BOB GARFIELD: Everyone here at On the Media is media-aware of course except for producer at large Mike Pesca who is media-compulsive, constantly stuffing his pockets with scraps gathered here and there. Periodically we like to go through Mike's pockets. Mike, disgorge for us.
MIKE PESCA: Okay, first item I have here is David Broder who's the columnist for the Washington Post and he wrote a column this week called Jesse Helms: White Racist. Broder criticizes the media for its coverage of Jesse Helms's retirement announcement. Here's Broder.
The reporting on his retirement was circumspect to the point of pussyfooting.
BOB GARFIELD:That's unusual in the first instance because Broder himself has been accused often enough of being -- well, let's just say extremely evenhanded in, in his column writing -- not exactly a "raver."
MIKE PESCA: Right. But to Broder's taste, any recapitulation of the career of Jesse Helms is insufficient unless it has the word "racist" or "bigot" right up there in the first sentence. However I think his media criticism is a little off base. The New York Times editorial said that few senators in the modern era have done more to buck the tide of progress and enlightenment than Mr. Helms. That's hardly pussyfooting.
BOB GARFIELD:Hm! There was one major newspaper though that did sort of soft-pedal Jesse Helms' record of race-baiting over the years. What newspaper was that?
MIKE PESCA: That would be the Washington Post, and Broder himself notes that. They wrote about him in really the political context. They wrote about how important he is to fundraising; how important he was to the Conservative Party. Of all the coverage I read, the one where they really seemed to strike a balance and I would argue a phony balance between was he a racist or wasn't he a racist was the Washington Post.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay. Racial controversy. NAACP Present Kweisi Mfume was criticized recently. Give us the background.
MIKE PESCA:As president of the NAACP, Mr. Mfume criticized the networks for being bad in their minority hiring practices. It came out that he himself was quote "shopping around a network television show." This was a story that was first broken in the L.A. Times, and it played out in some other papers, and by this week Mfume was saying all right, I'm not going to aggressively try to have this television show.
BOB GARFIELD:All right. Now eyebrows were raised because it looks like maybe some sort of shakedown --you complain about not enough black faces and lo and behold you're putting your, your own name up for nomination. But why shouldn't eyebrows have been raised to begin with?
MIKE PESCA: If Mfume's point is that there should be more minorities on the air, why not put on the air a former United States congressman who's a very effective communicator and could get attention paid to himself, and the man I'm describing is Kweisi Mfume! He's all those things!
However, a lot of things need to be pointed out. One, he's hosted a show in Baltimore for many, many years. So is supposed pilot was more of an offshoot of the show he was hosting than any sort of new effort. Secondly, the whole story came about because the L.A. Times story had a few factual errors. For instance it said that the show he's been hosting in Baltimore was actually out of Boston. That's untrue. That got repeated a couple times.
But it also had a quote like this: while the show is generating quiet criticism from the black creative community, leaders of other minority groups expressed little concern.
It doesn't do anything to back up this quiet criticism. I think it very irresponsibly raises a specter of quiet criticism without saying where the criticism came from! And when you get to the point of actually criticizing what Mfume was doing, it doesn't really hold up in terms of him doing anything that approached blackmail.
BOB GARFIELD: All right, now to Chicago. The pendulum has swung, right?
MIKE PESCA:It certainly has! WBBM, Chicago's news laggard, was experiencing ratings doldrums as you might recall a few years ago. One of the things they tried to do was to go serious with their news -- bring back the old Huntley Brinkley era.
They hired Carol Mareen [sp?] who is a respected anchorperson in the field and the experiment failed miserably.
BOB GARFIELD: The, the theory was they, they had nothing to lose by going to hard news but their ratings sank even farther.
MIKE PESCA:Right. So maybe that little bit of self-discovery was worth it to them. But now, in a complete 180, WBBM Channel 2 management invited to the station and are wooing a person by the name of Jennifer Santiago [sp?]. Are you familiar with her work?
BOB GARFIELD: I'm not.
MIKE PESCA:She-- She does the weather on a CBS-owned station in Miami, but you also might know her as Jennifer Clurman [sp?]. Familiar with that name at all Bob?
BOB GARFIELD: Um-- I, I, I don't think so.
MIKE PESCA: Mm-hm! Jennifer Clurman who posed topless for Playboy in their Voluptuous Vixens pictorial?
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] And do we know what her turn ons are?
MIKE PESCA: Yeah, turn ons are long walks on the beach, champagne and the doppler radar 2000.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] And how about, how about turn offs?
MIKE PESCA: Yeah. She doesn't like mean people or freedom of information filings which take over two weeks.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] All right Mike. Thank you for emptying your pockets.
MIKE PESCA: A pleasure!
BOB GARFIELD: Mike Pesca is On the Media's producer at large.