Not Exactly the Mercury Theatre on the Air


At least the damage was minimal, Frank Rich suggests in this morning’s New York Times. It’s not as if the “balloon boy” fraud led the country into invading a sovereign country in search of nonexistent WMDs, or into investing in dot-coms with no business plans, or into buying oversized homes with no-income no-asset loans.

But “balloon boy” is this generation’s “War of the Worlds” hoax, Rich believes, “the inevitable product of this reigning culture, where ‘news,’ ‘reality’ television and reality itself are hopelessly scrambled” — a culture in which media snake oil salesmen are as likely to be suckered as their audiences, if not more so.

Rich observes,

As “balloon boy” played out, the White House opened fire on one purveyor of fictional news, Fox News, where “tea party” protests are inflated into a national rebellion rivaling the Civil War and where Glenn Beck routinely claims Obama is perpetrating a conspiracy to bring fascism to America. But the White House’s argument is diluted by the different, if less malevolently partisan, fictions that turn up on Fox’s competitors. On CNN, for instance, Lou Dobbs provided a platform for the nuts questioning Obama’s citizenship. When an ABC News correspondent insisted that Fox was “one of our sister organizations” in an exchange with the president’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, last week, he wasn’t joking.

Not that anyone around him would have gotten it if he were.


  1. Diogenes says:

    Of interest to me was the tizzle between Arianna Huffington and Ed Shultz over the news value of the balloon boy tv coverage. Huffington, being interviewed by Shultz about the situation in Afghanistan, queried the MSNBC host about the endless and continuing balloon boy coverage even after the boy was found alive and well having hidden in a box in the attic.

    Shultz, in his typically self-righteous and bullyish style justified the wall-to-wall coverage because ‘all Americans were watching, demanding to know what was happening.

    Later, on his radio show, Shultz continued to justify the cable obsession with balloon boy stories even going so far as criticising Huffington for her ‘lack of wisdom,” and inability to recognize a genuine news event.

    A day or two later, after Shultz was widely criticized for being such a rube and corporate media stooge, he claimed that it was network executives who told him to stick with the reruns of balloon footage through his show, and he only continued with the saga because his bosses told him to and as a newcomer to MSNBC he had to do what he was told.

    So far as I know, he never apologized to Huffington for bad-mouthing her.
    He did say he wanted no more emails or calls about the incident from his viewers and listeners.

  2. Tom Sullivan says:

    Ed hasn’t quite figured out that when he attacks callers who criticize him – especially fans who offer constructive criticism – he looks that much worse for it. He comes off as thin-skinned and defensive.

    I happened to tune in his TV show that night, saw “balloon boy” and changed channels. When he blew up at a caller over it on Friday, I turned off the radio and he lost a listener.

    Newsweek’s Anna Quindlen was just observing how Obama reacted to Rep. Joe Wilson with a steely coolness. Big contrast.

  3. Arratik says:

    the only thing that separates ed schulz from bill o’reilly in my mind is ideology. they’re both goons, as far as i’m concerned.

  4. barry says:

    Ed Schulz (former Republican) was deliberately groomed to imitate Rush Limbaugh in tone, persona, and arguing style. His ‘job’ is to woo those Dittoheads who respond to obnoxiousness, & turn them into Edheads (his word, not mine) for the DNC. IMO, he’s as dangerous to the left as Rush is to genuine conservatives.

  5. Asheville Observer says:

    Barry— RIGHT ON! You nailed it.

  6. barry says:

    Thanks, I guess. I’ll just add that, if you remember, when Air America first started, it seems like there were a whole lot of strong leftist show hosts. Most of them are now gone or relegated to off-hour broadcast, especially here in Asheville. When conservative-owned companies like Clear Channel allowed some of their stations to go ‘progressive’, like 880 AM, they steered away from the serious leftist shows, and signed up moderates like Schulz, Stephanie Miller, Ron Reagan, Bill Press, etc. Most of them aren’t Air America, and were only recently baptized as ‘progressives’. This undercut the viability of Air America, by seizing on the progressive brand, and stealing away market share, all while putting people on the air that aren’t genuine progressives. I honestly believe this was a conscious choice by Clear Channel, and perhaps other networks, to blunt the tide that was turning when Air America came on the scene, and to capitalize financially at the same time.

    I can’t stand to listen to Ed Schulz. He’s a shill for the conservative wing of the DNC, while posing as a populist. He twists the issues around so there’s no real dialog, the same way Rush does.
    To be fair, he does occasionally give a lot of time to folks like Dennis Kucinich, and he pushes hard on labor issues, although typically from the union leadership perspective, which isn’t always supportive of grassroots labor organizers.

  7. Jim says:

    I think that was one of the best blog posts of the last few years. There’s a strong impulse in us to deny what is going on around us.

    Understandable, but sometimes it takes so much energy to be in denial that we might as well acknowledge unpleasant truths- about climate, overconsumption, the oceans, the weakness of a bubble economy.

  8. barry says:

    On a similar note, the uneasy relationship between the GOP and their radical fringe is looking like it might blow up. Huzzah, I say!


  9. Don Talley says:

    Barry hit the nail on the head in stating that Ed Shultz has developed the on-air persona of Rush Limbaugh. I used to respect Ed…and really enjoyed his appearance here in Asheville. His radio show was also informative and intellectually honest. But, MSNBC has turned Ed Shultz into a buffoon. Both his TV Show and his Radio show sound very much like Rush Limbaugh in regards to self-righteousness and outright rudeness.
    I want the “old Ed” back.

    I also hope that Rachel Maddow will someday escape from MSNBC and return to her old self.

  10. Asheville Observer says:

    I started out as a huge Rachel Maddow fan but have quickly lost respect for her in her role as MSNBC automaton. What sealed it for me was the night-after-night adolescent “tea bagger” double-entendres and sexual innuendos. First of all, if people feel strongly enough to get out there in the street and protest something you should at least be respectful even if you know/think they are misguided. Disrespect and ridicule will get us nowhere and will just drive a lot of people further into the arms of Glen Beck at al. And secondly, a lesbian giggling her way through silly jokes about a male sexual act (“tea bagging”) struck me as scripted and ridiculous. I wonder how much she got for her soul.