Category Archives: Commentary

Cheers and Regards for the Week of August 23, 2010

If you ever get an e-mail from a journalist, there’s one portion of it you should pay attention to more than any other. No, it’s not the part where they’re asking you about your dead-people voter registration drive; it’s the sign-off.

If it’s “Cheers,” you’re cool. You did OK. If it’s “Regards,” you pissed somebody off, and you better figure out how to fix things, quick.

We apply those same tenets here, every week.

CHEERS to the Guardian for a level-headed op-ed piece regarding criminal prosecutions of HIV positive people for having unprotected sex. In cases like this, intentionality is almost impossible to prove, and prosecutions do little to encourage people to get tested for HIV or take responsibility for their own sexual safety, and further stigmatize those who are HIV positive as diseased pariahs. (DW)

REGARDS to the Guardian, however, for a headline that needlessly trivializes HIV by comparing it to verucas and repeating the claim that HIV is no longer a fatal disease. If you’re lucky enough to be able to afford top of the line health care, yes, HIV is a manageable disease. That’s a big “if” in most of the world, including developed nations like the US and UK. (DW)

CHEERS to the New York Times and the AP for taking a stand against using the phrase “Ground Zero mosque” to describe the proposed Islamic community center two blocks from the old World Trade Center site. The politics of the debate over the construction don’t even matter; it’s simply an inaccurate title. (MW)

REGARDS to the Toronto Sun for using scare quotes around the word “molested” in the headline to their article about a model who was sexually assaulted at a Star Wars convention. Unwanted sexual touching is unwanted sexual touching, regardless of whether or not a woman is dressed as Slave Leia. (DW)

CHEERS to AOL’s Daily Finance for pointing out just what sort of articles Demand Media is really putting out onto the web on eHow.com and other sites.  I guess somebody, somewhere would need to know how to calculate age from a birthdate. But can someone who’s four years old read an article like that? (MW)

REGARDS to KAKS radio in Arkansas, which fired on-air personality Renee Gork for wearing a University of Florida hat to a Monday news conference. The issue apparently wasn’t whether Gork was lacking objectivity; rather, she just didn’t have the right kind of subjectivity for “Hog Sports Radio.” And it only makes sense, right? For only fans and alumni of a school to be able to report on its sports teams? (MW)

The Cult of the Insider

In recent weeks, I have become quite fond of comedian Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast, which is essentially a show in which comedians talk about comedy, their hang-ups, doing stand-up, the somewhat insular community of comedians and whatever else they want to crack jokes about.

I’ve always been fascinated by stand-up comedy, and I even tried amateur stand-up myself for a short period in my late teens. My record was two successes and one terrible bomb, which was so devastating that I basically swore the enterprise off. That is, until I started listening to Maron’s podcast a few weeks ago and felt the stand-up bug biting me again.

So it’s a weird irony that soon after I started writing up some material and Googling local open mics that I listened to the episode in which Maron talks to one of my favorite comedians, Mike Birbiglia. In that episode, the two comedians talk at length about how much things have changed since the 1990s, when stand-up had kind of fallen off after a big surge in the ‘80s.

“It used to be, ‘Oh my God, you’re a comic? I couldn’t do that.’ Now, it’s like, ‘You’re a comic? I’m doing that,’ ” Maron observes. Later, he puts it all on the line: “For every comic that says he’s a comic, for everybody that wants to be a comic, there’s twice as many people sitting around wanting to call comics thieves and liars.”

Then Birbiglia chimes in with a joke (or maybe it’s a bon mot) from a friend of his: “I’m sick of hearing every fuckin’ middle in America telling me how shitty Dane Cook is. Headline a club, and then tell me Dane Cook isn’t that good.”

I certainly understand where they’re coming from. Outsiders who have never done stand-up are all over the place now looking for jokes Carlos Mencia stole or jumping all over the guy who basically stole Patton Oswalt’s entire act a couple months ago. And they don’t know the community. They don’t know how things are done within the club of comedians. Some of them are starting rumors that just aren’t true.

But those people do know all about how much of a problem joke thievery is because it’s all over YouTube. Maron and other comedians have talked about it on that very podcast, whose primary audience is likely those open mic guys and middles (comedy lingo for comedians who go on before the headliner). Oswalt posted a long rant about his joke thief guy on MySpace.

A lot of people think they’re comedy insiders now because a lot of what used to be private among comedians is now public. Comedians used to work out their joke thievery issues between themselves privately. Now they do it on YouTube. Hell, there was even an entire documentary, The Aristocrats, about the comedian “secret handshake.” Why wouldn’t somebody who’s taken in all that seemingly private insider-comedy stuff think they know a thing or two about the profession?

It’s not just limited to comedy. A lot of Americans think of themselves as entertainment insiders now, and frankly, it’s not really their fault. Every week, there are the box office figures, right there in virtually every news source, out there for us to interpret as we will. The box office result weekend before last stirred up a nice mix of fan rage/crying and I-told-you-sos on Twitter when Scott Pilgrim vs. the World came in fourth place with $10 million or so.

Certainly that looks disappointing on its face. But what does it really mean? Unless you’re an executive at Universal who works with internal box office projections, you worked on the movie or you’re an indie comics creator with a similar project you’re hoping to make into a movie, does it mean anything? How much does it matter that 50 million other people went to see a movie? How does it affect your enjoyment?

It doesn’t. But BoxOfficeMojo and Cinematical and Entertainment Tonight keep telling us this stuff matters to us, the audience, somehow.

And yet, when you go to get your car repaired somewhere your measure of success isn’t how many other people’s cars they fixed that day or what their daily take was. You don’t care. You may check a few online reviews to see if other customers like the place, sure. But ultimately, does you car work? That’s all that really matters. There’s no validation to be gained from going to the most popular car repair place in town.

But that’s just it. People who don’t work on cars don’t read industry magazines about car repair. And where you get your car fixed isn’t somehow tied to identity. But more than 2 million people subscribe to Entertainment Weekly, which, let’s be honest here, is an entertainment industry trade magazine geared toward a general audience. A small percentage of those readers work in that business.

Which brings me back to the WTF Podcast and an episode with another one of my favorite comedians, Bob Odenkirk. In his episode, he talks at length about how hard it is to get a movie made, especially for screenwriters.

“That fairy tale of how it works, which is, you go off into a corner and you write, and you write something that’s kind of personal and poetic, and kinda interesting, and people can’t believe how great it is in Hollywood and then they make it, and  it’s unbelievable,” he says. “That fairy tale is sold to you by Hollywood, which knows it’s not true.”

Who wouldn’t want to be an insider in a fairy tale world?

Cheers and Regards for the Week of August 16, 2010

If you ever get an e-mail from a journalist, there’s one portion of it you should pay attention to more than any other. No, it’s not the part where they’re asking you about all those bodies you dug up to steal their fillings; it’s the sign-off.

If it’s “Cheers,” you’re cool. You did OK. If it’s “Regards,” you pissed somebody off, and you better figure out how to fix things, quick.

We apply those same tenets here, every week.

CHEERS to The New York Observer‘s Media Mob column for its look at just what Time magazine’s gut-punch cover story on the war in Afghanistan will mean and how its writer might have stood to benefit from the war continuing unabated. (MW and DW)

REGARDS to GQ for their recent profile of Senate candidate Rand Paul, focusing on his days at Baylor. It’s your typical look at the “kooky” activities politicians get up to in their youth; pot-smoking, naughty student newspapers, kidnapping women. It’s troubling that a national magazine would treat a major felony as just a harmless college prank, and not a serious red flag for someone aspiring to public office.  (DW)

CHEERS to (and trust us, we’re as surprised to be saying this as you are to read it) the Huffington Post, for their article rightfully calling out the double-standard in the media for running, uncritically, the attempts by right-wing groups to make Judge Vaughn Walker’s sexuality an issue in regards to his ruling on the Prop 8 case. Walker may, or may not, be gay; he isn’t saying, but that hasn’t stopped the press from referring to him as openly gay. The double-standard comes into play when you consider that, just a few months ago, these same news outlets refused to name the anti-gay politicians who were outed in the film “Outrage.” Apparently journalistic ethics only require keeping a public figure’s personal life private when they’re gross hypocrites. (DW)

REGARDS to the Herald Times in Bloomington, Indiana, for a sports column essentially calling for a lawsuit against the Chicago Sun-Times for a series of stories in which the Chicago tab reported on apparent demands for pay in college basketball recruiting. True, the Sun-Times may have made a mistake reporting a rumor of expected payments, but their reports were seemingly confirmed by a number of sources who understandably were not named. Bluntly, there’s no other way the Sun-Times could have reported what many believe to be an under-the-table reality in college sports. Certainly nobody would have gone on record about it. (MW)

CHEERS to Newsday for adding pages and hiring journalists, wouldya believe it. In a dark time when even university journalism programs (this one’s my alma mater) are cutting mercilessly, it’s a momentary relief to see at least one organization looking to improve through methods other than attrition. (MW)

REGARDS to Golf Digest for what looks on its face to be a baldfaced cash-grab. They’re bringing back Tiger Woods’ tips column after an eight-month hiatus, despite Woods’ on-course struggles and the fact that few people, even golfers who read the magazine, regard Woods the same way they did before his rampant infidelities came to light this soon after they were so prominently in the public eye. And Golf Digest is likely banking on that. (MW)

Cheers and Regards for the Week of August 9, 2010

If you ever get an e-mail from a journalist, there’s one portion of it you should pay attention to more than any other. No, it’s not the part where they’re asking you about the housing development you’re building exclusively for sex offenders; it’s the sign-off.

