Archive for November, 2013

“The Fourth Estate Fades Away”

November 18, 2013


Recent coverage in commemorating the Kennedy assassination a full half century ago sheds intriguing light on the astounding changes in American journalism we’ve seen evolving these last few decades. As technological revolutions in the delivery of news content have combined with a pronounced national shift to the political right, the traditional role of the American press to act as unofficial watchdog in the preservation of democratic rule has undergone a powerful and radical transition.

With ownership reduced to three or four major players, radio and television broadcast and cable news operations, both locally and nationally, have been reduced to churning out limited coverage on almost everything with minimal investment chasing maximum profit.

Ratings rule the day — prioritizing potential popularity over mundane matters of genuine importance. Similarly, newspapers and magazines have slashed staffing across the board, their old business models shredded by Internet competition. What the public needs to know has been replaced by what it heeds to know – interesting and entertaining material presented in as titillating and emotionally evocative a manner as possible. Negativity dominates discussion.

The New York Times’ classic promise to deliver, “All the news that’s fit to print” has been replaced by virtually all commercial media entities with, “If it bleeds, it leads!”

Consequently, the American public has generally become as intellectually fat and lazy as physically displayed on full public view by your average Walmart shopper on any given day.

With shallow thought, “The American people” are easily bought. No wonder John Boehner constantly invokes this phrase with such confident conviction, especially with “Citizens United” having unleashed even more hundreds of millions of dollars dedicated to enhancing brilliantly targeted thought control.

“One man – one vote?” Hah. What a sad thought.

Thanks to redistricting maneuvers performed with perfection in the aftermath of our 2010 census, the Republican Party now controls the U.S. House of Representatives by a commanding majority; even though Democratic candidates for the House received a million and a half more votes than their GOP counterparts.

While Fox News fans remain thrilled with their tailor made, customized vision of the world soothingly being reinforced hour after hour by polished performers, even our somewhat more objective networks are now answering Wall Street’s siren call for revenue through revisionism.

In the last few months, we’ve seen ABC’s White House Correspondent, Jonathan Karl, breaking an “ABC News Exclusive” unfavorable to the Obama Administration that was quickly revealed to be fundamentally unsubstantiated. “Sixty Minutes” from time honored CBS News suffered professional humiliation in November when correspondent Lara Logan carried a Benghazi report filled with lies from start to finish and even MSNBC’s Political Director, Chuck Todd, caused many an eye to roll when he proclaimed it wasn’t his job to inform viewers when politicians spread misinformation, having also expressed his opinion that a proposed NBC special on Hillary Clinton was nothing but a “total nightmare” for him.

Locally, although Fresno’s KMJ’s Ray Appleton has been known in the past to interject his own deplorable negative commentaries and/or grunts of disapproval during live Presidential broadcasts, a new low was reached on Thursday, November 14th, when “John and Jen” interrupted President Obama in mid sentence while he was holding a White House Press Conference on “The Affordable Care Act.”

John Broeske suddenly jumped into the broadcast without a semblance of true professionalism as he solemnly and arbitrarily declared, “That’s about enough from this guy” – thus ending KMJ AM/FM coverage of the event, even as the Presidential Press Conference continued for another half-hour on live TV.

Aldous Huxley envisioned a “Brave New World” would commence in 2540 AD.

Look what’s getting here early.

“Unleashed” — A Review For

November 13, 2013

Unleashed Pic

When I wrote, “Local DJ”, an accounting of my sordid five-decade career in Rock & Roll radio, an overriding theme throughout was a continuing conviction that “Rock & Roll” is primarily an attitude – the music form providing an important extension of same. Consequently, all of the relatively limited numbers of characters included in the narrative were chosen for “attitude”. Right up there with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The WHO — a reader will find – Alan MacLeese.

By way of further introduction, I offer this brief excerpt from the book:

“Al MacLeese was a columnist for the Flint Journal. I had read several superb pieces he had written and had dropped him a note expressing appreciation for his wit and style. He had called me and we had lunch. He was a grizzled old time newspaper rogue and was not unknown to heavily partake in liquid stimulants from time to time. I mentioned that Syracuse, New York was my hometown. He mused:

“I remember finishing the last of my gin at five in the morning in the middle of the lobby at the Howard Hotel in Syracuse while feeding what remained of my plastic Florida driver’s license to a light-brown hamster hurriedly spinning his rusty wheel in an old, copper cage.”

