(Written August 9, 2007)
"I wish more people were passionate about their country," was Joe Scarborough's insulting comment on his new MSNBC morning show which replaced the more formidable Imus in the Morning program. It was a reference to having met a "charming" Janeane Garafolo until the name George W. Bush was mentioned wherein she went on an anti-Bush diatribe. More people are passionate about their country, Joe. The problem in their country is that Morning Joe (the name of his new program) rarely talks to Average Joe.
With much of the highbrow media's alleged disdain for all of the news hoopla surrounding Paris Hilton is how oblivious they are to the fact that the news media, in and of itself, has become a culture of celebrity. Katie Couric leaving NBC's TODAY show to anchor the CBS Evening News was just as big and just as long a story as Paris Hilton going to jail. And this culture of "celebrity journalism" inundates the public airwaves with highly paid "artists" who talk with one another, hobnob with the politicians and well-heeled subjects they cover, and reference one another's comments, columns and interviews in between the latest public statement made by some politician, actor, comedian, musician or other six to seven figure earning person of high public profile. These celebrity news hosts, anchors and journalists confine their knowledge of the public to how a certain cross section answered a handful of inane, generic poll questions. They have no idea what these people actually think. Not really! They never bother to give these average Americans the 10 to 12 minute segments that they give to the millionaire Susan Sarandons, Arianna Huffingtons and Alec Baldwins.
As a proponent of free market capitalism, I do not begrudge Mr. Scarborough et.al. as great a living as they can muster from what they do. However, it is offensive for them to assume to know what John and Jane Q. Public is thinking because they read the latest poll. They are not privy to the roundtable discussions of American voters in the multitudes of neighborhoods expounding on the issues of the day and they are totally unaware of their own foibles and inadequacies as they wax pontifically amongst themselves about the thoughts and beliefs of people they never bother to converse with or interview. And much like politicians, they do not allow themselves to be questioned, in depth, by members of the public.
On MSNBC's Morning Joe on the morning after the Democratic You Tube debate, NBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell told Mr. Scarborough that she was surprised at how smart and intelligent the questions were. Could she have been any more insulting and condescending! It is no wonder that the public finds some solace within the confines of the blogosphere and talk radio. Yet Washington Democrats are quietly gearing up to stifle those few minutes of free speech that concerned callers to these programs rely upon to question, opine and be heard. Primary members of the major media often denigrate these citizen friendly outlets as being amateurish, unreliable and unprofessional purveyors of information. After Janet Cooke, Jason Blair, Stephen Glass, rigged NBC truck explosions, faked documents as news, courtesy of CBS, CNN's hyped but false blockbuster story concerning Viet Nam, and the merry-go-round of cover girl reporters and anchors, it is clear that ratings, circulation and ad revenue are adequate substitutes for professionalism.
These 'professionals' become boisterous advocates of the First Amendment when one of their colleagues faces subpenas and/or jail. However, they are less vocal about "the free exercise thereof" when the speech comes from "amateurs." That the carefully worded First Amendment deliberately has the non-abridgment of 'speech' coming before 'press,' it is incumbent upon them to argue for the rights of the talk radio host and caller as intensely as they argue the plight of a jailed journalist who refuses to reveal a source. And they would know that if they simply took the time to talk with us.