Wednesday, June 20, 2018

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: ONE OF THE GOOD ONES

Charles Krauthammer's recent announcement that he is facing his last days due to a tough cancer battle brings to mind what a class act he has been for most of his career.

During my time covering media I have been lucky to interview him a few times, and in all cases he was well-mannered and civil, despite disagreeing with my views and likely not a fan of my employers. He also showed great courage and resilience having been a quadriplegic since a diving accident in 1975.

As The New York Times' Bret Stephens wrote on Sunday, "Whether you agreed with him or not, Charles’s column taught ... Charles could write political columns with the best of them, but the game for him was philosophical, not partisan. His conservatism was never about getting Republicans elected in the fall. It was about conserving the institutions, values and temper of a free and humane world."

But Krauthammer also reminded me of the different levels of conservative commentary I have come across during my time on the media beat, first for 11 years at Editor & Publisher, and later at Media Matters for America for eight years.

On the job at the convention
During those days I attended many events where I would approach and interview right-wing voices from television, radio and the web. And it was always interesting to see their reactions. Some were cordial, even when they made clear they did not like what I often wrote, although agreeing it was usually accurate. Krauthammer was in this group, and I am sure many who know him on the right and the left would agree.

One of the times we spoke was in 2009 when I wrote a story for E&P on how conservative columnists would approach the new Obama Administration. Krauthammer was quite open, saying,
“It is a lot easier to be in opposition, it is easier to criticize.” Ironically, he has likely seen that in the past year with Trump, whom he has openly criticized.

Also in that story were comments from three other conservative commentators who fall in to the more cordial and friendly category of the right-leaning media voices. Those include George Will, Cal Thomas and the late Tony Blankley. I spoke to Blankley on at least a dozen occasions and had coffee with him in his office at Edelman International public relations in Washington, D.C., shortly after he faced a tough cancer surgery. He died from that illness in 2012.

With Tony Blankley
The former chief of staff for Newt Gingrich, Blankley was a hard-lined conservative, but always very responsive and respectful. And a great story teller during many off-record talks about the campaign trail and Capitol corridors.

Will remained at least responsive and professional when being interviewed, even after I wrote about his conflict of interest related to one column, and another controversial column about campus sexual harassment and assault that prompted protests at a Michigan State University commencement he attended in 2014 . I was impressed to see that he recently appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher, clearly before a hostile crowd.

Thomas was always responsive and kind, especially during a short stint I served on Fox News Watch in 2008 with him. But when I joined Media Matters in 2010, he stopped taking my calls. Guess he couldn't handle the truth.

Breitbart News founder Andrew Breitbart, who passed away too young in 2012, was another well-mannered right-winger in person. When I approached him at a CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) event in 2011, with video rolling, he gladly answered my questions. Although he also criticized a report I had done -- although not as inaccurate -- we shook hands when it was over.

At CPAC in 2012
I attended at least 10 CPACs and interviewed conservative media folks at all of them. In most cases, the kind and professional people stood out. Among those have been Lars Larson, Tim Constantine, Scottie Nell Hughes, Rusty Humphries, Hugh Hewitt, Mary Katharine Ham, Jonah Goldberg and even Larry O'Connor, although he would always take a swipe at my bosses, but again never with any valid inaccuracy charge.

Radio talk show host Michael Medved could be the nicest of the conservative commentators, although he might not even be considered hard right as he seems to have a thoughtful and measured view. He would not only chat with me anytime I saw him, but he let me sit in on his show for an hour when he was in New York years ago.

With Dana Loesch at CPAC 2013
Dana Loesch was among the kinder voices for years during her time as a radio talk show host, newspaper columnist and later a commentator for Glenn Beck's The Blaze. She always greeted me with a smile and was glad to comment for whatever the story was, often chiding me that I should work for someone who appreciated me more. I disagreed. 

So it surprised me a great deal when she signed on with the NRA and made some hateful anti-press videos that took on an almost threatening tone against the mainstream media. She must be making good money to align herself with a group so focused on helping the gun manufacturers, as those are clearly their priority, not private owners and hunters.

Then there are the truly mean-spirited, rude and downright unprofessional conservative commentators I have endured. None of them ever frightened me as I have had real tough guys come after me in my career -- from mob-connected thugs in New Jersey to corrupt politicians in California.  

Still, it is interesting to see how low some can stoop, and how cowardly. Sean Hannity comes to mind as he ran away from me twice at the TALKERS radio convention held annually in New York. Both times I approached him to ask a question, he saw the video or audio recorder and took off. And Mark Levin told me to "go to hell" during a CPAC event when I sought to ask a question.

I had little interaction with conspiracy theorist and online radio talker Alex Jones, although I spoke briefly with him in Cleveland during the 2016 Republican Convention there. I believe he answered one or two questions about his false claim of the day, but with no outward attack or his trademark red-faced ranting.  

I never had the honor (or dishonor) of meeting right-wing radio man Michael Savage in person. But back in 1995 when I was at a small newspaper in San Francisco and he was on local radio station KSFO, he bashed a series I had done on a local district attorney candidate, giving the challenger an hour or so to attack my work, with lies, and refusing to let me come on and defend myself. (Side note: the candidate, Bill Fazio, lost and when he did, his brother, a D.A. investigator, left a threatening message on my home voice mail -- he was later fired.)

