October 23, 2017

OUT OF MY MIND


I finally saw THE KING’S SPEECH. I found it a good, solid movie with beautiful art direction and fine performances, (although it was Helena Bonham Carter as the Queen who most touched and moved me and amidst all that virtuoso acting they still were able to find the worst Winston Churchill impersonator in cinema history!) . I found the scenes with the King’s daughters, (the future Queen) Elizabeth and Margaret more engaging than the scenes with his therapist. Despite my profound anglophillia, all in all, it was a peculiarly unaffecting experience, even slightly distasteful. Britons are about to die at Dunkirk, under buzz bombs and V-2’s, on wounded and sinking battle ships and these ‘subjects’ are lauding and gushing over the King because he delivered a halting speech? Yeah, I know, he overcame a bad stutter, but come on! I guess the distortion of so-called ‘shared sacrifice’ hasn’t changed much in seventy years!… Who says actors are historically unimportant! One taught the titular head of England to speak, another taught the Reichsfuhrer how to command an audience and another led the free world at the fall of communism…Will we ever see the movie THE PRESIDENT’S WALK about FDR‘s doctor who misled him about his ability to ever walk again? Out of sympathy for the president and a respect for his unfounded optimism this physician never told him that swimming, exercise and nutrition would never overcome his handicap. It didn’t harm FDR and it was better for his mental state to be hopeful….I’ll be up in NYC again next week. Can’t wait to see that impressive POMPEII exhibit on 44th street at the Discovery Museum and will take Kyle to see Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) on Broadway…Okay, perhaps the palm tree video of union demonstrators on FOXNEWS was not a deliberate lie. The California video was identified two minutes earlier in the segment. Perhaps it was sloppy TV journalism coupled with partisan overzealousness to drum into viewers that ‘union thugs’ are violent. But ask yourself: how would you feel if a broadcast showed the corpses of children killed in Vietnam or WW II early in a segment to illustrate civilian casualties in war. Later the story moves to a reporter in Kabul reporting on Petraeus’ apology for the killing of 9 Afghan children. Now they cut to these images of dead children over the report. Is that manipulative? Do you find that misleading?…Did you see ANY HUMAN HEART on PBSMasterpiece Theater? It started out impressive and got better and better as the main character aged. Jim Broadbent was heartbreaking and stunning as the old man. If you missed it try catching it on rerun or buy the DVD. Maybe it was because of my current age or circumstance but I found it immensely more affecting than either THE FIGHTER or THE KING’S SPEECH. You can watch it for free here until March 22nd: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/watch/index.html…
Fareed Zakaria’s GPS is the Sunday morning talk show for adults. I always learn something new watching or listening on I-pod…. So Chris Matthews now touts his early and enduring anti-Iraq war credentials. Has everyone forgotten his exultant declaration during the war: “We are ALL neo-cons now!”…. Guess who said this in 1994: “I just think North Dakota needs a new, fresh conservative voice. I think I could be that person.” (Answer at the end of the post)…. Doesn’t Charlie Sheen get tired of his ‘goddesses’? I mean, the night before is exciting but as Maureen McGovern sang: ‘There’s got to be a morning afterrrrrr….” (And that’s from someone who has blazed through plenty of exciting nights AND moaned through a lot of those painful morning afters!)… I think the reason so many conservatives call Obama a socialist is because there are no real socialists visible in American society today. Socialists used to get votes on the presidential ballot, on the airwaves and engage in the public debate. Norman Thomas, one of the most famous American socialists was William F. Buckley’s first guest on Firing Line…I saw THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU, yesterday and it wasn’t as wonderful as the NYT review nor as bad as every other review would lead you to believe. It isn’t THE MATRIX, (Part one) or INCEPTION, closer to THE LAKE HOUSE. But I keep asking myself one question and it isn’t about the film’s wacky sci-fi cosmology: Would any guy find it cute if a girl you just met dropped your cell phone into a cup of coffee?!?!….That quote would be from mega-liberal Ed Schultz (Big Ed) of MSNBC who in 1994 touted himself as the ‘new, fresh conservative voice for his state.’ People change: Horowitz Hitchens and Kristol were Trotskyites, Dick Morris worked with Bill Clinton. I used to detest David Frum, now I find him (at times) inspirational. Reagan was a young leftist and later a union president. Hmmm, how have I changed politically over the years? Sounds like a topic for a future post….and why do the days seem so short in Florida!

