Part 4—The Values of Journalist County: Does it matter if our best-known stars live in The Houses of Journalist County?
Theoretically, it doesn’t matter at all. Theoretically, a person can live in a very large house while performing top-notch journalism.
Somewhere, it’s possible that this has even occurred!
Does it matter if stars invent silly tales about the modesty of their lives—tales designed to make us think they’re just like us?
Personally, we think that practice starts to suggest a certain lack of respect for the truth. Beyond that, we think it strongly suggests a lack of respect for us the rubes—for the regular people who are being sold silly, self-serving tales.
In fairness, a person could hand us “Beverly Hillbilly” tales while producing excellent journalism. (For background, see yesterday’s post.)
More often, though, these silly tales from Journalist County correlate with the horrible work which has typified our political journalism over the past many years.
We thought of that journalistic history when we read the Parade cover story about Meredith Vieira’s new show. Here’s why:
Vieira is a well-known public figure. Her resume includes service on such famous programs as 60 Minutes and the Today show.
In 1989, Vieira won an Emmy for her report about homeless children on the CBS magazine program, 57th Street. But uh-oh! When we read about her plans for her new daytime show, we thought we were possibly catching a whiff of The Values of Journalist County.
Here's what it said in Parade:
HAUSER (8/24/14): On Sept. 8, she will debut as host of The Meredith Vieira Show, which she hopes will entertain as much as it will inspire. In addition to game-show elements and celebrity guests, the hour-long weekday program, produced and distributed by NBC Universal, will feature human interest stories and community calls to action. In one recurring segment, Vieira will pair a service dog with a family in need. In another, the show’s Pick Me Up Truck will roam the country looking for ways to lend a little support, whether by donating books to schools or connecting someone to a job.Here's the first thing that occurred to us: you really don’t have to “roam the country” if you want to give books to schools.
“I want a show that, in its own little way, will make a difference—without being up on a soapbox,” says the multiple Emmy winner, who has been brainstorming ideas with her executive producer, Rich Sirop. The pair also worked on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, which Vieira hosted for 11 years through a suffering economy. “When times were really bad, you could change someone’s life just by playing that game,” she says.
Beyond that, we thought of all the journalism about public schools which our news orgs refuse to perform or deliberately bungle. Given her very high public profile, Vieira could perform all sorts of valuable journalism at this terrible time.
Instead, she’s planning the “game-show elements” for her new program. Plus, the celebrity guests!
To state what is merely obvious, Vieira is no longer a journalist. In that sense, we’d say her new program strongly reflects The Values of Journalist County.
Very little journalism is done in Journalist County. This is the way an unpleasant person might summarize that Parade profile:
From one of The Houses of Journalist County, Vieira peddled a bit of a con. She said the rat-infested furniture on her new show’s set will let us see how she really lives, which is the way a lot of people live.
We’d say that claim was a bit of a scam, of a familiar type.
She then proceeded to tell us about the entertainment her show would provide. We even sat through that ridiculous statement about how good it made her feel to give away a million dollars, one person at a time.
The lottery does the same thing. But the lottery can’t perform journalism, a practice no one really pursues in The Houses of Journalist County.
Vieira could have been a contender! Having been paid something like $110 million in the past fifteen years, she could be doing actual journalism now—and God knows, her country could use some!
Instead, she’s planning the game-show chunks for a program which will bring her another $5 million per year. Fawning journalists feed the beast, offering piddle like this:
HAUSER: [W]hile the show will be filmed at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the set has been designed to look like her family room. “I want people to feel they are, in a sense, coming into my home,” she says. “It’s a safe place where you talk, you laugh, you cry.”According to other profiles, Vieira’s father would stay in his office till all hours, serving many immigrant patients who couldn’t afford to pay. For $5 million per year, his daughter crafts silly tales and game-show chunks while claiming her father’s mantle.
That deep sense of camaraderie is a reflection of Vieira’s own values, honed growing up the youngest of four children (she has three brothers) whose parents, both first-generation Portuguese-Americans, were a doctor and a homemaker. She credits her father’s dedication to helping people (“Most of his patients were Portuguese immigrants; his waiting room would be packed, and he didn’t leave until he’d seen every single one”) and her mother’s “spunk” with giving her a strong foundation.
We could go on and on saying bad things about Vieira! They key point here is simple:
Vieira is no longer a journalist. Under our system, there’s nothing “wrong” with that.
That said, very little journalism emerges from The Houses of Journalist County. On Monday, we’ll review a prescient warning about this cultural problem.
This prescient warning emerged from Yale, in The Winter of 86.
Coming Monday: Weisberg gets it right!
Make of these chunks what you will: It isn’t Vieira’s fault that the following passage was written as part of a Ladies Home Journal cover story. But good lord! Meryl Gordon really captured The Values of Journalist County!
In 2010, Vieira was hosting Today while working a second job:
GORDON (11/10): These days Vieira has plenty of work to fill any voids. Later this morning she will change into Gap jeans, a black T-shirt, and clogs to head over to the set of the syndicated game show that she hosts, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. This fall she marks her ninth year as host of the show, for which she makes an estimated million-dollar salary. Rather than resent the grueling schedule, she is relieved to be able to earn two large paychecks so she can save for the future. "She has always squirreled money away," says her friend Mo Cashin. "That's her dad, instilling in her as the only girl in the family: You got to work, you got to earn it, you got to keep it.”According to Gordon, Vieira didn’t resent the time she had to spend on that second show, for which she was paid $1 million per year!
That formulation wasn’t Vieira’s fault. But it certainly captured The Values of Journalist County.
One last chunk, for comic relief:
Yesterday, we said we’d provide some further information about the renovation of Vieira’s Westchester County home.
Back in 2006, Vieira told a silly tale to Traditional Home magazine about the genesis of the renovation. The whole thing started because she decided she wanted a kitchen banquette!
The story seemed somewhat unlikely to us. Later, we spotted a news report about the renovation in the New York Post:
NEW YORK POST STAFF (11/15/04): So where was Meredith Vieira when the girls of “The View” tossed Star Jones her final, on-air bachelorette party last Friday?Sometimes it’s hard to get a banquette through a building’s front door!
Seems that she had to be at home to straighten out a serious dispute with the local officials over the renovations to her house.
All work on the house was ordered stopped this week by town officials in Irvington, a village in Westchester.
The building permit had allowed her and husband Richard Cohen to demolish about three-quarters of their home before rebuilding.
But according to local news reports, the demolition had taken down nearly the entire structure, prompting the stop-work order.
There’s nothing wrong with demolishing a $2.1 million home, adding 2000 square feet to the manse in the process. Major league infielders do this sort of thing all the time.
In our view, there is something wrong when journalists invent silly tales to make us think they’re just like us. When they tell us they used to live like The Beverly Hillbillies.
For better or worse, they aren’t like us, not in the way they live and not in their often unfortunate values! As we’ll start to see next week, this becomes clear in the “journalism” they and their colleagues produce.