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All the News That Fits in a Day

Tonight is opening night for our annual amateur theatrical turn in the Gridiron Show, a satirical song-and-sketch revue that the local media types put on to raise money for the lost cause of journalism scholarships. That means last night was an exhausting dress rehearsal, followed by a cast gathering at Harry’s Uptown Bar & Grill, so it’s been hard to keep our usual keen eye on the news.
While working with our news-mongering friends, though, it’s been hard not to notice some worrisome stories about the news business. Foremost at the moment is the Sinclair Broadcasting Company’s attempt to add another 42 local television broadcasters to the 189 it already owns in 89 markets by taking over the Tribune Company’s television markets, which would give Sinclair access to 72 percent of the nation’s households and make it the largest local television operator in the country.
We’re usually not inclined to worry much about media monopolization, as the internet and the proliferation of cable channels and other market innovations a offer wider and more diverse range sources of news than ever, but this is troubling. Sinclair recently made news by forcing all of its news anchors to read from the same script criticizing other media for their biased “fake news,” a criticism frequently made by President Donald Trump, its outlets have a well-earned reputation for bias toward Trump, and there’s worry that it might be meant to curry favor with the Trump appointees on the Federal Communications Commission that has to give approval to Sinclair’s buy-out of Tribune’s local TV holdings.
Sinclair is certainly entitled to its pro-Trump point of view, and there are historically valid reasons why the federal government has the power to regulate over-the-public-airwaves broadcasts, but there’s something smelly about this.
The FCC gets to regulate the rather narrow range of over-the-public-airwaves radio and television broadcast frequencies because the radio stations used to amp up their broadcasts to the point they overwhelmed their competitors, and in the early days of television there were only four players, but even then there was a First Amendment and a broadly recognized understanding that the federal government did not have the right to regulate the content of whatever news any old news disseminator might disseminate. Networks rose and fell, newspapers rose and fell and merged, new news media emerged through some market innovation or another, but somehow the First Amendment always survived.
This time around, though, despite our preoccupations, we can’t help noticing Trump’s thumb on the scale. The president has lately “tweeted” Sinclair is far better than the “fake news” Cable News Network or the even more “fake news” National Broadcasting Corporation, along with his ongoing criticism of any print or radio or televised or internet critics as “fake news.”
At the same time, he’s been especially harsh in his criticisms of the Cable News Network, and “tweeted” misspelled insults against its chief executive officer, who used to head the news department at NBC, where Trump had once had a hit reality show and there expected better coverage. The gigantic media conglomerate that owns CNN is in the process of being sold to an even more gigantic entertainment-and-news media conglomerate, that also requires the approval of several federal regulatory agencies, including the Trump appointees, and that seems to be dragging out more than usual.
The big-media conglomerate that owns CNN is just as constitutionally entitled to it’s to anti-Trump views, as far as we’re concerned, and we don’t see any reason the government should be any more averse to its acquisition by by an even bigger media conglomerate than it should about Sinclair’s acquisition o the once-formidable Tribune company’s holdings. Let Sinclair buy up those local television stations, too, and in any case let the buyer beware.
In the long run we’ll let ┬áthe buyers beware, and after the past few weeks of rehearsal with our fellow local media types we’re heartened that they’ll also do their best.

— Bud Norman

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The Latest Children’s Crusade

