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.
Monday, September 19, 2016
NYPD is hunting clues in the Saturday night bombing in Chelsea.
UN General Assembly opens under heightened scrutiny.
American airstrikes hit Syrian troops.
ISIS lays claim to knife attack in Minnesota.
And the Emmys went to…
The Tigers beat Cleveland 9-5 to keep hope alive.
Sunday, September 11, 2016
“Politically Incorrect” But True — Ta-Nehisi Coates on Hillary Clinton’s statement on Trump’s supporters.
This week Matt Lauer was subject to withering criticism for his ineffectual interrogation of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. In a litany of complaints, one rose above all—Lauer’s failure to challenge Trump’s mendacious claim that he opposed the Iraq War. That Trump was lying is not a matter of opinion, but demonstrable fact. Lauer’s inability to cite the record was a striking journalistic failure—but one related to the larger failures implicit in political reporting today. Political reporting, as it is now practiced, is a not built for a world where outright lying is one candidate’s distinguishing feature. And the problem is not limited to the lies the candidate tells, but encompasses the lies we tell ourselves about why the candidate exists in the first place.Yesterday, Hillary Clinton claimed that roughly “half of Trump’s supporters” could be characterized as either “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it.” Clinton hedged by saying she was being “grossly generalistic” but given that no one appreciates being labeled a bigot, that statement still feels harsh––or if you prefer, “politically incorrect.”
Clinton later said that she was “wrong” to say “half,” but reiterated that “it’s deplorable that Donald Trump has built his campaign largely on prejudice and paranoia.” One way of reporting on Clinton’s statement is to weigh its political cost, ask what it means for her campaign, or attempt to predict how it might affect her performance among certain groups. This path is in line with the current imperatives of political reporting and, at least for the moment, seems to be the direction of coverage. But there is another line of reporting that could be pursued—Was Hillary Clinton being truthful or not? Much like Trump’s alleged opposition to the Iraq War, this not an impossible claim to investigate. We know, for instance, some nearly 60 percent of Trump’s supporters hold “unfavorable views” of Islam, and 76 percent support a ban on Muslims entering the United States. We know that some 40 percent of Trump’s supporters believe blacks are more violent, more criminal, lazier, and ruder than whites. Two-thirds of Trump’s supporters believe the first black president in this country’s history is not American. These claim are not ancillary to Donald Trump’s candidacy, they are a driving force behind it.When Hillary Clinton claims that half of Trump’s supporters qualify as “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic,” data is on her side. One could certainly argue that determining the truth of a candidate’s claims is not a political reporter’s role. But this is not a standard that political reporters actually adhere to.
Determining, for instance, whether Hillary Clinton has been truthful about her usage of e-mail while she was secretary of state has certainly been deemed part of the political reporter’s mission. Moreover, Clinton is repeatedly—and sometimes validly—criticized for a lack of candor. But all truths are not equal. And some truths simply break the whole system.Open and acknowledged racism is, today, both seen as a disqualifying and negligible feature in civic life. By challenging the the latter part of this claim, Clinton inadvertently challenged the former. Thus a reporter or an outlet pointing out the evidenced racism of Trump’s supporters in response to a statement made by his rival risks being seen as having taken a side not just against Trump, not just against racism, but against his supporters too. Would it not be better, then, to simply change the subject to one where “both sides” can be rendered as credible? Real and serious questions about intractable problems are thus translated into one uncontroversial question: “Who will win?”It does not have to be this way. Indeed, one need not even dispense with horse-race reporting. One could ask, all at once, if Clinton was being truthful, how it will affect her chances, and what that says about the electorate. But that requires more than the current standard for political media. It means valuing more than just a sheen of objectivity but instead reporting facts in all of their disturbing reality.
Release 9/11 More Records — Bob Graham, former governor and senator from Florida and chairman of the Senate Intelligence committee, says let all the records of the attack be released.
In July, after approval from the Obama administration, Congress released a 28-page chapter of previously classified material from the final report of a joint congressional inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks. Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, said that the document had ruled out any Saudi involvement in the attack. “The matter is now finished,” he declared.
But it is not finished. Questions about whether the Saudi government assisted the terrorists remain unanswered. Now, as we approach the 15th anniversary of the most heinous attack on the United States since Pearl Harbor, it is time for our government to release more documents from other investigations into Sept. 11 that have remained secret all these years.
