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Goodbye to Sullivan & Sophistry

January 29th, 2015 - 1:10 pm

In his “A Long Overdue Goodbye to Andrew Sullivan,” Pejman Yousefzadeh, whom I believe first started blogging in 2002, right around the same time I did, writes, “Andrew Sullivan was one of two big-time bloggers–the other being, of course, Glenn Reynolds–to have helped put me on the blogospheric map. For that, I shall always be grateful.” Those early days of blogging were heady times indeed; living in California, I remember Glenn would sign off at around 9:00 or 10:00 PM pacific time, then I’d switch over to James Lileks’ Bleat, which would go live right around that time, then check if Steven Den Beste had written his daily mega-post of at least 5,000 words (or so it seemed at the time), and then around midnight, I’d see what new items Andrew Sullivan had posted. Forget Carson, Cavett, Snyder, and Letterman, this was some quality late-night programming tailor-made for discussing the immediate aftermath of the post 9/11-world:

At the outset, when I first started blogging, Sullivan’s political views and mine coincided quite neatly. After a while, they began to diverge. I certainly changed some of my political views as the years went on, and I don’t quite see how anyone could go an appreciable period of time without reappraising at least some political views. Sullivan’s views, of course, changed drastically. He went from being a supporter of George W. Bush to a fervent opponent. The shift began when Bush signed on to the Federal Marriage Amendment issue, and Sullivan reacted with outrage. I always got the sense that this issue became the jumping-off point for other Sullivanesque disagreements with the Bush administration; over Iraq, over interrogation and detention policy, and over foreign policy in general. Of course, it ought to go without saying that Sullivan was and is entitled to change whatever political views he wanted and wants to change.

So while Sullivan and I had our differences, some of those differences were reasonable in nature. Others . . . not so much.

In 2008, Sullivan decided that he really liked Barack Obama a lot. But he didn’t want to be identified as a contemporary American liberal, so he started concocting all sorts of ridiculous claims that the onetime senator and future president was and is a conservative. Hayek was cited, as was Locke, as was Oakeshott. Oakeshott was cited a lot. The claims, of course, made no sense whatsoever, but that didn’t stop Sullivan from making them, even as the rhetoric and policies from the White House became more and more port-sided. Of course, Sullivan could have taken the honorable road and simply announced a fundamental shift in his political philosophy. But instead, Sullivan, like Shakespeare’s Caesar, claimed and claims to be as constant as the North Star when it comes to his ideology, and his approach instead has been to desperately try to shoehorn Barack Obama into that ideology. It never worked before, it doesn’t work now, and it won’t work in the future, but Sullivan, not recognizing defeat when it stares him in the face, keeps on trying to make it work. The whole thing is rather pathetic, really.

Sullivan had begun that shtick four years earlier, in the aftermath of George W. Bush not supporting the notion of gay marriage during the election year of 2004. Sullivan, who had previously dubbed Bush 2002′s “Man of the Year”, at first hemmed and hawed over whether he would support him in again. And then this classic bit of sophistry appeared in the Sunday addition of the London Times and on Sullivan’s own Daily Dish blog:

The argument that Kerry must make is that he can continue the war but without Bush’s polarising recklessness. And at home he must reassure Americans that he is the centrist candidate, controlled neither by the foaming Michael Moore left nor by the vitriolic religious right.

Put all that together and I may not find myself the only conservative moving slowly and reluctantly towards the notion that Kerry may be the right man — and the conservative choice — for a difficult and perilous time.

I guess you could make the case that Kerry’s conservative in some fashion — he dresses nicely; his hair style is a cross between cold warriors JFK and Jack Kemp, freeze-dried to Shatner Turbo-2000 levels of perfection. But back in the real world, one need only look at Kerry’s infamous radical chic, anti-war, anti-American C.V. to realize that Sullivan was making himself look increasingly silly trying to make Kerry into something he obviously wasn’t rather than simply saying, I disagree with Bush on my defining issue, and as a result, I’ve moved to the left. Or, rather I moved back somewhere to the left; Sullivan was associated the New Republic magazine prior to blogging, after all.

And then the late summer of 2008 would of course see the emergence of Andrew Sullivan, Ace Uterus Detective, as Pejman goes on to note. By that time, Sullivan’s self-beclowning was complete.

Six years prior though, when he named GWB his man of the year in 2002, Sullivan wrote, “Forget the bloviations of the Hate-America-First crowd. History will one day credit Bush with patience, multilateralism and conviction. But right now, history is still being made. And there is a war to be continued and to be won.”

Well, it sounded good at the time, I guess.

Related: Will Andrew quit blogging permanently? “That’s what he says. I kinda doubt it,” Kathy Shaidle writes, and she’s been blogging as long as Andrew.

As they say in the music world, you have to break up the band before you can have the triumphant reunion tour to replenish the coffers — as Andrew himself well knows.

Update: “Conspiracy Theorist Andrew Sullivan Quits Blogging,” John Nolte writes at Big Journalism. But like the Stones and The Who sitting out most of the 1980s, it’s only a matter of time before the lucrative reunion tour begins: “Because Sullivan trained his debunked conspiracy theories at the child of a conservative woman and the Pope, he will always be welcome in the mainstream media.”

“Hey GQ, can’t find any crazy Democrats? Here are 16,” courtesy of Kyle Smith of the New York Post, and frequent PJM contributor:

In a survey of the “Craziest Politicians of 2014,” GQ had difficulty locating any Democrats. Seventeen out of 20 on the list were Republicans, with the only liberals being Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson and America’s reigning nabob of nuttiness, Joe Biden.

In a note appended to the story, GQ defensively said it wasn’t guilty of “standard liberal-media bias,” it just couldn’t find any loony Democrats to speak of.

Let’s give GQ a little help, shall we? Here are 16 more Democrats for the list of the most cra-cra political figures.

In addition to the assortment of leftwing lunatics that Kyle spots, if Conde Nast-published GQ was actually serious about finding crazy Democrats, it need only venture down the halls of its parent company’s office at One World Trade Center:

Yes, it’s Anna Wintour, maximum editrix of GQ’s sister publication Vogue, definitive One Percenter, winner of our first Duranty Award for her love of Syrian totalitarian Asma al-Assad, that “Rose in the Desert,” as Wintour’s magazine dubbed her, and terrorizer of her staff, as can be seen in the must-see 2008 documentary, The September Issue. And as Rush noted in response to Wintour’s exquisitely tone-deaf 2012 campaign ad for Mr. Obama spotlighted in the above clip:

WINTOUR:  These two wonderful women and I are hosting a dinner, along with the president, in New York City to benefit the Obama campaign on June the 14th.  It will be a fantastic evening, and you can join us.  We’re saving the two best seats for you, but you have to enter to win.  You can enter right now by going to BarackObama.com/NewYorkNight.  Sarah Jessica and I both have our own reasons for supporting President Obama, and we want to hear yours, so please join us.

RUSH:  Right.

WINTOUR:  But just don’t be late.

RUSH:  Two of you.  Two of you who Anna Wintour wouldn’t give the time of day to if she saw you on the street. In fact, you’d get fired if you looked at her. She’d send the cops after you if you looked at her.  She’s not on the street.  She leaves the building, gets in the car, goes where she’s going. This is such a divorce from reality.  So they’re having this big dinner party for you, two people.  You go to this website, you register, you make a donation, you could get chosen to have dinner so that Obama and Michelle and Anna Wintour and Sarah Jessica Parker can find out what you think.  (interruption) All right, all right, all right, I’m glad you did this.

