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Ed Driscoll

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“Hate Network CNN Wants Disgraced Brian Williams to Replace Piers Morgan,” John Nolte’s headline screams at Big Journalism — and given how many times Nolte’s used the phrase “Hate Network CNN” over the past couple of weeks, CNN, must love having that phrase becoming increasingly associated with them. Hopefully they understand though, that’s the price you pay for transforming a news channel into a platform for socialist justice warriors.

But I digress:

According to a lengthy Vanity Fair article that examines the ongoing credibility implosion at NBC News, CNN Chief Jeff Zucker used his left-wing cable news network to “fan the flames” of the Brian Williams scandal in the hopes that it would further his scheme to eventually hire the disgraced anchor:

The most Machiavellian scenario, floated by an NBC partisan, is that Jeff Zucker, whose distaste for Comcast executives is well known, has fanned the flames of controversy so that he can eventually snare Williams for CNN—not as a newsman but as the long-sought replacement for Larry King. “That’s the perfect solution,” a source says. “Zucker gets a star, and Brian gets the talk show he always wanted.”

This is a nice way for Vanity Fair to button up the story of Williams, a news anchor who reportedly wanted to replace Jay Leno and David Letterman. Apparently, Williams primary desire is to be America’s Raconteur — which is a nice to describe a man accused of serial-lying for years to puff himself up.

The move to CNN, however, would also make sense for CNN — a network also in journalistic decline since the arrival of Zucker. CNN’s serial fabrications, outright lies, the fabrication of evidence against George Zimmerman, the fomenting of mob violence in Ferguson, the lies about the religious freedom bills in Indiana and Arkansas, would make the network a perfect soft-landing spot for a disgraced Brian Williams.

I agree — and I called this as one of Williams’ options back in February.

Also, this quote from the Vanity Fair story is umm, interesting:

Turness and the other executives who had gotten involved quickly became frustrated, as they would remain for days, with Williams’s inability to explain himself. “He couldn’t say the words ‘I lied,’ ” recalls one NBC insider. “We could not force his mouth to form the words ‘I lied.’ He couldn’t explain what had happened. [He said,] ‘Did something happen to [my] head? Maybe I had a brain tumor, or something in my head?’ He just didn’t know. We just didn’t know. We had no clear sense what had happened. We got the best [apology] we could get.”

Williams isn’t the first NBC anchor about whom some have speculated if a brain tumor might be the cause of some of his more curious statements.

Finally, exclusive video of Williams attempting to explain himself to the NBC brass!

Earlier Today: NBC & Brian Williams: Worst Assumptions Confirmed By Insiders.

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There aren’t a whole lot truly new revelations buried within Vanity Fair’s juicy-sounding “Inside Story of the Civil War For the Soul of NBC News” for anyone who closely followed Williams’ implosion here at Ed Driscoll.com and elsewhere in the Blogosphere in February, but it serves a decent summary for anyone coming in late to the party, with some occasionally fun passages along the way:

There is NBC News before Tim [Russert] died and after Tim died,” says the recently departed correspondent. “Tim was our soul, our conscience…. When Tim died, and Brian pushed out John Reiss, there was no one who could influence Brian in a significant way, who could say, ‘Goddammit, Brian, you have to do this.’ ”

* * * * * * *

Since Comcast took control of NBC, the network’s news division—famously termed Comcast’s “crown jewel” by C.E.O. Brian Roberts—has endured one debacle after another. “When Comcast took over, they had the No. 1 morning show, the No. 1 Sunday show, and the No. 1 evening broadcast,” says a former top NBC executive. “That’s all completely fallen apart. I don’t know how you blame anyone but Comcast and the people it brought in. It’s been a nightmare.”

Behind the scenes much of the blame has been laid at the feet of three executives: Turness, a British-trained newcomer to U.S. television; Fili, who had virtually no experience in journalism; and Fili’s boss, the steely, driven C.E.O. Comcast installed to run NBCUniversal, Steve Burke. Under Burke the network has done well overall—its ratings have rebounded from last to first in the coveted 18–49 demographic, and NBCUniversal’s profits were up 18 percent last year—but he and his deputies, their critics charge, time and again proved unable to rein in the news division’s high-priced talent. “News is a very particular thing, NBC is a very particular beast, and Deborah, well, she really doesn’t have a fucking clue,” says a senior NBC executive involved in recent events. “She’s letting the inmates run the asylum. You have kids? Well, if you let them, they’ll have ice cream every night. Same thing in TV. If you let the people on air do what they want, whenever they want, this is what happens.”

Well, NBC and particularly its subsidiary channels MSNBC and (to a slightly lesser extent CNBC) have felt that way to its right-leaning viewers for almost a decade now. But it’s nice to have the assumption confirmed by both Vanity Fair and an NBC insider that the network and its subsidiaries are staffed by lunatics, overgrown children, and/or adolescents posing in bespoke Paul Stuart suits.

Speaking of one of the biggest adolescents at NBC, this is a classic:

“What always bothered Tim was Brian’s lack of interest in things that mattered most, that were front and center, like politics and world events,” says a person who knew both men well. “Brian has very little interest in politics. It’s not in his blood. What Brian cares about is logistics, the weather, and planes and trains and helicopters.”

