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Sometimes a media critic just wants to herd a few cats
By MARK JURKOWITZ  |  May 3, 2006

Bill Maher and Lou Dobbs
SOME I LIKE, SOME I DON'T: A good loose cannon (Maher) and a bad blowhard (Dobbs)

Like anyone who works a specific beat — sportswriters and political writers come to mind — media critics acquire lots of impressions, opinions, and stray observations that never actually make it into print, and yet they are worth musing over. in that spirit, here is a list of ten current “things” in the world of media: five that I particularly admire and five that I have little use for.

No unifying principle governs these picks. I tried to avoid honoring the obvious — like the Washington Post’s Dana Priest or the New York Times’ James Risen, who both recently won Pulitzers for their scrutiny of the US war on terror. And I also steered clear of shooting fish in a barrel, like that sultan of self-righteous scolding, Bill O’Reilly. (Okay, I mention him once.)

The fact that there are so many options to choose among is a testament to the fragmentation of today’s information universe. In a world in which we are bombarded by media constantly vying for our attention, it’s a cutthroat challenge to battle through the clutter and create favorable “brand identity.” In my view, the people and venues listed below deserve real credit for that, including — in a perverse way — those that have distinguished themselves by their ability to rub me the wrong way.

What I Like

1)CNN’s American Morning anchor Miles O’Brien
Twenty years ago, O’Brien was a reporter at Boston’s Channel 7, so he’s a quasi-local guy. (Of course, so is Bill O’Reilly, and we don’t brag about that.) A skilled pilot and aviation expert, O’Brien helped make his bones at CNN with his coverage of the February 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy. But he was just as good when reporting from the post-Katrina debris of the Gulf Coast, albeit in a more detached manner than his colleague Anderson Cooper.

As the morning partner of the solid Soledad O’Brien for the past year, O’Brien is a nice blend of brains and playfulness. On almost any subject, he’s crisp, knowledgeable, and in command. But he’s got an everyman appeal, meaning he’s smart without giving off that noxious whiff of pomposity. (Remember the self-indulgent Aaron Brown?)

O’Brien’s got enough gravitas that you could watch him if there were another 9/11-scale catastrophe. But he’s loose enough to pull off a bit in which he modeled a wash-and-wear suit from JC Penney under the wary gaze of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy star Carson Kressley.

2)Comedian Bill Maher of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher
Maher really caught our attention as host of ABC’s Politically Incorrect. That show was canceled not long after his televised observation that terrorists who drove planes into buildings were less cowardly than a nation that fires missiles from thousands of miles away.

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