Media watchers take the hypocritical oath

MY NAME IS BRIAN, and like most journalists focused on media matters, I am an occasional hypocrite. (This is where you say, “Hello, Brian.”)

As for how my brethren and I exercise our hypocritical oaths, let me count the ways:

  • We lament when elder statesmen like Dan Rather are ushered out of a place like CBS News, yet largely ignore such veterans and praise them too little while panting after Anderson Cooper, Katie Couric or the next “It” guy or gal. Fixtures like Rather and Mike Wallace suddenly become newsworthy only when somebody prods them toward retirement, at which point we magically rediscover them, even when they’re several years past the age at which most of us would welcome lying on a beach somewhere.

  • We use statistical data to support our premises and arguments, then abuse and devalue numbers by assembling inane “power lists” possessing roughly the same validity as two drunks in a bar debating whether the 2001 Lakers could beat the 1985 or 1972 teams.

  • We quote groups like the NAACP criticizing major networks for a lack of racial diversity in new series, when the newsrooms we occupy generally aren’t as diverse as TV’s workplace dramas.

  • We giggle over how thin-skinned and easily wounded our wealthy and powerful subjects tend to be but almost without exception are equally sensitive when we find ourselves in the crosshairs of some other ink-stained wretch or blogger.

  • We tut-tut over conglomerates failing to see over the horizon when virtually none of us anticipated the peculiar twists and turns that media ownership has taken.

Since the Clinton administration pushed through the Telecommunications Act a decade ago, few could have foreseen the parabola of the Internet boom and bust, and now the situation where companies like Tribune and Time Warner are being pressured to shed assets instead of amass them. Most pundits, rather — including yours truly — fretted that consolidation would work too well, yielding economies of scale that would breed further mergers, until localism and mom-and-pop operations were remnants of the past.

While the little guy has undeniably been squeezed, and some synergistic relationships have yielded dividends, there’s no denying that the benefits expected from Tribune acquiring Times Mirror or AOL marrying Time Warner haven’t panned out as neatly as their architects envisioned.

  • We mutter “Get a life, loser” regarding the die-hard fans who line up to see “Star Wars” or organize “Save ‘Deadwood'” campaigns but quietly exult in our little perks, such as getting to attend early screenings of “Star Wars” or receiving “Deadwood” episodes in advance.

  • We dismiss anti-indecency crusaders as insufferable prigs, but major newspapers can’t publish most of the words that consistently get their panties in a bunch.

  • We feel smugly superior to better-paid counterparts in TV journalism (usually with reason) but join in the cults of personality surrounding them by obsessing over what they wear, how they look and who they’re dating — factors, of course, which contribute to why we look down on them.

  • We mock movie studios and TV networks for chasing youth with lame-brained projects while increasingly churning out dumbed-down “lifestyle” pieces and emphasizing celebrity news. Then, to feel better about it, we arch an eyebrow when joining in the fuss over “Brangelina” or what luminaries like magician Penn Jillette name their kids (Moxie Crimefighter and Zolten Penn? Start preparing that “E! True Hollywood Story”).

  • We criticize TV outlets for providing a platform for Ann Coulter, the venomous-even-by-cable-news-standards hydra, then endlessly analyze what her ubiquity means. A few scribes, including the New York Times’ David Carr and Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz, did acknowledge this conundrum in columns about Coulter, but it’s still game, set and No. 4 on Amazon to the far right’s favorite short-skirted attack dog.

  • We bemoan the public’s preference for trash TV over highbrow PBS fare but, in our own elective viewing, couldn’t absorb enough amphetamines to stay awake through a documentary about Darfur or Afghanistan.

  • We write columns like this right before adjourning for a much-needed break, hoping no one will remember our hypocrisy by the time we return to begin the process all over again.
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