The first of three televised Presidential debates—the Holy Grails of electioneering—arrives Monday as the race enters its homestretch. Finally.

Lights, cameras, arrrrrrrgh!

Somehow we feel cheated if we are not entertained by two candidates who aspire to head the planet’s most powerful nation. Or see it as failure when they don’t come across as warm and fuzzy TV characters yucking it up with Jimmy Fallon.

By historically framing presidential debates as entertainment, in fact, TV creates expectations among voters that have no bearing whatsoever on the realities of good governance. And they use the expectations they’ve created to justify their future reporting.

So get ready for even more excruciating noise, high-volume hooey and crescendoing gab. From Trumpet and Hillary Clinton? Oh, sure.  But equally those tuneless kazoos known as media.

After a stint as party convention critics, many TV reporters and pundits have spent September recasting themselves as debate coaches, just as Trumpet himself has made several dozen costume changes since this odyssey began.

Instead of media chewing on what Trumpet and Hillary must do to serve wisely and honorably in the White House—do you believe in miracles?—their comments about each candidate these days center mostly on potential debate performance and stagecraft.  In other words, the image each must present on camera to prevail in November.

It’s the horse race within the horse race, as if the candidate who meets the most of his or her debate goals is best suited to be President.

Forget that most TV journalists and pundits have no idea what it takes to “win” a presidential debate. Or even what that means. The very idea that many reporters believe their role is to give advice to candidates of either major party—in effect offering tips on campaign strategy and how to sway voters through image rather than substance—is not only surreal but outrageous. It contradicts every tenet of responsible journalism.

The few that remain.

The question of the hour: What does he/she have to do to win Monday?

An MSNBC voice cautioned Hillary not to be “mean” with Trumpet, adding:  “She should be gracious and show “good humor.”

Noted a chin-stroking CNN sage: “He tugs at the heart, she tugs at the head, So she’s got to up her game in talking to the heart, he’s got to up his game in talking to the head.” And if one of them tugs a different body part? Don’t ask.

“She’s very defensive,” noted another CNN voice. “If that Hillary surfaces, the show’s up.” And a guest on Bill Maher’s HBO show proclaimed: “She must come out aggressively.”

But not too aggressively, right? After listening to all of this, I think I get the picture:

Hillary must be aggressive without appearing to be aggressive. She must convey softness through strength and resoluteness. She must make Trumpet appear to be a bully without appearing to be bullied. She must demonstrate she has prepared for the debate but not overplay her hand by appearing to have prepared.  She must display superiority while not giving viewers the impression that she regards herself as superior. She must display command of facts, but not too many facts. She must have knowledge but not too much knowledge. She must show humility, for otherwise she’ll come across as someone Americans just cannot tolerate.

A smarty pants.

If Hillary must show strength without appearing insensitive, Trumpet, on the other hand, must show sensitivity without appearing weak. He must exploit Hillary’s aggression by veiling his own aggression in passivity without appearing passive.  He must avoid the trap of being himself by not being himself while appearing to be himself. He must avoid being overbearing by being underbearing, letting Hillary appear to control the debate while actually controlling the debate himself.  He has to be superior by appearing to be inferior while turning inferiority into a strength that makes Hillary appear inferior. He has to talk straight but not too straight, for what Americans despise almost as much as a smarty pants is a straighty pants.

Yet this strategy could favor Hillary, whose best chance to win the debate is to appear to lose the debate without sacrificing superiority.  Got it? I thought so.


Ryan Lochte 2Being a famous jerk still pays.

Take Lyin’ Ryan Lochte.


ABC didn’t have to be begged. In the Rio bad actor’s near future is season 23 of “Dancing with the Stars,” where he’ll have to be more nimble than in Brazil where he famously made up a story about being robbed at gunpoint at a service station as the Olympics were winding down.

That taint cost the gold medalist swimmer his major commercial sponsors. Not to worry, though. Lochte has since picked up a throat drop account and been named TV pitchman for a company that makes Robocopp, hand-held “sound grenades” that alert people to danger.

“I’ve been traveling a lot lately,” Lochte tells the camera, which sounds like code for his Brazilian stunt, “but it’s a good idea to stay safe.”

It’s not Ralph Lauren, but look, the guy has to make a living.

The culture is forgiving, with television especially known for welcoming bad actors from sports, politics and other areas of life back into the fold of respectability like redeemed sinners.

