October 17, 2018

Hillary, helmets, ‘Crossfire’ and cash

Money, they say, is the mother’s milk of politics.  Also of news, sports and the rest of the entertainment industry.  Three recent stories drive that home. 

When Reince Priebus pressured Comcast’s NBC to drop a miniseries starring Diane Lane as Hillary Clinton, the hostage that the RNC chairman threatened to snuff was the network’s access to the 2016 presidential primary debates.  When the NFL forced Disney’s ESPN to pull out of a documentary about concussions jointly produced with PBS’s Frontline, the league’s leverage was its deal with Disney’s ABC to air Monday Night Football.  And when Time Warner’s CNN hired Newt Gingrich for its exhumed edition of Crossfire, its motive wasn’t political journalism in service of democracy; it was stunt casting in service of ratings.

On the surface, the fight between the GOP and NBC is about the effects of media on audiences.  The party’s presumption – based on no evidence – is that the miniseries would put Clinton in a favorable light, and – also based on no evidence – that the halo would translate into votes.  But if a movie could do that, then John Glenn, heroically portrayed in the 1983 movie The Right Stuff, would have been the 1984 Democratic presidential nominee.  The real issue here isn’t the impact of entertainment on audiences, it’s the coup that took presidential debates out of the hands of citizens and handed them to party hacks. 

Once upon a time, groups like the League of Women Voters sponsored the debates, and all cameras were welcome to cover them.  But starting in 1988, the Democratic and Republican parties “>in reality they’ve been run by “>has reported, ESPN’s turnabout came a week after a heated lunch between Roger Goodell, commissioner of the N.F.L., and John Skipper, ESPN’s president.  For more than a year, the ground rules covering editorial authority had been working just fine; Frontline and ESPN each had control over what each aired.  PBS and ESPN executives had even “>giving a certifiable demagogue like Newt Gingrich a regular seat at its table.

When Jon Stewart appeared on Crossfire in 2004, he was the guest from hell.  “Stop, stop, stop, stop hurting America,” he told its then hosts, Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala.  “I’m here to confront you, because we need help from the media, and they’re hurting us…. I would love to see a debate show,” he said, but calling Crossfire a debate show was “like saying pro wrestling is a show about athletic competition…. You have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably…. I watch your show every day.  And it kills me… It’s so – oh, it’s so painful to watch…. Please, I beg of you guys, please…. Please stop.”  martyk@jewishjournal.com.