The recently released 28 pages were written in the fall of 2002 by a committee of which I was a co-chairman. That chapter focused on three of the 19 hijackers who lived for a time in Los Angeles and San Diego. The pages suggested new trails of inquiry worth following, including why a Qaeda operative had the unlisted phone number for the company that managed the Colorado estate of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, then the Saudi ambassador.
Some of those questions might be answered if the government released more of the findings of the Sept. 11 commission, the citizens inquiry that followed our congressional inquest. The commission said that it found no Saudi links to the hijackers. But the government could satisfy lingering doubts by releasing more of the commission’s records. Parallel investigations were also conducted by the F.B.I. and C.I.A. How much did they look into whether Prince Bandar or other Saudis aided the hijackers?
The government also knows more today about the 16 hijackers who lived outside California than when the 28 pages were classified in 2003. Much of that information remains secret but should be made public. For example, the F.B.I. for a time claimed that it had found no ties between three of the hijackers, including their leader, Mohamed Atta, and a prominent Saudi family that lived in Sarasota, Fla., before Sept. 11. The family returned to the kingdom about two weeks before the attack. But in 2013, a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by investigative reporters led to the release of about 30 pages from an F.B.I.-led investigation that included an agent’s report asserting “many connections” between the hijackers and this family. The F.B.I. said the agent’s claim was unfounded, and the family said it had no ties to the hijackers. Still, a federal judge in 2014 ordered the bureau to turn over an additional 80,000 pages from its investigation, and he is reviewing those for possible public release.
There is one more thing our government could do to shed light on the attack. For more than a decade, the families of Sept. 11 victims have been litigating against the kingdom and Saudi interests, asserting that they facilitated the murder of their loved ones. With the support of the Justice Department, the Saudis used a 1976 law providing foreign nations some immunity from American lawsuits to block those efforts to secure justice. Now, both the Senate and House of Representatives have unanimously passed a bill, the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, that would allow a thorough judicial examination of the Saudi role.
Some might ask, 15 years later, what difference does all this make?
In fact, a lot. It can mean justice for the families that have suffered so grievously. It can also mean improving our national security, which has been compromised by the extreme form of Islam that has been promoted by Saudi Arabia.
But the most important reason is to avoid the corrosive effect that government secrecy can have on a democracy. The nation that denies its people information about what it is doing in their name is a nation slogging down a dark alley of public suspicion toward decline and mediocrity. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan put it, “Secrecy is for losers.”
The government’s possible suppression of evidence of Saudi support for the 19 hijackers would go beyond passive cover-up. Is the government releasing false information, while continuing to classify documents containing the truth? As the presidential campaign is proving, appearances of government deception have contributed to wary Americans becoming more and more outraged with their elected officials.
In recognition of another anniversary, 45 years since the publication of the Pentagon Papers, Sanford J. Ungar, who teaches seminars on free speech at Georgetown and Harvard, said: “Nothing is more important to the health and sustainability of a modern democracy than its citizens’ awareness of, and confidence in, what their government is doing. Excessive government secrecy — inherent, instinctive, utterly unnecessary and often bureaucratically self-protective — is poison to the well-being of civil society.”
I care deeply about our nation’s future, its tradition of openness and the necessity of honesty in our international relations. President Obama has less than five months remaining in his term. I commend him for his decision to authorize the release of the 28 pages. He should sign the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act and use his authority to direct the release of all the chapters of the book of Sept. 11. And then our country must act based on the truths they may reveal.
Live Long and Prosper — Charlie Pierce pays tribute to the original series.
This week is the 50th anniversary of the launching of a series that once was thought of by its creator as “Wagon Train in space.” (Wagon Train was a television horse opera of the early 1960s. It was no Rawhide, but it was a damn sight better than Sugarfoot.) Needless to say, Star Trek became far more than that, but I always like Gene Roddenberry’s description of his original pitch to Desilu because the great gift of the Trek always was in slipping something important in there between the phaser bursts and photon torpedoes.
(By the way, in The Original Series, the photon torpedoes were bursts of light. In the movies, they were actual torpedoes, albeit torpedoes that looked like coffins, and, in The Wrath of Khan, a torpedo actually functioned as one for the temporarily deceased Mr. Spock. How did Federation technology go so far backwards between the small screen and the large? These are the things I think about.)
