Category Archives: Media

On Social Media (PR) Douchebags Who Don’t Actually Do PR

It’s terrible to come out of blog hibernation with a post about not just social media, but social media PR of all things.  Jeebus, as my friend Sue would say.

But there are still waves of hype crashing around us, and riding those waves apparently are some people who call themselves Social Media PR Douchebags — I mean, Specialists.

Nothing wrong with social media PR, as long as there’s, you know — strategy and thoughtfulness driving the program.  But lately I’ve had more calls that go something like this:

“I’m hoping you and your Agency can help me.  You see, we thought we needed PR, and ________________ told us s/he could help, and that we didn’t really need PR at all, what we needed was SOCIAL MEDIA PR, and it sounded smart and kinda cool so …”

(At which point I nod or murmur sympathetically; like a bobby on a BBC detective show, I know where this is headed.)

“But what _______ mostly did is introduce us at some parties; and you know, it wasn’t all bad.  We were a TC50 finalist!  But afterwards?  We realized s/he didn’t know anyone else — any writers or editors outside that particular crowd.  And then it turned out there was no follow-up strategy at all.”

How did your launch go?  I ask.

“S/he told us not to bother with news, that it’s all relationships so we didn’t  need to do releases or launches except for a party.  But here’s the thing:  we are dead in the water.  No one really knows who we are anymore.  We need other influencers, and funding, and like three other audiences that we’re not reaching.  Can you help?”

I resist the urge to say, “Tsk tsk tsk.”   Instead I say, “Sure.”

(Note to haters:  There’s nothing wrong with “social PR.”  There’s a lot wrong with “social” that doesn’t have really smart PR thinking behind it; or that occurs in a vacuum, as if all you ever needed was Yelp, FB and Twitter to educate the world).

Lest you think this is a new phenomenon fueled by Twitter or Facebook?   This has been going on for a while.

In 2006, one of my clients was lured by a Personality (who very much recalls Eminem’s “It feels so empty without me!”)  The Personality convinced my client to fork over a chunk of our budget — even though we’d been doing really well for them.  He promised to Move the Needle for them in the New Field of Social Media, Which A Traditional Agency Couldn’t Hope to Understand.  (Except that, up til that point, he had been marketing himself as a traditional agency…)

But actually, it worked the other way around.  They helped move the needle for him.  He hadn’t had many clients, and they had new media and cloud computing cred.  He leveraged their coolness to get invited to parties, share buzzwords, state casually that old media was dead (very endearing in some circles), and formulate a bunch of tips and aphorisms, sharable and linkable in 140 characters or less.  Not bad, really.

They got… well, I don’t know what they got, but after a bit they asked us to take them back and they reinstated all our budget.  We still landed them in RWW and TC; but also in those weird little pubs that they needed to reach IT buyers; and the Merc.  And the Times.  And the Journal.

The Personality is still Going Strong.   If I were him, I’d think I was on the right track:  He has a new book out.  He goes to parties and speak at panels, he makes pronouncements which are widely re-tweeted without question.  It’s working for him, why wouldn’t it work for everyone else?

But then there are the people that are calling me and my Agency; burned, if not by him, by someone who wants to be him.

So here’s the thing, people:

If you want to launch a company or a service, call me.    We will talk about who your audience really is, and which media  or tribes– old, new, pubescent — you should be talking with to get to them.  Maybe it’s AdAge.  Maybe it’s TechCrunch or Mashable or TIME, or BusyMom or GreebleMonkey.  Or Parents.   Or AARP (hey, don’t snicker; that is one powerful publication).

We will help you figure out what mediums to use to reach them.  Yes, you probably need short video.  Yes, a social media press release is a good idea.   Yes, we’ll figure out a viral plan, and help you put in place a community with a platform like GetSatisfaction.com if you don’t already have one, or something more sophisticated if that’s what you need.

And maybe you should go to a party.  Maybe you should launch at an Event — sometimes there’s a perfect critical mass of the people you need to talk with attending.   But sometimes events just generate noise, and we have to figure out realistically whether that’s your best chance to be heard.  We can do that.  Together.

But parties alone?  That’s just for Social Media (PR) douchebags.  And most likely, the only person who’ll make money is … well, you know.

