Liberal introspection

Annalisa Merelli voted in an Italian referendum, and discovered something that doubtlessly applies to this nation and this state:

On Dec. 4, Italians went to the polls to decide on a reform referendum that would redefine the power of local governments and reduce the power of the senate. With a high turnout, my countrymen rejected the reform. In the press, the voters’ decision was described as an Italian Brexit, and a triumph of populism. Beppe Grillo and his Five Star Movement, arguably Europe’s largest populist party, celebrated with Matteo Salvini, leader of the xenophobic Northern League; Marine Le Pen sent congratulations via Twitter, claiming that Italians’ had disavowed not just their prime minister, but the entire European Union.

What had actually happened, however, was more nuanced. And yet, the disappointment amongst liberals—the majority of whom had supported the reforms—was palpable.

On Facebook, my heavily “blue feed” shared news and commentary that unanimously condemned the victory of the “no” camp. Many of these articles claimed the vote was yet another example of democracy failing progress: The misguided, misinformed people who had voted “no” were helping to stunt Italy’s growth or, worse, had fallen for the xenophobic promises and empty slogans of politicians like Grillo and Salvini.

Misguided, misinformed people like, me apparently.

I voted no, first and foremost because I disagreed with the reform. I didn’t do it because I want Italy to leave Europe, dislike immigrants, or because I despise career politicians. Quite the contrary, in fact. I, too, am worried that Italy might end up going backwards, closing borders, and limiting chances. But—after gathering as much information as I could on the reform and its likely consequences—I concluded that, amongst other issues, the proposed changes to the constitution would end up making a future populist government’s life unnecessarily easy and even more dangerous.

It was a difficult vote, and while I stand by it, I don’t discount the possibility that history may prove me wrong. So I was eager to hear the reasons why so many of my friends had voted “yes.” Before and after the vote, I wanted to understand their points, and I certainly respected their choices.

But they—the yes voters, whose opinions and commentary filled my social media platforms—didn’t seem to have the same respect for my reasoning. As an opinionated citizen with consistently liberal views, I am used to being attacked and insulted by conservatives for my choices and opinions. But the liberal critiques I read weren’t so much attacking my decision as they were questioning my intelligence and my ability to understand the issue.

For the first time in my life, I was on the outside of the so-called liberal bubble, looking in. And what I saw was not pretty. I watched as many of my highly educated friends and contacts addressed those who disagreed with them with contempt and arrogance, and an offensive air of intellectual superiority.

It was surprising and frustrating to find myself lumped in with political parties and ideologies I do not support. But it also provided some insight into why many liberals seem incapable of talking with those who hold different opinions. (This is, broadly speaking, not just a liberal problem.) In so much of what I read, there was a tone of odious condescension, the idea that us no voters were perhaps too simpleminded or too uninformed to really grasp the situation.

The majority of these arguments did not explain why my choice was wrong. And after reading piece after piece of snarky, bitter commentary, I too lost the desire to engage with my yes-voting peers.

There were exceptions, of course. I had a few fruitful debates that added to my perspective, but by and large I stayed away from yes voters entirely. And I certainly wasn’t persuaded by their argument.

The experience certainly made me wonder how many times I, too, may have been guilty of this kind of “libersplaining.” It’s easy to feel smug when you are living in an echo chamber. But now I truly understand how damaging that echo chamber can be: not only does it not win arguments, let alone votes, but it drives away those who might otherwise have been willing to change their minds.

I suspect that the sudden popularity of the term populism has led to a similar lack of respect and curiosity for opinions we disapprove of. It may even betray a fundamental belief, inadvertent or explicit, that the populus is somehow lesser—less critical, less acute, and easier to sway.

But it is not. Liberals may be heavily represented in the media, the centers of culture (popular, and otherwise), and in academia. But unless we are able to start learning how to talk to people unlike us, we’ll likely keep losing. It is not the only reason for the current political polarization—but it is one we can all work to address.

Three days until doomsday

At least that seems to be how Daniel Henninger sees it:

A standard journalistic defense for publishing, or reporting on, the sort of thing BuzzFeed put on the web Tuesday night about Donald Trump’s alleged compromise by the Russians is that “the people” ultimately will sort it all out. You could say the same thing about tornadoes.

Conventional wisdom after the election held that the media had been chastened by its coverage of the campaign, that it had learned to be more careful about separating facts from the media bubble.

The past week’s news, if one still can call it that, was bookended by two Trump files. The first was the intelligence community report that Russia’s hack of the presidential election favored Mr. Trump. The second was a salacious opposition-research file on Mr. Trump published by BuzzFeed, which says it is about “trending buzz.” Below the site’s Trump-in-Russia stories Wednesday sat, “Lauren Conrad Just Posted The Most Adorable Photo Of Her Baby Bump.”

When people played on real pinball machines, everyone knew that if you banged on the machine too hard, it would lock up. It would “tilt.” Because so many once-respected institutions are behaving so badly, the American system is getting close to tilt.

The interregnum between the election result and next week’s inauguration has become a wild, destructive circus, damaging the reputation and public standing of everyone performing in it, including Donald Trump.

Trumpians will resist that thought, but they should be concerned at their diminishing numbers. Quinnipiac’s poll this week puts Mr. Trump’s approval rating at 37%. Building in even an expansive margin for error, this is an astonishing low for a president-elect.

Mr. Trump routinely mocks the “dishonest media.” He has a point, but dishonesty isn’t the problem. The internet, media’s addictive drug, is the problem. Whatever publication standards existed before the web are eroding.

Any person getting a significant federal job undergoes an FBI background check. These “raw” FBI files—a mix of falsity, half-truths and facts—are never published.

The BuzzFeed story about Donald Trump in Russia is a raw FBI file, or worse. Once it went online, every major U.S. news outlet prominently published long accounts of the story, filled with grave analysis and pro forma caveats about “unverifiable,” as if this is an exemption for recycling sludge.

This isn’t news as normally understood. It’s something else.

Before web-driven media, follow-up stories on anything as fact-free as BuzzFeed’s piece would go on page A15. No more. Now all such stories—in newspapers, on TV or online—run at the same unmitigated intensity because that’s the only level the web knows. These recurring political media storms have become self-feeding wildfires, and they aren’t going to stop. Everyone near them gets burned.

The intelligence community used to know how to keep important secrets. That collapsed in 2011 when the Obama White House poured out operational details of the Osama bin Laden raid within 48 hours. Now the intelligence community, whether the FBI’s James Comey, the CIA or NSA, have become public players in a media environment looking more like Mad Max chasing gasoline than all the news that’s fit to print.

The intelligence community’s report on Russia’s hacking of the election purported to disavow politics even as it said Vladimir Putin stopped praising Mr. Trump in June because he “probably” feared it would backfire. Or “Putin most likely wanted to discredit Secretary Clinton.” We need three intelligence agencies for “probably” and “most likely”?

The intel report burned as another Trump bonfire for days with little notice given to its page-after-page detail on Mr. Putin’s broad, intense and malign effort to undermine the West’s belief in itself. Our election was the tip of the Putin propaganda iceberg. But that’s barely a story.

Mr. Putin has to be grinning at how easy it is to manipulate the U.S. political system into chaos with a Gmail hack and disinformation. Our web-fueled flameouts are doing his work for him.

Which brings us to Donald Trump, the next president.

The New York Times posted this early Wednesday: “From the moment the unsubstantiated but explosive intelligence report hit the internet, the questions arose: When and what would Mr. Trump tweet?”

That is the Gray Lady reducing U.S. politics from something formerly serious to the level of a videogame app—abetted by Mr. Trump, who tweeted that the oppo-research report was “Nazi Germany.”

The fantastic, unsubstantiated memo on the Russians controlling Donald Trump got elevation, in part, because of Mr. Trump’s extensive pro-Putin tweets and comments. Absent more than a 140-character rationale from the Trump camp, the darkest explanation bubbled to the top of the web fever swamp.

