Category Archives: Media

The Economics of Cable News

Guy Kawasaki, a member of the team at Apple that launched Mac computers, is a much sought after expert when it comes to identifying the target market for a new product.  In his book The Art of the Start, he tells aspiring entrepreneurs, “Do not try to be everything to everybody.”  The most successful products are those that half the market loves and half the market hates.  He uses the example of the Scion B (pictured here).  Some people thought it was the coolest thing on the road.  Others thought it looked like a refrigerator on wheels.

There is one other economic truth which applies to almost every industry.  It is dominated by three to five major players until a disruptor challenges the status quo.  Over time, the historically dominant organizations get comfortable with their standing and focus on incremental increases in market share.  They are more interested in capturing an additional percent of the market than titillating their customers’ imagination.  That attitude opens the door for the next disruptor.  Think of Apple and the computer industry, Skype versus traditional telephony or Tesla when it comes to automobiles.

Ironically, CNN was once that disruptor. On June 1, 1980, Ted Turner opened the news network’s first broadcast followed by an in depth Daniel Schorr interview with President Jimmy Carter.  It changed the future of media news.  Sound bites on 30-minute nightly news programs gave way to unedited interviews and speeches.  Twenty-four hours of programming made room for documentaries and feature stories.

Super-Hair Q&A: Lynne RussellIn an homage to the past, CNN launched CNN2, later renamed “CNN Headline News.”  Each half-hour consisted of an updated recap of the top stories, much like each network’s nightly news including a “just the facts” anchor, the most recognizable being Lynne Russell.  Today, Headline News is a second-tier extension of its older sister channel.  There is still a “CNN Headline News,” except now it is called “BBC World News” on BBC America.

Which brings me to CNN’s precipitous ratings catastrophe.  Like many disruptors who become dominant players in their field, CNN has violated both economic success principles laid out above.  First, it is trying to be everything to everybody. Though most American voters are said to be in the middle of the liberal-conservative spectrum, their news preferences are not.  Liberals/Democrats gravitate towards MSNBC;  members of the current incarnation of the GOP to Fox News. CNN’s most recent example of aiming for the middle is its decision to give Donald Trump an hour of free air-time.  However, the network’s efforts to give voice to pro-Trump perspectives dates back to 2016 when CNN hired former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.  Followed by Trump Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores and former chief of staff to the Vice President Pence Marc Short.  What has this gotten CNN?  In August 2022, Trump assessed CNN’s attempt to lure conservative viewers.

It used to be a very important network. It used to be a very important platform, I think they’ve actually gotten worse.  I think it’s a whole big con job that they’re going to try to reach out and they’re going to try to get better. I think they’ve gotten worse.

Second, recent moves suggest CNN is more interested in stealing a ratings point here from MSNBC (luring away Capitol Hill correspondent and Way Too Early host Kasie Hunt) and another point there from Fox News (with the acquisition of Chris Wallace) than reasserting itself as the industry disruptor.  Even though it tried with the streaming service CNN+, which had a shorter shelf-life than unpasteurized milk.  Programming consisted of live news, original series and documentaries drawn from the library of parent company Warner Brothers Discovery.  It begged the question, “Which genius in the programming department thought viewers would pay an additional fee for streaming content when they were already paying for two 24/7 channels through cable subscriptions?”

There is room for innovation in the cable news industry.  One of the most read pages in USA Today is “News from Around Our 50 States.”  A broadcast equivalent might not deserve its own cable channel, but an hour per day of the premier story in each state would be a breathe of fresh air.  “Morning Joe” has toyed with the idea in a minimal way.  It now offers a two-three minute segment of local news from the front pages of papers around the country.

Sadly, as we learned from Dominion Voting Machines’ short-circuited defamation trial against Fox News, it was never about presenting the news.  It was about keeping those people who loved you happy and giving those who did not more reason to hate you. Guy Kawasaki would call that good business sense.  Edward R. Morrow and Walter Cronkite would ask, “Yes, but at what cost?”


Media continue to struggle with coverage of (using Nicolle Wallace’s description) “a twice-impeached, disgraced, indicted ex-president” who will say anything in public (on television and at rallies) but has refused to testify under oath in court.  May I suggest there should be a mandatory follow-up question on every occasion during which Trump spouts his lies and conspiracy theories.  “Mr. Trump, if you honestly believe that, why have you never been willing to say it under oath in a judicial proceeding subject to penalties for perjury?”

For what it’s worth.

Why I Watch MSNBC

In this morning’s New York Times, former CNN Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter writes about the faux invincibility of cable news headliners such as Tucker Carlson and Don Lemon.  He should know, having been ceremoniously dismissed by CNN in 2022.  He predicts both Fox News and CNN will survive the “Monday Morning Massacre” of two of their most recognizable anchors.

Reading an insider’s take on the shakeup at the two networks reminded me why MSNBC has won my allegiance when it comes to political punditry.  Or should I say three particular shows: Morning Joe, Deadline White House and The Beat.  What do these three programs have in common?  Not their Democratic or liberal bias since two of the three feature a former conservative Republican congressman (Joe Scarborough) and the communications director for George W. Bush (Nicolle Wallace).  Only one, The Beat’s Ari Melber, was active in Democratic politics.  He went back to school and earned his law degree at Cornell following John Kerry’s 2004 unsuccessful presidential bid during which Melber served as the campaign’s deputy political director in California.

What then do the three hosts have in common?  Pretty simple.  All have spent time in the arena.  When Joe Scarborough rants  House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is being held hostage by an extreme fringe of the Republican caucus, he know of what he speaks.  He was a member of the 40 renegade GOP members elected in 1984, dubbed “the New Federalists,” who held Newt Gingrich’s tenure as Speaker in their hands.  As soon as Gingrich lost favor with these outsiders, his fate was sealed.  When Scarborough explains how tough it was for Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to put together the coalition responsible for passing the Inflation Reduction Act last year, it rings true.  He had a seat at the table for similar negotiations.

Wallace is equally qualified to enumerate the number of times the Trump administration crashed through legal and ethical guardrails she faced as she carried out her West Wing responsibilities.  Just this week, during a discussion of the questionable ethics of Supreme Court justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, she shared her experience signing an annual financial disclosure statement which required the certification of the entries as true and accurate “under penalty of law.”  She asked, “Why shouldn’t every federal official, especially someone with such constitutional power and a lifetime appointment, be held to the same standard I was?”

Melber brings his years as a First Amendment lawyer and time in a public defenders office to his analysis of the legal questions and procedures du jour.  His continuing faith in the judiciary is the result of having practiced before judge after judge who put the law before personal considerations or ideologies. Even in those instances where a rogue judge makes headlines, as did U.S. district judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, who would deny access to the FDA-approved drug mifepristone, Melber trusts the appeals process will rectify the situation.  When he critiques a judge it is not based on ideology, but as guardian of an institution in which he had a professional and personal stake.

Aspiring aviators do not take flying lessons from someone who has never occupied a pilot’s seat.  Cardiac patients facing a bypass do not trust a surgeon who only studied medicine but never held a scalpel.  Nor would any voter rely on a 67 year old Senator from South Carolina, a bachelor with no children, for guidance on women’s reproductive health care.  Oops, maybe that last one is not the best example.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have great respect for political reporters such as the Times Susanne Craig who deciphered years of Donald Trump’s tax return to prove this supposed “self-made billionaire” was anything but one.  Or ProPublica’s Joshua Kaplan who exposed the relationship between Justice Thomas and Harlan Crow.  However, if you want to understand how the sausage is made in Washington, D.C. or state capitals, ask those who have actually turned the crank on the meat grinder. And have the scars to prove it.

For what it’s worth.

The Fox in the Fox House

One of the most powerful tools when it comes to counter-intuitive thinking is challenging assumptions. This skill is particularly valuable when trying to explain the unexplainable. Case in point, Tucker Carlson’s use of cherry-picked Capitol security footage to claim January 6, 2021, was nothing more than a peaceful sightseeing tour.

Why would anyone, even Fox News, make such a claim?  Based on filings in the Dominion Voting Machine defamation case against Fox News, we know the network aired statements about the 2020 presidential election they knew to be false.  They feared their viewers would migrate to even more far-right programming on NewsMax and OAN.  Chairman Rupert Murdoch justified this behavior in his deposition.  “This is not red or blue, it’s green.” From a solely business perspective, Fox News executives made a logical but unethical choice.  Give the audience what they want instead of the truth.

In the midst of these revelations, Tucker Carlson appears to have doubled down.  The Fox News host made a Faustian deal with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to relitigate the January 6th insurrection using scenes of the the rare moments of calm as police escorted Trump’s foot soldiers out of the Capitol following the violent attack on the Nation’s recognizable symbol of democracy.  Towards what end?  Once again giving Fox News‘ MAGA audience exactly what they craved and building support for the disgraced, twice impeached ex-president?

Maybe, just maybe, there is another explanation for showing the selectively edited video.  On January 4, 2021, Carlson sent a text to network executives.  “We are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights.  I truly can’t wait.”  He punctuated his desire to move on by adding, “I hate him passionately…What he’s good at is destroying things.  He’s the undisputed world champion of that.  He could easily destroy us if we play it wrong.”

