Two Commentators Walk into a Bar

Opposite Poles

Whether it’s from watching TV, listening over the radio, tuning into a podcast, or reading the newspaper, we are bombarded with the word “polarization”. More often than not, it’s referring to the state of our government. Though there has always been gridlock between both sides of the aisle, the climate of our government only seems to be growing more volatile to the American people observing from the outside. Each day brings a new news burst of foreign probes, appointed advisors forced to resign, FBI investigations, and threats to our national security.

In these times of uncertainty, journalists have the honor and responsibility of providing transparency to the American people as watchdogs to our society. Journalists uncover the truth and put it into context for watchers, listeners, and readers to educate themselves on the world they live in. But, portions of today’s news media are at risk of falling into the same hole of fierce partisanship and polarization.

Programs like MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show and FOX New’s The O’Reilly Factor epitomize this trend. The two segments sit at complete opposite sides of the spectrum, which directly influences the way they communicate news to their viewers. Though hosts Rachel Maddow and Bill O’Reilly are more commentators and TV personalities than they are journalists (if you could call them journalists at all), their segments bring an important issue to light. Now more than ever, those in a position of influence to the American people must realize their responsibility to the truth. When those people come dangerously close to broadcasting their opinions as fact, respected journalists, reputable news outlets, and the American people the ones who lose.

In alignment with the network it’s broadcasted on, The Rachel Maddow Show sits on the far left of the aisle in terms of media coverage. The predominantly liberal program with it’s unwaveringly liberal host is hardwired produce stories that dig into the Trump Administration, advocate for the environment and LGBTQ rights, and fight to make sure “Wall Street never wrecks Main Street again” (too soon?).

To the far and conservative right, The O’Reilly Factor reigns. Within our community, Bill O’Reilly could be referred to at Boston University’s black sheep; a conservative republican commentator that strays far from his alma mater’s liberal core. The O’Reilly Factor bring on like-minded conservative guests and is never shy to be critical of our government or the media that covers it. O’Reilly is controversial and forward,

Both programs are the two most popular cable news shows and within the last few weeks have continued to go neck in neck with each other in the ratings department. The Rachel Maddow Show has just surpassed The O’Reilly Factor in ratings, and with the recent developments in Bill O’Reilly’s personal-professional life, that trend may continue. But when it comes to covering politics, it’s not a surprise the two don’t stand on the same side of most issues. Both unapologetically loud and attention demanding hosts aren’t afraid to show the American people how they feel about an issue, but they also don’t try to hide what party they are loyal to. The question is, are they too trapped in their own bubbles to effectively communicate the news to their viewers?

Let’s take a look, shall we? We’ll start with something light: Obama’s Legacy.

Remember Him?

There’s no question that our former POTUS shook things up between the left and right throughout his time in the White House, especially during his last days. Obama heavily exercised his executive power, something that angered the right of the aisle throughout his presidency. He also made strides in legislation is support of the LGBTQ community, and tried his earnest to put environmentally friendly policies in place up until his last moments as our president.

After 8 years, Obama has left a lasting legacy on our country. That legacy, however, is perceived quite differently by Rachel Maddow than it is by Bill O’Reilly.

Maddow’s piece enters with a 5-minute long narrative of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first hispanic woman on the Supreme Court and Obama’s first Supreme Court appointee. She takes her time with the sentimental story before transitioning into a 10-minute-long Obama praising segment where she highlights his strides made towards diversity within his staff. In between each compliment to Obama’s legacy, she intertwines the hardship he faced from not just republicans but the conservative media over the choices he made in his administration. She almost makes Obama seem like the victim to a group of bullies that blocked his policies, denied Supreme Court appointees, and took his lunch money. She goes on to praise his accomplishments in high school graduation rates, unemployment rates, nuclear security, environmental policies, and LGBTQ rights. She attributes Obama with the feat of saving medicare and the U.S. auto industry as she wraps up her commentary that could be packaged into a reelection ad for Obama. Maddow doesn’t fail to end on several digs at Trump and all of his wild accusations and inappropriate comments about Obama’s birth certificate, his aptitude, and his qualifications to hold office. She paints Obama as America’s savior and slams the then incoming president Trump as an enemy to Obama and a threat to our entire democracy.

