Woodward and Chair-stein

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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.


Ya smell that?

Who is this imposter and what have you done with NPH?

Who is this imposter and what have you done with NPH?

Sunday night was smell-a-vision night here at the House of Chair.  Except that it felt like a combination of baby diapers, horse manure and the unwashed gym socks and muddy jock strap from a gym locker in 1982.  What other way was there to describe the highly anticipated Emmy Awards telecast hosted by the perennially charming Neil Patrick Harris?  Well, charm only gets you so far.  Remember – even Clooney once played an awful version of Batman, latex nipples and all.

As if this wasn’t enough we were treated to the HORRIBLE (no other word for it) series finale of Dexter – a program that was formerly one of the best television shows in recent memory and one which helped define the Showtime brand of over-the-top but compelling anti-heroes.  Michael C. Hall was still great but even he couldn’t save….well, you get the drill (but more on that below…)

Perhaps it was the mood in the House of Chair.  For the last three days I have been in full binge of the entire Breaking Bad  series– Season 3, Episode 8, bitches!!!!  – and probably didn’t want to be interrupted.  (Note:  For those who don’t watch – and you should – please know the aside in the middle of the last sentence is a relevant, rather than sexist, comment).

Look for the full Binging Bad experience next week with as few spoilers as possible.  In the meantime, what’s that I still smell —–

1. Network Stench


  •  But when the best looking guy or gal in school who doesn’t use deodorant raises their arms in the air, it still stinks to high heaven.  Sunday night’s Emmy broadcast was an embarrassing hypefest for the CBS brand and all of its programming rather than a salute to the small tube in general.  Did you notice that a large group of the presenters were from current or upcoming CBS shows (I’m looking at you Mark Harmon & LL Cool J of NCIS, Anna Farris & Allison Janney of Mom)?  Not to mention the deadly backstage cut-ins hosted by Shemar Moore (Criminal Minds, much?)  Not to mention every other commercial interruption – and there were many – was for a newly premiering CBS show.  (Can’t wait for Hostages!!!)
  • I knew we were in a trouble when the program started and Emmy host NPH was being escorted into the theatre by a security guard being played by CBS president Les Moonves, a former actor.  Followed by a badly-conceived bit where NPH was stuck in a chair watching numerous five second TV series clips that turned out to be the only examples from current television series that we got to see all night.

It’s supposed to be a program honoring the best of television.  Not a kickoff to the new television season starring CBS actors and its top executives.

Rating:  Five Smelly Diapers.

2.  Music

What... is... this?

What… is… this?

  • I don’t know about you, but when I think of the 50-year anniversary of the Beatles appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1963 I immediately think of country singer Carrie Underwood. And why not have her sing Yesterday, a Beatles song released in 1965?  Because we can.  And because Okie Carrie will be starring as Maria Von Trapp in a live television production of The Sound of Music in November.  Again, who better?
  • Elton John is a gay pianist and Liberace, the subject of the Emmy-winning (but early Sunday night just nominated) biopic Behind the Candelabra, was also a gay pianist – get it????  Elton John has a new CD/album/record out this week, so why not cross-promote?  And why not get BTC stars Michael Douglas and Matt Damon to introduce him???  Well, because try as he might to make the connection, EJ’s new song Home Again didn’t feel like it had anything to do with Liberace – certainly it had nothing to do with television.  Which is the point of the entire show.  Or – is it????

Rating:  Twelve gym socks.  Though if we were on the telecast we’d certainly choose jock straps because we’d be making a dumb gay joke like Emmy winner Michael Douglas did when he picked up a statue for playing Liberace (Paraphrase Note: …I should be splitting the award with co-star Matt Damon  – do you want the top or the bottom??  Or – this is really a two-hander!).  Yuk….yuk…yuk.

Bonus eyeroll!

Bonus eyeroll!

