GEORGE SHOULDA SAID THIS

Why does Donald Trump get so much kid glove treatment? Why handle with care someone who handles with care no one beyond a few Darth Vaders he thinks can do him some good?

I’m talking to you, George Stephanopoulos.

Yeah, yeah, you and your ABC News crew spent all that time with Trump taping a “special” that chewed up an hour Sunday night. But it was a tossup who was more annoying, Trump, in his familiar role as a fabricating provocateur, or you, the smiley face who, with few exceptions, let him get away with it.

This was a perfect TV symbiosis: ABC getting to puff its chest and tout the glory of its morning anchor earning extended face time with the president. And Trump happily pocketing ABC’s gift: an hour of free PR to help kick off his official re-election bid.

It was largely theater, choreographed and staged, with everyone hitting his mark. Ivanka just happened to be in the Oval Office chatting with her father about education? “Great job,” he told her. “You really doing a great job.” Oh, and did he mention she was doing a great job?

It was absurd to expect the Trumpians to sail through this gig and be oblivious to the lights, cameras and other razzmatazz that comes with a big TV shoot. Cinema verité is a huge challenge under any conditions and even when the subjects are less seasoned actors than this crowd. My favorite “candid”—how many takes?—captured Trump and Melania ascending the tall White House staircase dramatically, robotically, and most importantly, hand in hand. Oh, those two kids, so in love. Cut, print.

Stephanopoulos did show some devil’s advocacy on occasion, and there was, of course, his much-reported give-and-take with Trump about whether the President should let someone know if he’s contacted by a serial killer or terrorist or anyone else the FBI might want to know about. But that highlight was eclipsed by the timidity of George in the face of Trump’s intense bloviation.

George likely feared pushing back too hard might cost him accessibility, that Trump might abort in anger at any time, stop the limo and kick him and the camera out. Not likely, though, with so much at stake for the President.

Could we realistically expect GS to be informed and agile enough to swiftly process Trump’s monologues and rebut his lies and erroneous claims? Easy for me; I’ve had days to think it through.

George had weeks to prepare, and if he wasn’t ready for every scenario, every bizarre and outrageous thing Trump threw at him, he’s in the wrong business.

Let’s start with something minor.

When Trump called George “a little wise guy” to his face, he shoulda cut him off. Shoulda asked why he calls people names. Shoulda asked how he’d respond if someone called him Dopey Donnie or Tubby Donnie. Or any of the other applicable “D” words, notably Dishonest, Dufus, Diseased. Or just plain Fatso or Dummy; both work, crudity for a crude man.

I say drive a stake right through his fragility, his insecurity.

Too banal? Wouldn’t respect The Office? As if he hasn’t already left his shitprints all over the place.

The hour was freckled with weightier shouldas. Here are just a few:

–Trump insisted repeatedly that the Mueller Report found “no collusion” between Russia and him or his campaign. George rebutted that, but ineffectively. George shoulda said: If you or your staff can find where it says that in the Mueller Report, we will let you read that passage to the camera right here.

–George asked if a President can obstruct justice? After hesitating, Trump replied: “A President can run the country, and that’s what happened, George. I run the country, and I run it well.” George shoulda said: That didn’t answer the question. Can a President obstruct justice?

–George asked why Trump refused to be interviewed under oath by Robert Mueller’s team. Trump replied: “Because…they were looking to get us for lies…or slight misstatements.” George shoulda said: If you weren’t going to lie or make misstatements, what was there to fear?

–George asked Trump to explain his resistance to outing his tax returns and other financial records. Trump replied: “It’s not up to me, it’s up to the lawyers, it’s up to everyone else.” George shoulda said: Quote the statute that forbids you, the President, from releasing your own financial data?

–George asked about nuclear disarmament talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Trump said: “He promised he wouldn’t be testing.” George shoulda said: Isn’t it naïve of you to expect him to admit it?

On and on it went, with Trump, of course recycling his stock anti-media rants, this time, by George, courtesy of ABC News.

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“RENT” RANT—LIVE!

Rosenbeast here, at my desk, in front of my computer, fingers on keyboard, eyes on screen, shooing off cats while writing this…

LIVE!

