Now… It’s Over

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 11.37.09 AM

Some idiot at MSNBC cancelled Now with Alex Wagner and I’m pissed off. Can one be angry at an idiot who doesn’t know any better? Or is it more appropriate to be p.o.’d at an amorphous thing like a network that doesn’t have any feelings? How much of an effect will that have? Of course, I’ve met a lot of idiots who don’t have feelings so perhaps I’d be better off going with the individual just to make it all feel more personal to me. At least there is some satisfaction in that.

Yes, I realize most of you don’t know who Alex Wagner is or have anything invested in Now. Make of the last part of that last statement what you will. And know that I will explain more about both AW and Now in a bit.   For now, just be aware it’s a mid-afternoon news/talk/opinion show – one of a block of three such programs MSNBC has axed in order to mainstream itself with a CNN-type breaking news kind of strategery. Yes, strategery.

STRATEGERY, my friends

STRATEGERY, my friends

Apropos of that — back to the idiots.

I’ve read this monumentally stupid decision was the brainchild of new NBC News chairman Andrew Lack, who is anything but new. Or news. He actually presided over NBC in its news heyday of the nineties when he helped take its anchor Tom Brokaw from #3 to #1 in the nightly race for ratings among the three major broadcast networks’ Nightly News programs. But does anyone you know watch the Nightly News anymore? (Note: Jon Stewart doesn’t count and in another week he’ll be gone too – waaaaa). Certainly no one reading these words. Or writing them.

No love for Davey?

No love for Davey?

Someone should tell the 68-year-old Mr. Lack that his plan to insert recently deposed NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams (Note: Yeah, the guy who was put on “leave” for fictionalizing portions of at least a few more than several news stories he reported on) into the slots occupied by the brilliant and effervescent Ms. Wagner (and others) is akin to me ordering my current film students to sit down in a room and watch Barbra Streisand movies from the 60s and 70s on a loop. Or replacing Jon Stewart with Bryant Gumbel. Well, now I fear I’ve really lost the under 25 crowd. My first instinct was to use the Olivia Newton John or Elton John or even Jimmy Stewart comparison but I doubt any of those would have fared any better.

... and good luck to the over 40 crowd in recognizing this guy

… and good luck to the over 40 crowd in recognizing this guy

I have an unhealthy addiction to what used to be MSNBC and Ms. Wagner in particular because like me they are smart, sarcastic and liberal yet also managed to be surprisingly fair and balanced. Again, make of that last statement what you will but, no, it is not an oxymoron in our current cable news landscape. Also, in Ms. Wagner’s case I suspect she’s a lot nicer than I am. Certainly, she’s more modest. As for MSNBC, up until now they have been one of the few news sources with commentators who are not constantly dumbing down the issues of the day for the “masses,” blanding it down to the point of snoredom or amping it up to the tenor of the Donald Trump parade hosted by Fox News. I was going to say Sarah Palin parade on Fox because I hate to give Trump any more ink at all. But then I realized that evoking Sarah Palin was as relevant as hiring Brian Williams to be the new face of change for a floundering cable outlet. Or giving zzz’s inducing Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd four more hours of daytime programming chores as your second new hosting face.  Kill me now.

Welp... it's about time for my mid morning nap  #snooze

Welp… it’s about time for my mid morning nap #snooze

What did/do I love about Alex Wagner? Well, for one thing she often referred to the 2012 Republican presidential nominee as Willard “Mitt” Romney (Note: His real name) and Donald Trump as the “Teflon Don” (Note: Too nice to be his real name). She could also speak as eloquently about Jay-Z as she could on Zero Based Budgeting, while on that very same show interview everyone from Ron Paul to RNC Chairman Reince Priebus (Note: Imagine being fair with him???) to any bleeding heart liberal on the block with a combination of tough-minded accuracy and good-natured aplomb.

News goddess

News goddess

Oh, and did I mention she’s 37, of mixed race origin and is married to former Obama White House chef, close First Family friend, and now NBC’s newest Today show contributor Sam Kass? Not to be mercenary, but why would you want someone like that anchoring an afternoon chat show on your network in 2015? Instead, let’s contract with more straight, deep-voiced or doughy-looking white men because, god knows, they are the wave of the future. What’s an Obama Coalition, anyway?

I'll have what she's having

I’ll have what she’s having

One might surmise this is less about Ms. Wagner and MSNBC and more about the fact that… the Chair does not adapt to change very well. Hmm, that could be at least partially correct. One strategy to overcome one’s anger – aside from just letting it go – is to welcome change as an opportunity for something better. I mean, the chief message of Pres. Obama to the Obama Coalition was something like: We are the change we have been waiting for. Remember?

