Tuesday, October 6, 2009

On CanWest's slide and Letterman's sleaze

A couple of things on my mind today ... I'll get to David Letterman. But first, the news today that CanWest Media which includes Global TV and the ex-Southam papers, including the National Post, filed for creditor protection (i.e. bankruptcy).

It really is no time to gloat as real people with real jobs are going to be affected and the already skimpy regional programming (compared to the vast commitment to local content even just ten years ago, at least in non-prime time hours) will be cut back even more. However even the simplest person without a shred of knowledge about the media market could have figured out that the particular formula for media consolidation, banning columnists who disagreed with the ownership's stances (a violation of the long-standing tradition of editorial independence), failure to disclose conflicts of interest, making coverage of entertainment more newsworthy than hard news, and last but not least just shear arrogance -- all of these were going to add up to a colossal failure.
Many were warning there was no way that the Asper brothers were squandering their father's legacy and success of building a third national TV network despite opposition from CBC, CTV as well as the CRTC -- and then putting all their eggs into a newspaper that had no realistic chance in an already saturated market (namely, Toronto). All the profits that could have gone towards improving local programming instead went into a money pit.
What was once a fine paper -- the Financial Post, which is still very solid content for its money markets coverage -- became a total disaster once news content was wrapped around it, and for what?
It's not like other cities really have a choice -- people in the lower mainland of BC basically have three right-wing papers to choose from; any left wing papers are considered "radical" or even Marxist with circulations in the low thousands if at all. Most other cities, especially out West, have basically the "Sun" (basically, a newsworthy version of the National Enquirer) and two CanWest papers -- the local one, and the National Post, where nary you will ever hear a sympathetic word for the Palestinian cause.
The company was running on the edge for years, with revenues from advertising running very close to the edge against debt obligations (a certain percentage ratio had to be maintained every year). When the economy tanked, of course it was going to dive off the deep end.
Shareholders who bought the stock in good faith are left in the cold; and bondholders get pennies on the dollar. Meanwhile, the Aspers get to keep their cushy jobs and keep spewing their neo-Con drivel. Global needs a new start, with new management and a new attitude, one that actually gives viewers and readers what they want -- not what managers think they want. Maybe Canadians in general have moved to the right over the years, but the media does have a big role in that -- "the medium is the message," as the saying goes.
Now, on to Letterman.
First off, the extortion attempts against him are just plain wrong, if they are true. No one should have to pay hush money, especially to an Emmy-winning news producer with as much experience as the accused in the case.
As for Letterman himself ... I have always found him a darker character than Jay Leno. I do respect Dave, or at least I thought I did until his shocking admission last week that he had sex with female staffers on his show; thus, cheating on his long time girlfriend and now wife.
Would he have made this admission if the pressure had been not put on him? Highly unlikely.
But the obvious question has to be asked, did what Letterman do constitute sexual harassment -- which would take it from extortion (a state matter) to a violation of another's civil rights (a federal matter)?
If that is the case, then Letterman is no better than the scum that populates many of the corporate and government offices around the world -- men as well as women who slept their way to the top or kept their places at the top by doing so, while forcing those they did sleep with to stay on the bottom. Not just monetary damages could be contemplated, but time in jail as well.
If he did not break the law, then Letterman is guilty (as he is willing to admit) of very poor judgment, and the man we've come to know on television the last thirty years is not who we thought he was. Since he sells his show to CBS, rather than being a direct employee of the network, all that can really be done is to suspend the airing of the show for a few weeks but I'm sure that his agents have ensured that he gets a penalty award when that happens -- making sure he wins even if he loses. Meanwhile, real people have been hurt and they get nothing.

I'm sorry, but there's no justice in that. If the collective bargaining agreement that actors belong to includes a morals cause, then it should be invoked. If not, then other actors and other media personalities owe it to themselves and the greater good to boycott the show for an indefinite period. Shunning may be, at this point, the only appropriate penalty. Yes, he's sorry, but that doesn't change the fact he did a wrong thing in the first place.

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Oemissions said...

What disturbed me about Letterman was the way he put it: "worked FOR me."
When had he said, worked WITH me, he would not come off so chauvanistic.
Were the women hurt? They haven't said so.

Anonymous said...

I thought it did not matter to progressives where people put their private parts. Why be tougher on a tv talk-show host then on a teacher or politician?

BlastFurnace said...

Oemissions: You're totally correct, and I think we need to hear the women's stories. There's something about this that isn't quite kosher.

Anon: It may not matter to many progressives generally, but it does matter to me. Politicians and teachers are on the public payroll which is why we hold them to a higher standard; but personalities like Letterman should reflect the best of us and not the worst.

As always it's not the underlying act but the lying or not saying anything about it until you get caught that's the problem. From my perspective, I wouldn't renew his contract; but that won't stop him from taking his show elsewhere -- and it's no secret Fox has long wanted to get back into late night.