May 02, 2004

The Scourge of Richard Cohen, Vol. CIV

(Ed. -- The following is a bit of mean spiritedness that will be an on-going feature of this blog. Normally the author will endeavor to be reasonably fair, but this is an exception.)

I donít normally do this, but Iím going to reach back a bit into my Scourging sojourn and pick a previous column that is of interest to me. The particular column I've selected gives me the opportunity to vent not only at Richard Cohen, but also at the institution that does more to inspire road rage in me than any of the drivers I encounter each day who run the gamut from self-absorbed incompetence to dangerous, criminally negligent aggression, sort of like the journalism practiced by NPR now that Iíve mentioned it.

Iím sure the headline writer at the Washington Post was severely chastised for setting the tone for this Scourge by titling Richard Cohenís paean to Bob Edwards, Empty Talk at NPR.

The other morning, as is my wont, Ö

Oh great. Does Mr. Cohen really get paid to tell us about Dickís wont.

Ö I woke to the music of the blessed Mozart (on disc) and then switched quickly to National Public Radio's "Morning Edition."

I never listen to NPR at home, because life is too short and so many better options are available. Alas, when Iím in my car, the options available to me are somewhat more limited and as it happens NPR is about the only thing worth listening to over broadcast radio in St. Louis. Mind you, itís not that I particularly enjoy the reporting of everything through the prism of a transnational progressive worldview leavened with DNC talking points. I do have a CD player in my car but I need to hear the weather and traffic reports each day since I have to cross the Missouri river to get to work and every other station in St. Louis chooses to cater to morons. Iím not implying that the fine citizens of the area are morons Ė far from it Ė just that Big Media (or what passes for such here) refuses to elevate their conversation and reporting above a 6th grade level. Anyway, it helps keep me sharp by deconstructing the newage (rhymes with sewage) as it seeps from my speakers.

This has been my habit since 1979, when the show was created and Bob Edwards took to the air and said, "This is 'Morning Edition' from NPR News." Now the news from NPR is that Edwards will soon be gone.

Bye Bob.

Maybe I'll just stick with Mozart.

Perhaps the most sensible thing Richard Cohen has ever written.

It's not, mind you, that I cannot abide change or that I think "Morning Edition" could not be improved.

No, of course not.

Some mornings, in fact, I gag at the very NPRness of its report, yet another in-depth piece proving once again that life is unfair and that many poor people live in poverty.

Like Ö, well Ö, duh. But Dick forget to mention that there always you know who to blame for it.

But day in and day out it is the best thing in broadcast journalism and so superior to television news that you might as well be comparing Shakespearean theater with burlesque.

Perhaps this says more about the current state of broadcast journalism than NPR. I agree that in a relative sense, it is probably the best around, but the bar is awfully low.

NPR brings you the news.

Unfair and unbalanced.

Now, though, there are intimations that all that will change.

We can only hope.

The firing of the mellifluous Edwards, my morning companion through all these years, portends bad things.

Why? Is it not possible that there might be someone else just as good, if not better, than Bob Edwards? This sounds like just so much Boomer nostalgia to me.

The telling sign was not just that he was axed as the program's host but that no one can tell you why.

Perhaps because they are looking forward and do not wish to say or do anything to diminish the contribution that Bob Edwards has made in making NPR what it is today. Or maybe Dickís pissed because he didnít get a personal phone call explaining it. Who knows? Who cares?

At NPR, clearly the most erudite of the networks, Ö

And nuanced, letís not forget nuanced. And full of gravitas, or something.

Ö various officials descended into the juvenile babble of TV executives, empty words spilling out of their mouths, as if they were determined to fill airtime yet say nothing.

Big Media, like a fish, rots from the head.

NPR Executive Vice President Ken Stern told The Post that the firing of Edwards was part of a "natural evolution" that had "to do with the changing needs of our listeners."

So perhaps, some things have changed since 1979.

What "natural evolution"? What does that mean?

Well, Boomers are now retiring and the rest of us really donít see everything filtered through the dung-colored glasses of Vietnam.

And what "changing needs"? Listen, Ken, my needs haven't changed.

Oh goody, we not only get Dickís wont, but also his needs.

I still want news in the morning. I still want smart features. I do not want interviews with air-headed celebrities a la Matt and Katie or, worse, interviews with the latest humorless person Donald Trump has just fired from "The Apprentice."

