Thursday, April 21, 2005

Matt Taibbi on Friedman, Joe Hagan on PBS 60 Minutes?, Media Matters refutes Fox "News" lies about Jane Fonda

Lloyd e-mailed Matt Taibbi's "FLATHEAD: The peculiar genius of Thomas L. Friedman" from the New York Press:

I think it was about five months ago that Press editor Alex Zaitchik whispered to me in the office hallway that Thomas Friedman had a new book coming out. All he knew about it was the title, but that was enough; he approached me with the chilled demeanor of a British spy who has just discovered that Hitler was secretly buying up the world’s manganese supply. Who knew what it meant--but one had to assume the worst
"It's going to be called The Flattening," he whispered. Then he stood there, eyebrows raised, staring at me, waiting to see the effect of the news when it landed. I said nothing.
It turned out Alex had bad information; the book that ultimately came out would be called The World Is Flat. It didn't matter. Either version suggested the same horrifying possibility. Thomas Friedman in possession of 500 pages of ruminations on the metaphorical theme of flatness would be a very dangerous thing indeed. It would be like letting a chimpanzee loose in the NORAD control room; even the best-case scenario is an image that could keep you awake well into your 50s.
So I tried not to think about it. But when I heard the book was actually coming out, I started to worry. Among other things, I knew I would be asked to write the review. The usual ratio of Friedman criticism is 2:1, i.e., two human words to make sense of each single word of Friedmanese.

Friedman is such a genius of literary incompetence that even his most innocent passages invite feature-length essays. I'll give you an example, drawn at random from The World Is Flat. On page 174, Friedman is describing a flight he took on Southwest Airlines from Baltimore to Hartford, Connecticut. (Friedman never forgets to name the company or the brand name; if he had written The Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa would have awoken from uneasy dreams in a Sealy Posturepedic.) Here's what he says:
I stomped off, went through security, bought a Cinnabon, and glumly sat at the back of the B line, waiting to be herded on board so that I could hunt for space in the overhead bins.
Forget the Cinnabon. Name me a herd animal that hunts. Name me one.
This would be a small thing were it not for the overall pattern. Thomas Friedman does not get these things right even by accident. It's not that he occasionally screws up and fails to make his metaphors and images agree. It's that he always screws it up. He has an anti-ear, and it's absolutely infallible; he is a Joyce or a Flaubert in reverse, incapable of rendering even the smallest details without genius. The difference between Friedman and an ordinary bad writer is that an ordinary bad writer will, say, call some businessman a shark and have him say some tired, uninspired piece of dialogue: Friedman will have him spout it. And that's guaranteed, every single time. He never misses.

From the New York Observer, Cindy e-mails Joe Hagan's "Don’s New Tempest: Hewitt Conjuring PBS 60 Minutes:"

Tick, tick, tick, tick …
Nearly a year after his retirement, Don Hewitt, the 83-year-old inventor of 60 Minutes, is
talking with PBS about creating a new project—an hour-long program consisting of three separate documentary segments.
In other words, Mr. Hewitt’s new idea is … 60 Minutes.
"With general reality being shoved aside by NBC, ABC and CBS for contrived reality TV, public television is in a position to bring back CBS-style news," Mr. Hewitt said by phone from his office at West 57th Street. "In that regard, I think an hour of television a week, devoted to two, three or four well-crafted, judiciously edited documentaries on a variety of subjects would be a winner."
Technically, Mr. Hewitt can’t pull the trigger on any new projects until his CBS contract expires in June, and he said he doesn’t intend to.
But he’s ready to dream. And so, he said, he’s taken three existing documentaries—"one shocking, one entertaining, one poignant," he said, declining to elaborate—and edited them into an hour-long test pilot. Mr. Hewitt said he gave CBS parent Viacom a first look at his project, in keeping with the terms of his contract. They passed on it, he said.
"I want to do it 60 Minutes–style," said Mr. Hewitt. "I want to take the great moments from documentaries, just like we took great moments from our documentaries and made them 60 Minutes pieces. And I think there’s a world of that stuff out there."
As the network newsmagazines fight for air time and the cable-news outlets go on 24-hour tabloid chimney alert, where’s well-meaning documentary news to go? Well, PBS. Considering the shrinking air time for network news, PBS could find a huge infusion of available talent in the coming years—for instance, Nightline host Ted Koppel and his longtime executive producer Tom Bettag, who will depart ABC News in December. No, they’re not announcing anything, but Mr. Bettag did say PBS had great potential to make up for what’s been lost at the networks.
"There is a real opportunity for PBS, in that the networks are under enormous pressure from advertisers to deliver an 18-to-49 audience," said Mr. Bettag, "which is not the easiest news audience to have. If PBS could find a way to deliver news to the 49-plus audience, it would be a real service to the citizenry."
But anyone who wants to create a news show for PBS faces byzantine issues: inconsistent time slots across member stations; in-fighting over political bias; and the need to constantly kiss up to corporate sponsors, who aren’t exactly in huge supply right now. Just ask Pat Mitchell, PBS’ chief executive, who announced she would step down next year, after suffering the feudal system for five years. That included political heat from Bush Education Secretary Margaret Spellings over the appearance of some lesbian moms who were set to appear in passing on the kids’ show Postcards from Buster. (The show was never aired, angering liberals in turn.)

From Media Matter's we'll note "Fox News military analyst Hunt revived baseless Jane Fonda smear:"

Fox News military analyst Col. David Hunt, revived the baseless claim that actress and anti-Vietnam War activist Jane Fonda passed secret notes given to her by American prisoners of war to their Vietnamese captors, resulting in the POWs' torture and murder. In fact, the only surviving POW named in the rumor reportedly says he never met Fonda and that the accusation is "a figment of somebody's imagination."
On the April 20 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, Hunt stated:
HUNT: This is about forgiving a woman who took notes from guys that were tortured for years, six, seven, eight, nine years, like [Sen. John] McCain [R-AZ], and take the note and give it to -- give it to their prisoner -- their guard. That is unconscionable. I'm not sure she can be forgiven.

Col. Hunt repeated false accusations. That would mean he either didn't know better or he is a liar. Back to Media Matters:

The accusation against Fonda apparently originates from a chain letter that has been widely circulated via email. According to the letter:
[The POWs] had time and devised a plan to get word to the world that they still survived. Each man secreted a tiny piece of paper, with his SSN [Social Security number] on it, in the palm of his hand. When paraded before Ms. Fonda and a cameraman, she walked the line, shaking each man's hand and asking little encouraging snippets like: "Aren't you sorry you bombed babies?" and "Are you grateful for the humane treatment from your benevolent captors?" Believing this HAD to be an act, they each palmed her their sliver of paper.
She took them all without missing a beat. At the end of the line and once the camera stopped rolling, to the shocked disbelief of the POWs, she turned to the officer in charge and handed him the little pile of papers. Three men died from the subsequent beatings. Col. [Larry] Carrigan was almost number four but he survived, which is the only reason we know about her actions that day.
But Carrigan does not corroborate the letter's claims. David Emery of the Urban Legends and Folklore website at has
"It's a figment of somebody's imagination," says Ret. Col. Larry Carrigan, whom I reached by phone at his home in Arizona. Carrigan, who was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967, says he has no idea why this story was attributed to him. "I never met Jane Fonda," he told me. It goes without saying he never handed her a secret message.

Media Matters notes that the false rumor has been dealt with by the Oregonian (September 19, 2000) and by The New York Daily News (May 25, 2001).

Read the item and sorry if I pushed fair use. (As members know, I'm fonda' Fonda.)

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