Look, Ma (.com)

I have sometimes talked about the way NPR uses what I consider to be over-gentle, linguistically pre-chewed forms of expression in its writing along with a story-time vocal style that combine to subconsciously infantilize the listener. I do not believe they are trying to infantilize us on purpose, it’s just the unintentional result of a lot of smaller style choices. In any case it’s one of the things that makes NPR so much more pleasant to listen to than the TV-news-standard stentorian delivery of someone like Andrea Mitchell. The closest NPR comes to this is Mara Liasson, who happens to moonlight on FOX TV News. (Or is NPR her moonlight job?  Hard to tell.)

But advertisers are another story. Baby-talk modern company names are generated from pure cynicism. And I mean “baby talk” literally. Words like “mama” are common across cultures as the first sounds made by an infant, and in many languages they are used as parental names.

Listen more carefully next time you hear the national underwriting messages pronounced in Jessica Hansen’s lovely voice. You’ll hear “ooma.com“, “myemma.com“, and “moo.com“. They are practically baby-talk anagrams for one another. I’m waiting for “goo-goo-gaa-gaa.com.”

So, is it a coincidence that at least three “baby talk” companies advertise heavily on NPR? Or maybe there are just so many nonsense-word baby-talk companies now that you should expect a normal distribution to be clotted with them.

Google Inc. took its name from the number “googol,” a one followed by one hundred zeroes, which a mathematician allowed his young nephew to name. Google it!

Mara Liason: naive, or just bored?

The following exchange took place yesterday in one of the infinite “two-way” reports spending one last night in bed with the still-warm body of Rick Santorum’s stillborn campaign:

SIEGEL: Speaking of his future, of course much depends on whether the Republicans win or lose the White House, but what is his future?

LIASSON: Well, he could be in a Romney Cabinet. He certainly will be a conservative social issue leader in the Republican Party. 2016, he could run again. He’ll have a heck of a lot of competition if [he] does that, though.

It’s really not hard to know what Santorum’s future is.  It’s going to look a lot like his immediate pre-primary past.  As Joshua Green put it in Bloomberg:

He did some lobbying, hooked up with a think tank, and sat on a few boards

Sound familiar?  Basically being handed a bunch of money for his extraordinary ability to be Rick Santorum.

So what’s up, Mara?  Do you not know this?  Either you are extremely naive about what out of work politicians do or you think it isn’t interesting enough to just say it.  Too true to be good.

But I find it extremely interesting that out of work politicians make a bunch of money simply for being out of work politicians.  It’s a sickness at the heart of our politics, and I find it very, very worth discussing.

In fact I find it much more worth discussing than the questionable poll results you and your kind perseverate over daily.

But you, Mara, seem to be wed to the old school reportage.  Make it exciting!  Gin up a real fight!  Make it about the contest.  2016!!  You actually said it!  I think you might be the first!  Yay!

And today on Morning Edition you even fired the starter pistol on the race between Romney and Obama, characterizing it as completely evenly matched.  How conveniently exciting for you and all your horse-race monger compatriots.

War is Peace!  Ignorance is Strength!  Everything is Equivalent!

Juan But Not Forgotten

NPR recently inspired a surprising number of listeners to self righteously declare that they will never contribute another dime to their NPR station.  What caused this self-defeating outburst from the former fans?  The fact that NPR issued an official internal memo forbidding employees to attend the Stewart/Colbert Rally for Sanity in Washington unless they are officially covering the event.  Behind this action, of course, is the hoary mid century j-school notion that reporters should not have political opinions that might influence their coverage.  Because no human can actually turn off the opinion-having part of their brain without rudely invasive surgery, journalism has often settled for what might be the worst of all possible worlds, the mere appearance of objectivity.  As consumers of news we can either pretend we are getting an objective report or we can play the game of constantly trying to guess how the journalist’s bias is affecting their reportage.  Unfortunately this results in a kind of bias amplification.  Our own bias will multiply our perception of the reporter’s bias and distort the actual message we get from the story in dramatic ways.

You can see this clearly in the wide variety of opinions listeners hold about NPR in spite of said attempts to remain unbiased.  Here are a few excerpts from just a short stretch of the comment beard under a Huffington Post story about this whole Rally for Sanity flap:

“I would have imagined such blatant anti-left bias would have disappeared at NPR by now. Yet every time I listen to All Things Considered, I end up turning it off in anger because of just that problem.”

“I stopped contributing and listening when you became another mouthpiece for the ultra-cons­ervatives.”

“I try to stay away from NPR since it became a Republican propaganda organ.”

Even correcting for the road-rage-like hyperbole that seems to be a prerequisite for blog comments, we can see that a lot of left-leaning folks have begun to despise the bias they personally detect in current NPR content.  I’ll leave finding the right-leaning hate speech against NPR’s liberal bias as an (easy) exercise for the reader.

