I have seen perhaps two episodes of Game of Thrones. I’m not going to be a snob about it; after all, there are those who didn’t get The Lord of the Rings or Star Trek or Downton Abbey or The West Wing. It just didn’t click with me, but I’m open to hearing from those who are into it to tell me about it.
Monday, April 15, 2019
Monday, March 18, 2019
You would think that with all of the things going on in the world today, including natural disasters such as flooding the Iowa and Nebraska, an entire fleet of aircraft grounded, North Korea rattling their sabre (again), white supremacists shooting up mosques in New Zealand, an American president would have more important things to worry about than a late-night comedy program on TV putting up a re-run that made fun of him.
Other U.S. presidents have decried horror abroad as an affront to values shared among liberal democratic allies, but Trump has made no major address to mourn those gunned down last week as they worshiped at mosques in New Zealand. He has not condemned the professed white-supremacist motives of the accused killer.
Instead, Trump has spent the past few days, including the hours before and after the church service, rallying his most loyal supporters around his nationalist agenda against illegal immigration, attacking a familiar list of perceived enemies and adding new ones, all while casting himself as a victim of unfair attacks.
It was a weekend of nonstop grievances from the leader of the free world.
“It’s truly incredible that shows like Saturday Night Live, not funny/no talent, can spend all of their time knocking the same person (me), over & over, without so much of a mention of ‘the other side,’ ” Trump tweeted just before 8 a.m. Sunday. “Like an advertisement without consequences. Same with Late Night Shows.”
SNL had rerun an episode Saturday that opened with a sketch lampooning Trump as a bitter and bewildered George Bailey from the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
The president suggested the federal government should target the show. “Should Federal Election Commission and/or FCC look into this? There must be Collusion with the Democrats and, of course, Russia! Such one sided media coverage, most of it Fake News. Hard to believe I won and am winning. Approval Rating 52 percent, 93% with Republicans. Sorry! #MAGA.”
Okay, stop right there. The federal government can’t target the show; the FCC has no control over the networks. And it sounds like he’s calling for the return of the Fairness Doctrine, which was abolished during the Reagan administration because gas bags like Rush Limbaugh complained that they were under the mistaken impression that they had to give equal time to opposite points of view. You really want that back? (Actually, it wouldn’t make any difference. Most, if not all, of the news, fake or otherwise, comes via cable, and that’s not regulated by the FCC either.)
The point is that with all the shit going down in the world, we have an obsessed narcissist and coward in the White House who seems to think the only thing that matters is what other people think of him. That’s not how you run a democracy. It is, however, how you run a dictatorship.
Tuesday, January 8, 2019
Trump’s planned prime-time address on immigration Tuesday night put the broadcast networks in a difficult — and familiar — position as they debated whether to carry the address live. But in the end, they agreed to the White House request and will air the speech.
The White House asked the broadcast networks to set aside at least eight minutes at 9 p.m. ET on Tuesday for an Oval Office address in which Trump may declare a state of national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border.
As of early Monday evening, CBS, ABC, Fox and NBC had decided to air Trump’s address, according to sources familiar with the decisions who were not authorized to speak publicly. Late Monday, PBS and Telemundo confirmed plans to broadcast Trump’s remarks. The major cable news channels — MSNBC, CNN and Fox News — were also planning to air the speech.
Even if I didn’t have a meeting to go to, I’d skip this live broadcast of id-blather for TV that’s really important: Season 6, Episode 4 of “Downton Abbey,” which I had to stop watching when the cable went out.
Besides, the only thing I want to hear from Trump is a quote from another president: “Therefore, I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow.”
Saturday, December 15, 2018
Monday, May 21, 2018
CBS is bringing back Murphy Brown.
Someone got their brow all furrowed because this looks like a direct slap back at “Roseanne” and her Trump-loving reboot and there will be hell to pay from all the right-wing backlash.
Well, duh! Backlash means ratings, baby, and that’s all CBS cares about. So bring it on, bitches.
By the way, they’re also rebooting “Magnum P.I.” to add to the other stables of reboots already out there: “Hawaii Five-O,” “Will & Grace,” “One Day at a Time,” and “MacGyver.” What’s next? “My Mother the Car,” this time as a 1979 Volvo?
Don’t knock the classics, kid.
Tuesday, April 17, 2018
I was sad to the point of cursing last night when I heard of the death of Harry Anderson. He became best known as the star of the comedy “Night Court,” which, to my mind, ranks up there with truly good TV sitcoms alongside “M*A*S*H” and “Barney Miller.”
Like those shows, “Night Court” was an ensemble that reminded me more of a play than TV show. With a supporting cast that included John Larroquette, Markie Post, Richard Moll, Charles S. Robinson, and, early on, the incomparable Selma Diamond, whose career in TV comedy is legendary, having been part of the writing crew for Sid Caesar along with Woody Allen and Neil Simon, and Florence Halop, whose own career dates back to the Bowery Boys. Marsha Warfield, who replaced Ms. Halop upon her death, was no slouch, either. But the bond that held them together was Mr. Anderson’s wry sense of humor, his genial touch, and his love of Mel Torme music.
He had another series after “Night Court,” “Dave’s World,” based on the writings of Miami Herald writer Dave Barry, but he’ll be remembered most fondly — at least by me — as Judge Harry.
Tuesday, April 3, 2018
Last month I posted about Sinclair Broadcasting and their “must read” commentary sent out to all their stations. Basically it’s Trump-tilted railings about, ironically, “fake news” that the corporate office requires be put on the air by their local news anchors.
Recently Deadspin did a compilation of all the Sinclair local anchors reading a promo for their corporate message, and it comes across as a version of either a North Korean filler or a hostage video.
