The New Newsroom: why we need Al Jazeera America

A photo of Joie Chen, smiling, with the America Tonight logo on a screen behind her. She's sitting at a anchor desk with a shiny top, brightly light, waiting to deliver the news.

The Complete Works of News: Joie Chen, host of Al Jazeera America’s nightly news program America Tonight. The new cable news channel launched on Tuesday.

Perhaps angling for the small but thoughtful fan base of the HBO series The Newsroom, the new Al Jazeera America nightly news program America Tonight features a series of 15 second commercials profiling  its  producing staff. Each of whom, incidentally, seem like more interesting characters than any of HBO’s fictional Newsnight staff, who for all their biting satirical commentary on recent events sometimes sound about as fresh and relevant as Howard Beale with an Emo haircut.

But while The Newsroom truth is mostly regurgitated Real Time with Bill Maher editorials in Cronkite drag, AJAM is Real Television Journalism and ain’t nothing like the real thing.

In fact, if it were an HBO series, Al Jazeera America would actually be The Wire, unflinching at the bold societal implications sparked by urgent current events, and in hot pursuit of the root causes that make it so. In fact, speaking of Baltimore, David Zurawik agrees in The Baltimore Sun on AJAM’s inchoate urgency.

Al Jazeera America debuted Tuesday 8/20 (find it on your dial), in the place of Al Gore’s ill-fated Current TV, which AJAM purchased for the generous amount of $500,000,000. It promises stories like a week-long series on Chicago’s segregated street violence, pieces on genetically engineered salmon farms, and profiles of successful urban U.S. public schools, plus documentaries, all day and all night.

Wednesday night the America Tonight series Fight for Chicago featured remarkably nuanced reporting on the issue of street violence on the city’s South and West sides. Not just throwing up its hands at the chaos, the report mentioned the several convergent forces, like the Sinaloa cartel, the demolition of the city’s public housing, incarceration of a generation of local gang leadership, proliferation of guns in America, and generalized lack of economic alternatives to drug selling. America Tonight anchor Joie Chen moderated a discussion where local leaders from the communities hardest hit joined via satellite, were respected and given ample time to talk, something that doesn’t even happen on Melissa Harris Perry’s MSNBC show. NPR’s This American Life got the issue of violence in Chicago national attention with its moving Harper High School series, getting Michelle Obama to visit the school. Let’s hope AJAM’s series elicits a proportionate West Wing response.

Attempts are being made to marginalize it. Time Warner Cable per-emptively dropped Current when the planned sale was announced earlier in the year, while AT&T dropped the channel dramatically at 11:59pm on Monday night, just before AJAM’s launch, breaching the broadcast agreement, prompting Al Jazeera to file a lawsuit.

Al Jazeera (literally “the island”) is owned by the oil-rich government of Qatar which decided to become the patron of journalism for the world. Al Jazeera maintains its complete editorial independence. The Guardian reported last year that Al Jazeera editors insisted UN debate on Syria including footage of a speech from the leader of Qatar, despite staff members claims that it was not the most important part of the debate. Frequently, it is praised for insistence to tell all sides of a story, sometimes bringing danger upon itself in the process. With this refreshing platform for news delivery, it is now us, the people of America, who must tune in and operationalize the relevance of this new, nonstop news source.

Earlier in the summer, at the Aspen Ideas Festival, when Ehab Al Shihabi, Al Jazeera’s executive director of international operations, spoke about the launch of the network, and stated that 40- 50 million Americans wanted more original and in-depth news from television broadcasting.

MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, who recently hinted he might be more of a showbiz man than a journalist, openly scoffed at the idea that the news information needs of the United States people were not being met. “I think if you did a survey of the 300 million Americans, I think something like 50 million would tell you they want to read the complete works of William Shakespeare. They won’t,” blustered O’Donnell. People seeking “real” news, would find it at the PBS NewsHour, he said, interestingly, not defending the originality and in-depth nature of his own network.

In a 24-hour news cycle, the idea that everything needed to inform the American public in a globalized world can be found in a one-hour program shown at 6pm, when most people aren’t even home, is just wrong.

