The MSM’s Need For “PIZZAZZ” Is What’s Screwing Up American Journalism

I bet NBC News’ Jonathan Allen wishes he could have that one back — the piece he posted on NBC News’ site that panned Day One of the Impeachment hearings because they lacked “pizzazz”.

The firestorm’s been pretty relentless, boring in hard on that one word: “pizzazz”. To Allen’s credit, he encapsulated the American news media’s problem. They think this story’s about… hmmmm — maybe that’s the problem. For all the substance Allen acknowledges, he worries Americans won’t bother with the story of how pirates are actively destroying their Republic on behalf of Russia because there weren’t enough bells and whistles.

Either Jonathan Allen has nailed America or he’s missed us entirely.

I say he’s missed us entirely — in a way exactly how most of America’s news media has. They still give way more credence to Trump’s base — and why it’s so angry at the rest of us (16% minority of the electorate that they are) than the rest of us (84% of the majority that WE are).

Most Americans are actually pretty sensible. By “most Americans” I no longer mean Republicans. Republicans can’t “be” sensible because sensible involves following the Rule Of Law. And, as Republicans know, in the current situation, actually following The Rule Of Law would put pretty much every Republican behind bars for the rest of their natural lives. Their offense is that offensive — and real.

Our news media continues to treat Donald Trump’s words and actions as if they were the words and actions of a real and legitimate POTUS. They’re not. Donald Trump (as it’s becoming clearer and clearer) is not now and never was a legitimate POTUS. Take Russia out of the equation entirely and Trump wouldn’t have survived the primaries.

Russia made Trump president. They need to keep Trump president — and the Republican Party, being entirely complicit in outright TREASON, needs to keep him president too.

If our news media had brought an ounce of perspective to this story — if they’d simply done the due diligence Fusion GPS did before starting their oppo research on Trump (on behalf of the Conservative web site the Washington Free Beacon), we would have ended the Trumpian coup d’etat before it even started.

FFS – Wasn’t “Mexicans are rapists” pizzazz enough? Wasn’t “pussy grabbing”? Wasn’t putting children in cages and betraying the Kurds and obstructing justice every day in every way? I guess when you see the world through “Both Sides Do It” colored lenses, pizzazz isn’t all it seems. One side’s pizzazz is another sides bullshit.

Actually, thinking this story needs more “pizzazz” is bullshit. Like treason isn’t pizzazzy enough for a storyteller…

Dear MSM – Connecting Dots Isn’t Rocket Science – Except Apparently To YOU…

“Gosh. I wonder what it could be,” said the American Journalist…

Storytelling, at its core is simple dot-connecting. We start at the beginning and connect the dots all the way to the end – with lots of zigging and zagging in between.  The image that all those connected dots ultimately form – that’s our story. 

As the dots connect, they form the larger context for each of the dots.  They aren’t just dots floating in space.  They’re part of a much larger picture.  Dot Number 2 and Dot Number 50 are related if distantly.  They’re both part of the same context.

Journalists are storytellers first and foremost.  The difference (in theory) between them and regular joe’s who write blogs is “rigor”.  Journalists need to back up their stories with multiple sources.  Or one really, really good one.  The point of all that rigor is to make sure the dots connect correctly.

But too many American journalists bore so deeply into the one point they focused on that they forget that a larger context even exists.  Or they started connecting dots already infected by “Both Sides Do It”.  When that happens, perspective is impossible.  Then you get mavens of journalistic malpractice like NBC’s Chuck Todd.  Chuck is good at connecting dots.  Problem is, he connects dots that shouldn’t be connected because, though they’ll make a picture, it’s not a real picture. 

For example – Bernie Madoff is a thief.  He stole billions (from rich people).  Jean Valjean, the hero of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables is also a thief.  He steals bread to feed people who are hungry.  In Chuck Todd’s world, that means “both sides do it” because Bernie Madoff and Jean Valjean are both thieves.  Scale (perspective) never enters into it.  Chuck Todd regularly compares things of wildly different scale and insists they’re the exact same thing.

So – putting the Chuck Todd’s of the journalistic world aside, the rest of American Journalism needs to remind itself that a picture made up of connected dots remains a picture regardless of whether you stop looking at it.  When you turn from one part of the larger story to another – those dots don’t suddenly disconnect.  They STAY connected.  The story THEY tell remains valid and true.

