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.

 

TRUMPZILLA

Famed journalist H.L. Mencken had a way with words and a crystal ball, predicting in 1920:

“On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be occupied by a downright fool and a complete narcissistic moron.”

Nahhhhhh.

A coarse racist and Nietzsche admirer who disliked democracy, Mencken himself was no sweetheart. By “plain folks” he clearly meant those he regarded as simpletons, the herd of inferiors holding back the tiny-in-number superior minds who know what’s best for the rest of us. Oh, yeah, sure they do.

If a repugnant elitist, Mencken was also prescient. Omit “plain” and his quote is on the money—describing perfectly the lug who is about to take over the White House like Godzilla clomping into a closet filled with crystal. To say nothing of the gang of Mothras, Rodans and three-headed Guidorahs sweeping in with him.

Trump-Godzilla similarities can’t be ignored. Both front a sprawling franchise. Both are crudely designed with no sense of humor or awareness of their mutation. Both are guided entirely by impulse. Both tend to hulk and lumber while leaving destruction in their wake. Both anger easily and breathe fire when rubbed the wrong way. Both have a distinctive roar. Both are best appreciated with your brain turned off. Both disdain reading and thoughtful discourse. Both have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, though unlike Trump’s, Godzilla’s hasn’t been defaced.

But our present crisis is not funny, is it?  We’re not characters in a campy Japanese monster movie and Trump is not computer generated or an actor in a latex lizard suit, though if ever a plot screamed out for a rewrite, his stunning rise to the presidency tops the list.

In fact, what someone once said about the Draculaic resilience of Richard Nixon—you’d have to drive a silver stake through his heart to get rid of him—may also apply to Trump.

I’ve been hitting the books and book reviews lately. For reasons that should be obvious, I’m drawn to accounts of the unlikely power surge of Adolph Hitler in the 1930s—while much of the planet responded passively as if witnessing actors in a play with no real-life relevance.

Although Ian Kershaw is arguably the preeminent Hitler biographer of our time, Volker Ullrich’s recent “Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939” earned high marks in The New York Times.  Now look, we’ve no evidence Trump is lethal and loopy or that Hitler was a hotel and real estate mogul who invaded much of Europe and murdered millions on the side. Yet frightening Trump-Hitler parallels surface in Ullrich’s book, as reviewed by Michiko Kakutani.

Kakutani: “Hitler was often described as an egomaniac who ‘only loved himself’—a narcissist with a taste for self-dramatization and what…Ullrich calls a ‘characteristic fondness for superlatives.’ His manic speeches and penchant for taking all-or-nothing risks raised questions about his capacity for self-control…”

If that doesn’t sharpen the picture, Ullrich writes that a former German finance minister found Hitler “so thoroughly untruthful that he could no longer recognize the difference between lies and truth.”

Ullrich also notes that Hitler staged big theatrical rallies, vowing “to lead Germany to a new era of national greatness,” though vague about how he would do it. Still, his supporters saw him as a “man of iron” who would facilitate change. And much like Trump, as well, Hitler was initially laughed off by some Germans as merely an “evening’s entertainment.”

I was most struck, however, by a passage in Erik Larson’s earlier “In the Garden of Beasts,” that portrays William E. Dodd, the first U.S. ambassador to Hitler’s Germany, observing:

“The strange indifference to atrocity that had settled over the nation, the willingness of the populace and of the moderate elements in the government to accept each new oppressive decree, each new act of violence. It was as if (Dodd) had entered the dark forest of a fairy tale where all the rules of right and wrong were upended.”

Today we call that a bizarro world in which up is down…down is up…and Godzilla is about to become President.

 

 

 

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.

THE A-HOLE ACHE

So does this mean Billy Bush is back?

Maybe in the Trump administration as special assistant in charge of procuring “P” for someone destined to be a hands-on President in the most literal sense.

It’s hard to respect the office when it is about to be occupied by someone of such low character.

Black Tuesday:

One glass of wine helped a little, a second glass helped more. But an entire bottle wouldn’t have washed away the crushing tonnage of watching election coverage into the wee hours. And then—affirming this was no nightmare from which we would awaken and spring from bed in joy and relief—watching Hillary Clinton make her concession speech in the morning.

That Americans would elect this ignorant bum president—and that nearly half of voters endorsed him win or lose—has to be a watershed moment in U.S. history. Much less a footnote than a foot on our throats.

My wife, Carol, and I spent Wednesday strolling the gorgeously sprawling Getty Center in Los Angeles, where she is a docent. It was the perfect oasis to soften the excruciating ache of the election outcome.

We both love art museums, their venerable collections and sense of ageless continuity a reminder, especially now, that 2016 and our lives are a tiny blip on the landscape of history. We tend to forget that many cultures have spent time under a warming spotlight while assuming there were no term limits to greatness. But there are, and the spotlight inevitably moves on.

My brother, a very smart, thoughtful guy who voted for Trump, thinks I’m nutty. But I believe that with Trump in command, this nation, at the very minimum, is now in great peril. While in a long line waiting to board a tram to this enthralling museum on a hill overlooking much of the city, I thought of us as doomed characters in a science fiction movie with the corniest of plots: everyone here seemed happy and unconcerned, unaware they were in great danger.

The Getty was calming. But the excruciating ache hasn’t gone away.

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.