You’re transfixed, all tingly, on the edge of your seat, I know, because what you’re reading is…

LIVE!

What you see here is unedited, unrehearsed, uninformed, unfiltered, unbridled, unburdened by logic or critical thought. But c’mon, more importantly, it’s reality, real life in real time. No safety net or five-second delays. You’re reading it just as I’m writing it. Yes, there are misspelled words and typos. Yes, I’ve made sum clumsy mistukes.  As clumsy as Donald Trump wolfing down a Big Mac with chopsticks. Wait, that’s not only hideously unfunny, but maybe a mixed metaphor. Too late, can’t fix. There’s nothing I can do about it, nuthing. That’$ the trade-off for the excitement—the electrifying, pulsating, heart-stopping, pee pee-in-your-pants thrill of…

LIVE!

You’re right. This blog is already overlong, overcooked, overwritten, my point pounded in with a sledgehammer when a strategic tap-tap would be more efficient and persuasive. You think I don’t know that? I’d change it, shorten it, tighten it, lighten it, but I can’t because—get ready, here we go again—it’s…

LIVE!

******

The above is a whimsical metaphor for the perils of TV’s ubiquitous liveness, a large part of which—goosed non-stop by the Internet—is instant news. No safeguards as it roars around blind curves. It’s the ultimate gamble, Russian roulette. And don’t forget deception.

When TV goes live it’s often a sham, a fraud, a trick, a gimmick.

Hyperbole alert!

Live cameras are can be peerless when covering breaking big news, from massive shootouts, volatile street dust-ups and calamitous natural disasters to devastating wildfires when instant information can save lives. And oh, yes, sports events.

Largely, though, live TV is a stunt, a device to seduce and sucker viewers by projecting false immediacy—so edgy, raw, so now—in a mirage of excitement. On Wednesday, MSNBC flashed a graphic advertising Rachel Maddow’s coming “live” interview with Presidential hopeful Kamala Harris, as if “live” added value. It doesn’t, it didn’t.

Take, also, the long tradition of local news reporters delivering irrelevant live stand-ups in the field—often hours, if not days after a story has occurred (Behind me is the house where three days ago a body was found…)? Oh, brother.

But I’m heading somewhere else with this.

To Fox, which Sunday will air Jonathan Larson’s stirring Tony/Grammy/Pulitzer-winning stage musical “Rent.” Naturally…

Live.

Live only in the east, that is. Underprivileged viewers in other time zones will see it on dull, humdrum, unexciting, dusty, musty old videotape. Oh, nohhhhh. Which means, I suppose, their experience will be diminished. (yes, that’s sarcasm).

“Rent” loosely reimagines Puccini’s “La Boheme,” moving its struggling young artists to the East Village of New York City (actually an L.A. soundstage) in 1989. I’m a fan of “Rent.” Saw it on stage and watched the under-appreciated 2005 movie version that, despite a slew of slams, ranks as one filmdom’s better stage musical-to-screen adaptations.

I hope Fox’s “Rent” is wonderful. But if it is, live cameras won’t deserve any of the credit.

Why is Fox shooting it live, adding risk instead of value?  As it did with its productions of “Grease and” “Rocky Horror Show?” As did NBC with its own string of stage-to-TV musicals that were telecast live?

It’s all about labeling. Just as Roman numerals gave the super bowl its early heft, and someone got the bright idea that “pre-owned” looked classier than “used,” TV’s marketing mavens know “live” is a gimmick that sells.  Whatever the product, news or theater.

 

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIE

a beloved holiday story…

Trump-Pinoccio-nose

FADE IN:

ARLINGTON MEMORIAL BRIDGE OVER THE POTOMAC RIVER—NIGHT

A hulking figure in a dark overcoat is crossing the bridge, slogging along aimlessly, gaze lowered. It’s snowing hard but he’s oblivious. He stops to stare down at the water dotted with floating ice, desperate, trying to decide whether to act. He leans over, glances furtively around, hunches himself as if about to jump, then hesitates, unsure.

“Donald!”

The figure in the overcoat turns to see, not ten feet away, a tiny man with a pointy goatee and glowing eyes beneath a top hat.

