Thursday, March 6, 2014

Doing the Right Thing

The discussion over the past 48 hours over the resignation of an RT anchor is misplaced. Sure, a face at the US based television network owned by the Russian government publicly resigned over Russian policy in the Ukraine. 

Good for Liz Wahl. And good for her fellow anchor Abby Martin to condemn Russian actions in Crimea.

They are certainly entitled to their opinion.

At long as it doesn’t affect their work. And in these instances, it has.

Simply put, opinion has no place in reporting.

If you have an opinion, share it.  Off air.

What is fascinating is the surprising support on ethical grounds shown towards the two American journalists who made what they say are individual decisions over what, ultimately, is a difference of opinion with corporate policy.

Anyone in American television working for a news organization works for a corporation. Whether that’s the Corporation for Public Broadcasting over at PBS, News Corp for FOX News Channel, or Disney for ABC News.

And it’s virtually impossible for anyone to agree completely with the decisions of a corporate overlord. You can pick your examples, but you know the result.

Should Disney bend to the interests of the Chinese government when seeking to sell and promote a film across that populous nation. Should NBC News self promote entertainment coverage of sporting events, or even late night talk shows, on their primary news programs.

The answer to each is pretty clear, even though we have seen each come to bear in recent years. Some repeatedly.

But no one resigned in protest, let alone resigned in protest on air, over these corporate decisions.

What’s different here is that RT is owned by a government, not a publicly traded US based corporation. And that distinction matters. And it also places RT, along with France24, Deutsche Welle, Al Jazeera America, CCTV, and the myriad of other foreign government owned channels, in their own category. They are arms of the governments that own them, no different than the US owned Al Hurra, or even the Voice of America.

Each is a visible manifestation of the soft diplomacy that each nation presses in our age of constant and dueling media.

Any journalist working for these networks, in any capacity, should recognize this going in. For someone to act as Ms. Wahl has trivializes her, the independence of journalists, and the trust, as limited as it may be, that the public has in all of those who deliver the news on air.

I don’t say this out of spite, or any animus. I don’t know Ms. Wahl. I had not heard of Abby Martin before this week. And, yes, some of my best friends in the business work for some of these organizations. 

Journalism jobs are hard to come by. Good people often leave the three alphabet networks, and the cable universe. But if you want to hitch your wagon to a government run train, you better be prepared for those wheels to come off at some point. Skidding along a railway sure leaves a nasty burn, not to mention the splinters.

Lauding someone for a self-inflicted wound sure seems to miss the point.

A personal note:  I was recruited by one of the foreign owned networks, CCTV, to talk with them about heading up one of their primary US programs. Let’s just say the conversation took a decidedly sharp turn after I questioned how a story on religion would be covered by CCTV, let alone whether they would consider a series on the role of religion in America. And I remain pleased with the fact that I raised this in an interview, which included the American emissary for CCTV, someone who has also not communicated with me in any form since that meeting.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Yerrr out. Just say no to a national holiday....for baseball

The very concept of a national holiday for Major League Baseball's Opening Day is a foolish idea wrapped in a PR exec's box of dreams.

While baseball has long enjoyed its perch as America's Pastime, and America's Game, that mantle has been passed over to football, which will probably hold onto this until it totally screws up the concussion issue more than it already has.

So baseball isn't even the national game any longer.  And the ongoing effort to create a false holiday for a Monday in April to memorialize the glory days of the game is an enterprise that should be ignored by Congress.

There are already 11 national holidays. 11. Does that make baseball more deserving of recognition than the causes and individuals around whom holidays have been sought, but not won, for years.

Should baseball come before Cesar Chavez Day? There is no national holiday honoring any Latino. Baseball before our largest minority, and soon to be plurality? Really? Advocates for Chavez Day have long sought March 31 in his honor. How would they react to a day for a game coming a few days after the birthdate for this American.

Should baseball come before a holiday honoring contributions of any number of others, whether that's a President still to be determined, or a hero still to be honored.  Hell, I’m sure there are nuevo-billionaires out in Silicon Valley who envision a holiday for Steve Jobs, or even Mark Zuckerberg. 

Perhaps, instead, we should reduce our national holidays, in order to accommodate baseball. Remember, there are 11. So why not give up MLK Day. That would go over well, given the fights that arose over those intransigent states, particularly Arizona, unwilling to recognize the contributions and efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Or drop Columbus Day. There's already quite a bit of discussion in some communities over dropping a holiday recognizing the exploits of a man widely recognized not only for travelling westward, and proving that the earth was not in fact flat, but for spreading disease, illness, and a host of generational issues upon the indigenous peoples he and his men came across on their expedition. I'm sure the Italian-American community would gladly step aside and allow Columbus Day to be relegated to the dustbin of holiday history.

Or eliminate the day after Thanksgiving. That has become a business holiday, or a holiday intended to spur people on to business, or at least to holiday shopping. What with online shopping, and the move by many US retailers to open on Thanksgiving Day itself, perhaps this holiday no longer has relevance, and it too should be jettisoned, sent back to the Chamber of Commerce for some dusting and repurposing.

In 2007 baseball gave up its long privileged position as a tax-exempt entity.  Since then, revenues have risen to over $8 billion, and estimates point even higher for this coming year. 

Baseball doesn’t need a holiday.  For many fans, attending the game provides a holiday, provides a respite from the goings-on outside the game.  Instead, what baseball should do, is have teams pay for their own facilities, build their own stadiums, and avoid leaning on financially strapped municipalities for resources better placed in education and transportation, among other areas.

Now that would truly be a gift for the American people, and something for which we would all be thankful.