Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Soul of NBC News--On sale now for 1,000 words

In the week following the so-called decency discussion over the pottymouth programming of Don Imus and NBC News' "discovery" of that problem (see Casablanca, gambling) we are presented with the same news divisions's claim that they "agonized" and "thought long and hard" (an afternoon) over the release of a killer's promotional material.

In both cases, NBC News has revealed a stunning disconnect and near desperation in their effort to remain relevant. Let's start with Imus. He would be on the air right now if it weren't for the advertisers demands and the power of the market in responding to public outrage. That's fine. He's an entertainer, not a journalist. His show was a commodity whose value vanished. It happens. Gwen Ifill properly called out Tim Russert and others for their silence over the week on Imus -- silent because they're friends and frequent contributers to the program. Like Bush and Gonzales, they served their friends instead of their professional mission and integrity. Too bad.

NBC, in the body of its president, pretended that the decision to dump Imus was a moral one, filled with agony. He was all over the dial, demonstrating his agony. Yeech. Get back to the Oprah set, your quiche is getting cold.

The decision to air this despicable footage provided by the Virgina Tech killer reveals NBC's deepest fear -- that another network will beat them? Yes, but mainly that anyone could post this stuff to YouTube and NBC's gatekeeping role would disappear.

Bulletin -- it's disappearing.

By jumping out into the village square and making a self-congratulating show of their second "agonizing" decision in two weeks, they have made it painfully obvious that they were willing to be irresponsible in order to demonstrate the need for responsibility. This is the kind of BS that we rely on Dubyah to drop into the cornfield.

Just as shameful as the wallpaper use of Anna Nicole Smtih's two best and bounciest assets while "covering" the saga of her burial site and surviving daughter's future, all the networks have exploited the tragic loss of over two dozen people because they had art (compelling new images). In bottom-dollar local news, this is why you cover a fire of an abandoned building instead of a school board meeting.

NBC should be far above those callous, selfish choices. Obviously, they're not.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Imus t'have missed it

With all the hot air about Don Imus' oral diarrhea, I surely missed the part that addressed the difference between this particular case of potty mouth and the 4 million previous examples.

To me, it's simple (and rather stunning that no journalist seems to mention it) -- it is that this time, Imus libeled his target. He didn't just say something generally insulting to a group of people, he met the standard for libel and probably even the N.Y. Times v. Sullivan standard for actual malice (defamation of a public figure).

Identification - Imus clearly identified 10 individuals, far different from saying something defamatory about a group -- like long-haired, slutty white men.

Defamation - I think it's pretty clear that he held these young women up to public embarassment and humiliation. Moreover, their injury is compounded by the followers of this rant in that they recevied hate mail and death threats.

Negligence - Imus clearly could have avoided this injury to his victims by exercising ordinary care.

Provably false - The statements about the promiscuity of these athletes is easily disproved through character witnesses.

Malice - The kicker -- the women are aguably public figures which means that the malice standard would apply. Imus would have to know that these statements were false and say them anyway. He's done this, essentially, in suggesting that this would be the basis for his "joke" being funny.

So for all the speculation of inpact in social policy and worries over a chilling effect -- no worries. Defamatory speech has never been protected. I hope those players sue Imus, CBS radio and MSNBC in a whopper of a defamation suit.

They'll just have to get in line behine those Duke LAX players to collect.

--Jean Bolduc