So what’s it like to work at a Sinclair station? Aaron Weiss worked at a Sinclair station and fills us in on the soul-crushing details via Huffinton Post.
I was a Sinclair news director. For a few months, at least.
In 2013, I was a young news director at a struggling small station in the Midwest, having worked my way up the ranks as a producer in larger markets. I’d uprooted my family the year before and moved from the West Coast to “earn my stripes” running a newsroom. I had a small team with a handful of veterans and eager new reporters I enjoyed mentoring.
That fall, Sinclair Broadcast Group bought the station. Sinclair was not a household name at the time, but it did have a reputation in the business for being heavy-handed in station operations and for having a conservative editorial lean. The company first made national headlines when it forced all its stations to run an anti-John Kerry documentary just before the Democratic nominee lost the 2004 presidential election.
Still, I went in with an open mind. As Sinclair prepared to purchase my station, I emailed a colleague to say, “From everything I’ve seen so far, it’s not the evil empire some people think.”
It took just a few months to realize how wrong I was.
It began with the “must run” stories arriving in my inbox every morning. “Must-run” stories were exactly what the name suggests: They were a combination of pre-produced packages that would come down from corporate, along with scripts for local anchors to read. We had to air them whether we wanted to or not.
On the way to a meeting of company news directors, someone whose station had been acquired a few months earlier explained that the arrangement wasn’t that bad — you just had to bury the “must-run” corporate stories and commentary in early-morning newscasts where few viewers would see them. Shortly after that, an executive made it clear to us that the “must-run” stories were not optional and that corporate would be watching to make sure they weren’t getting buried at 5 a.m.
Sinclair knows its strongest asset is the credibility of its local anchors. They’re trusted voices in their communities, and they have often been on the air for decades before Sinclair purchased their stations.
The must-run stories, however, barely passed as journalism. More than one script came down that, had it come from one of my fresh-out-of-college reporters, I would have sent back for a complete rewrite. But Sinclair executives made it clear that the must-run scripts were not to be touched by producers or anchors.
I didn’t last long after that. I soon realized I would have trouble looking myself in the mirror if I put stories and commentary like that on the air. I couldn’t in good conscience ask young reporters and anchors to sign multi-year contracts knowing what they’d be forced to say on the air and face severe financial penalties if they left early.
So I quit, and once again uprooted my family in search of a company with ethical and news standards I could be proud of. I was fortunate enough to find a new position with another station group that, unlike Sinclair, had a true commitment to local journalism.
Over the course of my 14-year career in broadcasting, I worked for multiple corporate owners, large and small. I have good friends who are anchors, reporters and executives at other station groups across the country. Only Sinclair forces those trusted local journalists to lend their credibility to shoddy reporting and commentary that, if it ran in other countries, we would rightly dismiss as state propaganda.
In the four years since I left, Sinclair has doubled down on its “must-run” strategy. Segments like the Islamophobic “Terrorism Alert Desk” and commentary from Trump adviser Boris Epshteyn have started running in markets from Seattle to Washington, D.C. If the Federal Communications Commission approves Sinclair’s purchase of Tribune Broadcasting, it will get a foothold in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Denver and other major markets. I know several journalists who preemptively left Tribune stations after the sale was announced. They’re the lucky and principled ones.
When Deadspin’s genius supercut of Sinclair’s latest promo went viral last weekend, my heart broke for the anchors who were used to make the equivalent of a proof-of-life hostage video. They know what they’re being conscripted to do, but most of them have no choice in the matter. They’re trapped by contracts, by family obligations and by an industry that is struggling to stay relevant in an era of changing media habits.
The anchors who were forced to decry “fake news” put their own credibility on the line, accusing “some members of the media” of pushing “their own personal bias and agenda,” when nothing could be further from the truth. The only ones pushing a personal bias in local broadcasting today are the corporate executives at Sinclair, who leverage the trust that those anchors have developed in their communities over years and often decades of hard work.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with journalism that wears its bias on its sleeve. At some point, local news may transform into something more like the cable news landscape, with hosts who are paid to share their perspective and commentary. But that requires honesty on the part of station owners, and it requires embracing a diversity of viewpoints on the air. That’s the exact opposite of what Sinclair is doing to local broadcasting today.
During my time with Sinclair, while on a conference call with other news directors, someone asked if we could ever run local commentary during newscasts. The answer was a firm “no.” The only opinions Sinclair allows on air are the opinions that come out of headquarters, because the company will not risk giving local audiences a dissenting view.
That “no” was telling. Being afraid of a variety of viewpoints is, in the words of Sinclair’s now-infamous “must-run,” extremely dangerous to a democracy.
I had a short — nine months — career in doing radio news for a small-town station in northern Michigan in the late 1970’s. It was owned by a group of local businessmen, all of them conservative Republicans, but to a man they all made it clear that the news was the news and that there would be no “corporate” interference in how I did my job and they never imposed any “must read” commentary or point of view.
Those were the days.
HT to CLW.
Friday, March 9, 2018
Sinclair Broadcasting wants you to know that everything is wonderful under the Trump regime and any news that doesn’t reinforce that line is fake, left-wing, and not nice.
Sinclair, one of the biggest owners of local TV stations in the U.S., with 193 outlets in 89 markets, sent scripts of the promos to news directors, instructing that they be produced “exactly as they are written,” according to CNN.
“I’m [we are] concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country,” the spot begins. “The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media. More alarming, national media outlets are publishing these same fake stories without checking facts first. Unfortunately, some members of the national media are using their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think’ … This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.”
It concludes that reporting facts ― which are neither “left nor right” ― is their duty as journalists. All Sinclair stations had to run an almost identical segment last year as well, The New York Times reported.
