Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Adventures in Passive-Aggression

I stand corrected. As it turns out, there actually was a time before being fired that I published something on this site which directly referenced my job at CNN. Although I never specifically identified where it was that I worked, I wrote a piece back in June of last year that described, in detail, a very bad day I had at the office. It was posted, then quickly taken down after I thought twice about letting my anger and desire to vent my frustration overwhelm my better judgment. This is the first time this column has appeared here in more than a year. It's infinitely more entertaining now that you know exactly which network and show I'm talking about.

I seem to remember making a promise a while back that at no point would this little experiment of mine turn into a "blog" in the traditional sense -- that I'd do everything in my power to prevent the columns that you find here from ever becoming a somewhat dull chronicle of what I'm doing at any given moment.

In other words, this is not my fucking diary.

And yet, there's no denying that although my primary goal here is to entertain, inform, enrage, provoke, pester, what-have-you, the feel of my MacBook's warmth on my lap and the rythmic tapping of my fingers against its shallow keys does hold a certain therapeutic value for your humble narrator, and at the moment this is monumentally important. I make this declaration simply because I had the kind of day at work that, as of yet, nothing has been able to anesthetize.

Not beating the living hell out of a punching bag at the gym for an hour. Not playing a round or two of that Orbitz golf game that pops up on my computer desktop every so often like some internet Jehovah's Witness. Not lighting up a Montecristo Rothschilde. Nothing.

So, maybe all that's left is to get it off my chest. If I earned a living as, say, a drawbridge tender (my dream job -- no lie), relaying the events of my workday to a mass audience would likely be unforgivably self-indulgent. However, because I spend most of my day wearing the hat of a network news producer, I might be able to pass the whole thing off as necessary for the general public's overall edification. I can tell myself that, goddammit, it's important that you people are fully aware just what kind of utter nonsense is involved in bringing you the important events of the day.

Yeah, that's it. That'll work just fine.

Please keep in mind that although by now some of you may have definite theories regarding which television network I work for, I still have to maintain some semblance of discretion. That said, this is the first time that I've pulled back the curtain and allowed anyone an even mildly unflattering look behind the scenes at the daily news program of which I'm currently a part. So, you know, let's just keep it between you and me -- okay?

Actually, now that I think about it -- none of what you're about to read is true. I made it all up.

We'll start at the beginning of my entirely fictional story:

00:00 (Zero Hour)

The alarm on my Blackberry goes off, jolting me out of a dream involving drawbridges (see?). Unlike most mornings, the first words out of my mouth don't bear a striking resemblance to the incomprehensible cursing that Yosemite Sam used to mutter under his breath in the old Warner Brothers cartoons; that's because my wife and I had a wonderful, relaxing weekend and for the first time in a very long time I feel pretty damn good. My current job may not necessarily be the most rewarding; it certainly isn't what I expected to be doing at this point in my life. Still, I shower and dress with a Zen-like calm -- content in the knowledge that, as Talk Talk once said so beautifully, life's what you make it. This morning, I'm determined to make it something great.

A few hours from now, this sentiment will have been crushed into a thousand itty-bitty pieces.


I arrive at the office to find that we're alarmingly short-staffed. Apparently, no one realized that one of our key line producers -- a person responsible for actually taking the show into the control room -- was still on vacation. I put my bag down at my desk and meander over to the coffee machine -- using the hot water to make myself a cup of tea. I silently repeat my pledge to make life what I, uh, make it -- over and over -- thereby stopping myself from taking a running start and jumping through the plate glass and to the street far below. I'm Zen, baby.


After reading through the day's news, which is admittedly worthless as I really only need to know one or two stories involving fires and dead pregnant women, I begin looking over the show -- my iPod earphones plugged tightly into my head, allowing the serene sounds of Coltrane's In a Sentimental Mood to comfort me as I begin my workday proper.

The big stories of the day, as expected: California fires, a dead pregnant woman, and, supposedly, the World's Ugliest Dog.

If I had actually gone to journalism school, I'd be furious that I had gone to journalism school for this.


The first real speed-bump of the day (or at least something with the IQ of a speed-bump): Our regular anchor being off, we've drafted one of the best-looking people in television news to replace him. Unfortunately, this person is -- in keeping with my Warner cartoon theme, and in the words of Foghorn Leghorn -- about as sharp as a sack of wet mice. Our writing staff now finds itself forced to put pronunciation guides into our scripts for any word above a fourth-grade reading level.

I wonder for a brief moment if someone should be proactive and inform him before air that Charles Taylor is the former Liberian president, and not a former librarian.


We're trying to come up with four or five ways to say what is essentially the same thing; this dilemma is pretty much par for the course when you have a large block of news and have chosen to fill it by throwing your entire reporting team at every conceivable angle of the Boyfriend-of-Missing-White-Woman-Found-Dead-Now-Charged-with-Murder du jour. I knew this story was going to be "huge" simply because I had noticed over the weekend that despicable ambulance-chaser Nancy Grace had actually come in on her day off to do a "Very Special" edition of her show on CNN Headline News.

One of our scripts reads, "The question everyone is asking is: Who is Bobby Cutts?" -- a reference to the man now charged with killing Ohio mother Jessie Davis.

Truer words were never spoken. Who the hell is Bobby Fucking Cutts?


After two more cups of tea, a Diet Coke and a bag of Onion & Garlic Soy Crisps (because the damn machines are out of Bugles), I'm sufficiently amped -- although still maintaining as much Zen as possible, given the circumstances. Those circumstances would be the fact that we as a news organization have already begun our slavish, Riefenstahlian proselytizing in the name of our techno-fuhrer, Steve Jobs. Apple doesn't even need a marketing campaign for the iPhone; it has us -- the mass media. In Jobs We Trust.

I glance down at my Motorola Razr on my desk. I feel so 2005.

Still, I pick it up and cradle it somewhat lovingly -- suddenly finding an odd kinship with it. I imagine it feels sad, belittled and inferior right about now.

I can relate.


I get an e-mail from a friend of mine in Miami who's also in TV news. He's in contact with the producers at another network; apparently Ann Coulter is -- at this very moment -- stalking their halls, waiting to go live on the air.

Someone once again invited Ann Coulter to appear as a guest on a supposedly respectable news show.

I hate this business.


The show is underway and, as expected, we're falling behind simply because we're sorely lacking people. Also as expected, the executives are acting as if we're at full-staff, which means that -- when the show inevitably collapses on-air -- it will be the little people who get taken out behind the wood-shed. Two go out. One comes back.

I'm motherfucking Zen goddammit.


Our fill-in anchor has just mispronounced Mao, saying not "MOW" but "MAY-oh."

I immediately make sure he has a pronunciation guide for an upcoming story about Mensa (MEN-suh), as he's obviously not going to have the slightest clue how to say that particular word correctly.


Our other anchor misreads a script -- inadvertently turning a story about San Francisco's mayor banning bottled water in all city offices to a story about San Francisco's mayor banning bottled water in the entire city.

Well, it certainly makes for a better story.


Our main guest booker shouts across the newsroom, "I FUCKING HATE THIS PLACE!" rips off her headset and stomps away.


Overwhelmed, understaffed and completely against the wall, we're suddenly commanded to juggle the end of the show in an effort to make room for a new guest. Possibly General David Petraeus? Terrorism expert Peter Bergen perhaps? Fareed Zakaria with analysis on the situation in Gaza?

Nope, it's the kid who put his cell phone number up on YouTube -- the one who's since met a girl online whom he's now asked to marry him after a mere month and a half.

Talk Talk was wrong. Life isn't what you make it; it's what your bosses make it.

And if they happen to be in the news business -- they make it shit.

My Zen is fucked.


Eight hours and forty-five minutes after I woke up in a great mood, I'm trying to prevent myself from taking the entire newsroom hostage. My bosses walk out of the control room and into their respective offices one at a time -- saying nothing.

Not a word.

Not a "thank you" to the skeleton crew who pulled off a nearly impossible feat.


Finally, one of the show's line producers walks past my desk. I look up at him from my chair. "Say something nice to me, Alex," I say quietly. "Tell me we did good."