This was all narrated without pause and in a single breath.

I received a Christmas Card from Al the following week. I’ve kept it ever since with other treasured memorabilia. There are but four handwritten lines:

“Roses are dreary,
 Violets are sick;

Did you kill Christ,
 You Irish prick?”

Even as I had introduced Academy Award Winning Film Director Michael Moore to an unsuspecting public with “Radio Free Flint” Sunday mornings on WWCK, I enticed Alan to bring his “MacLeese Unleashed” newspaper column to radio immediately following Mr. Moore, which he did with astounding success. Ratings and listener participation reached historic proportions.

I am overjoyed that Roger Van Noord, former Managing Editor of the Flint Journal and a friend of Alan’s through the years, has brought forth a masterful depiction of one of the most talented and singularly gifted characters I ever encountered on or off the air. Moreover, Van Noord has done so in a particularly creative and effective manner with a unique blend of his own observations combined with copious email received from MacLeese, himself, spanning a full decade of what amounted to self-imposed professional exile during his final years in the little town of Hallowell, Maine – population 2,381.

“Unleashed” offers an extraordinary reading experience and abundant opportunity for comforting introspective reflection as one ponders the amazingly inspiring words of Alan MacLeese – gone from us now — but never to be forgotten.

Roger Van Noord has done a remarkably wonderful thing.


November 10, 2013


I was casually roaming about the kitchen of our family home in Syracuse making a tuna fish sandwich — living room TV droning in the background.

At that exact moment, the most honored newsman in broadcast television was standing next to a United Press International wire machine at CBS headquarters in New York on Friday, November 22nd, 1963, when the first horrifying words clattered into teletype view. Since there was no adequate time to properly prepare normal telecast logistics for that era, a single slide proclaiming “ A CBS News Bulletin” quickly leapt onto TV screens coast to coast, interrupting “As The World Turns” at 1:40 PM Eastern Standard Time. The deep, resonant voice of Walter Cronkite solemnly intoned history unfolding at the speed of light.

“Here is a bulletin from CBS News. In Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade in downtown Dallas. The first reports say that President Kennedy has been seriously wounded by this shooting.”

My heart stopped. Cronkite? Off-camera? Unheard of!

There was a shuffling of papers with excited, muted murmurings audible in the background as the newsman then continued:

“More details just arrived. United Press says that the wounds for President Kennedy
perhaps could be fatal. “

Everything that followed comes back with astounding clarity in relentless, wrenching, slow motion recall.

Finally appearing on camera wearing shirt and tie, but without suit coat, Cronkite continued providing additional facts with proper qualification for almost an hour as they chaotically became available. At 2:38, his powerful delivery finally trembling with deep emotion, viewers heard confirmation of the dreaded truth.

“From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official: “President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time – 2 o’clock Eastern Standard Time. Vice President Johnson has left the hospital, but we do not know to where he has proceeded. Presumably he will be taking the oath of office shortly and become the 36th President of the United States.”

I had initiated my radio career at WNDR (AM 1260) six years earlier at the – in my case — not so innocent age of 16 — and was by then doing both a morning (6-9 AM) and afternoon (4 – 7 PM) DJ show on the highly-rated “Top Forty” station.

As soon as our President’s death was confirmed, programming was completely and drastically altered for a three-day period all the way through Midnight of John F. Kennedy’s State Funeral and Burial in Washington’s Arlington National Cemetery on November 25th.

Even before the tragic reality of the assassination became finally determined, I responded to a call from WNDR’s Program Director — assembling and delivering to the station a fairly extensive collection of classical music from various sources. The most somber selections were used to provide appropriate interlude between constant informational updates that continued throughout the period. In the absence of a formal network affiliation, I and a dozen other WNDR announcers took turns reading fresh copy from United Press International, the Associated Press and even our old Western Union Telegraph machine that spat forth limited bits of data on yellow ticker tape – the earliest digital electronic communications medium from the time it started transmitting stock prices in 1870. With one letter or symbol at a time, it moved about as fast as Twitter.

We had TV sets tuned to NBC, ABC and CBS. That’s all there was. I watched live as Lee Harvey Oswald was shot and killed that Sunday in the basement of the Dallas Police Department.

Most of us never left the building until late Monday night on the 25th. When I departed – it was for good.