The real answer was that people seek it out online, in “lean forward” time-shifted news-gathering, where myriad  public, global, independent, and authentic news sources are available. But Al Jazeera America is right to go for the “lean back” experience of the cable news watching set, they have the money, and they are really going for it. Because 24 hour news cycle is what dictates the U.S. political conversation. And AJAM has the cash to get the glittering sets, in soothing but vibrant colors, the familiar faces like Chen, Soledad O’Brien, and Ali Velshi, all formerly of CNN, and saying  “America” as many times as it can in its marketing.

Uninformed, xenophobic knee-jerkers will object solely on the basis of the networks’ Arabic name and foreign ownership, but really, this is the journalism that America made famous, being re-claimed by a “mad as hell” real-life cast of U.S. journalists. With no need to play to the corporate seats, or tamp it down so as not to offend, Al Jazeera America swept into our cable news like a steady wind of fresh air, just when, like Toni Braxton, we thought we might never breathe again.

Conan Rocks Jeggings!

Watch this instant classic at tbs.com

WHY was Conan’s wearing of the resurgent jean-looking stretch-pants known as jeggings the funniest thing ever?

When I was eight, I HAD some jeggings. You see, my youthful self found real jeans uncomfortable for some odd reason, and this seemed like a nice compromise.

But even back then, the jeggings didn’t seem ready for the world. I looked at those things through my Sally Jesse Raphael glasses and said to myself, “these’ll never come back.”

I didn’t anticipate our current moment.

Maybe it’s the fact that, at the end of the day, what you’re actually wearing is an artist’s rendering of jeans.

Maybe it’s that jeans were invented for men to work building the freaking railroad back in the day.

Maybe it’s that you look like you’re watching coverage of the first Persian Gulf War on a TV inside a wooden piece of furniture instead of the second Gulf War on a small notebook-sized slabs of metal and minerals. What do we wear when we’re watching this one? Unfortunately, we don’t know.

Maybe it’s the fact that they are like a parody of an iconic pant, American blue jeans took the rest of the world by storm like that syrupy carbonated Kola nut (Africa?) and Cocoa (South America?) drink (the secret ingredient of which isn’t even public knowledge, reports John Pilger):

Maybe its because Conan wore them with a Little Lord Faunteleroy strut like he knew it all.

When Tim Gunn informed Conan that, yes, some men were “out there” who wore jeggings, this prompted total disbelief from Conan.

He was curious about stretch pants like a sociologist. He was going to expose them. And possibly himself.

It brings us to the question: what do stretch pants mean?

If you wanted to get all Harvard semiotics major about it you could also interpret stretch pants as pants that stretch across the globe – as so much of commercial clothing is these days, produced for Americans, by others in countries with lower income, but perhaps in cultural ways, maybe a higher standard of living. And the thing is with figurative and literal stretch jeans, its so hard to hide who you truly are.

Conan said, America: take a good look. At yourself. It’s me in jeggings right now.

 

 

Neo Soul Battles the Robots

You, you built a wall

A 20 foot wall

So I couldn’t see

But if I get off my knees

I might recall

I’m 20 feet tall

– Erykah Badu “20 Feet Tall”, New Amerykah Part 2: Return of the Ankh

Erykah Badu's controversal "Window Seat" video

Yes, Erykah Badu will walk through Daley Plaza in Dallas to the spot where JFK was shot, singing her floaty I-need-space anthem “Window Seat,” while disrobing in a one-take video inspired by Matt and Kim’s “Lesson Learned” video where the Brooklyn duo strips down to their pre-civilization birthday suits in the center of Times Square, looking around like stunned members a “lost tribe” from the Amazon at the neon blinkery, only to get [SPOILER ALERTS] beaten by NYPD and then smushed by a bus.  Badu looks deliberate and driven as she sheds article after article of clothing and glances skyward from time to time. Tattooed on her back: EVOLVING.

As if maybe we have to be willing to walk around nude – or, preliminarily, choose the side of the people who think people have a right to walk around nude, and at least understand why they would want to – at some point in the coming future as things progress in whatever direction they seem to be going.  Because if we remembered that we were 20 feet tall, we wouldn’t worry over walking around nude – Avatar showed me that. Now.