Concur. But it would be even better without the ďKerry good, Bush badĒ slant.

In explaining why Edwards had been given the boot, Stern said it was "about the right sound." What sound is that, Ken? Too loud? Too soft? Too much bass?

Bias, not bass. Maybe the fish rotting from the head isn't as much of a reach as I thought. But far be it from me to defend NPR executives who probably use Steve Keaton as their image of how they should act and think.

I always thought that Edwards had just the right "sound" and that, anyway, NPR and "Morning Edition" were not -- to use a Sternism -- about "sound" but about information -- facts and such things.

I assume thatís Ken, and not Howard, Richardís referring to. But what about Bob?

"It's not about Bob," Stern continued with the standard line of any boss who has ever fired anyone, it's about "who are the right people to meet these needs."

As long as they arenít named Bob.

Ah, sound. There was a morning, April 10, 1981, when a space shuttle launch was scheduled and "Morning Edition" had lined up as its commentator Chuck Yeager, the legendary test pilot. It was Yeager's voice -- cool, understated -- that became the model for all pilots everywhere, and which Tom Wolfe memorialized as "the drawl of the most righteous of all the possessors of the right stuff." Back then, "Morning Edition" was also using Red Barber, the magnolia-brushed voice of the old Brooklyn Dodgers from time immemorial. The Ol' Redhead had finished his segment, but the space shot was delayed and so someone had the sweet idea of having Yeager chat with Barber, two American originals.

I was ready to leave for work, but instead I sat down on the bed and listened, transfixed. I remember nothing of what was discussed, except that Barber asked Yeager if he was "kin" to Steve Yeager, the Los Angeles Dodgers catcher from 1972 to 1985, and Yeager said he was. Nothing momentous there, I admit, but it was a moment -- Norman Rockwell in sound -- that only NPR could bring you and it is, still all these years later, cherished. That, Mr. Stern, was sound.

Is Dick trying to imply that Bob Edwards is most effective when he just keeps quiet?

The audience for "Morning Edition" has steadily grown. It now has 13 million listeners per week and, I'm sure, if I got hold of the demographics, the audience would be a lot like the people who read op-ed pages.

Thatís about 2.6 million listeners a day, or less than one percent of the population. If thatís all that read the op-ed pages, why are there so many damn many columnists?

So "Morning Edition" is an important outlet, valued for its seriousness of purpose and its respect for its listeners.

Well, for the ďnot rightĒ listeners, anyway.

Given those values, neither "Morning Edition" nor its evening companion, "All Things Considered," is ever going to get the mega-numbers of commercial broadcasting and its heroic attempt to plumb the depths of pander.

Or even the depths of Air America!

But the firing-cum-transfer of Edwards (he may become a senior correspondent) is nonetheless disquieting. Maybe my fear is misplaced, and maybe the end of the Edwards era will turn out to not be a bad thing.

But, that would mean that Dickís instincts were wrong. Again.

Still, it will be jarring to wake up in the morning with a stranger.

You wish.

Goodbye, Bob. Get some sleep. You've earned it.

Yes, goodbye Bob. You are a consummate professional and very good at what you do. I wonít let you off the hook for the slant of Morning Editionís editorial decisions, but you have set the bar very high for whoever follows. Good luck with whatever the future holds for you. In the meantime, Iíll hold out hope that a professional presentation of the news that is fair and balanced will no longer be an exclusive attribute of Fox News.

Oh, if you are wondering, I don't give a dime to NPR radio. I can't stomach funding any program that appears on NPR, or PRI. I have contributed in the past, and did again recently, to PBS since I do enjoy some of their programming. My recent contribution was inspired primarily by KETC promising two tickets somewhere in the first twenty rows to see The Great High Mountain Tour with Alison Krauss & Union Station, featuring Jerry Douglas, Ralph Stanley, The Whites, The Cox Family, Norman & Nancy Blake, Nashville Bluegrass Band, Tim Eriksen, Riley Baugus, Dirk Powell, Reeltime Travelers, Ollabelle, and the Sacred Harp Singers at the Fabulous Fox Theater on May 12. I'm sure I'll enjoy this show a lot more than the visit with Bob Edward in person that KWMU was offering for a contribution.

Posted by Charles Austin at May 2, 2004 06:26 PM