Fixing Meet The Press

Today NBC announced that Chuck Todd would replace David Gregory as the host of Meet The Press.  The ratings for that venerable program have plummeted recently, with the show falling to third place among the Sunday morning talk shows.

I don’t know whether NBC thinks that Todd, by himself, can cure the ratings problem; the Politico story linked above suggests that other personality and ego-related issues might have been at play in the decision to dump Gregory.  If NBC does think that Todd can boost the show’s ratings, however, color me skeptical.

I don’t think the problem with Meet The Press was David Gregory.  I think the problem is that the show has stopped trying to engage in legitimate journalism and instead tries to set up phony verbal sparring and conflict about political issues because the producers think it makes better TV.

The Meet The Press of my youth was a sober program where a panel of three journalists asked questions of a figure who was involved in some notable issue of the day.  There wasn’t any grandstanding.  Now Meet The Press and every other Sunday morning public affairs program has a “roundtable” discussion section where two of the “panelists” are point-of-view advocates who spew their competing talking points and interrupt each other as they are doing so.  It’s a waste of time to listen to the blather, and everybody knows it.

There are a lot of people who will never watch a Sunday morning news program no matter how glitzy and contentious it is.  Why not just recognize that fact and return Meet The Press to what it was, and at least avoid offending thoughtful people who are interested in hearing what actual newsmakers have to say in response to legitimate questions?

The Walls Around Benghazi, Starting To Crumble

Every day, new revelations come out about what happened at the American consulate in Benghazi on September 11.  Each revelation makes the incident more troubling and paints the Obama Administration is an increasingly disturbing light.

We now know that, in the months before the September 11 attack, there were multiple warnings and incidents, at the consulate itself and elsewhere in Benghazi, that made it clear that the area was dangerous and that consulate lacked sufficient security.  Why didn’t our government take steps to either significantly beef up security at the compound or remove our Ambassador and the consulate staff from the unsecure area?  Given the turmoil in Libya, protecting the security of Americans serving there should have been a high priority, but it obviously wasn’t.  The failure to act in response to repeated warnings and prior terrorist activity is astonishingly irresponsible.  Why hasn’t anyone in our government been held responsible for the failure to protect our people against a painfully obvious threat?

In addition, the information that has been dribbling out about the incident makes the initial “spontaneous mob” explanation offered by the Obama Administration especially inexplicable.  The people involved in the incident itself — from the State Department people who were following the incident in real time, to the people who received the frantic phone calls and messages from consulate personnel, to the military personnel and intelligence operatives who apparently tried to respond — understood that the incident was a planned and coordinated terrorist attack, not a reaction to a YouTube video about Mohammed.  Indeed, there was no apparent factual basis for believing the attack was an angry response to an obscure video.  So why did the YouTube video ever get blamed for the incident?  Who pushed the YouTube video story, instead of telling us the truth?

Today Kish and I watched Meet the Press, and we shook our heads when the Obama Administration spokesman tried to reassure us that the investigation of the incident is proceeding.  Really?  It’s been two months since four Americans were murdered, apparently needlessly.  Does it really take so long to figure out why warnings weren’t heeded, and who made the decision to ignore them?  And how can it possibly take two months to determine who came up with the phony YouTube video explanation for the carnage?  If our government can’t move more nimbly than this, what does it tell you about the capabilities of our government?

I hate to think that, with the election now only two days away, the Obama Administration is stonewalling and trying to run out the clock on a terrible failure that produced four dead Americans.  However, I’ve heard no other reasonable explanation for the fact that the Administration has not moved aggressively and quickly to figure out what happened, tell the American people the truth, and take whatever steps are necessary to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.  Is there another explanation?

. . . And Reporters Should Act Like Reporters

One other point about the salutary role of the press in exposing Representative Todd Akin’s ignorant views about rape and women: the press can only fill that role if reporters actually act like reporters.

Unfortunately, the situation that produced Akin’s Waterloo — where one public figure sits down with one reporter to answer questions — happens all too rarely these days.  How often do political figures even appear on shows like Meet The Press?  Rather than a Senator, foreign leader, or some other actual public servant, the guest often is a campaign manager or other unelected individual who is there to voice the talking points of a particular candidate, campaign, or party.  Moreover, much of such shows is devoted to “roundtable discussions” where celebrity journalists who never have done much real reporting express their opinions about the “issues of the day.”  No doubt the producers of those Sunday morning shows think the arguments that ensue make for “better television” than the Meet The Press format of the ’60s, where a panel of three serious, gray-suited reporters respectfully fired questions at that week’s guest.