“You know what interested Brian about politics?” marvels one longtime NBC correspondent, recently departed. “Brian was obsessed with whether Mitt Romney wore the Mormon underwear.” (A supporter says that this characterization is unfair and that Williams reads deeply and broadly, especially about history and politics.)

Really? It certainly wasn’t reflected in his work; doesn’t the quote describing Williams’ obsession with Romney’s Mormon underwear fit the former anchorman perfectly, particularly given both his worshipful genuflection to Obama and his concurrent paranoid ramblings when the Tea Party originally emerged in 2009?

Meanwhile, back at Vanity Fair today:

“If Brian could’ve eaten [in the NBC Rockefeller Center 51st-floor executive dining room*] eight days a week he would’ve,” says another onetime NBC executive. “He would hold court at some table, with some poor mid-level schmo who didn’t know what was going on, and he always seemed to be there when Steve Burke would come in. And [with Burke in earshot], he would make a point of taking someone down a notch. It could be Pat or Steve [Capus] or [P.R. chief] Adam [Miller] or someone else, but over time it got to be Steve Capus a lot. Brian took Steve down. I heard those lunches. I know what he said. He got Burke and Pat Fili very riled up about Steve.”

No wonder Williams appeared to have few friends inside the network, which turned him with vicious force when the news of his serial lies and fables reached a head in mid-February.

More delicious schadenfreude to digest:

“Look. Deborah Turness: I have seen no evidence she knows what she’s doing, but in fairness, she walked into a complete shitstorm there,” says a former top NBC executive. “Today is a horror show. Brian Williams? He didn’t give a rat’s ass what Deborah Turness says. But this is fundamentally not a Deborah Turness problem. She’s just a symptom of the problem…. This is a Comcast problem.”

Officially, in a damage-control mode where almost no one will be interviewed freely and on the record, NBC News declined comment for this article. Unofficially, its loyalists cooperated extensively. While admitting the occasional misstep, they reject the harsh critiques that have trailed in the wake of the Williams scandal, blaming them on a coterie of departed executives, including former NBCUniversal C.E.O. Jeff Zucker and former NBC News chief Steve Capus, who resigned under pressure in 2013. “We know the people saying these things about us, and we know why,” one NBC partisan told me. “Because five years later we are still cleaning up the mess they left behind.”

Good luck to anyone at the network searching for the pony hidden under that network’s self-described sh**storm, or even understanding how tall the pile is. Particularly since hitting CTL-F and typing “Sharpton” in an article otherwise devoted to the woes at NBC’s news division brings up zero results. And given MSNBC’s daily rants against us eeeeeeviiiiil awful raaaacist Satanic boogiemonsters on the right, Williams was fighting for his job as network anchorman, having effectively already ceded the moral support of half the country. Williams himself wasn’t directly responsible for the steaming mess at NBC’s subsidiary network, but it certainly reflected badly on him and earned him few friends on the right.

And finally:

This executive long believed that Williams’s penchant for embellishment was a function of his insecurity when it came to Brokaw, but that it was all essentially harmless. “I always felt he needed to jack up his stories because he was trying so hard to overcome his insecurities,” this executive says. “And he had to follow Tom, which brought its own set of insecurities. He likes to sort of tell these grandiose tales. But, can I tell you, in all the years we worked together, it never rose to the point where we said, ‘Oh, there he goes again.’ I just saw it as one of the quirks of his personality.” It was a quirk, however, that incensed Brokaw, who is still thought highly of inside the news division. “Tom treated that anchor chair as a public trust,” says one former correspondent. “He really was our Walter Cronkite.”

Given what we now know about Cronkite and how on numerous occasions he badly abused the “public trust” of his anchorman’s chair decades before there was a Blogosphere to call the elite media on their bias, false assumptions, and lies and push back, that’s a surprisingly damning quote.

* Sharpton apparently has the lock on the Grand Havana Room.

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“Last summer, around the time Chuck Todd took over as moderator of Meet the Press, several staffers recalled that Williams told him: ‘At least your ghost is dead. Mine is still walking the building,’” That’s from New York Magazine’s “(Actually) True War Stories at NBC News,” in which Brian Williams was forced to deal with the reputation of Tom Brokaw as a more beloved newsreader than himself. Which might explain why his strongest goal in television was leaving the news media for the entertainment division, and becoming the next Chevy Chase or Letterman at NBC rather than being the next Brokaw.

And note this:

The assignment of persuading Williams to continue to play the part of anchor fell to NBC News president Deborah Turness. A talented 47-year-old British TV-news executive, Turness had been at NBC for a year and a half. News chair Patricia Fili-Krushel hired her in May 2013 with the stated mandate to reverse ratings crises at Meet the Press and Today and the ­unspoken goal of busting up the boys’ club that had dominated network news in general and NBC News in particular. (Fili-Krushel and ­Turness declined to comment.)

