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.

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I JUST READ A GREAT BOOK – MINE

Chris Hayes is one of the brightest, most informed, perceptive and incisive figures in news media. Hayes works for MSNBC, the largely Trump-trashing and least-watched—but arguably smartest —of the three major cable news channels. His early evening hour of interviews and commentary is “All in with Chris Hayes.”

Hayes, still shy of 40, has the gift of clarity, the rare ability to size up, deconstruct, strip to the bone, articulate and decode complex political issues so even I understand them.

As a bonus, he’s a kick-ass interviewer, a needle in the eye of anyone who ignores, evades or finesses one of his pointed questions.  Most TV interviewers are bricks; getting it right—especially live, without benefit of editing to make the questioner look good—is high art. With Hayes you don’t escape by pirouetting into a fog of obfuscation; he can be tenacious, no prisoners taken—overbearing at times, but mostly very effective.

When MSNBC splits the screen for his interviews, I’d swear his eyes are crosshairs as he revs up to reframe and rebut if he thinks the answer is crap or merely illogical. The expression on his face: Are you kidding me?

Time after time he asks follow-ups most TV interviewers wouldn’t touch: either they recognize and process bullshit too slowly or lack the courage to risk alienating a guest they may want to return.

As you can see, I like Chris Hayes a lot and wish there were more like him.

What I don’t like is self-promotion under the aegis of news. In other words—you should pardon the expression—fake news.

“Meet Chris Hayes,” headlined the Barnes & Noble ad in the Los Angeles Times last week. It was a signing, the New York-based Hayes in town promoting his freshly published non-fiction book, “A Colony in a Nation.”

I didn’t have to meet Hayes. I watch him almost nightly.

Nor did I have to meet his book. I’d been watching it almost nightly, too. Sort of, that is, if you count Hayes relentlessly plugging it on his news program various ways, at least once somehow sliding right it into a story he was reporting.

Book signings are one thing. They go with publishing and deliver exposure and potential royalties to authors, and bless em’ for it.

But presenting self-promotion under the broad umbrella of news, as Hayes has on his show, and with MSNBC’s blessing, is dishonest and indefensible. And oh, yes, sleazy.

As a Hayes admirer, I was stunned by this from someone too smart and insightful not to know he’d been crossing a line when plugging his book in news venues as if schmoozing with Jimmy Fallon. To say nothing of some of his fellow MSNBC hosts (Rachel Maddow, for one) joining in by setting aside small segments of their programs to blow him and the book kisses.

Hayes is no Chris-come-lately. For decades, SELF has been as much the soul of TV’s news culture as hair spray and richly paid outside consultants designing ratings strategies to promote messenger over message. And by far the most news anchor-centric venue on the planet is not MSNBC but CNN where Anderson Cooper is glammed and fussed over as if his image were carved into Mt. Rushmore. Plus locally, personality worship continues without constraint, as in Los Angeles where KCAL-TV’s consultant-driven anchors end evening newscasts by announcing: Here is my favorite story…

As we await, breathlessly.

MSNBC’s Hayes book hype fits this environment, with self-promotion—which many media rightfully find so disgusting about Donald Trump—now so ubiquitous in newscasting it’s become routine, likely desensitizing viewers to its ugly implications. “I just began the second week of my book tour,” he capped off his Monday program from Los Angeles before listing where he’d be signing books.

In the movie “Broadcast News,” fed-up TV reporter Aaron Altman aims sharp sarcasm at his own medium’s narcissism: Yeah, let’s never forget, we’re the real story, not them.

DONALD WRITES SPEECH TO CONGRESS (FIRST DRAFT)

congress

Powerful opening: Greetings Congress—and Pocahontas—so overrated—and Schumer—terrible, terrible person. But I don’t hold grudges though I never forget. And greetings fellow legal citizens because if you’re illegal you’re so outa here—it’s happening right now—bad dudes gone—except Democrats, they’re still here but like Arnold’s ratings—way down. So sad. Think NBC misses Trump or what? Sad so very sad.

