R.J. Cutler: What I Read

The Atlantic Wire

How do people deal with the torrent of information pouring down on us all? What sources can't they live without? We regularly reach out to prominent figures in media, entertainment, politics, the arts, and the literary world to hear their answers. This is drawn from an email exchange with filmmaker R.J. Cutler whose documentaries include The September Issue, The War Room and, most recently, The World According to Dick Cheney, which debuts on Showtime March 15.

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When I wake up I turn on Mike and Mike in the Morning on ESPN, a radio show I mostly watch on TV, though sometimes I listen to it as a radio feed on my iPhone. While I've always enjoyed watching football and rooting for the New York Jets, I decided to give myself over fully to the NFL about five years ago, when I needed a distraction from the tragedy of the Isiah Thomas/James Dolan decimation of the New York Knicks. Mike and Mike is fundamentally an NFL-oriented talk show and I find myself really engaged by the dynamic created between lifelong-fan Mike Greenberg and former-pro Mike Golic. Greenie is a Jets fan, so that helps, but I'm also compelled by the fact that they argue about sports in the way I wish people argued about art and film and politics: it's passionate, opinionated and humorous, but not personal (except in jest) or agenda-oriented. They're not opposed to agreeing, or to considering the other point of view, and their guests are the same. I find it oddly soothing.

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Next I go online and read the New York Times, the Daily Beast, Deadline Hollywood, Mike Allen's Playbook and my Twitter feed (which I use primarily for news gathering.) I also check Grantland, Metsblog.com and TheJetsblog.com. I then take a look at the print edition of the New York Times. While working out I watch either Morning Joe on MSNBC or parts of Mike and Mike that I haven't seen already. Living in LA keeps me in my car a lot and I'm constantly flipping back and forth between the following Sirius/XM Radio stations: NFL Radio, MLB Radio, POTUS, MSNBC, CNN and FOX NEWS.

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The reasons I watch MSNBC are: 

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  • To be comforted by people who share my opinion.
  • To hear what Rachel Maddow has to say.
  • To feel superior as my side gloats.

The reasons I watch Fox News are:

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  • To be agitated by people with whom I don't agree.
  • To see what the other side's plotting.
  • To feel superior as the other side flails.

The reasons I watch CNN:

  • I liked (and will miss) listening to James and Mary do political analysis.
  • I'm curious to see what Jeff Zucker is going to do with the network.
  • Sometimes MSNBC and Fox News go to commercial at the same time. 

Throughout the day I frequently use my iPhone to check Deadline Hollywood and my Twitter feed, as well as the Daily Beast, the New York Times, Metsblog, and Thejetsblog. I record the following shows on a daily basis and watch them when I have the time/inclination: The Daily Show, Rachel Maddow, Hardball, The Colbert Report, The O'Reilly Factor, David Letterman. I also record The Charlie Rose Show and check it every night before going to sleep. I watch about half the episodes he airs. On Sunday morning I watch Meet the Press and This Week with George Stephanopoulos

If I had to name my favorite media personality it would be a tie between Jon Stewart and Trey Parker/Matt Stone. Honest, wise, funny and right. Sam Sifton was right up there when he was writing food criticism for the New York Times. He had a vision for the prominent role of food in the culture, and for the role of food criticism in asserting that prominence. And man can he write. Sam, we hardly knew ye.

My general opinions of the state of opinion journalism: I believe the media-entertainment complex and the corporate consolidation of media ownership is as significant a threat to freedom of the press (and therefore to our democracy) as any that we face. Disney, Fox, Comcast and Viacom own our free speech and I have long believed it could very well be the end of us. 

Also, something I don't understand: Why are political pundits never held accountable for their frequently inaccurate analysis? They present their points of view with such certainty, and yet they're never asked to revisit their assertions and take their lumps for being wrong. If a radio sports show host boldly declared that a team was going to run away with the Super Bowl and that team ended up losing by three touchdowns, he or she would have to explain themselves and take the heat for their blunders. What's the shame in political commentators having to do the same? In the wake of the 2012 election, I know Dick Morris didn't get renewed at Fox News, but he'll end up with a contract somewhere, and let's face it, someone had to take the heat for Karl Rove's on-air behavior on Election Night. And it wasn't going to be Karl Rove. Rove got to go on Fox and explain that Obama's victory wasn't a victory at all. And where was George Will on the Sunday after Election Day? Not on This Week with George Stephanopoulos, that's for sure. I'm just saying, credibility comes with accountability. 

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