Turness had long ago proved she could run with the boys. In her career at Britain’s ITV, she’d covered wars and Washington and risen through the ranks to run the news division. She was known for her tenacity. “She almost became a pain in the ass. She wouldn’t let an idea go,” says ITV chief newscaster Mark Austin. At Nightly News, Turness set about hiring more diverse correspondents and pushing for bigger exclusives, but she ran up against resistance from Williams, who was used to running his show his way. Like his predecessor Brokaw, Williams held the titles of anchor and managing editor, meaning he had final say over all the show’s content. Last summer, with ABC World News eating into Nightly’s ratings, Turness told Williams to tape more live promos, a suggestion that infuriated the anchor, according to a source. But eventually, thanks in part to some effusive praise in a presentation to advertisers in the fall, Turness won him over. Over the holidays, Williams would even send her an optimistic note, according to a friend: “2015 is going to be our year together.”

Near the end of the night at Del Posto, Turness raised her glass and presented Williams with a gift: Edward R. Murrow’s mahogany writing table. Weeks earlier, Matt Lauer had told her that the 1940s desk was for sale at an L.A. antiques dealer. The catalogue listing said: “This venerable signed desk with its special, unique provenance can be yours, assisting you in becoming the next greatest icon within your own chosen industry!” Turness hoped it would remind Williams that he was America’s most trusted anchor—the Murrow of his day. He shouldn’t give that up to be Jimmy Fallon.

But over the last decade, everyone from Jon Stewart to Keith Olbermann to Joy Behar has been dubbed “the Murrow of his day” at one point or another during their careers. Murrow earned his rep by actually doing stuff; today’s MSM throws the title around to anyone handed a microphone.

Which explains much about the politicians to which they eagerly play palace guard, of course.

Related:

Unexpectedly.

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Nothing.

That’s according to Howard Kurtz, who writes, “Brian Williams does not face investigation, stepped aside voluntarily, source says”:

The move on Saturday, developed in consultation with the NBC brass, was not a thinly disguised suspension. In fact, no one, including NBC News President Deborah Turness, suggested that Williams take time off, this person says.

What’s more, according to the source, NBC is not conducting an internal investigation of its anchor, as has been widely reported. The network is engaging in journalistic fact-gathering so it can respond to questions about the crisis created by Williams’ false story about having been in a helicopter in Iraq that was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. That means there will be no report with a finding on his conduct, this person says.

Williams knows that he needs to address the situation beyond the botched apology this week that made matters worse. And he has a prime forum coming up: An appearance scheduled for Thursday on CBS’s “Late Show” with David Letterman.

Williams is strongly considering keeping the appearance and using it as an opportunity to clear the air and address the lingering questions, the source says, but no final decision has been made.

Ironically, the anchor will be sitting in the same chair where he told Letterman the false Iraq story in 2013—a clip that has been widely replayed to show that he has repeatedly claimed to have been in the downed Chinook.

At Big Journalism, John Nolte ponders what Williams cashing in his get-out-of-jail -free card with Letterman implies. As he asks, “Because this is all one big fat joke to Williams and NBC News, right?”

If you think about it, though, it does make perfect sense.

There have been numerous reports about how Williams, like no other news anchor before him, “fervently courted celebrity.” And it now appears as though that is exactly how Williams sees himself — not as a news man and managing editor of the most-watched nightly news telecast on television; but as Hugh Grant —  a celebrity, a star — a guy who can run to a comedy show and HumbleCharm his way out of a career-ending scandal by taking some pre-scripted barbs from a comedian.

Reading a teleprompter for 20 minutes a night is only part of Brian Williams’ celebrity job. The main part is yukking it up with David Letterman and Jon Stewart and Jimmy Fallon with slow jams, exaggerated “war hero” anecdotes, and digging-his-toe-in-the-dirt confessionals to get out of career jail.

At the Washington Post, Erik Wemple investigates another lie Williams told during his disastrous appearance on David Letterman’s show in 2013:

Amid talk of the incoming fire, Williams supplied this detail: “Our captain took a Purple Heart injury to his ear in the cockpit.”

The Purple Heart is a military decoration for those who are killed or wounded in combat. Chris Simeone, in a first-person piece in the New York Post, claims to have piloted the Chinook that transported Williams and his NBC News crew. Contrary to Williams’s claims — in that Letterman appearance, among other venues — that his helicopter sustained “AK-47 and RPG” fire from the enemy on the ground, Simeone says the flight was “uneventful.” That means no injuries, which also means … “I do not have a Purple Heart, and my ears are just fine,” wrote Simeone in the New York Post.

Other members of the Chinook crew that allegedly transported Williams & Co. insist that the helicopter took absolutely no incoming fire. “No we were not shot at. We took NO enemy fire,” Joseph Miller told the Omaha World-Herald.

As Nolte asks:

Is Brian Williams a news man, or not?

Is NBC News a news division, or not?

We’ve known the answer to that second question for nearly a decade now:

In the late 1960s, Lily Tomlin’s career was launched on NBC’s Laugh-In, where one of her recurring characters was a snippy, matronly phone company operator, in the era when Bell Telephone really was a nationwide monopoly. One of her catchphrases was, “We don’t care, we’re the phone company.”

