EBENEZER SCRUMP

EBENEZER SCRUMP
A Christmas Story

The darkened penthouse of Scrump Tower on Christmas Eve….

Ebenezer Scrump, asleep after hours of heavy tweeting, is jolted awake by loud clanking sounds and a terrifying sight.

Scrump: Who are you?

Ghost: Look upon me, Scrump, for I am the Ghost of Your Past.

Scrump: What do you want of me at this hour, ghost?

Ghost: I’m here to show you the errors of your ways.

Scrump: Errors? Where are you taking me?

Ghost: The Peace Center in Greenville, S.C.

Scrump: Looks familiar.

Ghost: As it should. The date is Feb. 13, 2016, the occasion a Republican presidential debate where you insisted you always opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

I fought very, very hard against us going into Iraq!

Ghost: You repeated that often during the campaign. But now behold Sept. 11, 2002, months before the invasion. It’s a New York radio studio, and here was your reply when asked by Howard Stern if you favored invading Iraq.

Yeah, I guess so.

Ghost: You later lied about this repeatedly.

Scrump: A little white lie is all.

Ghost: Was it a little white lie, too, when you claimed you never crashed the dressing rooms of beauties at your Miss USA Pageants to catch them undressed and cop a feel?

Scrump: Absolutely untrue. Never happened.

Ghost: Behold the 2003 pageant in San Antonio.

Eeek!

He’s here again!

Call the cops!

Get out of here, you creep!

Scrump: I thought it was the men’s room. It was all a big mistake.

Ghost: Was this, too, a big mistake? Observe Burbank, Ca. in 2005.

Scrump: I see a bus.

Ghost: The “Access Hollywood” bus, with you and that obsequious toad, Billy Bush. You said this about women.

You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. I don’t ever wait.

Scrump: A little kiss, what’s the harm?

Ghost: Only a kiss? Listen.

And when you’re a star, they’ll let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.

Scrump: Locker room talk.  You know how it is when boys get together.

Ghost: Boys? You were 59.

Scrump: Please stop. Why do you torture me so?

******

A second ghost appears. “Look upon me, the Ghost of Your Present, and observe.

Scrump: Why is my son, Baron, laughing himself silly? What is he watching on TV?

Ghost: “Saturday Night Live.” He loves Alec Baldwin.

Scrump: I beseech you to stop.

Ghost: Now cast your eyes on Indianapolis, Ind. A small house, fallen into disrepair.

Scrump: Who lives here?

Ghost: Bob Cratchit and his family, facing a penniless Christmas now that Bob has lost his job—one of hundreds of Carrier jobs you didn’t save despite vowing to save them all. It’s Monday night, and the Cratchits are watching TV.

Scrump: But not “Celebrity Apprentice,” which I still profit from.

Ghost: They stopped watching after you publicly ridiculed Tiny Tim’s disability.

Scrump:  Please, spirit, no more.

Ghost: It gets worse. The Cratchits are a Nielsen family.

Scrump: Take me away, please.

Ghost: Behold the security agency that offers the critical daily briefings you irresponsibly reject.

Scrump:  Borrrrring. I don’t need security briefings.  I’m very smart.

Ghost: Smart, when you don’t read?

Scrump: False! I like nothing better than curling up with a good tweet.

******

A third ghost appears.

Scrump: Who are you?

The Ghost of Your Future, bearing footage of you on “Dancing with the Stars,” hardly a presidential activity.

Scrump: But if they asked me…

Ghost: They didn’t ask you to tango wearing one of your stupid long ties.

Scrump: They’re part of my brand.

Ghost: Not in Berlin,

Scrump: Berlin?

Ghost: This is your first private summit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Scrump: But why is she racing out of the room screaming?

Ghost: Instead of shaking hands, you groped her.

Scrump: Please, torment me no further.

Ghost: There’s more: in Russia the opening of your five-star Scrump Vladivostok.

Scrump: Huge hotel deal.

Ghost:  And huge conflict of interest. That’s you on a horse trail in the Urals, riding shirtless with Vladimir Putin.

Scrump:  Must we go on?

Ghost: Yes, to a televised trial.

Scrump: Judge Judy?

Ghost: No, she becomes your attorney general when Jeff Sessions isn’t confirmed. This is an impeachment trial—yours—in the U.S. Senate. Behold Kellyanne Conway testifying about your foreign policy.

Crimea desperately needs a luxury golf resort.

Scrump: What happened to my Republican support?

Ghost: You will lose much of it when you mount your SCRUMP sign on the White House.

Scrump: I can bear no more. Why have you taken me to this graveyard, ghost?

Ghost: Read the tombstone.

Scrump: Must I?

Ghost: You must.

Scrump: It says, “Here lie the democratic principles undermined by our woeful president.”

Ghost: What say you now?

Scrump: I implore you, no more. I’ve seen the errors of my ways.

Ghost: One more thing, Ebenezer Scrump.

Scrump: End the comb over?

Ghost: No, doofus. End the tweets.

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MEGA MEGYN

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.

“TAKES TWO TO TANGLE.”

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