Wednesday, February 27, 2008

All About Ed (An Epilogue)


I don't usually do this; I typically write what I write and let that speak for itself. Unfortunately, I feel like I need to clarify a few things with regard to my column from Monday (How to Lose a Job in 13 Days?/2.25.08) -- specifically, my feelings about my former boss Ed Litvak's "resignation" from CNN.

I do this for the usual reasons -- because at least two media outlets ran stories about my reaction which twisted my opinion all to hell until it sounded like I was literally pissing on the man's grave.

So, let me make it unequivocally clear: I harbor no ill-will at all toward Ed.

In fact, I actually think he's a pretty decent guy, regardless of his decision to fire me two weeks ago. There are things that I believe Ed did wrong during his tenure as executive producer and ostensible leader of American Morning, but I see no need to pettily point them out. Anyone in a position of authority will find him or herself the target of criticism and obviously Ed has now received the worst kind of professional criticism there is. In his defense, he was charged with a gargantuan task: helming an unwieldly monster of a show, with staff working in separate shifts 24-hours a day, during a time of major upheaval. He was forced to constantly juggle duties while making sure to placate the various egos, each of whom believed that his or her wants and needs should be top priority. I have no doubt that he was micro-managed to death by Jon Klein, a situation made worse, in all likelihood, by the ironic and ever-present feeling that he would be the one getting fired if Klein's own directives failed. The true advocates on his behalf would say he was set up to fail.

I may not have agreed with Ed Litvak, but I damn sure didn't envy him either.

Whether or not the fallout from my termination played a role in Ed's own, I'll never know. I do believe though that if American Morning had been a consistent ratings bonanza under his watch, no controversy in the world would've ended with Ed packing up his office.

And that's really the saddest part.

Let me clue you in on something the type-A personalities in upper-level news management always refuse to accept, making life hell for all those beneath them: Sometimes, the audience just doesn't come.

The fight to get people to watch a particular station or network is always a brutal and unforgiving one, but in the end you simply cannot control what a person will do (let alone thousands of them) -- whether a potential viewer will watch you, someone else, or shut the damn TV off altogether. It's frustrating as hell until you abandon the control-freak mentality that's de rigeur among the producer set and admit -- maybe submit -- to the reality that ratings are often completely arbitrary. You can put together the show of your career and no one will watch; you can be at the reins of an on-air trainwreck that makes you wish someone had thought to install a full bar in the control room and the numbers will be huge. You may as well be playing the lotto.

Management can convene all the "average viewer" focus-groups it wants, then accept as gospel the opinions of a bunch of people who probably just showed up for the free food; it can do a minute-by-minute ratings breakdown, which as far as the executives can tell would seem to indicate that the anchor's half-second hiccup just before tossing to weather is the reason 30-thousand people suddenly made the collective decision to change the channel. (Believe me, Kafka couldn't have invented a more surreal and ritualistic ordeal than being forced to sit in an office with a group of seemingly intelligent higher-ups while they over-analyze and knee-jerk react to this kind of worthless crap.) Management can take all the institutional psychology and "Intro to Chaos Theory" classes it wants; it can commission AR&D, Magid, Broadcast Image and Rick James TV Consultants, Bitch, of Studio 54 and the China Club to take the entire staff on a retreat to a nudist camp in the Poconos; management can do all of these things and more -- none of it will ensure that anyone will be sitting in front of that TV watching a given channel at a given time.

I'm not suggesting that TV news departments simply give up and not arm themselves with as much knowledge and research as possible.

I'm saying that, cases of herculean incompetence notwithstanding, it seems patently unfair not only to fire someone over something he or she has no control of -- but to meddle in that person's day-to-day decisions while making sure that he or she knows at all times that a steady paycheck hangs in the balance.

I realize this is just the nature of the beast, as it is with most businesses.

My point is this though: As far as I know, Ed Litvak gave Jon Klein exactly what he wanted; during my tenure as a producer on AM I never saw anything that would make me believe otherwise.

Once again, I may not have agreed with Ed on many things, but I never doubted that it was always Klein running the show.

And yet when all Klein's big ideas failed, guess who wound up taking the blame and losing his job?

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is insightful. Thanks for posting it.

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU!!!!!!

Now how are you going to help those that Klein has fucked seven ways to Sunday and have no voice?