Coming to mind here is “The King of Comedy,” Martin Scorsese’s memorable 1983 dark comedy with Robert De Niro as a no-talent aspiring comic and talk show host named Rupert Pupkin who attains fame and ultimate respectability only after abducting a major TV personality, for which he goes to jail. Before that he’s a nonentity, a hapless, emotionally unstable wannabe radiating an undercurrent of danger. Afterward, he’s a star.

It’s the way things often happen. Memories fade, but the green of cash doesn’t. However enormous your flaws, you’ll thrive financially if your infamy earns a profit for others. If you’re a famous face who can make someone else money, you’ll always fill a niche and earn a payday somewhere on TV.

Dennis+Rodman 2The Rolodex of Reclaimed starts with the legions of political pundits invited back on TV even after getting everything wrong; you’re watching them now.  More egregiously, the list extends also to Watergate burglar-turned-radio-talk-show host G. Gordon Liddy and Oliver North, the former Marine colonel who went on to become a radio host, syndicated columnist and Fox commentator despite lying to Congress in the Iran-Contra affair. In sports, we have former pro basketballer Dennis Rodman, hired as a TV pitchman for Carl’s Jr. some years ago based solely on his reputation as an out-of-control, head-butting, cameraman-kicking, Mormon-cursing bad boy. Just as John McEnroe made Bic blades commercials that re-created his famed nastiness and name-calling on the court, cashing in on his petulance.

By the way, “Dancing with the Stars” will pair Lochte with Cheryl Burke, a professional who danced on the show in 2009 with former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay after a Texas Grand Jury had indicted him on money laundering charges tied to campaign contributions.

Although no one mentioned here comes close to villainy of epic size, TV’s path to resurrection is open to virtually everyone whose name and reputation will turn heads:

Now, dancing the rumba with Cheryl Burke, everyone’s favorite ruthless dictator, Kim Jong Un.



American Airlines

ifyoucouldsitThank goodness for a little levity in these stressful times.

The source is the always witty and entertaining American Airlines, which today has a glossy full-page, double-sided insert running in major newspapers. It’s a real hoot, just hilarious, so funny even my cats laughed.

The thrust: If you’re not having a good time flying, don’t blame the airline. Blame yourself. Or those sitting next to you. Or in front of you. Be an adult, please, and take ownership of your misery.

That is meant as a joke, right? A really funny one?

Under a headline “IF YOU COULD SIT BY ANYONE ON A PLANE,” the very strrrrrange ad copy is written as a sort of out-of-body experience, suggesting that the person you’d want to sit by is you.

But only if you were on your best behavior.

Be “kind and considerate” to fellow passengers, the ad urges, and remember: “A smile goes a long way on a short flight.”

Right, rev up that happy face. The comedy writers who created this fantasy should try smiling when they’re squeezed into bone-crunching Coach like caged hens in a poultry farm.

Another of the airline’s soothing politeness guidelines advises passengers to “ask before reclining your seat.” As if the damned seatback wasn’t in your face even when it isn’t reclined.

“We’re all in this together,” says American soothingly, “so let’s all be great up there.”

Where is an airbag when you need one?

This hugely tone-deaf and upchuckable ad arrives the same week as a ConsumerReports issue on the challenges of flying. Yes, passengers do occasionally misbehave. We know because those cases immediately go viral. Yet as University of Hawaii psychologist Leon James tells the magazine: “The airlines are pitting passengers against each other by toughening their environment and creating less friendly and more competitive interactions.”

     ConsumerReports illustrates these shoulder-to-shoulder flying ghettos in a series of revealing drawings. They show how airlines have shaved inches from seat width and distance between rows during the last two decades as a way of packing in more passengers and, of course, building revenue.

The Federal Aviation Administration has been urged by advocates and some legislators to impose minimum size and space standards for seats on U.S. airlines. As in leaving room to allow breathing.

By the way, ConsumerReports readers rank American 10th (of 13 U.S. airlines) in Coach comfort and fifth (of seven U.S. airlines) in First/Business comfort, undermining the “altitude over attitude” philosophy expressed in its latest propaganda. Not that comfort is the entire story.

Consumers Union, the magazine’s legislation-seeking arm, reports that seat-space shrinkage also generates “serious health and safety concerns, including the risk of deep vein thrombosis and the risk that passengers won’t be able to evacuate safely in an emergency.”