However, that trailer bothers me. This is the 50th anniversary of one show, TOS, as it is dismally called in the marketing lingo of franchises. This is not an anniversary for the movies. This is not an anniversary for Picard, and Janeway, and Sisko, and Archer. This is not an anniversary for Data, or Seven Of Nine, or Dr. Phlox. This is not an anniversary for Q, or Cardassians, or the Xindi. I don’t care for the moment if you think Picard could beat Archer at arm-wrestling or that Janeway could fire a blast that would knock Sisko all the way back to Spenser: For Hire. This is not an anniversary for any of that, although I respect the franchise, and I’ve enjoyed all the shows, with the exception of Voyager, which I never could seem to get into.
But this is an anniversary for Kirk and Spock, for McCoy and Scotty, for Chapel and Yeoman Rand, for Uhura, Sulu and Chekov. It’s an anniversary for Romulans and Klingons and Orions, and for Vulcans and Organians. It’s for Tribbles and the Mugatu. It’s for Excalbia and Delta Vega. It’s for Argelius II, Cestus III, Talos IV, Ceti Alpha V, Janus VI, Eminiar VII, Holberg 917-G, and Psi 2000. It’s an anniversary for the show that started it all, a cheesy space opera with a resonance down through the years because, down through the years, human beings are still pretty much the same illogical creatures they’ve always been.
It’s also an anniversary that allows me to post this picture again.
Let’s all live long and see if we prosper.
Doonesbury — Let’s be brief.
Sunday, August 7, 2016
The Trouble with Corey — Margaret Talbot at The New Yorker on hiring campaign insiders as network pundits.
This week, Jeff Zucker, the president of CNN, offered an upbeat assessment of one of the network’s newest additions, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, whom Zucker hired as an on-air political commentator in June. “I actually think he’s done a really nice job,” Zucker said in an interview with Variety. “He’s come under a much greater spotlight because of who he is, and the relationship he’s had with the media. As a result, people are going to be more critical.” It’s hard to know quite what to make of this. Bosses like to stand by their hiring decisions when they can—fair enough. But Lewandowski has manifestly not been doing a “really nice job” in his new role, unless his role is not so much to comment on the Trump campaign as to embody the pathologies of it.
The trouble with Lewandowski is not that he came out of a campaign or that he is clearly partisan. Both cable and broadcast networks have been hiring people answering to that description for years—Democrats like Paul Begala and David Axelrod, Republicans like Nicolle Wallace and Karl Rove—with the idea that, taken en masse, their perspectives add up to a kind of nonpartisan X-ray of American politics. Those old hands may be prone to repeating their parties’ talking points, but at least they have experience in the White House or in multiple campaigns, and they know they’re supposed to be offering some kind of insider’s insight into the process that may not always pay robotic obeisance to the candidate they worked for most recently. Most of the time, that campaign was long enough ago that they aren’t still being paid severance by it, as Lewandowski is. (To be fair, his CNN interlocutors say so every time he is introduced on air.)
Lewandowski, though, is a special case. CNN hired him just a few days after the Trump campaign fired him. As Trump’s adjutant, he had upheld an authoritarian attitude toward the press, banning the Washington Post, among other media outlets Trump doesn’t care for, from covering the candidate’s events. On his first CNN appearance, on June 25th, Lewandowski would neither confirm nor deny having signed a “non-disparagement” agreement of the kind other former Trump employees have. (In that interview, the CNN anchor Erin Burnett produced an example that read: “During the term of your service and at all times thereafter, you hereby promise and agree not to demean or disparage publicly the company, Mr. Trump, any Trump company, any family member, or any family member company.”) But, if he did, and if he were worried about being sued or just frozen out by Trump—not unreasonable worries, in his position—that would certainly make it unlikely he would say anything critical or even specific or surprising about his former boss.
Yet that was something his new CNN bosses could reasonably have expected: a few crisp anecdotes, a little texture, a sprinkling of behind-the-scenes flavor. Zucker said in the Variety interview that the network simply needed someone representing the G.O.P. nominee’s point of view: “It’s hard to find a lot of those. Our competitors tried to hire [Lewandowski], too.” But Lewandowski’s signal quality is a kind of unsmiling, nonironic loyalty that admits of no countermanding or even complicating detail; he’s like the ultimate faithful retainer, still fixedly serving his master as the mansion crumbles around him—Erich von Stroheim in “Sunset Boulevard.” He refers to Trump as “Mr. Trump” and speaks reverently about “the family,” meaning Trump’s family. When that interview with Burnett turned to how he felt about having been fired, Lewandowski said, “I’d go back and do it exactly the same way, only better. And if I did something to disappoint the family and I didn’t accomplish what they needed, then they do what they need to do, because the campaign is bigger than Corey Lewandowski.” He said he was “fully committed”—meaning fully committed to Trump. “In my private time with my family and my friends, I’m telling everybody that I know that Donald Trump is the only person who’s going to save the country for my children and, hopefully, their children someday.”
At one point, Burnett asked for a little glimpse into the process by which Trump was then picking a Vice-President. Campaign staff members are always coy about this, but there are ways of saying something moderately substantive about what the candidate’s priorities are, and, anyway, Lewandowski wasn’t working for the campaign anymore. This is what he said: “There’s been some speculation out there that people don’t want to be part of this. It’s absolutely the opposite. Every person that he has talked to, every person that he has had an interest in talking to, has reaffirmed with one-hundred-per-cent certainty that they would be absolutely welcome on the ticket.” Absolutely, one hundred per cent: you get the picture.
Lewandowski has not grown into his job since. It could still happen, I suppose. Once in a while, as Callum Borchers pointed out, in the Washington Post, Lewandowski will emit a brief display of empathy. Lewandowski’s CNN colleagues have been doing their best, and when the dogged Alisyn Camerota asked if he could understand why some people might look askance at Trump’s comments about Brexit and the falling value of the pound—namely, that they would be good for business at his golf resort in Scotland—Lewandowski said he could. “This qualifies as progress,” Borchers wrote. “He is at least capable of seeing a non-Trump point of view and granting an unfriendly premise.” Borchars continued,
For the most part, however, Lewandowski is bad television. He remains prone to spouting fiction and doesn’t stay on-topic, grinding segments to a halt as CNN hosts have to correct his misinformation or interject to steer the conversation back to the point.
Since then, some of Lewandowski’s more memorable moments have included a weird outburst with Christine Quinn, the former speaker of the New York City Council and a designated liberal commentator who he’s often been paired with on air. When Quinn, gesturing, brushed his hand with hers in the midst of a heated exchange about Trump’s reaction to the Khan family, he snapped, “Don’t touch me!” And then he said it again.
This week, Lewandowski distinguished himself by reviving the birther canard—the thoroughly debunked conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. One of the other panelists that night, Angela Rye, remarked, “Donald Trump has been attacking the President long before he began campaigning for this important office. He is the one who was the spokesperson of the birther movement” and “saying the President was an affirmative-action admittee of Harvard.”
Though she was bringing this up only to establish that Trump had long had it in for Obama, Lewandowski hijacked the conversation: “Did he ever release his transcripts or his admission to Harvard University? You raised the issue, so just yes or no. The answer is no.” After they had wrangled for a few more minutes, Lewandowski went full birther. “And the question was: Did he get in as a U.S. citizen, or was he brought into Harvard University as a citizen who wasn’t from this country?” he said.
Birtherism was the crucible and the template for Trump’s Presidential campaign. It foreshadowed so many of its hallmarks: dog-whistle racism, the brazen spreading of thoroughly disproven allegations, the just sayin’ tone in which Trump smears people. Advancing birtherism in the guise of political analysis is a firing offense. But then there have been so many already. Earlier this summer, Politico reported that the publisher HarperCollins was backing away from a $1.2 million offer to Lewandowski to write a book about his time on the campaign, “Let Trump Be Trump.” According to Politico, the publisher had decided that Lewandowski’s non-disclosure agreement would prevent him from producing anything valuable enough. Too bad CNN didn’t reach a similar conclusion.
Florida vs. Women and Zika — Nina Liss-Schultz in Mother Jones.
Last week, Florida authorities reported the first cases of local Zika transmission, which means that Zika-infected mosquitos are now in the continental United States. The cases prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to warn pregnant women against traveling to the part of Miami where the cases were found, the first advisory of its kind in the United States.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who’s been preparing for this situation for months, issued a similar message: “For women who live or work in the impacted area and are either pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, I urge you to contact your OB-GYN for guidance and to receive a Zika prevention kit.”
