When it comes to writing about big-budget Hollywood movies or, for that matter, pop culture in generalThe Tennessean is perpetually lost at sea.
Last week, in a front-page story that played off the widely anticipated debut of the movie The Perfect Storm, the paper’s Michael Cass breathlessly reported that a “ ‘Perfect Storm’ is a possibility” on an open ocean.
That’s like saying a seemingly indestructible ship could ram into an iceberg and sink. Readers couldn’t have gathered it from Cass’ story, but The Perfect Storm was based on a true story. In fact, virtually every media outlet in the Western world has reported that the movie was based on a best-selling book of the same name, which is, incidentally, classified as nonfiction.
The Tennessean, however, felt the need to quote a Vanderbilt business professor to assure us that the film is “no Hollywood tale.” “Most people are going to see that and think, ‘There’s no way,’ ” Vandy business professor Fred Talbott told the paper.
Perhaps Talbott was talking about Cass and his editors, all of whom should have realized the complete foolishness of their story and its front-page placement.
Speaking of foolishness, The Tennessean’s Kathy Carlson probably thought she had a big scoop last weekend in what, at first glance, seemed to be a rare piece of enterprise reporting for the paper. Carlson wrote that Assistant Police Chief Robert Russell was under internal investigation for allegations that he brokered off-duty jobs for other police officers. If true, that would be a violation of police departmental policy.
But Carlson’s story was old news. Scene reporter Willy Stern reported back in January that Russell rounded up Metro police officers to work security at Vanderbilt basketball and football gamesa clear violation of departmental policy. And in a March 6 letter to Stern, Kennetha Sawyers, the Police Department’s lead internal investigator, wrote that “there is an ongoing investigation concerning ‘brokering allegations’ against Assistant Chief Russell.”
So much for breaking news.
Last week, Nielsen Media Statistics released figures showing that CNN’s viewership plummeted a whopping 35 percent in prime-time from the same time last year. To put that crash in perspective, imagine all the gloomy prognosticating that would ensue if The New York Times lost more than a third of its readers.
Meanwhile, it’s not coincidental that the chatty Fox News Channel (FNC) watched its prime-time ratings jump 15 percent from the same time last year.
While the rate of CNN’s descent is surprising, its dimming fortunes are not. When there’s no national tragedy to tune into, CNN presents a rather dull, vanilla image. Its political coverage, which should be the network’s bread and butter, is particularly disappointing. Political commentator Bill Schneider is well-connected, but his coverage of the presidential race is grounded in straightforward, relatively elementary analysis. Compared with say, the argumentative Beltway Boys on FNC, Schneider comes across as a much older version of The Simpsons’ Ned Flanders. The same goes for second-stringer Jeff Greenfield.
And while it was CNN that introduced us to the entertaining spectacle of liberals and conservatives baiting each other on Crossfire, the show has never been able to find a duo as sharp and provocative as the liberal Michael Kinsley and the conservative Pat Buchanan. Today’s incarnation of the show, featuring the ever-grim Robert Novak on the right and the nearly invisible Bill Press on the left, is utterly unwatchable. Last summer’s vice mayoral forums featured livelier discourse.
Again, where CNN is weak, FNC is strong. Hannity and Colmes, FNC’s version of Crossfire, features the kind of aggressive and often personal arguments you might overhear in an Irish bar. Their ongoing, crazed debates about the Elian saga offered the perfect content for cable TV. And while host Bill O’Reilly of the The O’Reilly Factor often suffers from bouts of vanity and self-righteousness, his lack of patienceparticularly when he’s interviewing Harlem congressman and occasional guest Charles Rangelis both comical and endearing. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly, which, given his often foolish slate of guests, makes for a pointed hour of confrontational television.
Of course, when all you want is your news of the day, FNC is a pale rival to CNN. But in a time of peace and prosperity, when news comes second to the constant airing of provocative viewpoints, it’s easy to see why Fox News is thriving.
In Review media critic Henry Walker recently wrote that Tennessean music writer Tom Roland was leaving the paper to join his girlfriend in Los Angeles. That had to be quite a surprise to Roland and his, well, boyfriend. Indeed, Roland is not coy about his orientation.
“I’m proud that I’ve accepted the fact that I’m gay in a society that doesn’t always embrace that,” Roland says.
So how did Walker get it wrong? Roland, who brought his boyfriend to the going-away party the paper threw for him, told Walker that he was leaving to “pursue a relationship.” He wasn’t any more specific than that.
Says Walker, “I just assumed it was a woman.”