Why then would Carlson continue to espouse these “alternative facts?”  Consider this counter-intuitive possibility.  First, the post-1/6/2021 Trump rehabilitation project, led by McCarthy, Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene is exactly what Carlson did not want.  Just the opposite.  He wanted Trump off the airwaves.  Carlson knew he could not directly deliver that message for fear of losing 3.5 million views (nightly average).  Was this not the reason Fox News created the “nothing to see here” storyline in the first place?  Carlson needed a solution not unlike that proposed by Otter (Tim Matheson) in Animal House.  “I think this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part.”

The “futile and stupid gesture” was airing a few clips of the rioters leaving the Capitol after they had lost the battle and then claiming it was the order of the day.  It had the exact impact Carlson hoped it would.

The broadcast generated rebukes from several GOP members of Congress, many who rarely if ever publicly criticized Trump.  Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell sided with the Capitol police chief.  In a half-hearted rebuke sans calling out Trump, McCarthy or Carlson by name, McConnell stated, “It was a mistake, in my view, for Fox News to depict this in a way that’s completely at variance with what our chief law enforcement official here at the Capitol thinks.”

NC Senator Tom Tillis called the January 6 whitewash “bullshit.”  SD Senator Mike Round said, “I was there.  I witnessed it.  It was violent.”  Texas Congressman Dan Crenshaw said, “If the message is then to try and convince people that nothing bad happened, then it’s just gonna make us look silly.”

Not to be outdone in what Bulwark editor-in-chief Charlie Sykes described as a “profile in half-courage,” former vice-president Mike Pence chose Saturday night’s media-free, unrecorded Gridiron Dinner to tell attendees what he really thought about January 6th.

President Trump was wrong. I had no right to overturn the election and his reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day, and I know that history will hold Donald Trump accountable.

Mission accomplished.  Without saying it himself, Carlson goaded several former Trump supporters to publicly declare the Mar-a-Lago Sultan of Shamelessness unfit to occupy the Oval Office ever again.  Whether this ploy brings Carlson and Fox News any closer to “being able to ignore Trump most nights” is yet to be determined.

Of course, whether this ruse was intentional and premeditated assumes Carlson is both smart and sly as a fox.  Another assumption that definitely needs to be challenged.

For what it’s worth.


What’s My Lyin’?

In the infancy of broadcast television, game shows were a popular prime time staple. There were two varieties. Big money quiz shows like “The $54,000 Question,” which really was big money in its day. The grand prize is more than $650,000 in current dollars. The second category was an excuse to watch unscripted celebrities showcase their knowledge and wit while solving a contestant’s occupation (“What’s My Line?”) or deciding which of three contestants was who he or she claimed to be (“To Tell the Truth”).

I thought about these programs while watching the reboot of “Night Court” and viewing a promo for the return of “Magnum, P.I.” Games shows are also part of this trend. Michael Strahan is the new Allen Ludden on “The $100,000 Pyramid.” To give you some idea how important Ludden was to the game show genre, it takes THREE Manning brothers –Peyton, Eli and the third guy (Cooper)–to fill his shoes on “College Bowl.”

Maybe it is time to bring back “What’s My Line,” which aired on CBS from 1950 until 1967. The final segment of each show required the panel be blindfolded before a famous “mystery guest” came on stage. So close your eyes, adjust those rabbit ears and tune in as host John Charles Daly (not to be confused with golfer John Daly) welcomes tonight’s celebrity contestant to be interrogated by the panelists–publisher Bennet Cerf, journalist Dorothy Kilgallen, actor Arlene Francis and original Tonight Show host Steve Allen.

Daly: Now we come to the special feature of our program and welcome our celebrity, our big and important guest. Our panel would certainly recognize our guest on sight. So we provided them with blindfolds. Will you please come in mystery guest and sign in. (Audience gasps and then wildly applauds.)

Alright panel, as you know, we get right down to the business of the mystery guest, so we’ll begin the questioning with Bennett Cerf.

Cerf: Judging from the audience reaction you are a very famous person. Are you in the entertainment world?

Guest: Sim, senhor.

Cerf: Have you been an actor?

Guest: Sim.

Cerf: Are you still an actor?

Guest: Sim.

Cerf: Would I recognize any of the plays, movies or television shows you have been in?

Daly: That’s a no. Miss Francis.

Francis: Are you famous for your ability to sing and dance?

Guest: Absolutely.

Francis: Do you play parts in different accents since you’re so well equipped for it?

Guest: Oui, madam.

Francis: Have you ever won an Oscar or a Tony.

Guest: Yes and yes.

Francis: Are you Lawrence Olivier?

Guest: (Hesitates) Non.

Daly: Mr. Allen.

Allen: Can I assume you graduated from lighter things and have gone on to something more pretentious?

Guest: Yes.

Allen: Is your acting of a more serious nature at the present time?

Guest: No.

Daly: Miss Kilgallen.

Kilgallen: If your acting is not serious at the moment, is it comedic?

Guest: Not intentionally.

Kilgallen: Have you appeared on the New York stage in the past year?

