Haiti and TV (cont)

CNN International has now some rivals in terms of human-focused TV coverage of the consequences of the Haiti earthquake. BBC World News has had some tremendous pieces in the last 24 hours including a feature on a pregnant woman who was helped to a hospital by the BBC crew and gave birth – two lives in the balance and they came through. CNN International has been using its web site effectively by creatively explaining how ordinary people can have an impact on the crisis with donations.

Fox News had an excellent feature from Jonathan Hunt graphically illustrating how the earthquake has impacted the government of the country with shots of destroyed government buildings. Hunt pointed out that no one knows how many members of the legislative assembly are dead or buried in the rubble.

Aid logistics remain a problem – as does overall coordinated leadership – but the BBC and others now seem to appreciate the scale of the tragedy and the huge challenges posed. They are being less knee-jerk and more thoughtful in their coverage of the aid problems.

One striking thing in this crisis, though, is how the UN leadership has failed to be proactive in explaining what they are doing and what efforts arte being made to coordinate and prioritize. Why no morning press conference in Haiti by top UN communicators? Why no thoughtful daily messaging?

Most senior UN spokespeople appearing on television are not even based in Haiti but are in Switzerland or New York and seem not to be coordinating the information they are putting out and are very light on real-time details. As ever the UN is naïve in its public and media relations work, allowing others to define the space.

Obama Aides Have No Option But To Hammer Fox

I disagree with my friend David Corn that Fox is just a “distraction, an irritant” from the point of the Obama administration. Writing in Politics Daily, David urges the White House, which has launched a series of ferocious attacks on Fox, to cool it. As a media counsel, I would argue that the White House is right to go for Fox. To all intents and purposes, Fox along with Rush Limbaugh and some other talk radio conservatives constitute the Opposition and whatever the GOP leadership may say they represent the leadership of the GOP and as such they have to be confronted  forcefully.

It isn’t that the White House has to do this because there is a chance they might be able to convert the three million-strong diehard audience of Glen Beck, for instance. I think it highly unlikely that they would be successful in that endeavor. What is more important is that other cable news outlets tend to follow the Fox agenda, if only indirectly and Fox can generate tremendous amounts of misinformation and disinformation to skew the trajectory of coverage and debate on other channels and in the press and online. I think this was what Rahm Emanuel had in mind when he urged other outlets to stop “following Fox.”

The unfortunate reality is that because of staff cuts, a decline in media standards and the pressure of 24/7 news, too few media outlets bother to check facts and information — even when coming from Fox – and just go ahead and report even to the extent of reporting opinion as fact.

David is surely right, though, when he castigates the White House for trying to isolate Fox by, for example, deciding to withhold administration guests from Fox News Sunday. And the administration should not ignore David when he urges the White House to opt for “strategic derision”, which he describes as “good-natured belittling”. “Don’t demolish Fox, demean it.,” says David.

Ridicule is a great weapon but I am not too sure it should be that good-natured to be effective in the current political arena. Too foppish, too weak and it looks like it is just a game — as serious as Jon Stewart, say. Jonathan Swift’s ridicule or Samuel Johnson’s – two ancient masters of the craft — contained a lot of indignation