“Who are you?” asks Donald.

“I’m Seymour, your guardian angel.”

“Sent from above?”

“No, sent from below.”

“By the Big Guy himself?”

“Almost. By Lucifer, his chief of staff. I’m a dark angel. That is, a dark angel Second Class. Coming here to encourage you is how I can earn my horns.”

Donald groans. “I’m such a failure.”

“Nonsense. Get hold of yourself, man. Your obscene presidency is everything the Big Guy could ever want, corroding U.S. government institutions and striking at the very heart of democracy. You’ve told thousands of lies in just two years, not including your delusions, flip flops and contradictions. On top of that, you repeat the lies of others again and again. All of us below are awed. What you’ve achieved is disgusting!”

“Not entirely. The Washington Post fact checker claims five per cent of my statements are true.”

“That many? Well, get over it. Nobody’s perfect.”

“I’m perfect.”

“That’s the stuff. Another stunning whopper.  Keep it up. Your assertions about the great things you’ve done are extraordinary bullshit, lifting our spirits after eight years of Obama.”

“You know he wasn’t born in this country—he’s a Muslim. I saw Muslims on TV celebrating in New Jersey after 9/11.”

“Yes, yes, that’s the spirit. Let’s hear more.”

“I didn’t want to go into Iraq. We have the greatest economy in history. We pay most of the cost of NATO. The fake news media are America’s greatest enemy. The New York Times covered the election so badly they were forced to apologize. I signed more bills than any other president in my first six months in office. The families of shooting victims are in my thoughts and prayers. Everybody wants to be my chief of staff. Kim jong-un is a beautiful person and North Korea is denuclearizing. Seven million illegal votes caused me to lose the popular vote.”

“You originally said five million; seven is even better.”

“I never said five million.”

“Another fabulous lie. Keep going.”

“My inaugural crowd was the biggest ever. Obamacare covers very few people. Obama had my wires tapped. We’re the highest taxed nation in the world.  Mueller is on a witch hunt with conflicts of interest and a staff of angry Democrats.”

“And my personal favorites, your lies about Russia?”

“Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. Democrats colluded with Russia during the election.”

“Your deceit warms me. The Big Guy has a request. As a personal favor, please repeat that crap he loves, about your deals and your intelligence. I’ll record it on my phone.”

“I make the best deals and I’m the smartest person.”

“Such a hoot. And the imaginary border wall?”

“We’ve started building our wall. I’m so proud of it. Mexico will pay for it.”

“So incredibly dishonest. You’ve made reality irrelevant.”

“I try.” Donald shakes his head. “But five percent truth!  Where did I go wrong? Sometimes I wish I’d never been born.”

“Seriously? Have a look at what that would be like.”

“What are you showing me, Seymour? Why it’s the Oval Office. And who is that woman in a pants suit behind the desk? It’s…it’s…”

“Yes, Hillary Clinton.”

“Lock her up! Lock her up!”

“There’s no one to say that, Donald, because you were never born.”

“And that woman with her…isn’t that?”

“Yes, the vice president, Elizabeth Warren.”

“Pocahontas!”

“But you aren’t around to call her that.  And does this next site look familiar?”

“It’s Fifth Avenue, between 56th and 57th. Where is the Trump Tower?”

“There are no Trump Towers—anywhere—because there’s no Trump. Instead, the building before you is the Stormy Daniels Home for Retired Porn Stars.”

“Oh nohhhh. And what’s this you’re showing me next?”

“A newsroom. Observe closely the woman on her computer.”

“It’s Melania.”

“She’s fashion editor at The New York Times. Took the job because you weren’t there to feed her lies about the paper.”

“What are you saying, Seymour?”

“Despair not, Donald. Can’t you see, your entire life is a wonderful lie? That’s why the Big Guy wants you below, with him.”

“And you’re here to encourage me?”

“Yes. JUMP!”

A GROUP BEFORE ITS TIME

“This is not the time to jump to some conclusion”—Paul Ryan, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, responding to calls for stricter gun laws after 17 people were murdered at a South Florida high school.

Though essential to protecting our democracy, activism is time consuming.