“I felt like a POW recording a message,” one anchor at a Sinclair-owned station told CNN.
Sinclair has a history of advancing a conservative agenda. Another recent iteration of right-wing bias came in the form of a requirement that its stations air pro-Trump segments featuring Boris Epshteyn (a former Trump White House official) nine times per week.
The media giant is trying to expand its reach in major cities with a proposed deal to acquire 42 stations currently owned by Tribune Media.
Wednesday, February 28, 2018
On this date — February 28, 1983 — over 106 million people gathered around their TV sets to watch the final episode of M*A*S*H.
I have every episode on DVD.
Thursday, January 25, 2018
“Murphy Brown” is back in town.
If it was a hit in the 1980s or 1990s, there’s a good chance it will be back soon.
CBS announced on Wednesday that “Murphy Brown,” its 1988-98 TV newsroom sitcom, was making its return to prime time. It joins revivals of numerous other vintage shows — including “Roseanne,” “Will & Grace,” “Full House,” “Amazing Stories,” “Twin Peaks” and “The X-Files” — to get the green light in recent years from executives eager to foist attention-grabbing names in front of an increasingly distracted audience.
CBS ordered 13 episodes and said the sitcom will be part of its 2018-19 season. Candice Bergen, who won five Emmys for her work on the show, will return in the title role. Diane English, the creator of “Murphy Brown,” who also produced lesser-known 1990s programs like “Love & War,” “Ink” and “Double Rush,” will be back as a writer and executive producer.
The winner of the best comedy Emmy in 1990 and 1992, “Murphy Brown” aired mostly on Monday nights and was regularly a top 10 show. While the sitcom, like its 1970s predecessor “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” focused on the workplace, it included scenes from the main character’s home life, many of which featured the actor Robert Pastorelli as a perfectionist house painter. Mr. Pastorelli died of a narcotics overdose in 2004.
In 1992, the show’s main character, a single divorced woman, became a subject of the culture wars of the day when Vice President Dan Quayle criticized her decision to have a child outside marriage. More than two decades later, Murphy Brown “returns to a world of cable news, social media, fake news and a very different political and cultural climate,” CBS said in a statement.
If, as the immortal Fred Allen once noted, “imitation is the sincerest form of television,” then recycling is the new way to go. Hey, there’s even talk about rebooting “77 Sunset Strip.”
The appeal of “Murphy Brown,” though, was good acting, good writing, and no fear about taking on the topics of the day and punching up. Of course, in 1988 was a different time…
Monday, December 11, 2017
When I was a kid back in the late ’50’s and early ’60’s, my mom would lament that I and my siblings spent so much time watching TV. “It will rot your brain,” was a common admonishment.
This was in the time before cable — indeed, before we had color TV — and there were three networks; four if you include the CBC which came in across Lake Erie from Windsor, Ontario. That was it.
Now we have hundreds of channels in living color and HD, not to mention the streaming services. There’s a lot out there that won’t rot your brain.
But for some, it’s too late. Exhibit A:
The Times reports that Trump begins each day around 5:30 a.m. by turning on CNN before quickly flipping to Fox News’s “Fox & Friends.” He occasionally watches MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” because it works him up, Trump’s friends told the Times.
Trump’s favorite programs include “Fox & Friends” as well as Fox News primetime shows from Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Jeanine Pirro. Trump sometimes “hate-watches” CNN host Don Lemon, according to the report.
The Times also reports that the only people allowed to touch the remote control for the White House television are Trump and White House technical support staffers.
She’s waited over fifty years to hear it, but, Mom, you were right.
Saturday, November 4, 2017
Memories of M*A*S*H.
Wednesday, August 30, 2017
Monday, July 17, 2017
What is this “Game of Thrones” you speak of?
To each his own.
Wednesday, June 7, 2017
It could be interesting to see what fired FBI Director James Comey has to say in his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday.
Apparently the major networks seem to think so, too. Not only does CNN have a countdown clock, the networks are bumping game shows, chat shows, and soaps for the live hearing. According to my friend Greg, it’s only been five other times that they’ve done it:
- The McCarthy hearings in 1954
- Watergate hearings in 1973
- Iran-contra hearings in 1987
- Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991
- Clinton impeachment hearings in 1998
Stock up on the good popcorn.
Wednesday, May 17, 2017
Sunday, March 19, 2017
Sesame Street Isn’t Just For Affluent Kids — Gene B. Sperling and Danielle Lazarowitz in The Atlantic.
When the Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney suggested that parents in struggling rural and urban areas might not consider funding public television through the Corporation for Public Broadcast a good use of taxpayer dollars during an appearance on Morning Joe on Thursday, he may have thought his statements reflected their feelings and were backed by up evidence. He was wrong on both accounts.Mulvaney was likely parroting the long-held conservative belief that PBS – with cultural programming like Masterpiece Theater and Antiques Roadshow – is too highbrow, and geared solely towards “coastal elites.” Yet he may have seemed woefully out of touch with the needs and desires of economically struggling families to Vicenta Medina, an immigrant mother from Mexico. While she and her husband Gilbert struggled to raise their family on the South Side of Chicago forty years ago, she says Sesame Street helped teach English to their young son David. They watched him go on to collect degrees from both Harvard and the University of Chicago, and then work in the Obama White House—where I first heard his story from a mutual friend.The Medina’s story of a hard-pressed family benefiting from public television is hardly anecdotal. Strong research shows that PBS programs such as Sesame Street have proven academic benefits for young audiences — especially those from more underprivileged households. According to a 2015 National Bureau of Economic Research study by University of Maryland’s Melissa Kearney and Wellesley College’s Phillip Levine, exposure to Sesame Street is an extremely low-cost intervention that has increased grade readiness for children living in economically disadvantaged areas. The effect is especially pronounced for boys and minority children, who have seen their likelihood of being below grade level decrease by as much as 16 percent. A number of earlier studies have also discovered positive academic impacts. One study found that children who watched Sesame Street frequently in pre-school earned high-school grade point averages almost 16 percent higher than those of children who didn’t grow up watching the show. Another from the University of Wisconsin concluded that children who watch international versions of the program gain nearly 12 percentile points on learning outcomes, as compared to those who don’t watch the show. In Bangladesh, 4-year-old viewers of the local version of Sesame Street were found to have 67 percent higher literacy scores, as compared to those who don’t watch.And the benefits of programs like Sesame Street are not limited to academic achievement. A report from the Future of Children, a collaborative effort from Princeton University and the Brookings Institution, indicated that kids who watched Sesame Street formed more positive attitudes toward people from different backgrounds. That finding was replicated in Ireland, where exposure to the show promoted an increased propensity toward inclusiveness among Catholic- and Protestant-raised children. A study that examined Israeli and Palestinian children had similar conclusions. This is no small deal at a time when the country is seeing the number of hate incidents rising.If there is an out of touch or elitist attitude toward PBS, it is the one implied by the OMB Director: The notion that lower income parents don’t value this free educational television in the way suburban parents do, or that they and their families cannot appreciate the historical and educational documentaries that appear on PBS—covering topics from Lewis and Clark to the Civil War to Jackie Robinson—just doesn’t match up with the facts. Surveys found that nearly two-thirds of poorer families reported that PBS KIDS “helps a lot” to prepare their children for school. PBS stations reach more kids ages two to five, more moms with young children, and more children from low-income families—9 million in fact—than any other kids TV network. And parents have confidence in PBS, with 66 percent saying they completely trust PBS KIDS to provide high quality programming—that’s 12 percent higher than the next closest competitor. The trade-off proposed in the budget is a dubious one. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting cost the federal government just $445 million last year—approximately one hundredth of one percent of the entire federal budget, and only about one-seventh of the $2.8 billion in annual health care tax cuts the current Republican plan gives to the top 400 families alone—a group with average incomes of $300 million.In a nation divided by inequality in income, schools, and neighborhoods, PBS is one equalizer—providing all kids, regardless of economic background, the chance to watch and learn for free from the likes of Elmo, Bob the Builder, and the impressive show, Sid the Science Kid. Families with a lower household income report having fewer resources for school preparedness, and PBS can help fill that gap by providing free, academically-proven educational experiences.
It is difficult to imagine that the White House can defend the deep and painful cuts to programs that are vital to middle class and working poor families. But one way they can’t defend the elimination of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is by suggesting that its efficacy lacks evidence, and has no support from working parents in hard-hit urban and rural areas who rely on this educational programming to improve their children’s future.
Seriously Funny Al Franken — Karen Tumulty profiles the junior senator from Minnesota.
It was a half-hour before one of the sparsely attended committee hearings that take place almost every day on Capitol Hill — in this case, a session on energy infrastructure so dry it would not merit even the presence of a C-SPAN camera.
But in Al Franken’s suite of offices in the Hart Senate Office Building, the man still known best as one of the early stars of “Saturday Night Live” was going through an intense rehearsal with four aides.
How much, Franken wanted to know, are the Chinese spending on clean technology research? Where do things stand on the University of Minnesota’s study of torrefaction, a roasting process that produces better fuel for biomass energy production? And might there be a chance to ask a question about one of his favorite causes, loan guarantees for Native American reservations?
“I just want to keep bringing it up, so they keep hearing it,” Franken said, with a trace of a sigh.
Everyone is hearing a lot more from Minnesota’s junior senator these days.
At the dawn of a presidency that stretches the limits of late-night parody, and at a moment when an out-of-power Democratic Party is trying to find its voice, the former comedian and satirist may be having a breakout moment as a political star.
He is also finding it safe to be funny again.
Franken, now 65, barely made it to the Senate, taking his oath in July, 2009, after a ballot recount that took eight months to resolve. So he spent his first term trying to prove he was not a joke — buttoning up his wit, buckling down on esoteric issues and sidestepping all but his home-state media.
“I won by 312 votes, right?” he said in an interview. “I had to show people that I was taking the job seriously, and I had come here for serious purposes, and I am still here for serious purposes. So I think I just felt like I was on probation.”
That diligence paid off in 2014, a disastrous year for Democrats nationally, when Franken was reelected with a double-digit margin.
In between, he developed a reputation on Capitol Hill for policy chops and penetrating questions — skills that have been on display during confirmation hearings of President Trump’s Cabinet nominees.
Franken “had an instinct for the legislative process, but the one talent that surprised me a little bit beyond that was his talent for cross-examination,” said political scientist Norman Ornstein, a close friend. “He has that Perry Mason quality.”
An exchange with Franken tripped up Jeff Sessions, then a fellow senator and now the attorney general, during his appearance before the Judiciary Committee.
Franken inquired what Sessions would do if he learned that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign had communicated with the Russian government in 2016.
He was trying to nudge Sessions into recusing himself, and he was startled when the Alabama senator offered information he had not asked for.
“I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign, and I did not have communications with the Russians,” Sessions said.
After The Washington Post revealed that Sessions had met with the Russian ambassador twice last year, the attorney general did indeed have to promise to step aside from any Justice Department investigations of the 2016 presidential campaign.In his grilling of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Franken revealed her lack of familiarity with one of the big debates in the education field, which is whether student achievement should be measured by proficiency or growth.