While today’s Big Three TV networks are no longer monopolies either, they essentially are to the eight to ten million elderly viewers left who still watch each network’s evening news shows, because they can’t get on the Internet.

In contrast, on Twitter this week, blogger Ace of Spades asked his followers: when was the last time you watched a network nightly news broadcast? For me, the last time I voluntarily watched an NBC, CBS or ABC nightly news show was probably in the mid-1990s, prior to my first cable modem. Other than the half-hour of CNN I’m force-fed nightly at the gym, whenever I write about a disaster on TV news, it’s because they’ve been caught by Drudge, NewsBusters, Mediaite or another video aggregation site, and if you’re reading this post, chances are the same holds true for you as well.

As I joked with my wife last night, it’s quite a 21st century media world when I trust a guy whose handle is “SooperMexican,” and whose Twitter avatar is a masked professional wrestler, more than I do the news division and the cable networks associated with 90-year-old National Broadcast Company. But once trust is lost, it’s nearly impossible to get it back without a thorough housecleaning of all of the responsible — or in this case irresponsible — players.

Which NBC’s brass can’t be bothered to do, if Kurtz’s source is correct, lest they risk losing the audience they hold captive at 6:30 to another TV network. If so, NBC has come full-circle; they’re where Tomlin’s phone company was in the late ’60s and ’70s. They’ve got a monopoly on their viewers, and as long as that lasts, they don’t care if they’re lying to them or not. Do their viewers? As Iowahawk tweeted last night:

And in her last years, before she passed away in in 2012 at age 87, I could certainly picture my own mother thinking, “I don’t care if Williams lied. He looks nice. He sounds nice. He has nice hair. And he’s on before Wheel of Fortune at 7:00. I’m sticking with him.” Is that the calculation NBC is making? We’ll know soon enough, but it does seem like the most NBC thing for NBC to do at this point, doesn’t it? Update (3:55 PM Pacific): NBC wisely talks Williams into cancelling his Letterman appearance on Thursday, according to the Politico:

According to the people with knowledge of the situation, the instinct at the top of NBC and Comcast, its corporate parent, has been to try to preserve the asset: Williams is No. 1 at 6:30 p.m. by a wide margin, and “Nightly” is NBC’s only consistently dominant newscast newscast. The sense inside NBC News has been that Williams is too big to fail: He’s just too valuable, and there’s no obvious replacement. One of these people emphasized in an interview with Playbook that there is no suspension, and there was no discussion of a suspension. This was Brian’s idea, and he took a pen and wrote yesterday’s statement himself, the person said. Brian is very remorseful — he has apologized, and likely will again, the person added.

Williams can apologize all he wants, but “There is no such thing as partial credibility. Once a source has proven that they are willing to lie — deliberately and consciously — they lose all credibility,” as Stacy McCain wrote at the end of last year regarding the now-infamous fables penned by the co-worker at HBO alongside Williams’ daughter. One question that’s been repeatedly asked over the past week is this: Is Brian Williams a newsman or an entertainer? If this report in the Boston Herald is true, the answer is most assuredly the latter:

And note this humble brag from Williams, describing in an interview one of the souvenirs that may or may not be in his “man cave”:

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Tanned, rested and ready: Just imagine the social media outreach possibilities, NBC! 

“A guy so cocksure he figures he can push it a little further each time,” Steyn writes as he charts “The Life of Brian:”

Assuredly there’s been some turnover in NBC News since 2003. So maybe nobody working on the program now was working on it then. But in TV you’re always looking for ways to show rather than announce, so, if you’ve got a line like that on Brian’s prompter, it defies belief that someone wouldn’t have said, “Hey, grab that footage out of the archive.” And then the intern comes back from the basement and says, “Um, it was somebody else’s helicopter that got forced down…”

I would wager, even as Williams read his line, that most everyone who mattered on the show knew it wasn’t true. And maybe one or two of them looked nervously at each other in the control room, but let it go. Hey, he’s the star, right? NBC Nightly News with Walter Mitty reporting.

Hardly anything on TV at the Brian Williams level is accidental. That riveting account of death-defying derring-do with Letterman would have been worked out during the pre-interview for the show — in other words, the misremembering was painstakingly rehearsed. Maybe Williams is delusional. Maybe he is to anchors as Anthony Wiener is to wankers – a guy so cocksure he figures he can push it a little further each time.

Which brings us to the latest chopper whopper, as spotted by one of Ace of Spades’ co-bloggers. As Ace writes, in 2007, Williams told the kids at Fairfield University, “I looked down the tube of an RPG that had been fired at us and it hit the chopper in front of ours:”

Williams starts doing his Sergeant Rock shtick after a question is asked about what story has had the most impact on his life, starting at 1:42. Here is his answer:

“It gets me to thinking, I’ve been very lucky the way my life has turned out, I’ve been very lucky to have survived a few things that I’ve been involved in, at a perception a few minutes ago, I was remembering something I tend to forget, the war with Hezballah in Israel, a few years back, where there were Katuyshka rockets passing just beneath the helicopter I was riding in. A few years before that, you go back to Iraq, and I looked down the tube of an RPG that had been fired at us and it hit the chopper in front of ours.”