Just because you go from a story about Donald Trump and his curious relationship with Vladimir Putin (and Putin’s “possible” impact on election 2016) to a story about Donald Trump trying to extort the Ukraine as part of his 2020 campaign strategy doesn’t mean the “Putin Cheats For 2016 Donald” dots aren’t related to the “Extort The Ukraine As Part Of The 2020” dots.  You have to bring all the connected dots with you from story to story – especially because you want to see if the dots from one story connect to any others.

The answer here is – YES!  All dots connect.  And all dots lead to Donald Trump being a Russian intelligence asset working against America’s interests and for his own interests and Russia’s. 

Today, the three Republicans trying to primary Trump all accused Trump of committing Treason.  They see clearly now how the dots all connect.

Some Perspective On Perspective

As much as I might want to see the world through another person’s eyes, it’s a physical impossibility. The best I can ever really hope for is to imagine what the world literally looks like as they see it. It’s a fact — we all experience “experience” differently.

Imagine a cube sitting alone on a vast, featureless plain. From the cube’s point of view, all one can see — turning 360 degrees — is plain. From the plain’s perspective however, there’s endless plain — and a cube. Differing perspectives see differing things. But one of the two perspectives saw everything (or more of everything) while the other failed to see a key detail.

As a Nation, we stand at a moment of existential crisis because we have lost perspective — and our perspective was dubious to begin with.

How is it that a criminal and traitor occupies the White House and we are seemingly powerless to remove him from office? How is that all this information about Donald Trump’s criminality — including 488 pages of Mueller Report — and we STILL can’t even officially accuse the man of what he’s demonstrably done?

It’s like the Truth is that cube sitting in the middle of vast, featureless plain — and we, living inside the Truth, can’t see it because we’re so “close to it”. If we could just get some perspective, we’d get it. Our news media has a related problem. They want to get at the truth — but don’t seem to realize that the deep dives they take — while detailed — aren’t adding significantly to our overall knowledge because they’re too focused on detail. Or on the wrong details…

A story (like Trump’s with Russia, for instance) is a mosaic. Each tile is significant. The problem is, our Main Stream News Media — while awfully good at boring into any particular tile — have a tendency (while boring in on the particular tile that’s drawn their interest) to forget all the other tiles in the mosaic.

Some of them even forget that the thing they’re looking at is part of a mosaic. They convince themselves that the piece they’re looking at IS the whole picture while the Whole Picture actually looks a lot like this

On a related note — and a similar metaphor — there are the numbers crunchers like NBC’s Steve Kornacki. Kornacki can tell you a lot of fascinating detail about the numbers themselves — how a district voted historically, how a particular candidate has fared with a particular group of voters. But Kornacki’s assumption that the past is prologue doesn’t apply to now. We’ve never had an actual traitor as POTUS — and we’ve never had one of our two political parties committed to keeping that traitor in power.

The details on the ground matter more than the fact that there’s “ground”. Put another way, Number crunchers like Steve Kornacki can wax rhapsodic about a grain of sand (how small it is — or big compared to other grains of sand, what kind of rock it came from, how old it is, what its future probably is) …

Yeah — Kornacki can show you the beauty in a grain of sand. But beyond that things get sketchy…

Almost as important as knowing about the grain of sand is knowing where the grain of sand lives. And that’s something Kornacki can only guess at — because he’s lost perspective (and maybe never had it to begin with). For all Kornacki knows, the grain of sand he’s fixated on comes from here…

But, for all Steve knows, it could just as easily come from the surface of Mars…

It’s lack of perspective that first fed the ludicrous idea that “both sides do it”. “Both sides do it” always functions without any sense of scale — or perspective. To the “both sides do it” crowd, Bernie Madoff and Jean Valjean (from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables) are both thieves — never mind that one ripped off people to the tune of billions while the other stole bread to feed the hungry. The respective-less Both Sides Do It club says thievery is thievery is thievery (if poor people or people of color do it).

Storytellers need to be able to pull the camera back as far as it will go — and then further still. A storyteller with no perspective is a person to whom that story is being told.