The staff on the other side of the glass are telling me they don’t know who Anna Wintour is.  They know who Anna Wintour is.  You’re telling me you don’t know who she is?  Well, that picture, I mean she looks like the Beatles out of the sixties, Helmet Head, little Bobby. You really don’t know who she is?  Well, now, I’m a little embarrassed that I do, then.  She’s the editor of Vogue magazine.  Well, that’s why I said it’s a magazine for elites.  It’s a fashion magazine.  Very few people actually read it.  It’s one of these things, the right people read it.  But I guarantee you, whoever’s gonna end up having dinner at her house, this whole thing is a fraud.  Anna Wintour doesn’t want to meet these people.  She’s not interested in what they think.  Neither is Obama or Michelle or Sarah Jessica.

Not a coincidence that David Letterman’s band played “Here Come the Sun King” during this tense segment in 2009 of Wintour plugging The September Issue:

Backward Ran the Progress Until Reeled the Mind

December 31st, 2014 - 7:38 pm

New Year’s Eve 1954: Frank Sinatra and Gloria Vanderbilt hit the Big Apple with maximum swank:

New Year’s Eve 2015: Desperate for ratings CNN once again teams up Anderson Cooper, Vanderbilt’s son and the network’s would-be top anchorman,  with “comedienne” Kathy Griffin for maximum sleaze:

anderson_cooper_kathy_griffin_no_nudity_12-31-14-1

As the late Noel Sheppard wrote at NewsBusters two years ago:

Roughly eleven minutes into the program which began at 10 PM, Cooper commented about how on Twitter folks were suggesting that there should be a game that whenever he giggles nervously during the show, contestants have to take a drink.

Then, completely out of the blue, Griffin said, “I’m going to tickle your sack. You can say sack. That’s not bad.”

An obviously nervous Cooper responded, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I have no sack of gifts here.”

Griffin then suggested the camera pan lower so the audience can see her “naughty gestures.”

* * * * * * *
As Tuchman finished his report, Griffin in the left split-screen bent down and kissed Cooper’s crotch.

* * * * * * *
“I’m going down,” she said. “You know you want to.”

“Believe me, I really don’t,” said Cooper as he once again pulled her upright.

* * * * * * * * 

Consider that during the 2009 show, Griffin dropped an F-bomb. The year before she directed a vulgar oral sex reference to a heckler. Last year she stripped down to her underwear.

Yet CNN keeps inviting her back.

Boggles the mind, doesn’t it?

Say what you will about the myriad biases of Walter Cronkite — which became increasingly out there as he aged, and even more so after he left the airwaves — but at least in terms of tone, he acted the part of senior newsreader to perfection. I don’t recall him ever having an annual on-air debacle that embarrassed himself and his network. But hey, at least CNN has set the bar as low as possible to begin 2015, both for themselves and Jeff Zucker, their increasingly desparate boss, flailing as his network “Closes 2014 With All-Time Low Ratings.”

Update: Heh. But how does it play in Peoria?

More: Heck, how does it play in Atlantis?

Michelle Obama’s Rashomon Racism

December 17th, 2014 - 2:11 pm

Past performance is no guarantee of future results:

The protective bubble that comes with the presidency – the armored limo, the Secret Service detail, the White House – shields Barack and Michelle Obama from a lot of unpleasantness. But their encounters with racial prejudice aren’t as far in the past as one might expect. And they obviously still sting.

* * * * * * * *

“I tell this story – I mean, even as the first lady – during that wonderfully publicized trip I took to Target, not highly disguised, the only person who came up to me in the store was a woman who asked me to help her take something off a shelf. Because she didn’t see me as the first lady, she saw me as someone who could help her. Those kinds of things happen in life. So it isn’t anything new.”

“The Obamas: How We Deal with Our Own Racist Experiences,” a People Magazine “Exclusive,” today.

“That’s my Target run. I went to Target,” she said. “I thought I was undercover. I have to tell you something about this trip though. No one knew that was me because a woman actually walked up to me, right? I was in the detergent aisle, and she said — I kid you not — she said, ‘Excuse me, I just have to ask you something,’ and I thought, ‘Oh, cover’s blown.’ She said, ‘Can you reach on that shelf and hand me the detergent?’  I kid you not.”

As the audience laughed, she went on, “And the only thing she said — I reached up, ’cause she was short, and I reached up, pulled it down — she said, ‘Well, you didn’t have to make it look so easy.’ That was my interaction. I felt so good. … She had no idea who I was. I thought, as soon as she walked up — I was with my assistant, and I said, ‘This is it, it’s over. We’re going to have to leave.’ She just needed the detergent.”

“Michelle Obama talks Target and her dad on Letterman’s couch,” the Politico, March 19, 2012.

As the Insta-Professor adds today in response to the First Lady’s Target-ed revisionism, “What’s interesting to me about this obviously-contrived episode is how hard the Obamas are working to position themselves as Super-Sharptons for the post-presidency.”

(H/T: Ashe Schow.)

Update: From Jim Treacher, “Michelle Obama: America Is So Racist, A White Lady At Target Asked Me To Reach The Top Shelf,” with video of Michelle on Letterman in 2012 during her earlier, funnier days.

“They might as well change its name from ‘The View’ to ‘The Feud,’” quips the New York Daily News:

A shrill, backstage brawl at “The View” Wednesday left co-host Rosie Perez in tears while panelists Whoopi Goldberg and Rosie O’Donnell battled over how to cover the latest allegations against Bill Cosby and the racially charged upheaval in Ferguson, Mo., sources said.

O’Donnell believed the show — now overseen by ABC News — needed to delve deeper into both controversial subjects, while Goldberg wanted to steer clear of the topics altogether.

Ultimately, both news stories were discussed at length on the air by the panel.

“There’s terrible frustration and there are problems,” a source close to the show told the Daily News. “Whoopi didn’t want to talk about Cosby and Ferguson, Rosie (O’Donnell) did — how could you not? These are topics that are uncomfortable for everyone, but it’s ‘The View’ and it’s their job to talk about topics that might make some people tense.”

If viewers are tense, it may due to the show’s increasingly uncomfortable format, now that Barbara Walters has finally retired.

The formula for a successful TV talk show isn’t that much different than the formula for a successful TV sitcom or drama, and has been the same since the medium took off in the 1950s. (That’s why they call it a formula.) A network talk show casts an appealing straight-shooting everyman and surrounds him with wacky, offbeat sidekicks for leavening. In the 1960s, the boyish Johnny Carson was flanked by big drinking heavyset Ed McMahon and the psychedelically-attired  Doc Severinsen. In the 1980s, long before he became churlish and partisan in his dotage, David Letterman was a fratboy variation on the same theme, another Midwestern everyman, this time with postmodern zaniness swirling around him. Fictional TV has long used the same formula, with Star Trek’s JFK-esque Captain Kirk surrounded by the pointy-eared Spock and Mencken-esque Dr. McCoy. Happy Days had clean-cut WASP Richie Cunningham, surrounded by Fonzie the Italian greaser and Ralph Malph the class cut-up. And M*A*S*H ran for a million years with Alan Alda’s Hawkeye character surrounded by oddball characters such as Radar, Klinger, Frank Burns, etc.

The View was a distaff variation on the same formula, with Barbara Walters the veteran journalist and everywoman surrounded by zany offbeat showbiz types such as the caustic Joy Behar, loony conspiracy theorist Rosie O’Donnell, and the far left Whoopi Goldberg. With Walters now retired, there’s no center of gravity to the show, no one to reign in the lunatics inside the asylum. No wonder the ratings have plummeted with the formula broken and the cast is feuding with each other.

When will ABC put this tired dysfunctional show out of its – and the remaining viewers — misery?