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Filed under Media, Media Relations, Social Media, Social Media PR, Uncategorized, Web 2.0

Old/New Media: Bring Out Your Dead!

Every week, I come across another blog comment where someone says they wish that old media would just hurry up and die already.

It’s not just that they know it should be dead.  It’s that often they seem to have limited vision of what would replace it.  It will be… social media!  New media! Unfiltered access to press releases, each with their own take on the news!  A thousand points of light!

That “old media is dead” is often intoned by someone who is surfing around, reading content that someone took time to link to — blogs, news sites, possibly even the online arm of some terrible dead old media — like BusinessWeek or the New York Times or WIRED or Rolling Stone — allows me to — well, write them off.  Or at least roll my eyes.

So this week, when I read that comment from another self-satisfied, snarky, there can-be-only-one-true-Ring/media/blog/whatever Clay or HeWhoMustNotBeNamedsays — but in this case, it was from a journalism student — it at least got my attention. *

In theory, J-school students are paying good money — as I once did — to learn the ethics, and laws, and standards, and tactics…

… of a dying profession.

Someone in J-school should be thinking about how to morph this field they’re entering.  How to do what they love, as the saying goes, so that the money — some money, at least — will follow. So having a J-School student eager to pronounce “old media” dead reminded me of that scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

“Look ‘ere, ‘e says he’s not dead!”

“He will be soon.  He’s very ill.”

(man) “I’m getting better!  I don’t want to go on the cart!”

“Don’t be such a baby!… Look, isn’t there something you can do?”

(at which point the cart driver clocks the older man on the head, and he’s laid — now presumably dead — on the cart)

This student pointed out that in the age of Twitter, we no longer need “old media.”  By the time they get to the news, he pointed out, it’s old already.

Wow, he’s going to be some reporter, eh?  Can’t get anything by him.

I don’t want to sound all naggy, but there are some things the New York Times does better than nearly any organization on the planet.  And many other “old media” that do really damn good reporting.  Including broadcast.

Just because they need to figure out a new way to make money, doesn’t mean the reporting is dead or even wrong — just the vehicle.  Suppose every time a car died, we shot its owner?  Yeah, that’s stupid too.

Every day, I read fantastic blogs doing great reporting as well.  And by reporting, I don’t mean tweeting that there was an earthquake.  I’m on Twitter.  I know there was an earthquake.

I mean making me aware of aspects of the news I hadn’t thought of, because I don’t have access to it.  The New York Times and its ilk can open doors that you and I can’t open — and that should be opened.  Westword, my local “alternative newsweekly,” has been doing great reporting for 30 years.

On a completely different level, a local newspaper (or blog, if everyone in the community has a computer) unites a community in a way that niche  blogs or multi-media cannot.

So put away the Harry Potter books, okay?  This is not a situation where one kind of media must die  in order for the other to survive.   (See: he’s dead Jim!)

Old media does have to figure out something new.  Not just “let’s make them pay for content,” though that’s a start.  The first step in innovation is usually incremental; and the next step will be more radical.

* * *

Gordon Crovitz, Steven Brill and Leo Hindery aligned last week behind a pay-wall.  Don’t know whether you’d pay for Gordon Crovitz?  Maybe you’d pay for others.  I probably would.  And the AP building its own aggregator?  They’re totally onto something: stop AP content and, in this magical world of downsizing that is contemporary journalism, you have just choked off 1/3 of most American news — papers and sites– at least.

Whatever we come up with, we’ll need the old media, new media, social media — and probably something that hasn’t even been labeled yet — plus  our brand new J-school peeps to deliver this excellent new model.

Something hopefully more imaginative than clonking old media over the head and throwing it on the cart.

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Why Smart People Are Still Pondering This Old/New Media Thing

You already realize I’m a bit of a science geek.  But you may not know I’m also a history geek — not insufferably so, but I’m looking beyond what I thought I knew to find new insights.    On my bedside table, along with my fiction books and books on how to not be a crappy parent, there usually sits something by Joseph Ellis or someone equally readable.

I tell you this as context for when I say that, even for me, the piece in the January 26th issue of the New Yorker, Back Issues: The Day the Newspaper Died, is a bit of a slog (See: Does Google Make Us Stupid? Let Me Count the Ways).  But it’s worth at least zooming through for the parallels between newspapers as our founders envisioned them in the First Amendment — as opposed to our new vs. old media whinging today.