I’ve told you about my affiliation with Making Acronyms Great Again (MAGA) and its decision that TWIT most suited Donald Trump. Now comes this.

As Delayer in Chief (DIC), it was my duty recently to chair the bi-annual meeting of the influential special interest group This Is Not the Time (TINT).

The meeting had been put off again and again, hard core members refusing to attend in the belief that to meet was premature. As one of them insisted, “This is never the time.”

TINT’s moderate wing argued that this strict interpretation of our mandate was carrying things too far, and I agreed. “Now look,” I said in a text defining the conundrum before us, “as your DIC, I appreciate that having a meeting exposes TINT to the risk of achieving something, but never meeting exposes us to the danger of irrelevance.

Following a rigorous back and forth, the other side was won over, agreeing to participate in a meeting when I arranged a compromise, promising that items of substance would be deferred and forgotten.

The meeting turned out to be pivotal.

Adhering to principle, the first item on the agenda was shelved by acclamation. The next item of business could not be addressed because it was unidentified. The agenda committee felt assigning it a name or category would serve no purpose because it never would be taken up.

Next came a discussion of our closely watched Person of the Year award, with the name of the winner to be inscribed on a trophy. “DIC’s prerogative,” I said, “my choice is Paul Ryan for advocating creative solutions to gun violence in schools, starting with arming teachers and having them wear bandoliers of ammunition.”

The applause was thundering.

“Objection, objection!” someone shouted when it died down. “We all agree this is an honor the speaker deserves. But the bigger honor—celebrating his zealous devotion to postponement even more acutely—would be to not honor him.”

“Exactly,” someone added. “Because this is not the time to honor him.”

“Hear, hear,” a chorus shouted in unison.

I added my endorsement. “And actually, there is no trophy because I felt there would be time to pick up one at a later date.”

Noting that we’d attained our goal of pointlessness, I was about to gavel the proceeding to a close when someone stood and shouted, “Item from the floor, item from the floor.”

This was highly unusual, and fraught with peril.  The longer we remained in session, the greater the risk of inadvertently doing something worthwhile. But in the spirit of democracy, I decided to allow it.

“All right, go on.”

“I challenge our existence.”

“On what basis?”

“On the basis that in meeting to form TINT—by that very act—the founders violated their underlying premise, in effect annulling what they were founding.  In other words, this was not the time to form a group whose predicate for existence was ‘this is not the time.’ Hence, there is no TINT.”

I objected. “I take your point, but as DIC I refuse to preside over the dissolution of this group.”

“There’s nothing to dissolve,” someone interjected, “if we don’t exist.”

He had me there. “I guess there’s nothing left for us to do but go home,” I said sadly. “But I implore you to keep faith and not waver from our credo even as Americans are gunned down in schools and elsewhere:

Timeliness is no virtue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

.

 

 

FAKE NEWS OF THE YEAR

Time magazine has announced its 2017 “Person of the Year,” which qualifies as news only if you define news as anything that happens, like paint peeling, skin wrinkling and the sun rising and setting.

But tell that to the media minions who giddily treat this announcement, this annual microscopic speck of  history as cosmic—like a papal succession with throngs gathering outside Time’s New York headquarters to await smoke from the chimney.

Granting it this much weight and attention is “way out of whack” with the magazine’s atrophied clout, noted Brian Williams on MSNBC’s “11th Hour”—his own announcement adding to the fattened coverage. Not that a knot of chin-stroking Time editors proclaiming who “has done the most to influence the events of the year” should ever have earned a headline, even back in the day when Time was a major media player and not the footnote it is today.

Never underestimate media capacity for hyperbole, though. We are champs at sweeping generalizations; overstatement is in our DNA.

With the 24-hour news cycle shrunk to 24 seconds by the Internet, much of journalism is increasingly of the moment, failing to acknowledge the past and anticipate the future. For too many journalists, reality is only what’s in front of their noses.

Throughout the 20th century, for example, news entities oversold at least half a dozen courtroom proceedings as “the trial of the century.” The key words here—of the—are versatile enough to fit nearly every news scenario. Take entertainment reviews: how many times do kneejerk critics prematurely write “movie of the year” or “performance of the year” without knowing what awaits the rest of the year? These attention-seeking hacks do it because “of the year” tags, with their names attached, are catchy candidates for blurbs in movie and TV ads, generating fame for the critic.