Which brings me to one Mr. Juan Williams and a scrappy little up-and-comer known as Fox News.  By adopting the slogans “Fair and Balanced” and “We Report, You Decide,” Fox News, intentionally or not, raised the bar for satirizing modern journalism to a level that not even the combined forces of Stewart, Colbert, and the Onion working with the ghosts of Dryden, Swift and Twain could ever hope to approach.  It’s like the old definition of “chutzpah”: the guy who murders his parents and then begs mercy from the court on account of his being an orphan.

No, it’s actually worse than that.  It’s more like the guy who kills his parents right in front of the judge and jury and, while standing over their still-warm bodies, says that he never had any parents and also he’s the president and founder of the Anti-Parent-Murder Coalition of America and also Obama is a Hitler-Stalin-Satan-Bin Laden chimera and the real parent killer.  You’ve heard of that guy, right?

The elephant in the press-room is that everyone knows that Fox is outrageously biased.  It’s a political organization to an infinitely greater extent than it is a news organization.  This is axiomatic.  They may deny it in their hilarious slogans, but their actions are unmistakable.  They have content that is, to borrow a phrase from the late great Douglas Adams, almost but not entirely unlike news.  They use this fishy news-like substance the same way republican politicians use Christianity.  They aren’t interested in the meaning found within it, they are interested in the sui generis and ersatz authority it confers on them to use their really big microphone.

Why am I taking this opportunity to slam Fox News – other than the fact that it’s really fun?  It’s because the fact that Fox news is an honest-to-Todd (Palin) propaganda organ is directly relevant to National Public Radio’s stance on the “Rally for Sanity”.

Let’s follow the logic:

  1. NPR would like its reporters be objective
  2. Being objective isn’t humanly possible
  3. Therefore NPR wants them to seem to be objective by not associating with activities that are political
  4. The Rally for Sanity is an event with an inherent political bias or agenda of some kind (precisely what is not identified by NPR)
  5. Therefore NPR employees should not attend

Pretty sound logic.  Let’s use it again.

  1. NPR wants its reporters to seem to be objective by not associating with activities that are political
  2. Fox News has an inherent political bias and agenda
  3. Therefore NPR employees should not appear on or be paid by Fox News

That’s also sound and consistent with the first.  Originally I was going to wield my plus-3 big red font of absolute denigration against NPR for their inconsistency in allowing the likes of Juan Williams and Mara Liasson to appear on Fox, but then they fired Juan Williams supposedly for comments he made about Muslims.  Is the timing just a coincidence and the stated reason specious or are they suddenly reevaluating what it means to appear objective?

If the latter then Mara Liasson (and any other NPR employee who works with Fox) needs to make a very quick decision about butter and her bread side preference.

If the former then NPR is an awful corporate coward.  If, for reasons of the appearance of objectivity, NPR reporters are not allowed to even attend the politically tepid Rally For Sanity unless they are covering it as a story then those same reporters really, really should not be allowed to take money from Rupert Murdoch to appear on Fox News.

Hillary Clinton “Ya Know” watch, Day 12

Ya know, maybe Hillary’s new love of “ya know” is just a “tell”, ie that little unconscious thing a person does while playing Poker, such as cocking an eyebrow, that spoils their attempt to bluff the other players.

Here’s a Hillary quote from Mara Liasson’s Morning Edition story today on Clinton’s recent embarrassment of primary losses:

Ya know, this is a long journey to the nomination, ahh ya know, some weeks, uhh, ya know, uhh, one of us is up and the other’s down…”

At that point the sound faded out so I couldn’t get a larger sample of Ya Knowing, but it’s clear that at this rate she is close to depleting our nation’s precious strategic “ya know” reserve.

If she wants to be taken seriously as a green candidate she absolutely must reduce her “ya know” consumption from three per sentence to less than one!

Otherwise how will she be able to criticize McCain’s gluttonous squandering of the phrase “my friends” without looking like a hypocrite?

Ya know?

Other hilights from today’s ME:

If you are a fan of extra-plummy female British accents, as opposed to the noisome one affected by Fiona Chutney, Nigella Lawson is a pure pleasure. To paraphrase my great uncle, I have no idea what she was talking about, but I loved it.

I also enjoyed the interview with Norman Lear, in spite of its blandness.

Finally, there was a terrific listener letter making the useful point that if Mitt Romney and other Mormons feel that the nation was prejudiced against him because of his religion, maybe they should realize how unfair it is that an atheist running for national office would suffer even greater bigotry…from them. (How about a little more coverage of that, NPR?)

Note: I feel I should say that I don’t dislike Mormons. On the contrary, if any generalization about the Mormons I’ve known can be made it is that they are friendly, helpful, sunny, hard-working people. It’s just that I find their young belief system risibly vulnerable to debunking, historical, archaeological, and otherwise. Someone said a cult is a small, unpopular religion and a religion is a large, popular cult. Mormonism is a perfect example. (See Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven.)

If we had only mainstream Mormons available as a study sample we might even draw some sort of causal connection between theological gullibility and personal goodness. But there are just so many counter-examples…

Now that Romney is out of the race I’m sure public radio shows, and thus this blog, will find less reason to mention Mormonism.