Baucus Watch, Part XIV

As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Max Baucus holds the keys to health care reform; any health care legislation must pass through his committee. So what he says or doesn’t say is important to those following the twists and turns of the congressional effort to fix our health system. This is the fourteenth of an occasional series of...

Joe Peyronnin: Fox News Snub

President Barack Obama seems to be just about everywhere selling his presidency in response to sagging poll numbers. Everywhere, that is, except Fox News, where Obama's snub has caused a stir.

Throughout the summer months the president pretty much stood on the sidelines during the health care debate as House and Senate committees battled over the shape of the bill. The president's posture left an opening for those opposing proposed changes in health care to loudly speak out. And the insurance industry and other interest groups joined in the fray in an effort to rile up Americans against reform through advertisements and an aggressive PR campaign. Town hall meetings disintegrated into shouting matches by interest groups. Ridiculous claims like "death panels" were spread with jarring effect.

But make no mistake about it, the shouting also reflects the general frustration many Americans have with their government, period. An economic collapse, huge unemployment, financial and automobile bailouts and deep American involvement in two wars certainly are enough to get most people's ire up. As Rodney Dangerfield might have said, "take my government, please!"

So over the past few days the president began an all out effort to regain control of the debate. His approach was a media blitz of appearances on the Sunday morning talk shows and David Letterman. The tactic is intended to counter the endless chatter on cable news, blogs and tweets that makes it hard for any message to break through the din of democracy. An axiom among marketers is, "When you are tired of seeing your own advertisement, most of America is just becoming aware of it." This morning polls indicate that President Obama's blitz may have bumped his numbers up a bit. To quote NBC's Chuck Todd, "If you voted for Obama, it helped, and if you voted for McCain, it didn't change your mind."

But there was one notable exception to the president's news blitz: Fox News. Many in the White House say that Fox News has been more than an adversary to President Obama; rather it has an anti-Obama agenda. The president's advisers complain that Fox is one-sided; especially commentator Sean Hannity's show, or they point to charges of racism and "eugenics" coming from entertainer and host Glenn Beck. And the White House was unhappy that Fox was the only major broadcast network not to carry President Obama's recent speech to a joint session of Congress.

Advisers to the president no doubt made the calculation that there was no upside in appearing on "Fox News Sunday" with Chris Wallace. Wallace's recent interview with former Vice President Dick Cheney was likened to "teenage girls interviewing the Jonas Brothers" by a prominent conservative columnist. Furthermore, since a large portion of the Fox audience doesn't believe in the president and his policies, he is unlikely to win any converts.

As a senior executive for CBS News, I remember being caught in intensive discussions with White House officials working for Presidents Reagan and Bush '41, who were against Dan Rather interviewing their president. In those days Rather was the top anchor, CNN was new and the only cable news outlet and there was no Internet. So suffice it to say that it is not unprecedented for a White House to ban a network for unfavorable coverage. Still it is not a good tactic.

President Obama was wrong not to appear on "Fox News Sunday" at the same time he appeared on every other Sunday talk program. Press bans are a slippery slope and are not healthy to our democracy. They can be applied capriciously and punitively against any news organization. They can have a chilling effect on coverage. Ultimately, bans against news organizations by the White House run counter to the spirit and intention of our founding fathers. Even though many Fox viewers may not agree with the president's policies, they are Americans too. So, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, "Cherish... the spirit of our people, and keep alive their attention. Do not be too severe upon their errors, but reclaim them by enlightening them."


Celebrity Swine Flu Watch: Marilyn Manson and Dr. Sanjay Gupta Get Sick

marilynmanson_blog_092109This morning, CNN chief medical correspondent (and onetime candidate for Surgeon General) Dr. Sanjay Gupta revealed that he had H1N1, better known as swine flu. The high-profile doctor joins a star-studded flu victims list, including MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, Rupert Grint, who plays Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter films, and most recently, goth rocker Marilyn Manson, who shared his diagnosis Monday through a MySpace blog post.

So celebrities get sick — where’s the news? As you well know if you consume any media whatsoever, the ominous illness sent the news world into a tizzy earlier this year, only to return with a vengeance just in time for the first day of school. And as it turns out, swine flu is not far from your average influenza and one in ten New Yorkers have caught the virus so far in 2009. That makes the fact that we’re tracking the health of some minor celebrities (they’re just like us!) a bit odd, once you put things into perspective.

In a blog post on CNN.com, entitled “I went to Afghanistan and all I got was H1N1,” Dr. Gupta writes about his laundry list of symptoms, including a cough with a “stinging pain,” a higher fever, “lack of appetite, terrible sinus congestion, body aches” and more, but admits, “It was a lot like… the flu – with a different name.” And his treatment regiment? Just “some Tylenol and a sinus decongestant.” In sharing his news, Manson — loath the break character — quipped, “Unfortunately, I am going to survive.”

So why do celebs feel the need to announce such routine health updates? Well, we know the media loves a good epidemic and for the stars, the publicity never hurts: Gupta’s blog post is everywhere today, while Maddow dished about her illness during a visit to Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, when guests are expected to share amusing stories. Meanwhile, Grint’s diagnosis came in the heat of this summer’s Potter-mania, and as for Manson, when was the last time you heard his name? Exactly — let’s just say the headlines never hurt. Get well soon, guys!

Finally, an Easy Way to Dominate Times Square


NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Securing prime outdoor advertising real estate just got easier. Clear Channel Spectacolor, the digital signage arm of the company's outdoor division, unveiled Times Square Domination, a unit that will aggregate ad sales for five of the New York location's largest digital billboards. Clear Channel pulled together owners Spectacolor, Nasdaq, Reuters, News Corp. and ABC Sports and Entertainment to cooperate and sell the signs together.


NBC Nightly News Wins 13th Consecutive Season

nightly_9-23The NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams won the 2008-2009 season – and was the only network newscast to gain viewers year-to-year.

The 2009-2010 season will see a big change, as Diane Sawyer assumes the anchor chair from Charlie Gibson on ABC’s World News. But after 13 seasons on top – will ABC or CBS be able to catch NBC?

Here’s some of the press release:

“Nightly” had its best total viewer delivery and best total viewer advantage over “World News” since the 2005-06 season, and the best total viewer advantage over “Evening News” since the 1994-95 season. “Nightly” has now won 13 consecutive seasons in total viewers.

Versus the 2007-08 season, “Nightly” was the only newscast to show year-to-year growth. “Nightly” added +88,000 viewers this season, while “World News” dropped by -363,000 viewers and “Evening News” lost -103,000 viewers. Both ABC and CBS had their lowest-ever total viewer season deliveries since at least the start of the People Meters.

People meters started in September 1987, which means this was ABC and CBS’ lowest total viewer average in at least 22 years. With the trends the way they are, it’s likely the lowest in far longer than that.

Which serves to make NBC’s win that much more impressive. Despite the excitement of the 2008 election, which helped cable news but never had a huge impact on the broadcast networks, NBC grew year-to-year. And as viewers leave the network news in higher and higher numbers, for a variety of reasons, NBC has maintained a comfortable lead.

But now Sawyer will come in and shake it up. On the week of the announcement, ABC actually surpassed NBC, albeit for one week only, in the ratings. Will Sawyer’s presence help ABC cut into NBC’s lead, or open up a chance for Katie Couric to thrive. We’ll see in January.

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