We live in an epoch of gratuitous awards. More than a mere designation, of the is often attached to a tangible award the likes of  A & E’s “Biography of the Year,” Game Magazine’s “Game of the Year,” Glamour’s “Woman of the Year,” Fire Chief Magazine’s “Chief of the Year” or the Canmaker Magazine –yes, it does exist—“Can of the Year.” If you’re interested, in 2017 that prestigious honor went to the Czech creator of Dove antiperspirant cans, which also earned “Gold” in the aerosol category.

But you’re not interested. Which is why “Can of the Year” earns zilch coverage, in contrast, year after year after year after year, with the equally faux news of Time’s “Person of the Year.”

Originally titled “Man of the Year,” it’s the 90-year-old granddaddy of this group and nothing more than a shrewd marketing strategy to sell Time and its advertising space. Enabled by fellow media, the strategy has worked, making the annual award an institution. Some years ago, CNN even created a behind-the-scenes “special report” on the Time editors’ deliberations, replete with man-on-the-street interviews responding to their choice.

The 2017 “Person of the Year,” by the way, is not one person but many—“The Silence Breakers” of the ever-widening #MeToo movement now exposing a decades-old culture of male-dominated sexual harassment.

And look, all glory to these (mostly) women (some of whom are on the current Time cover) for bringing to light antics ranging from serial butt pinching to sexual assault.

But the award description includes “…for better or for worse,” meaning it’s intended not only for heroes; Hitler earned it in 1938, Stalin twice. So get serious, sentiment aside, the prime shaper of news in 2017 has not been the “Silence Breakers,” however profound their influence and noble their cause. Hands down, that title goes to Time’s 2016 “Person of the Year.” Known also as the Doofus of the Year…

The Big Twit himself.

AMERICA’S TWIT

I just returned from an emergency meeting of Make Acronyms Great Again (MAGA) in Los Angeles (LA).

As chairman of MAGA’s Crisis Committee (CC), I called the meeting in response to a recent survey showing that most Americans believe Son of a Bitch (SOB) does not adequately define President Donald Trump. The debate was spirited—acronymists are famously passionate—and many members spoke their minds.

“SOB is much too narrow,” said a prominent linguist who’d flown in from D.C. “It addresses bad character but fails to take into account the buffoon’s low Intelligence Quotient (I.Q.).”

“Make it Stupid Son of a Bitch (SSOB),” someone cried out from the bar.

“Hear, hear,” echoed several others.

I banged my gavel with authority, quieting the buzz. “While we can all agree that Trump is a stupid SOB, let me suggest that keeping SOB within the new acronym will tend to confuse the public. To succeed, an acronym must deliver an instantly recognizable message that evokes a visceral response.”

I had everyone’s attention; all eyes were upon me. “As an alternative, may I suggest TWIT.”

There was a pause—as everyone took the full measure and absorbed the impact of TWIT—then thunderous applause and a celebratory clinking of glasses.

But I knew that wasn’t the end of it; not everyone was satisfied. “Let’s make it TWAT,” someone said, raising his beer mug.

I knocked that down. “TWAT takes us in another direction. TWIT is what we’re after.”

“No half measures,” an iconoclast argued. “Let’s make it evil twit. In other words, ETWIT.”

“I like amoral twit—ATWIT,” said his wife, who had spent the weekend leading a march in support of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). “Let’s vote now.”

“Hold on there,” said a thoughtful pipe smoker wearing a tweed sports coat with elbow patches. “A vote would be meaningless without first defining TWIT. When an acronym is created before its definition, it’s a backronym, which violates our bylaws.”

He was right, we had to construct a new acronym and assign it meaning letter by letter. “Try this,” I began. “T is for terrible.” That earned a murmur of approval. “W stands for wicked, which resolves the ‘evil’ issue. I stands for idiot, which takes care of ‘stupid.’  And for the second T—“

“Twisted—make it twisted,” shouted a noted psychiatrist. A half dozen others in his mental health delegation took up the cry, and soon it grew to a chorus.