I had taken it upon myself to cancel several weekend dance appearances or “Sock Hops” which I felt it inappropriate to present due to the assassination. One of them involved an important station client, who was furious. Following a loud and fierce shouting match with our WNDR General Manager, I resigned on the spot – never to return.

It was then I headed West.

“The West is the best. Get here — and we’ll do the rest.”

Jim Morrison – “The End” (“The Doors” — 1967)

I did.

They have.

“Oakhurst In The Blind”

November 1, 2013


There I was — twice at the Met, then heading down the hill.

“Gravity” is the only film I’ve ever seen in The Fresno Bee’s “Critics Choice” movie listing scoring “A’s” straight across the board.

That’s five out of five – with The Bee, Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and The San Francisco Chronicle all weighing in on a unique cinematic wonder.


If you haven’t seen “Gravity” yet, there’s no “spoiler alert” necessary here.

But it shouldn’t hurt to mention that the technical frontiers crossed in this stunning achievement four and a half years in production are simply breathtaking, combined with an incredibly paced digital soundtrack by Steven Price and brilliant performances by George Clooney and, most particularly, Sandra Bullock.

Viewing it at our Met Cinema on two separate occasions opening week, I couldn’t help but yield to fierce temptation and travel down 41 for the full IMAX 3-D presentation at the Edwards 22 Stadium complex in Fresno, catching even more unanticipated subtleties with this third experience.

I had never before been exposed to “in the blind” phraseology – since confirmed by NASA as a haunting tag to astronaut communications cast into a vacuum offering only unconfirmed, perhaps non-existent reception — however hopefully transmitted.

Yes! Like writing a newspaper column!

Comparing notes with my Sierra Star colleagues, it’s fascinating to learn that one thing — perhaps the only thing — we all share in common is puzzlement at how relatively little feedback we receive from readership no matter how hard we try to stir things up.
Along the same lines and to make my brother and sister writers feel better, it has been clearly established in the world of broadcasting that far fewer than one percent of listeners ever call their favorite Talk Radio host to voice opinions.

There seems to be a generic predisposition in our species for most of us to let others lead, perhaps even required as an evolutionary necessity for viable social organization until now.

Hey, you. It’s time to wake up, look around and check in. Don’t be afraid to think boldly, question everything and trust yourself. Most of all, keep an open mind.

Hopefully providing worthy example, my candidate for heroic move of the week is Greta Van Susteren of FOX News.

Generalization for purposes of simplicity is dangerous at best — convenient conveyance taking precedence over challenging complexity.

In summarizing consequences of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, President Obama went on record stating, “If you’re one of the more than 250 million Americans who already have health insurance, you will keep your health insurance. This law will only make it more secure and more affordable.”

This was not a lie and remains as true as the sky is blue.

But retrospectively, he would have been better adding, “I’m not talking about maintaining rip-off “junk insurance” which isn’t real insurance at all, guaranteeing corporate profits — not personal benefits — and I’m speaking on behalf of the government and myself, not insurance companies.”

So when a small percentage (less than 5%) of our “insured” population holding trash contracts starting receiving cancellation notices in advance of further ACA implementation after the first of the year, predictable yowls and screams of feigned indignation exploded coast to coast.

With Walter Cronkite spinning in his grave like a dreidel on Dexedrine, even time honored CBS News ended up looking extraordinarily stupid when a junior producer passed along a completely unsubstantiated item to Charlie Rose on “CBS This Morning” which reported that 56 year-old Dianne Barrette of Florida was going to pay “ten times as much” for insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

That’s where Greta comes in. Following up on the CBS story, Ms. Van Susteren interviewed Ms. Barrette on the air and discovered that the “10 Times” allegation was totally lacking in substance and, moreover, that the ACA offered considerable, cost-efficient benefit to Ms. Barrette once she actually understood the law. Fox executives quickly canceled future interviews with the Florida woman as a consequence of Greta’s persistence in tracking down the truth.

The Republican Party was against Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid way back in the day and is opposed to The Affordable Care Act in our times, even viciously so in radicalized circles. There is consistency in such contrariness. But it’s time to catch up to the rest of mankind.

“The entire cost of medicine for people of all ages – all of it. Doctors, hospitals – from the time you’re born to the time you die. All are included in a government program. What we are talking about doing, most of the countries of Europe did years ago. The British did it thirty years ago!”— President John F. Kennedy in 1962 –- unsuccessfully endorsing universal health care for all Americans.