VIDEO of WIMN’s Jennifer L. Pozner debating writers strike, MSNBC and Oprah’s girls school on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” - also, transcript
|Posted by Jennifer L Pozner|
November 14th, 2007
Here, as promised the other day, is the video of my appearance this Sunday on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” with Howard Kurtz, in which I debated Kurtz, right wing radio host Michael Medved and Hollywood Reporter columnist Ray Richmond on topics including the WGA writers strike, the ludicrous charge that MSNBC is “lurching to the left,” and the controversy surrounding sexual assault at Oprah Winfrey’s South African girls’ school.
I will write up some thoughts about the segment (in particular, elaborating on things I very much wanted to say but wasn’t able to within the time constraints and logistical limitations of the show) either late tonight or some time tomorrow. For now, check out the following video (transcript below), and feel free to forward it around, blog it and, as always, post your feedback in the comments below. And, if you’d like to thank CNN for including a progressive media critic’s perspective on “Reliable Sources,” you can contact CNN via this form. (For tips on writing effective letters to the editor, see WIMN’s Action Center.
Debating my fellow “Reliable Sources” on the writers strike:
Debating my fellow “Reliable Sources” on MSNBC’s politics, and media missing the real story regarding Oprah’s girls’ school
I promise I’ll find time to blog my thoughts on these debates soon. Hope the transcript will do in the meantime…
TRANSCRIPT FROM CNN.COM
CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Will Writers Strike Impact TV Viewership?; Oprah Apologizes
Aired November 11, 2007 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): Silence. Jay Leno, David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert all forced into reruns by the Hollywood writers’ strike. As the impact spreads to network sitcoms and dramas, will viewers get angry or simply drift away to YouTube and iPods?
Oprah’s apology. How is the talk show queen handling allegations of abuse at the South Africa girls school she founded?
Lurching to the left? MSNBC tries and fails to sign Rosie O’Donnell. Is the network positioning itself as a liberal alternative to FOX News?
Plus, the difficulties of reporting from Pakistan during a government crackdown.
And the human side of Peter Jennings. His ABC colleagues recall a determined broadcaster and a tough taskmaster.
KURTZ: Television as we know it is not quite screeching to a halt but stumbling toward a slowdown. A strike by the Hollywood writers’ union, now one week old, has not yet made the desperate networks yank “Desperate Housewives” or perform emergency surgery or “Grey’s Anatomy.” But these and other scripted dramas and sitcoms will run out of taped episodes in the coming weeks.
The late night comedy shows immediately switched to reruns because it turns out these stars need writers to be funny. Who knew? The question is, how much do you out there care?
Some of TV’s top performers joined the picketing writers to lend moral support and, in the case of Jay Leno, bring some doughnuts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY LENO, TALK SHOW HOST: I’m a writer, I’ve always been a writer. See how unfunny I am now? They’re not giving me anything. I’m a dead man.
JOHN OLIVER, SCREENWRITER: We were supposed to be on TV tonight and we won’t be. And we won’t be as long as the strike’s on. EVA LONGORIA, ACTRESS: I care about people losing their homes, and I care about, you know, my hair and makeup artist who can’t make their ends meet if they don’t have a paycheck. So I hope that a resolution is soon to come.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining me now in New York, Ray Richmond, media and entertain columnist for “The Hollywood Reporter”; Jennifer Pozner, executive director of Women in Media and News; and in Seattle, Michael Medved, movie critic and host of “The Michael Medved Show” on the Salem Radio Network.
Ray Richmond, is it possible if this thing drags on that many people will get accustomed to watching YouTube and podcasts and other online forms of entertainment and simply not come back to television?
RAY RICHMOND, “THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER”: I think people already are more or less used to watching things on YouTube and podcasts and such. I mean, it’s already drifting in that direction.
What I think the studios maybe aren’t — are in a little bit of denial of is the fact that it’s drifted that way with regard to young adults. I mean, teenagers, there are kids now that do not ever watch appointment/network television in the usual primetime slot.
They’re already, you know, time-shifting. They’re already downloading. You know, they’re not getting cable or satellite subscriptions. It is already moving there, and so it’s — it’s inevitable it’s going to go there. It’s just that this strike may push it quicker.
