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Paul Levinson

Paul Levinson
New York City, New York, USA
March 25
Fordham University
Paul Levinson's The Silk Code won the 2000 Locus Award for Best First Novel. He has since published Borrowed Tides (2001), The Consciousness Plague (2002), The Pixel Eye (2003), and The Plot To Save Socrates (2006). His science fiction and mystery short stories have been nominated for Nebula, Hugo, Edgar, and Sturgeon Awards. His eight nonfiction books, including The Soft Edge (1997), Digital McLuhan (1999), Realspace (2003), and Cellphone (2004), have been the subject of major articles in the New York Times, Wired, the Christian Science Monitor, and have been translated into ten languages. New New Media, exploring how Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and blogging have changed our lives, was published in September 2009. Paul Levinson appears on "The O'Reilly Factor" (Fox News), "The CBS Evening News," the “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” (PBS), “Nightline” (ABC), and numerous national and international TV and radio programs. He reviews the best of television in his blog. Paul Levinson is Professor of Communication & Media Studies at Fordham University in New York City


Editor’s Pick
NOVEMBER 28, 2008 7:48PM

MSNBC Puts on Canned "Doc Bloc" as Mumbai Burns

Rate: 14 Flag

I was just looking for a few minutes at MSNBC. You know what they were reporting? Nothing, really. From 6-8PM, and who knows how much longer today, MSNBC had on its canned "Caught on Camera," with footage of events that happened years ago.

Over on CNN, Wolf Blizter in the Situation Room was doing a superb job of reporting on the Mumbai Massacre, with interviews of survivors, discussion of what this means for world security with former Secretary of Defense William Cohen and other terrorism experts, and detailed information on the heart-rending story of Brooklyn Rabbi Gabriel Holzberg and his wife, murdered along with three other Jewish people at the Chabad Lubavitch. His two-year old had escaped with their brave housekeeper. Canadian Jonathan Ehrlich, who managed to escape from another one of the terrorist targets, one of the attacked hotels, also gave a poignant interview on CNN.

Fox News did an ok job of reporting, as well, on the still ongoing September 11th for India - though I did spot a re-run of O'Reilly on Fox tonight.

But what can MSNBC have been thinking? They have wasted our time, and driven away viewers interested in real news, for years with their "doc-blocs". They had the good sense in the recently concluded coverage of the 2008 Presidential campaign to greatly expand their political coverage. But who at programming was asleep at the switch at MSNBC today?

MSNBC will never maintain a leading position as a cable news source, or even be taken seriously, if they put "Caught on Camera" or any doc-bloc programming ahead of covering ongoing world catastrophes.


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I don't know why MSNBC goes on vacation so much. I am so addicted.
CNN is fine, but I just can't take Wolf's voice anymore. I am sure he is a nice man, but there is something about his intonations that strikes my middle ear, or something.

At any rate, you are correct, and I have been checking in with CNN for updates on this massacre for two days.

I do not mean to be glib or rather too glib , but I cannot watch Fox anymore. With the availability of CNN, I am not going to take the chance that the crisis in India will be reported as the fault of Obama, or the Dems, or a failure in our war on terror....
maybe msnbc doesn't want to be taken seriously?
maybe they just want to maximize their in/out cash ratio?
maybe they don't give a damn about your opinion?
maybe they think they know best how to run a cable service.

they might be wrong of course, maybe their best business plan would be to hire you as programing manager. but i doubt it.
:) I wouldn't want to be hired as MSNBC's business manager, Al - it's much too much eliciting comments like yours.
This has been a constant annoyance too me when it comes to MSNBC. Here is a related opinion:
Didja ever think that Wolf is on Vacation, as is every major anchor when this thing broke? All the better for the terrorists. Believe me, we will hear about Mumbai endlessly for the next week, even on the Situation Room. Having worked in Broadcasting for many years, Master Control is now all digital, and to give "Talent" time off for Holidays, the feed for Thanksgiving and Christmas including days up to and after are already in the computer digitally programmed a month in advance. Take it easy, Everyone will be back in their seats on Monday.
All these prison docs. become infomercials for the incarceration industry.
Let's not give up on hoping the world will have, not just catastrophes, but newsworthy positive phenomena as well. Yeah, I know: "If it bleeds, it leads." But one can dream.
It is especially disappointing when you recall the reason MSNBC was launched in the first place - to be THE TV and online news outlet for a new generation of consumers that spent more time on the internet than on traditional linear TV. The "MS" in MSNBC stands for Microsoft, which put up hundreds of millions of dollars and its software expertise to help NBC create a definitive web news site that would drive the network's TV programming.

The first and second generations of the MSNBC site were stellar broadband services that seamlessly blended video, high-quality photos and real journalism. After the dot-com meltdown the ambitious MSNBC site was largely supplanted by MSN's news service which emphasized text over multi-media.

The TV network struggled to find its voice and the right way to integrate the web content, and quickly ditched that approach in favor of more traditional talking heads shows interrupted by repackaged NBC news feeds and programs.

