Monday, November 17, 2008

Personalities of the Press

Rachel Maddow is a patriot - photo by Paul Shoul

Nearly every self-aware journalist can toss around the joke that while "two is a coincidence, three is a trend" and therefore may warrant a story. Instead of tackling a specific news item on the blog this week, I'll grapple with the celebrity profiles of our newspeople.

Rachel Maddow is a media darling lately, scoring write-ups left and right (but mostly left), including this New York piece, which really seems to highlight her personal wit, hard work and intellectual nature.

Now Maddow, of course, is the newly appointed queen of the punditocracy -- and if O'Reilly is king, maybe that makes Matthews Hamlet? -- but Katie Couric has garnered substantial interest since she took control of the CBS desk, including this generally favorable report by the Times media columnist David Carr. Couric's predecessor, of course, Dan Rather has been a celebrity fixture, especially in his decline.

Do we need to "know" those who give us the news? Edward Murrow was doubtlessly a "celebrity," but how much of that was fed the public by his media contemporaries and how much of it was our own projection? We grow to trust these people, we hope they're just like us. But I'll go out on a limb and say that we had no idea what the inside of Murrow's apartment looked like or how he and his lover spent their nights like we do about, say, Maddow.

And how does the effect vary between pundit and news anchor? Surely Papa Bear O'Reilly is paid to be a character. Larger than life. A celebrity. But I'm tempted to say that the difference is slim to none, with 34% of Americans watching cable news on a daily basis -- 2.4 million the Factor, alone -- according to a Pew report from 2006. People are getting their news from the Olbermanns, Maddows and Hannitys of the world.

So, give me their background, sure; their upbringing and education are likely predominant factors in shaping in their worldview. I just don't think I need to know their favorite LES dive bar, too.

1 comment:

M. Dery said...

And the point is---? There's a thesis here, somewhere, but I can't quite find it in the thicket. Are you saying that even newsanchors have been sucked into the ravening maw of celebrity culture, and that the celebrification (is there such a word?) of the nightly newsdroid is far worse than it was in Murrow's day? To be blunt, not exactly a revelation. Or are you saying that pundits are treated as celebrities, news anchors less so? Again, fairly obvious. Also, the statement that "people are getting their news from the Olbermanns, Maddows and Hannitys of the world" doesn't accord with the facts, unless the facts have changed in recent months: more people watch network news than cable, I thought. Am I wrong?