Friday, November 30, 2007

Two of a Kind: Obama/Bloomberg '08?

The news of a brief stopover in New York City by Senator Barack Obama to visit billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg has the blogosphere all fired up -- yours truly included. (Full disclosure: I support Senator Obama's bid for the presidency.) Ross Douthat over at The Atlantic has the analysis, along with a link to the original post positing the idea over at The American Prospect.

I would have to reject the notion put forward by some commenters in both locations that Bloomberg would be a weak VP. According to OnTheIssues, Bloomberg ranks as a "Moderate Libertarian Liberal" (their chart of his political position makes more sense than that description), not the "nanny-state liberal" that said commenters have charged. Beyond the vast sums of money that could potentially be a significant amount of help to the Obama campaign -- though it is doubtful he truly needs more -- Bloomberg has a solid record as mayor. Bloomberg's record as a fiscal conservative, free-trader, and someone with a sensible stance on Iraq (OnTheIssues summarizes it as: "Nobody wants [the] war to continue, but what happens next [if we withdraw]?") puts the lie to the supposition that Bloomberg is a through-and-through liberal. His relatively centrist brand of politics meshes well with Obama's message of post-partisan politics, and could also help to counterbalance perceptions among more conservative voters that the senator is too liberal. Additionally, his prior executive experience would round out Obama's skill set quite well; it's entirely possible that Bloomberg's expertise would lead to him playing a major role in shaping domestic initiatives as VP, allowing Obama to focus on major foreign policy issues -- as he should.

Besides, if Rudy can get away with claiming his experience as mayor of New York City makes him qualified for the Presidency, why can't Bloomberg do the same for the Vice Presidency?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

MTV: Coming to a Conservative Muslim Nation Near You!

In a turn of events that is sure to evoke disbelief, MTV has just launched MTV Arabia, a television channel operating out of Dubai that will feature hip-hop music videos and reality television tailored to the socially conservative nations of the Middle East. According to CNN:

MTV Arabia, which launched over the weekend, will feature 60 percent international music and 40 percent Arabic music, along with local adaptations of the channel's popular non-music shows.

But MTV, which is known for airing provocative videos featuring scantily clad women, says the Arab version of the pop-culture channel will show less bare skin and profanity.

"When we come to people's homes, we want to earn their respect," said Abdullatif al-Sayegh, chief executive of Arab Media Group, which along with Viacom Inc.'s MTV Networks International owns MTV Arabia. He explained that there will be "culturally sensitive editors going through content of the programming."

The station launched at midnight Saturday, airing a pre-taped show featuring Grammy award-winning rapper and actor Ludacris, Senegalese-born soul superstar Akon, Lebanese rapper Karl Wolf and the Emirates underground hip-hop band Desert Heat.

By emphasizing local music talent and programs addressing the concerns of Arab youth, MTV Arabia hopes to set itself apart from the other satellite music channels that saturate the Mideast market.

"We are not only a music channel, we are an entertainment channel where young Arabs will get a voice," program director Patrick Samaha told The Associated Press.

Unlike its past forays into Europe and India, MTV is not entering a virgin music video territory. Over the past few years, there has been an explosion of satellite channels in the region that feature soulful male crooners from the Gulf and female singers from Lebanon and Syria.

MTV officials say this is why their channel is focusing on hip-hop and R&B, two music genres that are underserved despite being popular throughout the region.

But to please a more conservative audience, MTV Arabia will tailor some of its programming and keep provocative hip-hop videos featuring barely dressed women and alcohol to a minimum.

It's a bold move, to say the least -- the hip-hop music videos aired in America and other Western nations are far more explicit than I could possibly imagine most Islamic clerics being comfortable with. I have to think that even the edited content is likely to cause some controversy, especially since youth in most Middle Eastern countries with Internet access can get to YouTube -- despite heavy Internet censorship across the region -- thus making it possible for them to find uncensored clips of MTV content adapted for MTV Arabia. However, according to Internet World Stats, Internet access in the Middle East is still relatively low at 17.3% of the regional population of approximately 193.5 million, so perhaps I have overstated the "threat" posed by Middle Eastern youth with too much time on their hands.

Is it possible that MTV Arabia could be a vessel by which we can engage Middle Eastern youth through the common cultural ties of music? Or will even the edited content being shown on the channel further persuade them that we really are as morally bankrupt and decadent as the Islamic extremists would have them believe?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

We Need More Anderson Coopers

I'd like to begin this entry by thanking the vibrant and dedicated Anderson Cooper fan community for their kind words about my live-blogging entry and my blog as a whole -- they are most appreciated, and have persuaded me to consider doing more live-blogging entries for future speakers, as well as blogging about a wider variety of topics. Special thanks go to Sheryn over at All Things Anderson, Peter at Anderson Cooper Effects, and Newsblooz at AC360 Buzz for happening upon my post and bringing it to the attention of far more readers than I have ever had in the few months I've been at this.