Nothing to smile about.


No contest!

Donald Trump wins TV interviews through attrition, abetted by his questioners’ incompetence or resistance to bending their rigid program formats in the interest of truth and clarity.

Trump famously wears down interviewers with marathon stream-of-conscious riffs, benefiting hugely when they don’t require him to back up his tall tales—demand it on the spot—before speeding forward to the next question. Most of these interviewers haven’t the will or mental dexterity to engage in close-quarters combat with Trump. So they wilt; after each encounter, you can see his footprints on them.

And the smarter, more competent interviewers are too shackled by their stopwatches—must get on to the next interview—to go off script and take time to make him fully accountable.

Take the host of ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” a very bright guy who does better than most with Trump. But still falls way, way short. That was true Sunday morning in an interview that was taped the day after the Democratic National Convention.

George Step-Trump interview

To his credit, GS threw in some pointed follow-up questions. But not nearly enough I found when watching the interview and later picking through the transcript.

His missed opportunities were plentiful, a list as long as Trump’s Pinocchio-lying nose. Here are a few:

–When questioned about former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Trump-trashing speech at the Dem convention, Trump responded, “…I think he made a deal with Hillary where he gets a job because he’d like to— ’’


GS should have interrupted and asked: Do you have evidence that Bloomberg agreed to speak in exchange for a job in the Clinton administration? If Trump obfuscated (who, him?) or didn’t answer, GS should not have continued until he did answer. But the clock was ticking, and he moved on.

–Trump all but accused Clinton of rigging the coming three televised Presidential debates so that two would air against highly popular NFL games, implying she was fearful of losing and wanted as few voters a possible to see her face Trump: “You know, Hillary wants to be against the NFL—”


GS should have cut in and demanded that Trump cite his evidence. But he didn’t.

–When GS brought up the anti-Trump Dem convention speech of Khizr Kahn, whose Army captain son, Humayun, died in Iraq, Trump asked, “Who wrote that? Did Hillary’s script writer write it? Everybody—”


GS should have asked Trump for evidence to support his message that someone in the Clinton camp had written Khizr Kahn’s heartfelt speech. But he didn’t, instead letting Trump ramble on and leave behind his usual dungy trail of nasty innuendo.

Trump appears to have a very limited vocabulary and little command of the language. But the one word he’ll understand is the one he never hears.



I’ve been wall to wall with the GOP and Democratic conventions, and here is how the media shake out.

Throughout modern history, we’ve heard from movie critics, theater critics, music critics, dance critics, media critics, literary critics, architecture critics, culture critics, food critics and critics of critics. Have I omitted any? Oh, yes, inane and blustery (blush) TV critics.

Now it’s come down to this. TV anchors, reporters and commentators—mentally twiddling their thumbs as the two major parties execute their camera-ready stagecraft—have evolved into an arcane new species.

Speech critics.

Yes, thumbs up/thumbs down political journalists who generate blurbs as if writing for movie ads: glorious, superb, breathtaking, beautifully expressed, loved it. And slams, too, of course, with pundits and other Great Minds informing you if the podium speeches you watched were good or bad, electrifying or dull, effective or ineffective. As if you had to be told.

Take Tuesday night’s Dem headliner Bill Clinton. I experienced his speech from the perspective of someone who would rather Hillary possess the nuclear codes than hair-trigger Trumpet. It’s not that I don’t favor eliminating ISIS, only that I’d prefer not eliminating the entire planet at the same time.

Bill Clinton 3

So, I found Clinton’s speech masterfully written and delivered—sweet and personal leading to a big-bang payoff—however much of it may have been embroidered or flat-out erroneous. C’mon, I want her to win. So if the goal was to soften his wife’s image and show her “other side,” he nailed it.

I thought.

Though most of the reviews were positive, the beginning that I liked (“In the spring of 1971, I met a girl…”), a few speech critics didn’t dig at all. Several felt dwelling on the Clintons’ courtship was “risky,” given his famous philandering.

Not that assessing these speeches as entertainment value has a place in news.

Much of media see all of this as a kind of show biz, and approach it that way. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews can be an enjoyable hoot, for example. But you wanted to slap a strait jacket on him the way he raved about the Trumpet propaganda video at last week’s GOP convention, going on and on about Jon Voight’s narration, and again pounding that theme late Tuesday night after Clinton’s speech.