The piece essentially begs the question:  what’s the value of having an organized free press, with reach and access, to really go after our government?

Some of the value can be seen in the lengths a government would go to avoid that free press.  In the New Yorker story, we’re reminded that President John Adams tried to have his critics arrested for treason with the Alien and Sedition Acts — which he also helped create and pass.  I doubt he would have outlawed a TechCrunch, or a small paper writing about the local 4H results — both evolving and thriving aspects of our current media landscape, I’d venture.  But a John Adams, today — would he outlaw the New York Times or Washington Post for breaking the story of Guantanamo, or the White House emails?  To quote one potential White House resident, you betcha.

I bring this up because every five minutes on Techmeme, some blogger hits bigtime clickthroughs by proclaiming the imminent death of old media.  But we need newspapers.  And blogs (see: Twitter, the New York Times and the Guantanamo Video).  What is this ridiculous psychodrama where someone has to be dead?
It gets a little bit Social-Media-Echo-Chamber-y.   For example,  I’m normally an avid reader of Clay Shirky’s blogs. I just like literally how he thinks.  But last month he got picked up in BoingBoing and ReTweeted umpty galillion times for throwing the Guardian-UK this tired old bone:  that the New York Times is on its last legs, and that’s a harbinger for the category: “I think that’s it for newspapers.  Why pay for it at all?”  After awhile, Erick Schonfeld (whose work I also follow and  respect) and TechCrunch (and all their commenters and fans who want to be liked by TechCrunch) chimed in, and it got absurd.
Has it occurred to anyone that the economy could also play a tiny role in these “decaying fortunes?”
I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and reading everything I can on the subject — from the kinda-wacky-kinda-brilliant game(r) theory of Jeff Bercovici at Portfolio.com:

Here’s how it would work: As you browse FT.com, you have a small status bar at the bottom of your screen, akin to the “life bar” in first-person shooter games that shows you how healthy or injured your character is. In this case, the status bar shows you how many free page views you have left.

Now here’s the fun part: If you want to exceed your quota but you don’t want to pay, there are other ways. In video games, you can usually replenish your life bar by collecting floating gold coins or stars or mushrooms or what have you; why not do the same on a newspaper site?

to the practically reactionary suggestion of  former Washington Post editor  Peter Osnos — who outright suggests that Google save newspapers, and argues that it’s in the company’s best interests.  An excerpt:
If the past is a guide, there will come a time when these behemoths essentially are monopolies, and society will rise up in protest, to the relief and, usually, the benefit of everyone except them…
There are a lot of ideas circulating for saving the news business…but getting Google (and its smaller competitors) to share revenue with creators of content would be a money stream that essentially does not now exist.
to the altogether different take by The Long Tail (and Wired EIC) author Chris Anderson, who wrote in a recent piece that “free”  may not be sustainable as a business model in a recession.

Media isn’t broken, to paraphrase a comment I recently saw on Chris Brogan’s blog — it’s just not fixed yet.  Just because we haven’t imagined the next form it’s going to take, doesn’t mean it’s “dead,” or that new or old journalists must prostitute themselves with “content marketing” in some form  (not that there’s anything evil about that, but blurry lines don’t help anyone).

What do you think? 
Do you have ideas?  Share them in the comments!
P.S. — for more excellent ideas, see the comments on Matthew Ingram’s post, “Google Is Not Your Sugar Daddy.” (link in comments below)

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Thoughtful Pwns Cluelessness (When You’re Not Ready, Stay Home – Part II)

You wouldn’t think that anyone would have to write a post telling companies or PR people — or just about any person, really — to be thoughtful.  Or put another way, to at least not be stupid.

Unfortunately stupid is just how some people roll.

And as it happens, the rules for “don’t be stupid” (with apologies to Google) apply as well to regular life as they do to PR.  They’re spectacularly easy to avoid.

Here’s a quick (true) example.

Years ago, a client with a Very Big Company was planning a multi-country launch of a Big Deal Product…in early Autumn.  By big deal, I mean that they were planning to fly in a bunch of journalists, customers and analysts from across the globe. My colleagues at the time were in a tizzy, coordinating with other agencies who handled the Very Big Company’s business in other parts of the world.

