Thursday, February 01, 2007

I Am the Passenger

Sree Sreenivasan
30 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, NY

Mr. Sreenivasan,

It's hard to judge an on-air fellow's personality by his - well - on-air personality, but I would have supposed by having seen you on ABC-TV for years that you were a decent sort, an intelligent man. I was pleased for you. I like it when decent people succeed in terrible, filthy businesses, like yours. Then I sort of noticed you'd moved to NBC. I switched when ABC refused to report on the war and, after a few years, there you were again, explaining gadgets before I've had a cup of coffee. Once again: pleased for you, decent fellow, etc., etc.

Last night, I attended the blogger summit, which was among the strangest events of my illustrious and strange career. Though I handle books in a library, I was once sent into the stacks to search for bombs. When I was a radio comedienne, I duct-taped a transmission back together in a rest stop on the way to a convention. I was a Dodge poet, a model and possessed an absolutely perfect derierre; yet I have never seen the level of shameless fame-whoring and elite ass-kissing as I saw last night. It was spectacular. I'm still all a-twitter!

NBC invited bloggers without a hint as to why, and we went anyway. I have to think about that more, but the invitation said something about food and people like free food. So: not a full house but over a hundred of us lined up to clip on two IDs for no good reason except to find ourselves meeting people by staring at their breasts, which is never a total loss. After an endless series of corporate self-congratulation talks and phony thank-yous, someone finally came to the point of this summit: to get bloggers to provide NBC news with hundreds of unpaid stringers and free stories. Hey, people who write for the love of the work should do it for NBC for the love of the work. That is so shameless I felt like I drank a bottle of VapoRub, but the truly exciting development was that though the auditorium was packed with NBC ringers, some of the empty, attention-seeking fame whores in the audience didn't tell you to get bent. No. Some people were thrilled that NBC liked them, really liked them. Huh.

As a journalism professor, you must have certain ethical problems with this proposal. You seemed very surprised when I said we watch Keith Olbermann's reports in video form online. It's had to believe you haven't heard of Crooks & Liars, but that may prove the real point: NBC's inviting the bloggers in was a cynical and sinister move. Each time you said "MSM or mainstream media" it was apparent that you knew the MSM had a real problem no one mentioned, the elephant in the room: credibility. For the last six years, the mainstream media has aided and abetted the administration's ham-fisted lying, the destruction of the Constitution, the pointless corruption that has been our illegal Middle East misadventure without so much as a solid question on Meet the Press, which is a breach of trust with the public. NBC is owned by defense contractor General Electric; NBC News has served as a docile lapdog of the administration. And now, NBC News invites in the bloggers, whose work grew up around the MSM's simpering and cowardly refusal to do its job, to co-opt the bloggers' credibility? Mr. Sreenivasan, I'm an artist, a peace blogger, a progressive, and a humorist. I'm practical about paying my bills and once wanted to be the first performance artist to wear PENNZOIL on her warmups. You and I know that if there's an afterlife, Machiavelli's laughing his ass off.

I'm not joining NBC's merry band because we have nothing to offer one another. I don't generate news leads; NBC isn't about to discover the joys of recycled, solar-powered peace, love and understanding, with a side of sturdy manicures. The free food might have provided some temptation, but unlike Persephone in the Underworld, I resisted every drop and morsel. It is worth mentioning that while NBC promised to credit bloggers for their material, no one said NBC would publish that material unedited.

I wish you well, but I hope this venture fails because the bloggers appreciate their independence, their integrity, their credibility more than the corrupting attention of the thing that seeks to undo them, and free shrimp.



Blogger Carl said...

I'm tempted to cut them a little slack. It's a brand new venture, something I'd never heard of before, so they probably don't have their ducks in a row on this.

You're right, of course, that independence matters to a blogger and the second I feel they're trying to write my stories for me, or co-opt my story into something else, I'll be on them like white-on-rice, but for now, I'll give them a shot.

10:47 AM  
Blogger John said...

Tata: You raise some important issues in journalism but, unfortunately, your sulking humor deprives us (and you) of a serious debate on the issues you raise.

It is not your cynicism and suspicions about our government, the press and corporations that give your arguments credence. (Remember, Google, which owns your blogsite, is as Machiavellian as NBC.) It is the depth of self-congratulating indulgence to which mainstream media has sunk that highlights the ironies you point to.

I must disclose that Prof. Sreenivasan is a good friend of mine although I don't agree with all his views. The professor is a craftsman, an evangelist, not the tool of some tycoon as you suggest.

I hope you challenge him for a serious debate on this issue. I will be there, cheering, on your side.

4:52 PM  
Blogger Tata said...

John: what on furry earth are you talking about?

At the beginning of my letter, I said I'd always thought he seemed like a decent sort, after which I only refer to Mr. Sreenivasan individually as a professor of journalism, who must recognize the ethical problems. Must. You can redefine what you think I said until the cows come home; your surgical language does nothing to change the locus of the real problems. The mention of Google is meaningless in this context.

Listen, we are all whores to something and someone. Some of us rent by the hour and some of us sell ourselves completely. I have enough left of myself to distinguish the difference. Your friend is your friend. And in Baghdad, people are buried in the front yard because it's too dangerous to go to the cemetary.

Is that funny enough to make the point?

6:21 PM  
Blogger Craig R. said...

I'm not tempted to cut them *any* slack.

It was not all that long ago that it took a public shaming fom several quarters for some elements of the traditional media to admit that thay had outright stolen some blogger's material, under "fair use" and had "neglected" to attribute.

They know what they are asking.

And, yes, it certainly *is* an attempt to coopt whatever credibility that bloggers have, simply because we don't hide the grindstone and the axes we use when we write.

8:20 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home