Our primary political institutions, including the presidency, are disappearing into a thrill-filled world of their own making that is beyond that of normal, onlooking Americans. None seem to know how to stop banging on the system.


Postgame schadenfreude, How ’Bout Them Cowboys edition

Readers may have noticed I didn’t write much about the Packers–Cowboys NFC divisional playoff game before Sunday, and that’s because I thought the Packers didn’t have much chance of winning it.

I did not see the Cowboys going to the Super Bowl, because at some point a rookie quarterback and rookie running back hit a playoff wall. I was right about that, though I thought they’d lose in the NFC championship, not one week earlier.

Well, on this score I’m happy to be wrong. Thanks to an amazing catch by tight end Jared Cook …

… Mason Crosby’s 107 yards of fourth-quarter field goals sent the Cowboys to wherever they go for the offseason, 34–31, delighting all non-fans of Jerry Jones:

… along with the idiot sportsyakker Skip Bayless, who is more in the tank for the Cowboys than the Washington press corps was in the tank for Barack Obama. Bayless tweeted after the game:

More I see winning FG, more I see a very weird thing: It hooked hard left, then straightened out. Obviously no wind. Like meant to be.

Reportedly the Packers played the Cowboys’ “anthem,” Wiz Khalifa’s “We Dem Boys,” in the locker room afterward:

The Dallas Morning News’ Jon Maschota asks and answers:

1. What happened on the opening drive? 

The Cowboys were moving the ball, then threw on third and 2 and settled for a 50-yard Dan Bailey field goal. Why didn’t they run Ezekiel Elliott? Instead, Dak Prescott threw to a double-covered Dez Bryant. After that pass fell incomplete, why not run Zeke on fourth-and-2? Bailey gave the Cowboys the early 3-0 lead but Dallas basically played catch up from there on out. Yes, it was only the first possession. But I think it went a long way in setting the tone for the next three quarters. …

3. Misplaced blame

Some will blame the Cowboys going nearly a month without playing a meaningful game. I don’t think that was the reason for Sunday’s final score. They entered the fourth quarter down 28-13 and were within a few seconds of forcing OT. Rust wasn’t the reason for the loss, it was just great QB play by the opposing QB. No doubt, this is a disappointing end to a 13-3 season. They were talented enough to go to the Super Bowl. They didn’t. But a young QB, RB and O-line make this result feel much different than the one two years ago in Green Bay. …

5. Aaron Rodgers is unreal

I don’t know if anyone has ever played the quarterback position at a higher level than Aaron Rodgers played it for most of Sunday afternoon. He was nothing like the player the Cowboys saw in Week 6. He was basically flawless. Without Rodgers, I don’t know if the Packers would win more than five or six games. With him, they have a chance to win the Super Bowl.

Kevin Sherrington adds:

As the Cowboys found out Sunday at JerryWorld, the road to the Super Bowl doesn’t necessarily go through Corsicana, Buffalo and Huntsville.

Passes through Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan and probably Tom Brady, as usual.

And as Rodgers spectacularly demonstrated in a 34-31 win before 93,396 fans who’d practically lifted the lid on the joint, that’s a more dangerous passage for this Cowboys defense, in particular. And no Buc-ee’s to break it up, either.

Forget the Rodgers who looked lost in the Cowboys’ 30-16 win at Lambeau back in October. This was vintage Rodgers, and the Cowboys couldn’t stop him early or late.

No sooner had Dak Prescott led the Cowboys on an improbable game-tying drive, Rodgers answered.


No Jordy Nelson? No problem. No Davante Adams? Ditto.

Rodgers went into the game without Nelson, his leading receiver. And he lost Adams on the Packers’ next-to-last drive.

But an unbelievable throw-and-catch from Rodgers to tight end Jared Cook as the latter was going out of bounds set up Mason Crosby’s 51-yard field goal as time expired.

You could argue that the Cowboys dug themselves a hole too deep in the first half, giving up three touchdowns to the Packers. The Cowboys’ defense couldn’t generate any pressure with a four-man front, and Rodgers picked the Cowboys apart.

Even when Rod Marinelli dialed up more blitzes in the second half, it still wasn’t enough with the game on the line.

