August 23, 2013

Were the Sixties just on “pause”?

The America’s Cup yacht races on a Trinitron screen did not draw overflow crowds to San Francisco’s Marina Green on Monday.

If a TV personality tells an American audience that something terrible happened in the Middle East and then runs a sound byte of a Republican saying that it’s an abomination and is entirely Obama’s fault and follows it with a quote of a Democrat saying the Middle East is in shambles but it isn’t all Obama’s fault, the rubes think that’s an outstanding example of fair and balanced journalism.  Then they tune into a long and convoluted analysis of the implications of a personnel change on a base baseball or football team and can later give a verbatim report on what was said and state eloquently why they disagree with the expert commentary.  Are sports more important than politics?

If a newspaper reporter who has been covering the Dodgers for years is suddenly traded to a San Francisco newspaper (for an undisclosed amount of cash and a draft pick?) most fans expect that the wordsmith will have a St. Paul’s moment and suddenly be rooting for the Giants.  If he doesn’t woe betide him who tries to keep his previous enthusiasm for the despicable rivals from “shaky town.”  It wouldn’t take long for a ME (managing editor) to tell such a traitor to hit the showers.

Genuine enthusiasm is vastly different from spin.  If, hypothetically, a veteran travel writer were given a lucrative writing assignment to go to Kalgoorlie in Western Australia and make it sound like a panacea for anyone suffering from traveler’s ennui it would be a challenging opportunity.  If, however, an alert writer went to the remote destination in Western Australia and had a delightful experience because it catered to his distinctive personality, then he would have to caution readers that they might not share the stamp of approval that he gave to the area that exemplifies the advice that if you love Sacramento, California, then you can reasonably expect that it might be worthwhile to head for the hometown where Skimpy’s Bar is located.

When we were in Fremantle, Western Australia, the young people in the hostel where we were staying were very strong in their recommendation that we take a train excursion to Kalgoorlie, so we did.  When we arrived, we noticed that they might have been playing a practical joke with the expectation that we would be disappointed by the result, but the joke was on them because the World’s Laziest Journalist has, since the time we first viewed “Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” been fascinated with the topic of gold prospecting.  Not everybody will be wowed by a chance to visit the Prospectors’ Hall of Fame, but for a Fred C. Dobbs wannabe, it is an exhilarating travel experience.

Could a writer who lays on extravagant praise for a very specialized destination be considered a practical joker like the kids in Fremantle or would he actually be something worse?  Is travel information more important than politics?

Does that mean that liberals should view George W. Bush’s forever war as the payoff for some political journalism done by practical jokers?

If a columnist were to be invited to some very exclusive parties held in conjunction with an event being held in San Francisco and were to get some very humorous quotes and some celebrity gossip scoops, it would be prudent to expect him to heap lavish praise on the vent itself, wouldn’t it?

If however, a writer were to go to the event venue and mix with the general public and come away with a lack of enthusiasm, could it be time to cue the “sour grapes” cliché?

When Sgt. Bill Mauldin was ordered to go to New York City, as WWII was entering its final phase, he was given “celebrity” travel priority which was equal to that level of importance usually accorded to someone with the rank of brigadier general or higher.  On the flight from Europe to the Big Apple the sergeant sat with the enlisted men and played cards rather than hobnobbing with the brass.  Ernie Pyle was at home eating K rations in a foxhole.

Would a columnist who has attended the Oscar™ ceremony, flown in the Goodyear blimp, and been to the Playboy Mansion be expected to be able to give the aforementioned generic event in San Francisco a fair evaluation if he observed the proceedings with the regular citizens?

These days nationally known journalists expect to be given celebrity status and the tradition of going on the road to take the pulse of the nation seems to be an extinct method of reporting.  Someone who has the profile of a brigadier general has very little chance of operating in the “fly on the wall” mode of operation.

Can you honestly imagine a Fox personality going into a workers bar and listening to the locals complain about how things are today?  Would Scott Pele be able to function as a “fly on the wall” or would he cause a sensation if he walked into a neighborhood bar in San Francisco?

Have the opinions of the man in the street evaporated completely as a factor for evaluating newsworthyness?  That could explain why politicians now seem to completely disregard what the voters want when they are making decisions which will profit the companies run by the fellows who also make large reelection campaign donations.  When counterfeit journalism can be palmed off on the suckers as fair and balanced analysis, the country that tolerates such a masquerade is in deep trouble.

Is it time to write a column comparing and contrasting the state of the art for journalism in the USA today with how it was in Germany in 1937?

What if a rogue pundit were to speculate about what is really going on behind the scenes in the Middle East and correctly hit the nail on the head?  Would that open the gates to a cable TV gig or would it merely earn the poor blighter the cell between the ones reserved for Chelsea (nee Bradley) Manning and Edward Snowden?  (Is the rumor true that Charlie Manson and Sirhan Sirhan have adjoining workout areas and that they can talk to each other but not see each other when they burn calories?)

After noticing that the Texans for Public Justice website had posted a story announcing the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate a dispute involving Texas Governor Rick Perry and the Travis County District Attorney, the World’s Laziest Journalist hopped over to Yahoo and sent a tip to the news desk at the Mike Malloy radio show.

The World’s Laziest Journalist isn’t going to get invitations to the Bohemian Grove so we’ll take the Zen advice to be grateful for the beef in our bowl and enjoy stumbling over interesting topics that are new blips on our pop culture beat radar, such as the niche group that invalidates the warrantee on their digital camera and customizes them to take photos using infrared light.  We recently encountered such as the images at the brick and mortar location at 720 Geary Street in San Francisco.

About two dozen students were arrested this week protesting the plight of the City College of San Francisco.  The arrests got only a fraction of the news coverage that the arrests of the students protesting the HUAC hearings in the same city got in 1960.

“Subversives:  The FBI’s war on student radicals and Reagan’s rise to power,” by Seth Rosenfeld (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York N. Y. © 2012 by Seth Rosenfeld) showed up recently in the Friends of the Berkeley Library used book store and we immediately snapped it up.  A student is quoted as saying “We do know, however, that others of (FBI director Herbert) Hoover’s statements either are based on lack of information or are made in bad faith.”  The book indicates that in a confrontation between the FBI and wiretapping laws, the result resembled something that would have outraged Edward Snowden.

The author seems to believe and resent the idea that student’s lives and reputations provided convenient stepping stones for St. Ronald Reagan on his path to the White House.

San Francisco columnist Herb Caen loved rubbing elbows with the “swells” and earned a comfortable living writing columns about his various experiences doing that.  In 1960, Caen did defend the student who protested the HUAC hearing and was hit with a tsunami of letters objecting.  Rosenfeld quotes Caen (on page 96) as writing:  “To sum up, what I object to most heartily is the attempt of the Committee to smear the students present as ‘Communist stooges.’  There is no more effective way of enforcing conformity and instilling fear.”

Sarah Burke, in the August 21 – 27, 2013 edition of the East Bay Express, reports (pages 10 – 11) that the University of California at Berkeley will achieve a national first when they approve a new redistricting which will give the school its own city council district.

[Photo editor’s note:  In the summer of 1969, when the song “The Age of Aquarius” was  ubiquitous the World’s Laziest Journalist spent some afternoons lounging in the sun on the Marina Green in San Francisco.  The nostalgic appeal of returning there to mix with the general public to get a photo of the America’s Cup festivities to use with the new column was overwhelming.  Seeing an aircraft carrier start out on a journey to the waters off Vietnam by sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge evoked a greater emotional reaction than learning that a yacht race was being canceled because the winds were too strong for a second race on Monday August 19, 2013.  (Wouldn’t stronger winds just make the sail boats go faster?)]

Edward R. Murrow, in a speech to Radio and Television News Directors,  said:  “ . . . Let us dream to the extent of saying that on a given Sunday night . . . the time normally used by Steve Allen is devoted to American policy in the Middle East . . . .  Otherwise, it (television) is merely wires and lights in a box.”

Now the disk jockey will play “Sea Cruise,” “Big Bear Lake,” and “Red sails in the sunset.”  We have to go get a Virginia City Muckers’ t-shirt.  Have a “Eureka!” type week.

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