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March 17th, 2011 |

What NPR could learn from Snooki

By Douglas Burns

A politician I knew in the 1990s had this wonderful idea about releasing information to reporters to trial-balloon ideas: Hold pen-and-notebook sessions where cameras and tape recorders were not allowed.

That way, this politician told me, if you don’t like what’s printed you can just claim you were misquoted.

Of course, that was the ’90s.

The best strategy for anyone in the public arena is to follow what could be called “The Jersey Shore Rule.” Assume you are always on, miked-up, and the click of a cell phone or a Flip camera device away from international exposure on the Net.

This past week, conservative activist James O’Keefe posted a hidden-camera video of a National Public Radio executive ripping the tea party movement and the Republican Party’s connection to it. According to the Associated Press, the video shows two activists posing as potential $5 million NPR donors in a meeting with two execs from the public broadcaster.

One of them, Ron Schiller, tore into the GOP, providing political nitroglycerin to rev the engines of conservative forces looking to strip funding from NPR based on fiscal austerity and charges of bias.

“The current Republican Party is not really the Republican Party,” Schiller said in the video, according to The Associated Press. “It’s been hijacked by this group that is… not just Islamophobic but, really, really xenophobic. They believe in sort of white, middle America gun-toting — it’s scary. They’re seriously racist, racist people.”

Painting all of “white middle America” with a broad brush is absurd. That includes most of all of my native Carroll County, Iowa, a place in which the following politicians have won elections in recent years: President Barack Obama, President George W. Bush, U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa. We are hardly a monolith here in middle America, Mr. Schiller.

Schiller resigned immediately, as he should have, although the guerilla film tactic and ruse are not above examination.

The resignation wouldn’t have been necessary if Schiller had spent some time talking (or maybe doing a few shots of Jack) with “Jersey Shore’s” Nicole Polizzi, 23, the queen of reality TV famously known as Snooki.

Right now, MTV’s “Jersey Shore” is the highest-rated show on cable TV for the key advertising demographic of 12 to 34 year olds. Snooki’s on the cover of this month’s Rolling Stone magazine, flying high above the headline, “Snooki’s Wild Ride: America’s No. 1 Party Girl.”

In the provocative magazine piece, Snooki describes our wired world and Americans’ insatiability with 24/7 reality.

Snooki is “on” all the time.

Rolling Stone reports there are 35 fixed cameras in the “Jersey Shore” home run by remote control, 12 hand-held cameras and seven others.

“Watched they are, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for the two months it takes to film a season,” Erik Hedegaard writes in Rolling Stone.

Snooki refers to her “Shore” existence as “prison with cameras.” I’ve been to the women’s prison at Mitchellville, and they don’t get to wear outsized floppy lime-green slippers like Snooki’s.

“The only time we’re not on camera is when we’re in the shower, and that’s why we all take three-hour showers, just to get away from it,” Snooki observed to the magazine.

So learn from Snooki, politicians and bureaucrats and journalists and those in the public arena. Here is that rarest of times when NPR takes a backseat to MTV in terms of wisdom. Seriously.

Just assume you are “on.” And if you sing in the shower, do so quietly.

The Political Mercury Top 5

How are potential Republican presidential candidates fairing for purposes of the Iowa Caucuses?

1. Mike Huckabee: Strong organization combined with unquestioned appeal to the social conservatives. Honed skills on national talk show.

2. Mitch Daniels: If the GOP is looking for a policy credentialed winner, the Indiana governor is the likely option. Gov. Terry Branstad has spoken highly of Daniels. Handled himself well with Chuck Todd on “Meet The Press” Sunday.

3. Mitt Romney: Had the organization in 2008 but party faithfuls are leery of converted-to conservatives, which is odd because their patron saint, Ronald Reagan, was a liberal union boss who converted to conservatism.

4. Michelle Bachmann: An Iowa native who is now a congresswoman from neighboring Minnesota and major ally of U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa. His endorsement alone is worth its weight in bronze.

5. Sarah Palin: She has no choice but to run. If she’s not in the race, Palin is irrelevant, which is about the worst possible fate for reality TV stars. The Republican Iowa Caucuses without Sarah Palin would be like “Jersey Shore” with no Snooki. CV


Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview