Political panels will be the death of me

Washington Post media columnist Paul Farhi has a great and important column about the panelization of news.  One problem with the fact that so many people get their news diet filled with cable news and the Sunday shows is that they have to watch all of these panels. It’s like only eating crab-covered soft pretzels, drinking milk and thinking you’re getting your needed nutrients. The panel is the go-to way to breakdown the news today.

As Fahri says:

“From early in its history, cable news found the panel format — featuring people from different perspectives and disciplines — to be a lively (and cost-efficient) way to deliver opinions on current events. The discussions can be enervating, enlightening or infuriating, depending on who is on which side of the food fight.

But, as the Korean news demonstrated, it’s often hard to tell the reporters from the opinion slingers, especially when the panels bleed into the delivery of the news itself.”


I just finished Katy Tur’s fantastic memoir “Unbelievable” about her time covering the Trump campaign. One of the best aspects of the book is that she’s honest about the issues with panel news. At one point she brings up how she was on a panel but wasn’t allowed to say much even though she was the reporter on the ground.

I’m someone who actually thinks we need more opinion in our reporting, particularly from the reporters who see things up close. I’m not talking about partisan opinions. I’m talking about reporters who are knowledgeable of the fact because they are on the ground and have information on background that might help put issues in perspective. I also think reporters have been too timid to call “bullshit” on elected officials because they’re afraid of looking partisan. Tur touched on this fact in her book, particularly when she talked about reporters craving access and fearing reprisals. (A post for another day: I believe reporters were not afraid to raise the BS flag on Trump as the campaign went on not only because he lied more than the average politician, but because they knew they wouldn’t really lose access. It’s not like Maggie Haberman still isn’t getting calls from “John Barron” despite Trump’s constant attacks on the New York Times.)

The problem with the opinion that we see on cable news is that it’s often just partisan pablum from lickspittles.

Here’s more from Farhi:

News reporters bristle when critics tar them as liberal or conservative. They’re quick to insist that they have nothing to do with the opinion side of their organizations. (“We serve different masters,” Fox News anchorman Shepard Smith told Time magazine this month. “We work for different reporting chains, we have different rules.”)

And yet panels with multiple talking heads arguably make the situation more fraught for them by lumping them with former politicians, think-tank scholars and opinionated party hacks — a blending of news reporting and commentary that’s bound to leave some viewers confused.

What Farhi misses pointing out, probably because it’s too obvious to those of us who work in media or those who work in DC, is that the experts on these panels only discuss the politics. They never discuss the policy.

That’s the big problem.


Imagine if we’d seen policy experts discuss issues like the passage of the ACA, the Benghazi attack, the recent tax bill. When Constitutional issues arise, for example, 80 percent of  the people on  those panels should be Constitutional scholars like Akhil Reed Amar, Lawrence Lessig, Jonathan Turley and Gillian Metzger. Give viewers the facts of the policy, not the spin of the politics.

I know one problem is that those scholars don’t offer familiarity to viewers, who know Paul Begala, Jerome Corsie and the like. Now it’s true some of the regular panelists can speak authoritatively on certain subjects. Van Jones, on CNN, has worked in environmental issues. Ironically, I rarely see Jones on panels when the environment does come up.

ZuckerOne other issue that Farhi just touched on that viewers probably don’t understand is that it is cheaper to have a set of panelists than it is to do actual reporting. When you pay 12 pundits (I should point out that some of these pundits, such as Gloria Borger, David Gergen and Fred Barnes, are very good.) to be knowledgeable about issues from the political side, you don’t have to have five bureaus around the world and dozens of reporters who dig into specific issues.

ABC learned this in 1968 when it tossed William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal on TV every night to debate the political conventions because it didn’t have the money to journalistically compete with NBC and CBS only to win the ratings war.

I’d be interested to find out if there’s a definite correlation between how how news covered the Benghazi attack compared to how it covered the 1983 Lebanon embassy bombing and how that affected the public’s knowledge of the issue. I’m willing to bet Congress’ stagnation on gun control and public safety has a lot more to do with crimes and terrorist attacks being covered from a partisan political viewpoint than from boots on the ground reporting on public policy at the federal and state level.

The problem, as most things with the media, is that the audience craves something it won’t admit to. It wants reporting that backs up its own biases. Audiences might not stick with a cable broadcast that includes policy experts when partisan arguments are more entertaining.

As Jeffrey Zucker said, he sees his panalists as “characters in a drama.”  And Americans, who put Donald Trump into the oval office, clearly want drama and not answers.

Further reading

From the blog

Journalism in America – When you work to get a story only for the source to tell the world on their own.
Bias in the media – The problem isn’t a partisan press.


Political panels will be the death of me

An afternoon with the bricks

In recent years, I’ve gotten a Lego set on my birthday. I usually put it together with Michael. We’re building a little beach town for him and his sisters.

This year, however, I got the Woman of NASA set and put it together this afternoon.

We had a ton of fun. Minnie helped a lot with the Margaret Hamilton piece, but left most of the rest up to me.

One thing that fascinated me was which face Minnie wanted with each head. Like most Lego “characters” the heads offer two faces. For this set, one face had a smile and the other was serious. She picked the smiling faces for Nancy Roman and Mae Jamison. Sally Ride and Hamilton got the serious face. I asked her why she chose the faces. She liked the eyebrows on Sally Ride’s serious face and thought Hamilton looked like a teacher.

It’s pretty cool that NASA and Lego teamed up on this set. (You can also get the Saturn V). I like this outreach to women and girls much better than the Elves and Friends Series. Those series look different from other Lego sets and series. This is a difference from Lego’s previous philosophy that all the sets were for both girls and boys. I think it would have been better had The Disney sets had the regular Lego figures instead of the thin-waisted and angular faced figurines.

A few of the City sets we have included professional woman. There’s a ferry set that includes a business woman in her car. Here’s hoping the City series has some sets that feature only women – and they’re not a beauty parlor but a doctor’s office or a school bus.

An afternoon with the bricks

They’re ready for a fight

Today was the first time since going back to school that I spent an entire day around students. I observed teachers in an ESL setting and a special ed setting.

I saw students play a cherished game, struggle to learn the three R’s, laugh and roll their eyes, erase mistakes and sneak a snack. I saw teachers care and love their kids.

And I thought about those students who have needlessly died because a winnowing segment of our population fetishize weapons of war and mangled the meaning of our founding document and don’t understand the gravity of the situation.

The words of a few far better writers than I echoed through my mind.

The first from a celebrated American treasure:

“That it’s namin’.

For the loser now

Will be later to win

For the times they are a-changin’.

Come senators, congressmen

Please heed the call

Don’t stand in the doorway

Don’t block up the hall

For he that gets hurt

Will be he who has stalled

There’s a battle outside

And it is ragin’.

It’ll soon shake your windows

And rattle your walls

For the times they are a-changin’.

Come mothers and fathers

Throughout the land

And don’t criticize

What you can’t understand

Your sons and your daughters

Are beyond your command

Your old road is

Rapidly agin’.

Please get out of the new one

If you can’t lend your hand

For the times they are a-changin’.”

— Bob Dylan

The second from a British songwriter gone to the stars:

And these children that you spit on

As they try to change their worlds

Are immune to your consultations

They’re quite aware of what they’re going through.

Finally, from Pearl S. Buck:

The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible, and achieve it, generation after generation.

They’re ready for a fight

Who is the best first baseman not in the Hall of Fame

Hall of Fame debates are some of the most fun arguments to have. Who belongs in? Who doesn’t belong? Why do we chose them. Some players are locks. They’re the players whose resumes are impeccable. They’re extremely rare. But some players have some knocks against them. Dizzy Dean and Sandy Koufax didn’t have incredibly long careers. Craig Biggio never had an MVP season. Duke Snider didn’t get to 500 home runs or 3,000 hits.

With all that in mind, let’s look at who are the best players not in the Hall of Fame at each position. We’ll start with first base. Continue reading “Who is the best first baseman not in the Hall of Fame”

Who is the best first baseman not in the Hall of Fame

I’ve been impatiently waiting to watch “Field of Dreams” with Michael and Minnie. It’s probably going to be next season.

However, I decided to show them the Abbot and Costello classic, “Who’s on First?

It’s a farcical comedic bit in which two men get into a baseball argument because the players on the team have strange names, like the eponymous first baseman, Who.

The whole big flow over Minnie’s head like a fly ball.

However, a few minutes in, Michael got it. He started laughing. “The man is Who?”

I was proud of him.

However, he didn’t catch the name of the second baseman. So he kept asking me, “Who is the second baseman?”

Michael: “Who plays second base?”

Pat: “No, he plays first base.”

Michael: “I know that! Who plays second?

Pat: “No he plays first base, do you know who plays second?”

Michael: I don’t know!

Pat: No, he plays third.

Michael: Aaaasrgh! Stop it!

Think about the helpers

“Look for the helpers.”

– Mr. Rogers

Now let’s think about the helpers at Wednesday’s massacre. You saw four different types of helpers. The first were the teachers in the classroom. They’re on the front lines in the nation’s criminally unaddressed mass shooting epidemic. They will lay down their lives for those kids. The second were the police officers, charging into the scene to protect the teachers and children. They will lay down their lives for those kids and teachers. The third is the medical professionals at ambulances on scene. They charge toward the last en of fire, sometimes saving lives. The fourth are the journalists, charging toward the line of fire to get you information as best they can. Yes, they can screw up. But they’re going to the scene, nevertheless. They’re tells no you what’s happening and how to get safe.

Now think about what those helpers need.

Are there enough teachers on those classrooms? Are they trained enough to respond? Do they have the resources to address kids who are a threat? Do they have the mental health resources do deal with the pressure and shock of the situation? Are there enough school resource officers at school?

Are there enough police officers to stop this? Are they paid well enough? Do they have the resources after an event like this that they could address PTSD without losing their badge? Are they trained enough? Are the programs that could address gun violence funded enough?

Are those EMTs given the mental health resources they need to do their jobs? Are they trained for these scenarios?

Do those reporters have mental health resources for after they witness this trauma up close? Do they have enough training for covering an event like this?

How many times did you answer “yes”?

Think about the helpers

Baseball has the best names

My buddy Dave shared a meme on my Facebook wall today that helped you pick out your 18th century baseball name. It had fun nicknames based on your first initial and great baseball last names based on your last name.

It was quite fun. It also made me think of my favorite baseball names. Here they are:

Hall of fame division

Catfish Hunter dominated the American League as an Oakland Athletic and New York Yankee. A’s owner Charley Finley gave him the nickname as a marketing tool.

Dizzy Dean famously got hit in the head by a ball. Headlines the next day said X-rays of his head showed nothing.

Enos Slaughter had a funny enough name it was a punchline in Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” But he had a fierce bat,

Frankie Frisch owns the greatest alliterative name in history. He also has a kickass nickname, “The Fordham Flash.” Frisch hit .316

Heinie Manush was born Henry Emmett Manush in Tuscumbia, Alabama in 1901. He hit a robust .330 in the major leagues.

Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown earned his “Three Finger” nickname when he lost two digits in a childhood accident. He has the third best career ERA.

Mule Suttles starred in the negro leagues before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. Known for prodigious home runs, he’s probably one of the best players to ever pick up a bat.

Pud Galvin won more than 300 games in his career, becoming the first player to pull off the feat. His parents named him Hames Francis.

Yogi Berra gained fame while mangling the language in a career that included winning 10 World Series rings and three MVPs. He was born Lawrence Peter Berra.

No way! Division

Bud Weiser is the pride of Shamokin, Pa. he played in 41 games. Cannonball Titcomb had a brief Major League career. During that time, people called him by his first name, Ledell. His nickname arrived after his last game. Coco Crisp was born Covelli Crisp. He hit 130 home runs and stole 309 bases. Milton Bradley is his given name. He played in one All Star Game.

Modern gems

Oil Can Boyd pitched for three teams in a ten-year career. His birth certificate says Dennis.

Calvin Coolidge Julius Caesar Tuskahoma McLish went by the nickname Bus in a career that lasted from 1942-1964.

Vinegar Bend Mizell pitched for ten seasons in the 50s and 60s, earning three All Star nods. After his career, Dennis Mizell became a state representative. A republican, he’d later be defeated by Zack Galifinaikis’ uncle.


Jack Glasscock held the record for double plays until Ozzie Smith passed him in the 1980s. Johnny Dickshot sounds bad enough, but his nickname was “Ugly.”Pussy Tebeau played in two big league games. President Trump desperately wants his baseball card. Rusty Kuntz sounds like a dirty joke, but he’s a baseball lifer, still coaching for the Royals.

Stubby Clapp sounds like a venereal disease and not a guy who had a cup of coffee with the 2001 Cardinals.

Classics from the 1800s

Alamazoo Jennings played just one big league game. Buttercup Dickerson once led the league in triples. His birth certificate says Lewis. Chicken Wolf had a solid career. He led the league in hits, batting average and total based in 1890. Con Daily needed to steal more bases. He played in 628 games, though. He swiped 92 in that time. Count Sensendorfer played in parts of four 1870s seasons. John was his given name. Lady Baldwin won 42 games in one season, but just 31 the rest of his career. His parents named him Charles. Peak-A-Boo Veach, born William Walter Veach, didn’t do much, hitting just .215 for his career.

Baseball has the best names