Eric Boehlert: The MJ Coverage Begins To Take A Toll On CNN

As a rule, I think the less said about the excessive Michael Jackson coverage in recent weeks and days, the better. It goes without saying that the spectacle has morphed beyond news into something else entirely. And if Wolf Blitzer and Brian Williams and lots of other ‘serious’ journalists want to pretend, day after day, that Jackson’s June death continues to constitute breaking news, than that’s their problem.

But I think that this CNN chron from late Wednesday afternoon does deserve comment, as it seems to have crossed all kinds of decency boundaries. And yes, it read, “What are Jackson kids really like”:


Honestly, WTF? It’s creepy enough that serious journalists chew up airtime discussing the custody possibilities of Jackson’s kids, but to now poke and prod around the lives of elementary school-aged kids of a dead celebrity in hopes of finding out what they “really like”? (Note that CNN had no interest in the kids when their father was alive.)

It’s just beyond the pale for any mainstream news org, and CNN, for one, needs to rethink where it’s going with this often pointless Jackson coverage.

Crossposted at County Fair, a Media Matters for America blog.

CNN Wins Michael Jackson Memorial Service Cable News Ratings Race

CNN drew the most viewers for Michael Jackson’s memorial service Tuesday, averaging more than Fox News and MSNBC combined in both total viewers and the news demographic, according to Nielsen Media Research.

CNN averaged 5.300 million total viewers from 1-4PM Tuesday, while Fox News averaged 2.230 million and MSNBC’ averaged 1.393 million. Sister network HLN came in second with 377,000 total viewers.

In the A25-54 demo, CNN averaged 2.258 million total viewers to Fox News’ 673,000 and MSNBC’s 550,000. HLN averaged 190,000 A25-54 viewers for second place in the demo, as well.

In primetime Tuesday night, Fox News edged out CNN in total viewers — 2.437 million to 2.283 million — but CNN won in the news demo, averaging 927,000 A25-54 viewers to Fox News’ 683,000.

MSNBC averaged 1.013 million total viewers and 353,000 A25-54 viewers, while HLN averaged 754,000 total viewers and 355,000 A25-54 viewers. also had an impressive day, recording its second largest live video streaming day in history (behind Obama’s Inauguration Day). streamed 10.5 million live streams Tuesday, and 4.4 million live video streams during the hours of the memorial (1-4PM ET).

Michael Jackson Memorial Ratings: How Does It Compare To Other Major TV Events? (SLIDESHOW)

Michael Jackson’s memorial service on Wednesday drew 31 million TV viewers in the US. Millions of others are expected to have streamed the service online.

But how does that compare to other major TV events over the years, like Princess Diana’s funeral or the “MASH” finale? Take a look at the slideshow below and vote on just how “must-see TV” each of the events was for you:

Consumer Watchdog Takes On Google As Lawmakers Mull Data Privacy Regulation

Consumer Watchdog — which, as the name implies is a consumer watchdog organization — is raising alarms over privacy concerns that have been brought to the fore as online search company Google engages in wheeling and dealing before the House Communications and Consumer Protection Subcommittee.

At issue is legislation that might affect Google’s practice of “behavioral advertising,” the process by which Google serves ads to users based upon personal information gleaned from individual users’ browsing habits, which many deem invasive. Potentially, lawmakers could inhibit Google’s ambitions in this area by making it possible for users to opt out of Google’s meticulous tracking. Worse for the online giant is the possibility that users will have to opt in in order to be tracked in the first place. At the very least, Google might find itself subjected to a “Do Not Google” list, similar to the “Do Not Call” lists that have been applied to the telemarketing industry.

In their press release, Consumer Watchdog notes that their concerns have become magnified with the announcement that Google will be introducing their own operating system:

The question has grown more urgent with Google’s announcement Wednesday that it will release a new operating system that moves currently computer-based functions to its proprietary Internet “cloud,” said Consumer Watchdog. Congress is considering forcing Google to adopt an opt-in model where users must actively allow Google to collect browsing history and user data.

“The Justice Department should be worried when Google tries to obfuscate its data tracking capacity and reach rather than disclose all of it,” said Judy Dugan, research director of Consumer Watchdog. “Congress should demand that Google stop tracking Americans’ online behavior without their prior permission.”


Google’s new operating system could also comb users’ stored documents for information on those “interest categories.” The depth of this potential data collection is not mentioned in the Google spin document. …Instead, it boasts repeatedly of Google’s commitment to transparency and “user friendliness” in delivering the lucrative advertising.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Jamie Court, president of the Consumer Watchdog, was explicit in his concerns: “No one knows more about Americans than Google…The FBI doesn’t know as much about us as Google. That has to worry Congress as much as it should worry Americans as they learn about it.” Regarding the proposed operating system, Court says, “People just don’t get it that your documents are at Google, not on your computer,” making those items subject to the same processes that power Google’s “behavioral advertising.”