Franken later declared it “one the most embarrassing performances by a nominee in the history of the United States Senate.”
“We wouldn’t accept a secretary of defense who couldn’t name the branches of the military,” he argued as the Senate prepared to vote. “We wouldn’t accept a secretary of state who couldn’t find Europe on a map. We wouldn’t accept a treasury secretary who doesn’t understand multiplication.”
Although one had to withdraw (Andrew Puzder, Trump’s first nominee for labor secretary), all of Trump’s other nominees have been approved by the Senate, a reflection of two realities: Republicans have 52 votes, and Democrats, when they had the majority in 2013, did away with the power to filibuster Cabinet picks, a procedure that requires 60 votes to surmount.
But Franken’s questions have left a mark. He will be at it again starting Monday, when Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch goes before the Judiciary Committee.
When he met privately with Gorsuch, Franken said, the nominee “seemed evasive, on pretty much everything I asked him.”
So given the chance to grill Gorsuch publicly, “I’m really going to be going to certain areas that serve what I consider his pro-corporate bias, which I think has been the bias of the court, the Roberts court,” Franken said.
The Minnesota senator spent the last eight years proving that he’s good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like him. (Don’t groan. Reporters who write about him should be allowed the indulgence of using at least one of his signature lines from SNL.)
Nearing the halfway mark of his second term, Franken said, he feels “a little freer to be myself, and so every once in awhile, something comes out.”
At the end of May, Franken has a book coming out — part memoir, part policy prescriptive — that he has wryly titled: “Al Franken, Giant of the Senate.”
Franken has a laugh that bursts like a Tommy gun, and it does not take much to get it going. His staff keeps track of him on the Senate floor by listening for eruptions on their office televisions.
But the best stage to see Franken-style legislative improv is the hearing room. One recent exchange went viral.
“Governor, thank you so much for coming into my office. Did you enjoy meeting me?” he asked former Texas governor Rick Perry, who was up for confirmation as energy secretary.
“I hope you are as much fun on that dais as you were on your couch,” Perry replied. In the awkward laughter that followed, Perry added: “May I rephrase that?”
“Please,” Franken said, shuddering. “Oh my lord.”
Those moments aside, and with Donald Trump in the White House, “I don’t think my role to play here has anything to do with humor,” Franken said. “I don’t think humor is the tool I’m supposed to be using.”
By one measure, Franken’s career has come full circle. In a 1991 “Saturday Night Live” skit, he played a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. A week ago, on an episode of SNL’s “Weekend Update,” cast member Alex Moffat portrayed Franken in what is now a real-life role on that panel.He has many sides. During slow periods in committee hearings, Franken sometimes sketches elaborate portraits on a notepad. If he does not take them when he leaves, Senate staffers scoop up the Franken doodles as collector’s items.
But celebrity is a tricky thing in the Senate chamber, a place already well stocked with ego and ambition.
Franken said he found an early mentor in Tamera Luzzatto, who was Hillary Clinton’s Senate chief of staff at the time. Luzzatto had previously worked for Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), another famous name.
Luzzatto advised Franken to keep a low profile, take care of his state and always show up well prepared.
“What we really talked about is, there is still an opportunity in the Senate to get to know each other, and impress one another with your work ethic,” Luzzatto recalled. “The way one handles fame as an elected official — senators in particular — can help or harm you.”
When Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), then the minority leader, made a speech on the Senate floor in 2010 opposing the confirmation of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, he noticed Franken rolling his eyes. The impropriety was made worse by the fact that Franken was presiding over the Senate at the time.
“This isn’t ‘Saturday Night Live,’ Al,” McConnell said.
As it happens, Franken’s arrival in Washington marked the very moment that Democratic power reached a pinnacle.
His belated arrival in 2009 gave the party its 60th vote in the Senate, the one that made their agenda filibuster-proof and opened, among other things, the possibility of passing President Obama’s health-care law on Democratic support alone.
But that dominance did not last long. The following January, Republicans picked up a Massachusetts Senate seat and began a long march back to the majority, which they won in 2014, the year Franken was reelected.
And with Trump’s election, the party is shut out of power at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Franken brings a set of skills for navigating the wilderness they are in, Ornstein said. “It’s clear they need focused champions who can use the tools available to the minority to make points and frame issues and put people on the defensive and unmask things that need to be unmasked.”
Where it took Franken nearly six years to agree to his first Sunday show appearance as a senator, he now shows up on them frequently. There has even been talk of his potential as a presidential candidate.
“No. No,” he said. “I like this job. I really like this job. I like representing the people of Minnesota. I feel like I’m really beginning to know this job.”
Voters in Minnesota — a traditionally Democratic state that Trump lost by only a point and a half — also are paying attention to Franken’s emergence.
With another celebrity in the White House, “the context has completely changed,” said Kathryn L. Pearson, a political-science professor at the University of Minnesota. “There’s no question that his Democratic constituents are enthusiastic about his high-level role at the national level, but it certainly is riskier [with] Republicans in Minnesota, and even independents.”
The night before a hearing, Franken takes the prepared testimony of witnesses home and pores over it for weaknesses and inaccuracies. If a study is cited in a footnote, he will read that too, he said.
“Very often, when I think someone isn’t being truthful, that gets my ire up,” Franken said. He cited a skirmish in the Sessions confirmation hearing over a questionnaire in which the Alabama senator claimed to have “personally” litigated several important civil rights cases when he was a U.S. attorney. Other lawyers involved said Sessions’ role had actually been minimal.
Pressing Sessions on the discrepancy, Franken got him to admit that his role in some of the cases had consisted of “assistance and guidance” and that he “had been supportive of them.”
