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Observations on the Big GOP Debate Night

8-3-fs-pics-of-17-republican-presidential-candiates

Just my two cents on some of the major participants and what it all means for the 2016 election:

Ohio Governor John Kasich: 

This guy has got to be Hillary Clinton’s biggest nightmare.  Comfortable in his conservative beliefs but tolerant of those who differ; compassionate in his views about helping those in need.  Very strong moment for many moderates and independents, I think, when asked about his opposition to same-sex marriage and he said that, hey, he’s an old fashioned guy but how would he respond if one of his kids came out?  He’d love them.  Good answer!

Unapologetic about increasing Medicare subsidies in Ohio, he sounded a compassionate conservative theme I haven’t heard from a Republican in a long, long time.   He also has a smart political team.  The timing of his Presidential announcement gave him the precise buzz and bump he needed to get into the big 9 pm debate.   One of his major slogans right now to GOP voters is- “No Republican has ever been elected President without winning Ohio.  Ever.”

He also fills the “regular guy” role that was supposed to be Scott Walker’s specialty.   I honestly think Hillary Clinton beats every single GOP contender on that stage- except John Kasich.   The math gets really difficult for Dems without Ohio.

Brilliant move by Kasich to say Trump is touching a nerve with many and not belittling him.  Not only does he get Trump’s supporters at a later date but if Kasich gets the nomination, Trump will remember the kindness and maybe doesn’t launch the 3rd party bid.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio:

Pretty solid performance.  Really liked his take on the immigration issue when he pointed out the real problem no one talks about- the horrible, inane government bureaucracy that is so inept it turns immigrants who want to be law-abiding into criminals when they give up after waiting for years and years and end up sneaking in.   Rubio’s youth and energy could be a real contrast to Hillary the Grandmother.  And Dems like to win Florida too, and he wouldn’t be making that an easy task.   Not sure he currently has the Presidential demeanor.   I see Kasich as a Commander in Chief way before I picture Rubio.  But if the country really wants change- he’s an attractive, next generation alternative.

Donald Trump and Roger Ailes:

The Fox News President, I’m guessing, did his best to end Donald Trump’s bid for the Republican nomination and probably succeeded with the first two questions that were asked in the debate.  Knowing full well what Trump’s response would be, the first question asked of “all” the candidates was to raise their hand if they would be willing to bolt the GOP and run as a 3rd party candidate.  Trump obliged, proving definitively, that he really does not give a rat’s ass what anybody thinks of him.  He is not a panderer.

Then Megyn Kelly asked about his insulting tweets about women.  Then Chris Wallace asked about his four Casino bankruptcies.

Was he diminished?  I think for some Republicans, the ones who care about the party, the luster has come off of the Trump infatuation.  But for many conservatives and for politically pissed-off people who don’t particularly care about the Republican party- he maintains and even gains a little.

Unless the post-debate Fox news panel with 21 Fox-selected participants reflects reality.  Fourteen of them went into the debate liking Trump only 3 remained loyal by the end of it.  They called him mean and selfish and bombastic.  And then later, a lot of Fox News analysts also were highly critical of Trump’s performance.   This is not subtle.  The Trump people are picking up on the conspiracy vibe.

Trump organization Executive VP and special counsel, Michael Cohen tweets the following:

A total setup by @FrankLuntz and #FOXNEWSDEBATE to try to lower #Trump2016 high poll numbers. American people will not fall for your tricks.

Are we on the verge of a Trump–Ailes war?  Because right now, it’s looking like the Donald walked into a gigantic trap.

Wisconsin Governor, Scott Walker

He was sharp and well spoken.  He’s clearly crammed his little heart out on foreign policy.  He’s a guy with a family and a Harley.  He does “regular guy” very well.  He has certainly been consistently dissed and underestimated and just wipes out his opponents in every election he’s ever been in.  He’ll end up being a force to be reckoned with.  But I don’t think Kasich plays “regular guy.”  He actually is one and is a much more experienced political hand with a superior political operation.

Former Florida Governor, Jeb Bush

Meh.  No flubs.  Selling himself as the voice of reason.  Dealt smartly with Trump and didn’t get into the mud in any way.  Stuck to his talking points on his accomplishments as Governor.  I don’t feel it for the third Bush.

New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie

He was pretty solid and articulate but kind of transparent in regard to his strategy of goading one of the other candidates into a brawl and so it was Rand Paul he chose to target.  I thought Paul held his own in the fiery debate between the two on the issue of national security versus privacy rights.  Christie came off tough alright.  Unfortunately for him, that mantle’s been taken by Donald Trump.  In the battle of the bullies, Christie gets Trumped.

Kentucky Senator, Ron Paul

His brand has been deeply tarnished over the months but I thought he put on a decent debate performance.  His libertarian views were pretty clear and consistent and he resisted pandering.

Former Arkansas Governor, Mike Huckabee

What ever happened to the happy warrior who tells jokes and plays bass with rock n’ roll bands?  He seems so angry these days.  “Get off my lawn” kind of angry.  He stayed away from oven analogies- a wise choice.  He had a staged joke at the end criticizing a candidate that sounded like it was going to be Trump and it ended up being Hillary.  The Fox News hosts thought this was really funny.

Dr. Ben Carson

No surprises. Didn’t get much air time and stood his ground about it.  Fairly funny staged joke at the end saying that as a neurosurgeon there are things he’s done no one else on the stage has- like separate Siamese twins and operate on people with a half a brain which he compared to the half-brains in Washington.

Texas Senator, Ted Cruz

Got seriously short-changed on air time and answered every single question precisely as you would expect him to- extreme hard right.  It struck me that as the champion college debater he was, Cruz would be killer in a more traditional and structured debate setting.  But this was not that.  This is the age of Trump and politics as reality television.  This is the age of 17 candidates and not enough time for any of them, really.

Former HP CEO, Carly Fiorina

Voted Most Likely to Succeed in Leaving the Kid’s Table and Moving Up to the Adult Table for the next debate.   It seems to be very important to the Republican party that there be a woman who criticizes Hillary Clinton non-stop and either the rules will be changed or the good press she got will put her into the top 10, but she WILL be in the next debate with the top folks.  She’s also looking very Vice Presidential to me.   Kasich-Fiorina.

You got some work ahead of you, Hil.

Students at UC Santa Barbara Bravely Tell Media to Go Home

(Courtesy: Los Angeles Times)

(Courtesy: Los Angeles Times)

It is one of the staples of 20th and 21st century life that wherever calamity strikes, the media soon follows with microwave and satellite trucks, camera and audio people, producers and reporters. They take over entire towns or city blocks, create parking headaches and traffic jams and manage to intrude on communities that probably would prefer to suffer, grieve and eventually heal- in silence. All of this is mostly for television and it’s all to give the background scene for the all-important TV stand-up reporters need to do to deliver that definitive air of authenticity.

No sireee, this ain’t no live shot from the in-studio satellite news desk with a reporter reading from barely edited wire-service copy; no- this is where the Channel 11 Action News Team proves there’s no disaster too distant that they cannot intrude on any given community’s pain- instantly and live.

By the way, it’s the immediate suffering and grieving that provides the money shots. We never actually get to the healing part because by then the micro-wave and satellite trucks have left and no one cares much or even remembers the given tragedy that occurred some six months earlier.

At UC Santa Barbara, the students decided to revolt and good for them. Turns out that before taking his own life, Elliot Rodger, the misogynistic 22-year-old who shot, stabbed and rammed six of the students to death, and wounded 13 others in his bloody rampage, killed his final victim at a little shop called the I.V. Deli Mart. It was the perfect place for the media circus to invade and encamp for the next 4 or 5 days that the story still had legs.

But the students started intruding back. They got in the background of the reporter stand-ups and they waved signs. “Our tragedy is not your commodity,” read one. “Stop filming our tears,” read another. “Remembrance not Ratings,” read a third. “Let us Heal!” and “News Crews Go Home!” rounded out the sudden anti-media protests.

Bravo to the UC Santa Barbara students and community. And the next time it happens and the anchorman/woman asks the reporter what that ruckus is in the background, for once I’d like to hear something like this: “Well, those are residents of the devastated community repulsed by the fact we are exploiting their grief and suffering. Back to you, Jim.”

Hollywood on the Potomac- It’s NOT for the Little People

The Kardashians at the 2012 WHCA Dinner (Photo:AP)

The Kardashians at the 2012 WHCA Dinner (Photo:AP)

I vented  about this almost two years ago and there’s a growing chorus of respectable journalists like Tom Brokaw  who have vocally joined the cause.  Whatever the hell that function is that used to pass as the White House Correspondents Dinner is now so over the top, so disgusting in its opulence and crassness and such an incestuous and inappropriate coupling of the so-called independent media and those they are supposed to cover impartially- that it’s no wonder the public can’t stand either the blowhards who populate politics and Hollywood or the blowhards who cover them.

But as the Washington Post points out, the dirty little secret is that this dinner is actually about corporate interests. The celebrities are really the window dressing; the honey that attracts the corporations- i.e.- potential advertisers that populate the Washington Hilton dinner tables and after-parties as much as the so-called stars. Yes, cash-strapped news organizations that fire journalists every quarter, spend upwards of a quarter a million dollars a year without batting an eyelash in order to host a party that draws the stars that, in turn, draws the CEO’s and CFO’s and maybe, if they’re lucky, get a little money spent on banner ads and 60-second spots. There’s no way of knowing how much return there is on the investment. And no, you can’t blame media companies for trying to find funding- but this really has become an unseemly orgy of power, celebrity and money mongering.

Not that the celebrity portion of this is tasteful or measured in any way. For example, it was revealed this week that the White House Correspondent’s Association is threatening to sue a company over its use of the WHCA name to invite celebrities to its “gifting” suite on the night of the dinner. That’s right, a “gifting” suite. Bags of expensive swag only for the celebrities being invited by the various media companies. This is like the goodie bags they hand out at the Oscars. New this year and offered as yet another exhibit of the superficiality of this once fun and interesting event.

The point of this event used to be to give reporters an opportunity to invite their sources to a nice dinner where there would be humorous speeches by special guests as well as the President of the United States. It all changed in the 1980’s when then celebrity-of-the-moment, Fawn Hall, got an invite on the strength of being Oliver North’s secretary. Then the following year, Donna Rice of Gary Hart fame got an invite.  Now, media companies shell out 1st class airfare, hotel suites and cold, hard cash to get the buzziest celebs.

So as this celebration of incestuous trough feeding continues to morph into the grotesque, with Lindsey Lohan and the Kardashians supplanting the Donna Rices and Fawn Halls, let’s call this what it really is: the erection of more and more walls separating politicians, corporations, and the media from the public- the people who elect the pols, give corporations their profits and read, listen or watch the media. The little people are not welcome on this day except behind the rope lines to watch the preening on the red carpet.

The current President of the WHCA, Ed Henry of Fox News, justifies all of this decadence by pointing out that over $100,000 is raised to support needy kids hungry for scholarships. A good cause, indeed. But considering the money media companies spend to put on their parties and fly in their celebrities, really, 100K is chump change. It ought to be more like a cool million.  So here’s an idea, Ed.   For 100K, hold a friggin’ bake sale.   Hey- it’s all about the scholarships.  Right.

Bye Bye Old NPR Building

NPR Old and the New

Well, NPR is moving. Most everyone except Newscast, Digital News and Technical Operations has left the old building at 635 Massachusetts Avenue for the beautiful new headquarters building at 1111 North Capital Street. We, the stragglers go last- next week.

What will become of the old building that housed NPR for some two decades? It will be destroyed in just a few weeks; demolished and turned to dust. So….what do a few hundred snarky, already cynical NPR-types do to a building they know will cease to exist in a few short weeks?

Graffiti! Big time Graffiti. On all the walls, the elevators, the CEO’s old office bathroom. You name it. The entire place has been turned into a kind of performance art canvass where features of the building itself are part of the show. We have been unleashed like 6 year-olds with finger paints.

Here’s the old, handy, 3rd floor defibrillator:

NPR Defibrillator

NPR’s Supreme Court/Legal correspondent, Nina Totenberg, is photographed by White House correspondent, Ari Shapiro as she leaves behind her mark…

NPR Nina

Later, an unnamed colleague added their snarky rejoinder:

NPR Nice Things

The old building had its quirks. There was only one elevator that actually took you up to the 7th floor cafeteria. All other elevators took to you to the 6th floor and you’d have to walk up a flight of stairs. But that one elevator that went all the way up was also very, very popular. It could take up to 5 minutes or longer before you’d hear the cheesy little bell that signaled its arrival.

NPR Virtue

This is one of the other elevators. It featured a special guest rider all Friday afternoon. I maintain we are the only major radio network in the world with a headphone-wearing mannequin.

NPR Elevator

And continuing with the elevator theme- some are taking the move rather philosophically:

NPR Elevator 2

We always wondered what this old 3rd floor valve did, exactly. And we still wonder but just to be on the safe side….

NPR Valve

Will Nightmare Cruise Passengers Survive the Media?

February 14, 2013 1 comment
The absurdly named Carnival "Triumph"

The absurdly named Carnival “Triumph”

CNN is taking no prisoners. A breathless anchorwoman just told me the Cable News Network is covering the arrival of the crippled Carnival cruise ship, Triumph, by sea, air and land. A CNN-chartered helicopter is flying over the vessel. I assume there’s a rented CNN boat. And of course CNN and six billion other news organizations will be awaiting the poor passengers when the cruise from hell finally comes to an end in Mobile, Alabama.

Imagine surviving the heat, the cold, the darkness, the onion sandwiches for a week after the ship’s engine blew and now you have to swat away microphones like they were a swarm of aggressive gnats.

There will, of course, be the award-winning journalism taking the form of unique questions like: “Excuse me, sir, how did you survive the urine-soaked mattresses?” “What’s it like to do #2 into a plastic bag?” “How would you describe the smell, kind of like sewage and rotten food?”

For some reason that escapes Mobile, Alabama Mayor, Sam Jones, Carnival has rented 1,200 hotel rooms in New Orleans for the exhausted passengers- readying buses that will cart them for two hours so they can spend one night and then board an airplane that will take them to Houston/Galveston, where this trip from hell started. Mayor Jones points out that Mobile has hotel rooms too and they only take five minutes to reach.

And isn’t it just a tiny bit ironic that after spending a week smelling that much sewage, that you’d end up on Bourbon street which has its own unique aroma following the Fat Tuesday celebrations of just 48 hours ago?

While I would not wish this past week aboard the Carnival Triumph on even my most dreaded enemies, I do have to point out that these folks did avoid a fate that befell 32 passengers of the Costa Concordia, another infamous cruise trip from hell- nobody died.

Anyway, there’s this great scene in the movie adapted from the John Irving novel, “The World According to Garp,” in which Garp, played by Robin Williams, is house-hunting with his wife. They watch incredulously as a small plane crashes right into the roof of the house they’re visiting. Garp turns to his wife and announces they’re buying the house. As she looks at him with a disbelieving face, he says- “What are the chances that is EVER going to happen again?”

Armed with that basic philosophy, I’m seriously thinking about taking a cruise. I’m thinking there’s bound to be an industry-wide slash in fares and what are the odds there’s going to be another cruise ship incident in the next week or two? I mean what are the odds another engine will blow, or another cruise ship captain will ground a vessel or that the Norwalk virus will spread like wildfire from cramped cabin to cramped cabin?

On second thought, my comfy couch and the next episode of Downton Abbey is looking like a much safer bet.

Thoughts on the Deaths of the Innocents

December 18, 2012 2 comments

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I run a newsroom so I couldn’t avoid the sudden immersion into the evil and the insanity. The Newtown shootings story unfolded in seeming slow motion last Friday but, finally, about three hours after the last bullets were fired, the scope and brutality of the event became clearer and clearer until it was finally laid bare for all to see.

The immersion into this gruesome, horrifying nightmare of a story continued all that Friday as journalists walked a minefield of rumor, assumption and misinformation. Into the night and the next day there were conference calls, pleas for extreme caution with the facts and the constant monitoring of the cable networks.

It was after the Sunday news talk shows when I finally threw in the towel. No more of this, please. I need a break. We all need a break from this. A fever and a sore throat that set in on Sunday were welcome because it meant I could stay home and avoid the story some more on Monday.

Unfortunately, for the victims of violence or the desperate parents of mentally ill children who could be the next Adam Lanza, there is nowhere to run and hide like I was able to for a couple of days.

In the course of my self imposed black-out on the Newtown massacre, I missed a few things that I discovered this morning as I returned to work. Turns out even previously 100% pro-NRA voting members of Congress like West Virginia Senator, Joe Manchin, were now saying it was time to consider legislative action of some kind. Dick’s Sporting Goods stores announced a moratorium on the sale of modern sporting rifles.

And brave, courageous and desperate parents like Liza Long were coming out of the woodwork talking about the fear they live with everyday with their mentally ill and psychologically unstable children. Please read this account if you haven’t already, of her life with her son, Michael, a genius who is sweet and kind most of the time- and an absolute life-threatening terror on too many occasions. She says she has been told by mental health professionals that the only thing that will help her son is when he gets in the hands of the criminal justice system.

By then, of course, it’s usually too late.

It is unfortunate it would take the cold-blooded elementary school murders of twenty children and six adults to start the important conversations that seem to be underway in earnest now. After all, these are not the first innocents to die in the line of fire and mental illness. I could list them for you if you’d like- the mass shootings that have taken place in this country in just the last two years. But I won’t.

If you have been unable to detach yourself from this story; if you are unable to avoid it in the course of your mass media consumption- I would highly recommend pulling the plug for a bit. It’s ok to get away from this thing. In the meantime, take heart from the famous quote by Winston Churchill- “Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing after they have exhausted all other possibilities.”

What All Those Political TV Ads Could Have Bought

November 3, 2012 Leave a comment

I suppose the nation’s radio and television stations are quite happy with all the campaign cash that’s been spent with them this year, but when you consider their effectiveness- wow- what a colossal waste of cash.

I read about a study the other day that found that when a political partisan sees a negative TV ad that attacks their candidate, instead of changing minds, the commercials tend to strengthen their support for their guy.   And since undecided voters number about 3% of the population that basically means you are throwing away billions on the 97% you not only didn’t convince- but whose resolve to despise your candidate, you likely strengthened.

So…let’s break out the calculator, shall we?  According to non-partisan research group, Center for Responsive Politics, $700 million were spent in 2008 on federal elections.  This year?  After the Citizen’s United Ruling that allows anybody to spend as much as they want with no limits- federal elections will eat up $6 billion.  That’s the total spent by the campaigns themselves, the political parties and all those new limitless Super Pacs.

So what does 6 billion buy you these days?

– You could have paid about a third of all the property damage inflicted by Superstorm, Sandy.

– You could have fed 7.5 million American families for a month.

– You could have put 120 thousand people to work making 50 grand a year.

– You could have bought 300 thousand people a $20 thousand car.

– You could have purchased more than 1.5 billion gallons of gas.

– You could have bought schools 6 million, thousand-dollar lap tops.

– Instead of making people ill with your political ads you could have just bought them 1.7 million top-of-the-line Samsung 60-inch, HD flat screen TV’s.

But, no.  Instead, we have spent billions on TV commercials with grainy, black and white footage of politicians, punctuated by ominous background music as golden-throated announcers try to scare the crap out of us with doomsday scenarios of the horrible things that will happen to us the day the other guy gets elected.

Just three more days of this, folks.