Opinion

Stories I’d like to see

MSNBC’s book promotion machine, helping Dasani, and profiling Eric Schneiderman

Steven Brill
Dec 24, 2013 11:53 UTC

1. MSNBC’s book promotion machine:

Lately it seems as if it must be written into MSNBC anchors’ contracts that if he or she writes a book, no matter how related to current news, the anchor will get endless opportunities to promote it on the cable channel’s air.

The most blatant example is “Hardball”’s Chris Matthews, who recently came out with Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked — about how the friendship between then-House Speaker Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan supposedly produced productive, bipartisan governing during the Reagan years.

Since Matthews’ book was published in October (in fact, even in the weeks leading up to its publication) whenever there has been a story about Washington gridlock — which is just about always — MSNBC has used it as a pretext to feature Matthews on its various shows talking about how things were different in the good old O’Neill-Reagan days, when Matthews was O’Neill’s chief of staff

Often, the connection between the day’s news and the book — which I liked, but which the New York Times Sunday book review called “a nice idea for a book it only it were true” — is tenuous at best. So much so that it seems like there must be a quota of Matthews appearances that the channel is stretching to hit.

Worse, Matthews uses his own show to promote the book at every turn, sometimes simply urging people as he sign off of “Hardball” to be sure to buy it for Christmas. And, for good measure he often throws in a pitch for another book he wrote two years ago, a biography of John F. Kennedy.

Examining the insanity defense, MSNBC’s weekend sleaze, and suing OPEC

Steven Brill
Mar 20, 2012 12:48 UTC

1. The Afghan massacre and the insanity defense:

Beginning late last week we began to see the outlines of a possible defense for Robert Bales, the army sergeant who allegedly massacred 16 Afghan civilians earlier this month: insanity or diminished capacity. “When it all comes out, it will be a combination of stress, alcohol and domestic issues — he just snapped,” a “senior American official” told the New York Times. So, it’s time for a general review of the tough-to-pull-off insanity or diminished capacity defenses, along with a focus on the even higher hurdles involved in using either in a court-martial. (An insanity defense is a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity; diminished capacity means the defendant does not contest guilt but seeks to be convicted of a lesser offense or get a more lenient sentence.) That story should also tell us how much Bales’s defense lawyer might be able to turn the case into a trial over increasingly controversial Pentagon policies related to multiple redeployments, the treatment of traumatic head injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. Good sidebars would tell us whether Afghanistan, whose Parliament is still demanding that Bales be tried in Afghan courts, even allows an insanity defense, and how open the trial is likely to be, including to cameras.

Years ago, I wrote a piece for Psychology Today about the insanity defense that was keyed to the case of John Hinckley, whose lawyers used it successfully after he tried to kill President Reagan. It presents a fascinating legal dilemma, which in its oversimplified version is: The more outrageous your crime, the better your argument that you had to be insane to do it, but the more likely it is that jurors will be so angry that they’ll want to hang you for it anyway.

2. The numbers behind MSNBC’s weekend sleaze-fests:

Can one of the media trade publications or a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, or Reuters media reporter please do a story explaining why it makes sense for MSNBC to do a series of sleazy shows — Lockup, Sex Slaves, Caught on Camera — during the evening and in prime time on weekends? Last Saturday night, while CNN was doing a riveting, important report entitled, 72 Hours Under Fire, about the massacre of dissidents in Syria as witnessed by its gutsy reporting team, MSNBC was broadcasting Lockup: Boston, one of its stable of Lockup shows depicting life inside prisons that has all the journalistic value of rubbernecking at a car accident.

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