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May 29, 2015

Bring on: “The Senator Al Franken and Bill O’Reilly show!”?

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 1:33 pm

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The summer of 2015 is notable for the game of musical chairs being played by the late night talks show hosts and since the lowest common denominator standards of excellence have precipitated an avalanche of pabulum flavored entertainment, perhaps it is time to beg Huge Hefner to bankroll a return to intelligent, thought-provoking, and civilized debate to counteract the tsunami of crap that is comprised of an infinite number of cloned talk shows that deliver results that remind some critics of an unattended kindergarten class on speed.

The first objection would be that appealing to a limited number of intellectuals might not attract the proper audience numbers to sanction the effort. Bullshit! If America is ready to endorse the idea that quality no longer trumps quantity, then why not let the screaming matches interrupted by crepitating and belching get some high-brow competition just for the S&G (Snide and Galling?) factor?

If cable TV networks can subsidize fictional TV series, why can’t they get their own talk shows? If “Mad Men” can exist without a home on the big networks, why can’t a talk show do the same? Wouldn’t most cable channels be willing to discuss the possibilities with Mr. Hefner?

Episodes of Edward R. Murrow’s “Person to Person,” such as the interview with Marlon Brando which started with a racist joke, are still drawing fresh viewers on youtube. Intrinsic quality can refute the short shelf life or grown stale argument.

Where the hell, in the talk show jungle, does a person go to see and evaluate new talent attempting to make a dent in the pop culture? [An internet acquaintance from Australia introduced us to the term/concept “Cultural Imperialism.”]

The trend to use talk show appearances to promote items such as a new album, book, or film has reduced the content to the level of a huckster’s sales pitch. The content of these sales pitches can accurately be called “promobabble.”

According to some experts the Tonight Show in the Jack Paar era fostered quality story telling. The need to go to a commercial break causes the (new word alert?) bumperstickerization of all topics. (For an example of a non-traditional talk show guest readers are encouraged to watch the film “American Splendor.”)

If, for example, some of Hugh Hefner’s picks for future stardom are given the chance to exhibit their inherent charm, then perhaps fame and fortune will arrive at their doorstep earlier than expected.

If some of Hugh Hefner’s long time friends are on a new season of “Playboy after Dark,” it would be interesting to see and hear them get the chance to tell some stories and anecdotes that last longer than can be successfully told in a three minute segment.

So what, if a review of “King Matt the First,” by Janusz Korczak (translated from the Polish by Richard Lourie) sounds a bit too arcane and esoteric? What parent doesn’t want to learn of he existence of a marvelous children’s book from 1920 that still appeals to adults? Even better if it raises unique topics such as “must children submit to kisses from adults approved by the parents (such as aunts and uncles) or should kids have the right to pick and choose who kisses them?”

Thanks to the internet, some laggards had the opportunity to watch the final episode of “Mad Men” during the week following its broadcast. This should refute any allegations that a talk show has to be seen live to work.

Yes the concept of having an episode where someone asks George Lucas if the C. L. Moore stories about Northwest Smith had any influence on him and his Star Wars films is a very esoteric topic, but, like seeing Brando tell a racist joke, it might have some appeal to film school student fifty years (or more?) in the future.

Don’t many folks who are not in the industry love to hear show biz rumors and gossip? Is it true that the next installment of the “Saw” movie series will be a musical comedy?

The modern day installments of pundits making a critical appraisal of the week’s events in Washington D. C. is supposed to be a chance to (metaphorically speaking) listen in on a WWII bull session featuring Morrow’s Boys, but the reality is that it is actually a melee of authors with competing egos who want to deliver either a scathing example of wit in action or a brilliant “Eureka!” sound byte that lays bare the crux of the debate.

Are the talking heads in the USA going to ask: “What gives America the right to arrest the officials in charge of Soccer and the World Cup competition?” Does Lichtenstein have a right to arrest George W. Bush for war crimes?

Will the talk shows discuss the idea that the Broward Savings & Loan scandal should be just as important as the finances of the Clinton Foundation will be during the Presidential Election?

Is it mere coincidence that in an era when it is being asserted that a conscious effort to “dumb down” the USA is being conducted, wit is disappearing? A clever and caustic comment has to be understood to produce a laugh as a response.