As for my recap of the event, I would have to I was highly impressed by Mr. Cooper's presentation. I'd previously heard a great deal about Mr. Cooper's program, all of it positive, but I had never found the time to catch AC360 live. When I found he was coming to CMC, I knew I had to attend, and I was not disappointed. He is truly deserving of the accolades awarded to him. He is an inspiring figure in the media at a time when our politics and news have become so partisan as to be unbearable.

As the title of my blog suggests, I am a strong advocate for centrism, rational debate in our politics, and common-sense solutions to the problems we face, all of which are greatly lacking at present. Mr. Cooper's strong conviction about presenting the facts -- and nothing more than the facts -- is easily one of the most encouraging things I have heard in quite some time. It is certainly invigorating to see someone in a position of high visibility and relative power in the media who truly believes in -- and what's more, actually practices -- the views he espouses, instead of the typical talk about the need for bipartisanship that never actually results in anything.

We need more Anderson Coopers.

Bonus: The below comments are those posted by Newsblooz in addition to my remarks from the speech. She covered some things I missed and added her own insights. It comes to you highly recommended.
When Anderson was discussing his recent 60 Minutes work, he spoke at length about the Congo - or "hell on earth". He reminded the students that the conflict in that area has resulted in a bigger death toll than World War II. He reflected on the fact that since what happens in the Congo doesn't seem to directly affect US citizens, their interest level is low. He made the point that one of the main reasons for the violence there is the fight over valuable natural resources, such as coltan, which is used to make the cell phones that each student had. And he is concerned that it's "easy to lose sight of what's important".

He briefly pondered the question of whether we are still willing to hear different viewpoints - this dovetails with David's entry about a Democratic vs. Republican "version" of truth. He advised the students to not close themselves off from different ideas.

When talking about his experiences in Baghdad, he said that as a journalist, you can't allow fear to affect what you see. He also made a reference to the bullet-proof glass in the military vehicles, and that it changes what see - literally and figuratively.

Regarding the recent YouTube debate, Anderson actually said that Mike Gravel "screamed obscenities" at him during the breaks, and that he couldn't repeat them even to college students. I agree with David - "classy" (not) ...

Part of Anderson's closing remarks included "our frailty (as humans) bonds us together" and "we are all that we have". This was (I think) an additional reference to what Anderson said regarding the government's response during Katrina.

Questions followed:

Answer to Q1: In addition, Anderson stated that if you're going to put yourself in environments where there is war, conflict, violence, natural disasters, etc. - and not allow yourself to be affected at all, you shouldn't be in journalism. But he said it's crucial to not pretend - the reporting has to be honest. He said that journalists need to decide whether they can operate in spite of their feelings.

New Question: How do you rally "young America", many who have been raised in the "luxury of complacency", to have an interest in stories that doesn't affect their daily lives (or involve a celebrity)? What's the role of media?

Anderson said that it's a choice about how one lives their life, and about what each person chooses to pay attention to in their lives. The media should bring "less-than-popular" stories to light, and ensure that the stories are made relatable to people so they'll have more interest and pay attention to what's happening in the world around them.

New Question: How do you respond to "fake news" such as what's found on The Daily Show or The Colbert Report? (And no, this question wasn't from me - remember that I was 'banished' to another building!!!) ;-)

Anderson answered that he can't really disagree with what they're doing, because they're right! He also said that they have a role to play - they can get at truths (note the word) that the MSM can't or won't say. Interesting ... ;-)

David's question (about the rise of blogs and how it affects news): Anderson also stated that the various newer platforms help to hold the MSM accountable for what's reported, and he thinks they have a crucial role to play in the larger "national debate".

New Question: Did you have a formative experience that's shaped you as a journalist?

Anderson cited Katrina (no surprise) and how shocked he was at seeing bodies lying in the street - for days on end - in an American city. He found it remarkable that politicians were trying to convince the public that the situation on the Gulf Coast wasn't as dire as it really was - when it was so easy to prove them 100% wrong - instantaneously.

He also talked about the violence and death he saw in Rwanda, early in his career, and described it as a "watershed event". He again talked about bodies lying in the streets, and that he ended up having to take a couple of months off after being there because he was so affected by what he saw.

The question that David wrote about regarding international news - Anderson was referencing "Your World Today" on CNN, which is still on the air. But he did talk about how, in spite of the e-mails he gets from people not wanting to hear any more about OJ or Anna Nicole, the ratings go to the programs that feature these types of stories. Anderson did give a positive spin, though, because he did say that CNN wants him to focus on quality journalism and tell stories he can be proud of. So for those wondering if he's 'happy' at CNN or if he's 'staying' at CNN, it seems that way - even though the specific question wasn't asked.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

TMWF Live: Anderson Cooper at CMC

Award-winning CNN journalist Anderson Cooper was gracious enough to take the time to visit CMC today to talk about "Today's Headlines with Anderson Cooper." (Who would've guessed?) What follows is a live-blogging chronicle of what happened.

10:53 A.M.: Secured a seat with some friends in the second row on the left. We're probably about 25 feet from the podium.

10:55 A.M.: The auditorium is filling up at a rapid pace. No Anderson Cooper yet.

