Dispatches > Human Race

The Buzz

Issue: "All in the family," March 2, 2002

Seeing evil
President George W. Bush's trip to South Korea sounded on the network news like a time-travel trip to the 1980s: A Republican president had undiplomatically identified "evil" in foreign capitals. ABC anchor Charles Gibson opened the nightly newscast on Feb. 18 by describing Mr. Bush's "axis of evil" rhetoric as "saber rattling," and White House reporter Terry Moran declared, "The president and other top officials are trying to calm jittery nerves in Asia and dispel images of Mr. Bush as a dangerous warmonger." CBS's John Roberts added that "both protesters and politicians alike in South Korea worry that by labeling North Korea part of an 'axis of evil,' President Bush has set back by years efforts at reconciliation with the North." On NBC the next night, Tom Brokaw warned: "Axis of evil. The president in South Korea where his harsh words for the North are causing concern," and reporter Campbell Brown concluded from Seoul that "the fear among many here" is "that Bush has damaged progress and renewed old animosity." TV news stars suggested the pressure was all on TeamBush to moderate its tone. On CBS, Mr. Roberts concluded from Korea that "tough talk about the North is a sensitive issue here. Monday tempers boiled over and a shouting match broke out when a member of South Korea's ruling party said it was President Bush who was evil incarnate. In his speech at the border, President Bush is expected to dial back on the provocative rhetoric, not using the 'axis of evil' comment." RISING ISRAEL-PALESTINIAN TENSIONS DEBATED IN NATION'S HIGHEST COURT
How far is too far?
Palestinians are not the only ones who want Israeli Defense Forces to stop shooting. Some Israelis are protesting after one of the bloodiest weeks of fighting. In one challenge to government assaults inside Palestinian territory, Israel's High Court sided with doves, issuing a temporary order to halt military destruction of Palestinian homes. But in another, the same court rejected a petition by some members of the Israeli Knesset to halt the government's "targeted killing" policy toward Palestinians. Lawmaker Muhammad Barakah charged that "Israel is executing people without a trial." Justice Eliyahu Mazza replied, "[T]error ... is the enemy of all humanity and not of one particular country. We are talking about the killings of innocent people and [terror] attacks. All countries view terror as a joint shared enemy." Plaintiff: "And who is to determine who is a terrorist?" Mazza: "Certainly not the court." Plaintiff: "But the occupying force in the territories, Israel, is responsible for the lives of the inhabitants." Mazza: "According to our knowledge, there is intelligence on the individuals who are being targeted. We are not conducting the war here ... the conduct of [Israel's] war against terror is outside the sphere [of this court]." At least 883 Palestinians and 273 Israelis have been killed since the latest fighting began more than a year ago. BROADCASTING CHIEF RESIGNS AMID CRITICISM
Technical difficulties
For an association of communicators, words matter. And in the end, Wayne Pederson's words, which described his vision for the future of the National Religious Broadcasters, sunk him. Mr. Pederson protested that he had been misunderstood, but resigned as president of the NRB just before he was to be formally installed at last month's convention. The controversy centered around Mr. Pederson's remarks to his local newspaper in which he decried the reputation of NRB as too closely "associated with the far Christian right"-suggesting for some an intent to reimage the organization. James Dobson, a dominant player in Christian media and keynote speaker at the NRB convention, had warned that if Mr. Pederson remained, he would walk. His speech challenged fellow broadcasters not to be silent on the issues of the day-a blunt challenge to the Pederson remarks. The search is on to find a replacement. Study: Commercials on TV take up over 1/3 of some hours
Clutter glut
The good news is that people have more time to go the fridge for a sandwich. The bad news is that they're seeing less actual programming on television. An advertising industry study released last month documents that TV "clutter"-ads, promos, and public service announcements-is on the rise, with such interruptions hitting an all-time high last year during certain parts of the day: early morning, daytime, and local news slots. Daytime hours were the most congested, with 21 minutes of clutter in a typical hour, compared to 16 in prime time. The report cites NBC as the most cluttered network and ABC the least. On cable, E! and Fox Family (which has since become part of ABC) were the least cluttered. Ad agencies are not necessarily thrilled about the extra ad time, since many advertisers believe that commercials are less memorable when viewers see many of them at once. Meanwhile, some channels are running on-screen promotions (usually in the lower right-hand corner of the screen) during shows. Since many viewers channel surf during commercials or zap past ads with their VCR, some network officials believe this is the only way to reach viewers. Wal-Mart: Biggest in world?
Chain smokes
Wal-Mart may soon be more than the world's largest retailer; it's on the road to becoming the world's largest company. Some analysts expect the retail giant to hit $220 billion in revenue for the 2001 fiscal year, which would unseat ExxonMobil ($212.9 billion) from atop Fortune magazine's annual list of top revenue-producing companies. That means that 40 years after Sam Walton opened his first store, his business philosophy dominates the world. "Try to squeeze the lowest price possible from the people who sell to you, and then pass the savings on to the customer," was the way retail consultant Kurt Barnard described the chain's customer-friendly approach. The economic uncertainty that hurt other companies has only helped Wal-Mart, as the recession has encouraged bargain hunting. Wal-Mart posted an 8.3 percent gain in January same-store sales, while bankrupt Kmart is reorganizing and Toys R Us, the world's biggest toy retailer, plans to close 64 of its 1,609 stores. The chain's strongest direct competitor is now Target. But Wal-Mart may soon face an entirely new challenge: how to keep the size and bureaucracy of the company from shifting its focus away from service to customers. Retail history is littered with large chains-such as Woolworth, Sears, and A&P-that lost their way. FTC investigates "Miss Cleo"
Predictable problems
The future may not be bright for TV tarot card reader "Miss Cleo." After receiving over 2,000 complaints from angry customers, federal authorities are trying to shut down her employers-Access Resource Services and Psychic Readers Network. Investigators with the Federal Trade Commission describe Miss Cleo's hotline as "permeated with fraud"-including false promises of free psychic readings, unscrupulous billing practices, and abusive telemarketing tactics. According to the FTC, nearly 6 million people have responded to Miss Cleo's barrage of television ads and called the service. The average call costs over $60; some run into the hundreds of dollars. When people call the 800 number for the "free" reading offered by the ads, they are directed to call a 900 line that costs $4.99 per minute after the first three minutes. Howard Beales, the agency's director of consumer protection, said customers would receive up to 10 calls a day, mainly automated messages telling them that "Miss Cleo had a dream about them and they should call back." Even people who asked to be added to a "don't call" list received the calls. "That's not a dream," said Mr. Beales. "It's a nightmare." Meanwhile, the state of Florida is going after Miss Cleo with a lawsuit. Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth claims her psychics are shams and wants her to prove she really is a trained shaman from Jamaica. He said one of Miss Cleo's psychics turned out to be "a lady at home who was barefooted with a night coat on, sitting at a breakfast table with a Fruit Loops box, and she was just reading from the script that was given to her."

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