America’s permissive-by-global-standards gun laws and social attitudes have survived all the political outcries that followed more mass shootings than we can remember in the past many years, but the latest tragedy seems different.
The St. Valentine’s Day massacre at a high school in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 students and faculty dead and more than a dozen others injured, was no bloodier than usual but has somehow set off a nationwide youth movement protesting for stricter gun control. Students have staged walk-out protests at high schools around the country, shown up en masse at boisterous protests at the White House and the Florida statehouse, and started the effective sorts of social media networks you’d expect of today’s young people. All the politicians have taken notice, and even President Donald Trump found himself in a “listening session” on Wednesday.
Perhaps it’s just been one mass shooting too many, but important another reason this time is different is that the students at affluent and usually placid Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are a telegenically sympathetic and uncannily eloquent bunch of teenagers.
We know this because all but one of the cable news networks have lately made reality stars out of them, which puts the more rightward media in a tough spot. There are cold and dispassionate and harshly logical reasons for America’s permissive laws and social attitudes regarding guns, but they’re hard to make in the hot media of television, as Marshall McCluhan famously described it, especially when it has such telegenically sympathetic and well-spoken stars on hand.
A few of the rightmost media have conjectured that these kids are just a bit too-uncannily well spoken for teenagers, and must have been hired from central casting by George Soros or some other left-wing conspirator, and that the kid with the former FBI father is especially suspicious given the bureau’s insidious role in the “deep state” plot against Trump. These conjectures have been passed along on social media by a couple of obscure Republican politicos and the president’s namesake son, but for the most part it’s been a futile gesture. The more respectable rightward media take care to be respectful of the terror and loss these telegenic kids have suffered, though, and even such a politically incorrect president as Trump wound up enduring their sob stories with an appropriately somber face during Wednesday’s “listening session.”
One of The Washington’s Post fancy-schmantzy high-resolution digital cameras took a picture of the talking points memo Trump was holding in his normal-sized hands, and it’s clearly discernible that fifth on the list was a needed reminder to say “I hear you.” That was about all Trump had to say to the mass-shooting survivors he’d convened, and although he’d been careful not to invite any of the kids from Douglas High, many of whom had already said they’d decline the invitation, the people Trump and the rest of the country were listening to were also remarkably sympathetic and well-spoken. Trump spoke at a relatively modest length about his campaign promise to arm all the teachers in America, admitting that most of them would probably prove quite ineffectual but holding out hope that a certain number of them would be bad-assed enough to take care of the situation, but mostly he responded to every tear-jerking story by saying “I hear you.”
There’s still a cold and dispassionate and harshly logical argument for America’s permissive laws and social attitudes regarding guns, and much of what these telegenically sympathetic and remarkably well-spoken high school students are proposing is easily refuted bunk, even if we can’t bring ourselves to blame their youthful selves for that, but Trump and his most rightward media apologists don’t seem up to making that complex case. This time around the high school kids and gun-grabbing crazies on the seem more careful to mostly propose more modest proposals about more careful background checks, fixing the bureaucratic glitches that kept federal and local enforcement from acting on numerous tips and intervening with the crazy mixed-up kid who shot up that upper-class Parkland high school, and other non-controversial solutions.
Not so long before he became a Republican candidate for the presidency Trump was yet another Democratic New Yorker who endorsed the easily refuted bunk about banning semi-automatic long guns, and although he’s since promised the gun rights absolutists that he’ll never let them down and his elephant-hunting namesake son has “tweeted” his urgings not to give an inch, we don’t expect him to start “tweeting” taunts about high school kids and holding the line. Some modest measures will likely be passed, the kids will forever remember that glorious day they walked out of algebra class, and the the political ramifications won’t be felt until all those high schools become eligible to vote.