So 2007 is a transitional phase in the telling of the story. He has not placed himself in the shot-down chopper as he would by 2013, but he is claiming explicitly that the chopper was right in front of him, and he witnessed its shoot-down.

Of course, he adds the whole new detail that he looked into the tube of the RPG launcher which took down the bird.

That seems rather unlikely, given that the chopper that actually got hit was nowhere near Williams’ and was moving in the opposite direction. And as Travis Tritten of Stars & Stripes told CNN’s Jake Tapper today, the radio broadcast of the RPG attack that Williams’ sound guy recorded was from the other chopper.

But in any case, here’s the clip of Brian Williams’ Flight of the Valkyries story, circa 2007:
.

As Steyn concludes:

Thirty years ago, it would be difficult to imagine a liar or fantasist surviving in a job that supposedly depends on one’s trustworthiness. Yet today Brian Williams’ survival is the way to bet — because the obsolete format of Big Three “network news” is a dinner-theatre exercise that now bears so little relation to real news that Williams’ ability to project the aura of authority and integrity trumps the reality that he doesn’t actually have any. If you get your news from old-school “network news”, you’re not actually getting any news, you’re watching a guy ’cause he has great hair. So getting it from a delusional narcissist is only taking it to the next level.

But Deborah Turness, the president of NBC News, now has the opportunity to really take things to the next level*, as Rush Limbaugh told his listeners today. Why settle for a real news anchor making stories up, when you now have the opportunity to hire the best known fake news anchor in America for the 6:30 news?

Remember how [Turness] backed a Brinks truck up to Jon Stewart and tried to hire him for Meet the Press?

Well, Turness, here’s another golden opportunity to get Stewart.

CBS got Colbert.  NBC could get Stewart.

So you’re out there professing your love and admiration and your total unblinding support for Brian Williams, you’re secretly trying to hire Jon Stewart to do the news.  I mean, if you’re gonna have Jon Stewart host Meet the Press, what does that say about Meet the Press and what does it say about what the news has become?  If it’s not about numbers anymore, if it’s all about bragging rights and getting the hippest dude as Les Moonves said when he hired Colbert, well, here’s a chance for Deborah Turness to make another run at Jon Stewart, while everybody thinks Brian Williams is safe.

It makes a certain amount of sense: the nightly news format is fossilized, as Mark writes above. Furness and the Obama-supporting CEO of Comcast likely wouldn’t hire someone openly conservative, no matter how much he would boost NBC’s ratings. Hiring Stewart is their only other bet to shake up the ancient 6:30 news format, and likely the job — and the Brinks truck of cash — would be his if Stewart wants the gig.

And if he doesn’t, like the phalanx of British drummers who sent their resumes in to Led Zeppelin and The Who when John Bonham and Keith Moon went off to the Happy Groupie Hunting Grounds, there’s no shortage of newsreaders (or narrative readers as Rush has taken to calling them) eager to replace Williams. Katie Couric is telling anyone who will listen that she’d love to bail on her low-rent Yahoo.com gig and return to NBC. I doubt very much she’s the only out-of-work TV newsreader whose emailing in a CV to NBC right now.

*As to whether or not “the next level” is moving things up or down I leave to you, but when even Dylan Byers of the left-wing Politico site can see “The Decline and Fall of NBC News,” you know things are hitting bottom at the once well-respected network.

Related: Brian Williams, humble friend of the working man at his most downtrodden:

Update (11:45 AM 2/7/15): Report: Brian Williams Could Step Down Early Next Week. And at Hot Air, Ed Morrissey explores the other story that Williams tosses out in the above clip to the journalism students at Fairfield University in 2007: “I tend to forget the war with Hezbollah in Israel a few years back, where there were Katyusha rockets passing just underneath the helicopter I was riding.” The “I tend to forget” being shot at by rockets is a nice touch.

And the New York Post rounds up more of Williams’ tall tales:  “Brian Williams’ heroic stories include Princess Di and Hurricane Katrina:”

“I lost a very good friend to Agent Orange-related cancer,” he told Alec Baldwin in a March 2013 interview on the “30 Rock” actor’s “Here’s the Thing” show on WNYC radio.

“I was in the hospital room with him. It was a Saturday night, I had just done ‘Nightly News.’ My pager went off: ‘Diana, car accident, Paris.’ I called the office, and they said, ‘You better get in here,’ ” Williams recalled.

“I had no idea that I’d be announcing to what was then, I mean, they plugged us into cable all over Europe. I have people wherever I go to this day who say, ‘I was with you the night Diana died,’” the anchor said.

Williams has spun more wild story lines than his own network’s sitcoms.

He said armed gangs constantly threatened him and his terrified crew while they were covering Hurricane Katrina.