There was drama.  There was excitement.

There was …just one problem, I realized as I looked at the calendar.

The launch date was on Yom Kippur.

I knew that several of this company’s key beat reporters were Jewish.  The reporter at BusinessWeek, at Dow-Jones, at the AP, just for starters.  I told my colleagues: “if our VeryBigCompany client has any sense at all, they will move the launch by one day.  Because I am sure that they want coverage from these reporters.  And I am equally sure that these reporters a) will not come; and b) may even be offended that our client was so insensitive as to have a Big Launch on a High Holy Day.”

I mean, they’re not called the low holy days, right?

My colleagues basically told me to pipe down.  They didn’t want to be the ones telling the Very Big Company that it had made a mistake.  Plus, they reasoned, it was too much trouble to change all the reservations and arrangements.

My take was, the whole point of the reservations and arrangements was to get coverage — and if they weren’t going to get at least some key coverage, then why make said reservations and arrangements?

I didn’t exactly pipe down — I think there’s a slip in a personnel file somewhere that says something like, “M. really got on my nerves about the Yom Kippur thing.”

When the launch came, a whole host of reporters didn’t show.  The client — who is now my friend — told me it went something like this:

Client:  “Where is everyone?”

Us: “Well, it’s Yom Kippur.”

Client:  “Did we know this?”

Us:  “Er, um…”

Client:  “Why would we go to all this trouble to have an event on a day when our key reporters cannot attend?”

Various Agencies:  “Er, um…”

So here’s my point.  There are simple and obvious things you can do to avoid looking or being stupid — in life or in PR.  This goes with my “If you’re not ready — stay home” post below.  So here’s my list:

  1. Check the calendar.  Avoid holidays, days when the markets are closed — days of significance to any of your stakeholders in fact.  Some of this is about sensitivity and image; some of it is simply pragmatic.  Take your pick, but either way — do your homework and don’t be stupid.  Check Earnings calendars, too.
  • This is equally true for life.  A relative who did her graduate work at the University of Tennessee was planning her wedding, and was surprised and pleased to find a picturesque little chapel on campus open on short notice — for just one Sunday afternoon in October. You can guess what happened — I love her for not knowing that it was the football-crazy Vols’ HOMECOMING WEEKEND and PEYTON MANNING’S DEBUT, but it is also true that we almost lost the minister because many roads into campus were either blocked off or backed up.  On the bright side, we had conversations like this:  “I know, we’re an hour late and we have the flower girl, but we’re stuck in traffic. Hey, they’re putting some kid named Peyton Manning in for Todd Helton!”
  • 2.  Speaking of homework: do it.  PR peeps could have avoided that whole ridiculous Chris Anderson blacklist thing (and no, I’m not on it) if people would just take a few minutes to read.  How hard is it to go to WIRED — or wherever — search on the topic you’re wanting to pitch — and see who’s writing about it?
  • Real life parallel:  a friend recently sent invites to a big party to Mr. and Mrs. Roberts — not realizing that Mr. Roberts had died some time back. A few questions and a little research would have prevented a painful and awkward moment.
  • 3.  Sampling = not just for Costco.  If you’re going to suggest a press person stake his or her reputation on a product or service you’re suggesting, make sure it does what you’ve promised.  Try it.  Look for flaws, anticipate questions.  This isn’t rocket science.  And if it doesn’t perform as advertised?  Tell your client that it may not work for the person with the million subscribers, either.  (See:  If it’s not ready? Stay Home, part one).
  • 4.  Don’t pitch a story you don’t believe in.  I learned a while back that a at least half of my clients want to be in the Wall Street Journal, preferably above the fold.  In print, if possible. (Never mind that online would take a reader to the website — but, lo!  That is a post for another time).

I have three choices.  I could laugh:  mbwahahaha.

Or I could tell them what it will take to get in the Wall Street Journal, or the New York Times, or TechCrunch, or ReadWriteWeb.

And I could also work really, really, REALLY hard to find an angle — a story, an intersection — that *they* can tell — and that I can tell.  Something true, and (this is harder) something that people not at my client’s company would care about.

Usually, I do all three – not necessarily in order.

Things have gone badly the few times in my career when I have not followed my own advice on this last caveat.  I was once browbeat by a client into phone-stalking a particular reporter at the WSJ.  I really didn’t want to call him, but the client was threatening pretty much life, limb, and a huge account if I didn’t.