— Bud Norman

Fake News and Real Life

Our Tuesday morning started before sunrise and stretched into the afternoon in the lobby of a local hospital, where we anxiously awaited the outcome of our father’s spinal surgery. The rest of the day’s news seemed unimportant, but while our mother was getting some much-needed napping done there was nothing else but pacing to occupy our interminable wait.
Once upon a fairly recent time in Wichita almost any significant medical procedure would take place at the Wesleyans’ Wesley Hospital or the Catholics’ St. Francis or St. Jude hospitals, which still remain the big three under national corporate ownership, but these days there are gleamingly ultra-modern specialty facilities spread all over town. We wound up way out on the east side, across the street from one of the local corporate airports and not far from swank restaurants in trendy shopping centers, at a well regarded place where they work pretty much exclusively on spines. The workers were friendly and professional, the coffee was free, and they had several of those big high-definition televisions tuned into the various cable news channels.
An old family friend and a new friend from the parents’ elegant nearby dropped by to offer some much-appreciated moral support, as did an elder from the parents’ church, and Mom got cell phone calls from our brothers in Colorado and California and a cousin in Oklahoma, but that only took up some of the time. The local newspaper doesn’t take up much time these days, even if you do the crossword and jumble and crypto-quip puzzles, and we’d forgotten to bring along the laptop to take advantage of the free wi-fi we should have expected at such an up-to-date facility, so when Mom dozed off we wandered over to see what was on those newfangled high-definition TVs.
One was tuned into Fox News while another just a yard or so away was showing MSNBC, and it was pleasantly diverting to watch the captions and the scrollers and see what the two polar ends of the cable spectrum were choosing to yak about. On “Fox and Friends” they were making a big deal of the black-masked “antifa” idiots who had staged some destructive May Day mini-riots in Portland, Oregon, and San Francisco and Chicago and New York, while the folks at “Morning Joe” on MSNBC didn’t seem to get around to mentioning them at all, and in both cases we thought their news judgment was skewed by bias. When our Fox-watching folks showed up for the check-in they both mentioned they’d heard how that awful Michael Moore guy was going to stage an anti-Trump Broadway play, which was still big news an hour later on “Fox and Friends,” and we assured our parents that Moore’s pretty much a left-wing has-been these days and nothing to worry about it at a time like this, and they’ll be heartened to know that MSNBC seems to agree, as we didn’t spot a single picture of Moore’s jowly face during the hour so we spent glancing at “Morning Joe.”
The guy we assume is the titular “Morning Joe” and his comely sidekick Mika with the same foreign-sounding and hard-to-spell last name as a past National Security advisor were mostly interested in yakking about some interviews that President Donald Trump gave over the weekend. We could hardly deny them their fun, as the interviews were so undeniably disastrous that we’d already gotten our own kicks in from the right, and we couldn’t really criticize their critiques from the left. Even the exceedingly Trump-friendly panel on “Fox and Friends” was forced to address the unavoidable topic, and their guest, thetalk radio hostess Laura Ingraham, who is usually so Trump-friendly he seriously considered her for the job of Press Secretary, was forced to concede that the interviews “didn’t do Trump any good.” Fox’s regular panel of “Friends” tried to mount a defense, especially that pretty young woman that we have no idea who she is in the middle of the couch, but their hearts didn’t really seem in it.”
The handsomely aging guy on the left of the couch at “Fox and Friends” we recognized as Steve Doocy, and in our sleep-deprived and over-caffeinated and highly anxious yet profoundly bored state we recalled the couple of times our paths had briefly crossed on the Wichita media scene. He was a reporter for one of the local TV stations, we were clerking at the local newspaper, which was a whole lot thicker and more time-consuming and far better than TV way back then, and although he seemed a nice enough guy we couldn’t help but resent how all the women at the paper seemed slightly smitten by him, especially one that we happened to be smitten with. He seemed rather tongue-tied trying to defend those undeniably disastrous Trump interviews, and looked at least the same three years or so older than ourselves, and we couldn’t help chuckling about what all those left-wing babes at the paper would think of him now. We’re not at all famous and as plain and right-wing as ever, but our hair’s still full and we’re not obliged to muster a defense of those undeniably disastrous interviews.
After a few fitful moments of sleep in the chair next to Mom the newfangled beeper machine they’d given us went off, and then a very fit-looking and handsome young surgeon that our Mom told us had attended a Christian college came out to tell us that the surgery had gone well. We were advised that Dad would be waking up from the anesthesia in an about an hour, and after two and a half hours of fitful sleep and pacing and news-watching the beeper went off again and we were sent in to see him. He’d gone off to surgery far more calm and confident and ready to get it over with than anybody else, as usual, and he awoke from the ordeal his same mellow self. He was in intense pain and dreaming the dreams of Morpheus, but still lucid enough to inquire how his beloved wife and family and were doing, and offering reassurances while making some minor complaints, and all the news was good.
A while later he reassured us we could go home, and after we pressed him for more reassurance we somehow made our way back across town for a much-needed nap. We woke up to check the internet for the usual news feed, found nothing that seems especially pressing, took notice that The New York Yankees are back in first place in the American League East and The Boston Celtics are up two-to-none in the second round of the National Basketball Association playoffs, and at the end of it we gave thanks for a pretty good day. We’ll drop by the hospital way out on the east side tomorrow, where Dad’s going to be laid up for a days, and try to adjust our news judgment to what really matters.

— Bud Norman