Queen of Everything said...

Excellent ass coverage. Almost too over the top, but you've clearly painted a picture of the employee of integrity who can be professional with the best of assholes.

Hopefully, employers won't worry about publicity should they ever fire you in the future.

OttawaValleyGuy said...

Oprah’s support of Dr. Phil and her constant promotion of all of that weight-loss crap has caused enough harm to more than ‘outweigh’ any good.

Dr. Phil ruthlessly and publicly ambushes his so-called ‘patients’ to increase TV ratings and sell more books. As a supposed ‘trained’ doctor, his unsolicited ‘professional’ public meddling in peoples lives, (such as Britney Spears), should be cause for great concern. (I was under the impression that doctors should “Do no harm”.) For the harm he has done to his ‘patients’ and non-patients, Dr. Phil’s medical license should be revoked.

It is often written that Oprah’s net worth could be in excess of $1 billion. She seems to be a very organized and committed person who can afford any weight loss program or treatment available, and has access to the best fitness trainers and/or dietitians around. In good conscience, how can she continually bring on weight loss gurus and promote weight loss programs that she knows are just selling a dream, and, from her own example, just don’t work?

Unfortunately, the big-O’s brainwashed fans seem oblivious to all that stuff.

Anyway, I might have gotten a little sidetracked. What was the original point I was trying to get to? …Oh, now I remember. Listen Chez, keep up the great work! However, be careful that you don’t overdevelop your chosen reputation as much as the big-O has hers. I wouldn’t want to see you get a swelled head too!

Anonymous said...

The fact that Oprah's net worth is over a billion dollars proves that there are an awful lot of stupid vulnerable people in the world!

Anonymous said...

Covering his ass??? Maybe...
But it show a bit of professionalism, dispite how any of you feel. Yes....I did use the word professionalism. for Chez to come out and try to clear the air regarding Ed speaks volumes of his character. True, he may not agree with Ed but "shit happens". If I understand Chez's bloggs, he has always stood on principles. Even if they were and are only his own. Wether or not everyone agrees with him. That really doesn't matter. That's the beauty of "freedom of speech" or having your own blogg.
If someone's words, no matter who's they are, is taken out of context, it's usally a good idea to atleast try to clear it up. and yes, it does look good for any future employer's.
A little ass kissing never hurt anyone as long as it doesn't become a habit.
Chez, a few of us think you did the right thing. Thanks

Anonymous said...

This is surprisingly classy and restrained of you. I wouldn't have been so kind about Litvak's "reign of nothing."

Nicole said...

Chez, that is always the vibe that I got from you. Ed was just doing what the higher-ups demanded, and he provided a convenient scapegoat when news of your termination dominated press coverage.

Make no mistake; I believe that Ed was just as much a pawn as any other middle-manager in a soulless corporation.

Keep on keepin' on, and here's to hoping Ed will find his niche at a better organization (if such a thing still exists).

b80vin said...

No one's going to say it? Ok, I will. Put on the best show EVER, as opposed to a train wreck... FOX and Friends is the number one cable morning show. Intellectually, journalistically, professionally and talent-wise it is a disgrace. Even trying to compete with such a cluster F-K will dehumanize you. And it should demonstrate that if you give the people what they want you sell your soul and every reason for being in the business. It doesn't fit the bottom line, nor convince corporate, but in the end it must answer the need of self-respect to be able to say, I failed at a worthy endeavor but I didn't succeed at failing journalism.

Manny said...

The media twisting your words was bound to happen, but it's good that you're clearing the air in a public forum and can still take a step back and judge the situation dispassionately.

js said...

Chez, I love this blog. Your words are sort of refreshing except to Jon Klein. I favor CNN over other channels because IMO (humble, of course,) that I see responsible journalism and I believe that I can trust what they report. The anchor likeability is also important to me. If I don't like what I see and, also their voice and mannerisms, I vote with my remote. Channel choices abound today so there are many options. There are so many reasons to watch, or not, it's a wonder that cable media productions
ever succeed.
It is interesting to get the inside scoop on the media business.
Good luck in your next job.
Judy Stage/Brooklyn MI

Anonymous said...