This commentary is bad for multiple reasons. First off, by being irrevocably biased and one-sided, Maddow robs the American people of the choice to make their own decision on Obama’s legacy based on the facts presented to them. After 16-minutes of an Obama pep rally, it’s unlikely viewers will remember the darker times of the administration, which are essential to depicting Obama’s true legacy in a well-rounded manner. You cannot judge someone’s lasting mark only by highlighting their triumphs and ignoring their short comings. Her direct disdain for Trump’s succession that wraps the broadcast is also more harmful than it is helpful. Instead of easing the obviously harsh transition between Obama and Trump, her commentary reinforces the divide.

Though skewed in favorability, Maddow presents her information in fact after fact organization. She supports each of her claims with screen shots of newspaper headlines and video clips of events, and instead of loading her opinion into each of Obama’s compliments, she just lists them plainly one after the other. I think the listing was a powerful tactic employed by Maddow that emphasized the great accomplishment of Obama, but the complete absence of any hardship in the Obama Administration (which there was a significant amount of) voids her broadcast of both sides of the argument and transforms it into Obama propaganda. She effectively communicates the information she chooses to include to her viewers and there is no question about where she stands on Obama’s last day and Trump’s looming move to the White House. She uses facts to get her message across, but is extremely selective in the facts she chooses to structure those arguments.

As for Bill O’Reilly’s take on Obama’s legacy, he brings in two presidential historians to join in his commentary. Both presidential historians lean to the right, which is no coincidence. Like Maddow, O’Reilly isn’t shy to share his point of view of Obama’s time in the White House and immediately challenges his guest that recognizes the obvious areas of Obama’s success like unemployment rates and the state of the Dow.

Both historians briefly recognize Obama’s positive impacts on the country and appreciate his historic time in office as the first African American president before cascading into a take-down of his failed policies and overuse of executive action. O’Reilly acts as a moderator to his guests, but frames his questions to knowingly steer the conversation against Obama due to his anticipation of his guest’s responses that will align with their conservative point of view. However, O’Reilly’s panel is already more of an open conversation than Maddow’s fan-girling.

The group talks health care, ISIS, and Obama’s character as a leader. The breakdown of Obama’s leadership qualities is where the most bias comes out. O’Reilly is eager to bring up every major problem in Obama’s administration, namely his initial actions regarding ISIS, and beats Obama’s error of  judgement like a dead horse. Each new talking point O’Reilly introduces is a short coming of the Obama Administration, and when either of his guests aren’t regurgitating his Obama take down, he does his signature move of cutting them off mid-sentence and shifting the conversation back into the realm he wants it to be in. He then wraps the episode with having each of his guests grade Obama on an A to F scale.

It’s clear to harsh contrast between O’Reilly and Maddow’s segments on Obama’s legacy. Where Maddow chose to focus too much on the good, O’Reilly constructed his commentary around the failure and problems. From an editorial standpoint you can see the difference in the way left and right media choose to report the same topic. Though both segments were biased and uneven, O’Reilly’s segment did offer more back and forth than Maddow’s and refrained from a direct comparison between Obama and an incoming Trump, which is valuable for listeners on both sides of the political spectrum.

Head to Head

Back in March of this year, Rachel Maddow got her hands on some pretty… underwhelming information that she presented in a monumental (and misleading) manor. Drum roll please… Trump’s tax returns! The MSNBC host built this story up big enough to elicit a countdown clock to her episode revealing all of the secrets of Trump’s finances with just two front-to-back pages of his tax return from over a decade ago. It came as no surprise that Maddow received backlash from media outlets of all mediums and ideologies after her anticlimactic episode. Bill O’Reilly seemed overjoyed to call her out directly in his following episode.

While her build up was dramatic and misleading, O’Reilly wasn’t scared to launch an attack on Maddow and MSNBC, saying they’ve turned into a “Sci-Fi” channel dreaming up Trump conspiracies on live TV. I can’t say I wasn’t amused by his sarcastic anecdotes of Maddow and her guests comparing Trump to Dr. Evil, but I found myself shocked that this type of commentary was on a national news program instead of a late night entertainment channel.

The perpetually irritated Bill O’Reilly could cut Maddow down all he wanted (and he did), but he was right in the fact that MSNBC would skyrocket in viewers for this episode, The March 15th tax reform reveal scored Maddow her largest audience to date of 4.13 million viewers (via Deadline).

 Popularity Contest

Taking a look at the numbers, more American’s seem to hear what Maddow is saying. The MSNBC host trumps O’Reilly in Twitter followers by over 5 million people, and her popularity is rising in ratings as well.