Looking for Reality in All the Wrong Places

October 11th, 2014 - 9:51 pm

“NBC Courting Jon Stewart” for Meet the Press? “Limbaugh Serves Up Scathing Takedown” in response, Jack Coleman writes at NewsBusters. Here’s Limbaugh’s conclusion, but definitely read the whole thing:

So a comedian finds fault with the regime, Jon Stewart blasts government before state-controlled media and what this does is now give permission to other Obama stenographers to go out and get mad at the regime. Why else is this news? Have you ever heard of this? When’s the last time what Johnny Carson said that was a news story, or Letterman? It was a news story. Might be water cooler chit-chat the next day but a news story. So comedians now, and of course what are comedians, they’re jokes, they don’t deal in reality either, by definition. Now there has to be a grain of it for comedy to be funny, but comedians are now the 21st century journalists for the far left. For the left, comedians are source authorities. Comedians are gradually replacing the New York Times, the Washington Post, CBS, NBC, PBS, ABC, CNN as the arbiters of when Democrats can be held accountable and when they can’t be. So if you want to know when the drive-bys are going to harp on Obama, pay attention to the comedians. When they do, it’s a signal to the drive-bys that it’s OK to. It’s very pathetic and it’s how you end up with low-information voters who don’t know what the hell is going, it’s how you end up with millennials down on the country, down on themselves, rather than on the people responsible for the mess that we live in and that’s the Democrat party.

In the coda of his post, Coleman adds:

Even though Stewart declined NBC’s offer, assuming the New York magazine story is accurate, I wouldn’t rule out a similar scenario in the future for precisely the reasons Limbaugh is citing. A comedian named Al Franken once performed on “Saturday Night Live” and somehow wormed his way into the Senate. (Yes, by theft). Jon Stewart hosting a Sunday talk show isn’t nearly as big a leap.

Especially since the network that pursued Stewart was the same network that originally gave birth to the concept of the faux newsman — and launched Franken’s career as well. I wonder if Lorne Michaels, the creator and producer of Saturday Night Live realizes how much his now middle-aged and reactionary creation has influenced both NBC and the leftwing establishment television overculture in its entirety?

mark_steyn_passing_parade_cover_5-20-14-1

Mark Steyn is no stranger to apocalyptic doom, having written two best-selling books on societal dissipation and collapse, America Alone and After America.

But in addition to doom on a macro level, as the Washington Post has dubbed him, Mark is also the “world’s wittiest obit writer,” as exemplified by his anthology of obituaries, Mark Steyn’s Passing Parade, newly updated and available on dead tree format (appropriately enough), and finally for the Kindle as well.

Featuring obituaries of figures ranging from Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, all the way to show business personalities as diverse as Bob Hope, Tupac Shakur, Evel Knievel, James Doohan, and Michael Jackson, the Passing Parade is a brilliant time capsule of popular and political culture at the dawn of the 21st century.

During our 35 minute long interview, Mark will discuss:

● How his career as an obituarist began.
● The secret Tupac Shakur, Evel Knievel, Wayne Newton connection — revealed!
● How England’s decline in the 1970s was a preview of America in the Obama years.
● How Margaret Thatcher returned foreign policy respectability to England — even without hashtags.
● How did a four-decade old Bob Hope joke lead to Mark’s parting of the ways with National Review?
● What’s the status of the legal imbroglio involving Mark and Michael Mann?

And much more. Click here to listen:

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(35 minutes, 26 seconds long; 32.4 MB file size. Want to download instead of streaming? Right click here to download this interview to your hard drive. Or right click here to download the 10.1 MB lo-fi edition.)

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Transcript of our interview begins on the following page; for our many previous podcasts, start here and keep scrolling.

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Joyless Monomania Kills

May 1st, 2014 - 4:39 pm

Hot off the heels of Time-Warner-CNN-HBO’s Joe Klein saying that CNN has “Gone in the toilet,” Mike Ross writes at the Boston Globe that “CNN has jumped the shark,”  and either Ross or the Globe are too feckless to use that as their headline, going instead with the much milder, “CNN turns to sensationalism.” As with CNN itself, the Globe is asking its readers to tune out Ross’ column, as he attacks a cog, like the Globe, in the state-run media:

When, on March 8, Malaysian Flight 370 vanished into the ocean, CNN chose to become a one-story news network, engaging in six weeks of nonstop coverage of the event, even when there was absolutely nothing to report. With the endless splash of “Breaking News” banners across the screen, a flight-simulator crew on lockdown, and plastic airplane models held by news anchors, the coverage bordered on the absurd. In its final days CNN was no less bullish, going as far as to invoke the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic to eke out a few additional days of coverage.

I decided to take a closer look to determine just how much time CNN allocated to this event, even as it was coming to an end. I compiled an entire day of CNN transcripts from Monday, April 14, 37 days after the flight first went missing. The transcripts, all available on CNN’s website, amounted to 320 single-spaced pages of type. Of the 189,400 words used to report an entire day’s worth of news, CNN dedicated 75,929 of them, or more than 40 percent, to the Malaysian plane.

There were, of course, other major news stories that were breaking that day. The two most covered were the takeover by Ukrainian separatists of government buildings, and a Passover eve shooting rampage by a white supremacist in Kansas that left three people dead outside of two Jewish facilities. Combined, those stories garnered only one third of CNN’s total coverage. If we were talking in terms of sharing a pizza, Flight 370 got more than three slices, while Ukraine and the shootings shared around two-and-a-half. All other programming shared just over two remaining slices.

CNN has staked out a position as being, “the most trusted name in news” — a sort of New York Times for cable. What’s more, the surrounding cable-news ecosystem has cooperated, with Fox News owning the right and MSNBC the left. Thus, CNN’s decision to ignore proportion and surrender to a single event meant that many other serious issues got short shrift or were left out of the mix altogether.

As James Lileks has written, “Monomania is one thing; joylessness is another; joyless monomania is death,” whenever a blog, newspaper, or TV news network gets obsessed with one topic and joylessly pile drives it into the ground.

To be fair, CNN is going for more variety: last night, during the hour I was at the gym, I saw Don Lemon obsess on Flight #370, then the racism of Donald Sterling, then the racism of Paul Ryan. Rinse and repeat, until the drain is first circled, and then like the famous shot in Barton Fink, the camera zooms into the drain and down the pipe.

As Ross writes, CNN has seen a boost in the ratings from their joylessness Flight #370 monomania, hence their obsession. (The poor sods trapped in airport departure lounges waiting for the red eye flight most love watching this stuff.) On the other hand, Rush Limbaugh tells his listeners that when it comes to its late show, it’s given up on ratings, and much like AMC’s little-watched shows such as Mad Men, is going for buzz instead:

Okay, so let’s go to Les Moonves now, the CEO of the CBS Tiffany Network empire.  This was yesterday in Los Angeles at the Milken Institute Global Conference.  I have appeared. This is Michael Milken’s thing. I’ve been there one time. I was there with Willie Brown and Harold Ford.  Anyway, the Milken Institute Global Conference is at the Beverly Hilton.  It’s that ugly white hotel as you’re heading into Beverly Hills.  It’s either the Beverly Wilshire or the Beverly Hilton.  I can’t remember.  It’s where Whitney Houston passed away.  Merv Griffin used to own it.  May still for all I know.

Anyway, that’s where it is.  The ballroom’s okay.  Once you’re in the ballroom you don’t know that you’re in a white elephant.  Anyway, so Moonves is on a panel entitled, “Entertainment:  The Big Picture.”  The co-president of Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter, Janice Min, speaking with Les Moonves about late-night TV. And she said, “Can you talk about the economics of late-night and why they matter still?”  Remember what you just heard me say.