Republican senators objected to such rough treatment of one of their own. “It is unfortunate to see members of this body impugn the integrity of a fellow senator with whom we have served for years,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said.
But for Franken, the moment was sweet: “That was fun for me.”
But he is also part of the club. When the bells rang for a vote on a recent afternoon, Franken and four colleagues crowded onto a Senate subway car.
“We have Franken here to make us laugh!” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) announced.
Which they all did.
“The first time Franken presided,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told them, “I was sitting and looking at his profile, and all I could think was ‘Saturday Night Live.’ ”
Franken smiled. All that seemed like a long time ago.
Words Matter — John Cassidy in The New Yorker.
As a Presidential candidate, Donald Trump led a charmed existence. Whatever he said, no matter how outrageous, it didn’t seem to hurt him. He could insult his Republican opponents, make misogynistic comments about female journalists, call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, describe Mexican immigrants as rapists and murderers, trot out blatant falsehoods by the dozen, encourage the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s e-mail account—none of it proved damaging to his candidacy. As he famously remarked, it was as if he could go out and shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue “and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
Now things have changed. He might never admit it, but Trump has belatedly discovered a basic principle of politics: words matter. They matter so much, in fact, that they can make or break a Presidency. That’s why every one of his predecessors—during the modern era, at least—has chosen his words carefully. It took a few weeks for it to become clear that President Trump, as opposed to candidate Trump, would be subject to this principle. But, at this stage, there can be no doubt about it. Virtually every day brings a fresh example of his own loose words coming back to hurt him.
Take the legal setback to the Administration’s revised travel ban, which was supposed to go into effect on Thursday. Derrick Kahala Watson, the federal judge in Hawaii who, on Wednesday, halted the measure on constitutional grounds, said that the public record “includes significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus driving the promulgation of the Executive Order.” Among other things, Watson cited a Trump campaign document that said, “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” On Thursday, another federal judge, Theodore D. Chuang, of Maryland, issued a separate injunction against the revised ban. Citing statements from Trump and his advisers, Chuang said that they indicated the new executive order represented “the realization of the long-envisioned Muslim ban.” (My colleagues Benjamin Wallace-Wells and Jeffrey Toobin have more about both judges’ orders.)
It doesn’t stop there. As Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern has pointed out, even a staunchly conservative judge who has taken the Administration’s side in the fight over the travel bans has criticized some of Trump’s public statements. Earlier this week, in a dissent from a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against the original ban, Judge Jay Bybee strongly condemned the President’s attacks on James Robart, the district-court judge in Seattle who originally halted the ban. (On Twitter, Trump had referred to Robart as “a so-called judge” and called his ruling “ridiculous.”)
“The personal attacks on the distinguished district judge and our colleagues were out of all bounds of civic and persuasive discourse—particularly when they came from the parties,” Bybee, who worked in the George W. Bush Administration, wrote. “Such personal attacks treat the court as though it were merely a political forum in which bargaining, compromise, and even intimidation are acceptable principles. The courts of law must be more than that, or we are not governed by law at all.”
So far, then, the words that Trump has used to bully and berate the judiciary have succeeded only in encouraging judges to display their independence, with disastrous results for his Administration. And something similar has happened in response to his effort to divert attention from his Russia woes by accusing his predecessor, Barack Obama, of bugging Trump Tower.
Two weeks ago, in a series of early morning tweets, Trump declared that “President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!” Perhaps he thought that no one would interrogate his words. Or perhaps he wasn’t thinking at all. In any case, the White House spokesman Sean Spicer later compounded the error by calling on Congress to investigate Trump’s charges. The House and Senate intelligence committees did what Spicer asked, and on Thursday the heads of the Senate committee—the Republican Richard Burr and the Democrat Mark Warner—issued a joint statement that said, “Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016.”
After that, you might have thought that Trump and his aides would decide to exercise a bit more caution in what they said. Not a bit of it. At his daily briefing on Thursday afternoon, Spicer said that the President “stands by” his bugging accusations. By way of trying to prove that these accusations were reasonable, Spicer also read out some comments made by Andrew Napolitano, a Fox News commentator, in which Napolitano claimed, without citing any evidence, that Obama had asked G.C.H.Q., Britain’s version of the National Security Agency, to bug Trump.
Spicer’s briefing created yet more embarrassment for the White House. G.C.H.Q. issued a rare public statement, in which it said that Napolitano’s claims were “utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.” In response to reporters’ inquiries, a spokesman for Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, repeated the word “nonsense,” and added, “We have made this clear to the administration, and have received assurances that these allegations will not be repeated.” On Friday morning, there were reports, subsequently denied by Trump aides, that the United States had issued a formal apology to Britain.
What can’t be denied is that, yet again, the White House is in the soup. The President and his aides now know that words and truth do matter. Yet they continue to act as if they are oblivious. At a press conference with Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, on Friday afternoon, a German reporter asked Trump, “Why do you keep saying things you know are not true?” Trump didn’t answer directly. When another German reporter asked Trump about the White House citing claims that the British government bugged him, he refused to take responsibility. “We said nothing,” he said. “All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television. I didn’t make an opinion on it.” And, once again, Trump refused to back off the discredited claim that Obama bugged him. Looking at Merkel, whose phone the N.S.A. reportedly tapped for years, he said, jokingly, “At least we have something in common, perhaps.”
Of course, it’s no joke. But will he ever learn?
Doonesbury — What a job.
Sunday, November 6, 2016
How To Try A New Country — If you don’t like the results of the election and vow to leave the country, Julie Lasky at the New York Times recommends you do some homework.