KURTZ: Right. But, of course, the content still has to come from somewhere.
Michael Medved, you’re an inactive member of the Writers Guild. Unlike in 1988, when the last big Hollywood strike took place, TV no longer has a monopoly on entertainment.
MICHAEL MEDVED, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: No, that’s exactly right. And it seems that the whole strike is suicidal for both sides, because there is such a shaky hold on the public’s attention, so many competing media right now. And when you talk in the public, the callers to my radio show, I don’t think there is a lot of frustration or anger on the part of viewers, because there are so many alternatives. And this clearly just weakens the whole institution of television.
It’s also very disillusioning, as you were indicating before, Howie, that some of the funniest people in America who are famous for their adlibs and their quickness are so reliant on writers. I think it makes people like Jay Leno look bad.
KURTZ: I’ve sort of wondered myself why Leno and Letterman and Jon Stewart don’t try — and maybe they will eventually be forced to do this — to put on a different kind of show without writers where you rely more on interviews and so forth.
But Jennifer Pozner, I hear network executives saying, well, we can withstand this strike because we’ll just put on more reality shows, and they’re cheaper to produce.
JENNIFER POZNER, WOMEN IN MEDIA AND NEWS: Well, that’s a key. And there’s — in the coverage of this whole strike there has been a lot of confusion about reality TV and how it’s created. Reality TV does actually use writers. That’s the big myth behind the genre. They call it unscripted, but writers are used to help story editors and producers and advertisers place their products, polish dialogue, that sort of thing. The key though is that they use non-Writers Guild underpaid writers who actually tried to sue a number of the producers of shows like “The Bachelor” in — about a year or so ago because they said they worked in what they called sweat shop/labor conditions.
So, you know, the fact that we’ll get more reality TV shows is not because reality TV is unscripted, but because they’re using exploitative labor practices and bad writers.
KURTZ: Got it.
POZNER: But the bigger thing though is back to what — back to what Ray said, it’s not that these TV shows are eventually going to go online. It’s that they already are, and studios, when they put writers’ content online, the writers don’t get paid for that. So basically…
KURTZ: And that’s exactly the point. Let me go back to Ray.
The writers union says, look, this is the future, we’re already heading there. We want a small percentage of revenues so when our awards are used, our scripts are used for things that are shown for — for programs that are shown on DVD or Web sites. We get a little piece of the action. It doesn’t sound unreasonable.
RICHMOND: No. And you know what, Howard? I mean, the fact is, writers have historically gotten screwed.
They’ve always been sort of the poor stepchild of the creative process. And, you know, this plays that up.
I mean, when you look at the configuration financially of how a DVD pays out, let’s say there is a $20 DVD right now. The producers are making over $9. It’s like $4 for the production of it, a few dollars to other places. And the writers get 4 cents now.
Part of the strike, what they’re pushing for, is to double it, oh, my god, to 8 cents. Gee, what greedy bastards these guys are. You know?
And you look at what they’re pushing for with regard to Internet streaming and downloads, all they’re pushing for is to actually get a piece, a tiny sliver. And yet they’re being pushed aside as somehow, you know, the fat cat’s trying to get fatter when, frankly, the precise opposite is true. MEDVED: It seems to me…
POZNER: It’s the height of…
KURTZ: Go ahead, Michael.
MEDVED: Well, it seems to me that the problem is that they’re in such a weak position, because everybody in America dreams of being a Hollywood writer. And, yes, there are people — people also dream of being an actor or a performer, but people will pay money or will make appointment television to follow some particular actor or performer.
Nobody looks for, oh my goodness, I’m going to go see the new movie or I’m going to go see the new TV show by a certain writer. And the difficulty here is that it’s very easy for producers to say, well, we are going to get beyond this and break the strike and top these people. And they’re in an insecure position precisely because the industry itself is in such an insecure position, and there are so many other people who are so eager to fill these places.
KURTZ: Stagehands also went on strike yesterday, closing down all the major plays in New York. So it seems like there is a plague of this.
Jennifer Pozner, it kind of reminds me of baseball. There’s plenty of money in TV, lots of profit being made. It seems like there should be enough money to work out a reasonable settlement.
Do you think that on some level the Hollywood studios want this strike?