His is not the only media pulse pounding like a Tom Tom these days.

Yet the GOP and Democratic nominating conventions are rarely more than tailored-for-TV-and-iPad infomercials, and their speakers as much gussied-up  hucksters as Matthew McConaughey in a Lincoln. All of it is self-serving propaganda.

Nothing is written in stone about media being responsible for giving presidential candidates “bounce” in the polls via free exposure at these partisan extravaganzas.

Nonetheless, these suckers are covered live and lavishly like the blockbuster news events they aren’t, when, with a few obvious exceptions, a 90-second daily TV summary and half column of newspaper or Internet space plus a few photos would suffice. For junkies, there’s always gavel-to-gavel no-frills coverage on C-SPAN.

One speech that hardly merited live coverage in its marathon entirety was Clinton’s Hillary toast. You couldn’t have detected news in it even with a Geiger counter. Nor much breaking news of any kind in both conventions.

Good people disagree about whether the present system of having state primaries and caucuses cumulatively pick major party presidential nominees is better or worse than the combustible oldies where choices for the top job were dictated by wheeling, dealing party leaders. What would the Bernie-or-busters say about that?

I’m no nostalgia-nik. But oh, for the good old days when these suckers were shows you could count on, a real rumble of action and insults, several days of suspenseful infighting over naming the party’s standard-bearer.

That hasn’t happened for years. Let’s see, what was that guy’s name, Grover Cleveland?

But seriously…it is true that no convention since 1952 has gone past the first ballot. Not for decades, in fact, has there been a truly definitive one whose top nominee was not taken for granted in advance. Whose undecided delegates truly made a difference. Whose TV interviews had relevance beyond filling time and justifying the expense of mounting this absurd level of coverage.

As for this month, my blurb: Enough already.

Rosenbeast Returns

We’re b-a-a-a-a-a-ck.

Rosenbeast and the board of directors (see Bio) have been on hiatus, and now we’re back—smarter, smirkier, smuttier, smellier and—obviously—as alliterative as ever.

And more angry.

Election Outrage: I’m not just pissed at the Clintons; I’m white-hot furious!  Just livid that their bullshit blunders and appalling judgement have widened a path for a pitch-dark, know-nothing, predatory carnivore to become our next President.

Is this really happening or just another bad Hollywood script? If only…

Hillary and Donald

Despite her own sinkhole flaws, Hillary Clinton should be leading that dangerous dingbat Donald Trump in the polls by half a mile, not half a head. And even that thin margin may be kayoed by the latest one-two punch of Bill Clinton’s outrageous private chat with Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch followed by FBI Director James B. Comey citing Hillary’s “extremely careless” handling of classified information on her private email account.

She may avoid criminal prosecution but not prosecution in the court of public opinion, as voters decide between a congenital liar in Trumpet and a selective liar in Hillary.

My God, what lack of character and, most surprisingly, incredible stupidity. The Clintons are supposed to be plenty smart. But how smart do they look now? And how deceitful?

Self-serving Plug: I am now writing short stories for Nikki Finke’s website, HollywoodDementia.com. My first title to land, “Paradise,” is very dark. Coming: “A Killer Review,” less dark. In progress: “Law & Disorder,” spun from my ongoing addiction to “Law & Order” reruns. Rehab hasn’t worked. After all these years, I’m still hooked and helpless to resist.

“Life on Speed”: That’s the title of a book Charles Feldman and I are researching. It’s our second book about the Internet, but this time a pavement’s-eye-perspective of its impact on everyday society.

Not on government and other big institutions—that’s been done. But on ordinary individuals. We’re collecting personal stories of how the Internet impacts you—the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. In other words, if it changes the way you live your life and/or do your job—for better or for worse.

We’re especially interested in ways the Internet’s blazing speed alters society. On a macro level, it’s changed the world. But what about the individual? Has our sped-up, revved-up cosmos changed your life in any way?

If you have a story to tell, here’s your chance. I’m listening.


What stands tallest in news, the message or the messenger? These days it’s a toss-up.