If news for voters in the USA is being carefully monitored, that might explain why the Sunday morning gabfests don’t draw attention to the fact the internet is buzzing with two related rumors. One is that a neutron bomb was dropped on Iran recently or that one was sold or given to Saudi Arabia to use in Yemen.

If Americans were being given quality talk show debates, the question “Will Baghdad fall?” would present advocates of both a “yes” and “no” answer. Have you heard anyone giving the hypothetical point of view that it will fall?

Did the USA ever figure out who mailed the anthrax shortly after the attack on the World Trade Center?

Do talk shows ask about the lingering questions about who profited from selling airline stocks short at the time the World Trade attack occurred?

Speaking of the broadcasting concept of a “hard break,” the World’s Laziest Journalist tries to maintain a self-imposed three e-takes limit for the column and that means that we can only scratch the surface of this topic and then recommend that readers who want more should make the effort to obtain and (at least) skim through a copy of the book “Entertaining Ourselves to Death,” by Neil Postman.

The World’s Laziest Journalist does see the pragmatic benefit of the trend towards using social media to get publicity which translates into bigger audience numbers. For example, if we casually mention that San Francisco Bay Area political activist Mike Zint iis expanding his reach by managing the Listen up Mayors page on Facebook and if he (coincidence alert?) shares the links to our column, then the number of hits will quadruple. What’s not to like about that?

Do the viewers of Bill O know what obstreperous and impudent mean let alone require those qualities from an interesting and entertaining talk show?

[Note from the Photo editor: Since talk shows seem to have skipped interviews with Occupy Activists, we thought an old file photo of one of those anonymous political advocates who were MIA from the (biased?) late night talk shows might be an appropriate illustration for this week’s column. How can a talk show claim to have a balanced approach if all members of the one debating team are snubbed?]

Closing quote? Did Andy Warhol say “In the future, everyone will be a world famous talk show host for 15 minutes?” Or did he say: “In the future everyone will be the host for a world famous 15 minute talk show?”?

Now the disk jockey will play “Talk to me,” by Sunny & the Sunliners,Doris Day’s “Pillow Talk,” and the song “talk talk” by a group called “Talk Talk.” We have to go watch (thanks to DVD’s) some TV episodes from 1968. Have a “Dahhh Da Dohnt Dahhh – ‘This is the city . . .’” type week.

 

March 6, 2015

Hemingway, O’Reilly, Murrow

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 1:29 pm

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According to legend, Ernest Hemingway arrived in Paris three days before the Allied Armies did. A trip to Paris in 1986 seemed like a great opportunity to do the fan’s attempt to conjure up the spirit of the famous writer but we did not anticipate a chance to do any serious fact checking. While visiting Harry’s New York Bar, an old fellow caught us off guard when he said that he had inherited the place from his father and when he, the present owner, was a child, he had sat on Mr. Hemingway’s lap while the famous writer told stories. We were so engrossed in his descriptions of the repeated encounters with the young but already famous writer, that we missed the chance to ask him if Hemingway had actually arrived before the Allied Armies. The Liberty Valance rule made doing any fact checking seem like heresy. When facts and legend contradict each other, always print the legend.

Recently Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly had become a subject for fact checking by his associates and the consensus opinion seems to be that there is a credibility gap being generated which, in turn, tarnishes Fox News’ reputation.

Brian Williams has been suspended from the anchor chair at NBC Nightly News because he claims that he rode on a helicopter in a war zone that received enemy fire. The account has been challenged by others who are qualified to confirm or refute the specifics of Williams’ story.

Since Williams works for a news organization that is perceived as “pro-Liberal,” the conservatives are making the assertion that Williams has rendered NBC’s credibility to the nil level.

If Charles Manson (hypothetically speaking) were to deliver a news report that provided undeniable evidence that Lee Harvey Oswald was not working alone when he shot JFK, would the fact that most people do not approve of Manson’s ethics and personal conduct be sufficient to invalidate the remarkable report?