“Unfortunately for Williams, authorities had said five years earlier that stories about armed gangs running amok were not true.” Plus a video of Williams telling Brokaw in 2010 that “we watched, all of us watched, as one man committed suicide” in the New Orleans Superdome. But, as the Post adds, “But he later admitted it was only a story he had heard about and not seen himself.” And as The Blaze deadpans, “Brian Williams Once Claimed to See a Body Floating Down the Street After Katrina. There’s Just One Problem…”

Plus from the Daily Caller, “Brian Williams Told Two Different Stories About His 1994 Interview With Nelson Mandela.” All of which dovetails perfectly into our exit quote:

Update (6:15 PM Pacific): Brian Williams Stepping Away From NBC Nightly News.

(Photo atop post based on a modified AP image.)

Brian Williams: A Uniter, Not a Divider!

February 5th, 2015 - 7:03 pm

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“Williams Should Not Resign His Job as NBC Narrative Reader,” says Rush Limbaugh, inventing a great description for Williams’ nightly job:

Brian Williams told an abject lie that any number of people at any point the rest of his life could expose — and he didn’t just do it once. He did it two, three times. He did it on Letterman, did it on the NBC Nightly News.  You know I’ve always liked Brian Williams. And, in a personal observation, he’s one of the few in the Drive-By Media who has been fair to me.  But, man, I just don’t understand. I think one thing to keep in mind here… You know, people say, “He ought to have to resign! Brian Williams ought to resign!”

No, no, no, folks. Brian Williams shouldn’t have to resign.

Brian Williams… There isn’t journalism anymore.  These people are not journalists. They’re not reporters.  They’re not even news readers! I have a new name for television info anchors: Narrative readers.  They really are there just to read the script of the daily soap opera that is Washington.  Whoever determines it, whoever writes it, they are there to advance it.  Brian Williams’ job every day is to sell a narrative, to get away with whatever he can to move his and the Democrat Party’s agenda forward.

This is really not an assault or an insult to journalism, because there really isn’t too much journalism going on. But clearly there isn’t any journalism at NBC News.  We know this.  They doctored 911 calls in the case of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, any number of examples like this. [QED -- Ed.]

On the PJM homepage this afternoon, Tom Blumer concurs. “Please Stay On, Brian Williams: Only you can more quickly hasten the establishment press’s demise:”

The indispensable Kristinn Taylor at Gateway Pundit has found that “speech promotional bios touted Williams’ bravery in returning to Iraq after he claimed being under fire.” The exhibit at his post touts the anchor’s commencement speech at Fordham University in 2011. Shortly after Taylor’s post, Fordham revised the related web page, adding a note that “on Feb. 4, 2015, Brian Williams issued an on-air retraction regarding the helicopter flight.” Quite a few people at other sites will be similarly busy scrubbing their web pages in the coming days.

In his daily email on Thursday, Jim Geraghty explained Williams’ likely motivation:

Before telling Letterman the helicopter story, Williams makes the caveat that he’s not much of a war correspondent. He cites NBC News foreign correspondent Richard Engel as the kind of reporter who calls a day where he’s shot at “Tuesday.” There’s your motive, for anyone trying to understand why he would do this. He’s an anchor, sitting behind a desk most nights in New York City. It is embarrassing for a man to not have any good war stories or stories of bravery. So Williams took the story of how he was about an hour away from life-and-death drama and changed it. Unfortunately for him, that’s also called “lying.”

Also, in early 2003, though he had been chosen to succeed Tom Brokaw, Williams was not yet perched in the Nightly News anchor chair. There were barely concealed concerns that Williams, whose primary previous duties were at CNBC and MSNBC when the latter at least pretended to be objective, would not prove to be a strong enough presence. The 2003 incident, as embellished even then, surely boosted Williams’ perceived testosterone level at an arguably important time.

That description of Williams’ salad days at NBC dovetails quite well with Tom Wolfe’s 1980 description of how the world has worked inside the network news cocoon since Walter Cronkite donned his first flak jacket:

Within the television news operations there’s such a premium put on not being a reporter. Everyone aspires to the man who never has to leave the building, the anchor man, who is a performer. The reporters are called researchers and are usually young women, and the correspondent on television is a substar, a supporting actor who prides himself on the fact that he doesn’t have to prepare the story. You talk to these guys and they’ll say, “Well, they sent me from Beirut to Teheran, and I had forty-five minutes to get briefed on the situation.” What they should say is, “I read the AP copy.” The idea is that as a performer you can pull together this news operation anywhere you go and the whole status structure is set up in such a way that you’re not going to get good reporters. Just try to think of the last major scoop, to use that old term, that was broken on television. I’m sure there have been some. But what story during Watergate? During Watergate there were new stories coming out every day. None were on television, except when television simply broadcast the hearings. The can do a set event. And that’s what television is actually best at. In fact, it’d be a service to the country if television news operations were shut down totally and they only broadcast hearings, press conferences and hockey games. That would be television news. At least the public would not have the false impression that it’s getting news coverage.

After Dan Rather imploded, TV writer Burt Prelutsky wrote in 2005

You can go back to Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, John Chancellor and Walter Cronkite. We treated them all with a deference that was totally out of proportion to the work they did. Essentially, the job description requires that they read the captions to the news footage we’re watching and to introduce the on-site reporters. Do you really think that constitutes the mental equivalent of heavy lifting? For doing what your uncle Sid could do — and with a lot more pazazz — they’re paid enormous amounts of money. On top of all the dough, they are constantly the honorees at testimonial dinners, but that’s fine, so long as I don’t have to attend. But the trouble is, they’re regarded as important people by way too many of us, and that’s not good. Why? Because it makes us all look like a bunch of saps — what H.L. Mencken called the boobus americanus and what P.T. Barnum simply labeled suckers.