POZNER: I think — I think that they are looking to bust the union. I think that they know that Internet downloads, distribution to cell phones, iPods and even technologies that aren’t in creation yet are the way that we, the majority of people, are going to be seeing television, you know, content, not on the actual tube.
The last time that the Writers Guild had an agreement, we didn’t have DVDs. We didn’t have the Internet. We didn’t have any of the new technology and distribution systems.
So what the writers are looking for is basically any type of piece of that pie. They’re looking for fair compensation. It’s a basic labor issue.
And as we know, corporate media companies are trying to drive every last red cent out of the writers’ content. There would be none of these TV shows that, Michael, you said people want to see. There would be no content without the writers, and the writers are trying to get anything.
It’s the height of nickel and diming. Well, not even nickel and diming. They’re not even asking for a dime.
POZNER: And they don’t want to give them a nickel.
KURTZ: Maybe self-destructive for all sides.
Ray Richmond, I was a little surprised to see Jay Leno and Tina Fey and Julia Louis-Dreyfus out there with the picket lines. I mean, they’re the stars. Presumably, their careers are being hurt by being knocked off the air. But is it important for them to show solidarity with the people who write their lines?
RICHMOND: Oh, absolutely. You know, I think to some degree it’s P.R. for these people. I mean, I think people like Tina Fey absolutely do legitimately support the strike. But, you know, they know that…
MEDVED: She’s a writer herself.
RICHMOND: Right. And — precisely, that Tina Fey is a writer herself as well. You know, she knows that the Screen Actors Guild is going to have their contract up for renewal next June, just as the Directors Guild is.
You know, there has to be some solidarity. And quite frankly, the thing that I’ve been most surprised about, I think, is the solidarity that has been shown throughout television in support of the writers. The show writers, the people that have the multimillion- dollar contracts with the producers, are putting their butts on the line and risking breach of contract by going out there and showing support and vowing not to keep their shows in production during the strike. And they could very well be fired.
KURTZ: Right. Well, there are exceptions. One of them is Ellen DeGeneres, who is continuing her show. And the writers’ union wrote a harshly-worded letter saying…
RICHMOND: Yes, they did.
KURTZ: … in interviews, you know, boy, this is a woman who got all weepy about this dog and yet she’s, in effect, not very concerned about the writers’ plight by doing her show. But it’s a tough position for the host of a show to be in.
Let me turn now to news this week involving MSNBC, which got into serious negotiations with Rosie O’Donnell to make her the host of a prime-time show. It fell apart at the last minute over money, as well as over whether O’Donnell would make more than a one-year commitment. MSNBC wanted two years.
Let me show you a little bit on this question that kind of sparked a debate about whether or not MSNBC is moving to the left. Let me show you a little bit of what you get in prime-time MSNBC, followed by Rosie O’Donnell on her blog, a video of her talking about the deal that fell apart.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DAN ABRAMS, MSNBC: President Bush claiming that many have forgotten the “lessons of 9/11.” Translation: If you don’t agree with any and every part of the administration’s anti-terror policy, then you are one of them.
KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: The presidency of George W. Bush has now devolved into a criminal conspiracy to cover the ass of George W. Bush.
ROSIE O’DONNELL, FMR. TALK SHOW HOST: I’m not quite sure that a pundit would have been the best thing for me. But who knows? I was willing to maybe try it, but just as well.
And, hey, Keith Olbermann — the best new show on TV. If you’re only going to watch one, watch that guy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Michael Medved, what does it say to you that MSNBC decided to try to go aggressively after Rosie O’Donnell and where it’s positioning itself?
MEDVED: I think it shows that they’re getting smart. I mean, they had tried in the past going to the extreme right. They had a show with Michael Savage. They had a show with Alan Keyes.
Look, this makes sense. It makes sense if you’re going to have three major news networks. You have FOX news on the right, you have MSNBC on the left, and it leaves you guys at CNN to be in the middle, which is a good position for you.
I think it’s terrific. As someone who is on right myself, I don’t think that this pretense of fair and balanced is really good for the public.
What is good for the public is very clearly delineated points of view which gives people a free choice and the opportunity to go from one to the other and to know what you’re getting. So I happen to think it’s a positive development.