In June, after congressional squabbles blocked federal funding for Zika prevention and response, the Republican governor announced that he’d allocated more than $26 million in state funds, part of which would pay for CDC Zika prevention kits that consist of two kinds of mosquito repellent, tablets that kill mosquitos in water, and condoms. In late July, Scott said his office and the state Department of Health were coordinating door-to-door educational outreach in the areas of concern and working “with OB-GYNs and organizations that serve pregnant women in the impacted area to distribute Zika prevention kits to pregnant women.”
But it’s unclear whether those plans have become reality. A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health wrote in an email to Mother Jones that prevention kits are available for pregnant women at OB-GYN offices, but did not specify how they were being distributed or where.
“We haven’t heard about any kits,” says Laura Goodhue, a vice president at Planned Parenthood of South, East, and North Florida. Planned Parenthood hasn’t received any Zika kits from the Florida Department of Health, nor has it received any guidance from the department about how to serve pregnant women during a possible outbreak.
How ready is the state—where almost two-thirds of pregnancies are unintended and the state government has attempted to block state funding for reproductive health clinics—to take on Zika?
Here’s the backstory: The virus, which has spread through many parts of Latin America as well as Puerto Rico, is mostly benign for adults and causes mild flu-like symptoms. But it can cause microcephaly in fetuses, a severe and debilitating birth defect, the presence of which has ignited concerns over a global public health crisis. In March, the CDC told pregnant women to avoid traveling to Zika-infected areas in Latin America. And authorities in the region, where abortion is severely restricted and contraception is often hard to come by, took the unprecedented step of asking women to hold off on having children for as long as two years.
Florida’s recent cases of Zika weren’t the state’s first. By late July, nearly 400 cases had been reported over a period of several months, including 55 involving pregnant women. But they were all travel related, meaning someone brought the virus back from a Zika-infected region outside the United States.
The confirmation that four cases of locally transmitted Zika had been reported in a neighborhood in Miami means that mosquitos carrying the virus are now in the area. The number of confirmed cases grew to 15 in a matter of days, prompting the CDC to issue its warning. Those cases are a big deal because scientists warn that infected mosquitos are necessary for the virus to really spread. (Scientists still say, however, that we should not expect a widespread Zika epidemic in the United States.)
A big part of the defense against infection for women in Florida appears to be the Zika prevention kits and OB-GYN outreach, but the Scott administration’s strategy is unclear. The Planned Parenthood affiliate operates three clinics in Miami-Dade County, which has the fourth-highest uninsured rate in the country, and another just over the border in Broward County. The women’s health care organization serves tens of thousands of people per year, many of whom are low-income and without insurance—and more likely to get pregnant by accident. As Laura Goodhue notes, they have not received a single kit.
A spokesperson for Today’s Women Medical Centers, which offers family planning, prenatal, and abortion services, also said her clinic has not heard from Gov. Scott’s office or the state Department of Health about what help to offer women facing Zika. They also do not have CDC Zika prevention kits.
Goodhue says Scott’s efforts to curtail reproductive health clinics in Florida has damaged his efforts for Zika prevention. Most recently, Scott signed a bill that would block state funding for many reproductive health clinics, including Planned Parenthood and Today’s Women Medical Centers. Planned Parenthood sued the state, and the law is not currently being enforced, but, Goodhue says, Scott “has placed barriers on affordable health care, birth control, and contraception.”
So far, the Florida Department of Health has confirmed one case of microcephaly in an infant whose mother contracted Zika while in Haiti. There are no cases of currently pregnant women with microcephaly diagnoses. But if there were, her options would be limited: the state restricts public insurance coverage for abortion, and prevents health insurance providers on the Obamacare exchange from covering abortion, with no exception for fetal anomaly. There is also a ban on abortion after 24 weeks.
Jeri Bustamante, a spokeswoman for Scott, wouldn’t comment on whether Scott’s efforts to block funding for reproductive health clinics might be undermining his fight against Zika, but she did point out that the Department of Health is now testing pregnant women for Zika at no cost, and that, for now, the virus is contained to a small neighborhood in Miami. “We want to emphasize it is just within one square mile,” she said.
How to Watch the Rio Olympics — David Sims at The Atlantic has a viewers guide.