Because these anchors get to spend their entire careers talking about important events and important people, they naturally come to regard themselves as important. Self-delusion is a form of insanity and we should not encourage it by fawning over them.

When they finally sign off for the last time, you notice that the testimonials inevitably mention how many political conventions they covered, how many space missions, how many inaugurations, assassinations, uprisings and wars, as if they had had a hand in any of these earth-shaking events. It wasn’t their hands that were involved, it was their behinds, as they sat year after year at those desks, declaiming in those store-bought voices what we were seeing with our own eyes — all thanks to the journalistic peons who actually went places and did things and took risks so that we could sit home and watch it

Now, I’m not saying we should kill the messengers. I’m just suggesting it’s time we stopped canonizing them.

Indeed. And as Tom Blumer writes today, “Brian Williams’ continued presence in the Nightly News anchor chair would henceforth make him the press’s poster child. He would become the starting point in any discussion of media bias with those who still believe that the press is fair and balanced — and readers can rest assured that Williams’ track record is a heavily documented, target-rich environment.”

Related: Kyle Drennen of NewsBusters charts the roster of “The Incredibles: NBC’s Growing List of Irresponsible Journalists,” from Williams to Ebola quarantine-breaker Nancy Snyderman to Al Sharpton.” And at Hot Air, Ed Morrissey spots “Variety’s buried lede: ‘Senior’ NBC News execs ‘counseled’ Williams to stop telling helicopter story.”

“Over a Decade, a Reporter’s War Story Grew Ever More Dramatic,” Ad Week reports:

In Williams’ original telling of the story, his helicopter lands without drama–or danger. “Suddenly, without knowing why, we learn we’ve been ordered to land in the desert,” Williams says. “On the ground, we learn the Chinook ahead of us was almost blown out of the sky.” The crew aboard that helicopter, Williams reported, were took shaken to talk about the incident on camera.

But years later, Williams told a far more dramatic version of the story to David Letterman. “Two of our four helicopters were hit by ground fire, including the one that I was in,” Williams said. “RPG and AK-47.” Letterman asks Williams “what happens the minute everyone realizes you’ve been hit,” and Williams–whose grasp of detail despite a decade having passed includes the elevation and airspeed of the Chinook–describes a nervy emergency landing in the desert. “We landed very quickly, and hard…We got hit, we set down, everyone was okay. Our captain took a Purple Heart injury to his ear in the cockpit.”

It was that harrowing version of the story that led some veterans to post comments to the “Nightly News” Facebook page, openly–and pointedly–questioning Williams. “Sorry dude, I don’t remember you being on my aircraft. I do remember you walking up about an hour after we had landed to ask me what had happened. Then I remember you guys taking back off in a different flight of Chinooks from another unit and heading to Kuwait to report your ‘war story’ to the Nightly News.”

The Hollywood Reporter adds another telling of the story:

Fox News also points out that Williams penned an account of the false story on the Nightly News blog back in 2008: “We came under fire by what appeared to be Iraqi farmers with RPG’s and AK-47′s. The Chinook helicopter flying in front of ours (from the 101st Airborne) took an RPG to the rear rotor, as all four of our low-flying Chinooks took fire.”

Both links via John Nolte of Big Journalism, who adds that Williams’ lies didn’t happen in a corporate vacuum:

Williams’ 12 year lie is a disaster for the anchor and for the network that made him the face of its news division. Obviously no one at NBC News bothered to check a story that was just too good to check. Worse, this will only compound the credibility and ratings issues that have damaged the NBC News brand for a few years now.

Just a few months ago, NBC News Chief Medical Correspondent Nancy Snyderman was caught violating her Ebola quarantine. During the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman uproar NBC News was caught editing a 9-1-1 call to make Zimmerman look racist. During the 2012 presidential election Andrea Mitchell was caught fabricating a Mitt Romney gaffe.

For the last few years, NBC News has perpetrated one fraud after another on the American people.

If CNN media reporter Brian Stelter, who has a huge credibility issue of his own, is any indication of how the left-wing intelligentsia will react to Williams’ 12 year lie, the wagons are already being circled:

To follow-up on our initial post about Williams, would Stelter write anything similar if a GOP congressman or Fox News anchor had been caught lying, particularly about a wartime attack? But then, Stelter works for a network whose former CEO Eason Jordan was also a serial Iraq War fabulist, resigning in 2005 after being caught at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland claiming that “he knew of 12 journalists who had not only been killed by U.S. troops in Iraq, but they had in fact been targeted.” The previous year, the London Guardian quoted Jordan as saying, “The reality is that at least 10 journalists have been killed by the U.S. military, and according to reports I believe to be true journalists have been arrested and tortured by U.S. forces.”