If it’s “Cheers,” you’re cool. You did OK. If it’s “Regards,” you pissed somebody off, and you better figure out how to fix things, quick.

We apply those same tenets here, every week.

CHEERS to the New York Times for sticking by its story that alleges Google and Verizon may be working together to speed up the Internet for certain companies willing to pay for it. The story was a huge hit to Google’s reputation as a proponent of net neutrality and they’ve been working hard to fight against the bad PR the story has brought. But they haven’t completely refuted what the story says. (MW)

REGARDS to the L.A. Times, for choosing to go solely to anti-gay groups for reactions in their article about the overturning of Prop 8. Because, really? Do we still have to spell out why this is a problem? (DW)

CHEERS to Slate’s Jack Shafer for his unsolicited advice to Newsweek‘s new owner, Sidney Harman, including keeping his vanity-mogul hands off the newsroom, letting the magazine look into the organizations with which he himself is involved and figuring out what to do with the magazine after he dies other than handing it over to his congresswoman wife. (MW)

REGARDS to the Chicago Sun-Times for jumping on the celeb-bashing bandwagon by tweeting, “Only in America can wrongfully accused people spend decades in jail while Lindsay Lohan is out in weeks” as if the two were even remotely equivalent. Wrongfully accused people rotting in jail is the number one problem in the American justice system; Lindsay Lohan going from jail to rehab does not crack the top five million. (KL)

CHEERS and REGARDS to Forbes for its new digital overhaul. On the one hand, they’re really looking forward by getting all their journalists to start blogging and “brand” themselves as personalities. On the other, requiring every writer to take on these new responsibilities could really detract from the quality of, you know, magazine articles. Which are pretty important. (MW)

Cheers and Regards for the Week of August 2, 2010

If you ever get an e-mail from a journalist, there’s one portion of it you should pay attention to more than any other. No, it’s not the part where they’re asking you about your bill in the Arizona legislature looking to deport all immigrants and descendants of immigrants; it’s the sign-off.

If it’s “Cheers,” you’re cool. You did OK. If it’s “Regards,” you pissed somebody off, and you better figure out how to fix things, quick.

We apply those same tenets here, every week.

CHEERS to The New Yorker for its look at CNN’s baffling new lineup, for its examination of the decline of CNN, and by extension, cable news, in the past 20 years, but also how a network could have gotten to the point of giving Eliot Spitzer, a guy most people know for sleeping with a high-priced call girl several times, their 8 p.m. slot. (MW)

REGARDS to the American Spectator for deigning to even print Jeffrey Lord’s columns questioning whether the beating death of USDA employee Shirley Sherrod’s relative was a lynching or not in an ever-spiraling-downward effort to discredit her. Okay, Jeff, let’s say it wasn’t a lynching. Instead, let’s call it a racially motivated murder-by-beating on the courthouse steps by deputized lawmen. Sound better to you? (MW)

CHEERS to commentators from all over, including at the conservative Spectator itself, for calling Lord out on his, let’s call it what it is, bullshit. At the Washington Post, columnist E.J. Dionne finally kind of snapped over the whole thing and said, rightfully, that it’s time to stop listening to conservative crackpots. We would suggest giving up on crackpots of all types. (MW)

REGARDS to the Investors Business Daily for running an op-ed piece exhorting Americans to violence over the  “unpruned power” of the Obama administration. It’s one thing to criticize politicians, but to speak approvingly over violence against the government based on paranoid maybes that would make even the most ardent Tea Partier back away nervously is beyond the pale. (DW)

CHEERS to Mississippi Public Broadcasting for putting Fresh Air back on after making the ridiculous decision to pull it last month. Of course, we have to qualify our cheering because it’s now on at a later time and with an “adult content” notice in case anyone’s virgin ears are soiled again by Louis CK talking about having sex with his shirt on. (MW)

REGARDS to new RollingStone.com editor Nick Catucci for declaring the website a snark-free zone. On the one hand, it seems like a fresh take on writing for the web, when so much of it is so cynical. But on the other, do you really want to read an entirely straightforward and genuine online piece about, say, what it’s like backstage at a KISS show? (MW)

Cheers and Regards for the Week of July 26, 2010

If you ever get an e-mail from a journalist, there’s one portion of it you should pay attention to more than any other. No, it’s not the part where they’re asking you about the surprise you put in the Big Mac special sauce; it’s the sign-off.

If it’s “Cheers,” you’re cool. You did OK. If it’s “Regards,” you pissed somebody off, and you better figure out how to fix things, quick.

We apply those same tenets here, every week.

CHEERS to the Washington Post for a masterful investigative series on the massive buildup of a separate and all top-secret shadow government focused on national security following the 9/11 attacks. The series raises numerous questions — from whether agencies are doubling or tripling the same work to the cost to what exactly these agencies are doing — and is presented on the web very nicely. It’s must reading.

But we must also give REGARDS to the Post for, as commentators such as Glenn Greenwald at Salon have pointed out, seemingly ignoring the work of other journalists who have also brought these issues to light.

CHEERS to the New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel for their work with the 92,000 documents made public Sunday by WikiLeaks showing a grimmer picture of the war in Afghanistan than the one being presented by the White House. Administration officials are obviously unhappy about the leaks and this whole ordeal could end up being Pentagon Papers II, but they made a hell of a story out of it.

REGARDS to commentators at Politico and the aforementioned Mr. Greenwald at Salon for jumping directly into punditry and a political guessing game rather than taking a moment to let the actual content of the documents sink in. The White House will do what it does, but we’re looking at a supposedly real snapshot of a to say the least troubled war here.

CHEERS to Slate for pushing Politico, and by extension, other online news sources, to institute corrections policies. Everyone should have to endure that sort of embarrassment, right?

REGARDS to news outlets like ABC for trying to get inside Andrew Breitbart’s head after the Shirley Sherrod fiasco. What’s the point? Is seeing the inner thoughts of a shit-stirrer and compulsive liar all that valuable?

Cheers and Regards for the Week of July 19, 2010

If you ever get an e-mail from a journalist, there’s one portion of it you should pay attention to more than any other. No, it’s not the part where they’re asking you about the kids you’ve got making the t-shirts you sell; it’s the sign-off.

If it’s “Cheers,” you’re cool. You did OK. If it’s “Regards,” you pissed somebody off, and you better figure out how to fix things, quick.

We apply those same tenets here, every week.

CHEERS to American Journalism Review, Slate and the Nieman Journalism Lab for stating in no uncertain terms that long-form journalism can exist online and have readership. Sure, plenty of vocal non-readers on the web will declare long pieces too long and too boring, but with the right presentation, long work can find an audience. We’re glad some are sticking with the form. (MW)

REGARDS to Mississippi Public Radio for dropping the always-interesting interview show “Fresh Air” from its airwaves because of what the station’s executive director called interviews of an “explicit sexual nature.” We don’t know what version of “Fresh Air” they’re listening to — some kind of “Fresh Air After Dark,” we guess — but we want our local NPR stations to air that one. (MW)

CHEERS to 22 media organizations for siding with free speech, even for those who it would be easy to argue don’t deserve it. The organizations contend, through court documents, that Fred Phelps’ reprehensible Westboro Baptist Church had a right to protest at soldier funerals. It must have turned their stomachs to essentially side with those hateful morons, but free speech is free speech, no matter how terrible it is. (MW)

REGARDS to Raleigh-Durham International Airport for trying to eliminate newspaper racks because it was apparently inconvenient and unsightly for them to be there. Luckily, a federal appellate judge informed them last week that clutter is not a good reason to violate the First Amendment. (MW)

CHEERS to the Washington Post for engendering some institutional discomfort in the intelligence community with an upcoming series about infrastructural and defense growth over the last decade or so. That’s what investigative journalism ought to do — make pencil pushers squirm. (MW)

REGARDS to Gannett for trying to make page design into assembly-line work. On Tuesday, the United States’ largest newspaper publisher announced it would be moving page design into five centralized “hubs” and out of specific newsrooms. Because why should somebody live in the city for which they’re designing news pages, right? (MW)

REGARDS to the Daily Express for choosing to address the British Supreme Court’s recent grant of asylum to two gay men from Iran and Cameroon, who face imprisonment or death if they return to their home countries solely because they are gay, in a manner that is both juvenile and suggests that people will falsely declare themselves gay to avoid being deported. Amazingly, the coverage of the issue at the Express was positively progressive and praise-worthy compared to the way in which The Sun discussed it: by outing an asylum seeker who has already been threatened with death by his family and implying that he is falsely claiming to be gay in order to compete on the talent show The X-Factor. We haven’t linked to the Sun‘s article because even the links on their home page now redirect to an X-Factor-themed summary page. Huh. Wonder why. (DW)

CHEERS to British paper The Guardian for not one, but two extremely good articles on why the ways in which The Daily Express and The Sun have covered the issue of asylum for gay men and lesbians in the United Kingdom is homophobic and racist. (DW)