MOONVES:  Late night is not what it used to be.  During the days of Johnny Carson, even the early days of David Letterman, it was much more of a profit center for all of us.  The last few years it’s been more about bragging rights, and clearly we’re at a point where there’s a real generational change. … Late night is a very important part of our culture.  It is not as economically profitable as it used to be.  So they make a lot about the ratings, you know, and that really doesn’t affect the bottom line. So I’d rather have the best guy, maybe, that doesn’t quite have the ratings of the other guy.

RUSH:  Well, folks!  I mean there you have it!  This is the guy that hired Colbert. (summarized) “The ratings don’t matter.  It’s not nearly the profit center for us it used.  This is about bragging rights.  This is about who appears the smart executive picking the best guy.”

* * * * * * * *

If the ratings are not how you’re going to pitch advertisers…  I mean, you still need advertisers, but if the ratings are not how you’re gonna pitch advertisers, what are you gonna pitch?  You’re gonna pitch up “cool,” you’re gonna pitch “hip,” and how you gonna do that?  You’re gonna go to other media and you’re gonna massage ‘em and you’re gonna have PR campaigns.

And to tie the above two stories together, Rush adds, “People have asked me, ‘If nobody’s watching, how does it stay on the air?’”

The answer is CNN and the people that run it are considered heroes.  They’re promoting the cause of liberalism, Big Government socialism. They’re trashing Republicans every day.

They still get invited to cocktail parties, those executives.  They still are loyal to the cause.  They’re protected, and they still get advertising buys even though they don’t deserve it.  There is a loss-leader aspect to the as well for other properties owned by Time Warner. But MSNBC? How do you explain that?  Nobody watches, but it’s still there.

As for CNN, for once the Politico asks a great question: “Is Jake Tapper CNN’s Future—Or Its Past?”

Then Came Dave

April 13th, 2014 - 7:13 pm

“Letterman was a turning point in American cultural history,” Michael Long writes at NRO. His article went online after I wrote my piece on Letterman, Leno, Colbert, and HBO’s Late Shift, or I would have certainly excerpted it there. But it’s worth reading the piece in full, for a reminder of how Letterman’s original late night show at NBC in the early to mid-’80s was the beginning of Weimar-esque irony absolutely permeating the American media’s overculture. To the point where even the New York Times published a piece late 2012 titled “How to Live Without Irony.” For which they found themselves pilloried for even suggesting the idea, by leftwing Websites who wish to remain permanently trapped behind the Irony Curtain.

OK, sorry about that last pun; here’s how Long’s piece concludes:

Before Dave, irony was like that little jar of allspice your mom got out once a year for Thanksgiving. Dave decided it would go well with everything, and it turns out we agreed. We live in Dave’s world now, communicating by sarcasm, and not liking him doesn’t make it any less true. Dave dragged a narrow, curmudgeonly worldview from obscurity to majority. Not even Carson pulled off anything that big.

Unless you have seen Letterman in his most amazing, early days — those desperate, late-night NBC shows where he built on Ernie Kovacs and Steve Allen by narrating the sidewalk traffic as a passing parade, or broadcasting his program in Spanish, or pestering people just to ask “What’s in your bag?” — he’s just a grumpy old man to you now, in the same way that Leno’s early (lantern-)jaw-dropping talents are forgotten in favor of his later vanilla appeal. (Another lost fact: It was Letterman who made Leno a star, and together they defined the cutting edge of comedy in the 1980s.) But Dave was a giant, bigger than even Jolson and Hope, whose achievements were, relative to Dave’s, parochial and of their time. Letterman’s mark is on culture and language, and is so ubiquitous that few even know we used to speak and act some other way. But that’s how giants do it.

But as the policeman who found Lenny Bruce immediately after he shuffled off to the great night club in the sky was quoted as saying, “There is nothing sadder than an aging hipster.” Though perhaps even more pathetic are aging ironists, as their worldview becomes insular and reactionary, and their performance becomes freeze-dried and formulaic.

Of course, as far as formulaic at 11:30 PM at CBS, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

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Meeting of the President’s Elite Palace Guard.

We’ll get to CBS’s decision to replace David Letterman with Stephen Colbert in a couple of minutes, but first, some backstory, as they say in Hollywood, for why this all has a feeling of deja vu about it.

After an article at Vulture.com last week on David Letterman’s retirement mentioned HBO’s 1996 TV movie The Late Shift, based on the best-selling book by the New York Times’ Bill Carter, I rented the movie from Netflix (on DVD, not streaming, alas.) As Matt Zoller Seitz of Vulture writes, “I know showbiz journalists and a good many regular viewers who can recite every twist in Carter’s narrative the way Greek children used to be able to recite the highlights of the Peloponnesian war. (Remember when Leno hid in a closet and eavesdropped on his bosses?)”

It’s a fascinating curio of a (made for TV) movie, once you get through the uncanny valley effect of the actors playing Letterman, Leno, and Johnny Carson. Physically, John Michael Higgins, who plays Letterman is actually pretty spot on, but you’re always aware it’s an actor in a Letterman toupee imitating Dave’s many tics and neuroses. Daniel Roebuck, playing Jay Leno is as stiff as plywood, and wears what looks like the prow of the Titanic as a prosthetic fake chin covered in a layer of smeared-on make-up, phony looking even in the standard definition video I watched. And appearing at strategic times in the films, Rich Little plays Rich Little playing Johnny Carson. (Which must have been loads of fun for Little as payback: he was performer non gratis in the last years of the Carson Tonight Show for reasons never explained to him, despite his many appearances on the show in the ‘60s and ‘70s.)

But that’s the challenge when making any film about real-life celebrities known by millions. For the audience, if you can suspend disbelief and get past the waxworks leads, behind them are arguably the real stars of the film. These are the performers playing the behind the scenes chessboard manipulators, including Kathy Bates as Leno’s ball-breaking first manager, Helen Kushnick*, Bob Balaban as NBC executive Warren Littlefield, and Treat Williams as then-Hollywood power broker Mike Ovitz. (Who has since, as John Nolte of Big Hollywood writes, run afoul of what Ovitz called “the Gay Mafia,” in a very different cautionary tale than the main topic of our post.)

Of course, what ultimately makes The Late Shift work as a TV movie is the taut script, based on Bill Carter’s source material, which runs from a discussion between two CBS executives who want to steal Johnny Carson’s thunder by stealing away Jay Leno from the network, followed by Kushnick planting a “tip” in the New York Post that NBC was planning to replace Carson with Leno, followed by an aging, peeved Rich Little playing an aging, peeved Johnny choosing to retire at the top rather than face a bruising power struggle with NBC. NBC’s executives, Warren Littlefield, played by Balaban and Reni Santoni (“Poppy” the restaurant owner on Seinfeld) as his lieutenant, John Agoglia, both like Leno because he’s an easygoing team player, and not a petulant head case like Letterman. Once Letterman knows he won’t get the Tonight Show, he turns to Ovitz, who first helps him to break his contract with NBC, then lands him his deal with CBS, and a boxcar-sized payout.

What particularly makes The Late Shift such an interesting film is that when it was originally shot, it looked like CBS got the better of the deal, with Letterman dominating the ratings. As it turns out, according to the Internet Database:

Subsequent airings after the initial release have added an additional epilogue on how the Hugh Grant interview boosted Jay Leno’s ratings past David Letterman’s.

Thus Littlefield and Agoglia, despite being portrayed as Machiavellian manipulators on massive scale, end up looking like rather smart guys, in spite of themselves. Perhaps unintentionally, the film contrasts the difference between Letterman and Leno in the way they treat their production crews. Letterman, as big a neurotic backstage as in front of the cameras, barks at his staff after what he thinks was a bad show. An hour into the film later, when NBC decides to fire the bruising Kushnick as executive producer of the Tonight Show, Leno issues a “we’ll be OK gang, we’ll all get through this together” speech to console the troops.

