Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Where's the beef at New England Cable News

Where's the beef at NECN?
by Kevin John Sowyrda

If you have absolutely no conceivable social life, like myself, you were watching NECN Tuesday evening and the oh-so-special Jim Braude segment on gubernatorial candidate Christy Mihos, the convenience store magnate and Turnpike Authority whistle blower whose recent defection from the Republican party has tossed-like-a-salad the race for Massachusetts governor. Most of his Christy's stores have been sold to 7-11, leaving little doubt that Mihos has ample cash on hand for precious media buys in a race now dominated by millionaires.

Mihos is the unlikely independent candidate for the corner office and recent polling data suggests he's surprisingly viable and a real threat to both partys, thank Heaven - should you subscribe to my theory that we require a serious vacation from both the Democrats and Republicans reigning over us. NECN, that's New England Cable News by the way, is a boutique television outfit and has a pretty cute operation in Newton where they take the scraps off the tables of WHDH, WBZ, WCVB, FOX 25 and Channel 56 (is it still Channel 56, as in Dale Doreman and the Banana Splits?) and try to get some attention with the leftovers. Some call them the MSNBC of Boston, insinuating their ratings are insignificant in the grand scheam of things; and if they're making money for their investors (Comcast mostly) it's a miracle surpassing Moses parting the waves. Personally, I say the more news outlets, the better, red ink or not; and having imitated a smart person on that station in days gone by I find that some of the players there actually have a brain, such as R.D. Sahl and maybe a few others.

But the story here is that there was no news whatsoever on Tuesday from a station that's supposed to give us some. The questions from Boston Globe Metro Page editor Carolyn Ryan, formerly of the Boston Herald and before that the Patriot Ledger, and Braude, whose sort of NECN's lefty version of Bill O'Reilly, were coffee chit chat stuff better left to Oprah - should she lose her faculties and start covering our governor's race.

Let's just say that the interview had all the substance of a candidates night for library board of trustees, and that's giving much more credit than is due.

What do you think about Gay marriage, what are your plans for Massachusetts schools, where do you stand on abortion, immigration, the recent health care legislation, or even, the gosh darn Boston Red Sox - would have been proper questions giving me a reason not to roll my eyes and pray for nine o'clock when I could finally switch to Fox and watch Jack Whats-his-name and that never-dies cell phone of his. It was quite literally thirty minutes of water torture level boredom, minus commercials (they were the best part), regarding Mihos' days as a fine, young lad in Brockton, the courtship of his beautiful wife; and that burning question sizzling in all our collective brain cells - exactly why did Christy run for student body president at Stonehill College back in the sixties. The only thing Carolyn and Jim forgot to ask Christy was about his favorite color; and his personal preferance - boxers or briefs?

Finally I understand what the late, great Talkmaster Jerry Williams meant when he would occasionally lament, "I gotta get out of this business!"

I've heard of some personal warm ups to loosen up the TV guest and give us some personal perspective; but not a scintilla, not a micron of substance was put on the table at NECN. Like the other candidates Braude has interviewed previously, this half hour of kindergarten theatre had all the beef of a vegetarians' convention.

If you're a concerned citizen you should be less than thrilled with this new policy of wasting a half hour of public air waves, air time. These are serious times with little time for kiddie recess. Softie, gushy, juvenile tea parties held under the klieg lights are better left to Entertainment Tonight or the Howie Carr Show. Last time I checked, the name of this station was New England Cable News, not New England Cable Bologne.

Even as a Christy admirer I would have cherished just a peak at his perspective on one of the real hot button issues in Mass., Gay Marriage. But Globie Carolyn Ryan, who I've noted rarely speaks on the topic, was about as ready to submit that querie as she was ready to jump into the polluted Charles River. Rather ironic, I'd say, for an executive representing a paper which has editorially supported Gay marriage and the historic ruling handed down by Justice Margaret Marshall's court on November 18, 2003.

On the other hand, perhaps there's little surprise in how little reporting goes on in this town on Gay issues or anything else of substance. Discussing journalism practices by Globe executives is like talking about ethics at the White House. Globe editor Ryan has been a part of the degeneration of the once influential broadsheet. Under her command as Metro editor the paper printed pictures on May 12, 2004 knowing them to be submitted by City Councilor Chuck Turner, a highly controversial member of the Boston City Council. The photos were graphic and showed US Servicemen in Iraq to be raping women. It was soon discovered that the photos were complete fakes, taken from a cheap, porn web page. The Globe had to apologize to readers, the blatant error made national headlines, and Ryan's own subordinate, highly respected writer Donovan Slack, was not about to back up the breach of ethics. She said to media outlets at the time, "I'm surprised the editor even decided we should write about it." Amazingly, Ryan never got the sack for incompetence and, thankfully, Slack didn't either, for telling the truth and being a reporter's reporter.

If I'm Christy, I left that cozy, NECN studio wondering who to send the check to. Freebies don't get better than that. If I'm a serious citizen I was channel surfing long before Carolyn got to the biggest questions she had worked os hard on for the night, which were, "what was it like growing up," and "tell us about Christy as a teenager," and "did you think about going further away to college," and, Carolyn's real Chris Matthew's like Hardball hit, "do you enjoy music." I kid you not, folks.

Now there's a journalist of Edward R. Morrow like proportions.

No comments: