Wednesday, July 30, 2008
I promise not to turn this place into Oooh-Look-at-the-Baby Central -- mostly because, let's face it, that wouldn't quite gel with the overall misanthropic tone that you've probably come to expect from these proceedings. In fact, once Jayne's home from the hospital, the two of us will probably create some kind of separate site for Inara stuff. (Aren't we so 2000s?)
For now though, a couple more pictures from our little girl's first day wandering the world.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Monday, July 28, 2008
You might have noticed that I refrained from mentioning the death of Jesse Helms a few weeks back -- the reason being that I can't for the life of me find one good thing to say about the man and dancing on his grave is beneath even me.
Now, as if God himself were engaging in a little housecleaning down here, far-right icon and all-around bilious toad Bob Novak has been diagnosed with a brain tumor.
I honestly wouldn't wish that kind of suffering on anyone, not even an evil bastard like Novak. But to give you an idea of the kind of enmity he inspires among his many detractors -- quite a few of whom would be more than happy to publicly revel in his suffering -- the Huffington Post has chosen to disable the comment section on its story about Novak's illness.
They sure as hell didn't do that for Ted Kennedy.
(The Huffington Post: Robert Novak Has a Brain Tumor/7.28.08)
It's been a while since I've done one of these, but I think it's time to once again add to the list of random thoughts and observations that don't necessarily merit a full post.
When did Wendy's restaurants get brought under the control of the Ministry of Truth? The TV commercials for their new garden fresh salads feature a perky female announcer asking the following question: "If warm chicken is good, and cold, crunchy veggies are good -- then wouldn't a warm chicken and cold, crunchy veggies salad be good-good?"
So it's official: Wendy's is the first fast food chain to translate its menu into Orwellian Newspeak.
The next time you stop in, try ordering a doubleplusgood salad, a potatofry and a big-big Victory Coke.
One Is a Relic from the Past, Rendered Obsolete by Changing Times -- The Other Is an Old Cell Phone
I can't get enough of this picture. It unintentionally sums up the essence of John McCain's campaign in just about every way.
Somewhere David Spade is saying (to himself), "Hey John, 1984 called -- they want the phone they called you on back."
Speaking of ancient history: Remember not when MTV played music videos (because that was just too long ago) but when the worst complaint you could level at MTV was that it didn't play videos anymore? You know -- the days before it began airing nothing but toxic crap like The Hills 24/7? Well, apparently Tila Tequila and that dunce Heidi Montag haven't done enough to prepare America's next generation of young women for regret-stained futures in the prostitution industry, because the network is now bringing out the big guns. Elizabeth Berkley, star of 1995's rape-tastic film classic Showgirls, is in talks with MTV to develop a show aimed at empowering adolescent girls. Berkley wants to base the show on a series of workshops she currently hosts which addresses self-esteem and body issues in young women -- because, as you know, these days no one's more qualified to convince girls that they're attractive just the way they are than a goddamned living Barbie doll who hosts a reality show and once pretended to go down on Gina Gershon.
If I might suggest a title for the show, how about Stupid is the New Smart?
Ferris Bueller's Lay Off
If you believe what you read in the tabloids, there's major trouble in the marriage of New York's homeliest celebrity couple. According to this week's Star Magazine (motto: "Fuck It, We Can Retract Later") Matthew Broderick has been cheating on Sarah Jessica Parker. The magazine says Broderick met someone at a bar a few months ago and that the two of them have been slyly tooling around town together ever since. The most entertaining thing about this story, however, is the specific angle that the Star has wisely decided to play up for shock value. The magazine's cover points out that Broderick's affair is, surprisingly, "with a 25 year old woman."
For the record, the tabloid could just as easily have said that Broderick is sleeping with someone who doesn't look like the business end of a Tijuana donkey show, and the effect would've been the same.
(The Cynicist Manifesto: American Idol Edition/3.6.08)
Sunday, July 27, 2008
CNN Investigative Reporter Drew Griffin is one of my favorite people in TV news. He and I first worked together back in the mid-90s at KCBS in Los Angeles, where the two of us made a kind of juvenile game out of seeing who could better embarrass the other on television. I drafted him to do a light news story that most would've considered far beneath his abilities (but which eventually wound up surprising the hell out of both of us by winning him and myself a Golden Mic award); he returned the favor by making me a guinea pig in an investigation he was doing on drunk boating, basically taking me out to a lake and encouraging me to get hammered before hopping onto a jet ski -- all while taping the entire thing. (I still remember his exact quote from the finished piece: "After a half a bottle of tequila, Chez became foul-mouthed, belligerent, and unwilling to accept that he could no longer drive.") Despite these kinds of shenanigans however -- the things local TV people have to do to keep their minds from completely stagnating -- make no mistake: Drew Griffin has always been one of the hardest working and most talented journalists around.
So you can imagine my shock when I found out that he's also, apparently, a threat to national security.
Last week, CNN ran a piece in which Drew Griffin confirmed that he's been placed on the TSA's infamous and extensive Terrorist Watch List. The question many are now asking: Was he put there as some form of payback for an investigation he did a couple of months ago on both the TSA and the Federal Air Marshal Service? In the original report that ran on Anderson Cooper's show, AC 360, Griffin revealed that fewer than 1% of all daily commercial flights are protected by air marshals. What's more, he talked to some within the service's rank and file who complain that morale is so low that many experienced marshals are leaving in disgust -- only to be replaced by TSA screeners who are quickly being given weapons and put on planes, even though they have no law enforcement or military experience. (Hell, anybody who's traveled by air within the past couple of years knows that some TSA screeners behave as if they barely qualify to work at a Burger King.)
According to a separate story by investigative reporter and aviation terrorism expert Annie Jacobsen -- and last week's report by Drew Griffin himself -- the TSA and Homeland Security are now putting all their resources not into fixing the problems the initial report exposed, but into finding the people who aided Griffin in exposing them. Essentially, they're going on a witch hunt within their own organizations looking for the anonymous tipsters and whistleblowers who helped Drew Griffin hold them up for shame them on national television.
Which leads us to Drew's sudden appearance on the Terrorist Watch List.
Texas congresswoman and notorious troublemaker Sheila Jackson Lee is calling for a probe into what would seem to be the TSA's spiteful act of vengeance against Griffin for his investigation. Jackson Lee confronted DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, a man who's used to being called to the carpet for his agency's dangerous ineptitude, and asked him flat-out, "Why would Drew Griffin’s name come on the watch list, post-his investigation of TSA? What is the basis of this sudden recognition that Drew Griffin is a terrorist? Are we targeting people because of their critique or criticism?” Chertoff responded by rattling off his department's usual horseshit answer: It's probably just a coincidence that Griffin shares a name with someone recently put on the list.
Needless to say, as Annie Jacobsen notes in her own story on this mess, it requires a pretty painful game of Twister within the logic center of your brain to actually accept that somebody else named Drew Griffin was discovered to be a potential terrorist threat seven years after 9/11 but just a week or two after investigative reporter Griffin's exposé aired on CNN.
The more likely, though more unsettling, possibility is that Griffin did exactly what he was supposed to do as an investigative reporter and ruffled a few feathers in a some very high places.
He set out to reveal the incompetence of one of this country's most powerful and essential government agencies -- and may have wound up revealing its petty maliciousness as well.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
You know the drill: Swallow that blotter acid about 20 minutes after first putting it on your tongue, then sit back and watch the weirdness. (Deus Ex Malcontent assumes no responsibility for permanent psychological damage which may be caused by viewing the following nor for how damn tasteless any of this stuff is.)
Operation Rabbit (1952)
If you miss seeing Warner Brothers cartoons on network television, this seven minutes probably perfectly sums up why. From 1952, here's the Chuck Jones classic that pits Bugs Bunny against the "supergenius" of Wile E. Coyote: Operation Rabbit.
Friday, July 25, 2008
Wow, just -- wow. I'm marking today's date on my calendar and holding on to this so that it can be passed down to future generations.
Behold, what may be the single dumbest thing ever written:
"There seems to me no question that the Batman film "The Dark Knight," currently breaking every box office record in history, is at some level a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war. Like W, Batman is vilified and despised for confronting terrorists in the only terms they understand. Like W, Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past."
By the way, this isn't a joke (or the Joker); the guy who wrote this is dead serious. I swear I'd try to come up with a more substantial reponse to his piece, but honestly, where to even begin?
Read more of this hilariously mind-boggling crap, if you dare:
(WSJ.com: "What Bush and Batman Have in Common" by Andrew Klavan/7.25.08)
Lewis Taylor played some really fantastic music during his short career, so of course no one's ever heard of him. The British solo artist is a little bit Marvin Gaye, a little Todd Rundgren (both of whom are flat-out geniuses). He released a few records in the late 90s and early years of the new millennium, culminating in 2005's The Lost Album, but has since vanished from the public eye. It's too bad, because he's damn talented.
From 2002, this is Stoned, Pt. 1 (the video for which features soul-kitten extraordinaire, Esthero).
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Submitted for your approval (or criticism): My take on Nas's noble but ultimately futile anti-Fox rally, held yesterday here in New York City.
(The Village Voice: Nas Makes Fox News Look, Go Back to Eating Lunch/7.24.08)
Your assignment, as usual: Quietly put the following link up on every computer in your office, then crank all the speakers to full volume.
Mischief points: 550 (1,300 if you happen to work at a senior care facility)
(And There It Is, Folks)
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Stan Ridgway is God.
Here he is with Stewart Copeland, doing Don't Box Me In -- a song from the soundtrack to the 1983 Coppola movie Rumble Fish.
Besides star Matt Dillon, look for Mickey Rourke, Diane Lane (in a bikini), Dennis Hopper, Nicolas Cage, Tom Waits and Chris Penn in this video.
Just a minor housekeeping item:
I'll be guest contributing to the Village Voice's blog over the next two days. I hope to do what I can to maintain this little experiment of mine by putting up some new material here and there, but I can't make any promises.
Either way, if you A) find yourself bored, B) live in the New York City area, C) are a shut-in looking for a way to pass the time by using your computer monitor as a window to the outside world, or D) all of the above, feel free to stop by www.villagevoice.com.
Do it or we torch the girl.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
My good friend and fellow former CNNer Jacki Schechner has abandoned television news and is doing something infinitely more noble and fulfilling with her time these days: She's the National Communications Director for a non-profit organization called "Health Care for America Now!"
Its mission is to fight at the grassroots level for the overhaul of this country's inexcusably screwed-up health care system.
Do yourself a favor (and I mean that in more ways than one): Pay attention to what this group is saying and doing.
(Health Care for America Now!)
(DXM: Death Be Not Proud... But It Is Cost-Effective/12.30.07)
Normally, if I told you that a highly-paid local news anchor in a top-20 market had just been charged with a felony by federal prosecutors, who accuse him of illegally accessing the protected personal computer of a co-worker, it might shock you.
When I tell you that the anchor is Larry Mendte, and that his co-worker is Alycia Lane -- it's just Tuesday.
(CNN.com: Fired TV Anchor Charged with E-mail Snooping/7.21.08)
Monday, July 21, 2008
Becoming a country star is the musical equivalent of authoring children's books: It's the kind of thing that just about anyone can do serviceably and rake in bags of money, making it the perfect fall-back for the talent-deprived or those who've found their cultural relevancy waning.
Which is what makes it so amusing that Jessica Simpson seems to be failing miserably at it.
The formerly ubiquitous singer, "actress" and canned tuna connoisseur -- famous mostly for having large breasts and blonde hair -- was booed at her first official country music concert in Wisconsin over the weekend. Simpson took to the stage saying, "I don't know what your perception is of Jessica Simpson or what tabloid you buy, but I just want you to know that I'm just a girl from Texas," then, apparently forgetting that there were likely at least a few miserable heterosexual men in the audience: "I'm just like you. I'm doing what I love and dating a boy."
To Jess's credit, judging by the number of times she managed to use the word "just" in two sentences, she's all about lowering expectations for this little reinvention of hers.
The crowd was, shall we say, less than roundly impressed. "I'll have to drink a lot of beer to sit through her concert," said one man (although whether he was referring specifically to Jessica Simpson or to, you know, anybody, is unknown).
Added another: "She's an embarrassment to country music."
I'll just let you think about that statement for a minute.
Fun little article in yesterday's New York Times about the meteoric ascendency of Erin Burnett, and how NBC is handling her career more carefully than it did, say, Ashleigh Banfield's.
Of course in an effort to avoid playing up the most salient -- and most prurient -- factor behind Burnett's success, the author of the column manages to get about halfway through the thing before bringing up how incredibly hot the CNBC host is.
(The New York Times: "Needing a Star, CNBC Made One" by Brian Stelter/7.20.08)
And now, for something completely different (yet still related to the lovely Miss Burnett):
(DXM: Sweet Dreams/1.28.08)
You can tell a lot about a person by whether or not he or she loves American Music Club or even knows who they are. As far as I'm concerned, AMC's 1993 album Mercury is one of the best of the 90s.
Here's something from their latest release, The Golden Age. This is All the Lost Souls Welcome You to San Francisco. The video stars perennial go-to weirdo Grace Zabriskie (Laura Palmer's mom in Twin Peaks).
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Saturday, July 19, 2008
You know the drill: Swallow that blotter acid about 20 minutes after first putting it on your tongue, then sit back and watch the weirdness. (Deus Ex Malcontent assumes no responsibility for permanent psychological damage which may be caused by viewing the following.)
Because weekends mean cheap, hassle-free programming around these parts, here's a column from March of this year. No particular reason why I decided to resurrect it.
A few days ago, the weekend Today show upped the ante in the news media's ongoing competition to find the most imaginative way to scare the hell out of you for no good reason. The show did a segment on a dangerous new condition supposedly rearing its ugly head on America's college campuses:
According to a visibly shaken Amy Robach, the "disease" affects mostly young women -- leading them to skip meals during the day as a means of conserving calories so that they can spend their nights indulging in guilt-free drinking. For years you've known women who do this sort of thing by their more common name: "One Night Stands." But apparently what looks to the untrained eye like your average stupid drunk chick is in reality a sick little lamb crying out for help; lest you doubt this assessment, Today even brought in a camera-ready psychologist to attest to the breadth of the pandemic.