Watching the Olympics is a multimedia experience that should be perfectly suited to the age of TV streaming. Want to catch a volleyball game without missing that day’s individual dressage? For the most part you can: Viewers are no longer shackled to time-delayed primetime broadcasts for the events they want to watch. Indeed, watching the 2016 Rio Games, which begin with the Opening Ceremony at 7:30 p.m. on Friday August 5, will be easier than ever thanks to NBC’s blanket approach to airing thousands of hours of events both on cable and online. Unfortunately, the best viewing experience will mostly entail a cable subscription, but there are a few other ways to watch in the U.S. without shelling out too many extra dollars.
NBC will broadcast the Olympics …
The network paid the dear price of $1.2 billion to secure broadcasting rights for the Rio Games. After the opening ceremony on Friday, the network will air prime-time Olympic coverage for the entire two weeks of the Games. Viewers can catch up on the day’s biggest highlights from 8 p.m. to midnight every day, presented by hosts including Bob Costas, Ryan Seacrest, Al Michaels, Rebecca Lowe, and Dan Patrick. The channel will also air live coverage for most of the day, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., until the Games end on August 21.
The main NBC broadcast will feature the biggest events: Swimming, gymnastics, diving, beach volleyball, and anything else the United States excels at, but it should dip into all of the most newsworthy events as they play out. Unlike the Summer Games of the recent past (which took place in Sydney, Athens, Beijing, and London), the games in Rio will be easier for American viewers to keep track of during the day, because the city’s time zone is only one hour ahead of Eastern Standard Time.
… But other cable channels are airing events too
If NBC isn’t airing anything of interest, there are many other cable channels that are part of the NBCUniversal umbrella. NBC Sports will be the primary backup network, focusing on basketball and soccer. The Golf Channel will, unsurprisingly, be the home of golf, which is returning to the Olympics for the first time since 1904. Bravo will feature tennis; CNBC has a number of events including volleyball, cycling, and wrestling; MSNBC counts rugby and water polo among its sports; Telemundo will broadcast hundreds of hours in Spanish; and USA will carry more basketball, along with beach volleyball, rowing, synchronized swimming, and more.
Cord-cutters might have a tricky time of it
Beyond that, the NBC Sports app and NBCOlympics.com will stream some 4,500 hours of events that don’t make it to TV, but you’ll need a cable login to view anything for more than 30 minutes. NBC has also been smart enough to respond to criticisms of its past Olympic coverage by further expanding the viewing options online. Still, in an era of binge-watchers and cord-cutters, the Olympics are the kind of live event that the network will try to milk for every possible dollar, younger viewers be damned.
NBC’s approach is emblematic of the new path major networks have to chart in an era where ratings are more diluted than ever. No longer can it rely on its regular prime-time hits to generate ad revenue—most of the younger generation is happy to wait for it to appear on Hulu or Netflix months later, ready for binge-watching. The Olympics have been viewed for years as a prestige event, a gaudy laurel for NBC that couldn’t possibly justify the immense cost needed to secure the broadcast rights, though that has begun to change.
But there are work-aroundsInternet-only viewers can subscribe to NBC’s cable channels through PlayStation Vue, which is available on PlayStations, Roku boxes, and Amazon Fire TV, for between $30 and $40 a month. Apple TV users can also get access to some of the channels—NBC, NBC Sports, MSNBC, CNBC, USA, and Bravo—through Sling TV, a $25-a-month TV streaming service available as an app.
What about 2020?
This year, NBC agreed to pay a staggering $7.75 billion for the rights to future Olympics through 2032. Back in 2010, the network was judged to have vastly overpaid for the Sochi Winter Games, losing hundreds of millions because of the steep price paid to broadcast them. But live events like the Olympics are increasingly the kind of coveted property that advertising executives know viewers will actually tune into, rather than relying on their DVRs so they can skip through the commercials.
The network had assumed it would lose $200 million on the 2012 London Games; it ended up breaking even, because of higher-than-expected ratings. The seemingly vast overpay for the Olympics through 2032 is a bet on the future of TV, where live events will be the main purpose of broadcasting. That’s why Comcast, the cable company that now owns NBCUniversal, is rolling out a new set-top box that will offer access to real-time high-definition Olympic streams as well as regular cable programming. The 2016 Games might be a risky proposition for the government of Brazil and the athletes attending, but they may well prove a safer bet than expected for NBC.