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According to a Deadline report from earlier this week, The Rachel Maddow show average 2.70 million total viewers, beating The O’Reilly Factor by 40,000 viewers. This study specifically measured viewership among the 25-54 year old age bracket. Maddow has ruled the cable news world after surpassing FOX’s The O’Reilly factor in ratings for the past three weeks. This trend shows no sign of slowing down as MSNBC has seen a spike viewership since O’Reilly’s sexual harassment settlements were released by the New York Times early last week.

Give the People What They Want

Ultimately, that’s drama and controversy. There’s a reason why “if it bleeds, it leads” is a token phrase in newsrooms across the country. Viewers want to see emotion and conflict when they turn on the news, especially if they’re tuning into a commentary segment like O’Reilly’s or Maddow’s. Both host’s point of view is clearly expressed and neither of them try to play both sides of the field, which is a testament to the beauty of our democracy and the 1st Amendment, but also reinforces a concerning climate that is plaguing political news media in the current political environment.

Final Story: From the Classroom to Center Stage

 

Every Tuesday, Elliott Hanson sits in class from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. before grabbing dinner. Then he heads to the BU Student Theater where he gets into full costume, hair, and make-up before picking up his script and rehearsing lines with his co-stars. He emerges from the dressing room in freshly creased dress pants, black tie, and a suit vest over a white dress shirt. The look is complete with a thin black arm garter and Elliott is now transformed into Jim O’Connor of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. He waits for his director to go over notes from the last rehearsal, and then he gets on stage to deliver the performance he’s been working towards for months.

Hanson’s confidence on stage makes it seem like he’s studying theater performance in the College of Fine Arts. But, Elliot isn’t sitting through theater arts classes for five hours on Tuesday. He’s sitting through film and television production courses in the College of Communication and Economics courses in the College of Arts and Sciences.

As a double major, Elliott has an extremely demanding schedule. But, beyond his academic pursuits, he is a theater buff that was involved in all of his high school productions, but came to college with a different career path in mind. Luckily for Elliot and many other high school theater lovers that don’t choose to major in theater performance in college, Boston University provides many extracurricular, student-run, performing arts groups on campus.

“It gives me a creative outlet that I don’t get from my academic studies,” says Jamie Johansen, a History major in the School of Education. Johansen is the technical director for BU Stage Troupe’s rendition of The Glass Menagerie. “I wanted to still be involved with stage production when I got to college, and Stage Troupe allows me to do that.”

BU Stage Troupe is one of those student-run groups on campus that puts on a variety of theater performances ranging from musicals, to comedies, to the classics. Students from all different majors and minors, none of which are theater performance majors from CFA, direct, act, design, and tech for all of their productions.

“We don’t allow performance majors from CFA in any of our programs,” says BU Stage Troupe’s director of PR Karlie Fitzgerald, “it allows students who aren’t focusing on performance as their career to still be involved.” CFA theater majors can still be involved in behind the scenes production, but the acting is saved for students who want to keep theater in their lives though they chose not to major in it.

“It’s more of a closed off environment…they have their own resources and they’re entitled to those resources, but it’s kind of hard to penetrate that when you’re from the outside,” Karlie says of theater productions at the College of Fine Arts.

But, BU stage Troupe is not short on resources to put on any production they pursue. In between Agganis Area and Fit Rec is the BU Student Theater – a state of the art performance theater with a prop room, rehearsal areas, hair and make-up rooms, and a full technical booth. Though they may not be performing at the Boston University Theatre like CFA students, the resources at their disposal allow them to put on professional productions.

“The Student Theater was built about 5 years ago, and we cannot be more grateful to BU for giving us such incredible facilities,” says Karlie Fitzgerald. The theater can sit up to 100 audience members, which is small for most theaters. Extra space would be useful, says Stage Troupe members, but the close and intimate environment proves beneficial for their regularly sold-out productions.

As of just recently, it looks like extracurricular theater groups may be the only ones with a home to perform on campus.

Last month the Boston University Theatre at 264 Hunting Avenue was sold for $25 million after being on the market for about 5 months. The 890-seat theater, along with two adjoining buildings, was sold to an investment group working with developer John Matteson. The theater was owned by Boston University for the past 62 years and showcased the partnership between BU and the Hunting Theatre Company that began in 1982.

The theater and the adjoining buildings served as a prestigious stage and creative space for CFA students. It gave student cast and crewmembers a place to rehearse, perform, design costumes, and construct sets. Without the theater, CFA students are without a concrete home to perform.

“To be honest I’m a bit upset about the theater being sold,” says CFA student Aaron Dowdy, “I’m very excited for the new plans that they have to centralize the campus, but that theater was a great place for us to reach the Boston Theater community, not just the BU Theater community.”

BU senior vice president for operations, Gary Nicksa, says the money from the sale of the theater will help fund plans to build a new performance theater on BU’s Charles River Campus. The $25 million deal on the BU Theatre is just half of the price tag promised by BU to update and improve CFA facilities.

CFA doesn’t plan to put their large-scale productions on hold because of the sale of the BU Theatre. All future productions will be performed at proscenium stages around Boston through various rental agreements.

“I performed there my sophomore year and seeing the house filled with non-students was an incredible feeling,” Dowdy, a rising senior, says of the BU Theatre, “I don’t know if the class below me will get that with a new space.”

Though CFA students are without a stable performance space for the near future, they continue to support student theater programs on campus though they themselves are not permitted to be involved in productions outside of CFA. In regards to these extracurricular groups, Dowdy says, “it’s awesome, and the fact that they have their own space is invaluable.”

Unlike CFA students, those involved in BU’s extracurricular student theater groups won’t continue to pursue theater as a career after they leave college. Many of them will go on to be teachers, doctors, publicists, and beyond. So what happens next?

For Elliott Hanson, the idea of giving up theater after college is impossible, even though he will go on to work in the television industry at ABC after he graduates this spring.

“I will never be done doing theater…I plan to keep doing it for as long as I live,” says Hanson, “it’s something that I never want to give up.”

Final Story: Rough Cut Video

What happens to a high school theater buff when they get to college? Many students are involved in high school level theater programs, but don’t decide to make it their career once they get to college. But at BU, resources for the students who don’t study theater performance through out college are not sparse. Boston University is home to Stage Troupe, BU on Broadway, Wandering Minds, and many other student-run performing arts groups that allow students of all different majors to continue practicing their love for theater. My final story will explain how these students juggle their school work with their extracurricular theater commitment and the differences between their involvement and the College of Fine Arts.

NewsTrack Review 7: Tech Needs a Makeover

For my NewsTrack review this week, I decided to take a look at NBCnews.com’s Tech tab. I expected to see something a little more interactive and “tech-y”, but all I found was a homepage that is identical to all other tabs on the website and a handful of articles from other news sources linked to with a cover picture. Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 4.15.10 PM.png

The problem with this is not only the fact that it is not interesting to a tech-savvy person that may want to read up on some tech news, but NBC also outsources a lot of their top tech news stories to other sources. Beyond a makeover of the homepage, NBC definitely needs to either start reporting more tech stories, or advertising their own. Beyond the homepage, there was nothing more to offer on the stories within the tech section. Though they are supposed to be news reports, it’s more effective and engaging for the reader to be able to interact with the information – especially when it’s about technology!

Most of the articles were accompanied by either an informational or “how-to” video places within the body of the story, but thaScreen Shot 2016-03-30 at 4.28.01 PM.pngt was all the information given to the audience beyond the initial written words. Only one article included a different form of multimedia other than a video, and it was only a screen shot of a Tweet.

My overall consensus of the tech portion at NBCnews.com is that it needs to be revamped in order to compete with other news sites that are becoming more interactive with their readers.

 

Characters of the 2016 Election

On an icy February day, Clay Mitchell stood on the sidewalk of Manchester, New Hampshire bar playing a beat-up acoustic guitar decorated with a Bernie Sander’s sticker. Bundled up in a scarf, overcoat, and shades he came from Oklahoma to sing in support Sanders in the primary.

We lost our shoes, we lost our shirts,

the rich get richer and the poor eat dirt.

We’ve been fooled, we’ve been fooled.

Political campaigns attract a range of supporters from guitar strumming troubadours to traditional door-knowing campaigners in the months leading up to each presidential election. Sanders to Trump, Democrat to Republican – some of the most enthusiastic campaigners show their support in unusual ways – both online and in person. From painting the side of an elephant to riding cross-country in a sky-blue Sanders school bus, In February news teams, reporters, campaign staff, and the candidates themselves descend on New Hampshire.

