Sunday, February 9, 2014

"100 People Who Are Screwing Up America", by Bernard Goldbeg

This book suffers from three biases. One, Goldberg is quite right-wing and makes no bones about this. Two, it was published in 2005, which makes it quite dated by now as many of the events he writes about happened the year before. And three, being a journalist he focuses an inordinate amount of attention on fellow journalists who he feels have blurred the line between news and entertainment.

I'm as unhappy as Goldberg is by this "infotainment" era we live in. However, I would never include people like Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters on this type of list. Sawyer is on solely because she did an interview with Britney Spears, and Walters is on because of her celebrity interviews. I think those of us who consume news can tell the difference between when a reporter is functioning as a journalist doing hard news, and when he or she is engaging in "soft news", like a celebrity interview.

A much more perceptive update could be written today of this infotainment trend. Just a few days ago Andrea Mitchell was doing a live interview with a member of Congress on MSNBC, and she interrupted it with "breaking news". The breaking news that couldn't wait? Justin Bieber had been arrested! The problem with this sort of thing isn't with the on-air journalist, but with the producer who makes the decisions on what stories to cover. That's who should be on the list, not people like Diane Sawyer, Barbara Walters, and Andrea Mitchell, who after all are only doing the bidding of their producers.

One result of this infotainment trend is the plethora of so-called "reality shows", which purport to show reality but which actually are a confusing blend of reality and fiction. After all, who among us acts naturally when we know the camera is on us?

Many of the people on Goldberg's list are there becuase of a single stupid think they have said or done. How ironic, then, that Goldberg himself says something in this book which is as stupid as anything he writes about, when he says that Paul Begala is worse than Joe McCarthy. Begala is a Democratic strategist who to this day is a respected commentator on the network news shows, and to say he is worse than McCarthy is simply ludicrously over-the-top, and demonstrates a profound ignorance of the horrible damage McCarthy did to this country.

Ultimately, Goldberg sacrifices all credibility when he goes farther "over-the-top" than those he criticizes, and this book cannot be recommended.

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