Build on powerful opening: I’m a very smart person—you know that—maybe the smartest ever (repeat elsewhere in speech for emphasis). And I have the biggest (apply to brain, heart, hands, crowds). Look at this crowd—I hope the cameras show it, maybe not—they don’t want Trump to look good—stretching  all the way—room is packed and people lined outside up in the… pick one later: (1) rain (2) snow (3) sleet (4) typhoon—can’t even get in. The Electoral College was, right, huh? Huge victory—just overwhelming.

(Pause for Pence standing Bravo!)

Topic: Enforcement of emigration laws. So beautiful what’s happening. Just beautiful. Rounding them up in a very nice, very humane way (Sessions/Kelly fill in details). We’re showing Sweden how to do it. Sweden—so overrated. And the wall—getting it built. (smile—give thumbs up). So beautiful (send to McConnell/Ryan for fill on wall financing).

Topic: Leaks. The leaks—fake news from the… pick one later: (1) dishonest press (2) very dishonest press (3) very dishonest and ridiculous press (4) devil press. Leaks about Gen. Flynn—great patriot, folks—great, great patriot. And they’re all lies.—fake news. The failing New York Times-CNN-terrible people—enemies of America. We’ll round them up in a very nice, very humane way. And sources—they have no sources—made up sources. They shouldn’t be allowed to use sources. Am I right? Am I right? Sources are outa here. Gonna round up sources—send ‘em back to Mexico. And they’ll take ‘em. They’ll take ‘em.

(Pause for Pence standing Bravo!)

Insert hilarious joke: Maybe we should grab the media by the…pick one later (1) pussy (2) balls (3) pussy and balls. (read attitude of crowd before delivering).

Alternative hilarious joke: Shall we take a leak on the leakers? (join Congress in chant: Take a leak! Take a leak!).

Topic: Affordable Care Act. A disaster. Just a disaster. We’re repealing it and replacing it with something much, much better. Really beautiful. You’ll love it. Doing it…pick one later: (1) next year (2) next month (3) soon (4) tomorrow. (5) Already done. (have McConnell/Ryan fill in how this is doable).

(Reminder to self: If bored while speaking, disguise yawn, don’t fidget).

Topic: National Security. We’ll be so safe. We deserve it, huh? Don’t we deserve it? Trump will make you so safe. (Bannon fills in why we’ll be safe).

Topic: The economy. Jobs (repeat ten times). And Gross National Product.  Why do people—and it’s just people who don’t like Trump—don’t want America to win—why do they say our national product is gross? Give me a break—give me a break, huh? If it’s gross, that could hurt our balance of trade situation. Sweden would love that. Unfair, so unfair (Google to see if I’m right on this).

Topic: My secret plan to defeat Isis. We’re starting that tomorrow. So beautiful. Isis is history (ask Mattis/Bannon to come up with something).

(Pause for Pence standing Bravo!)

Topic: Peace in the Middle East (Jared fills in).

Topic: Transgenders and bathrooms. I love transgenders. Gotta be nice to our transgenders—but not the ones here illegally. Pouring over the border. Get ICE going on this, huh? No illegal transgenders, right? Get ‘em out. (join in chant: Get ‘em out! Get ‘em out!)  And Jewish transgenders—I love Jewish transgenders (acknowledge Jared and Ivanka giving thumbs up). Caddie transgenders, too. At Mar-a Lago, they’ll tell you we get along. Trump gets along with everybody—I’m really a likable guy. And the bathroom thing—an easy fix. I’m very good at fixing things—maybe the best ever. And the Electoral College agrees, right? Huh, right? (pause for standing ovation/check to see if Melania is awake).  So here’s what we do—give transgenders their own bathrooms. But make ‘em pay for ‘em, huh? Gotta pay, and they will. Believe me, they’ll pay. (join in chant: Make ‘em pay! Make ‘em pay!).

Topic: Spending on infrastructure (Miller/Bannon will do this and rest of speech—so boring).