Rob Calabrese, a Canadian radio disc jockey, launched a website earlier this year inviting Americans to take refuge on a Nova Scotia island. The site, Cape Breton if Donald Trump Wins, has received two million visits and so many inquiries about emigrating that it now offers a link to the Canadian government’s application. (President Obama even mentioned it during a state dinner with Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister.) The site was, of course, a response to a familiar refrain, the threat to move abroad if politics doesn’t go your way. During this presidential campaign, people took to Twitter to vow to move to Canada, and the use of the search phrase “move to Canada” surged on Google.
The Association of Americans Resident Overseas estimates that eight million nonmilitary Americans currently live abroad, in more than 160 countries. While there are no reliable statistics about motives, few of the expatriates are believed to have left out of disgust with their politicians. Much more likely, they made a job-related move. Or retired to a warmer climate and friendlier economy. Or simply took a vacation and never came home.
Nan McElroy, for instance, had been working as a film and video editor in Atlanta when she visited Italy for the first time at the age of 40. She fell in love with the country, and ultimately moved to Venice 11 years ago. Now 60, she works as a sommelier and oarswoman, teaching people to row boats standing up in the Venetian style. “Even when it’s simple, it’s really complicated,” she said about emigrating. “You have to really want to do it.”
I asked Ms. McElroy and others familiar with expat life about the things Americans traveling abroad should do if they’re visiting a place with an eye to settling down. Here are several suggestions.
Book your accommodations through Airbnb and be sure to take out the garbage.
If you really want to get a feeling for a city, my experts agreed, do not stay in a hotel. Hotels cater to what they think are your tastes and go out of their way to make you comfortable. Instead, find an actual home that allows you to experience genuine life. Stumble around during a power failure. Take a shower without hot water. Sort the trash; did the neighbors give you the stink eye? Recycling regulations vary from country to country but can be astoundingly complex. Japan has eight categories of trash, including combustibles, noncombustibles, plastics and plastic bottles. If you don’t put the right detritus in the right bag, your garbage may be publicly branded with what one expatriate blogger in Nagoya described as “the red sticker of shame.”
Stop by a local grocery store. Did you find peanut butter and Pop-Tarts?
Of course not, but even if it’s hard to imagine life without typical American foodstuffs, don’t despair. George Eves, the British-raised, Amsterdam-based founder of Expat Info Desk, a website that produces guides for expatriates, said that a growing number of non-American businesses cater to American tastes. Mr. Eves singled out My American Market, a French website that sells Dr Pepper, jelly beans and Aunt Jemima syrup among its 900 products. Despite such bounty, there will be difficult-to-sate-cravings that a brief vacation may not reveal, so think hard about what you may miss. A Quora survey answered by 26 American expats pinpointed Mexican food as the No. 1 yearning. For those serious about Cape Breton, Mr. Calabrese warned that the nearest Ikea is a 20-hour drive. (Though another is opening in Halifax, only five hours away.)
Rent a car and tool around.
It’s the best way to get a sense of the local topography and find out where everyone goes on weekends. Keep in mind that gas prices are all over the map. The highest price is in Hong Kong ($7.19 per gallon), the lowest in Venezuela (4 cents per gallon). A study by the traffic app Waze, based on data from 50 million drivers, rated the Netherlands the best country overall for driving, El Salvador the worst.
Take off your jacket and imagine the sun beating down on you in midsummer — 20 years from now.
What may seem like a pleasant climate in spring may be a sopping inferno in summer or cryogenic tank in winter. “If you’ve never lived by the Equator, you may find you hate being in air-conditioning all the time,” said Mr. Eves, who has lived in India, Poland, South Africa, Russia and Ukraine, among other places. There’s also global warming to consider. Prognosticators say the countries that will endure it best have both fortunate geographic locations and strategies for mitigating the impact. A University of Notre Dame index put Germany and Iceland at the top of the list, Chad at the bottom.
Tour the local institutions: real estate offices, international schools, houses of worship — but not the hospital, if you can help it.
Much can be learned about medical services in other countries through websites like ExpatHealth.org and Just Landed. No need to court disease or injury on the road. Asked whether giving birth in a foreign country was the best way to test the healthcare system while securing citizenship for a child, my experts demurred. “That doesn’t always work these days,” Mr. Eves said. “I was born in Switzerland, and I didn’t get Swiss citizenship.”
If your company is giving you two days to make up your mind about resettling in a new land, head instantly for the nearest expat bar — you can find it through the local English-language newspaper or digital equivalent — and interrogate the people sitting there. If you have more time to decide, feel free to move on. Betsy Burlingame and Joshua Wood, who run Expat Exchange, an online resource site based in New Jersey, said that many users make the prospect of retiring on the beach a theme of their travels. “Some of those people start planning ahead of time and take vacations for years,” Ms. Burlingame said. They report being in Ecuador, then Costa Rica, then the Philippines. “They find their place that way.”
The 10 Best Affordable Caribbean Destinations — US News & World Report ranks places to get away on the cheap.
To help you find the right island for the right price, U.S. News ranked the best affordable Caribbean vacations based on top recommendations from industry experts and everyday travelers. Many of these hot spots can be experienced on a budget thanks to perks like free beach access and frequent deals on airfare and hotels. Vote for your ideal bargain Caribbean getaway below, and consult these rankings to guide you to your next sandy retreat. Use the money you saved to treat yourself to some umbrella drinks.
Guide to British TV Period Dramas — Devon Ivie at New York magazine covers them in chronological order.
