- The Washington Times - Monday, January 6, 2014

The word of the day is “polar vortex,” which has inspired several thousand press accounts obsessing over the frigid weather pattern now freezing much of the nation — along with a call of fraud.

“Right on schedule, the media have to come up with a way to make it sound like this is completely unprecedented, because they’ve got to find a way to attach this to the global warming agenda. And they have. It’s called the polar vortex. The dreaded polar vortex,” Rush Limbaugh told his listeners as vortex lore reached epic proportions on Monday.

“Do you know what the polar vortex is? Have you ever heard of it? Well, they just created it for this week,” the radio host continued, adding, “The agenda is that we’re responsible, we’re causing it, we have to pay the price. And so any weather extreme now is said to be man-made, and therefore it fulfills the leftist agenda.”

IT’S THE EMOTIONAL NETWORK

The apologies, the squabbles, the outrage. MSNBC has become both dramatic tableau and news organization these days — a showcase for dirty laundry and daily programming. This phenomenon could emerge elsewhere as networks scramble for ratings, revenue, exclusive content and buzz amid flimsy safety nets and chaotic circumstances. Emotional repartee is part of the media toolbox, and it’s a trend that would have astonished old-school anchormen like Walter Cronkite and Eric Sevareid.

But no matter. On MSNBC of late, there was Martin Bashir’s mea culpa and resignation over his unsavory remarks about Sarah Palin, plus Melissa Harris-Perry’s recent tearful regrets after she and other on-camera folk mocked Mitt Romney’s infant grandson. Oh, but it’s a complicated script.

Independent media mogul Glenn Beck insisting Ms. Harris-Perry’s apology unnecessary, declaring, “She apologizes, for what? It was a break with comedians. Yes, it wasn’t nice. Yes, it was hurtful and divisive, if that was the intent. But it clearly was not. There are many dishonest, destructive, and arrogant people on MSNBC, but I don’t think this, by any means, was an example of a person like that.”

MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, meanwhile, praised Mr. Romney’s gracious response to the situation, then condemned Mrs. Palin’s more strident reaction to Mr. Bashir’s insult. Somewhere in the mix is Alec Baldwin, who was a late-night host on the network for two weeks before he uttered an anti-gay slur and subsequently departed. In a Tweet since retracted, the actor wondered if he could remain on the job if perhaps he, too, cried.

And now along comes a thoughtful analysis by National Review media analyst Eliana Johnson who parsed out MSNBC’s turmoils using unnamed sources, revealing that scripts would be subject to an official review before airtime. The article also crowned prime time host Rachel Maddow the “queen” and the sole “adult” in charge. The network responded with ferocity right on cue.

“The National Review Online story is absurd and full of inaccuracies from beginning to end. To start, Rachel has absolutely no role in network management decisions. Writing her show every night is more than enough work,” MSNBC said in a statement Monday. “She gladly leaves talent management to her bosses. We’re disappointed that the National Review would run a story with more anonymous, uninformed sources than you’d ever find on the gossip pages.”

Yes, well. The airing of issues and melodrama is part of the news now, forging MSNBC into a hybrid of news and reality TV. It’s accompanied by growing pains.

“After a string of high-profile embarrassments, MSNBC appears to have decided that perhaps letting the inmates run the asylum is not the best of ideas,” observes Matthew Sheffield, creator of Newsbusters, a conservative media watchdog.

LOYAL NEWS CONSUMERS = $$$

Recent Pew Research Center polling already has revealed that American news consumers get emotional toward their regular news sources: 65 percent say they will “abandon” a broadcast, print or online news organization that compromises the quality of coverage by providing incomplete stories, or fewer stories.

“Thoroughness was a bigger problem than the quantity of stories across all demographics, though it was more pronounced among Republicans, independents and Southerners and less so among Democrats and Midwesterners,” the research stated. Nielsen, meanwhile, has begun to measure and quantify viewer loyalty, and the “quality of the audience, not just the quantity,” says vice president of research Jerome Samson.

Broadcasters, like newspapers and politicians, seek engaged audiences with a thoughtful stake in the end product. Frantic antics to entice such a smart group can prove counterproductive. Viable news still counts, not creative packaging and glitz. And there’s another motivation.

“The results suggested that advertising on ‘high loyal’ networks generates a higher sales lift, and that loyal viewers in general have the propensity to consume more,” says Jeanine Poggi, a media analyst for Advertising Age.

THE GOLDEN STATE NO MORE

Alas, poor California, we knew ye well. Witness the newly published “Taxifornia: Liberals’ Laboratory to Bankrupt America” by James V. Lacy, who has served both as a local city councilman and as a board member of the American Conservative Union.

“California is no longer the Golden State, and liberalism is to blame. Tax-and-spend liberals who are in control have created a state that taxes and regulates more than any other state in the country, and have engineered a rotting economy with among the highest unemployment in the nation,” Mr. Lacy says. “No wonder businesses and residents are fleeing the state.”

The book includes a foreword by Rep. Darryl Issa.

“Taxifornia is a cautionary tale of what can and will happen to America if Washington follows the lead of what Sacramento has done in the past decade,” the California Republican writes. “California once embodied the American dream. It was once the place where small businesses grew into large ones, where ordinary people achieved extraordinary things. Unless something changes, that future is in doubt.”

The book will be published Tuesday by Post Hill Press. The author will be feted Wednesday evening by Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, at a swank steakhouse in the nation’s capital.

AIR FORCE ONE’S RETURN FLIGHT

First lady Michelle Obama has lingered in lovely Hawaii for a few days to celebrate a noteworthy birthday — her pending 50th — and visit with local, occasional resident Oprah Winfrey, according to assorted press reports. And Mrs. Obama’s transport home? The question was posed to White House press secretary Jay Carney at the press briefing on Monday. Is President Obama “paying for the flight back”, or taxpayers?

“As with all personal travel, the First Family will appropriately fund personal expenses. And in line with travel of past presidents and first ladies, the first lady will travel via government aircraft,” a dutiful Mr. Carney told the curious reporter.

POLL DU JOUR

80 percent of Americans have a DVD or Blu-ray player in their home.

73 percent have wireless Internet access, 68 percent have cable TV and 64 percent have a laptop computer.

62 percent have a smartphone, 58 percent have a VCR, 57 percent have a desktop computer.

45 percent have a basic cellphone, 45 percent have an iPod or MP3 player, 41 percent have a video game system.

39 percent have an Internet-streaming service like Netflix, 38 percent have a tablet computer like an iPad.

34 percent have satellite TV, 26 percent have an e-reader like Kindle or Nook.

Source: A Gallup poll of 1,031 U.S. adults conducted Dec. 5-8 and released Monday.

Outbursts, weeping, gnashing of teeth to jharper@washingtontimes.com

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