Oh, bleed my heart, Communist homosexual b80vin. "Fox & Friends" is number 1 the same reason FOX NEWS CHANNEL is THE MOST POWERFUL NAME IN NEWS--it gives the public what it wants--real people in the real world who work for a living. And it supports AMERICA, OUR PRESIDENT AND OUR TROOPS! The people who watch the Commie News Network are the same who watch Bathtub Boy on HomoNBC--NO ONE!

But of course, you Communist homosexuals hate ordinary people who work for a living. You hate giving the public what it wants. You hate real people in the real world. You hate AMERICA. If you hate AMERICA so much, why don't you GET THE HELL OUT OF MY AMERICA AND GO TO SURRENDER MONKEY LAND?

And oh yes, Communist homosexual--HOW BIG WAS YOUR CELEBRATION ON SEPT. 11, 2001?

I--am AN AMERICAN! THESE COLORS DON'T RUN!

Chez said...

Roger Ailes everybody -- give it up for him.

Hey Kid Rock, who the fuck turned the computer on for you this morning?

Anonymous said...

Seriously, people thought you were "grave-dancing"? I never got that impression!

In fact, I posted the comment in that blog about admiring you for doing the opposite. Maybe those people just don't read well...

Anonymous said...

Ed...well fuck him..bastardo

Anonymous said...

Chez,

As a non-partisan observer to this whole thing, I just have to say this.....I thought that when a person reached the title of producer, they would act like an adult and learn to speak without using childish vulgarity and four letter words every time they opened their mouth. Can you not get your points across without cussing and sounding like some idiot who's been out at some cheap floozie bar all night? You don't sound like a professional to me at all. No wonder the news business is in such terrible shape. There are too many of you amoral people running the show. Why don't you get rid of that huge bump you seem to have on yourself? You act like you are some savior that is going to expose the evil news business and save it from damnation. I got news for you partner.....you are part of the problem, along with all of the rest of them. The news business and CNN wasn't so evil as long as you were getting that old paycheck, now was it? Did you throw your principles to the side just for the sake of that money? Now, that really isn't being principled at all now is it? Jon Klein wasn't satan until his paychecks to you ceased, right? That big bump you carry around must be some heavy load.

Anonymous said...

Chez, I left something out of my previous post. I really take issue with what you said about NBC exploiting the Virginia Tech tragedy. Oh, I mean, I agree that they certainly did, but each and every news outlet did the same thing. They all had their reporters and satellite trucks crammed in like sardines at the scene of the crime, talking breathlessly about gruesome details and panicked students who were fighting for their lives. Your own channel, CNN, had John Roberts, Kiran Chetry and a number of others on the scene, eagerly waiting for their chance to pounce on any number of very traumatized and vulnerable people. I remember seeing Kiran Chetry, with this terribly pained expression, talking to one student who had, just the day before, lived through a hellish nightmare. She is there, sticking a microphone in this student's face, asking him to recall the horrid nightmare once again. Now, you might say, well, they wanted to talk to the media. Hogwash. Have you ever stopped to think about how emotionally vulnerable folks are that have just been through such an experience? They are so easily manipulated and taken advantage of. They are in a fragile state and probably don't know what to think at that point, but some reporterette approaches, painting her face with a sympathetic expression, pretending to feel their pain, looking for a way to cast a little glory on themselves. That's what the news media is all about. Using someone's tragedy for ratings and personal gratification. If you people had any feelings at all, you would stay the heck away from these victims and give them a little time to grieve, mourn and sort out their feelings and thoughts before shoving a microphone and camera into their faces. So, don't go calling NBC callous, because all networks are guilty of this stuff. I really don't know how any decent person can be a part of today's media. They all seem like a bunch of leeches if you ask me.

Chez said...

First of all, I didn't ask you. Secondly, "hogwash?" Such language. Do you kiss your kid with that mouth?

Look pal, first of all -- a word is just a word. Just because you're personally offended by something doesn't make it vulgar. If you can't handle the idea of anyone using grown-up words, then life must be a hell of a burden for you. Oh yeah, and I never cast myself as a savior to the TV industry.

Now then, if you'd paid attention at all -- as in gone back and read the original columns in which I talked about both the victims of the V-Tech shooting (here) and NBC's airing of the killer's videotape (here) you'd see that what was inexcusable about what NBC did as opposed to everyone else was air it first (thereby allowing everyone else to fair-use it, since the genie was out of the bottle by that point). The network was the ONLY one that had access to this material; it could've made the decent and ethical decision to let the FBI have the tape and leave it at that, but NBC not only aired the damn thing -- the network burned its logo into the video so that anytime another outlet went with it, the big NBC peacock was all over its air.

