A few words in defense of #CNN

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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.

Tonight

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This is not me, and that is not Mulligan. Photo from ashagoldstein.com.

I will go to bed early. I will not stay up to 11:30 watching basketball or surfing the Internet.

I will sleep a sound and peaceful eight hours (at least). I will not wake up because a cat jumps on my chest. Nor will I have to get up to pee.

And tomorrow I will wake up rested and start going through all the crap I don’t want to keep. I will be unsentimental and channel my inner Marie Kondo. I will finish writing an article and I will have time to watch basketball and surf the Internet.

So I say.

Goodbye, Chuck Barris

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Image from NBC via Philly.com.

I knew who Chuck Barris was even before I saw him.

I was the kind of kid who watched shows right through to the end credits, and I noticed the Chuck Barris Productions logo was very similar to ABC’s and Dick Clark’s. That made sense, since both Clark (who employed Barris in the late ’50s) and Barris had relationships with ABC. (It’s hard to beat a Paul Rand logo.)

Game show geek that I was, I did watch “The Dating Game” and “The Newlywed Game,” though I didn’t understand any of the snickering double-entendres both shows wallowed in. But somehow I knew they were related to Barris, and that his shows were low-brow fun. (He also did “The New Treasure Hunt.”)

Then came “The Gong Show” and Chuck the smarmy host.

Oh, man, did I watch “The Gong Show.” I loved how they gave out $516.32 for the big prize. I loved the Unknown Comic. I had no idea who Jaye P. Morgan was, but I knew Jamie Farr from “M*A*S*H” and Gary Owens had that wonderful voice.

And then there was Barris, clapping his hands, making crude jokes, taking off his bow tie within five minutes of the show’s opening. Stupid? Absolutely. Fun? Of course.

Of course, “The Gong Show” quickly got mannered — what started out as something between a real talent show and vaudeville became a planned freak parade — and “The Gong Show Movie” was even worse. (Yes, I paid to watch it in the theater.) And “The $1.98 Beauty Show” never did it for me.

But Barris was always a fascinating figure. He liked us to think so, anyway. Who else would claim he was both a TV producer and a CIA agent?

Chuck Barris shuffled off the stage Tuesday. Much to his credit, he wasn’t gonged.

We’ll leave you with Gene, Gene, the Dancing Machine.

Submitted for your approval: Rod Serling, human

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Screenshot of Rod Serling from TheInvisibleAgent.

The other day I stumbled on an old “American Masters” documentary about Rod Serling, the TV writer and “Twilight Zone” creator. I’d read a biography of Serling many years ago, and watched his drama “Patterns” on a boxed set of great Golden Age TV programs, but it had been some time since I thought about the man.

Which is saying something, because in high school I was a huge “Twilight Zone” fan. I remember New Orleans’ PBS station ran reruns, and (though I’m mildly embarrassed to admit it) I spent a good deal of a prom night party exchanging plots with a good friend while others indulged in alcohol and making out. (My own date had abandoned me to get late-night beignets at the Cafe du Monde.)

In those days, it was the darkly twisted or more horrific “Twilight Zones” that caught my attention: “Time Enough at Last,” in which Burgess Meredith, the last man on Earth, finally has time to read all the books he wants — he thinks; “The Howling Man,” a terrifying tale about a prisoner in a castle; “It’s a Good Life,” the classic story about a 6-year-old with nasty powers; and “And When the Sky Was Opened,” about three astronauts who suspect they shouldn’t have come back from their mission.

But the documentary reopened my eyes to the other Serling — the humane one, the one who cared about the little guy, the unsung, the alleged failure, the salaryman. This is the Serling who earned lasting fame for “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” his “Playhouse 90” about a washed-up fighter; who served in World War II and had nightmares about his experiences for the rest of his life; and who wrote some of the most affecting “Twilight Zone” episodes — not about monsters and meanness, but about human flaws and human decency.

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Robert Osborne, 1932-2017

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Image from classicmoviefavorites.com.

Robert Osborne, the knowledgeable and gracious host of Turner Classic Movies, died Monday. He was 84.

The Los Angeles Times has a wonderful obituary of Osborne, who had a career as an actor before he went into journalism and then television hosting. He had a number of small roles in the ’50s and ’60s, including a bit part as Mr. Drysdale’s assistant on “The Beverly Hillbillies” pilot.