After Badu is naked, she gets shot in the head and blue blood leaks out spelling GROUPTHINK – the same stuff that didn’t get the Kennedy assassination investigated. Badu stated that the video is intended to jump-start a conversation on Groupthink.

What is Groupthink? It’s what keeps us moving in a human herd with the choices we make every day. It’s the control; and the control of the control. Thumb-scanning to clock in for a job. Phone bits hanging out our ears and uncomfortable iPod earphones digging in. Conditioned automatic behaviors and lack of imagination, maybe. Official story-swallowing. Stiff necked-ness. Flouridated, manipulated.

Well, on Erykah Badu’s new album, New Amerykah Pt 2: Return of the Ankh, the funked-out self-defense diva is back to deliver a set of thoughtful grooves designed to chip away at your groupthinking cap, at least it seems to me.

Neo Soul, termed in a splashing of 1990s media  is really just thinking – that is, non commercial R&B (Erykah even coos/woos the greenbacks, increasingly robotically, in “Turn Me Away (Get Munny),” a poppy song covering yes, Junior Mafia).

Like Maxwell coming back last summer with a fade, astral-projecting (in the video for “Pretty Wings”) wearing charcoal slacks, on this dispatch, Erykah is out of the skin as well (not just her clothes).

On the album cover, the hazel eyes/hypnotizing Ms. Badu personage that we think we know is rendered as a smooth but bolted-together robot with mysterious “prehistoric” or is that Biblical / Sophia Stewart’s Third Eye scenarios growing out of her retractable-roof metal dome…

(Despite my media-buying preferences, formerly stated, I downloaded the album from iTunes.  It definitely is nice to see the cover art enlarged on the screen.  Almost as good as seeing it on a record album cover.  Anyway.)

New Amerykah Pt 2: Return of the Ankh features ear-tweaking analog tweets,  mattress-creak samples and heart-on-sleeve-wearing.  As well as Lil’ Wayne – on a song called “Jump Up in the Air and Stay There,” he and Erykah get spiritual in one breath and and get on “silly shit” with the next.

Even broken down is the concept that there are only two emotions: fear and love.  Like the updated Howard Beale speech from Network on her previous album, New Amerykah: Fourth World War, she still seems mad as hell and not really about to take it anymore, basically, just methodically and prodding warbling baseline-wise, taking us through sonic caves featuring the darker sides of human/human and human/robot relationships but bear with the woman. The album is almost like watching her construct a metaphysical defense shield and strategize for what comes next, with an option to dance.  Yes, the return.

February is the coldest month?

February u got 2 wait 4 the bus

It’s more than half over, but a belated welcome to February.

February, as you probably know, according to McDonald’s commercials and school programs is Black History Month, as opposed apparently to the eleven other White History Months, or wait, Hispanic Heritage Month in October, but not Indigenous Heritage Month, so diez y media meses for European American point of view.  But are some schools and programs in New York City trying to turn that around for the next generation?

February is the shortest month at 28 days, except when it’s one longer and it’s 29, and it’s still the shortest month.  This phenomenon has inspired a movie with that one chica and some I think English guy I don’t know called Leap Year that I have seen advertised with an appealing shade of green that sets off her red hair of that famous person.  When it is 28 days, it’s the same length as the cycle of the moon, incidentally.

My mom’s birthday is in February (happy birthday mom!)

I’ve heard that February is the coldest month; perhaps, because the winter has been so long at that point – 4 months of cold in the deciduous forests of the North Central-East Northern hemisphere, like New York, Wisconsin, etc.  But I think February’s close proximity to Spring has a sense of “this can’t go on forever” that we, as a society might need to experience fully at this point.

February is home to Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day and President’s Day.  Superstition, Romantic Love and Patriotism all together under one moon shadow.

And it’s been snowing for us North Central-East North Americans – lots of snow – white, packing like the cotton in asprin bottles under your feet, reflecting sun and/or chilling in big packages of coold on corners as you walk by.

What does it make you think of?  Leave a comment: