Saturday, September 09, 2006

Accuracy in Medium, er media

This post isn’t about CLL -- thus the "OT" for "Off Topic" -- but then I am not all about CLL. Sometimes I complain about other things. The ability to kvetch transcends one’s state of health. Indeed, the ability to work up a fair degree of indignity is probably a sign of health. When I used to work at a hotel catering to a crowd of older folk, there were several good candidates for a T-Shirt emblazoned with these words of wisdom: “The more I complain, the longer God lets me live.”

But I am digressing from my digression.

Marilyn and I enjoy the NBC TV show Medium. For those who don’t know, it’s about a psychic, Allison DuBois, who works for the district attorney’s office in Phoenix, Arizona. Allison, played by Patricia Arquette, is married to Joe Dubois (Jake Weber), and they can never get a decent night’s sleep. This is because Allison is always waking up from strange dreams that may or may not turn out to be premonitions, or postmonitions, or whatever, and which always have some bearing on the plot. The DuBois’ have three young daughters, two of whom also have psychic abilities. The family scenes are well-drawn, showing exactly what life must be like in households were metaphysics coexists with the mundane, where the wife is dreaming about severed heads while the husband wants some nookie.

What makes it a little more interesting for us is that the show is set in Phoenix,
which is the fifth largest city in the United States, and which Marilyn and I know fairly well at this point, since we live two hours north of it and go there frequently. Phoenix is a big, sprawling place. Like much of Arizona, it is surrounded and interspersed with craggy mountains that look blue-gray from a distance. These lend the city its character, such as it is. I will not pretend that Phoenix is a great urban treasure, like Venice or San Francisco, but it is a decent enough place. The climate is hot but not humid, homes are fairly affordable, and the air is clean once in awhile. It has a symphony and an opera and a world-class American Indian museum and one of every major sports franchise, even ice hockey. There are at least 15 Vietnamese restaurants now, which is sort of the scale I go by in grading cross-cultural advancement among American burgs. Metropolitan Phoenix is defined as everything within Maricopa County, and includes such cities as Scottsdale, the toniest suburb; Tempe, which is the home of Arizona State University; Mesa, which is bigger than St. Louis but has no there there; and Sun City, the retiree mecca where they roll up the sidewalks at five.

Medium is set in Phoenix because there really is a "research psychic" named Allison DuBois who lives there; and the more Marilyn and I watch the show, the more we realize how careless the writers are about all things Arizona. For those who have never looked at a map, Arizona is adjacent to California, where people in Hollywood produce shows like Medium. It’s not like they’re being asked to describe life on Mars.

By the time I get to Ely

Some of the inaccuracies are understandable enough and simplify things for plot purposes. The name of the county has b
een changed from Maricopa to Mariposa, presumably for liability reasons. Maricopa County has a county attorney, and in Medium this person is known as the “district attorney.” In the show, the mayor of Phoenix and the deputy mayors of Phoenix are always breathing down DA Devalos’ neck. In reality, Phoenix is just one of the cities served by the county attorney, and the mayor of Phoenix has no authority over that attorney. In fact, nobody knows who the mayor of Phoenix is. (OK, it’s Phil Gordon, but nobody cares.)

Beyond this, the sh
ow gets into some things that can only be described as bloopers, small and large. Some are the kind you only notice if you live in the area. In one episode, the University of Arizona is described as being in Phoenix, when it is actually in Tucson, two hours south. Would the writers have placed USC in Fresno? I doubt it. In another episode, one of the DuBois daughters gets an opportunity to speak to the "state Assembly.” California has a state Assembly. Arizona does not. It has a state House and a state Senate, collectively known as the state Legislature. In yet another episode, Phoenix police respond to a call in Scottsdale. Would the writers have had the LAPD show up in Long Beach? Again, probably not.

Medium also makes little effort to show what Phoenix looks and feels like, which is why on Medium it feels like Los Angeles. They do try to get in a lot of shots of palm trees, but there is seldom a blue-gray peak, and hardly ever a Southwestern-style ranch house, and no hint of the vast sky and its play of light at sunset. The Medium Phoenix is a bit too verdant, the light is a bit too dim, and Allison is always wearing sweaters and jackets, which people do not do all that often in the hottest metropolis outside Mecca. Allison never gets in her car in the summer, touches the shift lever, and screams in pain.

The worst blooper I have seen (so far) occurs in an episode where a killer is descr
ibing the route he took while driving from Phoenix to Los Angeles with a victim. At one point he starts waxing about “where the road turns into one lane.” Perhaps in 1906, but not 2006, where something known as Interstate 10 connects the two metropoli. Worse yet, he goes on to use the phrase “by the time we got to Ely, Nevada.” I have included a map here showing the route from Phoenix to LA via Ely, Nevada. Does anybody check facts on the show? Or do they simply not care?

The larger relevance of these mistakes is that they call into question just how much
Hollywood gets wrong about everything everywhere.

"Facts are stupid things" -- Ronald Reagan

As the brouhaha about the ABC movie The Path to 9/11 shows, accuracy in the portrayal of events is crucial when it comes to the writing of history. (Rewriting history is easy, but it is an affront to those who died in the making of it.) Accuracy is certainly more important in a project that purports to tell what really happened in the run-up to a major terrorist attack than in a TV show about a psychic. But I wonder if all this isn't symptomatic of an underlying disease in which our society has become too careless with the facts. I used to be a newspaper reporter and editor, and I was trained with the idea that you did not just accept someone’s word about something, you double-checked the “facts” that were presented to you before running with the story. This was a sacred tenet of the work. If one didn't always do it well, one always made the effort.

If I had stayed in journalism, I would have slit my wrists by now. The most recent example of a media that didn’t do its job is the case of John Mark Karr, the pathetic loser who claimed he killed JonBenet Ramsey. A little healthy skepticism, and some digging, might have nipped this in the bud a little sooner, or at least presented some balance to the piece. Yes, there were a few doubters, notably Dan Abrams on MSNBC. But for the most part we were treated to a spectacle in which inane details, like how many times Karr got up from his seat on the plane to LA to use the bathroom, became the news of import. Infotainment is replacing hard news, and i
n the span of a generation we have gone from Walter Cronkite to Katie Couric. “Journalist” has come to mean “newsreader.” In such an environment, what really happened on the road to 9/11 can be forgotten if it is inconvenient to the plot -- or point -- that a particular writer or director is trying to make. We live in a state of fiction masquerading as fact. (I have no problem with people taking particular views, but label them as such -- "editorial commentary" or "opinion" -- and if I may quote my favorite jurist, Judy Sheindlin, don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining.)

The signs are ominous: with so many competing media outlets that need to fill never-ending news (and entertainment) holes that are as big as black holes, we cannot be bothered with accuracy, with fact-checking, with getting something right. (Ironically, the more cable news channels, the less actual news reported.) In a world of spin, truth has become a relative
thing.

This is most tragic in the news division. The television media especially seem to lack the fortitude or even the basic talent to question what they are fed. The result is a regurgitation of spin from one side or the other, thus compounding inaccuracy and confusion. No wonder the American p
ublic mistrusts the media almost as much as it does politicians.

Media laxity and herd-think has done our country another great disservice. Without launching too far into another tangent, let me say that the press did not do its job in the run-up to
the Iraq War. We are now paying the price for the Fourth Estate’s cowed cheerleading. I am Joe Blow sitting out here in the middle of the desert and I smelled a strategic and political rat from the very beginning. Did anyone of influence in the major media take a detached, critical view of the situation in 2002 and early 2003? Friday afternoon’s news dump was a report by the Senate Intelligence Committee that showed there was no connection between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda -- in fact, Saddam distrusted Al-Qaeda -- and that the Bush Administration had been told this by intelligence services before it went to war. Surely some enterprising reporters could have gotten somewhere near the bottom of this a little bit closer to the event. And now we learn this how many lives later?

But back to Medium. It’s a good show. It’s entertaining. It’s not accurate about the place in which it is set, but it would seem we Americans no longer prize accuracy above expediency. In TV-land, this is merely annoying. In the real world, the consequences can be damning.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

As usual you are right on! And of course always interesting and amusing (in a good) way.
I think Sunday night you and Marilyn need to jump in the car and go see Little Miss Sunshine!
Then go pig out at a Vietnamese joint!
Really is one of the best movies I have seen in years. Also worth watching is June Bug (it is alittle
chick flicky) but I think you can take it and I'm pretty sure Marilyn will enjoy it.
It is fun going off topic every now and then!
Carlin

Deb said...

I'm grinning at the Ely reference. I lived in Philadelphia during the Rocky era and after the first or second fight (can't remember which) he's injured and needs to get to a hospital. There were two with minutes of the Spectrum but they took ole Rocky all over the city, past the art museum steps and even managed to cross a bridge to NJ. I bet Adrianne was having a heart attack!

I was looking forward to the 9/11 movie when I heard it was a documentary. Now it's ruined. Most of us are able to handle the truth (sorry, Jack) and the magnitude of the event requires the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. This is not a time for dramatic license.

I love your blog, David. Thanks for all you share.

Vance Esler said...