"You guys were great," he says. "I have no idea how we pulled it off."

Neither do I -- and I have no idea how we'll do it again tomorrow.

Or why for that matter.


Pants said...

Wow, I always wanted to be a fly on the wall in that place. Thanks for the transcript, and for killing my dreams about one day working for CNN (just kidding, they've murdered that ambition a long time ago)...

Chez said...

In the interest of fairness, most of the management of American Morning -- the people who didn't even bother to recognize the effort of those beneath them -- was fired not long after my own departure.

drater said...

mmmm....Bugles. Still using my oh-so-used-to-be-cool Razr, I suppose I'll be yelling at kids to get off my lawn soon. And what's with the drawbridge fantasy?

VOTAR said...

Well now you're free to pursue that dream career as a bridge-tender.

Always look on the bright side of Life... de-doo, de-doo, de-doo bee doo bee doo...

Deacon Blue said...

Ah, I did go to journalism school, and I'm so happy I wasn't forced to waste whatever talent I have in mainstream media.

My finances may not be all they could be as a freelancer mostly doing trade work, but Chez, you've helped me realize that it is still the cheerier path.

Anonymous said...

I hate Steve Jobs.

The damn guy's innovative but he forgot to fucking share that innovation the right way.

When he dies, Apple dies, and it's all because his "brilliant" business plan involves restrictive practices where there is no transparency between departments, and almost nobody knows what's going on at any point within the company other than him.

For further evidence, look at what happens to the stock market every time someone even whispers the words "Steve Jobs" and "cancer" in the same sentence.

Additionally, for the record, I fucking hate people who buy iPods. There were good music players before the iPod, and there have been good ones since. The only reason the damn thing sells is because it's "cute" (it's a goddamn accessory for crying out loud!) and the software is so damn restrictive (making things easy for the novice user) that it makes anyone with half a clue pull their hair out and go immediately back to other solutions for musical enjoyment.

I can stand you iPhone users. You can at least do something USEFUL with your product. (Which ideally would be calling up Apple and bitching about their corporate strategy to them with their own product)

I hate Microsoft too. That's another rant.

Amy said...

This leaves me even more contemptuous of the news than I was before.

Trust me when I say, there wasn't much room to drop before I read it.

Once again, your writing style is amazing.

Now, next time you are feeding the baby, watch Dr. Horrible. No, I won't give up until you've watched it :D

Jeremy said...

Well, I didn't need this to feel contempt for the media. That already happened way back in 2000 when I was fired from my first newspaper job for daring to write about the EPA violations occuring in our backyard that was everyday news in the Columbus, Ohio newspaper 90 miles north of our southern Ohio backwoods.
But it's nice to commiserate on occassion.
Thanks Chez.

Anonymous said...

I'm itching to know who "one of the best-looking people in television news" is. I think I might have a guess.

Jacki Schechner said...

This is one of my all time favs for obvious reasons.

And I can attest to the fact that even though I wasn't present on that particular day, I know it's all true.

denesteak said...

that was great.

One of my friends works at MSNBC right now and I asked her one day (this was during the summer), "So what broke today?" and she says, "Christie Brinkley's divorce was finally settled." and my reaction was, "... what?!!???"

Girl With Curious Hair said...

I loved this when you originally posted it. Probably because I was in exactly the kind of mood that would enthusiastically adopt "I'm motherfucking Zen goddammit." as a mantra of sorts.

Ike said...

The reason CNN (and broadcasters/cablecasters in general) need to have a no-blog policy is that the behind-the-scenes drama is more interesting and instructive than the actual news product.

(Chez will rightly notice that I said "news product," which is different than news in the same way that "cheese product" is different than cheese.)

Anonymous said...

This is killing me. As a local news anchor-- who can function without the prompter-- I've got to know who the fill-in anchor was and who blew Mao. Uhh... you know what I mean. C'mon, dish, baby! BTW, the MEN-suh line is classic.
Chez brings the funny.

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing the fill-in guy should stick to doing the weather?

Anonymous said...

"I'm guessing the fill-in guy should stick to doing the weather?"

That is my guess as well. ha ha ha