Archive for diane sawyer

Hidden Jenner

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, TV channels, TV News with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 29, 2015 by Tom Steward

There was an unexpected role reversal in the world of TV news this past week. News satire – an institution that regularly attacks the bigotry and ignorance of network and cable news coverage – was itself accused of bigotry and ignorance in regards to transphobia, while a primetime network news special about transgender issues (albeit in the form of an interview with Bruce Jenner, hence why TV is interested in the first place) was widely praised for its sensitive handling of the topic. On Monday, The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore – Comedy Central’s bland replacement for The Colbert Report – aired a segment ridiculing Jenner’s identification as a woman and chosen sexual orientation as abnormal, which were made to seem even more grotesque by comparing her to Pinnochio. This was responding to Friday evening’s 20/20 special on ABC, in which the former Olympian and Kardashian was interviewed by Diane Sawyer about being a man trapped in a woman’s body her entire life and her decision to transition to a woman, which she has been doing piecemeal for years.

Methinks Larry doth protest too much!

Methinks Larry doth protest too much!

At the heart of the controversy surrounding The Nightly Show was Wilmore’s apparent confusion about Jenner’s desire to become a woman yet having male genitalia and preferring women sexually. Now, if this seems to be representative of the billions of people around the globe who have spent their lives knowing they are a different gender than the one assigned to them and have, for reasons too numerous to mention, yet to make their (complete) transition, it’s because that’s exactly what it is. It’s hard to see where the confusion, or indeed the comedy, lies in pointing out these tragedies. If anything, this information helps us make sense of Jenner’s personal (mostly surgical) life choices in recent years, and there is, of course, the little known fact that what Bruce Jenner wants to be or do in her life is none of anyone’s fucking business. Even more appalling was Wilmore’s hetero-bullying tone, which seemed to suggest that this particular combination of gender and sexuality was above and beyond an average straight guy’s understanding of the world.

But 20/20 didn’t miss the opportunity to turn the tables on news satire either. Clips from Saturday Night Live and Conan making jokes at the expense of Jenner’s gender instability were featured in the programme. She was fair game when she was altering her appearance for reasons of vanity, but the punchlines were directed at gender. Conan O’Brien’s monologue jibe seemed to be urging Jenner to hurry up and pick a gender, as if that were somehow easy or necessary for us to recognise her as human. In defence of news satire – which I believe to be essential not only as a critical commentary on the news but also a superior alternative to it – these are atypical moments that in no way represent the genre’s treatment of such issues. It’s hard to imagine The Nightly Show’s tone of reporting on its forerunner The Daily Show which draws Arsenio-style primal screams at the mere mention of Elizabeth Warren. The Conan monologue gag seems unusually cruel, especially for a late-night talk show with a notably liberal following.

Hindsight is 20/20!

Hindsight is 20/20!

It is, however, possible to imagine Wilmore’s segment on The Colbert Report, with the thinly veiled prejudice cloaked in the self-negating irony of Colbert’s fake conservative newsman persona. But there’s no evidence here that we’re supposed to think of what Wilmore is saying as anything other than genuine (and if you ever suspected that Wilmore is capable of comedy that is less than obvious, remind yourself he is the creator of Black-ish!). If the problematic representation of transgender issues in news satire has been reported correctly, we should also note that the success of TV news coverage in dealing with the same issues has been greatly exaggerated. Perhaps the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the Bruce Jenner 20/20 special was motivated by relief that it wasn’t the most hideously offensive piece of journalism ever aired. But interviewer Diane Sawyer adopted the persona of a sceptical and disgusted parent, asking questions only the most hateful (and thus least important) person would. It’s insulting enough, even without the patronising implication that this is what the public would ask. We also have to take into account TV news’ much worse track record when it comes to reporting on the transgender community: Piers Morgan’s media war with Janet Mock, Katie Couric’s inappropriate intimacy interviewing Laverne Cox. Nobody’s getting it right but news satire is wrong less often than the news.