As portrayed in The Late Shift, the young Leno appears fairly comfortable in his skin — offscreen, he’s a shier, more puppy dog like version of his stand-up comic persona. Letterman, as numerous critics wrote in the 1980s, is essentially an actor portraying a talk show host, trapped in the middle of the goofy whirling vortex of the first postmodern talk show that poked fun at all of the  gimmicks of Big Time Network TV at its hokiest polyester worst. Late Night picked up the baton from the recently-concluded original Lorne Michaels-era of Saturday Night Live (hence the appearance of Bill Murray on Letterman’s first show). It was new and fresh and plenty of fun at 12:30 at night in the mid-’80s, particularly as a contrast to the phone-it-in final years of the much more staid Carson-era Tonight Show.

But by the 21st century, Letterman appeared to be continually bitter at first George W. Bush, then Sarah Palin, then the Tea Party, then Mitt Romney. Concurrently, since 2008, Letterman has played supine Palace Guard to Barack Obama — a kindred spirit; another postmodern impressionist of a sort. As a result, Letterman’s shtick eventually became as freeze-dried as the talk shows of the ‘60s and ‘70s he used to parody. While Letterman was born in Indianapolis, in escaping flyover country for a career in New York and Los Angeles, the hungry young comedian turned surly old man lived out a variation of the warning voiced a decade ago by Christopher Caldwell of the Weekly Standard: “the laments of the small-town leftists get voiced with such intemperance and desperation. As if those who voice them are fighting off the nagging thought: If the Republicans aren’t particularly evil, then maybe I’m not particularly special.”

Leno, taking his cue from Johnny Carson, while very much a “Progressive” himself, is smart enough not alienate his core audience, and departed with enormous goodwill when he was pushed out by NBC this past February.

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Stupid Interviewer Tricks

April 4th, 2014 - 2:42 pm

David Letterman, 67, announced on Thursday that he’ll be retiring sometime next year. But it’s been an interesting, if raw and painful decade for the chat show host leading up to his decision, particularly after he did something that Johnny Carson never did on air: he dropped the mask and revealed his misanthropic inner self to the world.

We’ll get to that in just a moment, but first, some background. As Rob Long writes in his review of Henry Bushkin’s biography of Carson in the new issue of Commentary, a nightly talk show host with a lengthy career has a particularly challenging assignment maintaining his on-air facade:

We’re all primed to hear stories of movie stars and celebrities and their creepy emotional problems. But for actors—who, after all, appear only on screen, in character, or in a few carefully stage-managed publicity appearances—it’s easy to cover up the seams of a psychotic or broken-down personality.

But Johnny appeared on television every weeknight. He was playing himself—or, rather, an idealized version of himself: jovial, chummy, witty, warm. The strain of that kind of acting must have been monumental. It’s no wonder that real movie stars—Jimmy Stewart, Michael Caine, a whole bushel of A-listers—respected him so much. In one of the best stories in a book filled with great stories, when Johnny arrives late to a very exclusive industry event filled with movie stars, he lights up the room. He wasn’t just the king of late night television. He was the king of managing not to appear like the rat bastard he clearly was.

Presumably, a man who has made his living for a quarter century interviewing famous people in front of millions should have banked plenty of methods along the way to artfully duck a question. The smartest politicians and celebrities share the ability to say nothing while saying it beautifully. So it’s ironic — particularly given that irony was how he built his career — that David Letterman’s luster was permanently scraped away on October 27th 2006, with just one question from a very different television interviewer who happened to be on his show, Bill O’Reilly:

In now a famous “You Tube” moment, Bill O’Reilly of the Fox News Channel, went on Letterman to be the recipient of the host’s rude and sophomoric antics. As the segment shifted into high gear, O’Reilly asked Letterman a pointed and direct question: “Do you want the United States to win in Iraq?”

To the surprise of no one but his sycophants, Letterman could not or would not answer the question. When pressed by O’Reilly to answer, the best he could do was to play to his mostly left-leaning audience for cheap debating points and say, “It’s not easy for me because I’m thoughtful.”

Ironically, in February 2006, just three and a half years prior, Letterman shared this exchange with another famous newsman, Tom Brokaw:

On Thursday’s Late Show on CBS, NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw told David Letterman how people in Iraq “are afraid to say anything because the wrong thing gets them not only in trouble, but probably executed.” Brokaw related how when he was in Baghdad in December, a man approached him and in a loud voice praised Saddam Hussein and promised to fight American invaders, but in a quiet voice he expressed hope that the Americans would arrive before Christmas since “we’ll be very happy to have them come here as quickly as possible.”

That arc, and that length of time, from believing, at least on some level, in the liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein to diminishing the American war effort, follows the timeline of another CBS legend, Walter Cronkite, who during the course of the mid-1960s, went from a true believer in the policies of JFK and LBJ to declaring the Vietnam a failure. But while Cronkite in 1968 declared Vietnam “a stalemate,” to the best of my knowledge, he never actively wished for America to lose.

And that’s where Dave miscalculated. It’s one thing to question a war — Americans question political and foreign policy goals all the time — but openly wishing on the air for American failure at war is inexcusable, even from a dedicated postmodernist like Letterman. In the mid-’80s, Letterman’s misanthropy defined itself in mocking the titanic egos of his fellow stars. Twenty years later, those same misanthropic impulses were causing Letterman to wish for American defeat, and tacitly, along with it, even more American and Iraqi bloodshed.

After O’Reilly’s question exposed him, Letterman seemed to be an increasingly cranky and bitter man; the nadir was attacking Sarah Palin’s 14-year old daughter in 2009.

Last night, Palin got a modicum of revenge, during a segment with Sean Hannity. Tony Lee writes at Big Hollywood that when told of Letterman’s upcoming retirement, “‘It’s cool,’ Palin said tersely. ‘Out with the old, in with the new,’” a particularly delicious retort to a man who works in an industry obsessed with maintaining a youthful façade.

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Citizen Carson

April 1st, 2014 - 4:51 pm

Rob Long reviews Johnny Carson, the new book by longtime Carson confidante Henry Buskin, in the latest issue of Commentary:

It’s all gone now, of course. The American television viewer is a silo’ed creature, binge-viewing on cable dramas or watching clips on Hulu—the second screen of the smartphone always there, demanding attention—and with hundreds of channels to choose from, who can blame them? They even have plenty of late-night talk-show choices, too: There are Kimmel fans and Letterman fans and people who claim to be Team Coco, and all those guys do a pretty good job serving their small slice of the late-night audience. But nobody owns it all. Nobody commands an audience the way Johnny Carson did.

That’s why reading Johnny Carson has a slight Sunset Boulevard vibe to it. It’s not just the parade of 1970s celebrities that Bushkin trots out—your Joyce DeWitts, your Tom Snyders, your Sherman Helmsleys—it’s about the kind of man, and the kind of business, that doesn’t really exist anymore. Carson’s successors are either cranky weirdos like Letterman or giggling boys like Conan and Fallon. It’s a very different kind of man who sits in the big chair these days. There’s nothing emotionally remote about Conan O’Brien. Jimmy Kimmel isn’t cool and detached. When David Letterman has a bad day, every single viewer knows it. If anything, the guys who sit at the desk at 11:30 (and later) are all exposed nerves, all beta male, guys who drive their kids to school and show up at soccer games.

And that’s an improvement, of course, for those who live with them and love them. But it somehow makes the job seem less important.

In Sunset Boulevard, when Joe Gillis recognizes Norma Desmond for the first time, he says, “You used to be big.”

“I am big,” she replies. “It’s the pictures that got small.”

In the television business, it’s the opposite. The pictures have gotten huge—some screens are 60 inches across. They just seem small because they have Jimmy Kimmel on them.

I haven’t read Bushkin’s Carson bio yet, but last summer, I re-read on the Kindle King of the Night: The Life of Johnny Carson, Laurence Leamer’s earlier biography. As I wrote at the time:

We think of William Randolph Hearst and the fictional Charles Foster Kane as media tycoons encasing themselves in living mausoleums as old men, but Johnny Carson was basically entombed the minute he was hired by NBC to replace Jack Parr as the host of the Tonight Show, except that we were invited to tune-in and watch every night. As an audience, particularly during the blow-dried bell-bottom polyester lacuna of the 1970s, we were lucky Johnny was as cool as he was, a byproduct of the early 1960s Sinatra, JFK, Miles, Steve McQueen definition of cool, not the Brando/Fonzie primitive angry young greaser definition of the word. When Marshall McLuhan defined television as a cool medium in the mid-1960s, Johnny personified it – both cool and television. Especially the latter half of the equation.

Or as Kenneth Tynan wrote in his epic 22,000-word(!) 1978 New Yorker profile of Johnny Carson, “I once asked a bright young Manhattan journalist whether he could define in a single word what made television different from theatre or cinema. ‘For good or ill,” he said, ‘Carson.’”

But all transactions involve tradeoffs. While Johnny’s net worth soared as the most popular man on the most popular medium of the mid-20th century, Johnny paid a terrible personal price himself.

Today, the rest of us pay the price, now that all of those who made mid-century show business so watchable have left the stage. My home theater includes a Roku box, a Blu-Ray player, Sirius-XM, and all of my CDs, via the Amazon Cloud. It’s all instantly accessible via a few button pushes.

It’s a 21st century bleeding-edge electronic mausoleum for a dead culture.

It’s official: “Alec Baldwin to host MSNBC Friday night talk show,” MSNBC itself reports — and for once, a story coming out of NBC might be accurate:

Alec Baldwin will join MSNBC as the host of a current events and culture talk show beginning Fridays in October.

The award-winning actor has hosted the podcast “Here’s the Thing” on WNYC since 2011 where he has interviewed an array of politicians, policy-makers, and performers, ranging from David Letterman and Dick Cavett to Republican campaign strategist Ed Rollins.

“After two seasons of my WNYC podcast, I’ve developed a fondness for hosting a show that involved talking with smart, talented, and engaging people in every imaginable field,” Baldwin said. “I’m grateful to MSNBC for helping me bring a similar show to television.”

Up Late w/ Alec Baldwin will air Fridays from 10-11 p.m. ET.

I’ve seen the new ad campaign that MSNBC has assembled for the upcoming show, and I must say, it’s everything that Baldwin himself is.

Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC couldn’t be more pleased to have Baldwin aboard. When speaking with NPR in 2011 about that year’s addition to the MSNBC lineup, the NBC executive gushed, “I’m a big fan of the Reverend Sharpton. I’ve known him quite a bit. he’s smart. He’s entertaining. He’s experienced. He’s thoughtful. He’s provocative, all the things I think that MSNBC is.” Griffin is similarly effusive about the equally pugilistic Baldwin:

“I’ve been talking with Alec for a while and can’t wait to bring his personality and eclectic interests to MSNBC,” said Griffin in a statement. “He’s got such passion for ideas and what’s going on in the world — he’s going to be a great addition to our lineup.”

Or perhaps a police lineup.

alec_baldwin_msnbc_parody_9-5-13-2

No doubt, gay rights, diversity and tolerance will be an early topic of the Baldwin show:

alec_baldwin_msnbc_parody_9-5-13-1

(more…)

Legendary Baltimore Colts defensive tackle and raconteur Art Donovan died tonight at 89, according to AP:

Voted into the Hall of Fame in 1968, Donovan was an outstanding lineman and an even better storyteller. Long after his career was over, Donovan made a living on the talk-show circuit, weaving yarns about the NFL’s good old days — as he put it, ”When men were, well, men.”

Donovan was much like Bob Uecker, who also became popular on late-night talk shows through his stories about sports. But Uecker’s game was baseball, and his schtick dealt with his limited abilities. Donovan performed on the football field as well as anyone at his position, even though he once said the only weight he ever lifted was a beer can.

”Some of the greatest football ever played by a defensive tackle was played by Art Donovan,” said Hall of Fame center Jim Ringo, who died in 2007. ”He was one of the greatest people I played against all my life.”

Donovan played in the 1958 championship game between the Colts and New York Giants, a contest that was decided in overtime and ultimately tabbed by some football historians as ”The Greatest Game Ever Played.” The winner’s share was $4,700; the most Donovan ever earned in one season was $22,000.

But Donovan got a million dollars’ worth of memories and more than enough material for storytelling. Once, he filled a hotel shower stall with water and went for a dip. Things went swimmingly until the shower door burst open, flooding his room and the one below it.

Donovan had a thousand more stories like that, many of which were chronicled in his autobiography, appropriately titled, ”Fatso.” Donovan liked to say he was a light eater — ”When it got light, I started eating.”

Here’s one of Donovan’s classic late night appearances with David Letterman in 1986, during Letterman’s earlier, funnier, less misanthropic era:

Someone Set Up Us the CNN

April 22nd, 2013 - 9:27 pm

How bad a week did CNN have? Even Jon Stewart is dumping on his fellow liberal wannabe-journalists there today:

After giving credit to NBC News and giving the New York Post some gentle ribbing, Stewart moved on to his primary target. He suspected CNN may have taken some of his advice from the week before, as they notably stopped speculating as much as they had been before the suspects were identified. “It’s a much more responsible way of broadcasting than your usual ‘say it first and have Anderson Cooper correct it later.’”

Stewart reserved special disdain for CNN reporter Deborah Feyerick, who had lot to say about some barking dogs. He said something his dog just “stares out the window and barks even when there’s nothing out there. Sometimes he licks his own genitals. You can’t always read a lot into what they do… news-wise.”

But even worse was CNN correspondent Susan Candiotti, who let this gem pass her lips about Boston under lockdown: “It’s as though a bomb had dropped somewhere.”

“Yes, it does seem like that sometimes,” Stewart said with his head in his hands. “It’s not so much a metaphor as, what actually happened.”

Oh, and speaking of bombs and CNN, as Twitchy notes, CNN ran a segment today demonstrating how to build and detonate a pressure cooker bomb:

Has it really been more than 20 years since “Dateline NBC” showed us how to blow up a pickup truck using a simple model rocket engine? These days we have the Internet to show us how to build explosives, but it’s nice to know TV news is still there for us. How easy is it to make one of those pressure cooker bombs like those used in the Boston Marathon terrorist attack? It’s so simple, even CNN can do it. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

* * * * *

We’re sure CNN has a very good reason for showing how easy it is to build a weapon of mass destruction. We don’t know what that reason is, though. Kermit Gosnell’s trial was postponed today because the defense attorney called in sick, so they must have had some extra time to fill.

At least at the moment, you can find the video online fairly easily, but I’m not linking to it here. It’s sort of vaguely reminiscent of David Letterman’s late-1980s heyday, when he would drop stuff off tall buildings or place objects in industrial presses, because watching stuff go boom makes for fun goofy video. Letterman was being ironic by being deliberately stupid on television. What’s CNN’s excuse?

Besides — if you profess to believe that mere clip art and weapons-related language can kill — as CNN was pretending to believe two years ago — isn’t actually demonstrating how to build a bomb a remarkably ill-conceived idea? Or does CNN simply no internal collective memory of its past programming?

Jay Leno Reported Out at The Tonight Show

March 20th, 2013 - 7:04 pm

“All eyes will be on Jay Leno’s Tonight show tonight,” Roger Friedman writes at Show Biz 411. “With one hour to go before Wednesday night’s taping, NBC sent Leno a clear message and used the media to do it”:

The Drudge Report is blaring “Fallon In, Leno Out” as GQ magazine released a special issue with heir apparent Jimmy Fallon on the cover. The Hollywood Reporter seized on a quote from Fallon producer Lorne Michaels that “Jimmy Fallon” is the closest thing he’s seen to a Johnny Carson. Wow. (I think Fallon is more like Jack Paar or Steve Allen frankly.) The New York Times’ expert on this subject, Bill Carter, followed with a story about a Fallon Tonight show moving to New York. Leno, with a quick trigger temper, will be exploding at these statements. With hints that he may be forced out by February 2014, Leno is sure to blow a gasket. When The “Tonight” show begins taping at 4pm Pacific, 7 Eastern, look for Tweets etc about his monologue. Yikes.

The Hollywood Reporter adds:

[An] announcement is expected to be made at the May upfront presentation to advertisers. With Fallon expected to launch as host in September 2014, Tonight will move from Los Angeles to New York, according to sources.

In a Fallon cover story for the April issue of GQ, Michaels confirmed that a shift is underway: “I’m not allowed to say it — yet. But I think there’s an inevitability to it. He’s the closest to [Johnny] Carson that I’ve seen of this generation.”

NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt and his late night and alternative chief Paul Telegdy are said to be actively looking for a Fallon replacement at 12:35 a.m. One possibility is another Michaels protege, Seth Meyers of Saturday Night Live.

If the move goes through, presumably it would make Lorne Michaels, who created NBC’s Saturday Night Live in the mid-1970s, the producer (likely executive producer) of The Tonight Show, a role — or at least a time slot — he’s coveted for decades. Although Michaels describing Fallon as “the closest to Carson that I’ve seen of this generation” is more than a little ironic, considering the bad blood between two camps after SNL debuted in 1975, according to Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad in their mid-1980s book Saturday Night:

Carson’s distaste for NBC’s other late-night show (shared by many if not most comedians of his generation) was well known within the network. It surfaced publicly in an August 1976 interview with Tom Shales of The Washington Post, when Carson blasted Saturday Night for relying on drug jokes and cruelty. He also dismissed the cast as hopeless amateurs who couldn’t “ad-lib a fart at a bean-eating contest.” Saturday Night retaliated the following season with some anti-Carson jokes on Weekend Update. In one, reporting that Carson had announced plans to do the Tonight Show live instead of on videotape, anchorwoman Jane Curtin noted that he had been “doing the show dead for the past fifteen years.”

Carson’s mid-century middlebrow cool eventually lost its sway over NBC, as Michaels’ counterculture-inspired brand of snark became the dominant archetype at the network and its spin-off, MSNBC. While Carson was very much a political liberal (“Paul Ehrlich, Gore Vidal, Carl Sagan, Madalyn Murray O’Hair”  was a recurring leitmotif for Carson describing his favorite “intellectual” guests” in his late-’70s New Yorker profile), he was smart enough not to wear his politics on his sleeve when performing his monologues. SNL took a very different approach to GOP presidents; as Michaels’ ex-wife and a writer on SNL said when Gerald Ford’s press secretary hosted an early episode of SNL, “The President’s watching. Let’s make him cringe and squirm.”

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Question Asked and Answered

January 31st, 2013 - 7:50 pm

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Poor Al Gore.

Despite being $100 million richer after selling Current TV to Al Jazeera, the former vice president just can’t catch a break. Politico worries that Gore isn’t the “media darling” he used to be.

From “Today” to “Morning Joe” to “Late Show with David Letterman” to “The Daily Show,” Gore has come under attack by his interviewers for his decision to sell Current TV to Al Jazeera.

“Come under attack”?

– From Meredith Jessup of the Blaze, who asks, “When did legit media questions become ‘an attack’?”

I’d say it was right around the time that responding to a question became “heckling.”

Oh and, speaking of which:

Rooting for Laundry

January 8th, 2013 - 11:50 am

Rooting for Laundry from Melel Media on Vimeo.

I’m not sure if Jerry Seinfeld is aware of what his seemingly simple comedic riffs can reveal about us as a nation. Take the above interview with David Letterman from the mid-1990s, in which Seinfeld compares following modern professional sports with “rooting for laundry.” It’s a statement that packs a surprising punch, not just because of how free agency has made journeymen of professional athletes. But particularly considering how the culture that built and supported professional sports in the postwar years has been hollowed out, and is now, for all intents and purposes, gone. It’s a show about nothing, to borrow the title of the book on modern American nihilism written by one of Seinfeld’s most astute critics.

But every once in a while, there are flashes of the old heroics that made sports great — and if so, they must quickly be tamped down. Or as Rush Limbaugh noted on Monday, “Not So Long Ago in America, RGIII Would be Portrayed as a Hero, Not a Liar.” The target of Limbaugh’s ire is a column by Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports headlined, “Robert Griffin III’s lies, Mike Shanahan’s poor management doom Redskins in playoffs.” Lying is rarely a word associated with a beloved rookie quarterback, riding the crest of his first season in the pros:

Robert Griffin III couldn’t run, at least not in any way resembling his usual sprints through the line and into open turf. Robert Griffin III couldn’t throw, at least not the deep darts that move the chains and keep defenses honest.

Robert Griffin III couldn’t lead the Washington Redskins’ offense, not after his knee buckled in the first quarter of this NFC wild-card game against Seattle. A couple plays later Washington took a two-touchdown lead but the deal was done. It would gain just 41 yards over the next two and a half futile quarters with Griffin as quarterback, all but assuring Seattle’s 24-14 victory.

Robert Griffin III couldn’t do much of anything Sunday except lie, which is what he’s been trained to do in situations like this.

Lie to himself that he can still deliver like no backup could. Lie to his coach that this was nothing big. Lie to the doctors who tried to assess him in the swirl of a playoff sideline.

So Robert Griffin III lied, which is to be excused because this is a sport that rewards toughness in the face of common sense, a culture that celebrates the warrior who is willing to leave everything on the field, a business that believes such lies are part of the road to greatness.

That’s remarkably brutal stuff — essentially a dismissal of the entire professional sport that Wetzel is paid to cover, to which Limbaugh replied on air:

I opened the program with some quotes from a story by a sportswriter, a guy who earns his living covering the National Football League and other sports, Dan Wetzel, who says that the thing to learn, the take-aways from yesterday’s Redskins-Seahawks game is that Robert Griffin III was responsible for the loss because he lied.  He lied about his ability to run. He lied about his ability to throw. He lied about his ability to lead. He lied because he couldn’t do much of anything yesterday, and he lied about it, and his coach accepted the lies, and as such, the Redskins lose.

Well, an NFL coach happened to hear me say this, and I got this e-mail from the NFL coach.  And this is profound.  It’s just one line.  “Leave it to liberals to destroy a great American tradition taught in the greatest American team game ever invented:  selflessness.  One of the reasons a great team wins a Super Bowl is selflessness.”  So the NFL coach who saw the game yesterday thought that RGIII was being selfless, putting the team first. He was doing everything he could to help the team win.

Shanahan said the quarterback — this is Dave Wetzel — quarterback who lies to me is better than our backup, I’ll go with the guy lying to me.  Anyway, I predicted, how long ago was it?  It was this summer or maybe back in the spring, I made a bold prediction that the forces of the left were marshaling against the NFL, focusing on head injuries, the concussions. I said, “I don’t know if it’s gonna happen in my lifetime or not, but if they don’t give up the quest, they’re going to succeed in altering this game in a way that nobody would ever believe.”  I don’t see them giving up.  In fact, people who earn their living covering the game, are perhaps unwittingly leading the charge to change the game into something that nobody will recognize.  I don’t know if it will happen in my lifetime or not, but clearly the effort is underway.