My wife got hooked on the new show, "Psych." It is set in Santa Barbara. Having visited our son who lived there for several years, we are familiar with the town. So it was with interest that we began to notice the same inconsistencies that you describe in "Medium." I think the writers/producers just figure no one will notice, or at least no one will care. But I agree with you that it is symptomatic of our time.

"Don't bother me with the facts" seems to be the attitude of the day in many realms of life...

Anonymous said...

Before you post, perhaps YOU should check YOUR facts!

1. Ronald Reagan was quoting John Adams, and he simply misspoke. He meant to say, 'Facts are stubborn things.'

I'm sure YOU are perfect, and have never made one error in your entire life.

I met Ronald Reagan, and I can tell you that you are no Ronald Reagan.

2. Please tell me when and where the Bush administration said that Saddam ordered the planes to hit the World Trade Center (which is your implication). Never happened.

3. I'm sure you believe in your soul that President Bush said, "Mission Accomplished". In fact, that was a banner on the aircraft carrier where he spoke.

4. The 'fourth estate' 'cowering' to the administration never happened. You believe this, I'm sure, and yet you offer no proof.

5. Journalists report news. If the administration says this or that, they report that the administration said this or that. Anything beyond that is opinion, not reporting.

6. It was not the role of the news media to poke around in Iraq to see if there were weapons of mass destruction (which of course at one time existed in Iraq, since Saddam used poison gas against the Kurds...or do you deny this, as well?). That is the role of the intelligence agencies and the weapons inspectors of the UN. Remember them? They reported many times that Saddam refused to cooperate with the inspectors. Don't you remember that?

7. The 'Path to 9-11' docu-drama was not EVER meant or was promoted as a documentary. The writer of the mini-series stated that he boiled down the 10 or so instances where Clinton failed in his duty to protect America to one, and the whiny liberals had a hissy fit over even one.

I watched it and felt it went WAY TOO EASY on Clinton and Sandy Burger, who later STOLE CLASSIFIED DOCUMENTS from the National Archives. This is typical for the Clintons and their ilk.

8. The reason for going to war (if you can think that far back) is that we feared that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, and that he violated the terms of UN resolution 1441, 1284, 1205, 1194, 1154, 1137, 1134, 1115, 1060, 1051, 949, 715, 707, and many others.

Dispute it? Let's hear your evidence!

As far as 'Medium' goes, gee, it's a work of fiction.

Anonymous said...

Ok, I'll have a go at you as well.

1. Well Written.
2. Entertaining.
3. Informative.
4. Loved it.

Great job, Dave!
Loren

David Arenson said...

Thanks, all, including my conservative friend there, commenter #4. Nice to know I have raised your blood pressure! This is, of course, done on the direct orders of Howard Dean, Hillary Clinton, and Ted Kennedy at their weekly coven.

I could respond to your multitude of points, but I could write an encyclopedia, and you could write an encyclopedia, and we both would remain unconvinced of each other's arguments.

If CLL has taught me anything, it is the futility of banging my head against the wall, so I won't.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'm not surprised about your inability to respond to my points.

You say you were a reporter and an editior, but you won't even do any fact checking of your own.

Sad. Just don't let the facts get in the way, right?

David Arenson said...

Not "inability" to respond. Lack of desire.

As Robert Heinlein said:

"Never try to teach a pig a sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig."

Anonymous said...

GIRL or BOY, I can't be sure but I think you must be the person that is being ask by "the rock", Honey come on home. "Get back to where you once belonged" Beatles in case you don't get it.
First off you have no name except Anonymous , and that means nothing, except you don't want to be held accountable for your opinions.
WHIMP! At the very least David has the nerve to sign his name. As we are blessed to live in country that values freedom of speech, your opinion
is allowed to be heard. On the other hand, I feel you are looking for a victory that most of us finds worthless. As I wrote before, don't mess up our good
thing. So as just a person, I find you harsh. I think that you feel so strongly that maybe you should write of your own blog and not feel the need to lurk here.
You know what guy, I bet most people that know you feel exactly the same way. So, just for me, buddy, take a hike.
If you get the nerve to make your blog, please give us a link, just can't wait for the comments you get.
Your facts may be right or wrong. David's facts may be right or wrong. But it is totally pathetic that you will spend so much time trying to cut on someone that is willing to give so much more than you.
You are the little loser that never got over being picked on. Dude or Dudess we are talking cancer here, opinions on politics or anything else are off topic. See the big picture, got it?
Note, for the record, I will sign my name.
Carlin C.

Sorry David for being so aggressive, I know it is not your way. This person is irritating me beyond end and I have lost patience.
So everything I have written is my own freedom of speech I have chosen to exercise. And for you Anonymous, I do not know David as a person, simply as a blogger. But you are someone who
is a blog sucker, suck on brother (or sister, as the case may be). Oh yeah , And "BE HAPPY"! Good luck.

Anonymous said...

The comment above is to address number four and seven. Not to hurt other's feelings.
I just felt the need to be clear.
This person is not nice and must be very sad and bored. Sometimes it is best that those people stay in their own world because they can hurt others.
Just my humble thoughts.
Carlin C.

Anonymous said...

Just another 'tidbit' on President Reagan to annoy the liberals. This is from Lexis:

(Pat) Brown ran one of the most despicable televison ads in history - against Ronald Reagan, in the 1966 gubernatorial race. The ad carried the title, "Man versus Actor" and concluded with Brown's admonishing a group of black school children, "Remember, it was an actor who shot Lincoln".

Reagan responded as only Reagan could: "Oh," he said. "Pat wouldn't say anything like that."

One indication of what Ronald Reagan was like.

(PS I do thoroughly enjoy the fact that 'Carlin C.' lambasts me for being anonymous, yet he won't even sign his name! Ha Ha Ha!)

Anonymous said...

At least I had the nerve and honesty to sign my first name.
Because of narrow minded lunatics like you I am unable to
sign my last. You remind me of the little dude behind the
curtain on the Wizard of Oz. Of course in your head you liken
yourself to a Trojan warrior, that buddy is what makes you scary!
I can not believe I am even wasting my time on this, except for the
fact I am so grateful to David therefore feel the need to defend him.
I am sure he finds people defending him completely unnecessary,
maybe flattering through as I am sure he could careless for your
opinions. That and I have all day allow you to amuse me.
Just for the record I am a married housewife with four children, four
children are more considerate and open minded than you!
Hint: the C. of my last name is not for Cowboy.
And if you have CLL, that could explain your anger issue, understandably
there would be anger. Also there could be room made for learning
and hope.

David, sorry for engaging this person. I am well aware this is REALLY
not what your blog is about. For the moment though this is fun. I must
be as bored as the person I am hitting it with! Carlin C.

David Arenson said...

Actually, Reagan doesn't annoy me. As a person I have no problem with him. In fact, his sunny disposition and can-do attitude is what the country needed when he came into office. Where I digress with him is in most of his policies.

Believe it or not, I have a few conservative viewpoints -- I believe very much that the individual is responsible for his/her behavior -- and a strong libertarian streak. Legalized pot, anyone?

The problem with today's GOP is that it has been hijacked by neoconservatives and religious fundamentalists. The GOP, spending money like there's no tomorrow and intervening in civil liberties, can hardly be called a true conservative party. What it is, I don't know. But I like it less and less, and people like Jerry Ford and even Nixon are starting to look like titans compared to the cabal of fools running the party today.

Anonymous said...

(I noticed you've NEVER addressed my issues about why we went to war, did you? Have nothing to back up your positions, do you? Halliburton!!!)

No, I don't believe you have any conservative postions. You're as conservative as Norm Chomsky!

The Democrat party has become more and more liberal, starting with Williams Jennings Byran. Woodrow Wilson and FDR just speeded up the process.

The Republican party began with one large issue, abolitionism. The Republican party has been devoted to freedom and security from its beginning.

It has embraced liberals from time to time, but since World War II and the Cold War, conservatives have been leaving the Democrats and moving to the Republican party. The reverse is true.

Religious individuals tend to be conservative in most cases, believing to a greater or lesser extent that worshipping a higher power requires them to live an ordered, moral life. Liberals, of course, care little about morals, which is why Clinton's many transgressions (oops! larks opps! flings!) didn't bother Democrats/Liberals at all.

You hear a lot of clattertrap about how the Republicans are moving the country to a theocracy, or that we are going to invade hundreds of countries for 'cheap oil'.

What evidence besides yelling, 'Halliburton! Halliburton!' do you have?

Please provide some basis for your assertion that our 'civil liberties' are being trampled upon? Listening in on Al Qaeda telephone calls? Cutting off the flow of money to terrorists?

You have no idea what is going on, since you just parrot what the liberal mainstream media orders you to spout off about.

Sorry, protecting this country is a GOOD thing. We have given up no freedom, except perhaps taking hair gel on planes.

Why don't you turn your charter membership with the ACLU in and join those who actually care about national security?

Or maybe you're just content to stand on the street corner, yelling 'Halliburton! Halliburton!' to passing cars.

David Arenson said...

Halliburton! Halliburton!

Seriously now, you're not a real conservative, just a wingnut who has fallen for the neocon BS that has landed his country in the worst mess I can remember. Real conservatives are disgusted with Bush and his cronies. Read Kevin Phillips' book on how the GOP has changed, for example.