There is a certain amount of irony to be derived from noticing that the two different reactions to the veracity of the two journalist comes at the same time that CBS will mark the sixty-first anniversary of what many consider to be the high water mark for American Journalism: Edward R. Murrow’s report on Sen. Joseph McCarthy broadcast on March 9, 1954. (Google: “See It Now” McCarthy report)

During WWII, Murrow risked death and infuriated his bosses by going on a bombing mission over Berlin. (Google hint: “Edward Murrow orchestrated hell”)

Conservatives assert that Brian Williams has committed “stolen valor” with his bragging. They give full and complete absolution to O’Reilly and ignore the long list of war correspondents that died covering various wars over the course of history.

The conservative tendency for holding two opposing points of view simultaneously (called “double think” by George Orwell) can best be illustrated by the old axiom: “My wife’s married, but I’m not.”

Would Gerda Taro, Robert Capa, and Ernie Pyle be inclined to blithely dismiss the idea that O’Reilly is stealing valor from the list of war correspondents who were killed in action?

Speaking of war stories of valor and daring, we wonder how General Douglas McArthur got the nickname “Dugout Dug.”

Once, on NPR radio, we heard the story of a fellow who was assigned to defend a pass where an attack was expected. He had a machine gun and was credited with single handedly killing more than 600 enemy soldiers in one night. Some people think the guy should have gotten a Medal of Honor.

The fictional character Baron Munchausen was renowned for telling absurd stories that had an extreme flavor of outrageousness to them buttressed by a thread of logic that made them seem (theoretically) possible.

In a bookstore in San Francisco, earlier this week, we noticed a new book which promised to teach the art of storytelling to sales reps.

St. Ronald Reagan was a superb story teller. He told one story about campaigning for President in Iowa. He knocked on a farmer’s door and when the fellow was flabbergasted by his famous caller, he had a senior moment and couldn’t think of the former actor’s name. St. Reagan gave the baffled fan a clue: “Do the initials R R help?” The fellow broke into a large smile and turned and shouted into the interior of the home: “Momma, come quick and meet Roy Rogers!”

Misleading people for fun and votes might seem a tad misguided to some journalists. The philosophy that “we report; and let you decide” is a bit deceptive because it assumes that everyone in the audience is capable of doing their own quality analysis. “We distort and let you jump to wrong conclusions” would be a more ingenuous slogan.

Here is an exaggerated tale of why that isn’t a good policy: A person you know slightly tells you that your business partner is having an affair with your wife and is cooking the books and robbing you blind. Fair enough? Just suppose that the rest of the story is that the guy was setting you up. You killed your business partner and then while you were in prison the tell all Good Samaritan marries your now ex-wife and you learn that your business partner was an innocent bystander. The guy who filled your ears with lies had an ulterior motive. You leaped to some erroneous conclusions and took action. Would you have acted differently if you knew the “reporter” was trying to trick you?

The fact that most high-school graduates don’t challenge the logic of “we report; you decide” is a preposterous situation. The results could be just as bad as they were in the hypothetical story above. Who doesn’t love being the butt of an old fashioned practical joke?

Doesn’t Bill O’Reilly work for an organization that went to court and established that it has a legal right to tell lies in the guise of supplying facts for citizens to make informed judgments?

After hearing a stream of news reports about bad snowstorms causing all kinds of closures and disruptions of service for people living on the USA’s East Coast, we were a bit disconcerted to hear news reports that during the same time frame new car sales were good and that new jobs were created. Has skepticism earned a place on the endangered species list?

On Friday March 6, 2015, the Getty and Armstrong radio show reported that the “hands up; don’t shoot” meme was inaccurate and had not actually occurred.

Hemingway was boastful and may have exaggerated some of his accomplishments. His fans don’t want to be burdened with the odious task of doing some precise fact checking to separate the hard facts from the legends. Brian Williams worked for a liberal news organization and is being punished severely. Bill O’Reilly is getting the rich kid pass from an indulgent father responseto what he has done. “Now run along and play!”

[Note from the photo editor. A montage image is the best we could do this week.]

Here is the quote of the week. When the woman combat photographer Dickey Chappelle complained about mosquitoes buzzing around her while taking pictures on Iwo Jima, a Marine corrected her misperception: “Those wasn’t mosquitoes, ma’am, they was Japanese bullets.

Now the disk jockey will play “Who shot Liberty Valance,” “Do not forsake me,” and the theme from TV’s “Gun Smoke.” We have to go start our own urban legends. Have a “good night and good luck” type week.