3.  Specialty Items

  • In the middle of the program there was finally a Neil Patrick Harris song and dance number.  It was called The Number in the Middle of the Show.  For some reason it was thought by someone that it would be a funny idea to do an elongated song and dance number parodying a seventies dance number from the 1970s program Solid Gold.  NPH was helped along by Nathan Filion (Castle) and Sarah Silverman, followed by a gaggle of Solid Gold type dancers.  It was not a good idea.  It was quite painful.  Perhaps mostly for Nathan Filion, who is said to have a bad back that has caused him to miss several days of filming Castle in the last few weeks.  Was it worth the risk? Uh – no.
D. Hough in a suit.. silver lining?

D. Hough in a suit.. silver lining?

  • This is the first year the Emmys gave a choreography award on-air.  Consequently, it was thought necessary to do an elongated interpretive dance to the tune of Luck Be A Lady from the classic Broadway musical Guys and Dolls.  Then, we were treated to interpretive dances meant to evoke such TV series as Mad Men, American Horror Story, Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad… and Big Bang Theory?    This really happened.  Really.  It did.

Rating:  Six rancid dancer’s belts.  One for each of the TV show tributes.

4.  Comedy?

  • Neil Patrick Harris’ co-stars from the CBS show How I Met Your Mother came together to do a sort of filmed PSA comedy bit for something called Excessive Hosting Disorder.  Well, it was sickly and obsessive, as far as comedy goes.  HIMYM never would have survived nine seasons if they were only this funny.  So we can’t blame them.
OK forget Carrie.. what is THIS?

OK forget Carrie.. what is THIS?

  • Will Ferrell brought out his three kids – or someone’s three kids – to deliver the final awards for best TV series.  They wore pajamas and had a tablet they were playing with.  People laughed.  I’m not sure why.  There was some mention he was just pulled in to give the awards because Maggie Smith and Helen Mirren, who had been scheduled to do it, couldn’t make it.  Well….okay.  But the mere mention of Dame Maggie made one long for one of her Downton Abbey bon mots to save the show.  To wit:  What’s a Will Ferrell and why has he dragged those vagabond roustabouts onto my stage?  Yes, she would have said it better.  But she didn’t get the chance to.  But then again, neither did any other of the characters on TV that we really care about these days.

Note to the Emmy’s:  A few clips from the current golden age of television might be nice.

And now – back to Breaking Bad.


Wrap it up.. it's over.

Wrap it up.. it’s over.

Crazy to think that a serial killer deserves better, but that, and more, can certainly be said about the uber-lame Dexter finale that aired opposite the Emmys last night. After eight seasons, a few football fields worth of plastic wrap, and countless bad Michael C Hall wigs, the show that came in with a ear piercing screech of freshness, went out like a sad shriek and a whiff of old garbage.

I started watching the series just as it aired, having piggybacked it with catching up on Hall’s fantastic turn as David Fisher in Six Feet Under. Dexter was superhero meets supervillian – and the writing was superb. I shared my love for this devilish leading man with The Chair and he too agreed that this show was breaking new ground, and slicing up some excellent week-to-week water cooler moments. I would promise to follow that Dark Passenger until the very end…

Yes, this meant getting through Miguel Prado, Lumen, Doomsday, and the Russian mafia … but for every misstep there was Doakes shouting “Surprise, Motherfucker!”, Jordan’s hypnotizing “Take It!”, Lila’s Parisian demise, and of course, fan-favorite (and rightfully so) Trinity. With so many bad things made right, I was sure the finale would supersede an otherwise lackluster season….

Instead, I, like our beloved “Slice of Life,” was set out to sea, destroyed by the wrath of the illogical, ridiculous Hurricane Dexter – and the most devoted fan was forced to admit with heavy regret: Goddamn, that sucked.

And so we go on, with Season 4 DVDs clutched tightly to our chest, cherishing the good times we had, forgetting that in the end we were left with a bearded, damp, Twin Peaks Dexter, and instead remembering Deb the badass, Masuka the freak, Quinn the over tanned, LaGuerta the over accessorized, Battista the loyal, Jamie the clueless, Rita the saint, Harry the guardian and of course Dexter, the darkly dreaming disaster we’d all come to love.

Farewell Miami Metro… at least we’ll always have breakfast.