11:00 A.M.: Any minute now...still no Anderson Cooper.

11:01 A.M.: ...never mind.

11:02 A.M.: Obligatory Ath Fellow Introduction begins. Talking about the evolution of television from "three massive networks" to 24-hour cable news and "our inattentive generation."

11:03 A.M.: Begin Cooper's credentials. Quite an impressive list, of course.

11:04 A.M.: ...and he takes the stage.

11:05 A.M.: Cooper is suspicious of people who want to be TV anchors: "You should be a real person before you become a fake one."

11:06 A.M.: His mother once told him as he was going into the TV business: "Wear vertical stripes; they're slimming." Classy.

11:07 A.M.: He had a liberal arts degree coming out of college, "which means [he] had no skills." Oohs resonate from the crowd.

11:08 A.M.: Cooper recalls a friend made him a fake press pass on a Mac (that should be an Apple ad) so he could travel to warzones in Burma, Rwanda, Somalia. There's a start for you.

11:09 A.M.: Cooper can paint quite the picture with words; he's vividly describing his recent experience in Niger for 60 Minutes. He says 1 of 5 children die before the age of 4 in Niger; he saw 3 children, severely malnourished, die in the space of 24 hours. It's simply horrifying, he says. I have to agree.

11:12 A.M.: He's talking about the division of the country into red and blue states, soccer/security moms, NASCAR dads. "I don't think there should be a Democratic truth or a Republican truth...I think there's far too much shouting on cable news already." He thinks we need facts. Now I'm hearing what I want to hear.

11:14 A.M.: "The list of things you can't do [in Baghdad] is longer than the list of things you can."

11:15 A.M.: In Iraq, CNN uses its own security, "former SAS guys...with necks as big as [Cooper's] thighs." Reassuring. Then he mentions a time where his security team told him jihadis were coming to the hotel he was staying in to search door-to-door for non-Muslims and kill them. The security folks gave him two 2x4s and told him to barricade himself in his room. Not so reassuring.

11:16 A.M.: Iraqi government is "a government in name only." Perfect.

11:17 A.M.: The Democratic presidential candidates had their own ways to get Cooper's attention to call on them at the YouTube Debate: "Hillary Clinton stares at you like a teacher who knows you forgot your homework," Edwards has a subtle finger wag, Kucinich yells, and Gravel apparently cussed Cooper out during every commercial break. Classy.

11:20 A.M.: An Italian reporter once mistook Cooper for Gen. Wesley Clark. Er...

11:21 A.M.: "The silence [in New Orleans after Katrina] was shocking...You could hear the wind rustling through the remnants of people's lives."

11:23 A.M.: There's a shortage of psychiatrists, hospital beds, and primary-care centers in New Orleans. "Whole tracts of the Lower Ninth Ward" remain devastated. A dig at the federal government for holding up relief money, inadvertently or not, and "absurdly slow" rebuilding efforts.

11:24 A.M.: Did I mention this man can paint a picture with words?

11:25 A.M.: His advice to us is the same his mother gave him a long time ago: "Follow your bliss."

11:26 A.M.: He says he's done "droning on." Begin questions.

11:27 A.M.: First question on how journalists find the balance between getting too close and being desensitized to their material. He says, "I was born a WASP, so I'm good at suppressing my emotions." He continues, more seriously, "...don't pretend you don't have feelings...it's important to realize what you can and can't do."

11:28 A.M.: Second question on difference between AC360 and 60 Minutes. He says 60 Minutes is more traditional in their style, but "they have the best producers in the business."

11:30 A.M.: Begin me waiting in line to ask a question about the effect of blogs and other new media on the business and what the future of these technologies is.

11:40 A.M.: After a couple of questions about "Lions for Lambs" and "The Mole," among other things, I finally get my shot. He says that blogs are good because viewers should be critical -- they did bring down Dan Rather, after all -- and news organizations that are consistently pushing out subpar items that are being criticized "have no business being in the business." On the other hand, he says, they are far less verifiable than a program like his or any other mainstream source, which has multiple layers of vetting. The mainstream media's response to the proliferation of new user-driven media technologies, he says, has been to get out on handheld platforms as much as possible, but he ultimately says no one really knows what effect these technologies are going to have.

11:45 A.M.: Last question: will there be a news network that focuses more international news instead of talking heads, pundits, and "the politics of division"? Cooper says there aren't enough viewers interested in just international news to make such a network viable; he recounts a time where CNN had a 12 o'clock program dedicated solely to international news, but shortly after its inception, its ratings plummeted in relation to what had previously occupied that slot. He says that the networks put on what the people want to see -- which includes OJ and "Missing Blonde of the Month."

11:49 A.M.: "If you tell good stories, people will watch." Well said.

11:50 A.M.: I think his being rapidly rushed out of the auditorium means it's over. All in all, a great speech.

So, there you have it -- CNN's Anderson Cooper at CMC. I plan on following up with a brief post-speech analysis, so look for that to come soon. Thanks for reading!