Monday, November 17, 2008

Barack Obama, FDR, and NPR

Driving from Galesburg to Elkhart Sunday afternoon, blissfully unaware of the lake-effect snowstorm awaiting me in northwestern Indiana, I was listening to Weekend All things Considered on National Public Radio. I've never met the host, Andrea Seabrook, but I think of her as a friend--someone who brings a smile to my face by just the sound of her voice. Seabrook's audience may be in the millions, but she makes you feel as though you're part of her special circle of friends.

Susan Stamberg is a woman I'd trust about anything except Thanksgiving food. I've listened to her since she was co-host of All Things Considered in the early 1970s. She doesn't have the intimacy of Seabrook, but her voice has an air of authority and experience.

But that afternoon, Seabrook got Stamberg on the line to grouse about Barack Obama's decision to put his weekly radio talks on YouTube. I'm not sure they were entirely serious, but it bothered me that Stamberg made the comment that if radio was good enough for FDR, is should be good enough for the president-elect. The trouble is, radio wasn't good enough for Franklin D. Roosevelt, as the YouTube video shows. Of course there was no YouTube during FDR's presidency, and television was in its infancy. But there was video, in the form of newsreels. I'm old enough to remember when movie theaters showed newsreels, along with cartoons and short features, before the main attraction. By the mid-1960s most cinemas had abandoned the newsreel. But in FDR's time, newsreels were the only way to see and hear the news. And FDR took advantage of them by making his "Fireside Chats" avaialble to the reels. If there had been a YouTube, he would have been on it.

I rely on NPR almost exclusively for my news. And I agree with Stamberg and Seabrook about the advantages of radio over audio-visual. For one thing, it's something I can do while I'm driving, or lying in bed with my eyes closed. But Obama has the duty to communicate with as many people as he can. That includes the people who don't listen to radio, as well as those who don't happen to be listening at the time of day he gives his weekly talk.

An outrage? Or, as Stamberg says, like having roast beef on Thanksgiving? No to the first. And as for the second, roast beef on Thanksgiving isn't such a bad idea. The Pilgrims of the Plymouth Plantation, whose 1621 harvest festival inspired the American Thanksgiving, ate venison along with turkey and fish. While a steer isn't a deer, it's still a hoofed animal. Close enough. Besides, Stamberg's ideas about Thanksgiving food are, well, a little bit suspect.


Lisa said...

Why not both? There are many people who never listen to radio and rely on the internet and TV for news (I'm one of them, since I don't commute). On the other hand, there are plenty of people who do rely on radio and who don't have access to the internet or cable TV. YouTube is great for people who want to see the weekly address at their convenience, but it would be a pretty simple matter to made the audio portion available to NPR to broadcast too.

And I'm with you on the cranberry relish recipe. Blech.

Charles Gramlich said...

I thought Obama was pretty wise to go for the You tube presentation, although I'm with Lisa, why not both. Probably both will be available.

steve said...

Lisa and Charles--Thank you. I guess I didn't make it clear. Obama's still doing a radio broadcast. He's just putting it on YouTube. He's doing both. I tried the cranberry relish once. Once was enough.

Elizabeth said...

I love that cranberry relish and Obama are in the same post. And while I'm a religious listener to NPR and all that goes with it, my eyes are rolling at their umbrage.

And personally, I'm partial to the cranberry jelly that comes in the can with the ridges from the can set into the side. My Swiss chef husband is appalled by this.

Lisa said...

I knew Elizabeth and I had a serious connection. I'm with you on the canned cranberry sauce -- not the kind with the whole berries, the regular old kind with the ridges from the can. These days, I often find I'm the only one eating it :)

Peter said...

I read in the Washington Post recently that more people saw Tina Fey's imitations of Sarah Palin online than did on television. If made-for-TV is seen more on YouTube, why not made-for-radio, too?

We're having roast beef this Thanksgiving, too, for the second year in a row.

steve said...

Elizabeth--Have you read any of the Nero Wolfe novels? Fritz Brenner, Wolfe's live-in cook, is Swiss. I'm guessing that Rex Stout made Wolfe's cook Swiss so that he could excel in French, German, and Italian cuisines. (I don't think the Romansch speakers have their own cuisine, but I could be wrong.)

I didn't call in to NPR, or send them an e-mail. Perhaps I should.

Lisa--When Bob Edwards co-hosted ATC with Stamberg, he always gave his recipe for cranberry sauce--it was just like yours and Elizabeth's. Personally, I like the texture of the whole berries, but I'm fine with the canned variety. I'd be willing to try the Indian version that's supposed to be Stamberg's real favorite.

Peter--The first I saw of Tina Fey was through my Alaskan friend "Tea N. Crumpet," who embedded a Fey video on her blog, "Stress Management and Other Things." And roast beef at Thanksgiving sounds wonderful.

Anonymous said...

I've never figured out why anyone decided cranberries were food.

Roast beef for Thanksgiving! I'm just done with roast turkey, fried turkey, and any turkey at all (well except for cold cuts). Actually, come to think of it, I don't really get much of a thrill about Thanksgiving to start with.

Radio? YouTube? I'm lost, what the hell is the issue? Sounds like this Stamberg person is a bit out of touch.

steve said...

Gerry--Stamberg is the grande dame of public radio. She's a topnotch anchor, reporter, ad commentator. But yes, in this case, she's out of touch.