Which means you can now count the days until commercials for "Vodkalax, the only FDA-greased medication for the treatment of drunkorexia" begin popping up all over prime time TV.
So with that in mind -- the fear-mongering media's disease addiction as a potential platform from which to make a name for myself -- I offer up a few new combo-conditions sure to capture the attention of an already terrified nation.
All of these are real, because I said so, and all are very, very dangerous.
1. Restless Erectile Misfortune
Facts: Painful condition characterized by inability to deny desire for sexual gratification, often leading to regular placement of penis into precarious situations with little regard for consequences. Inevitable outcome includes career suicide, loss of family, respect, status, 401k, the eternal gratitude of late-night comedy writers.
Treatment: Taser belt, Venereal disease, Opposition congress
See: Bill Clinton, Eliot Spitzer, Gary Hart
Facts: Severe anxiety disorder which manifests itself in irrational fear of potential terrorist attacks, leading to lack of sleep (news media excluded), loss of appetite, election of GOP candidates and willingness to believe that a 3AM phone call to Barack Obama will start a chain reaction that will end in the deaths of your children.
Treatment: Capturing Osama bin Laden would be a start.
Immune: Anyone with an IQ above that of a lamp shade
3. Cynic Fibrosis (Carlin's Disease)
Facts: Highly contagious condition typically found among elderly men; manifests itself in random outbursts of bitter indignation, extended rants regarding personal solutions to global problems, outright dismissal of anyone under the age of 40, dinner table dissertations on time spent "fighting Jerry," threats of physical violence if neighborhood kids don't get off lawn.
Treatment: Let nature take its course.
See: Your Grandfather
Immune: No one ("Just you wait til you're my age, sonny!")
4. "Santos" Intolerance
Facts: Severe anxiety disorder characterized by constant and irrational fear of Mexicans, often leading to ludicrous demagoguery, fascist rhetoric, nightly CNN show. Inevitable outcome may include mysterious death by lawn-care tools.
Treatment: Low ratings, Sudden emergence of half-Mexican child with large orange head, Righteous hand of God
See: Lou Dobbs, Tom Tancredo
Immune: Around 44.3 million Americans (at last check)
Facts: Sometimes diagnosed as "Bush Derangement Syndrome" (in red states only), painful and debilitating disease characterized by uncontrollable urge to vomit profusely in reaction to voice, sight, or mere mention of George W. Bush. If left untreated, illness can lead to thoughts of suicide, relocation to Canada, terminal cocktail party conversations with irritating New York pseudo-intellectuals, enrollment in Screen Actor's Guild.
Treatment: Conversation with Dick Cheney in which he uses "the dark side of the force," Waterboarding
Immune: NASCAR ticket-holders, Jack Abramoff, Jesus
(A Note to the Media: Remember that I am the official expert on each of these diseases, therefore I expect to be called upon to participate in any on-air discussion involving one or all of them. I'll be waiting for your call, Today show.)
There's no need for me to waste too much time echoing all the praise that's already out there.
I'll just say this: Believe the hype -- The Dark Knight is damn near an instant classic of pop art (as well as a shockingly good black-hearted crime drama).
And whatever you've read or heard about Ledger's performance in it, that doesn't even come close to how spectacular he really is.
Friday, July 18, 2008
Well, it's official: WTVJ, NBC 6 in South Florida has been sold to Post-Newsweek, owner of competitor WPLG, ABC 10.
The announcement was made to the staffs of both stations this morning.
Here's what WPLG Vice President and General Manager Dave Boylan had to say:
"First and foremost it means that The Washington Post Company believes in local broadcasting. You should feel very proud that you are working for a company that is investing in our future. Bringing two legacy stations together is another commitment made by Alan Frank, Don Graham and the Board of Directors of our company to ensure that the Post-Newsweek Stations will continue as the leader in local news and in serving the Miami-Ft Lauderdale community. I can assure you that both WTVJ and WPLG will be even stronger local broadcasters under this new arrangement."
Feel free to go look up the word "platitude" if you need to. You'll find it in the dictionary, about halfway between "bullshit" and "unemployment."
Speaking of which, what did NBC have to say to the folks at WTVJ?
Well, some of them reported receiving Emergency Unemployment Benefits Forms in the mail yesterday -- before any official announcement had even been made.
On a personal note, I realize that yesterday's extended commentary on this impending deal was a little inside baseball -- maybe too inside for some. I said what I felt needed to be said because I care about these people -- my former co-workers at WTVJ, many of whom have been there for years, through good times and bad. They don't deserve what's happening to them right now, not after all they've done for that place and for NBC. Writing what I did -- expressing some anger, sadness, frustration, outrage, even heartbreak on their behalf and on behalf of the history of the station -- was, literally, the very least I could do.
I wish them all the best.
Hang in there.
(Update: For those who've asked what factors led to a deal like this, take a look at what appears in the #3 slot on Wallet Pop's list of the 25 things that are vanishing from America.)
So, The Dark Knight finally hits theaters today.
I don't usually pose "am I the only one who thinks..." questions around these parts, but I guess I'm a little too curious about this to let it slide: Does anyone else think that doing product tie-ins for this movie was a really bad idea?
I actually side with Warner Brothers on their belief that changing the promotion for The Dark Knight -- the movie itself -- was unnecessary and would've been against the wishes of Heath Ledger. It made sense to keep advertising the film the same way they would have had he not died back in January.
But come on -- Dominos Pizza ads featuring silly little quips about the Joker? That was stupid to begin with, given the very dark tone of the movie, particularly the psychotic, murderous nature of the Joker character; it'd be like doing McRib commercials mentioning Hannbal Lecter or maybe a Viagra ad with Frank Costello from The Departed. But Ledger died -- and they're turning his final full performance, the one that may very well get him a posthumous Oscar nod, into a punchline to sell pizza?
I get that it's a superhero movie above all, but for once can the greed-hounds at the studio show a little class, subtlety and restraint?
Speaking of subtlety, Mamma Mia also prances into theaters today.
I got dragged to see the Broadway version of this a couple of years back; I can honestly say that it left my ears bleeding and my brain running out of my nose. As I watched it, I kept silently questioning whether I'd been hit by a car on the way to the theater and there was my hell: trapped in a theater, watching awful acting and listening to fucking Abba for all eternity.
On the plus side, at least the women who were either unable or unwilling to pay for that second seat on the plane (the one needed to provide extra room for their extra fat asses) and couldn't make it to New York to see this monstrosity can now giddily dance down the aisles of their local theater. Best of all, they'll be just a few steps away from a concession stand.
Take a chance on this.
In honor of yesterday's story about the old guys who sit on the corner up the street from my apartment, drinking the day away -- here's one of my favorite songs from one of the most underappreciated bands, well, pretty much ever.
It's Dramarama, with Work for Food.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
In Paddy Chayefsky and Sidney Lumet's 1976 film Network -- still the most brilliantly dead-on indictment of the entire business of TV ever created, for any medium -- disturbed and ultimately doomed news anchor Howard Beale says, "Television is not the truth. Television is a goddamned amusement park."
Nowhere is this statement, particularly the latter half of it, more appallingly true than in South Florida.
For two decades, the entire market has been a petri dish in which the most virulent trends in television were first grown and experimented with before being released into the nationwide media bloodstream to infect every TV outlet from Denver to Des Moines. "If it bleeds, it leads?" You can thank WSVN for that. The rise of the "duopoly" -- basically where one company owns two local stations, often running them out of the same building? South Florida was at the forefront of that movement. High-gloss, graphically-enhanced, hallucinatory news read by, almost literally, Barbie dolls? You're welcome. In the same way that the Miami area has always operated as a sort of modern-day Casablanca for those with only the most gossamer of moral fiber -- a separate nation-state where the normal rules don't really apply and the definition of a criminal enterprise depends on your perspective -- it's likewise been a place where questionable tactics and techniques in modern media can travel under the radar until their success in the market becomes all the justification anyone needs to adopt them on a large scale.
Case in point, the event that started it all: On January 1st, 1989, after a bitter and confusing dogfight between rival companies for control of various shares of the South Florida television pie, three stations were forced to switch network affiliations. WCIX, which had been, up to that point, an independent airing reruns of Gilligan's Island, was suddenly blessed with CBS programming; NBC began airing on the former CBS station, WTVJ; and the erstwhile NBC station -- WSVN -- became an affiliate of the fledgling Fox network. Confused? Imagine being a South Florida viewer, waking up one morning to find yourself left to sort out this mess. The game of musical channels didn't end there, though. In 1995, thanks to a larger deal between then-owner of CBS Westinghouse and NBC -- the kind of trade agreement often found in professional sports, which leaves bit players taking on the role of pawns at the mercy of greedy owners -- WTVJ and WCIX swapped transmission signals. Once again, viewers awoke one morning to find CBS and NBC programming on opposite channels for reasons which, to them, must've seemed inexplicable -- and in fact were, insofar as they had nothing at all to do with South Florida and were basically just the offshoot of a contract that involved stations in Philadelphia and Boston. Like a new divorcée on a quest for personal reinvention, and because it had moved from channel 6 to 4 on the dial, WCIX -- the ex-CBS affiliate -- changed its call letters, unimaginatively, to WFOR.
Twice in 20 years, the landscape of South Florida television changed drastically, with lasting and far-reaching repercussions.
And now it could be about to happen again.
On Tuesday it was reported that media giant Post-Newsweek -- which owns WPLG 10, the ABC mainstay in South Florida -- will soon announce the purchase of WTVJ. NBC Universal put WTVJ up for sale back in March as part of a sell-off of the underperforming entities within its Television Stations Division, but the bombshell that WTVJ's network TV competition will be buying it is nothing short of jaw-dropping. In case you're wondering, it is actually legal for one company to own two stations in the same city -- it's done all the time in fact -- but typically the pairing involves a network TV affiliate and an independent, to avoid a direct conflict of interest, or two major stations in small areas where the competition isn't as great a consideration. This will mark the first time that this kind of deal has been attempted in a top 20 market -- the first time one company has sought to own two "big four" network affiliates in an area this size. It's no exaggeration to say that nothing will ever be the same.
According to FCC regulations, a deal like this can only be approved if one of the two stations in question isn't in the top four in terms of local audience share; right now WPLG is number one in the market, while WTVJ is a distant sixth. Aside from the obvious conflict of interest (the very definition of a conflict of interest being the act of competing with yourself and, in effect, needing to keep one side of the equation from ever truly succeeding to survive) the big question in all of this involves WTVJ's news department, as in what will happen to it? Nonthreatening buzzwords like "consolidation" are already being tossed around by some, no doubt meant to both reassure the nervous employees of the oldest and most honored television news organization in South Florida -- the people who understand that this buy-out could render them expendable -- as well as convince the community at large that a deal like this is not only a financial necessity but can, in fact, be a win-win for all involved. Unfortunately, such platitudes shouldn't get anyone's hopes up. This is a business deal in every possible connotation, and with the harsh reality of that firmly in mind, the only logical and cost-effective move WPLG's management has is to completely dismantle WTVJ's newsroom and sell syndicated programming to advertisers in the space where the station's newscasts once ran.
This makes the most sense. It's what's most likely to happen. And it's fucking criminal.
As much as I'd like to be able to claim otherwise, it's almost impossible for me to discuss this subject in impartial, purely academic terms. I just can't do it. As it turns out, I have an intimate working knowledge of both WTVJ and WPLG; at different points in my career, I worked at each station -- as a producer at the former and a manager at the latter. I have friends still employed in both newsrooms and fond memories of time spent working alongside them. Both WTVJ and WPLG are staffed, in large part, with talented, hard-working people -- which makes the act of watching one station being brought to submission by the other damn near heartbreaking. In particular, the journalists at WTVJ who've toiled for the past several years under the strain of corporate neglect, consistent upper-level mismanagement and the low ratings that have resulted from both -- shattering the station's reputation and the pride of purpose they once held so dear -- deserve not simply praise for their efforts; they deserve better. They always did.
Despite having worked in both places, it's no secret that a little bit of my heart remains with WTVJ; my time there represents, quite simply, one of the highlights of my career -- the people there, family. To see what's become of an operation that was once so respected and revered by its staff and its competition would leave any former employee -- from Katie Couric to the late David Bloom to anyone who remembers the station's heyday -- both dumbfounded and infuriated. When I left WTVJ to move to Los Angeles in 2000, the entire organization was preparing to relocate to a new state-of-the-art facility that would put it leaps and bounds ahead of its competitors in terms of technology. The future didn't just look bright for the station, which was consistently placing at or near the top of the ratings; it seemed as if the very best days of its storied tenure were ahead of it. What wound up happening, however, could literally be written up as a how-to manual for those curious about the most effective means of running a television operation right into the ground: Arrogance trumped execution; new managers began making one inexplicable decision after another; true journalists were trampled underfoot or let go altogether while pretty faces were pampered; opportunities were squandered; morale plummeted in conjunction with falling ratings and the feeling that the station's glory days were fading into the collective rearview mirror; as it so often does, failure bred failure. In the words of a fellow ex-employee of WTVJ -- a former co-worker of mine -- the station died years ago, it just took this long for someone to finally put it in the ground.
And that someone, from what it looks like, will be a man named Dave Boylan.
On the front line anyway, Boylan is in charge of facilitating Post-Newsweek's takeover of WTVJ. His official title is Vice President and General Manager of WPLG, which to all but the most inherently distrusting betrays nothing of the pitch black reality of who Dave Boylan is, what his responsibilities are, and the legacy of scorched earth that he's left in his wake as he's honed his reputation for being one of the most admirably skilled corporate hatchet men in the business of local TV. Boylan represents, quite frankly, everything that's wrong with, and utterly deplorable about, today's television industry -- all wrapped up in one slick, discomforting package. If you could figure out a way to slap a threateningly charming Cheshire grin on a locust -- or any creature which travels from place to place, consuming every resource the locals hold dear, then moving on -- you'd have Boylan. What's worse, he and those who think like him stand as the unavoidable future of market-level media.
Dave Boylan began his television career not in news or even promotions but in sales. From day one, he's looked at TV strictly as a business, one in which the news department can occasionally be an advantage and occasionally be an impediment to making money for the people at the top of the food chain. Before arriving at WPLG in South Florida, Boylan spent three years managing the KTTV/KCOP duopoly in Los Angeles, where he helped set the tone for news departments that boasted the Jillian Barberie/Dorothy Lucey/Lisa Joyner trifecta of style-over-substance and concocted horseshit top stories tied into WWF lead-ins, respectively. Boylan has actually bragged about the fact that he hired KCOP's Lauren Sanchez, a woman who could very well represent the highest reverse correlation between beauty and qualifications in all of television news. But it was at WTVT, the Fox-owned station in Tampa, where Boylan first mastered the art of corporate capitulation at the expense of journalistic responsibility. During his tenure there in the late 90s, he became embroiled in a minor scandal involving two of his investigative reporters and one very large, very angry agricultural company.
Steve Wilson and Jane Akre -- WTVT's husband-and-wife investigative team -- had discovered that, despite promises to the contrary, grocery stores across Florida were selling milk produced through the use of recombinant bovine growth hormone, or rBGH. The hormone, developed by the Monsanto Company, was intended to boost milk production in cows. Unfortunately, some scientists claim that rBGH also boosts the levels of a certain type of hormone within that milk -- one that causes cancer in people who drink it. To make a long story short, Wilson and Akre's story never aired because Monsanto found out about it ahead of time and put pressure on Hutt-like Fox News chief Roger Ailes who told Dave Boylan to handle it. After putting them through the ringer -- forcing rewrite after rewrite in an effort to supposedly try to give the story more "balance" -- Boylan killed the thing outright and fired Wilson and Akre for reportedly refusing to include what, by almost all accounts, was false information in the story, but not before telling them (according to the lawsuit they immediately filed against the station), "We paid $3 billion for these television stations. We will decide what the news is. The news is what we tell you it is." Boylan was forced to testify to his actions when the suit went to court; Wilson and Akre wound up winning under Florida's whistleblower law, only to have the judgment overturned on appeal by Fox. Boylan, of course, lived to vitiate another day.
Now, he's likely going to assume control of WTVJ and, as any conquering Visigoth might, sack the hell out of it.
That said, however -- all of that said -- it is indeed within his right. Boylan has been at the helm of WPLG as it's gone from battling for the top spot within the market to absolutely dominating it. The station is number one across the board, 9am to midnight, Monday through Sunday. And unfortunately, no one can argue with success like that.
That friend of mine, my former co-worker at WTVJ, probably put it most succinctly: "He won. He gets to do what he wants."
Which doesn't make me feel any better about the prospect of a news department with that much history in South Florida winding up as nothing more than a head on the wall of Dave Boylan's office. And, to some extent, that's exactly what it will be. The plan is for WTVJ, as an entity, to move out of its current home and into WPLG's new facility, currently under construction southwest of Ft. Lauderdale. Adding the worst kind of insult to injury: WSVN, the local Fox affiliate, is reportedly already discussing plans to move into and take over WTVJ's building. That sprawling, state-of-the-art complex that once represented the shining future of WTVJ may soon be occupied by one of the station's fiercest competitors.
It would be easy to assert that this entire scenario shouldn't be allowed to happen -- that a vigilant FCC will almost certainly stand in the way. Such beliefs are little more than impotent pipe dreams in this age of media deregulation, however. While one television station moving to swallow its competition whole -- thereby further homogenizing the flow of information to the community each is supposed to serve -- may seem like the kind of thing that would never be approved by the government, it's simply naive to assume that Post-Newsweek would undertake such brazen action if it weren't reasonably assured of success. Television is, once again, a business after all -- and the people running it know their business.
But it's important to keep in mind that legality and corruption aren't necessarily mutually exclusive notions, and although the bottom line may win in this case -- and in the dozens of cases just like it that will no doubt follow -- the audience will suffer. The truth will suffer.
Like Howard Beale said though, television isn't the truth -- it's an amusement park.
And after 20 years, I'm betting a lot of people in South Florida want the roller-coaster ride to finally end.
Just had to share this:
There's a little bodega on the corner up the street from my and Jayne's apartment. Typically, at just about any hour of the business day, you can find a group of old men sitting at a plastic picnic table out in front of the place shooting the proverbial shit and drinking beer out of cans "concealed" in brown paper bags.
Except for one guy. There's one old guy who's always drinking Sprite -- leading me to assume that he's probably on the wagon or something.
So this morning, after walking Jayne to the bus stop, I strolled back toward our place and stopped into the bodega to grab a cup of coffee. There, at the counter, was the old guy in question -- buying a beer. At 8:30 in the morning. I sidled up beside him, said a bemused "good morning" and watched as he paid for the can of Budweiser, then said to the kid behind the register:
"Manuel -- my thing."
At which point the kid reached under the counter and produced the aluminum skin of a Sprite can, minus the top and bottom. The guy took it and slipped it around his can of Bud, frat-boy style, raised it to me silently as if to toast his own ingenuity, then walked through the door and sat down outside to enjoy what I now know will be the first of many beers he'll have today.
Astoria, fuck yeah.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
I can't think of a cooler honor than having a Nine Inch Nails remix named after my memoir. (Whether or not it really is, who the hell knows -- but give me my little fantasy.)
Nine Inch Nails: In This Twilight (Dead Star Mix)
It's rare that I post this sort of thing, but I've been in love with Helen Mirren for years -- and to be honest, she's only gotten better with age.
Seriously, the woman is gorgeous -- even at 63, for God's sake -- and this picture just proves it.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
There's a great article in Salon.com this morning that begs a question that was posed right here on this little experiment of mine a couple of months ago: When did the people on the left completely lose their sense of humor?
The peg for the Salon piece is all the wailing and gnashing of teeth from liberals over the recent New Yorker cover which depicts -- satirically, in case anyone was in doubt -- Barack and Michelle Obama as a couple of Black Panthers-cum-Muslim extremists. Gary Kamiya hits the argument right on the head when he says:
"A couple of points need to be made about this. Yes, the right wing is obviously trying to paint Obama as a Muslim terrorist sympathizer -- it's the only card they have to play. And yes, there are ways that the mainstream media can, and has, "laundered" such scurrilous smears -- Fox News is expert at them. ("Tonight at 8: Is Obama a Muslim fanatic, or merely a white-hating traitor? We report, you decide.") But it should be obvious that there's a fundamental difference between mocking something and laundering it. Some on the left, however, are so terrified that Americans, in their cosmic stupidity, cannot distinguish between satire and smear that they reject satire. After Obama wins, they decree, there will be time for all the sophisticated ha-ha. But right now, imagery must be as tightly controlled as at an exhibition of Stalinist Realism paintings. As Ari Fleischer said, we must all watch what we do, watch what we say."
Take a look:
(Salon.com: "Rush Limbaugh was Right," by Gary Kamiya/7.15.08)
(DXM: Why So Serious?/4.25.08)
Apparently, naming Miramax after their parents Mira and Max wasn't enough of a mitzvah toward America's Jewish octogenarian community for Bob and Harvey Weinstein; they've just announced that Weinstein books will be publishing what it calls "the definitive autobiography of Larry King," entitled What Am I Doing Here? (coincidentally, the same thing many in the book's target demographic say after being stopped by police while wandering lonely roads in hospital robes at four in the morning -- although in defense of the name, Interview with the Vampire was already taken).
Ever the master of understatement, Harvey Weinstein claims that the book "will be absolutely devoured by Larry King's millions of fans." You have to assume that this assessment fails to factor in the number of Larry's followers who, between now and the book's 2009 release date, will grow tired of a steady diet of apple sauce, colorful pills, and unproductive trips to the bathroom and make that final decision to go into the light. Larry King himself has also already contributed the first disproportionately positive blurb for the book, saying, "This is the greatest work in the history of old Jewish guy biographies!"
On the plus side in all of this, The Boondock Saints just became the second worst project the Weinsteins have ever attached themselves to.
Monday, July 14, 2008
Sneaker Pimps' 2002 album Bloodsport is one of the best and most overlooked alternative records of the new millennium.
Here's part of the reason why: Loretta Young Silks (the video for which features Pussy Galore herself, Honor Blackman).
Friday, July 11, 2008
True story: I had a job at Gawker.com -- for about 24 hours.
Just a couple of days after my firing from CNN became public knowledge, I was contacted by Noah Robischon, managing editor at Gawker Media and high-level minion to site founder, internet mogul, and notoriously mercurial pain-in-the-ass, Nick Denton. He sent me an e-mail asking whether I thought my foul mouth and Jedi-like mastery of the dark art of the cheap punchline might be well-suited for a home at New York City's premier online destination for astringent snark. Being suddenly out of a regular paycheck and admittedly enticed by the possible opportunity to say a figurative "fuck you" to my former employer by landing a new, high-profile job so soon after being canned, I agreed to meet with his boss and engage in a little mutual rear-sniffing. Denton and I wound up grabbing a quick lunch in SoHo on a Saturday afternoon and by the end of the meal he had offered me a provisional gig writing about television for Gawker, with instructions to report to work the following Monday morning for whatever training and orientation I might need.
Turns out I never got that far.
The next morning I received a short e-mail from Denton saying, in so many words, that after taking a closer look at the kind of material I was putting up on my own site, he'd decided that I wouldn't, in fact, be a good fit with Gawker. I admit that I was caught slightly off-guard by the quick dismissal; it seemed startlingly schizophrenic, even for someone with Denton's reputation. The impression that I got from the e-mail, though -- the rationale I could glean from the words of Gawker's publisher as to why his site and I just wouldn't be right for each other -- was that I was actually a little too caustic and vicious, ungovernably so, when it came to my opinions. For a moment, I couldn't help but think that being told you're too much of a prick to work at Gawker is like being told you're too gay to audition for the lead in Torch Song Trilogy. Almost immediately, however, I realized something: Denton was absolutely right; I'm the furthest thing from Gawker material -- and taking a somewhat righteous stand against the abuses I witnessed at CNN and in the mainstream media, only to then turn around and crank out snotty, Fountainhead-referential one-liners about celebrities, Manhattan socialites and Chuck Klosterman probably wouldn't do much for my credibility, to say nothing of my long-term career.
It's right about now that I should mention that I have nothing against Gawker.com or any of its sister sites. On the contrary, the kind of writing -- the kind of thinking -- popularized by Gawker's rotating cast of quick-witted wonder kids has been eminently entertaining over the years (although a lot of folks will tell you that the one-note joke, coupled with an overabundance of in-house drama, has worn very thin). For a long time, I was an avid reader of several of the titles under Denton's hegemonic banner and, in the interest of full disclosure, his people have linked a few of the pieces I've written for this site, bringing me exposure that I might not otherwise have had. That said, there's been an awful lot of negative press aimed at the House of Gawker over the past year or so, and even the most unctuous of Denton apologists would have to admit that quite a bit of it is well-deserved.
Gawker's biggest problem -- the most looming threat to its own success -- has always been, ironically, its own success. The namesake site and its counterparts, at least the ones based in New York, were founded as a place where elite (and elitist) members of the city's self-described "creative underclass" could come together and do what they did best -- stand at the bar or in a corner at the party making fun of everyone they considered beneath them -- on a grand scale. The trouble, of course, is that those kinds of people are generally callow, insecure, obnoxious, monumentally narcissistic and, whether they'll admit to it or not, want nothing more than to be a part of the very crowd they mock so venomously; give them a taste of the fame they purport to be so openly hostile toward and not only will they become the very thing they supposedly despise, the entire concept of the place they work for will be put at risk. Put simply, Gawker and sites like it, to be effective, need to have some sort of Menudo-like policy when it comes to the notoriety of their writers and editors: Once the kids hit that personal fame ceiling, their time's up and they're out.
But Gawker and its siblings probably wouldn't exist if it weren't for the voices of writers who are, in reality, interested in self-obsession above all else.
Which makes it even more of a shame that, on paper at least, Jezebel.com was supposed to be different.
Jezebel's been in the new media press quite a bit lately -- for all the wrong reasons. A couple of weeks ago, Lizz Winstead, co-creator of The Daily Show and an undeniably whip-smart lady, invited two of Jezebel's most potent and popular contributors to take part in an off-the-cuff talk show called Thinking and Drinking. Moe Tkacik and Tracie Egan -- whose nom de plume is "Slut Machine" -- are fulltime staffers at Jezebel, a site which casts itself as an edgier alternative to the glossy, Oprahfied banality of most media aimed at female audiences these days. As writers, both kids fit the Gawker Media mold almost perfectly: street smart, acid-tongued City Girls with an obligatory air of ironic detachment and, in Egan's case particularly, more than a passing affection for the dramas that make up their personal lives. Winstead claims to have propositioned the Jezebelles because of a respect for their reputation as standard bearers for the new model of female empowerment; what she found out in short order, however -- at least if you believe her story about being unaware of what she was actually getting -- was that Tkacik and Egan come off a hell of a lot smarter in print.
During the course of their conversation, which can be viewed in its entirety on Winstead's website, the ladies of Jezebel managed to embarrass themselves and their employer in ways so pronounced that you were kind of left feeling sorry for them rather than pissed-off that anyone had ever made the mistake of holding them up as models of savvy womanhood. Tkacik and Egan each seemed to punctuate every sentence with "like" -- as in, "I guess I, like, regret being date raped," and "I think (not being date raped) has to do with the fact that I am, like, smart," respectively; Egan -- remember, "Slut Machine" -- was a trucker's mouth full of requisite in-your-face navel-gazing, defiantly offering up that she "once paid someone to rape me once." Both women were drunk. Neither one gave a shit about how the two of them looked to anyone sitting in the studio audience or watching at home, nor how swiftly and entirely their dumb-ass, giggling party girl act may have been undoing the very mission statement of Jezebel.com.
Insulted by the Jezebelles' behavior and offended at their glib treatment of the very serious subject of rape, Winstead wrote a scathing column in the Huffington Post late last week, basically taking Tkacik and Egan to task by publicly taking them apart. In response to the piece, which brought the entire miasma front and center for both fans and critics of Jezebel.com and its Gawker Media mothership, Sarah Hepola fired off a column of her own in Salon.com, lambasting the girls for their lack of maturity and rightly recognizing that, as with far too many of the Gawker kids lately, neither thinks beyond her own self-mythology and potential stardom. This led Jezebel.com's managing editor, Anna Holmes, to post an apology on the site in which she called the whole thing "a fucking shame" for everyone involved -- including Winstead, whom she accuses of having "unrealistic expectations" -- and explicitly stated that the actions of Tkacik and Egan are not representative of Jezebel.
Except, of course, that they are.
To react with shock that a writer who calls herself "Slut Machine" and blogs ad nauseam about -- and stop me if you've heard this one before -- all the partying and hot, indiscriminate fucking she does in New York City might be apt to embarrass the hell out of a site that aims to be taken seriously on the subject of women's issues seems comically disingenuous. Likewise, to allow two girls to speak for you in an official capacity who as recently as late last year were gleefully engaging in their best Courtney Lovecraft for a drugged-up-chic promotional photo shoot smacks of trying to have it both ways. I can't imagine that Anna Holmes is a stupid woman, which means she's either really good at self-deception or really bad at deceiving everyone else. She had to know what would happen when Tracie Egan and Moe Tkacik took the stage at an event that actually had the word "drinking" right in its name (although to be fair, if she did any research at all, Lizz Winstead should have known as well); being surprised that these two made drunken asses out of themselves is like being shocked your house in bone dry, brush-laden Big Sur is burning down.
I've never met Anna Holmes personally, but interestingly, I have met Moe Tkacik -- specifically because I didn't meet Anna Holmes when I was supposed to.
Let me explain: Holmes was scheduled to take part in Gelf Magazine's "Non-Motivational Speaker Series" on New York's Lower East Side last month, an event I'd also been booked for. At the last minute she canceled, telling organizers that she'd just come home from her honeymoon to discover bedbugs in her apartment and simply couldn't make it. (If this strikes you as the kind of hilariously horseshit excuse that only a borderline sociopath would expect anybody to actually buy, you once again don't understand the earth-shattering importance of each of the millions of mini-dramas that make up the daily life of the average New Yorker.) In her place Holmes dispatched Tkacik, who was introduced to the small crowd only as "Moe." Although it's unfair to be too harsh on someone who was forced into a tough spot at the last second -- improvisationally tap-dancing on behalf of her boss -- the issues I had with Tkacik at the time had less to do with her obvious level of discomfort at having been put in such a difficult position than it did with her way of thinking in general. To be blunt, she was just so damn Gawker. She made cracks about needing Adderall -- the official drug of children and 20-somethings who have the maturity level of children. As with Winstead, she carpet-bombed every sentence with enough "like"s to make a college English professor give up and go sell Amway. She struck an almost admirable pose of aloof non-chalance, seeming at every turn to be playing the part of the cool kid who just doesn't give a shit but whose insecurities can practically be seen swimming around just beneath her thin skin. I had no doubt at the time that Moe was a nice enough girl -- just young and completely wrapped up in her own self-perpetuating bullshit. She was, quite frankly, the one thing I doubt she ever wanted to be (though if you asked her, she'd probably pretend to insouciantly embrace the label in the same way that a hipster might wear a t-shirt emblazoned with the Ghostbusters logo as a badge of ironic honor): She was a cliché. I found myself wanting to give her a fucking hug or something and tell her it's not her fault.
It's Emily Gould's.
If you have no idea who Emily Gould is, you A) don't live in New York City, and B) are very, very lucky. The Gould fiasco from a couple of months back was so outrageously stupid that even though it dealt directly with the subject of new media-versus-old, I didn't dare touch it, lest I in some small way perpetuate both the nonsensical "controversy" that so many seemed to be talking about and the career of Gould herself. To recap quickly for the blissfully uninitiated: Emily Gould rose to fame blogging for Gawker and at her own personal site, both of which, to some extent, became a daily treasure trove of Gould's personal exploits (relationship and otherwise), neuroses, dropped names, schoolgirl giddiness and general self-absorption. The wholly unimaginative within the media, clamoring to find a reference point that the unwashed masses would understand, tried to dub her at one point "The Real Carrie Bradshaw." Still, there were plenty of people out there who had no idea who Emily Gould was -- much to her own dismay, I'd imagine. That changed this past May, when The New York Times Magazine published a cover story on Gould that not only featured some of the most hysterically awful writing and unabashed narcissism ever to grace The Times -- and this is a paper that employs Thomas Friedman -- but also a suggestive cover photo of Gould lying on a bed giving the camera her best "morning afterglow" look (in case you needed reinforcement for the idea that Blogging = Inviting You Into the Bedroom). The backlash from Times readers wanting to know why the fuck the paper had stooped to legitimizing someone like Gould in such grand fashion was so furious that editors actually shut down the online comment section to spare their cover girl, and themselves, any more invective.
Emily Gould's neck-breaking, yet strangely dull, confessional introspection -- her lamentation of "I've Never Been to Me" -- seemed to confirm everyone's worst fears about young bloggers: they're shallow; they think the world revolves around them and their problems; they grow addicted to the rush of instant feedback or instant fame; they become nothing more than caricatures of real people after a while. For someone who now writes fulltime, mostly via the internet, I couldn't help but see Emily Gould as a kind of new media literary Stepin Fetchit, setting the whole damn movement back a decade or so by smiling broadly and doing the happy little shuffle that would guarantee her minor fame -- at least that of her idol, media gadfly and real-world nobody Julia Allison, whom Gould name-drops with Tourette's-like consistency -- but would also ensure that any larger responsibility toward women in new media (and women in general for that matter) went unattended. By greedily grabbing the lowest-hanging fruit on the massive tree available to women bloggers -- writing mostly about her love life, which seems to always assure an audience of one kind or another -- Gould helped to lower the bar and set a new standard for the women who would follow in her wake.
Women like Tracie Egan, who's seen her dreams of New York-centric notoriety come true by writing about, what else, how much she loves to fuck and get drunk.
Women like Moe Tkacik, who is, I have no doubt, far too smart to be acting so goddamned dumb.
The point that Lizz Winstead was trying to make by raking these kids over the coals was that, as women with a forum and an audience, they have a responsibility not necessarily to represent or speak for all women, but at the very least to understand that what they say matters -- that people are listening and give a crap. There are often larger consequences to what those with a forum say and do. Winstead believes that acting stupid isn't feminist, or even neo-feminist -- it's just stupid. I on the other hand look at the behavior of Egan and Tkacik from the perspective of a writer and a journalist, but the conclusion is the same: What we say, what we write -- whether in long form pieces or in quick deadline-driven bits on sites like Gawker; whether in print or on the internet -- all of it matters. It's easy as hell to be clever and glib, and God knows I'm guilty of both quite often, but provocative doesn't always equal insightful, and it damn sure doesn't always equal smart. It's an old cliché that sarcasm is lazy humor, but that's only true if there's nothing to back it up -- if there's no substance under all that incisive wit and no real point or passion to bolster all that flowery sound and fury. Detached irony simply for detached irony's sake will only take you so far.
I can't help but feel, unfortunately, like Gawker has already found this out.
It'd be a shame if Jezebel followed the same path.
(Related: If you haven't already seen it, take a look at Emily Gould's now-legendary appearance on CNN. Jimmy Kimmel absolutely eviscerates her on live television, although I get the feeling that she'd look like just as much of a 12-year-old special needs child had Kimmel not been playing inquisitor. This was my first introduction to Gould, by the way. I remember standing in the middle of the newsroom, watching this interaction unfold live and asking out loud, "Who the hell is this idiot?" You can view the clip here. Photo Courtesy: The New York Times)
Alain Johannes is the ultimate journeyman musician.
For more than 20 years, he's either played in or been associated with some of my favorite bands. The man is like the Kevin Bacon of rock and roll -- never more than a few degrees of separation away from anyone musically worthwhile. Back in the 80s, he was the frontman for a band called What Is This?, who were responsible for a spectacular cover of The Spinners' I'll Be Around and featured, on guitar and drums, future Red Hot Chili Peppers Hillel Slovak and Jack Irons, respectively (Irons eventually joined Pearl Jam). Johannes went on to link up with partner Natasha Shneider -- a Moscow-born actress who starred as the gorgeous, frightened cosmonaut in 2010 -- and the two formed Walk the Moon, then Eleven. Johannes meanwhile undertook side projects with the likes of Jason Faulkner of Jellyfish and played with Chris Cornell on his solo album, Euphoria Morning.
For the past couple of years, he's played with Queens of the Stone Age and, most recently, with Brody Dalle -- wife of Queens mastermind Josh Homme -- in her new band, Spinnerette.
I bring all of this up, though, not because of Alain Johannes, but because of Shneider -- his longtime co-conspirator and contributor to both the Cornell project and Queens of the Stone Age.
She died of cancer last week at the age of 52.
She was as talented as she was beautiful, and her contributions to the rock and roll landscape won't soon be forgotten. Even if you never knew her name, you felt her musical presence.
From their 1993 self-titled album, here's Eleven with Reach Out.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
If you can't think of a better way to get your news than from a half-lunatic Brit with a taste for meth and a host of deviant sexual proclivities, then my friend, today's your lucky day. As expected, despite the kind of embarrassing arrest a couple of months back that should've had a credibility-shattering half-life of at least a few thousand years, eccentric CNN correspondent Richard Quest is now back on the air. Hate to say I told you so, but here was my take on it from last April.
When I learned that Richard Quest had been busted with meth in his pocket, my first reaction was to chuckle a little and shake my head.
"Well, that explains a lot," I said to my wife.
Just about anyone who's seen the manic, occasionally unnerving on-air antics of CNN's resident eccentric Brit has probably -- at one time or another -- asked him or herself just what the hell Quest is on. The fact that, as it turns out, the answer is crank is as shocking as it is, well, not very shocking at all. During my years at CNN, particularly the time I spent as a senior producer in Atlanta, I admit that I rarely passed up an opportunity to put Quest on television; no matter where he was or what he was covering, his humor and brash unpredictability brought a welcome shot of pure adrenaline to the typically staid CNN proceedings. I looked forward to his stories, never doubting that they would provide the most memorable moments in any broadcast, and considered the man himself to be something of a rock star -- a true "personality" in a place that was, for the most part, sorely lacking any. His pieces didn't always carry the kind of weight that would make him a first or even second block hit, but there was no denying his special brand of insane gravitas.
Quest has always been one-of-a-kind, and despite the current scandal surrounding him, he's someone CNN is wise not to be summarily throwing to the wolves. But the fact that he does still have a job at the network, after what could very well be the most embarrassing arrest in recent memory, is a bit of a head-scratcher to someone whom CNN unceremoniously fired almost three months ago for the apparently unpardonable sin of personal blogging (Say What You Will/2.18.08). I admit, it just doesn't seem fair: Quest breaks the law and becomes a walking punchline and CNN issues an official press release wishing him a speedy recovery during his obligatory stint in rehab; I write on my own time, never once identifying myself as a network employee, and I'm sent packing with no warning and no severance -- despite my supervisors' knowledge that my wife and I are expecting our first child in August. Quest likely violated a morality clause in his contract and not only drew negative publicity to CNN, but may have damaged his future credibility beyond repair (as much as I'd like to believe otherwise, I'm not sure anyone will be able to look at him for quite some time without wondering what's wrapped around his crotch or stuffed into his boot), while I failed to note a single and comically vague line in the employee handbook which supposedly forbade me to write anything at anytime without first having it approved by CNN standards and practices.
CNN shouldn't fire Richard Quest, but if his indiscretion doesn't meet the threshold for termination then my offense didn't even come close.
For the record, I'm well aware of the -- pardon the pun -- bind that CNN finds itself in with respect to Quest: By predictably checking into rehab, he's making the claim that he has a serious drug problem, rather than simply being a recreational user (believe it or not, those still exist), and therefore wasn't responsible for his actions on the night of his arrest; the network can't legally abandon him. Meanwhile, whatever sexual kinks Quest may indulge in are his business and his alone; once again, from both a lawsuit-avoidance and a public relations standpoint, CNN can't be seen to cast a disapproving eye on his lifestyle. But it's damn interesting that a news network wouldn't be willing to risk offending the gay community -- and before anyone grabs the phone and begins dialing GLAAD, of course I'm not implying that gay-equals-deviant -- yet has no problem hanging both proponents of new media and the first amendment itself out to dry.
What this likely all comes down to, however, is something that was mentioned to me several times during the hoopla over my untimely dismissal: Many of those who were kind enough to support me wanted to know why CNN continued to pay opinionated blowhards like Lou Dobbs and Nancy Grace, yet found a writer with a personal opinion -- someone working completely outside the confines of the office -- to be unworthy of a place at the network. Needless to say, the reason was that the former -- the big-budget talent -- was using its collective voice to make money for CNN and Time Warner, while the latter wasn't. (He wasn't making money period.) It always comes down to ratings and revenue, and there's a reason that on-air talent is paid more than those behind the scenes: It brings in the dollars. Viewers will never tune in to watch the work of a smart producer or manager, but they'll damn sure be in front of their TVs if they like watching Lou Dobbs complain about Mexicans.
It's ironic that Richard Quest's notoriety as a familiar face on CNN is not only what made his arrest such a big deal, it's what will wind up saving his job in the aftermath of it. I love to watch him too, but that doesn't make the double-standard right -- the one that saves his job and not that of someone working behind the scenes.
Next time, I'm checking into rehab -- or if I've already been there, can I just grandfather that in?