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More on That NYT Article
Monday, December 17, 2007 | posted by Mike

Well, the Internets are still abuzz with reaction to that NYT article. OK, not really...but Chow and Ruhlman weigh in and the general feeling with them and here at TVFF is: Well, yeah, we kinda knew that.

I say that not as any kind of indictment of the piece, which featured some genuine scoops and good analysis. It's just that those of us who have been paying close attention have been following the trend for some time, and so it's not a surprise. And the juiciest stuff...the ongoing Mario info...has been covered here and elsewhere at length.

But there were two things that left me scratching my head a bit, and I'm not sure what was behind either of them. The first, however, reminds me one of my pet peeves of political journalism.

First off, there's the rather odd back-and-forth about whether or not Mario's upcoming Spain show was up for inclusion on Food Network before heading for PBS. Here's the relevant part:

Mr. Tuschman of the Food Network said it had passed on that series. “It was not the right fit for us.”

Mr. Batali, who still participates in the Food Network’s “Iron Chef America” competition, said the show had not been offered to the Food Network

Now, that just flat out doesn't make sense. Unless there is some sort of misunderstanding involved (e.g. FN was offered the show before Mario's involvement or something like that) they can't both be correct. And yet, this is what the reader is given. I'm not sure why...it may be that the reporter hit a dead end in following up on whose account was accurate.

But this also illustrates one of the failings of objective media coverage. In the pursuit of being "fair and balanced" (ugh), there is a willingness to let each side of an issue have his or her say and then simply present it to the reader. This is all well and good when both sides are being truthful, but it also opens up a false equivalence between someone on one side who is telling the truth and someone on the other who is not.

I'm not saying that's the case here. And, as I said, it may be the result of some misunderstanding. But the way it is presented in the article certainly leaves the reader with an impression that there is a conflict there and that one side is being less than truthful -- without any greater insight or explanation. Just leaving it out there as a Bob-said-Mario-said isn't helpful.

The second thing that really caught my eye was this quote from Food Network President Brooke Johnson:
Ms. Johnson called “Top Chef” a copy of “The Next Food Network Star,” but “without the care about the food content, which we bring to everything we do.”
OK. My first issue with this quote is that comparing the relative originality of reality competition shows is kind of pointless at this juncture. It's been almost eight years since the debut of Survivor, the modern originator of reality competition, and nearly six since the first American Idol, whose "win the competition and win a record deal" model both shows most closely resemble. And with shows looking for the next great model, designer and whatever else populating each night of the week, claiming "originality" isn't the most compelling argument.

The second issue here is her characterization that Top Chef doesn't "care about the food content." If anything, Top Chef is painfully obsessed with the food content, sometimes to the detriment of the show, which can feel elitist to those of us who don't dine in three star restaurants every week. The Next Food Network Star can do a lot of things Iron Chef can't... it's fun, populist, engaging, human and it features people with whom FN's audience can relate. But it's just not going to win a foodie-cred pissing match with Iron Chef.

For some reason, I can't get out of my head the idea that this assertion is somehow related to or reflected in the Anthony Bourdain announcement from last week. Unfortunately, I'm not usually invited to the Food Network Publicity Department Brainstorming Retreat (sounds like fun...do you think they go bowling?), so I'm still having trouble seeing the big picture. Guess I'll just have to keep groping around that elephant.

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