After quoting Stelter and a Politico journalist both immediately circling the wagons to protect Williams (ala Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings defending Dan Rather a month after Rathergate broke in 2004), “Democrats sure got it good,” Nolte adds. “But if you think about it, it makes sense for NBC to keep a serial stolen valor liar like Brian Williams as the face of its dishonest, fraudulent news division. Perfect sense.”

Exit quotes:

And speaking of NBC’s corporate culture, these links further place Williams into context:

 

 

“And now, NBC Nighty News with your hosts, Brian Williams and Baron Munchausen,” John Hayward quips on Twitter. “Williams admitted Wednesday he was not aboard a helicopter hit and forced down by RPG fire during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a false claim that has been repeated by the network for years,” Stars & Stripes reports today:

Williams repeated the claim Friday during NBC’s coverage of a public tribute at a New York Rangers hockey game for a retired soldier that had provided ground security for the grounded helicopters, a game to which Williams accompanied him. In an interview with Stars and Stripes, he said he had misremembered the events and was sorry.

The admission came after crew members on the 159th Aviation Regiment’s Chinook that was hit by two rockets and small arms fire told Stars and Stripes that the NBC anchor was nowhere near that aircraft or two other Chinooks flying in the formation that took fire. Williams arrived in the area about an hour later on another helicopter after the other three had made an emergency landing, the crew members said.

“I would not have chosen to make this mistake,” Williams said. “I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.”

Williams made the claim while presenting NBC coverage of the tribute to the retired command sergeant major at the Rangers game, and the fans giving the soldier a standing ovation.

No word yet if Sinbad, Sheryl Crow and Hillary Clinton were also onboard when the attack didn’t occur:

When Williams replaced Tom Brokaw on the NBC Nightly News, he was sold to the American public in 2004 by his then boss, Jeff Zucker (now in charge at CNN) with a lie: “No one understands this NASCAR nation more than Brian,” Zucker told USA Today, despite knowing that Williams was a cast-in-the-mold reactionary “liberal.” The following year, Williams compared America’s Founding Fathers to terrorists; in 2010 he would have a severe case of the vapors over the Tea Party while praising “the Clinton economy.”

So it’s not surprising that Williams himself is fabulist; it comes with the territory at NBC, its subsidiary networks, and the politicians they fawn over nightly.

Update: “‘Even lying in his apology’: Brian Williams slammed after recanting personal story about RPG attack in Iraq,” Twitchy reports:

Williams tells Stars & Stripes, “I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.” Blogger Ace of Spades assists the befuddled anchorman in understanding what happened:

Let me help you out here, Brian. You conflated one aircraft — one you were in — with another aircraft — one you were not in — not due to a “mistake” but due to an age-old reportorial practice called lying to advance an agenda.

The agenda here was dressing up a soft, delicate little boy into a the sort of iron-stubbled man who looks like he belongs on a battlefield.

So you lied. You claimed you were on one of the helicopters that took fire; no human being could ever confuse “Me” or “Not Me.”

Steven Wright makes just that joke — “The other day I was — wait, no, that was someone else.”

See, Brian, it’s funny because we know that confusion about “Me” versus “Not Me” is not possible, except in the insane.

So you lied, and over the years you’ve lied and lied again.

Trust us, they lied.

I was curious if there were any photos of Williams on the battlefield, Dan Rather-style, so I typed in the words Brian Williams and Helmet into Google Images. Look what came up near the top:

brian_williams_helmet_helicopter_2-4-15-1

That’s from Time magazine’s ten questions for ”Newsman Brian Williams” piece from 2010, which appears to no longer be online, except for the above photo. But it seems like Williams was evidently still playing on his helicopter adventures seven years after they didn’t occur, and Time-Warner-CNN-HBO was more than happy to play along, much like Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings helped Dan Rather keep up the charade.

Update: In 2007 at a Newsweek forum, Williams sounded like the second coming of Lee Ermey when asked about his adventures in Iraq:

And here’s video of Williams lying about the helicopter attack with David Letterman in 2013.

Mediaite has the video of Williams “apologizing” tonight on his NBC news program about his repeatedly-told lie – and his apology itself contains a lie; Williams acts as if he was following directly behind the helicopter hit by an RPG, when Star & Stripes reports “Williams arrived in the area about an hour later on another helicopter after the other three had made an emergency landing, the crew members said.”

As Mediaite notes, Williams described his serial fabulism as a “bungled attempt by me to thank one special veteran,” a variation on the “botched joke” get out of jail free card that the left have employed for years. But as at least one person asked on Twitter tonight, how would Williams react if a politician attempted this same defense?

A Republican politician*, that is. (“Or a Fox anchor,” Noah Pollak of Commentary adds.)

By the way, a reminder from Iowahawk that Williams is far from the worst serial fabulist that NBC has on their payroll. Given MSNBC’s ratings woes, perhaps the two could swap channels:

* When confronted by a fellow Democrat fabulist, Williams merely bows in his exulted presence.

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.)

If the above Flash audio player is not be compatible with your browser, click on the video player below, or click here to be taken directly to YouTube, for an audio-only YouTube clip. Between one of those versions, you should find a format that plays on your system.

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.