They’re like a cube sitting on a wide open, featureless plain…

There’s A Difference Between Storytellers & “Storytellees”; That Difference Is Why American News Media SUCKS…

First things first. Journalists are storytellers. News is a story about what’s happening (theoretically out here in reality) right here, right now. As news anchors all over the world put it as they start yakking — “Here’s what’s happening now“.

Then they proceed to tell you the story.

Except way too many journalists are piss-poor at telling stories. Well… let me be fair — I don’t know how good or bad they are at telling stories in general; what I know is they’re piss poor at telling the “Donald Trump Is A Traitor” story. They don’t know how to approach it, let alone “tell” it.

It seems odd, doesn’t it, that professional storytellers would be so incapacitated by the greatest story they’ll ever get to tell? It starts with their forgetting that THEY’RE storytellers to begin with — albeit storytellers reliant on their sources. But how storytellers approach a source is different than how a storytellee approaches a source. Storytellees don’t have sources.

Let me go a little deeper. When I set out to write a story, I need as much control over as much of the story I can get — so I can FRAME IT the way I want to. I want to frame the story one way vs another because facts are not generic. In and of themselves, facts are independent things. String a bunch of facts together, connect the dots in other words, and those facts paint a picture. Or they present a mosaic-like image, if you prefer.

A storyteller — in composing that mosaic — needs to make choices. Some facts belong and others either don’t belong (they’re not relevant to THIS mosaic) or they aren’t facts. They’re bullshit or too unsubstantiated to have value — so, therefore, don’t make the cut. A storyteller needs to have this sorting process at work constantly in their minds — especially as they’re doing their research. They need to be hyper-critical.

Storytellees, by comparison, are there to soak it all in. Unless a fact or detail strays too far outside their own experiences of life and people, they’re happy to accept it as part of the storytelling. They’re there to listen (critically, one hopes), not story-tell.

Something bizarre happens however when Storytellers fail to act like storytellers and act like storytellees instead. Because they’ve turned their critical faculties off (aside from that last fail-safe one when a story’s details fail to pass any smell test whatsoever), they miss essential details any storyteller relies on. They lose perspective — and therefore any ability to successfully tell that story. You cannot accurately describe what you cannot actually see (one way or another).

The perfect example of the storyteller turned storytellee is NBC’s reporter Kelly O’Donnell. I’m sure Kelly’s a lovely person. That’s not the question. She’s far too credulous — like a storytellee. Watch virtually any Kelly O’Donnell stand-up and, aside from her professional demeanor, all she’s ever doing is repeating back what “her sources” told her.

I bet Kelly’s sources go to her as often as Kelly goes to them. That would mean (if I’m right) that Kelly’s sources are using her as much as Kelly’s “using them”. What Kelly doesn’t get though about this set-up: Kelly’s purpose is “information transmission”, her source’s purpose is “message control”. Without that context, Kelly’s information SOUNDS neutral (Kelly’s intent) while not actually being neutral at all — it’s one-sided. But Kelly has failed to report that fact.

WHY?

In Kelly’s defense (and — bending over backwards to be fair here — it applies to a whole bunch of other reporters across multiple news networks) Kelly has lost sight of how her sources are using her; she’s been too busy patting herself on the back for having sources to begin with. To get those sources, Kelly agreed to put whatever critical faculties she has on hold. She’s agreed to not question their veracity or motives. She’s agreed to not question their information — regardless of how true, false or politically motivated it is.

Kelly has followed the Judith Miller Paradigm to a “T”.

Quick digression — Judith Miller:

Judith Miller worked in The New York Times‘ Washington bureau before joining Fox News in 2008. While at the Times, she gained notoriety for her coverage of Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) program both before and after the 2003 invasion, which was later discovered to have been based on inaccurate information from the intelligence community. The New York Times determined that several stories she wrote about Iraq were inaccurate, and she was forced to resign from the paper in 2005.

Miller herself refused to accept any responsibility. Her defense: It wasn’t her responsibility to “critique” the information she was passing between her “inside sources” and the American public, it was her responsibility to just “pass it along” all steno pool like. Miller’s “lackadaisical” approach to journalistic integrity killed her reputation deader than dead. She’s now a fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute For Public Policy — carrying water for them full time. At least Judith finally is plying her trade on the up-and-up.