But in the meantime, the NFL remains the very definition of a cash cow for athletes, coaches, professional sportswriters such as Wentzel, and in particular the team owners. One reason is the staggering amount of money a committed fan will pay to attend a game. Even after the economy went south in late 2008 and continued its slump until, well, today, and plenty of leftwing journalists were eager to declare Barack Obama the second coming of FDR, overseeing a nation trapped in a perma-Depression as a result of his ill-chosen policies. (See also: Forgotten Man, The.) We’ll explore that topic right after the page break.

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Inscrutable and Vague, So Hard to Pin Down

December 12th, 2012 - 12:12 pm

Sorry, I can’t get to excited, pro or con, about Pete Townshend saying as he did last week on Good Morning America, “I’m a bit of a neocon.” First, he’s likely to walk it back if pressed, and second, as with Tina Brown in 2003, and her hilariously ahistoric reference to the “neocons of the ’30s,”  does he even know the lineage of the word and what it means? (As Jonah Goldberg wrote in 2003 as neocon was beginning its ascension as the post-9/11 epithet of choice among the left:

If you don’t know how to use the word “neocon,” don’t. Seriously, don’t. If you’re even the teensiest bit unsure, don’t. Because when you use it wrong you illuminate such vast swaths of ignorance so as to make it difficult to be taken seriously on other subjects.

But I’m not sure why Townshend feels the need to talk politics at all when he does an interview.

As I’ve written before, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when The Who and Townshend seemed omnipresent – movies! Concerts! Solo albums! Tours! – Pete was my inspiration for first learning to play guitar, and then learning to “write” music on a multitrack recorder, as Townshend explored in the liner notes of his 1983 anthology of his demo tapes, Scoop. Everything multimedia I’ve done since – the videos, the podcasts, the XM show, etc. – all stem from reading about The Who, and how Townshend “wrote” music for them.

And creating Tommy, Who’s Next, Quadrophenia, etc., is certainly its own genius. I don’t expect any great political insights from the man. Because, even in the mid-1970s, as he was writing “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” and “Slip Kid,” with its refrain that “There’s no easy way to be free,” and even as he was pledging his heart to his Meher Baba, his religious muse, he was perfectly capable of saying, as he did in 1974, that “I feel that the most spiritually correct of all political states would be a Communist one:”

Penthouse: Do you have many political convictions?

Townshend: Well, it it’s possible for someone who’s reputedly a millionaire — I’m not, incidentally — I’m morally very left-wing. I suppose as a member of the Who I’ve earned quite a lot of money. I’ve also spent that money. I’m a capitalist, yet I feel that the most spiritually correct of all political states would be a Communist one. But I think all politics are useless unless the component parts — the people, the leaders, the organizers, and the workers — are spiritually together. Communism at its purest can be corrupt, hurt people, and not do its job. Capitalism at its finest and most effective — even in a period where it was really working, like Fifties’ America — stands and falls on the quality of the people involved in it. It’s really great when you’ve got a good bunch of leaders leading you, but when they turn sour, you realize how little control you actually have to change them.

Most of The Who’s music in the 1970s was blissfully apolitical, but the arrival of Margaret Thatcher as prime minister would change that, as Townshend would rail against Thatcher’s reforms in England — and is still bitter about her rise in politics in his new autobiography. There’s a clip on YouTube of his promoting his White City solo album and longform video on the David Letterman show in the mid-1980s, where, after Letterman asks him about his then side gig, editing books for British publishing house Faber & Faber, Townshend goes on long rant about Thatcher, and you can hear the murmurs in Letterman’s audience: wha? Huh? Whatever, dude.

And White City is a fascinating project in its own right — with thundering music that as its accompanying video illustrates, champions…a depressed 30-something man passing his days nihilistically living on the dole. So much for “No easy way to be free.”

But who cares? I don’t follow politicians for their musical genius; I’m not going to care much either way about a musician’s insight into politics. In other words: won’t get fooled again. At least this time.

Update: Who Are You?

Tomorrow’s Post-Election MSM Apologias Today

October 13th, 2012 - 5:00 pm

Back in late 2004, Rush Limbaugh had lots of fun playing an interview that Tina Brown (now editor of Newsweek) had on her little-seen CNBC show with David Westin, then the president of ABC News, who said that the media needed to send the equivalent of foreign correspondents to the Red States, to witness firsthand how these strange people in the hinterlands live out their exotic day-to-day existences, and why they rejected the suave and debonair John Kerry for that hayseed George W. Bush:

WESTIN: I think we don’t do that enough, and I’m not just talking religious communities. I’m talking all sorts of communities across the country. I think that… You understand this, Tina, living in New York or in Los Angeles, we have busy jobs. We go into the office every day. We tend to socialize with the same people, or the same types of people, and I think it’s terribly important for journalists to get out whether it’s overseas or domestically and try to understand.

As Rush quipped, paraphrasing Westin, “We need more foreign correspondents in Alabama! We need more foreign correspondents north of Palm Beach County in Florida! We need embeds to go to church, find out what’s going on with these holy rollers! Ah, folks, you can’t know how much I love this.”

Also in November of 2004 after the election was concluded, when Brian Williams replaced Tom Brokaw, then-NBC president Jeff Zucker attempted to sell Williams to the public, by proclaiming to USA Today that “No one understands this NASCAR nation more than Brian.”

You can just smell the condescension in that statement, can’t you? And it didn’t take long for it to begin to appear repeatedly in Williams’ broadcasts. (In some cases what didn’t appear in Williams’ broadcasts was equally worthy of comment.)

(Not coincidentally, Jeff Zucker’s Wikipedia page has this ignominious subhead regarding Zucker’s tenure at the network: “President & CEO of NBC Universal: NBC Goes from First to Last in Ratings.”)

At Red State this week, Erick Erickson has a lengthy essay on the vast disconnect between the MSM and its consumers or, as Erickson notes — increasingly, their former consumers:

It is not that Fox News is, during its day time news, more conservative. It is that Fox News actually expends effort to ensure it relates to the values and world view of many more Americans than most major news outlets. But the average reporter for the average newspaper or other press shop would rather lament a conservative bias at Fox News than recognize most of them have a liberal bias much more detached from the average American. Outside of that news organization, very few are even interested in what middle class Americans within fifty miles of an American river valley not named Hudson even care about. The people consuming the news are not viewed as the intended consumers by the press. The intended consumers are those at their cocktail parties in Washington and New York who will herald them and give them Pulitzers and maybe one day a cushy job in a future Democratic Administration.

Festering the problem, many reporters, thought leaders in the press, and news executives rarely encounter people in the heartland any more. The Mississippi River Valley is something to be flown over instead of studied and covered unless there is a natural disaster. Additionally, the new breed of political reporter knows little about politics before Bush v. Gore, couldn’t care less to have a sense of history to give them perspective, embraces the cosmopolitan culture of elite environs in New York and Washington diving only into hipster dive bars to drink Pabst Blue Ribbon to connect in some superficial way with the rest of the country, leans left socially and fiscally, and maintains an increasingly secular world view nearly identical to that of their other young, hipster reporter friends. “Professing themselves wise, they became fools . . . ”

It is a painful truth.

But there is more.

Read the whole thing.

Every four years, whether their candidate wins or not, in the immediate aftermath of a presidential election, the MSM issues mea culpas after spending the year jamming their thumbs down hard on the scales, or issuing polls that in retrospect were wildly off. This practice isn’t new, but it’s accelerated due to the MSM’s being called out by bloggers, Fox News, talk radio, and other forms of alternative media.

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