The MSNBC of today, both the online and on-air versions, are far removed from the original concepts, and are simply reflecting the harsh realities of the news business. Disappointing to be sure.
FOX came under similar criticism a few years ago when the Asian tsunami hit. They simply didn't have anyone on the ground to cover the story. FOX and to a similar degree MSNBC are designed for domestic consumption and aren't equipped to cover the world like the BBC and CNN. FOX doesn't have foreign bureaus and if memory serves neither does MSNBC. If MSNBC want to be taken seriously as a news gathering organization it must open foreign bureaus and report on world events.
At least MSNBC doesn't use paid informercials when they want to go on auto-pilot, but not having some live news presence on-air during such an incident does show up their weaknesses. With the rise in popularity of Olbermann and Maddow, I'd suggest trying some weekend replays of their M-F shows to interest new audiences to sample them instead of those jail docs, which are a waste. Has it -- or will it -- come to the point where liberals will go to MSNBC for their POV, right-wingers will flock to Fox, and for breaking news everybody goes to CNN. Maybe three networks attempting to do it all is too much to ask. (Though of course MSNBC has NBC going for it and should be able to piggyback on that coverage.)

On the other hand, I think MSNBC did a terrific job during the election and I have become hooked on their personalities and tired of the CNN bunch early on.

MSNBC running those prison docs is at least slightly better than all the Paid Programming which is cluttering up even previously legitimate outlets. No wonder people are flocking to the internet to watch TV -- if you tune to many stations anytime other than prime time and early and late fringe, you will run into infomercials. Sad decline in programming practices!
Unbelievable. I ended up watching Fox. A conservative friend of mine came over for a visit and nearly DIED because I had Fox on. Needless to say, Fox does not need any help with their ratings from liberals or moderates.
Excellent analyses, Joe and Americain...

CNN's international coverage is better, at this point, than CBS's or ABC's, as well. If I had one recommendation for CNN, it would be put on live CNN International instead of anything other than a live US broadcast (or maybe just have one cycle of reruns in the early morning).
MSNBC did a good job through the night, interrupting its re-runs of Rachel, Keith, and Chris to bring live updates. But there's no excuse for not beginning coverage when the story broke.

I won't watch CNN as protest against kicking out Aaron Brown for the white haired boy. As for Fox: why?? It does me no good to have my blood pressure that high.

Rachel is the best since Molly Ivins, and Keith is always stabilizing.
I was appalled that for four days, all I could find on MSNBC was lock up, extreme lock up, caught on camera, etc. Not a whit of news. I can understand where the program hosts are entitled to a day off, but at least have a substitute. Do not bore us with crime and jail drivel. I expect more from a progressive station like MSNBC.

CNN had the Mumbai story 24 hours a day, nonstop. It became tedious after the first two hours. Fox at least had news, but it is difficult listening to their bull for more than five minutes. And I was absolutely appalled to hear Dennis Miller make blatantly racist comments when talking about Gov. Richardson.

Please, MSNBC, bring back the real news. And don't do this to us again on Christmas.
CNN's coverage was their usual All Breathless Rampant Baseless Speculation, and Rehashes of the Same Five Minutes Worth of Footage, Hour After Hour! Worse, CNN pushed the notion that these attacks were aimed STRICTLY at Americans or Brits, despite the terrorists seizing the Mumbai Chabad-Lubavitch Center (which CNN mistakenly persisted in calling a "synagogue"!) and a high number of both Spanish and French, as well as English-speaking, hostages and casualties. Sorry - but repeats of the same badly-reported news is worse than no news at all...

...not that that excuses MSNBC from not putting a few people in front of the camera broadcasting pool footage in-between the dumbass repeats, and maybe digging up a "India expert" or two who wasn't wasted on a huge honking turkey dinner to discuss what it all means.... nor does it excuse a few of their hotrods not hieing themselves to 30 Rock to do a "Special Edition" of their shows to talk about this. For a young journalist on her/his way up, or someone with a low-rated show staring at cancellation, this was the time to step forward....
David Zurawik of The Baltimore Sun rips MSNBC for its programming management last weekend in a very good post (

Best line: "Don’t tell me it doesn’t matter that MSNBC embraced ideological propaganda instead of news and information when it handed over the keys to prime time to Olbermann and Maddow. If the terrorist attacks in India don’t warrant coverage on MSNBC in prime time, than nothing short of another 9/11 is likely to stop Olbermann and Maddow from their partisan game playing at what used to a respected anchor desk."
I decided to wield the power of new new media to get MSNBC to get rid of the doc bloc - check out, join if you like Stop Doc Bloc ... a brand new group on Facebook!
The Doc Bloc is one of the few regular outlets for documentaries on commercial TV. As a documentary producer I would hate to see a decrease in the number of venues we have for presenting independent films of substance.

Now, having said that, MSNBC needs to cut down on the lock-down schlock and schedule real docs in the Doc Bloc. That, and stay with breaking news regardless of the calendar.
Everything that Joe Cantwell said... ditto. Except for ripping on the opinion shows. If the right wing can have them so can the left.

Awesome shout out to the B-more Sun. I still read it online even though I no longer live in B-more.

But this outrage about Mumbai coverage, it was all over CNN and the BBC. Plus there was all kinds of live feeds online. If cable news is your only news, you got a problem people.
By the way, not even comparable to 9/11. Here's why...

Death toll not even in the ball park.

Did not destroy a globally recognized symbol of Indian power like WTC was of American power.

Not a suicide attack and was less dramatic.

This kind of thing happens every once in a while in India, 9/11 type attack unique so far.

Tragedy yes, but not like 9/11. It is apples and oranges. I know I am overreacting but people always cheapen meaning by comparing unique events. Like comparing every genocide to the Holocaust. It doesn't work.

Stop calling the Mumbai attacks the Indian 9/11, its just stupid.