Well, that’s a nice thought but in this case it would seem to indicate that the answer to all of this would be for me to start my own network, find another program or, as a last resort, try to figure out a way to hang out with Ms. Wagner on my own. I’m not entirely sure which one is the most doable. Though certainly I could guarantee the one of the three that would be the most fun.

Oh, do not start your own network, honey.

Oh, do not start your own network, honey.

That is, I suspect, the real issue. There is not a heck of a lot of fun in media these days. Or – there is too much of it. It’s entertaining when it’s supposed to be serious/serious when it’s supposed to be entertaining. Is Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly or even Fox News itself meant to be taken seriously? Have you ever tried to watch Fox and Friends? Every so often I tune in to the latter, one of several bizarre series on the top-rated cable network. Last week, when speaking of the surfer who got attacked and nearly eaten by a shark during a competition, one of the geniuses on that show wondered out loud why the surfing area wasn’t automatically cleared of sharks when there was a sporting event going on.

#Dowager4ever

#Dowager4ever

Yet on Ms. Wagner’s final program the Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart got it exactly right when asked about Thursday’s first Republican nominee presidential debate and the emergence of Donald Trump as its inevitable centerpiece. Mr. Capehart offered that the ratings would be high not because of a resurgence in political interest or a worry about the direction of the country. No, he said, it was mainly because it was a great potential entertainment event where you could sit in front of TV with a bowl of popcorn, a group of friends and play the drinking game of your choice as you watched Donald Trump eviscerate a stage full of – well, take your choice on what you want to call them, no partisanship here.

#srsly

#srsly

It is this kind of truth-telling that one seems to only get on shows like Ms. Wagner’s that I will miss. And yeah, I know I might be able to get it elsewhere. And it may even be better. Or it might not and I might be inspired to spend less time nodding my head at the television to people that I already know agree with me and being more productive in my life as a writer, teacher, husband and general citizen of the world.

As Gandhi once famously said – and perhaps this is where Pres. Obama got it from – Be the change that you wish to see in the world. In other words, don’t fight it.

#preach

#preach

Well, that’s a nice thought. But I’m still pissed off at MSNBC, Lack and the whole cabal for their misguided corporate stupidity. As such, in this situation I quite prefer the prose of Dorothy Parker, who many, many decades ago once wrote:

In my youth, it was a way I had,

To do my best to please.

And change, with every passing lad

To suit his theories.

 But now I know the things I know

And do the things I do,

And if you do not like me so,

To hell, my love, with you.

Or, in 2015 vernacular: Bite me, MSNBC.

Woodward and Chair-stein

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 2.42.05 PM

The following is a piece in defense of thoughtful journalism and the people who practice it. You know who you are even though we may not. This is in spite of the fact that, given today’s technology, we have all rightfully or wrongfully been baptized de facto citizen journalists or amateur reporters.

It makes no difference to me which moniker you choose because each can be either somewhat effective or dangerously ineffective depending on the circumstances. But mostly I am writing this in honor of my unapologetic love for Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom – a show that is about to end its run but still dares to romanticize the high-reaching values of a somewhat liberal cable news station akin to (but not exactly like) MSNBC in much the same way The West Wing was a wonderfully polemic love letter to the executive branch of government.

Sometimes I forget he wasn't the President

Sometimes I forget he wasn’t the President

It is quite popular to lump the talking heads of cable news – or any sort of contemporary journalism for that matter – all together and to dismiss its veracity or even relevance to anything real in the world. But in truth Rachel Maddow and Fox’s Bill O’Reilly are as different as…well…Rachel Maddow and Fox’s Bill O’Reilly. Watch and measure how each covered the nationwide protests we’ve seen this week due to the recent refusal of law enforcement and the grand jury system to in any way prosecute the various police officers responsible for shooting and killing three very different Black males – two of whom were under 18 years of age – under similarly controversial circumstances in three very different cities in Missouri, Ohio and New York, and judge for yourself.

Yes, somehow these two exist in the same universe

Yes, somehow these two exist in the same universe

The latter is the job of every citizen choosing to vote or complain about the state of the world to friends, neighbors or enemies – to weigh the information and then make a determination. That is why who gives you the facts, how they give you the facts, and if indeed they are giving you facts at all matters. Correction: really matters.