“TWISTED! TWISTED! TWISTED!”

I’d have settled for two-faced, but had to admit twisted was ideal, a perfect fit, and everyone seemed satisfied.

“One problem,” said a curmudgeonly grandmother known for her crispness of logic. “We’ve left out insane. You know deranged, demented, bonkers, sheer lunacy. Forget half a deck; this creep’s playing with no deck.”

Groans filled the room in recognition of this critical oversight. How had we overlooked this central component of the Trump psyche?  “Insane is in, idiot is out,” I said.

“You can’t do that,” someone protested. “Above all, the guy is a blithering idiot.”

“Ah, yes,” I responded. “But the entire acronym itself delivers that message, for what is a twit if not an idiot, blithering or otherwise.”

When I asked for a show of hands on upgrading SOB to TWIT, the vote was unanimous except for a man who advocated bumping insane for inferior, infantile or insidious. “These are worthy,” I said. “We’ll keep them in reserve.”

NOT READY FOR HER CLOSE-UP?

Shane, come back! Come back! Shane!

–Brandon de Wilde calling to heroic Alan Ladd in “Shane”

 

Can it, already. I’m back.

And plenty steamed. Give me a break here. I’m away only a few measly weeks with blogger’s block, and everything falls apart.

Where to begin…

How about here? Oh, please!

That’s my response to Megyn Kelly’s defense of her scheduled NBC sit-down with that creep Alex Jones, a raging, fringe-right conspiracy theorist who famously has questioned whether the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre actually happened.  No wonder Sandy Hook families and others are outraged, even threatening to sue NBC should the interview run.

This is Kelly’s second go in her new prime time series opposite “60 Minutes” on CBS. Not quite ready for her close-up, her recent marquee debut with Vladimir Putin didn’t even register on the Richter Scale.  Kelly now gets Jones, who is the worst kind of raging provocateur:  one with a radio show (on which, by the way, our yutz in the Oval Office was a guest in 2015).

Her goal with Jones, Kelly insists, is to “shine a light—as journalists are supposed to do—on this influential figure, and yes—discuss the considerable falsehoods he has promoted with near impunity.”

My goal is to shine a light on her BS.

Her true agenda is a bit less lofty than advertised. It’s to dangle Jones’ notoriety as a bright shiny object to lure viewers and demonstrate she is a doyenne of daring who can kick ass. Never mind that in the process she will grant Jones his widest platform yet, without legitimate justification.  There is a cynical financial hook—ratings—but no news hook.

What, she’s going to expose him as a dangerous crackpot? The thinking world already knows.

This has familiar resonance. There was a time when Los Angeles newscasters and some national programs regularly granted Charles Manson camera access from prison during ratings sweeps periods, and then promoted his inevitable rantings to inflate their ratings. Stations would send a news anchor north for a tough-guy image reboot, and the camera-loving Manson, knowing his lines, was pleased to star in the role of murderous lunatic. In those days, you made your bones in local news by “boldly going one on one with Charlie.”

Inmates are now off limits to media in California, but the imagery endures, and Kelly hopes to make her bones going one on one in the same tradition.

Putin was Kelly’s bright shiny object in her opening show, and NBC’s promotion of it was thunderous, as if she would bring this shrewd guy to his knees. Oh, sure.  Instead, she asked, he answered, sort of like this:

–Do you? Nyet.

–Have you? Nyet.

–Will you? Nyet.

— Would you ever, ever? Nyet.

What, you really thought Putin would turn patsy and confess because his interrogator was Megan Bombshell? Yes, I screwed up your presidential election. Yes, all of Trumpdom is palsy walsy with me.   

The interview produced blotto, no news other than the news that Putin agreed to do it, a heavily hyped celebration of process over content, a growing media strategy of recent decades.  He said nothing, but what counts, it was to our very own Megyn Kelly he said nothing.

And why did Putin agree to this, as he did to filmmaker Oliver Stone’s strangely chatty and unthreatening multi-part interview now creeping along on Showtime? Because he wants to present soften U.S. public opinion toward him and present himself as good old accessible Vlad.  Will questioners like Kelly shake that image?

     Nyet.