To emphasize their point, Consumer Watchdog has obtained a confidential “spin document,” thanks to “an anonymous industry insider who has previously provided other Google spin documents.” In the first place, yes: “Confidential” “spin documents” on transparency and privacy are awesome monuments to irony. And the document in question, Consumer Watchdog believes, is “associated with a June 18 Congressional hearing that questioned online “behavioral advertising.” What makes this better however, is that Consumer Watchdog has done their own “satirical annotation” of this “spin document.” And the annotated document is full of fun Google facts, like the byzantine click odyssey one must go on to opt out of being served Google Ads! And the four hours of videos you need to watch to get briefed on privacy!

But the important part of the satiric annotation are the questions for lawmakers that are helpfully provided:

1. Why isn’t Google’s behavioral advertising opt-in rather than opt-out?

2. Why not prominently include a link allowing users to permanently opt-out of Google tracking?

3. 2008: Google says it has no plans to use behavioral advertising… [that] it doesn’t work. What changed?

4. Is Google’s behavioral advertising really about delivering more interesting ads or is it about expanding its data collection and targeting activities?

And, just for emphasis, they direct people to this video, by the hilarious comedy group The Big Honkin’:




[Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not? Also, please send tips to — learn more about our media monitoring project here.]

Fox News Host: Americans “Keep Marrying Other Species” (VIDEO)

OH NOES! What happened on Fox and Friends today, people? According to Gawker, the bright and shiny lights have once again dazzled Brian Kilmeade (the Brown-Haired Guy) into pure befuddlement, and this subsequently caused a series of idiot words to pour forth from his cakehole. And no one thought to stop him or force his head into a bucket of water because this is exactly how Roger Ailes drew it up on the whiteboard! I suppose it must be said: Maybe Morning Joe's Starbucks sponsorship should be accepted as a reward for having some sort of social conscience.

Jesus, this Brown-Haired Guy. He is like a murder of idiot crows, stuffed into an anthropomorphic flesh bag, that somehow successfully filled out a W-4 form and wandered onto a soundstage where he was adopted as a pet. From time to time, he produces words, and today, as his colleagues attempted to discuss a study that suggested that couples who enjoy long marriages showed a reduced tendency to develop Alzheimer's disease, he came up with these insane, vaguely racial ramblings:

BROWN HAIRED GUY: We keep marrying other species and other ethnics--

GRETCHEN CARLSON: Are you sure they are not suffering from some of the causes of dementia right now?

BROWN HAIRED GUY: The problem is the Swedes have pure genes. They marry other Swedes, that's the rule. Finns marry other Finns; they have a pure society. In America we marry everybody. We will marry Italians and Irish.

DAVE BRIGGS: This study does not apply?

BROWN HAIRED GUY: Does not apply to us.



[WATCH, via]

[Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not? Also, please send tips to -- learn more about our media monitoring project here.]

Reese Schonfeld: CNN Ratings: The Exception Proves the Rule

Cable ratings for the first week in July have just been released, and CNN has done far better than anyone had any right to expect.

I have not written about last week’s, last month’s, last quarter’s ratings, because there was nothing new there. CNN was down, down, down. Last quarter, FoxNews, in primetime, was up 34% in total viewers, CNN was down 10%. In adults 25-54, the key advertising demo, FoxNews was up 50% and CNN was down 19%. In total day audience, Fox was up 33% while CNN gained only 8%. And in the key demo, 25-54, total day, Fox was up 44%, and CNN was up 1%. It seemed to me that political preferences were driving viewers to Fox, while political displeasure was costing CNN its audience.

This week tells a different story. CNN has the best ratings its had in months, finishing seventh among all advertising-supported networks in primetime viewers. Fox is still ahead in third place, but it’s a tiny gap compared to previous weeks, and CNN beat Fox in the 25-54 category by a narrow margin. In total day, FoxNews finished sixth and CNN ninth. And in 25-54, CNN was only 33,000 viewers behind Fox–again, a considerable improvement.

Why the exception to a sixth-month long trend? Michael Jackson. Jackson’s death brought all sorts of new viewers to the cable news networks, and it’s obvious that most of them turned to CNN. CNN is still seen, by most people who are not news junkies, as the place to turn to for news they really care about. It’s unfortunate that the news they seem to care about is the death of an entertainer, no matter how great, when there are things happening in the world that will affect them and their children much more significantly.

I suggest that CNN and the other cable news networks spend some time thinking about how they can make it clear to Americans that the dire straits of our economy and the deep divide between us and Islamic Fundamentalists is much more meaningful to them then the death of any celebrity. It’s about time the networks found ways to do interesting stories about truly serious situations. If CNN can’t do that, the Michael Jackson story will remain a lonely exception.

Iason Athanasiadis, Photojournalist Released From Iranian Prison, On Arrest, Beating, Solitary Confinement: “No One Should Have To Suffer Those Conditions”


Covering social and contemporary culture, ASMALLMAGAZINE is the online publication of high- end private online community ASMALLWORLD. Below is an interview conducted by ASMALLMAGAZINE’s Jessica Ramakrishnan with Iason Athanasiadis, a Greek photojournalist and ASMALLWORLD member recently released from Iranian prison. It is Iason’s first interview since his release.