After that and Savage's anti-gay comments years later, he showed his true side.

Video news fraud James O'Keefe is not even worthy of mention, although it was telling years ago that he refused to be interviewed on video during a 2011 event in New Jersey where he spoke. Ironic since he has made a career out of undercover, deceptive videos and misleading edits of them to push false claims. He also happened to repeat his often-told story of how he got Lucky Charms banned at Rutgers University when he was a student -- another falsehood. 

Then there is Roger Stone, who fits into both categories in some ways. The right-wing Trump supporter, birther and author would always point me out in the crowd when I attended his events, usually with video camera on, telling the then booing assembly to let me be. But then he often refused to answer questions during the Q&A, even saying I was "not a journalist." Later, after the event, he would sometimes give a comment. 

In a funny twist, I was among a small crowd at a Cleveland book store during the 2016 GOP convention waiting for Stone at a book signing, hoping to ask him some questions. (He later declined). As we waited, a woman and her children were taking pictures in front of Stone's appearance sign. I offered to take the shot for them and they thanked me. They later turned out to be his daughter and grandchildren.

Monday, June 4, 2018

CANCELING 'ROSEANNE' WAS RIGHT, BUT THE SHOW WAS NOT RIGHT-WING

Whatever you think of Roseanne Barr's latest racist and offensive tweet, which sparked major backlash and lost her the show she had just brought back to life, it was wrong to label it a pro-Trump show.

I was not happy that the show was cancelled as I was a big fan. No, not because Roseanne's character, like Roseanne herself, was a Trump supporter. But because it was a funny, smart and inventive show that dealt with edgy issues of the day, much the same way the earlier version did.

Believe me, if the show had been a half hour of some kind of pro-Trump promotion, I would have turned it off from the beginning.

Sure, Roseanne deserved to lose the show given the terrible views she expressed, and ABC had good cause from a business and public relations standpoint to take a stand given the backlash it would have endured by keeping the program on the air -- it was a valid move.

But to refer to it as some kind of show representing views of the Trump base was just wrong. Part of this was due to Trump himself, who probably never even watched it, hitching himself to the success because Roseanne's character happened to be a Trump supporter. But this was raised in the show only a handful of times and in a very limited way.

Most of the show's plot lines dealt with the same issues it had considered 25 years ago when the original version aired: unemployment, crime, middle-class economics, raising children, paying bills and dealing with working class headaches. And while Roseanne was a Trump supporter, her sister and others were not and it led to some great examples of how the country is so divided today.

She also looked at some very progressive issues, with a son whose child was mixed race; a grandchild who was dealing with gender identity; a daughter seeking to be a surrogate parent; and on and on. One of the best episodes had Roseanne confronting her own Islamophobia.

This is no different from her earlier show that was among the first to have a gay wedding, discuss teen pregnancy and birth control, confront domestic abuse, depression, other mental illness and, yes, racism. 

And even if Roseanne's character had been more outspoken about her right-wing views that would not have necessarily made the show bad. Archie Bunker on All in the Family was much more racist, prejudice and outspoken about controversial issues of the day - but it made for great television and actually allowed the producers to show the absurdity of his views.

In the recent Islamophobia episode, Roseanne's fear of her Muslim neighbor was exposed as baseless and dangerous, even to herself. It also allowed viewers to see why some people have such fears, wrong as they are, the same way Archie Bunker had unfair views of people not like himself. Usually based on ignorance of something different. In Roseanne's case, perhaps pushed by the president she so admires. 

I am not trying to defend Roseanne's actions and in no way am I seeking for her to return to television, or be allowed to brush off this and other terrible things she has said and done. It's just that, as a reporter, I hate seeing misinformation spread and this show being portrayed as something other than what it was - good, innovative and edgy television. 

And Roseanne has no one but herself to blame for its removal. It has nothing to do with her politics, its her own racist and unacceptable actions and views. That may be the best issue of all the show is now forcing people to confront.

Friday, June 1, 2018

NEW KNOXVILLE FLICK HAS NORTH JERSEY ROOTS IN REAL DANGER

The latest flick from crazy man Johnny Knoxville, he of Jackass and Bad Grandpa fame, has its roots in North Jersey and an infamous amusement park where me and my friends spent many a summer vacation day.

And we were lucky we weren't killed.

Action Point, the new film from Knoxville's book of dangerous stunts and bathroom humor, stems at least in part from Action Park, the Vernon, N.J., play land of the 1970s and 80s known more for broken bones and ambulances than family fun.

As the film's trailer below indicates it sets Knoxville in a park similar to Action Park, with a dangerous water slide, a coaster ride that produced skinned knees and flying carts, and the infamous rope swing where drunken riders often forgot when to let go.




A low-budget mini-documentary on Action Park came out a few years ago and shows the dangers it had that gave it the nicknames, Traction Park or Class-Action Park. See that below:



 
During a recent episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live, Kimmel and Knoxville discussed the roots of the film in New Jersey's most dangerous fun spot. See that HERE. 

It opens today, June 1, and I promise I will be among the first in line - but not for the rope swing.