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That Was The Week That Was Ass

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Reviews, TV channels, TV Culture, TV News with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2013 by Tom Steward

Apologies for the extended break from posting and thanks for continuing to read the site in my absence. I took the last couple of weeks off while G and I got married. However, there’s been no shortage of stories about TV in America since we went away so don’t expect a quiet first day of term. We resume with a post on the TV coverage of the maelstrom of tragic events that devastated the USA over the past seven days:

It’s been a shitty week in America. Last Monday bombs went off at the Boston marathon killing 3 people and injuring over 150 more. On Wednesday, the first round of gun control reform legislation tanked in the Senate. On Wednesday night, an explosion at a fertiliser plant in Texas killed 14, injured around 200 and destroyed 50 homes. By Friday, Boston was in a state of lockdown as armoured tank police vehicles searched the city streets for the outstanding bomber, Dzokhar Tsarnev, who had escaped custody following a battle the previous night with police that killed brother and collaborator Tamerlan.

Three dead as bombs explode at the Boston marathon last Monday.

How did TV cover the seven-day shitstorm? Well, while a number of entertainment shows such as Live with Kelly and Michael and Conan expressed compunctions about peddling amusement in the wake of the Boston bombings, news programmes seemed to have no obvious qualms about this. News reporters constantly reminded viewers how exciting the events unfolding in Boston were, as if the city had been collectively entered in a catch-the-terrorist role play game. ABC news anchor Diane Sawyer at one point thanked a reporter for her ‘thrilling’ coverage of the aftermath like she was Ben Affleck at an Argo press conference.

ABC World News: ‘Entertainment with a Hint of Fact’

On Tuesday, CNN pulled a CNN and falsely reported that an arrest had been made in connection with the bombings despite official denials. The cable news network had been under fire in recent weeks for its misreporting of the Steubenville rape case and now seems to have moved on from doubting moral and legal verdicts to blindly ignoring empirical fact. Later in the week, while covering the hunt for Dzokhar Tsarnev, CNN reporters seemed to suggest that the lockdown was voluntary, ignoring the tanks patrolling Boston neighbourhoods which gently hinted to residents that it was probably wasn’t a park day.

CNN pull a CNN!

To give them their due, CNN were once again the lone voice of reason when it came to the reporting of gun control following Wednesday’s senate debacle. I’m talking of course about Piers Morgan, who has repeatedly slammed President Obama’s inability to mobilise the gun control lobby and exposed the NRA’s hold over senate voting, and was entirely vindicated this week. To offer some cultural perspective, Piers Morgan is known in Britain for being a dick. Yet in the bizarro world of American TV news, his smug, unremitting self-righteousness somehow twists its way into being the perfect conduit of outrage.

Piers Morgan: smug, self-righteous and…right in this case.

Just when it seemed as if it could get no worse for the USA, it did, and the TV coverage followed the downhill gradient. After the Texas fertiliser plant exploded, news channels once again oohed and aahed over the spectacle and somehow managed to disproportionally report an already heinous disaster as an apocalyptic catastrophe. Fox’s ‘Breaking News’ coverage sat back and admired the epic visuals of nuclear mushroom cloud-like smoke and giant soaring fireballs in viewers’ photos and videos, offering aesthetic judgement and firework-display awe rather than the information necessary to understand the localised explosion that these images related to.

But nothing could take screen time away from Boston last week. On Thursday, the networks’ morning line-up was pulled for coverage of a memorial ceremony for the victims of the marathon bombings in which Obama gave a eulogy. It was the kind of heartrending, preacher-style oratory that made the president look powerful again instead of the lame duck frontman (think Bez with missile privileges) this week’s vote confirmed he was. I’m sure Obama’s speechwriters were grateful events took place in such a culturally and historically prominent city and not some backwater small-town where the annual highlight is a vegetable festival.

TV newspeople set up camp on the streets of Boston and no straight-to-air programme could go without some sort of mention of Monday’s bombings. Given that the bombings were more exceptional and containable and less devastating in terms of lives and infrastructure destroyed than the explosion in Texas, why did it get so much more air time? Well, American TV is a largely local animal and the marathon was attended by runners from all over America, making it relevant to a larger number of regional news programmes. Plus, more people on TV seem to come from Boston than West, Texas.

Explosion at Texas fertiliser plant last Wednesday.

But the main difference is in the news story that results. Texas was an instantaneous disaster that left nothing for follow-up coverage. It exposed systematic failures at a federal and local level. Boston was the explosion that kept on exploding, first the hunt for the bombers, then the capture, then the escape, then the re-capture. And law-and-order eventually triumphed. It couldn’t have played better if it were an episode of Dragnet and intrigue was maintained across the week like a soap opera. Interest in West, Texas dwindled faster than in Smash weand ended up looking like a programme cancelled mid-season.

 

 

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