Sense of Omission

Since I just wrote about PRI’s The World’s routinely excellent global coverage I think it’s appropriate to point out where this kind of reporting isn’t adequate. Luckily I have former foreign policy adviser to the Edwards campaign Michael Signer to do it for me. (With a name like “Signer”, shouldn’t he be the presidential candidate? Or maybe he has a brother named “Bill”…)

His recent Washington Post commentary “It’s a Scary World, Don’t Campaign Reporters Care?” spanks the media for ignoring or only superficially covering the foreign policy positions of the candidates, even though such policy statements have (shocker!) proven historically to be accurate predictors of policy.

Interestingly, from a Public Radio point of view, he states the following:

In November, I got a call from a major national radio program saying that they’d be doing a substantive piece on the candidates’ foreign policies — how they were developed and what the process revealed about the candidates’ thinking.

Perfect! I thought. At last. I was in Iowa City and drove 45 minutes through blinding snow to a small studio for an hour-long interview. When the segment aired, my heart sank. It had changed into a quick-and-dirty recitation of a few policy proposals from all the candidates, Republican and Democrat — not the substantive compare-and-contrast that had been promised.

I can’t say for sure whether or not this was National Public Radio, but a little Googling strongly indicts a report by Martha Wexler on All Things Considered of December 9, 2007. Signer doesn’t even merit a sound-bite from his hour long interview.

Whatever the purpose of this NPR report, and however appropriate or not Signer’s interview was for that purpose, his point is very, very important. We live in extremely dangerous times. The entire news media, and Public Radio in particular, need to make international coverage a huge priority.

Take just one foreign policy example. I was sentient during the cold war and woke up sweating from my share of Terminator-style atom bomb nightmares, but I feel the US is at more risk of Nuclear attack then at any time in our history.

Sure, my opinion doesn’t matter, I’m just a grumpy blogger.

But what about this fact? Both Bush and Kerry, men who agree on little, were asked during a 2004 debate what the greatest threat facing our nation was, and both immediately responded “nuclear proliferation,” specifically nukes in the hands of terrorists. (Ok, Bush started to answer “Jesus” out of debate habit but then caught himself. And what he really said was “nukuler perlimifiration,” but the point remains.)

Am I the only one who remembers that? Am I the only one who actually believes it?

What has the Bush administration done about it since? Precisely nothing, as far as I can tell, but I can’t really be sure because the media barely covers it!

Note to the the media: stop waiting to cover problems only after they explode and try to do some predicting. I know it’s no fun to be Cassandra, but it is your chosen profession.

Case in point: Daniel Zwerdling on ATC did an unbelievably good job warning us about a Hurricane flooding catastrophe in New Orleans in a lengthy 2-part report aired in 2003!. For people who love New Orleans listening to that story wasn’t a Driveway Moment it was an entire Driveway Afternoon. (Did he get a Pulitzer for that? He should have.)

Maybe the media can try that kind of coverage with a few scarily important international conundrums?


The World: Back of the bus

PRI’s The World is a heroically consistent “eat your broccoli” public radio show. Though not often gripping, they are one of the few sources of good, frequent global reporting in American media – especially important given our current president’s alarming New Yorker-cover-ish view of the globe. Let your local public radio station know they should subscribe to this show.

So far today’s most entertaining/shocking story on public radio is one The World presented on fundamentalist Israeli Jewish women self segregating on buses. Wow, just…wow. Orthodox Jewish burkas. Way to be!

Memo to Middle-Eastern countries: try not to make it look too much like you all deserve each other.

Find and listen to the report on this page.

Aside from The World’s parchingly dry style, the only other complaint I have about the show is the time it wastes on aggressively obtuse world music coverage at the end of each episode. The more incongruously hybridized a musical group is, the more eager The World is to provide them with publicity.

Then again I do loves me some Tutsi/Cambodian trance-ragtime played on found antique Inuit toy instruments by Chechen octogenarians.

Putting the Zero in “Studio 360”

Weekend public radio is astonishingly hit-or-miss: the cacophonous cackles of “Car Talk“, the funereal earnestness of “Speaking of Faith“, and yes, the creepily ubiquitous harmlessness of “Prairie Home Companion“.

Surely there is no one person who enjoys every bit of programming public radio networks find to pass the Judeo-Christian Sabbaths. Of course, as I was once chastised by a local public radio reporter whose story on regional mortarless stone bridges I found so dull as to consider it a public health risk, “the great thing about radio is that if you wait long enough something you do like will come on.”

If what’s on next is PRI’s “Studio 360” I can pretty much guarantee that my wait will be at least an hour.

The show is hosted and created by Kurt “if he co-founded Spy Magazine shouldn’t he be funny?” Andersen, and his choices of topic and style of execution have a lot in common with many other tragically failed treatments for narcolepsy.

The show’s token humorist, Iris Bahr, plays the character of a flibbertigibbet British reporter named Fiona Chutney in what I have to believe is some kind of post-post-post-modern attempt to make fun of making fun of making fun of things. The humor gets hopelessly lost somewhere along the way in most of her sketches, but in today’s episode it becomes clear why.

She makes the classic mistake of trying to parody the fashion world, which is a humor black-hole so dense that not even light comedy can escape.

Think about it. What’s Sasha (Borat/Ali G) Cohen’s only consistently unfunny character? Bruno, the gay fashion world reporter. Which of Ben Stiller’s many bad movies is the worst? “Zoolander” the unhilarious send-up of that zany world we call “fashion.”

The fashion world is already a parody of itself in both unintentional and intentional ways, and parodizing parody just doesn’t work very well. It is to humor what trying to divide by zero is to math.

To make matters less pleasant she employs an accent that is an exact female version of chronic self-amuser Cash Peters of “Marketplace” and “Savvy Traveler” public radio fame.

Bahr’s personal website flaunts an impressively diverse CV that includes service in the Israeli army and Neuropsychology training at Brown, so it’s comforting to know that if she “keeps her day job” she’ll have a lot to fall back on.

Fun fact about Kurt Andersen: he has claimed that Lynne “Aww shucks me and Dick are just folks, what’s all this Darth Vader stuff?” Cheney has pursued a long term “extravagant” flirtation with an unidentified “friend” of his. “Friend”, Kurt? Really? Is it the same anonymous “friend” on whose behalf you solicited free psycho-pharmacological advice from a guest at your last cocktail party?


My personal advice to your “friend” would be to go for it! Join the mile high club on “Marine One”! Personally inspect the endowments of the former head of the National Endowment for the Humanities! Head out on a cougar hunt with the second lady, but beware of accidental discharge…I think Dick taught her everything she knows.

Okay, I’ll stop.

To be fair, given the show’s sterling list of contributors and Andersen’s intelligence and Rolodex, I’m certain they’ve produced many great segments and will produce more in the future. I just haven’t heard any yet. (If you have, post links here!)

Sounds like a piece of, I mean on, Lynne Cheney would be a hoot…

I’m just sayin’.