Prime Time Twaddle

August 11, 2009

I watched Laura Ling and Euna Lee, get off Bill Clinton’s big white airplane that he borrowed from his friend Bing when it arrived at the hanger at Burbank Airport.

I watched Al Gore hugging people — Clinton; one of the two girls – this after I had watched Bill walk down the steps from the airplane and stand basking in adoration. I watched all the hugging and tear-jerking reunions and all the warm fuzzies that were going on and listened to some CNN reporter telling us what we were looking at.

She was lying.

We were looking at two dumb, “members of the media” — bargaining chips — who should have been left where they were because eventually they would have returned to their homeland, one way or another, bargaining chips always are. These two work for some lawyer, an ambulance chaser fronted by Al Gore … a minor television service, I gather.

I watched Laura Ling wresting the glory from her big sister Lisa (who is a legit media person) while crying and blubbering, playing on the nations heartstrings. I saw pictures, flashed on the screen, of Bill Clinton sitting next to that little ratfink Kim Jong-Il which in itself was enough to undermine the United States even if the two twits hadn’t got caught where they should never have been in the first place. Did they somehow think their names were Amanpour?

Amatures, one holding a camera … and one doing some kind of dance and flitting to and fro between the China/North Korea border. Meanwhile here was Obama –trying, along with five other countries — to curb Kim Jong il from completing a nuclear device on a rocket capable of doing great harm, most likely so that he could job his technology to the likes of Hugo Chavez, Mahmood Ahmadinejad, and the leaders of the rogue terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan including Al Qaida. And at a sensitive time: to wit – Kim testing rockets. Then … along comes Clinton on his white airplane (horse) and rescues a couple of stupid little girls. (Laura needs help reading copy).

The Secretary of State has been diminished in the eyes of many by association. The United States has been diminished in the eyes of many by falling for such an obvious PR stunt — bowing to a renegade leader. What kind of message did that send the world? Huh?

Obama was weakened — he has to accept the blame for part of the whole mess but as it turned out this was a coup by the Clintons and a slap on the face to the man who beat one of them and fought with the other during the campaign of 2008. This was “gotcha”. It was worse; it was dealing with a terrorist. It was disgusting and a blow from which Obama may not recover.

He has been one-upped at a time when his major push in Congress is to pass an important piece of legislation (The Health Bill) that could have implications resulting in busting his chances of governing in the manner of which he has chosen to govern, be it right or wrong. He’s been horns-waggled by Clinton, Gore, a hedonistic head of state and two twit nincompoops who should never have been near a mic or a camera in the first place.

And the sad part of it is… they will make millions because the gauzy, glamour-guzzling American Mainstream Media will sit back and make sure that these two are kept in the spotlight. Their books will get more free publicity than warrants a titanic work of fiction. Meanwhile

Clinton looked more asinine than he did trying to lie his way out of his infamous sex scandal. Bury the s-o-b, Barry. Great God… what would Walter Cronkite have thought?

And That’s the Way It Was

July 19, 2009
The passing of Walter Cronkite this week brings up more than the fact that a great News Anchor/Reporter has died, it points to a time when what we heard on the TV News shows such as The CBS Evening News and NBC’s Huntley-Brinkley Report, we could believe.  We could take it to the bank because if those guys said it, it was true.  There was no doubt in our minds, it was simply accepted as one accepts anything they have no reason to disbelieve.

 

There was room for doubt in Newspaper editorials but Television’s prime time news did not contain much editorial.  I say not much because Eric Severeid always had a piece in Cronkite’s casts and Severeid was mostly ‘nail on the head’ common sense even if you had a different political outlook.  Newsmen like those I have mentioned always made sure they couched political phrases in words that left room for doubt such as “alleged”, or “heard to have said”.  They made certain that any quote from a politician was attributable to that politician alone and not to the reporter.  We have learned over the years that politics is, as I recently wrote to a friend, much the same as Godless religion.

 

Network fumbling during the 2000 election count would not have taken place if Walter Cronkite had been managing the desk.  At worst, he would have “alluded” to who had won Florida but I like to think he would have rather been sailing his yacht than naming Bush as the winner before things were clear. That, of course was just one example of many.  The cable news nets have had to retract much while covering stories such as the Mid-East wars.  A sleep-starved Bernard Shaw would not have been allowed on the air to ask inane questions of his audience and babble like a rookie during the initial bombardment in the first Iraq invasion. 

 

FOX and CNN are decidedly politically swayed news sources.  How is one to judge truth when they hear the right wing theatrical posture of Sean Hannity or Bill O’Reilly on FOX compared to the left of center spiel of Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper on CNN?  Walter Cronkite is on record as saying he did not approve of theatrics in a newscast.  I shudder to think about his reaction to Jon Stewart although Stewart and Stephen Colbert admittedly have broken new ground and leave no doubt they are not to be taken all that seriously.  Nor would Cronkite have chosen sides in a political battle and he anchored the US elections for more than his 19 years at the main desk.

 

My point, if it may have slipped by, is that we as viewers are never 100 percent positive of what we hear is true anymore.  The recent profligacy of fatuous gibbering over the death of Michael Jackson with its mountain of praise-studded superlatives about this wasted soul who in all likelihood was little more than a child molester — and I am not being judicious, read the stories that circulated before his death — would have been handled in a less hysterical manner by Walter Cronkite.  Another icon died on December 8, 1980 and Cronkite led off his program by saying words to the effect that “leading the news tonight we do not deal with the world’s problems but speak of a man who sang songs and played his guitar”. He dealt with the situation by handling it with decency, reservation and facts.  He did not glorify, nor pontificate but merely told the story of John Lennon’s death with a sad resonance which the story called for.   

 

I don’t mean to intimate that Truth in Electronic Journalism died in 1981 when Walter Cronkite retired. David Brinkley and Peter Jennings demanded and received respect but Cronkite was in a class of his own and CBS News never attained the influence it had under his successor, Dan Rather. Those of us who remember him, watched him each evening and formed opinions that aligned with his reporting will realize that something has gone that is unlikely ever to return.

 

The Internet is so full of miss-information and corrupted trash that it is really no substitute for newscasts.  Yes, the world has changed but the ability to explain what happened in a calm yet forceful way has not.  I used the word “calm”– let me give a quick reference.  CNN broadcasters like Cooper, Blitzer and especially John King bark out the news at such a rapid pace that one has trouble understanding them, or remembering what they said, at 200 words a minute.  Cronkite spoke at a snail’s pace — 125 words per minute — relying on phraseology to tell the story in as few words as possible, compared to the borderline frenzy of so many today.  Having worked in the radio business for most of my life, I fully understand the value of speaking distinctly, use common, easily understood diction and rely on inflection as opposed to immitating an auctioneer.
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But in remembering Walter Cronkite, I should remind you that he was not the first of the great broadcasters of the 20th Century. Taste is subjective but I would be remiss in not mentioning the man who preceded Cronkite as the giant of CBS and indeed the United States News business and that is, of course, Edward R. Murrow.  His medium was radio but although he eventually morphed into television, Murrow is best remembered for his days as a radio reporter who, from London, England broadcast during the Nazi air-raids during the early years of World War Two. 

The two men met, several times, even worked together on presidential elections but they were not particularly good friends. Early in Walter Cronkite’s career when he was working in the Midwest, Murrow tried to hire him for CBS News.  Cronkite would have benefitted greatly one would think, considering the salary and the opportunities available as one of the Murrow Boys.  But Cronkite made the decision to ‘go it alone’ and if he made it to the top, he would have himself to thank and would be beholden to no other individual, even one whose stature was as eminent as Murrow’s who may well have been miffed at Cronkite’s decision.

The Murrow Boys were a group of reporters who Edward R. either hired or acquired and directed during the war years.  They were the absolute cream at broadcasting war news and many went on to successful careers of their own.  The list is generally conceded to include Eric Severeid, William L. Shirer, Howard K. Smith, Charles Collingwood and arguably Daniel Schorr, all names most of us over the age of 50 will have heard.  Some may remember Richard C. Hottelet and William (Bill) Downs. 

When speaking of Truth in Broadcasting, Murrow set the pace.  He could do little else because from his perch on the top of the building that housed CBS’ London offices one could hear the bombs screeching around him as they fell on the great city.  His broadcasts were as exciting as any fictitious enactment of that scene and Murrow is often credited with allowing Americans to realize the incredible strength of character possessed by Londoners during The Blitz. 

They are both gone now. Them and most of their kind.  They did their jobs with such formidable honour that I for one hope they will long be remembered as true pioneers, esteemed titans of the Broadcast industry.  I leave it up to others to tell of the individual accomplishments of Walter Cronkite.  He wrote a wonderful little book called A Reporters Life which like his newscasts is easy to read — full of interesting anecdotes and tales. It’s still around and I urge you to read it.  However many books will appear on Cronkite’s life, now that he has gone.  It can only be hoped that they will be as truthful and sincere in their endeavor as he was.

 

Super Star … and yet

June 26, 2009
Definitions come into play here.  Michael Jackson cannot be denied his contributions to the music industry.  At one point the guy saved it from near collapse although it never would have died completely (can I say that?)  He piled up records (as in Guinness records) the same way he piled up Grammy’s and other awards.  He generated enormous sums, not only in the music business but in charity, song catalogue rights, newspaper sales, book sales — he wrote a best seller — video, amusement parks and in many ways eclipsed the other pop icons of the last century.
 
When my dad was 20 he was living in San Francisco and he stood in a two block long line-up to get tickets to see Al Jolson perform.  You remember Al Jolson, don’t you? — he sang “Mammy”.  In black face yet; starred in the first “talking” motion picture, a terrible piece of crap called “The Jazz Singer”.  He sang to sold out audiences almost every night from the 19-teens to the early 30’s and came back in the 40’s when a couple of bio-films resurrected his career despite a voice which had sunk at least two octaves. Al Jolson was the century’s first super-star.
 
Radio did more for Bing Crosby than any other living person in the Depressed 1930’s.  Grabbing hold of a style called ‘crooning” he was wooden compared to Jolson’s flailing stage antics but the USA and any part of the world that could hear Crosby’s records embraced him above all his contemporaries. He used radio to attract fans; he was a matinee idol; his voice was perfect for what he managed to achieve. Bing Crosby was the century’s second super star.
 
Although Frank Sinatra did not kill off Crosby, he took crooning to a new level and while Crosby was just an average joe, Frank introduced sex into popular music and when he broke with Tommy Dorsey and went out on his own he lugged around a screaming mass of teenagers, 90 percent female, who were dubbed bobby soxers (saddle shoes and ankle sox) and took to fainting when Frank made love to a microphone in the same way one would sweet-talk a woman. He was controversial; draft deferred, men were jealous of the skinny guy with the bow-tie and the kiss-curl. Frank Sinatra would become the century’s third super-star.
 
Sinatra would be lionized as the years passed and his antics were legend. He was a star attraction for the grocery store press. Vegas mob attachments didn’t hurt his popularity, just gave him mystique.   He even managed to survive in the face of popular music being over-run by a monarch of mush named Mitch Miller who introduced slop  that stunk up the charts with pap about doggies in windows, sparrows in treetops, wild geese, shrimp boats and the fact that ‘a guy is a guy’. God Bless Elvis.
 
Presley was the one who opened the door wide to Rock ‘n’ Roll. He had help.  Chuck Berry began writing Rock ‘n’ Roll songs and so did Buddy Holly. One was black and one was white and it made no difference, it was the music that counted.  Presley was the real glue for several years: 1956 to 1964 which spanned his stint in the army, Elvis was on a throne, albeit a kingdom restricted to the young and impressionable.  Once again the tabloids dug dung about a musical phenomenon.  Elvis Presley was the century’s fourth super star.
 
Everybody reading this pretty much knows the story of the Beatles.  Like the chart-busters who preceded them, they clawed their way to the top.  Since screaming young girls began with Sinatra, so they continued through Presley and on to the four British musicians.  The Beatles music was fresh and they deserved accolades along with the tribe of Brits they brought with them.  The Beatles, as a group,  were the century’s fifth super stars. 
 
There were pretenders after the Beatles break-up in the early 70’s, most notably Elton John.  Then it was Disco and the focus shifted off of individual personalities and turned inward.  The red lipstick, gold chain bunch. 
 
So much for history.
 
— 
 
The story of Michael Jackson is playing as you read this.  Everywhere.  I’ve talked with people on four continents  and it’s all a lot of guess work … drugs? stress? the reasons, true or false, are really moot. 
 
The question is: was Michael Jackson a super-star in the same sense as the five I mentioned above?  I don’t know.  A dear friend in Dubai used the word poignant in describing his life.  All the super stars I’ve mentioned are iconic, none are poignant.  They were, none of them, as big as their many parts and nowhere was that more obvious than with Michael Jackson.  The question begs answering — here is a 50 year old man who survived a disgusting childhood, warped for life by a mentally disturbed father, blasted into world recognition on the basis of the highest selling recording ever — reaching a height from which he could only descend: how could he handle all that we have read about him
 
Two crushing attacks from individuals, the Chandlers (22 million, thank you) and the Arvisos may only indicate what? that they were the flotsam that surfaces in an environment where a life is  conducted which at least “seems” to be abnormal.  A bit bent?  However Liz Taylor says it wasn’t like that.  Well, Liz Taylor is not a member of the average public and we will never know the answers to those two disturbances … to use a rather light description.  
 
The publicity, self generated at first then a detachment from reality; the gurus and the searching; the changes in his mind about the changes in him — his body — his persona. What could we have possibly known about this man?  He has been where none of us, not even those who preceded him at the top of the colossus which is the world of pop music, have rested.  Super-Star?  A gifted showman but housed in the essence of what Billie Holiday referred to as Strange Fruit. 
 
You don’t have to like his music.  One day, not too distant, his legacy will show that he was responsible for selling one billion records.  You still don’t have to like his music, it’s not about music —  it’s about one individual generating something that sold that much of anything.
 
Kids and later most of their parents, often grudgingly, absorbed the 20th century’s idols, the five I mentioned.  Michael Jackson does not fit that class of performer. Yes, he made a movie, he wrote a book, he was charitable, he was stylish but his prime asset, his music, stopped attracting many when Hip Hop and New Jack Swing took over.  Those genres don’t attract an older audience.  Not in the white world where most of the money is spent.  “Beat It” will never be accepted by those who espouse “Yesterday“, “Are You Lonesome Tonight” or “I’ve Got you Under My Skin“. 
 
Michael — and his female compatriot, Madonna, are infamous for drawing attention to themselves.  So did their predecessors but not to the extent and not in a world where information travels as does lightening.  Twitter and Facebook fast.  Nor lurked a media which takes advantage of “I-information”. 
 
I repeat: we just don’t know exactly what possessed Michael Jackson, what demons or angels  And is it worth the hassle to concern ourselves?  I don’t think so. Was he the sixth super star of the last century?  In many ways he was, and yet something was different….
 
It’s all part of The Passing Parade, which like nature, has no conscience.      
 

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