Clay Mitchell said he traveled 1,700 miles to support Sanders. Back home, he didn’t really feel like people understand Bernie, “where I live “communist”, “socialist” scares everybody, even really liberal people are afraid of the word even though we know what he means by it.” But here in New Hampshire he’s free to sing about the rich getting richer. And Sander’s campaign has taken notice. Digital Team Senior Advisor Zack Exley said, “Clay’s songs are amazing… We now have the sound track for the revolution.”

Michael Buckley, a 60-year-old artist and political activist from Florida, also came from out of town to support Sanders. He stood in front of a large light blue school bus in a black beanie, sweatshirt, and classic blue jeans braving the cold with a chicken in hand. The artist exhibited a 70’s hippie lifestyle from his long untamed hair to living full time in a school bus powered on vegetable oil and solar panels while driving across the country for rallies. Buckley and his chicken “Mr. Clucky” traveled from Florida in a blue-painted school bus covered in Bernie posters, stickers, and American flags. The inside of the bus is complete with hand-make bunk beds, a fold out stage for rallies, and a water heater to keep the bus warm year round.

Buckley and the Bernie bus have been participating in Bernie rallies since June 2015 and are planning to head down to the South Carolina primary after New Hampshire. Buckley said his main goal of the bus is to “pass on Bernie’s positive statement and get this conversation going.”

 

Bernie Sanders took 60.4% of the vote in the 2016 New Hampshire Primary, shutting Clinton out with her 38% and forcing Martin O’Malley out of the race. After trailing behind Clinton in the polls since the start of his campaign, New Hampshire proved as a huge win for Bernie and his constituency.

On Bernie’s opponent Buckley said, “I do not trust Hillary Clinton, she voted for the Iraqi war which is solely profit from the military industrial complex, hundreds of thousands of people killed and millions displaced.” Buckley looks to Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump will “pull it together” and make our country back to the way our founding father’s wanted it.

Fortunately for those who aren’t able to experience these passionate supporters in person, the most exciting moments from primaries and rallies are available to anyone and everyone through social media. Social media outlets like Twitter and Instagram have taken the first hand in capturing campaigners along the 2016 election campaign trail and sharing them with the world. Online magazines and newspapers have also shown interest in the supporters by posting galleries through their social media accounts of the most creative.

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE FULL GALLERY!

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Trump and Sanders supporters rack up the most social media presence from rallies and marches. Though the candidates are on opposite sides of the political spectrum, their fans both take supporting to the next level whether it’s through dressing up as the candidate, covering themselves in pins and badges, or crafting intricate posters and figures.

Sanders supporters at a march in New York City in January were by far the most creative and artistic with their campaigning for Sanders. Over 3,000 people attended the event and marched from Union Square to Zuccotti Park in support of Sanders. Fans paid homage to the candidate through handcrafted papier-mâché figurines, puppets, and signs. Jackson Krule of VICE followed the campaigners along the march and posted Instagram photos of the most colorful in the crowd.

As the Presidential Election grows closer and both parties select their nominees, the passion of supporters is guaranteed to increase in strength and in numbers. The Republican Party will nominate their presidential candidate at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio on July 18, 2016. The Democrats will hold their convention shortly after in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 25, 2016 to choose their candidate for the November election. Bright campaigners from all over the country are sure to continue showing their support in ways that stand out in a crowd of thousands. Whether it’s an eyewitness account or through social media, the most animated supporters will undoubtedly be noticed.

To see more full stories and photo galleries, you can visit:

VICE | THE GUARDIAN | TIME

NewsTrack Review 6: Audio Use

NBCNews.com does not go above and beyond to include different forms of audio on their site’s homepage or within their articles. The most popularly used form of audio they offer are through videos, either of specific footage essential to the article or a short package on summarizing the written article for those who would rather watch than read. The videos and well-developed and offer a nice multimedia element that allowed readers to have a choice of how they receive the news. Though these videos are intertwined in almost every article, they are the only aspect that bring audio into the site besides the video advertisements integrated throughout the home page. Screen Shot 2016-02-27 at 3.59.39 PM.png

NBCNews.com offers almost all of their news in video form. But, they could definitely do more to enhance their site. Personally, I think if they added sound clips of specific quotes and placed them throughout a written article it would bring an interactive element to their articles that would enrich the news experience for readers. It could also be a unique element to add a classic news theme song that is played at the opening of news programs to the home pages of the different sections of news they offer on the site. It would play automatically in the background of the home pages and with an option to mute it on the top toolbar. The music would automatically stop playing once a reader clicked on an article or video.