It was disgraceful -- and guess what else it was? A gruesome slap in the face to the families and students at Virginia Tech. Just read what I wrote back then and it'll make my position clear -- provided there aren't too many icky words in it for your fragile sensibilities.

b80vin said...

My dearest true american, anon,

I was not aware that I forfeited my citizenship as well as my patriotism if I hated Fox News. I'll have to rethink my criteria for acceptable journalism so that I may stay in YOUR america. However, I should say that FOX and Friends is a ridiculous show with ridiculous talent that has a penchant for getting things wrong (remember when they reported an Onion story as fact?). I live in D.C. and can remember when Steve Doocy was the local news clown on NBC-4 here. He did everything but real journalism. At least I can credit his consistency.

And I say fuck anyone who doesn't realize that the cursing shit is the fucking bomb! Some times commie fags have to drop the fuck bomb like a sumbitch, goddamit.

Anonymous said...

Chez, I admire your attempt at trying to parse the justification of your coverage of the Virginia Tech tragedy as opposed to how NBC did things. Any time a network sends droves of reporters and camera crews to the scene of a horrific crime, they have one thing in mind, and it's $$$$$$$. I think it's sad and pathetic to expect people who have just been through a life shattering trauma to have the judgement and mindset to determine whether or not they want to blabber their horrid ordeal to millions of viewers. At this moment, these people are traumatized, and do you really think they want some bimbo approaching them with some stupid questions like "how are you feeling", "are you a hero", "what were you thinking when the gunman was trying to get into the classroom" and other insensitive questions. Vulnerable and traumatized people agree to go along with things when they are in this frame of mind, but if they had a bit longer to think on it with a clearer mind, they might tell the media where they could go instead. The media is using their grief for their gain, and that's despicable. I don't care what network one works for.

Oh, and I'm so sorry you feel the need to use those big bad words. Does it make you feel like a grown-up to use them? Now, go back to doing your big expose' on the news business. Why were you such a willing participant in an industry that you seem to view as vile and dysfunctional? Checks must have been pretty good, huh? Convictions or money? You'd still be doing CNN's bidding if you had not been fired. Would you have walked out on principle alone?

Chez said...

Whatever you say. I've been over every argument you're making about nine or ten times in the last year, which means that I really don't feel like doing it again. You're welcome to keep ranting though if it makes you feel like you're making a valid point. : )

b80vin said...

Anon,

Chez may not feel like going over it one more time, but I have some questions: What, exactly is NEWs to you and what is journalism's responsibility to NEWs? From what I understand of the Constitution journalism is tasked with informing the public about events far from their personal vantage points. As far as I know every single entity charged with social responsibility makes mistakes in the discharge of its responsibilities: Congress, police, the medical establishment, the armed services, the presidency, the legal system. To ask journalism to be perfect is ridiculous (I wanted to say fucking ridiculous but thought better of it).

Further to ascribe to every blonde reporter bimbohood is a sign of weak intelligence. And to assign the sins of the few true bimbos to all of journalism is the height of erroneous logic (I believe it's called argumentum broad brushiam).

Finally, you question Chez' purpose for working for CNN. I don't know Chez, but I have, at least some reading comprehension, and since he has written hundreds of self revelatory posts I think I can provide you an analogy. Let's assume that many experts are correct that the education system is somewhat less than fully functional. Imagine then, a teacher in a school that is plagued with problems from office politics to pure and singular focus on testing. Would that teacher who wanted to make a difference be better served trying to pursue her or his dedication to student, or abandoning his or her work because it was no use? Would the students be better off in any of the above scenarios? And if the teacher stayed would you be able to argue only on the bases of that teacher's dedication to the pay check?

Quite simply your attack on Chez, and journalism as a whole is fucking stupid and ill-considered. And I'll add this, words have meanings in the sense that they convey thoughts, images and internal feelings. Raw words are much more effective at conveying raw feelings. A person writing florid poetry may use florid words to describe the act of fucking, but a person writing casually about the fucking Patriot Act may wish to use words more indicative of his mood. Welcome to the world of free expression. It has many faces.