Media landscape dotted with question marks

EVERY NOW AND THEN I wake up on the Andy Rooney side of the bed, filled with nagging questions about programs I watch, publications I read, radio I hear and Web sites I visit. This can be unnerving, inasmuch as I am laboring to reduce my carb and inanity consumption and have periodic nightmares about awakening with Rooney’s voice and eyebrows.

Wow, there were so many “I’s” in that paragraph, self-obsessed columnist Joel Stein could have written it.

In short, the media landscape is filled with conundrums, and like any inquisitive journalist, I have my own version of the “five W’s,” which lately breaks down as follows:

  • Who came up with the name “critic’s notebook”? Despite being a critic who occasionally writes things in a notebook, I’m still unclear when something qualifies as a “critic’s notebook.” If this is supposed to be fancy way of saying “column,” it has the opposite effect, implying a slapdash quality — as if said critic had a few random thoughts and decided to share them. Personally, my notebook would be filled with squiggles, jotted-down fantasies like “Longoria-Lowry, or no hyphen???” and doodles of Captain America.

  • What makes readers of the Drudge Report so angry? The last time the site posted my column the hate mail was especially vociferous, including one guy who insisted “I don’t read newspapers,” in a “so there!” sort of way.

Hate to break it to you, dude, but if you’re responding to a column that ran in a newspaper, guess what? You read one. What you meant to say is that you don’t buy newspapers, but there was a big fat ad next to the piece online, so there, back.

Of course, it’s always nice to reach out and touch someone who doesn’t normally read Daily Variety, and I’m all for a zesty exchange of ideas. Unfortunately, that hardly describes being called a “liberal asshole,” “traitor” or some creative equivalent by a “Deliverance” refugee — even when the original views expressed were at best peripherally political — simply for residing in the same county as Barbra Streisand.

  • When did ABC News lose its mind? Granted, its primetime newsmagazines have indulged in muck and fluff for awhile (this week’s “Primetime” tease: “The scary truth about hot cyber-spots for teens!”), but who decided it was worth devoting an entire “Nightline” to “Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America,” the lurid-sounding (but really bad) ABC sweeps movie? It was easy enough to anticipate the pic would lay an egg ratings-wise vs. “American Idol,” so why compound the error by having Terry Moran tiptoe around explaining how most of it was bunk?

In the days of Jennings and Koppel, I counted myself among those “more Americans” who got their news from ABC News than any other source. Today, the only people seemingly dense enough to take ABC seriously are the Feds, which is rather chilling on multiple levels.

  • Where does it say in the modern journalism handbook that “Idol” voting results rival the significance of CIA shakeups or government surveillance programs? And while we’re at it, can we revoke the citizenship of anyone who religiously participates in choosing the next “Idol” winner but not in actual elections?

  • Why are radio hosts generally so dumb regarding media issues? Obviously, the job requires that people be outspoken, brash, even pugnacious, but “ill informed” appears to be another prerequisite.

Take the aforementioned “Bird Flu” movie, which caused some radio personalities to foam at the mouth, assuming the sensational title would trigger vast curiosity — that viewers, in essence, would be as gullible and easily drawn in they were. In one pre-broadcast interview, a talk host asked me if the production might incite mass panic, comparing it to “The Day After,” the 1983 ABC movie about nuclear holocaust. I politely suggested that it would first have to be seen by a mass audience, which was unlikely unless Simon Cowell was among the afflicted.

A generation ago, “The Day After” attracted 77.4 million viewers, and a 62 share of the available audience.

“Fatal Contact” came in just a wee bit short, with 5.3 million viewers and a 6 share.

To borrow from “Nightline’s” regular closing segment, call it a sign of the times.

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