There’s something inherently pleasing about tuning into a good British period drama. The accents, the costumes, the landscapes, and even the colloquialisms are an aesthetic treat for the eyes and ears. As another such drama lands on streaming today — Netflix’s most expensive production to-date, The Crown — we’ve rounded up all the British-produced period dramas currently on the air, and sorted them in chronological order for your convenience. More a fan of the Victorian-era monarchy than 1960s detective capers? Fear not, we have all of your interests covered below.
THE VIKING AGE
The Last Kingdom
Short pitch: Set in the late 9th century, the series primarily revolves around the fictional Uhtred of Bebbanburg, who must choose between his birth country, Wessex, and the people who raised him after he was orphaned, the Danish, when a war between the two kingdoms rages on.
The costume scale: The Saxons and Danes have distinctive visual identities, but the costumes themselves aren’t inherently special. (Lots of armor and assorted battle gear.)
Where can I watch it? Netflix
THE STUART PERIOD
Short pitch: There’s a whole lot of sex and nudity on this steamy drama, which chronicles the life of Louis XIV in the mid-17th century when the Sun King decides to move his court from Paris to Versailles.
The costume scale: The French courts know a thing or two about grandeur, to say the least.
Where can I watch it? No legal streaming services yet, but it’s currently airing in the U.S. on Ovation.
THE GEORGIAN ERA
Short pitch: A debonair and stubborn captain returns to his home in Cornwall following the end of the American Revolutionary War, where he attempts to rebuild his life and faces many difficulties in the process.
The costume scale: Frocks and tricorn hats and breeches galore, but it’s generic for the setting.
Where can I watch it? PBS, Amazon
THE VICTORIAN ERA
Short pitch: Beginning when Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1837 at the age of 18, the first season of the show recounts everything from her early years: the romances, the politics, and the birth of her first child.
The costume scale: All of the most opulent wardrobes you can possibly imagine for the mid-19th-century monarchy. (The royal jewels are pretty grand, too.)
Where can I watch it? Coming to PBS early next year, or available on the ITV Hub if outside the U.S.
Short pitch: A competent group of detective inspectors and captains patrol the particularly violent area of London’s East End in the late 19th century and do their best to solve any and all crimes that occur … which is usually a lot.
The costume scale: Lots of great looks for both the men (three-piece suits, bowler hats!) and the women (bell-like silhouettes, corsets!), which provide a nice juxtaposition to the gritty cityscape.
Where can I watch it? Netflix
Short pitch: A cunning gangster family — also known as the real-life Peaky Blinders gang — is the epicenter of a post–World War I Birmingham. Their fearless leader has a penchant for violence, cunning mind tricks, and avoiding the police.
The costume scale: You won’t find a lot of colorful dressers in gloomy central England — there are a lot of muted, dark hues that are often paired with herringbone tweed.
Where can I watch it? Netflix
The Durrells (also referred to as The Durrells in Corfu)
Short pitch: Due to some pesky financial problems, a mother, Louisa Durrell, and her four children move from the south of England to the idyllic island of Corfu in the 1930s. It takes them a bit of time to adjust to the new locale.
The costume scale: Light and airy ensembles that are perfect for spur-of-the-moment seaside strolls.
Where can I watch it? PBS
HALF POSTWAR BRITAIN, HALF GEORGIAN ERA
Short pitch: This incredibly sexy, bonkers time-travel drama follows a former World War II nurse who gets transported back to mid-18th-century Scotland while on a trip with her husband in Inverness. Plenty of brutal historical happenings and timey-wimey romantic entanglements ensue.
The costume scale: Three words: Swan. Nipple. Dress. (The costumes are incredible.)
Where can I watch it? STARZ on Demand, Amazon
Short pitch: An astute Roman Catholic priest in a small Cotswold village helps assist the local police force with solving an array of crimes.
The costume scale: Conservative clergy chic for the 1950s. Unremarkable, really.
Where can I watch it? PBS
Short pitch: Netflix has huge plans for this very expensive period drama, with the first season beginning with Queen Elizabeth II’s wedding to Prince Philip and the tumultuous early years of her reign.
The costume scale: Nothing less than stunning and ornate, literally fit for a queen. You will ooh and you will ah.
Where can I watch it? Netflix, beginning November 4
Short pitch: An Anglican priest in the 1950s turns out to have quite the natural sleuthing chops in his cozy Cambridgeshire village, which earns him the trust and mentorship of a local detective inspector. They’re good at solving cases together!
The costume scale: Once again, clergy chic, but far more progressive than Father Brown, especially for the women.
Where can I watch it? Amazon, PBS
Call the Midwife
Short pitch: A group of hardworking nurse midwives in the late 1950s juggle their difficult medical duties — in a particularly poor part of London, no less — while living in an Anglican nursing convent.
The costume scale: Often drab to accompany the very drab East End, but those blue medical dresses and red cardigans are iconic.
Where can I watch it? Netflix, PBS
Inspector George Gently (also referred to as George Gently)
Short pitch: This 1960s-set drama in northern England follows an old-fashioned, methodological inspector who pursues justice with the help of his faithful sidekick sergeant.
The costume scale: Pretty normal dressing for a professional, police workplace setting.
Where can I watch it? Hulu, Netflix
Short pitch: A diligent police constable and his equally able-bodied team solve various crimes in 1960s Oxford.
The costume scale: A plethora of well-tailored, nondescript suits.
Where can I watch it? PBS
Short pitch: A 20-something girl moves to the buzzing metropolis of London to take a job as a live-in nanny for a single mother with two rambunctious boys.
The costume scale: Exactly what you imagine people in the mid-’80s to have worn. Things are starting to get a bit grungy!
Where can I watch it? No legal streaming services yet, but the episodes can be purchased on Amazon.
Doonesbury — The board game.
Saturday, October 22, 2016
Art improves life… The pilot for the series.
Oh, if only.