After watching Jake Gyllenhaal coyote his way through his current breakout role as a brilliantly immoral freelance television news photographer prowling the dark, accident-ridden streets of contemporary Los Angeles in Nightcrawler, I couldn’t help but recall my own quaint, early days as an aspiring journalist. Bear with me and forget this was several decades before Rachel Maddow was even born. I know I have, that is if I ever previously admitted it at all until just now.

How far is too far?

How far is too far?

No, unlike Jake or his character, I certainly didn’t lose 30 pounds, slick back my then full head of hair or scour the Internet for leads and information in order to educate and advance myself in my field. For one thing, there was NO INTERNET and I had already lost 30 pounds in high school because I was too cowardly, vain and hypochondriacal to face a life where I was for one more second what anyone else would consider to be fat, chunky or even slightly overweight. Certainly I am not particularly proud of this fact but fact it is nevertheless.

As for my education, here’s another fact. It actually began in a corny old cocoon called SCHOOL. That started with writing for the high school newspaper, segued into becoming arts editor of my college radio station and then continued on to graduate school — Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, to be exact.

Those hallowed grounds

Those hallowed grounds

This was the post-Watergate age of the late seventies when journalism was seen as the noblest of professions and most everyone else aside from Mother Teresa and a few doctors who worked gratis in clinics was viewed as morally, and woefully, lagging behind. Not only that, Medill was then, and still is now, one of the best j schools in the country. Again, no bragging but fact – though one that I am particularly proud of. And full disclosure: I still feel fortunate to have even gotten in.

Self five!

Self five!

I bring this up because my intensive one year at Medill – which had me not only in the classroom but working as a reporter in both suburban and urban Chicago as well as on the streets of Washington, DC and the surrounding areas of Virginia – taught me a lot about truth, morality, honesty and integrity. You might think you know the truth and what you’re dealing with, as John Huston’s villainous Noah Cross tells Jack Nicholson’s hard-boiled yet somewhat naive Jake Gittes in Chinatown, but as a reporter you also have an obligation to consider you might really not have the truth and not know what you’re dealing with, as Noah Cross so ominously, and rightfully warned. Yet unlike Jake in Chinatown, it didn’t have to cost me (Spoiler Alert!) the life of a lover. I was allowed to make those kinds of mistakes as a younger student since under no circumstances would I ever be trusted to cover life or death stories alone.

Plus I could never pull off this look

Plus I could never pull off this look

I realize that in itself sounds almost quaint these days, especially since I was always much more interested in the entertainment industry while it was my j school friends and colleagues who wanted to be Woodward and Bernstein. Still, as it turned out this background came in quite handy and in ways I could have never imagined. My first journalism job was for Variety and Daily Variety and in a matter of just a few years I became one of their lead reporters. Serious hard news reporting on the film, TV and music industries was just on the verge of becoming popular beyond the entertainment pages and I found myself quickly thrown into a world where I had to have clandestine early morning breakfast meetings at the homes of seven-to-eight figure salaried board chairmen, CEOs and presidents of major American entertainment corporations in pursuit of the news. Lying came as easy for them as weight reduction was for me in high school and telling the truth as difficult as I found gym class. Perhaps they were afraid of the same things I was back then – not being accepted, keeping up appearances, not fitting in with the cool kids – but I didn’t know it. And had I not been trained to cross check my facts, no matter how powerful or reliable the source, or not fool myself into ever thinking I was even a smidgen as important as the very wealthy and powerful people I was covering, I would have been eaten alive right there and then by each and every one of them.

.. but what I told myself in my head was a different story.

.. but what I told myself in my head was a different story.

I certainly would never, ever have been able to start the country’s first weekly column on the national film box-office grosses of just released films. You know – the ones you now read online almost everyday and hear each Monday on practically every entertainment “news” show across the country? Well, it wasn’t Watergate but it was still about getting to the honest truth, which on this subject was quite rare. We’d get these press releases with inflated figures on the opening money levels of movies that would be published almost verbatim without anyone knowing what the hell they meant in comparison to anything else. I told my resistant editor at the time:

“I don’t know what the heck (not hell, I wouldn’t dare) these figures mean and neither does anyone else. We have to at least try to report this accurately so studios can stop lying so easily about how good or badly theirs and everyone else’s films are doing.”

Finally, he saw the light and we began something that, admittedly, has gotten out of control. But it’s helped get beyond the hype in a more realistic dollars and cents way that was previously non-existent – not only for the general public but for everyone else other than the most inside movie studio executives to see.

