Point-Less

It's no secret that the nearly yearlong Lewinsky/Clinton scandal has created a cottage industry for useless media pontification and tomfoolery. Just check out almost any of the 24-hour news channels. CNN has been the best of the three players, limiting most punditry to already established gabfests like Crossfire, The Capitol Gang and Evans and Novak, and covering events both grand and trivial with a breathlessly proctological edge. (My camera? There?) CNN also features the criminally irrelevant Larry King Live every evening, but its coverage has been the least ridiculous of the three cable news outlets.

The Fox News channel advertises itself as more "objective" than its competitors. That's a neat trick, because Fox is clearly the least objective of the three. In its talk shows and selection of guests (Fox even gave Matt Drudge a show), Fox has a clear conservative bent that's quite in line with other Rupert Murdoch-owned news properties. Untruth in advertising reigns at Fox News.

MSNBC has been the greatest disappointment, turning its evening news slots into a high-pitched partisan "all impeachment, all the time" screech. Led by InterNight's odious host, John Gibson, this hot-air caterwaul drove sports anchor turned MSNBC newsman Keith Olbermann back to sports and has opened the network's basic competence to report news fairly to serious questioning.

With allegedly legitimate media on a yearlong snipe hunt, and allegedly illegitimate media (from the Drudge Report to Hustler) setting new standards for reporting, it's no surprise that there's been a trickle-down to other media.

The latest example of this trend on local radio is on KPNT (105.7 FM), which faxed over the latest promo hype for its "morning show pitched to idiot listeners" to our offices on Christmas Eve. The KPNT morning crew (Jeff Burton, Trish Gazell and Thom West) will be giving away $69 (nod, nod, wink, wink) every day in an effort to entice listeners "to guess the date President Clinton will be either voted out of office, removed from office or resign from office." The winner gets a trip for two to Washington, D.C., "to wish the President good-bye."

If Clinton survives the GOP's partisan impeachment drive (and there's a very good chance that will happen), KPNT will be doling out more than $50,000 to listeners over the next two years until Inauguration Day in 2001. I wonder whether the Point's moronic program director Allan Fee has figured that cash into his yearly budgets. Or perhaps this contest, like the station's fake apology billboards, will quietly disappear at some point -- quietly and with no legitimate explanation to listeners.

FROZEN RIVER: One of the most ambitious musical documentaries that I've ever seen -- The Mississippi: River of Song -- is slated to air on many PBS stations in January. One of the episodes is titled "Midwestern Crossroads" and focuses on the rich musical heritage of this metropolitan area in exquisitely filmed and highly revealing segments on Fontella Bass, Oliver Sain, Eugene Redmond and the Bottle Rockets. It's an extraordinary hour of music.

With this kind of positive focus on our own area's musical achievements scheduled to be seen all over the United States, you'd think that KETC (Channel 9) would be all over the series, scheduling it in prime time, hyping it to the max and even throwing in some underwriting for it. (After all, the Missouri Department of Tourism had the foresight to sponsor it, and the Missouri Historical Society put on a tremendous series of concerts this summer to promote it.)

Alas, KETC seems more interested in the Beatles and Muddy Waters than in its own backyard. (Those artists get prime-time slots on KETC in January.) The station isn't a sponsor of the series. KETC has scheduled only one of the segments (the St. Louis segment) for a prime-time showing (8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 27) and has scheduled the rest at midnight on successive Sundays, starting on Jan. 10. (That's VCR time, plain and simple.) KETC didn't even put the series on the cover of its monthly magazine, opting instead for international news anchor Daljit Dhaliwal. It's an outrageous and irresponsible programming decision, compounded by a complete lack of interest by KETC in promoting the series.

There may, however, be a remedy. If enough interested viewers call KETC president and CEO Michael Hardgrove at 512-9000, perhaps the series can be shown in the future at a more convenient and prominent time slot. Mentioning something about pledges, or a lack of them in the future, might also jingle a few alarm bells at KETC and get them to put a great national documentary on local music where it belongs -- at the top of a local public-TV station's priorities.

You can e-mail media tips and quips to Richard Byrne at byrne@rftstl.com.

 
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