journalism universe.

But it’s also a measure of changing times that Tapper is so plugged in, even before starting his new show for CNN, The Lead.

In a column for the newspaper this morning, I outlined his vision: an expansive look at the day’s news including everything from comic book references to the latest sports controversy.

The structure of cable news is working against him. CNN’s brand is wrapped up in reporting the news, but rivals Fox News Channel and MSNBC excel by talking about the news people already think they know, using ideological frames to keep viewers loyal (according to a Project for Excellence in Journalism study released today, 85 percent of MSNBC's time for news stories was filled by commentary and discussion, versus 15 percent reporting on three random days choasen in 2012).

Click here to check out Tapper’s explanation for why he can beat those odds. The Lead debuts at 4 p.m. today.

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Satan or Obama? Controversy in History channel's The Bible shows how casting can be seen as a political act

Photo of Satan from History's The Bible on left, President Barack Obama on right.

History, AP

Photo of Satan from History's The Bible on left, President Barack Obama on right.

Does the guy on the left look like the guy on the right?

The Internet meme of the morning is chatter that the actor playing Satan on History channel’s popular series The Bible was somehow specifically picked to resemble President Barack Obama, despite a statement from the show's producers calling the connection "utter nonsense."

The idea's spread, boosted by attention from conservative pundit Glenn Beck, seems more a reflection of modern paranoia over media manipulation and political partisanship than anything.

Especially because of the wildly-vacillating reasons offered for the supposed casting choice; depending on which Twitter feeds you follow, it is either a cruel, disrespectful joke by conservative filmmakers or a recognition of the truth by those sneaking an important message past the liberal television establishment.


But if it's tough to figure whose argument is best served by the controversy, there's no doubt it touches nerves on both sides of our polarized political/entertainment divide for different reasons. Conservative pundit Glenn Beck's Twitter message "Anyone else think the Devil in #TheBible Sunday on HIstory Channel looks exactly like That Guy?" has gotten 580 retweets so far.

But while I likely haven’t seen every instance when this Satan rears his head, I have watched moments in the series’ first episode when he appears, and I gotta say that the criticism seems far-fetched.

When I saw photos comparing the two, I wondered about the resemblance. And there's no doubt, the actor playing Satan bears a general resemblance to our president. He has sharp features, dark eyebrows, is a lighter-skinned person of color and has a mole on his face.

But there are times when this Satan looks to have chalky white skin as well. As Joshua DuBois, the former head of the White House’s faith office said on Twitter: “I see way more Sith Lord than anything else. I think folks are reaching.”

History channel and the show's executive producers Survivor mastermind Mark Burnett and Touched By an Angel co-star Roma Downey also said the connection is bunk.

History's statement: “HISTORY channel has the highest respect for President Obama. The series was produced with an international and diverse cast of respected actors. It's unfortunate that anyone made this false connection. HISTORY’s ‘The Bible’ is meant to enlighten people on its rich stories and deep history.”

Burnett and Downey's joint statement: “This is utter nonsense. The actor who played Satan, Mehdi Ouzaani, is a highly acclaimed Moroccan actor.  He has previously played parts in several Biblical epics– including Satanic characters long before Barack Obama was elected as our President.”

Downey also added, "Both Mark and I have nothing but respect and love our President, who is a fellow Christian.  False statements such as these are just designed as a foolish distraction to try and discredit the beauty of the story of The Bible.”

I do think the picture which has been circulated of Satan on the show does look a lot like Obama. But that captures a fleeting moment.

In other casting controversies: Some experts have said the characters are too Europeanized. Indeed, some the biggest names in the story -- Jesus, King David, Moses, Noah – all look like white Europeans or white Americans. As the Huffington Post noted, the one major figure played by a black man so far, uber warrior Samson, lives out the stereotype of the athletic, strong black man undone by sleeping with a white woman who betrays him, Delilah.

That’s the trouble with portraying the earliest stories in a religion which started in the Middle East but now appeals to American and European nations – even the ethnicities and skin colors of the actors you choose can be seen a political or religious statement.
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State of the News Media study reveals less reporting power, less content and more disappointed consumers

Is reduced content prompting news consumers to change their media diet?

Tampa Bay Times

Is reduced content prompting news consumers to change their media diet?

The woes of the news industry have taken centerstage in the latest State of the News Media report prepared by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Overall, the report paints the picture of a news media diminished by cutbacks and challenged by competition from new, non-journalism digital media companies. The most eye-opening statistic: 31-percent of respondents, one in three, sad they deserted a news outlet because it no longer provides the information they had grown used to seeing (48 percent named less complete stories, while 31 percent noticed fewer stories).

In newspapers, the report says staffing is down 30 percent from an industry high in 2000, below a total 40,000 professionals for the first time since 1978.

In local TV, sports weather and traffic now fill 40 percent of newscasts, as story lengths shrink. Even on CNN, a channel known for its reporting, story packages were cut in half over five years, from 2007 to2012.

The report also accuses campaign reporters of acting more as megaphones than investigators, originating only about one-quarter of statements in the media about candidates in 2012, while twice as many statements came from political partisans.

Google, Facebook and other large digital players are even encroaching on an advertising space once owned by local journalism outlets: local digital advertising. More newspapers are considering adopting paywalls requiring subscriptions for unfettered access to content 450 of the nation’s 1,380 daily newspapers have some sort of plans in motion.

Local TV news audiences were down across every key timeslot across all networks. According to the study, local TV outlets lost 6.5 percent of audience, despite the popularity of the 2012 election (could all the divisive campgi nads be to blame?) while network Tv lost 1.9 percent, newspapers were down .2 percent, cable was up .8 percent and digital rose 7.2 percent.

One thing to provide perspective: median viewership for cable news channels was 1.9 million. Network news, on the other hand, attracted an average 22.1 million viewers and an average 12.6 million watched the network morning news shows each day.

In cable, CNN lost 4 percent of its prime time audience, falling to a median audience of 626,000, while Fox News Channel was flat with 1.9 million and MSNBC rose 6 percent in viewers to 818,000. Still, according ot the report, MSNBC was expected to earn $443 million, compared to $1.8 billion for Fox News Channel and $1.1 billion at CNN.

Overall, the study presents an image of an industry with serious challenges, struggling to grown revenue and maintain staffing while non-journalism focused competitors help dismantle their economic model.

“This adds up to a news industry that is more undermanned and unprepared to cover stories, dig deep into emerging one or to question information put into its hands,” reads the report. Later, it notes “news organizations are less equipped to question what is coming to them or to uncover the stories themselves, and interest groups are better equipped and have more technological tools than ever.”

See the rest of the report by clicking hereFull Story

Video: Jamming with Dave Barry at the Poynter Institute

Dave and Janie Scheiber, Dave Barry, Roy Peter Clark and Eric Deggans at the Poynter Institute.

Poynter Institute

Dave and Janie Scheiber, Dave Barry, Roy Peter Clark and Eric Deggans at the Poynter Institute.

At first, I think Dave Barry wasn't sure if I was joking or not.

But after wrapping up a fun evening backing him on drums as part of a band of book writers/musicians at the Poynter Institute last month, I couldn't resist telling one of America's best humor columnists that I had long dreamed of the moment.

Strange, I know. But I distinctly remember reading a story about Barry's garage band of big-name book writers, The Rock Bottom Remainders, in Entertainment Weekly. My thought: one of the coolest things about writing a book would mean that I could be eligible to play in that band.

The group is no more, scuttled not long after one of it's founding members died. But the Poynter gig at least allowed me to play with one of its founding members -- kinda like backing Paul McCartney on a Beatles tune.

So when I told Barry getting published got me excited about possibly being a Remainder, he provided the best backhanded compliment possible.

"You're too good to be in our group."

Anyways, I discovered yesterday that somebody put part of a song on YouTube. So check it out; I'm the unseen percussive maniac who somehow missed all the cues to end the song.

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