To illustrate the point, consider the first Meet The Press that aired after Mitt Romney selected Paul Ryan as his running mate.  The two “newsmaker” guests were Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Obama campaign guru David Axelrod, followed by a panel of journalists arguing about the impact of “Obamacare” and Ryan’s proposed budget on Medicare.  Does anyone really expect much in the way of “news” (or enlightenment, for that matter) from such a lineup?  Given the focus on Medicare, rather than featuring an ever-present hired gun like Axelrod or a tiresome panel of TV personalities, how about bringing in the chief actuary of the Medicare program, or one of the Medicare trustees, and have knowledgeable reporters who cover Medicare ask them some meaningful questions about the programs, its condition, and the expected impact of the competing proposals?

The important role of the press in our democracy means that the news media must actually be willing to play that role:  as the skeptical, neutral questioner interested in ferreting out the truth, rather than the point-of-view advocate for one position or another.  We can celebrate the role of the press in showing something important and disturbing about Congressman Akin, but we can also regret that the press — due to disinterest, or laziness, or a concern for ratings — doesn’t play that role as often as it should, or could.

A Few Thoughts On The Paul Ryan Pick

I’ve been off the grid, so I didn’t think much about Mitt Romney’s pick of Paul Ryan as his running mate until today.  As we were driving home, Russell, UJ, and I listened to a replay of Meet The Press, which featured the all-too-predictable conservative and liberal shouting match about whether Ryan’s budget plan will gut Medicare and destroy the student loan program — among other issues.

Of course, it’s too much to expect that any political debate these days could be done at a reasonable decibel level, without yelling or over-the-top metaphors.  Nevertheless, I thought the discussion (if you can call it that) itself said something about the selection of Ryan.  Rather than arguing about whether the pick would help Romney politically in this state or with that constituency, the commentators were talking about something of actual substance — the budget, our debt problems, and how we deal with them.  How refreshing it would be if this election actually involved consideration of those crucial, meat-and-potatoes issues, rather than phony, grossly overheated topics like whether the evil Bain Capital caused a woman to die of cancer!

I think our exploding debt is the most important issue we face.  I therefore applaud anything that gets our country to focus on its budget problems and the hard choices we need to make to actually address those problems.  I recognize that my fellow citizens might disagree with my views on how we should address those issues — but that’s what elections are for, aren’t they?  If the selection of Paul Ryan causes President Obama and Mitt Romney to lay out their plans on taxes and spending and the deficit in sharp detail, and the election becomes a referendum on those plans, I think our country would be much better off.

For these reasons, Romney’s selection of Ryan is a positive thing for us all.  I hope we’ll be talking more about Ryan’s budget, and other fiscal issues, until Election Day.  For now I say, let the debate begin — and let’s see if we can’t have that debate in a civilized way, shall we?

Scratching my Head

Okay, so last week President Obama signed the farthest reaching treaty to date with the Russians which cuts each country’s current long range nuclear weapons by 30%. It’s the first treaty that’s been signed with Russia on the nuclear front since 1993 and I read that our two prior president’s Clinton and Bush both tried to make headway on this issue, but were unable to do so.

To me this seems like a win – win situation for all included, the United States, Russia and the world, less nuclear weapons. I give the president high marks on what he is doing on the foreign policy front because he always seems to take a common sense approach, in this case lead by example and show other countries that we mean what we say. This treaty certainly can’t hurt as we try to get other countries on board in confronting the Iran nuclear situation.

So the signing of the treaty is a good thing right, of course not according to a Rasmussen poll taken recently. Only 30% of respondents felt that this was a good thing, 54% said that this was not a good thing and 16% said that they were not sure.

The secretary of defense, Robert Gates (who has served both Republican and Democrat presidents) and Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton were both on Meet the Press last Sunday and said that the treaty was reviewed by the joint chiefs of staff and that the nuclear reduction defined in the treaty posed no threat to our country defending it’s self.

Come on, only 30% thought this was a good thing, who are these people being polled and what are they thinking ? Of course the proof will be in the pudding when it comes to radifying the treaty in Congress. So keep it up Mr President, I am hopeful as I am sure you are that there will be some bipartisan support on this issue, but we will have to wait and see.