Media minds: fair and balanced?

<b>The Back Lot:</b> Taking a new view

One of the most irksome traits of columnists or media gurus is that they never change their mind. Would Rush Limbaugh ever admit “Iraq was a dumb idea”?

Columnists occupy valuable real estate, yet dwell in a cave of certitude. Having written this column over these past 16 years, I, too, may have fallen into the same trap.

So let me venture into uncertain ground by admitting that I’ve changed my mind about a few things. I won’t suggest that these changes will affect the course of our society, but I thought I’d acknowledge them anyway.

Cable television news: In times of national trauma, I used to look to the Wolf Blitzers of the world for comprehensive coverage — almost fair and balanced. It was about the news, not the ratings. Well, not any more — not when we’re served up 24-hour-a-day coverage of Anna Nicole, with an occasional glimpse at bald Britney. Cable news is really Us magazine. I’m back with Brian Williams and Charlie Gibson.

David Geffen: I’ve intersected Geffen during various demanding moments of his career, and frankly his ability to thrive amid all of them pissed me off. No one should be able to ace music, art and movies and still make canny investments. Yet he’s always expressed himself with total candor, even when he was candidly wrong.

His recent snarky comments about the Clintons wouldn’t have become big news if the Clinton camp hadn’t barked, “You’re either for us or you’re against us,” thus sounding off like football fans in a bar. I guess I’m a fan of that Geffen candor now.

Disney: For years the Disney company under Michael Eisner pursued a ferocious knee-in-the-groin operating style. The company was always suing kindergartens over copyright infringements or widows over Winnie the Pooh. Disneyland once reflected a flight of imagination; over time, it’s become about long lines and product plugs.

Now the Disney of Bob Iger and Pixar has discovered a new rhythm — and some heart. Sure it’s still about profits and there were major layoffs, but new ideas are flourishing. It’s possible to admire the Disney brand again.

Press agents: Variety has always pinned the pejorative “flack” label on the publicist fraternity. After all, journalists are all about getting out the news, and press agents stand in the way. Well, sometimes. The celebrity culture has made stars into brands, representing as much value as, say, Wheaties or L’Oreal.

The problem is that the “celebrity” press and the paparazzi seem dedicated to undermining the credibility of legitimate stars while inventing faux stars (hello Paris). It’s become a perverse game, and I’ve learned to respect the role of press agents in protecting their own. In fact, considering the hassles they live with, I think they’re underpaid.

Democracy: OK, here’s the tough one. I, too, used to believe that our form of government was both virtuous and transportable. Now, along comes an administration that both agrees with me and proves me wrong. The efforts of the Bush administration to “sell” democracy around the world have underscored the fact that our form of government is like a hothouse plant — one that thrives only under rarified conditions.

The president wags his finger at Vladimir Putin but — let’s get real — Putin understands how to run Russia just like Marshal Tito understood Yugoslavia and, yes, Saddam kept Iraq glued together. So here’s one more vote for solid, homespun totalitarianism.

The bottom line: Even columnists can think differently about things from time to time. We just don’t like to admit it in print.

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