A few words in defense of #CNN


I worked for CNN for 16 years, and I don’t think a month went by when I didn’t bitch about the place.

Some of my complaints were simply attempts to blow off steam. Why is the CMS down again? Why do I have to change that headline? Do we have to do that bullshit story simply because it’s trending?

And then there were my deeper concerns, ones that have provoked debate in newsrooms since there have been newsrooms — questions about ratings/traffic vs. news value, questions about ethics, questions about quality.

But for all of my bitching, I was proud to work there. It was, and still is, full of intelligent, thoughtful people.

I could be cynical — most journalists are — but, as George Carlin was fond of saying, scratch a cynic and you’ll find a disappointed idealist. You don’t deal with so much human weakness without a little bit of hope that things will get better, and that you can make a difference.

Compared to many of my colleagues, I was in no way a capital-J Journalist — someone who, in my estimation, lived and breathed for scoops in pursuit of The Story (I would rather delete my overabundance of email and get a good night’s sleep) — but I cared deeply about the news, about covering it right, about fairness and accuracy and truth.

And if there’s one truth I know for certain, it’s that my colleagues cared just as deeply. And they still do.

So it makes me angry to see my old employer attacked as being “fake news,” and to see many of my old colleagues’ faces in an anti-Semitic meme. (By the way, despite my departure 15 months ago, you’ll find me in the bottom row.)

I know a lot of people hate journalists. Reporters, in their minds, are pesky busybodies who won’t leave well enough alone. They don’t pay attention to certain stories, and pay too much attention to others. (And you won’t get an argument from many reporters, who would just as soon be chasing something more meaningful than whatever the shiny object of the day is — and these days, when analytics can tell us exactly what people are looking at and for how long, there are a lot of shiny objects.)

Journalists keep asking why — and when, and where, and who and what.

But consider the recent stories that have prompted much of this backlash against the news media: the tangled relationships and communications of a certain high-ranking businessman/politician. Simply the fact that he’s important (the most important, in fact, the biggest, an incredibly important person) makes the stories newsworthy, and if you’re CNN — or any news organization, frankly — you have a responsibility to see where they lead.

As we saw from the story the network pulled a couple weeks ago, CNN is not infallible. You’re only as good as your sources, and in a volatile world where everybody has an agenda, it can be incredibly hard to nail things down. It’s happened to the best.

But CNN, like most other outlets in the so-called “MSM,” owns up to its mistakes when they happen. I have my issues with the network — I think the TV arm (like pretty much all profit-chasing TV news) has come to feel like an all-day edition of “Crossfire” with too much heat, too little light, a sad reflection of the old local news philosophy that sensation sells. But the organization is full of outstanding and humane people trying to make sense of real life that affects real people, and you can see its work on the website, CNN International and even on the main domestic network when Jeffrey Lord isn’t arguing with Van Jones.

Real life isn’t a wrestling match. And I know I’d prefer a sense of “presidential” that is less like Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho (who, to give him credit, was possessed of some modesty).

On this Independence Day, the anniversary of when this representative democracy was founded, we should continue working towards “the more perfect union” the Constitution writes about. CNN and the news media, for all their faults, are central to that effort.


Odds and ends: Baseball, awards, ‘Face’

Image from BaseballHotCorner.com.
A few things that have crossed my brain …

  • Three cheers for Jeff Bagwell, Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez and Tim “Rock” Raines for making the Baseball Hall of Fame yesterday. All three are deserved Hall of Famers, and I was particularly pleased to see Raines — much overlooked, even in his heyday, because of the truly amazing Rickey Henderson — finally get the necessary 75% of ballots. The guy could always steal a base, but unlike folks like Vince Coleman, he could also hit, hit for (some) power and play solid defense. The big problem for Raines was that he mainly played for the Montreal Expos, where he was never going to get any notice. Hell, I’d forgotten that he had some late-career years with the Yankees and actually picked up a World Series ring.

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Sunday read: French toast on the toilet

Image from Onegreenplanet.org.
The Snow Scare of 2017 made me think of the classic evergreen article my friend Lisa Respers France wrote a couple years back.

In it, she answers the burning question: Why, when bad winter weather approaches, do people buy four staples: bread, milk, eggs and toilet paper?

Well, toilet paper is obvious. You don’t want to be relying on the 1966 Sears catalog when the power’s out and the cabinet is bare.

But bread? Milk? Eggs? Why not jugs of water (a favorite of hurricane preparation)? A case of beer? A box of Ding Dongs? Those amazing Japanese cans of food that cook themselves?

Lisa, putting her investigative chops to work, found the answers. The result is my Sunday read. It’s a short one, but so much fun — because it’s Lisa, and because it’s about French toast.

So the next time you feel a blizzard coming on, read this. You can even read it in the bathroom. Please eat your French toast in the kitchen, though.

Snow in Atlanta, panic on TV

Photo by Moni Basu.

I just flew in from Philadelphia, and boy, are my eyes tired.

They’re tired because I should gotten back last night and spent the night in my own bed, getting a good night’s sleep. Instead I spent the night in Philadelphia and had to get up early this morning to catch a flight to Chicago and then another flight to Atlanta.

The reason? Fear of snow.

American Airlines canceled my 6:30 p.m. flight Friday because Atlanta was supposed to get socked with about four inches of the white stuff. (American must have had problems with crews; Atlanta-based Delta’s Friday night flights went through as usual.) Meanwhile, though Philly already had a couple inches on the ground, everything was hunky-dory.

In one respect, I can’t blame American. If they were watching TV news, they would have thought Armageddon was coming.

Atlanta does not handle snow well. This makes some sense; the city sees maybe one snowfall a year, and between unfamiliarity with frozen precipitation, a plethora of hilly, two-lane roads and the risk of fallen trees, the city can be easily brought to a standstill.

But the news doesn’t help.

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Sympathy for Brad Pitt


Overheard in a supermarket checkout line the other day:

“I knew that was going to bust up,” says one woman, looking at a gossip magazine with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie on the cover.

“Oh yeah,” replies another woman.

“He never should have left her,” the first woman says, referring to Pitt’s first wife, Jennifer Aniston.

They express some sympathy for Aniston and move on to other subjects.

I don’t know why this conversation bothered me. I don’t know Brad Pitt. I don’t know Angelina Jolie, for that matter. I don’t know their kids, or their friends, or the people Pitt worked with in New Orleans.

Perhaps their marriage was doomed. To look at the gossip magazines — who make their living off crap like this — you’d certainly think so, going all the way back in 2004-05 when they met.

And I also know that schadenfreude over stars’ misery is as common as air kisses at a Hollywood party, and Lord knows I’ve partaken of it. I understand the fascination with celebrities, who appear to be living the lives of attention and wealth that many of us desire, and thus I understand the secret glee when they fall off their pedestals and are revealed as being “just like us,” as the Us magazine feature says.

But I can’t find any joy in divorce, even among really famous people I don’t know. Maybe they’re shrugging it off as long overdue; maybe they’re in anguish. Either way, I’m not going to wag a finger and say, “I told you so.”

OK, I got that off my chest. Now, has something happened to the Kardashians?




Last night’s debate: Lukewarm take

It’s been more than 12 hours since the debate, so all the hot takes have been taken. Consider this, then, a lukewarm take:

  • Hillary Clinton was her usual self — usually focused, occasionally dodging, definitely prepared. Of all of her answers, I was most impressed with her response to abortion and women’s rights. You could hear this was an issue she not only knew inside and out but also felt in her soul. This was not the cautious and technocratic Clinton. Slate is right: This is why we need more women in politics.

This is about women, about us. It’s one of the major differences between this presidential election cycle and every other one. When men discuss abortion among themselves, as they do in far too many policy discussions, it takes on a detached air of philosophical principles. When Clinton’s on the stage, it becomes about flesh and blood: women’s bodies and their most private, sacred rights to determine the courses of their own lives.

  • Donald Trump started strongly — you could tell he’d actually prepared for this debate — but the man is incapable of letting a slight go. As with previous debates, when Clinton inserted the needle, Trump reacted. He even responded when Clinton pointed out that he was upset that he hadn’t won an Emmy for “The Apprentice.” Does he have a sense of humor about anything?

Though not the one in “A Sound of Thunder.” Please.

Leave Elena Ferrante alone

Image via NPR.
Elena Ferrante’s books have been on my mental “To Be Read” list since they first started attracting widespread attention a couple years ago. I knew two things: they were apparently wonderful and the author’s name was a pseudonym.

I couldn’t have cared less about the latter. It was the quality that was the attraction.

But not for journalist Claudio Gatti, who spent several months trying to track down Ferrante. His possible success has the literary world in a tizzy.

Some observers are upset with Gatti for his investigation, which — to me, as well — does seem intrusive. And since Ferrante is apparently quite different from the main character in her books, there’s also some chatter comparing her ability to write as someone else to the controversy of “cultural appropriation” in literary circles, which hit a high (or low point) after Lionel Shriver’s keynote speech at an Australian book festival.

Last bit first. This is an ongoing debate, and yes, the literary world is as full of privilege and tribalism as any other creation of humanity. But to prevent fiction writers from “try(ing) on other’s hats,” in Shriver’s words, seems foolhardy. If a writer gets it wrong in attempting to describe the experience of another, particularly other ethnic groups, the public will know right away — especially in the Age of Twitter — and the book will be judged accordingly.

But fiction isn’t memoir: J.K. Rowling is not a wizard, Pat Barker was not a World War I physician and Samuel R. Delany isn’t … well, Delany is actually a lot of things, and why should he pick one identity?

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I will be watching the debate with a stiff drink and through splayed fingers

(Update, 10:45 p.m.: I feel better now that the debate is over, and the alcohol definitely took the edge off. Good combination!)

(Update, 3:01 p.m.: Andy Borowitz is way ahead of me.)

Tonight is the first presidential debate. I will probably watch at least some of it, because it feels like a civic responsibility — after all, part of voting is to be informed, and this will be one of just three opportunities to see Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump go one-on-one, allegedly debating the issues.

But, let’s face it, it’s really just a big television show — one that’s hard to win, but easy to lose.

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I know it’s un-American, but I just don’t care about football

Image from Inside the Pylon.
And so it begins.

Thursday night marks the official kickoff (heh heh, he said “kickoff”) of the NFL season. The defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos will meet the Carolina Panthers in Major Company-Sponsored Stadium at 8:30 p.m. ET, with the actual game scheduled to start sometime after several hours of hype and beer commercials.

I couldn’t care less.

I feel, well, a little strange about that.

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Birthday greetings to all you celebrities out there!

Bob Newhart turned 87 Monday. But who else should be celebrated? Image from PBS.

Today is September 7, which means it must be somebody’s birthday. And not just anybody’s birthday — a celebrity’s birthday!

Let’s see … happy birthday, Evan Rachel Wood! And Shannon Elizabeth! And Easy-E, though you’ve been dead since 1995! (That’s OK: It’s also Buddy Holly’s birthday — he would have been 80 — and he’s been dead since 1959.) And Gloria Gaynor! You have survived!

Listen: There’s nothing wrong with birthdays. We all have them, and they’re a wonderful excuse for friends and loved ones to celebrate our entry into this world. Occasionally, as in the case of Google Doodles, they’re also a history lesson and a tribute to notable and often unsung people.

But, as with so many things on the Internet, they’ve gotten out of hand.

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