He acquits himself fine, but I’m glad he went into journalism. Lucille Ball, a mentor, told him, “We have enough actors. We don’t have enough people writing about the industry.”

For more than 25 years he wrote a column for The Hollywood Reporter. He was absolutely trusted by many starts; THR has columns by several of them today, all of whom remember him fondly.

I met him just once, when I went over to Turner’s Midtown Atlanta complex to do a brief story on TCM’s “31 Days of Oscar.” He was, of course, charming and kind. He sent me on my way with one of his coffee-table Oscar books. Nobody knew more about the awards and the history behind them. (Not even my friend Tom O’Neil, and Tom knows everything.)

Osborne had been taking a smaller role on TCM, ceding the stage to Ben Mankiewicz and newcomer Tiffany Vazquez, but even when he wasn’t on screen, he was always there. He will be greatly missed.

A tip of the turban to an old master

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Image from Wikipedia.

Jon Stewart returned to old friend Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show” Tuesday night wearing an extra-long red tie and a small animal on his head — a nod, he said, to the fashion sense of our 45th president.

But there was another nod I detected, one that likely went over the heads of most of Colbert’s audience.

You’ll notice that, at about the 6:10 mark, Stewart and Colbert crack jokes about the folder Colbert holds being “the last executive order.” The way he says it is a reference to the great Carnac the Magnificent, one of Johnny Carson’s characters from his 30-year run as “Tonight Show” host.

Which got me thinking: Does anybody under 40 even remember Johnny Carson?

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Mary Tyler Moore, 1936-2017

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Image from Getty Images via Parade.

I always hated the scenes in “The Dick Van Dyke Show” in which Mary Tyler Moore, as Van Dyke’s wife Laura, would moan, “Oh, Rob!” and be on the verge of tears at some presumed failing.

Hated it because, even if it was part of the character, it didn’t seem fair to Moore. It was the one bit of the ’60s show that seemed part of a ’50s TV cliche. No, Moore was smart. Cool. Hell, Laura Petrie was often more sensible than her screen husband, who was once convinced they’d brought the wrong baby home.

To his credit, “Dick Van Dyke” creator Carl Reiner knew this. He and his writers showed Moore to be more than just a pretty face, which is one reason that show still seems fresh more than 50 years later.

And Moore (and her own husband, producer Grant Tinker) knew this, too. That’s why “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” which went on the air in 1970, worked so well. Mary Richards was smart. Tough. She had heart. She had spunk. (Lou Grant originally hated spunk, but he grew to love it.)

Oh, she could get rattled, but what TV producer didn’t? She also had a terrific sense of humor. You had to, in a newsroom with Ted Baxter and Sue Ann Nivens.

About the only real failing Moore’s character Mary Richards had was she couldn’t host a dinner party to save her life. Not even when Johnny Carson was coming by.

Mary Tyler Moore — great actress, terrific talent spotter, brave and funny soul — died Wednesday. She was 80.

And though I hated “Oh, Rob!”, I’m left sad and speechless myself.

Oh, Mary. RIP.

Odds and ends: Baseball, awards, ‘Face’

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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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Snow in Atlanta, panic on TV

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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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A late note on ‘M*A*S*H’s’ Father Mulcahy, William Christopher

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Image from theinterrobang.com.

William Christopher, “M*A*S*H’s” Father Mulcahy, died New Year’s Eve.

Ever since I heard the news, I’ve been thinking about one of the series’ most famous episodes, “The Interview.” The 1976 episode, shot in black and white, was based on a “See It Now” program in which Edward R. Murrow interviewed Korean War servicemen. It remains one of the best “M*A*S*H” episodes, which is saying something, given how good “M*A*S*H” was.

Christopher had a memorable scene in “The Interview.” I’ll let “M*A*S*H” writer Ken Levine describe it:

I’ve always felt that Bill had the single greatest moment of MASH.  It was during “the Interview” episode when Father Mulcahy says this:

“When the doctors cut into a patient and it’s cold, you know the way it is now, today — steam rises from the body and the doctor will will warm himself over the open wound.   Could anyone look on that and not feel changed?”

I never thought that line could make me any sadder, but from now on it will.  RIP Bill Christopher.

“The Interview” isn’t available on YouTube. (It is on Vimeo — dubbed into another language.) However, producer Larry Gelbart’s remembrance of the episode is.

So long and amen.