Guest: Yes.

Kilgallen: Are you a former athlete?

Guest: Yes.

Kilgallen: Are you also a philanthropist?

Guest: Yes.

Kilgallen: I think I know. Are you Anthony Zabrovsky?

Guest: No.

Cerf: Are you Anthony Devolder?

Guest: No.

Francis: Are you Brazilian drag queen Kitara Ravache?

Guest: No.

Allen: Are you George Santos?

Guest: No.

Kilgallen: Are you all of the above?

(The guest begins to answer but is interrupted by Daly.)

Daly: YES! It’s none other than the poster boy for the Republican Congress and man of a thousand falsehoods. George, you fooled our panel just like you fooled the voters of the 3rd district of New York. And I understand you may soon appear on a special edition of “To Tell The Truth” with guest host Margaret Garnett, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Santos: Only if they let me take the Fifth.

Daly: That’s our show for tonight. Thanks to the panel and our very special guest whoever he may be. And join us next week when we ask members of the 118th Congress GOP leadership, “What’s My Lyin’?”

NOTE: Much of the dialogue and many of the questions in this post were taken verbatim from a 1952 episode of “What’s My Line” on which Desi Arnaz was the mystery guest.

For what it’s worth.

In Defense of Dave Chappelle

That Dave Chappelle SNL monologue probably did more to normalize anti-Semitism than anything Kanye said.

Adam feldman, Time Out New York

Saturday night, I went to bed basking in the glow of Catherine Cortez Masto’s successful re-election campaign which assured Democratic control of the U.S. Senate for the next two years. Yet, when I opened my news feed Sunday morning, the “big news” was Chappelle’s supposed defense of Kanye West and Kyrie Irving on Saturday Night Live. On Twitter, the Jerusalem Post accused the comedian of “promptly engaging in antisemitic tropes.” Even had the story “above the fold.” (I know the term is a relic of the era of print media. In the digital age, it means you see the headline without having to scroll down the page.)

This is not the first time Chappelle has faced criticism for remarks found to be offensive to a segment of the population. In September 2021, Chappelle was verbally attacked by the LGBTQ+ community for comments made in his Netflix special “The Closer.” I decided to watch the performance and make my own judgement.

Yes, Chappelle pushed the envelope as he so often does. But he continued with the poignant story of his friend, transgender standup comic Daphne Dorman who opened for him in 2019 and received a shoutout from Chappelle during his Netflix “Sticks and Stones” September 2019 special. In response to her defense of and association with Chappelle, she too became a target of the “eat your own” transgender community. On October 14, 2019 Dorman tragically took her own life.

Chappelle is an equal opportunity thorn in side of political correctness. He makes fun of everyone. Later in the monologue he said of Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker, “I don’t want to speak badly of Walker because he’s black, but I have to admit, he’s observably stupid.” Chappelle simply points out you must be willing to do so within your own community if you want to effectively criticize others. Which he did by pointing out how equally observably stupid the former guy is when it comes to his hoarding government documents at Mar-a-Lago.

I’ve been fired from jobs many times in my life, and taken items on the way out. You know what I never stole from work? Work.

But unlike an increasing majority of standup comics he does not shout at you. He is humor’s equivalent of Bob Dylan, a combination of poet and prophet who mixes dark humor with a call for empathy.

He acknowledged something is not right with Kanye. “I don’t think he’s crazy, he’s possibly not well.” But if you think he was defending Kanye, listen to what he said about Adidas breaking ties with one of its most lucrative partners.

Ironically, Adidas was founded by Nazis, and THEY were offended. I guess the student surpassed the teacher.

Perhaps one of the most insightful observations in the monologue is Chappelle’s take on the double standard when it comes to Blacks and Jews. The Jewish Independent reported “the studio audience laughed nervously” when Capelle alluded to Kanye’s claim that Jews run Hollywood. Chappelle, in the tradition of Lenny Bruce and Dick Gregory, showed how to demonstrate the difference between fact and a conspiracy based on a fact.

I’ve been to Hollywood and — no one get mad at me — I’m just telling you what I saw. It’s a lot of Jews. Like a lot.

But that doesn’t mean anything! You know what I mean? Because there are a lot of Black people in Ferguson, Missouri, it doesn’t mean we run the place.

Now, consider the lyrics to the number “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” from the Monty Python musical Spamalot.

To get along on Broadway
To sing a song on Broadway
To hit the top on Broadway and not lose

I tell you, Arthur King
There is one essential thing
There simply must be
Simply must be Jews

Guess who won a Tony and who is being skewered by the media. The answer is as simple as black and white.

Dave Chappelle exercises his right of free speech based on an assumption the audience is patient enough to listen and intelligent enough to understand what he is trying to say. The response by some to his SNL monologue suggests he may be wrong.

For what it’s worth.