After three weeks in Iranian prison cells, Iason Athanasiadis, a photojournalist and ASW-er was released by the country’s authorities. Only days after he walked free in Tehran and returned to Greece, Iason spoke first to ASMALLMAGAZINE about his experience of being caught up in the tumult of present-day Iranian politics.

From press reports, we read that you were on your way out of the country when you were arrested. Tell us what happened.

I had passed passport control in the last hours remaining on my seven-day press visa and was walking to the gate of my Emirates flight from Tehran to Dubai when a man (not in uniform) approached me and asked me if I was Iason Fowden, my passport name. I said yes and he asked me to follow him as “you won’t be flying tonight.” That sounded ominous.

But this is not the first time you’ve been arrested on the job? And I am sure as a correspondent in war zones, you’ve considered something like this happening but how did it feel when it became a reality?

It’s the second. The first (arrest) was by Hezbollah shortly after the 2006 Lebanon War but they held me for only an hour. They released me after realizing that I obviously am a journalist. Detentions in sensitive political environments such as conflict zones are absolutely to be expected and the best thing one can do is cooperate with one’s captors and get a sense for whether they’re pragmatic, practical men or ideological and with an axe to grind. Obviously, I prefer the former.

Media reports indicated that the authorities thought you were a Brit and the implication was that you were part of the British plot behind all the post-election protests. What did your interrogators ask you about this?

They tried to use their British spy allegations as a method of discouraging the Greek ambassador from lobbying for my release. To his eternal credit, he stood by me as a Greek citizen and supported my release to the fullest. Also very involved were His Holiness the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate Bartholomew, Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyianni, who personally handled the case, and a host of other political, business and religious actors who worked behind the scenes to secure my release.

You speak fluent Farsi. Did this make you more suspicious in their eyes?

Apparently even though I explained that the reason for this was that I had studied in Iran, a fact backed up by three years of student visas in my passport. The guards quite liked being able to chat with a foreigner in Persian and my skills were certainly rejuvenated by several hours-long interrogations conducted in Persian.

What were the conditions of your detention? Where were you held? What did it look like?

I was held in solitary confinement throughout with ample food, which I opted to desist from in preparation for a possible hunger strike in the event that the espionage allegations be taken to trial level. I was moved around a succession of four cells, two of which were in Evin prison’s Section 209, an Intelligence Ministry-controlled prison, and one was at Imam Khomeini International Airport. In all cells, the lights constantly shone and in one, there were no windows or clocks, creating a confusing and disorienting effect.

How much were you interrogated? Were you mistreated at all?

I was beaten on the evening of my arrest for engaging in passive resistance. The occasional cuff was administered by my first interrogator but the last pair were gentlemen, sophisticated and enough in control of their questioning to not have to strike me to get answers. Not that hitting me worked. It made me more donkey-headed and unlikely to collaborate. Us Greeks must be won over and convinced to cooperate – beatings make us stubborn.

What did you think of when you were alone?

I dived deep into my past and dredged up memories and images that had lain fallow for years. I went back to childhood a lot and favourite places such as Evia and Aegina, islands to which my parents took me as a child. I relived ‘perfect days’ and read the Quran, which was the only reading matter the guards provided me with. I sang old Greek leftist resistance songs, which I had been taught at school, and watched the shifting daylight reflect off the bars of the window. I counted the journo friends I had in every Greek TV and print outlet and wondered what they were doing about my case in their media…

You were the only foreign reporter arrested but many Iranian bloggers and press people were also rounded up. Where you held together and what are your hopes for their freedom?

I was in isolation throughout. But from the educated tenor of the prisoners’ voices that I heard from my cell during mealtimes, I could judge that I was probably surrounded by political prisoners and was not in a criminal ward. They lack the support that I had as a foreign citizen and also the good treatment afforded by captors worried about their testimonies when they are returned to society. I pray for their release. No one should have to suffer those conditions merely for a set of political beliefs.

What are your thoughts about the Iranian situation now, especially since it’s been knocked off the news (in the U.S. at least) by the death of Michael Jackson?

It’s an internal Iranian political affair that will be resolved by the Iranians themselves. The West should not wade into it. I’m a great fan of natural evolution. When a society is ready in its majority, it will shift.

You’ve got a long and deep connection with the country. Do you think you’ll ever go back to Iran? Will you even be allowed back?

I was not told that I won’t be allowed back and I certainly have thoroughly been filtered now by the Intelligence Ministry for them to know exactly who I am. I love Iran and have lived, loved and laughed there. It has shaped me as a person in a way that only my home country and my British education have managed. But before going back I’d like to have an assurance that I won’t be arrested again.

You’re quite the quintessential nomad, how did coming home this time feel?

It wasn’t so much the coming home as the walking under clear blue skies without a blindfold on and a guard steering you that was a breath of fresh air. Freedom never felt so good. You don’t know how good it is until you’ve lost it.

This post originally appeared at ASMALLMAGAZINE.