Reminder to self: After speech, tweet Vlad for response.

 

LIGHTS, CAMERAS, SIZZLE: WHY EXECUTIONS SHOULD BE TELEVISED

Election Day affirmed that Californians, progressive on many issues, are still brain dead when it comes to the death penalty. As are 30 other states with capital punishment on the books.

On the recent California ballot was one proposition that would have repealed the state’s death penalty, making life without parole the maximum penalty —it failed—and another narrowing the appeal window for the condemned. That one passed. The message, kill ‘em faster.

Well, sure. But if we’re going to do it, I say let’s do death big.

Televise it.

My thinking on this has never changed. I remain opposed to these state-sanctioned killings  that ignore –and  I’m quoting a Los Angeles Times editorial here—“clear evidence of wrongful convictions, disproportionate targeting of the poor and people of color, exorbitant costs, and an appeals process that, while critically necessary, often adds to the arbitrary nature of who ultimately gets executed.”

California is no killing field like, say, Texas, which rolls out executions like tumbleweed. California’s death row has as many residents (more than 700) as some housing developments, its last execution coming in 2006. Nationwide, moreover, the pro-execution crowd continues to shrink.

But where executions are public policy—and paid for with tax dollars—they should be made accessible to the public via TV, which would mean they would ultimately go viral on the Internet. This would give proponents the opportunity to see the full extent of what they endorse instead of getting secondhand, sometimes conflicting accounts from designated witnesses.

The condemned would have to give permission, of course.  And each telecast, live or not, would air late at night and give appropriate attention to the crime or crimes for which the condemned is being executed.

There would be other controls:

No Super Bowl-style packaging with promos, billboards, teasers or hyperbolic pre-shows. No whistles and bells. No marching bands. No beer or popcorn munchies. No breathless commentary or instant analysis. No media slugs with their noses pressed against the widows of the death chamber as if it were a candy store. No debates with commentators taking sides.

Just the process—the sights and sounds of someone being methodically killed.

In California, it would be by lethal injection—accompanied by tight shots of cardiac monitors and various intravenous lines intersected by memorable homages to the victims and testaments to the viciousness of their murders. For some this would be a moment of deep somberness and even repugnance, to others a long-awaited moment of justice, sweet revenge, closure and celebration.

I’ve been advocating televised executions for years, and it’s lonely out here on this limb. I’m not the only one to call for them, however. Talk show host Phil Donahue once raised this banner boldly prior to exiting TV, but was unfairly attacked and accused of wanting to use his cameras to exploit executions. And in 1992 a San Francisco public TV station sought to beam a San Quentin execution into homes, but the state said no.

Would televising executions be too gruesome for the public? Well, no one would command you to watch.  And gruesomeness is the point. You have to wonder, for example, how Floridians would have responded had their state televised executions when it used an electric chair nicknamed “old sparky” because in some instances executees’ hair were reported to have flamed up when the switch was thrown.

Opponents would argue, also, that cameras would transform executions into circuses, as if they are now gleaming symbols of taste and decorum. And as if the spirit of Barnum & Bailey weren’t already present in the media hordes that cluster outside and afterward hang on every descriptive word from those who serve as official witnesses.

We who favor abolishing capital punishment would cheer if supporters found televised executions sufficiently barbaric to rise up and demand a state-by-state reversal of policy. But that’s not the point, for just as likely these repetitive telecasts would desensitize most viewers to the process, resulting in no change. Or perhaps their graphic nature would deter potential murderers, and thus bolster arguments in favor of capital punishment.

In any case, what are we afraid of? In the interest of transparency, the logic of televising executions can’t be ignored.

WHAT THEY HAVE TO DO TO WIN

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.

DANCING WITH THE DAMNED

Ryan Lochte 2Being a famous jerk still pays.

Take Lyin’ Ryan Lochte.

Please!

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.

 

 

STILL MOWING THEM DOWN

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— ’’

STOP!

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—”

STOP!

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—”

STOP!

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.

STOP!