Olbermann and Bey

I was a guest on “Countdown” a number of years ago and Keith Olbermann was the host. Olbermann was gracious in his introduction, referencing that we had been co-workers for awhile on theABC Network Radio. I was on the show discussing the deceptions and manipulations of television, principally as they were executed in the lead up to the war in Iraq.

I doubt that he recalled that prior to our ABC connection we were also neighbors in the same condo building on West 57th street, sharing the elevator and even the sundeck on occasion. It would be difficult not to notice him. He was a tall man with an ideally proportioned physique, chiseled features and a square jaw as sharp as a letter opener. Outwardly he appeared almost impossibly perfect in real life, like a comic book hero, a Clark Kent or the cinematic equivalent of one, Christopher Reeves. At those more informal occasions he seemed aloof and unapproachable, but that might have been his personal reaction to the attentions of celebrity. I’d felt similarly the first half-dozen times I ran into Al Pacino who also lived in the building. Then one day he actually looked into my face and transformed into the most friendly and engaging of personages.

During the lead up to the Iraq War media pundits who told the truth and disputed media/government assertions were fired and silenced. Phil Donahue, a host on MSNBC was one of them. An internal NBC memo explained Phil Donahue’s firing: “Donahue was a difficult public face for NBC in a time of war” and his show would be “a home for the liberal anti-war agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity.” Lynn Samuels, Rev. Byron Schaefer, Roxanne Walker and Charles Goyette were anti-war radio hosts fired because of their views. I believe I was also one of that group at WABC radio.

And then came ‘Countdown’ and Olbermann.

At first the show was cautious, undistinguished and undistinguishable from other cable talking head shows, but by mid-2006 Olbermann began his ‘special comments’ segment blasting administration figures and it was clear the tide was beginning to turn. His show was a beach head. It offered hope that the days of Dixie Chick demonization were finally over. It was again possible for Americans to criticize their government without being called ‘traitors’, ‘friends of Saddam’ or ‘enablers of terrorists’.

Soon the entire network would follow his progressive on-air lead. Even Chris Mathews who had gushed over George Bush in his flight suit and exclaimed “We are all neo-cons now!” began to drop in line behind Olbermann’s ideological lead. Matthews began asserting that he was always against the war, adopted his own ‘special comments-type segment and unabashedly steered his on air presentation towards the North Star of Liberalism.

Before Phil Donahue was fired at MSNBC Chris Matthews let it be known that he wanted Donahue off the air. At the time Matthews was the biggest star at the network, earning $5 million a year. He always toadied up to CEO Jack Welch, had the ear of NBC CEO Bob Wright, and they all vacationed together at their summer homes on Nantucket Island. In 2002, U.S. News & World Report ran an item that had Matthews opining that if Donahue remained on the air, he would bring down the network. Mathews hates Olbermann and their on-air tiffs made must-see television but also had executives pulling out there hair. I wouldn’t doubt that Mathews could be a contributory element as I suspect he was in Donahue’s firing. Matthews understands corporate and political survival. He knows how to play the game.

All that being said, ‘Hardball’ is the only cable news program I watch every night.

Not infrequently I found Olbermann’s presentation pompous, self-righteous and hyper-emotional but I usually also found him fearless, correct, intelligent and even necessary. And sometimes he was even eloquent, something rarely found on cable TV news. Although I watched infrequently, for all his flaws I will miss his on-air presence.

There is a also a great deal of speculation that Comcast wanted Olbermann out. The merger of Comcast and NBCU occurred the day before Olbermann’s firing:

“Comcast, the nation’s biggest cable and broadband Internet company, on Thursday announced plans to take over NBC Universal, creating a new kind of media colossus that would not only produce some of America’s most popular entertainment but also control viewers’ access to it.” Washington Post.

Comcast denies any involvement but corporate press releases are notoriously obfuscating.

Olberman had the highest ratings on MSNBC and was paid 7 million a year. It is probable he will receive that for the next two years, just as I received payment for a year after The Richard Bey Show was cancelled. (That’s another story!) I’m sure he’s not crying today. After all, he’ll be paid handsomely to don those martyr’s robes. He might be able to do radio…but in general these contracts keep you off the air for the duration.

Short answer for the firing: Olberman was not a corporate darling. He directly and publicly stood up to management. He is difficult and uncompromising to work with. He has had fewer and fewer supporters at the corporate level of NBC. New management comes in and wants to make its own imprint. It doesn’t want to deal with a guy who can make trouble when they try to change things.

And that, as they say, is show biz!