Meet the latest addition to media’s Mount Rushmore.  Actually, you already have. So ubiquitous is she, how could you not? In case you’ve spent the year hermetically sealed in the Middle-earth, though, try this:

Anchors a week-night newscast. Check. Smart, articulate, quick witted. Check. Blonde charisma galore. Check. Laser blues with lots of lash. Check. Face of Fox News, talk shows and magazine covers. Check. Soon-to-be author of a memoir sold to HarperCollins for a reported $10 million. Check.

And Tuesday night she’ll head her own prime-time special, boasting a marquee sit-down with of all people, the famously flawed and offensive Trumpet. You remember him, the insult geyser who ballooned her already thriving career into something much, much HUGER!!!!!

Our sympathies; cosmic fame is a heavy burden. Yet she appears to be adapting nicely. The title of her Fox special is Megyn Kelly Presents. A more accurate title:

Megyn Kelly Presents Megyn Kelly.

These are amazing times for journalists in an election season conferring celebrity on many of the used-to-be anonymous.  For that we can thank ever-orbiting social media and cable news channels that fill their gaping news holes with panels of pundits titled “contributors.”  The result is not just endless repetitive chatter—the same people jawing about the same people—but also fame for the conga line of participants, most of them once-obscure ink-stained wretches now queueing for their close-ups.

Kelly beams high wattage in this expanding galaxy of star media, a phenomenon that is worrisome. Anchors and other celebrity journalists flourish largely because of their stature as personalities, the problem coming when their renown overshadows the news they cover. And it often does.

Here was the headline on a Yahoo News account of a recent Kelly interview whose subject, Dan Patrick, didn’t make the cut: “Megan Kelly Hits Hard Against Texas Lt.  Governor Over Trans Bathroom Laws.”

Tom Grunick2As Aaron Altman, the newsroom conscience of James Brooks’ film, “Broadcast News,” says sarcastically, “Let’s never forget, we’re the real story, not them.”
“Broadcast News” is a needle in the eye, its mocking of the ego and ethical values of TV news as relevant now as when the movie was released in 1987.  In one pivotal sequence, the network’s Washington anchor Tom Grunick (William Hurt) wraps a live report following a swiftly resolved military flare-up between the U.S. and Libya, assuring viewers, “I think we’re okay.”

Whereupon his bureau chief mutters: “Who the hell cares what you think.”

In other words, messengers should stay the hell out of their stories, a commandment that benefits everyone. In fact, just the presence of a celebrity journalist can intrude, especially in interviews when the high profile of the questioner threatens to overshadow the interviewee.

Anderson Cooper4

That’s certainly so with CNN star Anderson Cooper, whom a recent poll found to be the nation’s most recognizable newscaster. And no wonder; the guy is everywhere. He’s had his own syndicated daytime talk show. He’s on “60 minutes” in addition to anchoring a weeknight prime-time newscast and hosting most of CNN’s special events, including its giggly annual New Year’s Eve bash with comic Kathy Griffin. Prior to this election season, he would cap each newscast with The Ridiculist, an infantile comedy monologue that stomped on a new hapless schnook each night. And he’s published two memoirs.

There’s a reason why news anchors from San Diego to Slippery Rock are paid more than everyone else on the staff, and it’s not because they are smarter or better journalists. Don’t be shocked if the opposite is true. I know Los Angeles anchors who have had a pretty fair day when they get their shoes tied in the morning.

Newscasts, both national and local, have always been built largely on personalities, with focus groups and other high-priced audience research put in as bricks and mortar.

Back in the day, that Cro-Magnon Walter Cronkite was paid top dollar by CBS News not because he parachuted over Normandy with U.S. troops during World War II. He became the nation’s Uncle Walter—a must watch—because he was magnificently avuncular, something indefinable in his face, voice and manner earning America’s trust.

He, too, was the personification of celebrity. As was ABC News icon Barbara Walters, whose tell-all celebrity chats in prime time generated giant ratings along with tears. I once proposed a new show  titled “Me,” in which a different celebrity would interview her each week. Tonight, Julia Roberts shares secrets about Barbara’s life, loves, secrets and regrets.

All of that is quaint measured against the ego journalism epitomized by media-blitzing Kelly. In the grand tradition of celebrities, she is completing a week-long press tour promoting her prime-time special that The Los Angeles Times splashed across the front page of Sunday Calendar, selling the “Kelly-Trump show” as a clash of titans ala David Frost quizzing Richard Nixon in 1977.


What’s next for Kelly?  No one has said, but don’t rule out “Dancing with the Stars.”