KURTZ: Well, it gives me some pause in terms of a news network positioning itself as being part of one ideology. I know these are prime-time shows, therefore they are opinion shows.
But Jennifer Pozner, you know, Chris Matthews, he was also hard on the Clintons during impeachment, but he has been tough on the Bush administration. So has Dan Abrams, so has Keith Olbermann.
Rosie would have fit right in.
POZNER: You know what? I have to say, having done commentary on FOX News a number of times and having done Joe Scarborough’s show on MSNBC, I’ve always had a tougher time from Scarborough. He struck me as the single-most conservative host of any show I’ve ever done, and I’ve been on “O’Reilly” and I’ve been on “Hannity & Colmes.”
KURTZ: But what’s wrong with that. It’s Scarborough’s…
POZNER: No, no, no. It’s fine…
KURTZ: Hold it. It’s Scarborough’s job to be opinionated.
POZNER: Right. Right. Right.
KURTZ: He’s a former Republican congressman.
POZNER: Yes. But when I’m saying is it’s disingenuous to say MSNBC is tilting left when the majority of the people who host shows on MSNBC are either centrists or conservative.
Olbermann is a liberal host, but he doesn’t necessarily promote liberal candidates or promote liberal projects. The one single show that was hosted by an actual person who called himself a leftist and had liberal and progressive guests and such was Phil Donahue’s show, and it was cancelled in the run-up to the Iraq war…
KURTZ: Right, exactly.
POZNER: … because they said from a memo from the top down they didn’t want to provide an antiwar face for MSNBC.
KURTZ: OK. I’ve got to cut in here.
POZNER: It’s about money. It’s not about ideology.
KURTZ: I’ve got to cut in here. I want to get to Ray Richmond.
Look, Rosie O’Donnell, very liberal, very controversial. She propounds these conspiracy theories about 9/11, but she also is highly entertaining.
RICHMOND: Yes. The whole idea of, oh, mercy, a news network showing a political ideology — oh, let’s head for the hills. It’s sort of like everybody does at one time or another, all of the networks. And I don’t even think MSNBC was that serious about hiring her, if you want to know the truth.
I think — I think they wanted the publicity and marketing reverberations of that. And look at this, we are talking about her on CNN. So it worked.
KURTZ: How about that?
All right. We’re short on time.
I want to play the — what Oprah Winfrey had to say this week. She gave a very heartfelt apology after allegations of abuse and mistreatment surfaced at the South African girls school she founded with about $40 million.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OPRAH WINFREY, LEADERSHIP ACADEMY FOUNDER: When I first heard about it I spent about a half hour crying, moving from room to room in my house. I was so stunned, I couldn’t even wrach brap my brain around it. It has shaken me to my core, but at the core of me is a spiritual foundation and a belief that all things happen for a reason, and that no matter the devastation, this, too, shall pass.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: All right. I need 20 seconds from each of you.
Michael Medved, how is Oprah Winfrey handling this matter?
MEDVED: She’s handling it well. I mean, look, it ought to be acknowledged that this is one star who really has consistently tried to use some of her wealth and power to benefit very unfortunate people. The fact that some of that trust and some of that donation was abused I don’t think it’s right to blame on her.
KURTZ: Jennifer Pozner?
POZNER: Well, media coverage — our show and others — should be focusing on the trauma that these girls faced and the systems that weren’t in place to keep them safe and the prevalence of sexual assault in the education system in South Africa, not on how painful this was for Oprah. I’m sure it was painful for her. I’m sure she’s very sincere. But she should have done the due diligence to prevent this from happening, and we shouldn’t be talking about it as a celebrity story, we should be talking about the actual issues of sexual assault.
KURTZ: Ray Richmond, I give her credit though for not hiding behind spokesmen or putting out official statements. She went to the microphone and she took some responsibility.
RICHMOND: Yes, I give Oprah credit for that, but I agree with Jennifer, that the focus should not be on, ooh, Oprah the celebrity, what’s happening. It should more be on the social issue behind this, which would have never seen the light of day if it hadn’t been Oprah. And I would have been less suspicion just of, you know, her own P.R. ends if she didn’t have the same reaction to this that she had to Hermes closing their doors on her.
KURTZ: All right.
Ray Richmond, Jennifer Pozner, Michael Medved, thanks for a fascinating discussion.