Miller’s willingness to trade access to Dick Cheney for her integrity had an even consequence. Miller actively took part in Dick Cheney & Scooter Libby’s deliberate outing of Valerie Plame as CIA. Miller spent 85 days in jail for refusing to reveal that her source in the Plame Affair was Scooter Libby.  The fact that Libby was doing something stunningly illegal — its political motivation crayoned all over its giant sleeve — was, apparently, irrelevant to Miller.

It wasn’t her “responsibility”, I guess, to tell THE TRUTH. It was her “responsibility” to tell Dick Cheney & Scooter Libby’s “truth” regardless of how untruthful it was.

The process of Judith Miller-ing news gathering — of sacrificing integrity for access is the crux of the problem. It’s what causes storytellers to become storytellees instead. The moment they go critical-faculty-free for access, they put their storytelling into a near-permanent cocoon-like stasis.

If not for the fact that journalism is the only job mentioned in the Constitution — it’s obligated to be the final check on political power — none of this would matter. But journalism IS mentioned in the Constitution and it IS purposed with this very high mission. If you don’t want to do the mission, what the hell are you doing in journalism? If you don’t want to be an actual storyteller, please — let us know now. Our future depends on it.

American News Media’s Biggest Fail: They SUCK As Storytellers…

There’s an art to telling a story. It isn’t just knowing how to line up the beginning, middle and end in the right way so the story makes sense…

Anyone who’s ever listened to someone massacre a joke knows what I mean. A joke, after all, is just a story — sketched out in a handful of words. But it works by the same storytelling principle. A set up and a punchline are the beginning, middle & end of a story.

To correctly and successfully tell a joke or a story, you have to know all the pieces of the story — or suspect enough about where they’re going to at least tap dance through the ending. I just finished a book (looking for a publisher now — “How To Live Bullshit Free (and other Showbiz Tales)” — which basically tells my own story; I knew going in what the story was — but, even so, the ending took me by surprise — and I was the guy writing it. Stories can take on a life of their own.

But, in order to go where the story takes you, you have to be fully invested in it. More than that, you have to be the story’s teller — and not the person to whom the story is being told. There’s a huge difference. A huge philosophical difference.

In order to tell you a story, I have to gain your confidence — that is, I have to convince you to suspend your belief if only for a moment. If I tell you that a dog walks into a bar — and you stop me: “Wait — dogs can’t walk into bars!” — then I’ve failed at the start. You haven’t suspended your belief enough to allow the fantastical element at the heart of my story to take wing. But, if instead, you said: “Cool — so, a dog walks into a bar — tell me more!” then I’ve succeeded — at the start. You will let me take you wherever I want — so long as the story stays interesting and doesn’t violate its own rules.

To put a finer point on that — you become the passive listener while I become the active storyteller.

That’s how storytelling works. OUR problem is our Main Stream News Media doesn’t get that. Every time Donald Trump opens his mouth and lies — and the News Media repeats the lie as if it could be true — they stop being storytellers and start being the guy the story was told to instead — who’s simply repeating what he heard. That is not storytelling.

Yes, yes — part of storytelling is listening to others — so you can tell their stories — but storytellers are tasked with finding deeper Truths inside other peoples’ stories — and then telling them. That’s where storytelling ‘art’ kicks in.

It’s not a hard problem to fix. Actually, it’s shockingly easy. All any journalist ever has to do is remind themselves on which side of the storytelling equation they’re supposed to sit. And if they can’t remember themselves, it’s incumbent on US to remind them — as loudly and persistently as we must.

After all — journalists aren’t merely storytellers — they’re the only job mentioned by name in the Constitution. THEIR stories are the last check on power. If they “tell them wrong”, we’re screwed.

What NBC’s Savannah Guthrie did – interviewing young Nick Sandmann — was the exact opposite of storytelling. She became the person to whom Nick Sandmann told his story — as in SHE suspended all belief in order to accept what he said as truth. That she walked away — having allowed a clearly faulty version of the story to stand shouts at us: Nick Sandmann became the styoryteller & an American news outlet became the passive listener to that story.

Fail.

Fail, fail, fail, FAIL.

From one storyteller to another, NBC News – You SUCK at your job. Find other work more suitable to your skills such as they are.

Perhaps Walmart is looking for greeters. Give em a call. Please.