Unless you're reporting on the gross of the Hunger Games

Unless you’re reporting on the gross of the Hunger Games

That is what training in controlled circumstances will do prior to you going into the field. It’s not the only way to be trained – there is something to be said for being thrown straight into the fire – but the latter often comes with the ultimate journalistic cost of printing untruths, half-truths and out and out lies that hurt people and society. Or, to put it another way, in many other professions you’d be guilty of malpractice.

Certainly, training and the right experience don’t guarantee 100% accuracy but they will also likely prevent any number of our current journalistic fatalities (Note: see lies and untruths above – of your choice). If you consider that to be a bunch of bull, then think of it like this. It is certainly possible that a person who is merely an aficionado of teeth could perform a successful emergency extraction of your infected molar – or a medical neophyte might be able amputate your gangrened arm with merely a broken spear in the Amazonian jungle – but would you choose either in the long run if a more trained and/or experienced option were available?

Meaning yes – everyone can write and observe. But not everyone can report.

At the risk of sounding older than Woodward and Bernstein (Note: And those under 25, please, please don’t continue to say Who? OR Who cares?) – times and standards have changed but truth remains pretty much the same.

You know.. those guys played by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman

You know.. those guys played by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman… with the haircuts you all want.

It’s great that we all can raise up our smart phones and record reality, or type our truths on social media, or on such ridiculous forums as….dare I say it…a blog.   But these are all only recording and commenting on partial truths or shaded truths or the lies or partial lies we might be unwittingly interpreting as truth. The best journalists in the world (who are not necessarily the most popular) understand the difference. The average person – and viewer – does not. It is the job of the journalists to put things in a way that the most people can understand. To unfurl the facts and truisms and falsehoods as objectively as possible – then offer the information in a context or at least order that will allow the public to comprehend the whole story and ultimately judge what, if anything, to do about it.

It is an essential and difficult and, in the end, honorable profession when done right – which that doesn’t happen often enough.

And that IS a fact.

Learning to Shut Up

Screen Shot 2014-07-20 at 11.50.24 AM

There’s nothing like an international tragedy to bring out the wit in people. One doesn’t have to imagine the comic potential in Malaysia Airlines’ second airplane disaster killing hundreds of people because Jason Biggs does it for you.

la-et-mg-jason-biggs-twitter-joke-malaysian-ai-001

Hard up for a Hamas joke for the next cocktail party you attend this week? Hey, Bill Maher can take care of it on your end:

dmnfovfwwbw9l5tbctbu

And if you happen to be on TV hosting a live show when some horrific news story happens (which, let’s face it, is not an impossibility given the explosion of regular people like us on TV these days), you can always count on some random prankster to call in and lighten things the way this guy, posing as an eyewitness military expert, did for MSNBC’s Krystal Ball this week.

KB: Please tell us what you saw on the ground there in the Ukraine?

Prankster: Well, I was looking out the window and I saw a projectile flying through the sky, and it would appear that the plane was shot down by a blast of wind from Howard Stern’s ass.

KB: So it would appear the plane was shot down – can you tell us any more from your military training of what sort of missile system that may have been coming from?

Prankster: Boy, you’re a dumbass, aren’t you?

Click here to watch the unfortunate interview

Click here to watch the clip… if you can.

We’re all quite witty these days, aren’t we? And nothing’s off limits. Because if you think it is then you don’t understand comedy at all. And you’re too politically correct. Or a hypocrite who will laugh AT things YOU DO like but will become offended if someone pokes fun at something that hits too close to home – like a plane crash.

I mean, hell, even Dick Cheney chuckles in evil, ironic delight at being referred to as Darth Vader – what’s wrong with you?

The new way to be au courant, hip, happening and oh so clever is to publicly comment somewhere on something or, well, anything that is breaking news. And thanks to Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Twitter, Instagram and a handful of other people and stuff we all have ample means to do it. Yes, you get Warhol’s 15 promised minutes of fame for doing very little. What he didn’t bargain for is that the words and images you put out there will resonate for days, months or years later – long after your name has faded. Or perhaps even forever, which is a lot longer than that.

Unfortunately, this button does not exist.

Unfortunately, this button does not exist.

I’ve certainly been guilty of this too.   I mean, who could pass up a good rant against the extreme right wing, the US Supreme Court or the uncreative choices that double for mass entertainment from the Hollywood film and television industrial complex these days? Not me, it would seem.