You know what happened next.  The reporter was annoyed, disappointed in me, and basically told me he’d lost faith in me, that I was selling out, I knew better, and I shouldn’t call him anymore.  I lost a great relationship; and that particular client is no longer with his company, either.

That’s what I get for being stupid.

Now it’s your turn: what other rules should be on this list?

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How to Save Newspapers; or, lessons of the Giant Water Bug

How do I feel about the newspaper business these days?

I’m reminded of a scene in the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, where the author Annie Dillard describes watching a frog that seemed fine, placidly sitting on a creek bank.  As she watches, and within seconds, he is “shrinking before my eyes like a deflating football.”  He contracts, as if all the air and fluid has just been let out of him, “like a kicked tent.”  In a moment there remains only a bag of skin floating on the water where before there had been a healthy being.

It’s an unforgettable image.

Dillard later discovers that the frog was the victim of a giant water bug, which paralyzes its victims from underneath, then sucks the lifeblood out of them — literally, blood, muscles, bone and tissue — and departs, leaving just a sack of skin.  She uses the incident to set the tone of the book, that there’s this wild interplay of prey and predator going on around us all the time, but we’re too busy and distracted to notice.

Sucking the life from traditional media?

Sucking the life from traditional media?

Newspapers… lifeblood being sucked out… you see where I’m going with this.

You might have noticed that your local paper is roughly the size of a Watchtower pamphlet (or a Home Depot circular, don’t want to offend anyone).

But if you wonder whom I might have cast as the water bug in this metaphor, I’ll spell it out for you: the i-n-t-e-r-n-e-t  s-e-a-r-c-h  e-n-g-i-n-e.

I’m not a hater, though.  I mean, here I am — linking away.

I am having a “wish I’d thought of that” moment — because in spite of all my personal worry and angst at seeing friends and colleagues laid off — I tweet about a website that tracks journalist layoffs, of all things — leave it to a journalist to put, elegantly and concisely, just what needs to be done.

To save newspapers.

And I don’t mean recycling.

I get a lot of news online.  But I get a lot of news offline, too.  And as I said below, there are things online journalists and bloggers can do unbelievably well — and some that, say, the New York Times does better than nearly anyone on the Planet.

Which doesn’t make it more pleasant to discover that Sergei Brin and Larry Page, founders of Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) could buy every newspaper in the U.S.A and still put away $12 billion for their next acquisitions.

What does that mean?  Well, do you want all your news to come from one place?  Do you want your news at all?  Because, someone has to write it.  And it would be good if that someone got paid, was trustworthy, or at least was trying to adhere to some code of ethics.

This crossed my mind when Tom Foremski of Silicon Valley Watcher last week put forth his own water-bug control idea.  He writes:

US newspapers didn’t realize GOOG is a media company until it was too late. Google was able to scrape its content virtually for free, from newspapers and other web sites, and sell advertising around that content. Newspapers spend huge amounts of money to create their content.

Newspapers, and other media companies, have allowed Google to commoditize content, and retain the value in the aggregation and distribution.

Yet the technology for aggregation and distribution is a commodity — content is not a commodity.

Newspapers and other media need to rally around their content and not let Google or any other search engine scrape it for free.

Or else, Foremski continues, “the media will be the next big bailout.  It’s too important to fail.”

Amen.

Of course, how to do that — make search engines pay for the content they scrape, while making it available to consumers?  What are your ideas?

Figure it out.  It’s got to be better than just waiting for the water bug to finish sucking out your guts.

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Diamonds, Tattoos and Bad Reviews Are Forever: or, When You’re Not Ready — Stay Home (Part I)

A few weeks back, I was perusing ReadWriteWebfor my daily dose of insight and Web 2.0 news.  And I came across this headline:

SocialU: One of the Most Obnoxious Apps We’ve Seen in Awhile

The piece is harsh.  I had to wonder, what was SocialU thinking in pushing for a review?

Oh yes, I’ve been there.  Not often, because I think we’ve established that I try to be honest with all concerned for everyone’s sake…but once would have been too many times.  (I was even there recently, after being assured that all bugs were fixed – more on that in the next post)

A note about PR:  We often can get you or your product in front of the media — maybe even in front of Big Media.  And here’s what we at Hoffman tell our clients: if you succeed, you succeed in front of tens, maybe hundreds of thousands.  In the case of someone like Walt Mossberg, possibly millions.