Like many of us, I long to be heard by a world that too often seems either too noisy or indifferent to take the time out to listen to my pearls of wit and wisdom. How great that I get to be alive and in the orbit of Facebook, Twitter and many yet to be discovered systems that will now allow me to get my thoughts out there even faster –- perhaps even by boring a virtual hole through the cerebral cortex-ae of all of my millions of followers? You think I’m exaggerating? Hmmph – that’s what she (he?) said years ago.

It took the sudden death of a dear friend of 30 plus years yesterday to make me remember: Waitit’s actually okay NOT to weigh in on everything – or even anything – if you don’t care to.

This friend, who had an illustrious show biz career in his field and had been sick but died rather suddenly, left very specific instructions for no funeral, no obituary and, really, nothing at all organized to commemorate his death. Having spent a lifetime behind-the scenes presenting the public lives of more famous people than you or I could count in an afternoon, it is not surprising that at some point he learned the hard earned lesson that many of us will eventually realize (and I’m paraphrasing here):

…in the end the spotlight means nothing except the heat of the moment. It’s irrelevant to who you really are or what, if anything, your life was really about. And if you keep chasing it, it will eventually bore a real hole so deep into your soul (Note: your brain will already be gone by this time) that there will literally be nothing left to you at all…

This friend also taught me another valuable lesson, among so many others. And that is that sometimes, more often than one imagines, not commenting might be the best strategy of all. Or at least withholding comments until you’ve had time to think awhile about what’s happened.

First steps are the hardest

First steps are the hardest

My friend lived a lifetime of strategizing in both how to help people sell themselves and also speak to the media and was darned successful at it. It’s not that he wasn’t outspoken and didn’t speak up – it’s just that he knew that to do it all the time meant you were surrendering what little effect one has in the world. But to listen, and then think, and then listen some more before formulating your final thoughts and saying what was on your mind – was not only wiser but ultimately the most potent way of getting your own way.

Broadway legend Elaine Stritch, who died one day prior to my friend and whom I didn’t know personally, might disagree. She spent a lifetime speaking before she fully thought out anything and it seemed to work quite well for her. At least publicly. Or perhaps that was just acting and she kept much of what she really felt deep down inside. The latter just might be more likely, I can hear my friend saying to me and who am I to disagree with him.

She did it her way

She did it her way

No one knew their way around a celebrity better than he did and said celebrities adored him. I mean, can you say you turned down a full-time retainer with show biz’s one-time queen of media manipulation, Madonna, in her eighties heyday – – a moment when a truly skilled person could manage it all and a time, if you can imagine it , long before media was social and when tweeting was the sound of the noisy bird outside your bedroom window you wanted to shoot?

No, I didn’t think so. I thought he was a bit crazy to do so back then but years later I totally get the perils of working for a TRUE QUEEN. Though clearly all he had to do at the time was to take a bit of time to really, really, really think about it.

(Note: I do hope he can forgive me for dropping that one name when referring to him. Though if it’s any consolation, before writing, I did think about it).

In any event, back to the public’s right to know what you and I think about – everything. Do YOU stop and consider why anyone should even care what you think? OK, well I don’t. Not often enough. Forget about cats on Facebook and Instagram – we’re talking about off-the-cuff and immediate thoughts on death, carnage, politics, other people’s family members thrust into the public eye through rape, theft, divorce, robbery, pillaging, as well as attempted murder. On the other hand, it feels good to get it off your chest, doesn’t it? Okay, I’ll answer that, too – yes.

Of course, it is the height of personal irony that all of this is being written to you in a blog – a vehicle whose inherent purpose is to express personal views on a variety of subjects for public consumption. It is also quite paradoxical that you are most likely reading what is being said here through some social media tool whose entire existence has just been tried and found guilty by a jury of one (moi) for the deadened senses of the corrupt social culture we are all so (cue appropriate sarcasm) privileged to live in nowadays.

The Chair excluded, of course

The Chair excluded, of course

Well, yes, I am nothing if not a contrarian, and an often ironic one at that. But in tribute to my late friend, who was quite savvy about this kind of thing even though he didn’t subscribe to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram – I’m going to from now on take a beat or two, or maybe even ten or twenty-three, before I open up my mouth, pen and fingers to type out my reaction to the grizzly events of the day. Or, well, at least think about doing so. Who knows, with all the pent up, thought out frustration I might become even more contrarily sarcastic than usual in a much more ironically intelligent way – lest you be concerned all of that self-reflection would cause me to lose my edge.

That’s probably the most fitting tribute I can give to a person who always did both – that is aside from shutting up entirely. Which, god knows, is not a real possibility for any of us anymore. Is it?