But, we add, if you, your product or service fail — well, you fail in front of that same number.   And it could look like this:

SocialU is a half-baked, condescending, poorly designed, ad-ridden lifestreaming app built in Adobe AIR. We’d refrain from writing about it, but the things we dislike about it seem worth mentioning and with all the frothy clone-like startups flying around on the web, who doesn’t like seeing one that deserves it get a good blog-lashing sometimes?

Half-baked?  Condescending?  Poorly-designed?  Ouch.

And that‘s from a reasonable, thoughtful, smart as heck writer like Marshall Kirkpatrick.  He doesn’t strike me as taking pride in being a “gotcha” writer.  Some venues could have been worse (in other words, good thing ValleyWag doesn’t do many reviews).

You’d think any good PR counsel would have stood in the figurative doorway, with the tactical equivalent of a Howitzer, barring SocialU from exposing its half-baked service to the scrutiny of the media until it was, um…baked. Right?

Right.  But even good PR counsel can be ignored.

So here’s the point of my little rant:  if the product or service isn’t ready?

Stay home.

Show Marshall’s review to the Board that’s breathing down your neck for coverage.  Better good coverage in a month, than “condescending, half-baked” tomorrow.  Or show your Director of Marketing a crappy review from TechCrunch, or Mossberg or NetworkWorld — wherever your product plays.  Then, in your mind, imagine your own product there.  Or imagine the Twitter-ites calling you out and posting your blog and reviews across the world on those cute TinyURLs.

Oh.  Need to throw up just a little?

I bring this up also because the economy’s sucking like a refurbished Hoover, and there will undoubtedly be more pressure to get results.

But let’s be clear: no Board pressure, no amount of denial of whether your “baby” has warts (or whether the silly media will overlook said warts)  will make up for someone calling your baby crap in front of hundreds of thousands of people, and telling said legions that it would be a waste of their time/money to try/subscribe/buy it.  And I as a PR person — even a damned good one — can’t change what the product delivers.

So.  Work on it, nurture it, start over if you have to.  This isn’t high school picture day, with re-takes in three weeks.  Because remember what your Mom told you about how you “don’t get a second chance to make a first impression?”

It’s almost impossible on the Internet, where a bad review lives forever.

More on this subject in my next post, but if you have a startup (or even a mature company) and disagree, please weigh in.

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The Daily Show, The New Yorker, and Who Protesteth Too Much?

Vodpod videos no longer available.

A tip of the hat — make that a terrorist fist bump — to Jon Stewart, for summing up in three sentences what I wanted to say all last week but couldn’t exactly articulate, from the moment I read the virtual gasps of indignation on Twitter, until I finally saw the actual cover of the New Yorker magazine that had made such a stink. Once you actually see it — I hope — you get it: yes, it’s tasteless. Yes, it makes you uncomfortable.

IT’S SATIRE, PEOPLE. As Jon Stewart says in the video:

” Senator Obama should put out the statement that he is in no way offended or upset by this cartoon portraying him as a Muslim extremist, of which he is not one. Because you know who gets upset about cartoons? Muslim extremists.”

Check it out, because that gem alone might be worth the other four minutes. But wait. There’s more.

He points out that the media’s tsk-tsking on behalf of the Obamas (anytime we have Anderson Cooper and Bill O’Reilly agreeing, we should at least raise an eyebrow) is a little too angelic; but then, “raising questions about Obamas’ character without saying whether they are actually true is SO THEIR JOB.”

There’s no saving the media on this one: the New Yorker cover being so piously renounced simply sketched in one image all the intimations about the Obamas’ character that many news organizations have been alluding to — or pretty much saying outright — in the first place.

Now, I’m usually a bit of a media apologist; and what’s more, I hate bandwagons.

But in this case, the media should apologize — just hit their collective foreheads, go “Doh! What were we thinking? We look like IDIOTS! Stinky or poopy is right!”

p.s. – another terrorist fist bump to Robert French (@robertfrench), whose excellent blog and post pointed me to the Jon Stewart clip in the first place.

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