Because with the game on the line, Rodgers is as good as they come. And that’s the problem getting to the Super Bowl in Houston. …

Dak showed signs late that he could go toe-to-toe with Rodgers, but that wasn’t the problem. The Cowboys’ offense answered. The defense didn’t.

Not against a quarterback on the level of Rodgers, which is what you get this time of year.

The quotable King

My favorite Martin Luther King quotes, some of which you may not read or hear on Martin Luther King Jr. Day:

A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.

A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.

A nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan.

All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.

Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable … Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.

Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. … I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

If we are to go forward, we must go back and rediscover those precious values — that all reality hinges on moral foundations and that all reality has spiritual control.

Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.

Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control.

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.

The quality, not the longevity, of one’s life is what is important.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

Whatever your life’s work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.

Presty the DJ for Jan. 15

Today in 1967 was not a good day for fans of artistic freedom or the First Amendment, though the First Amendment applies to government against citizens and not the media against individuals.

Before their appearance on CBS-TV’s Ed Sullivan Shew, the Rolling Stones were compelled to change “Let’s Spend the Night Together …”

… to “Let’s Spend Some Time Together”:

The number one British album today in 1977 was ABBA’s “Arrival” …

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Jan. 15”

No love for Aikman and Buck

The Dallas Morning News reports:

Troy Aikman is certainly a popular guy in Cowboys country, but apparently he and Fox broadcast partner Joe Buck aren’t as well loved out in Green Bay.

As of noon Wednesday, more than 16,000 people have signed a petition seeking to ban the Aikman-Buck duo from calling Packers games from the booth.

“This is a petition to get Joe Buck and Troy Aikman banned from announcing/commentating on the Green Bay Packers,” according to the petition’s page.

“On behalf of the Green Bay Packers fans across the world, we would like action taken to prohibit them from giving their constant negative input about our team. We are sick of the biased announcing always coming from them.”

On Thursday morning, Aikman broached the topic in an interview with The Musers on The Ticket (96.7 FM/1030 AM), saying “there’s a long line they’ve got to get in to try to keep us from calling games.”

He noted that the Packers have tried this before, as well as Seattle fans a few years back.

“I don’t know if there’s Cowboys fan petitions, but I get it from Cowboys fans too, saying that I’m against their team,” Aikman said.

In taking the criticism, Aikman said he relies on advice he heard from another man who spent quite a bit of time in the NFL booth.

“I remember what Pat Summerall years ago told me back when I was still playing,” Aikman said. “People didn’t have social media, they would write fan mail. And he said, ‘Hey as long as I’m getting fan mail — hate mail I guess you could say — from both sides, then I feel like I’m doing my job. But I think there’s some truth in that.'”

Many of the petition’s signees claim that the announcing duo are “too negative.” Other signees show off their failure to grasp basic grammar by calling them “bias” when the proper adjective is “biased.”

Aikman said he’s a bit confused by that suggestion.

“It is pretty remarkable, though, especially for Packers fans,” he told The Ticket. “We’ve had their games in recent weeks and they’ve played great, we’ve talked about how great they’ve been playing and how great Aaron Rodgers has been. So it’s a little bit confusing, but it is what it is.”

“I could not care less about that. I know Joe, he does get a little bit bothered by it. He’s a little sensitive when he hears that people don’t want us to broadcast their games.”

There is no requirement for action to be taken based on petitions, especially not for a private company like Fox. But it has become a popular venue for airing grievances online and seeking out others who agree with you.

“Last I’ve heard, we will be there on Sunday, and we’ll be calling the game and we’ll try to do the best job we can,” Aikman said.

Buck and Aikman, or at least one of them, have done a lot of Packers games, including …

Buck and Aikman called the Packers’ last five games of the 2010 season, including Super Bowl XLV. They’ve also done the Packers’ home playoff loss to Minnesota, the Packers’ home playoff losses to the Giants, the Packers’ overtime playoff loss to Seattle, and the infamous 4th-and-26 game, among others. This is more likely the result of Packer fans not wanting to hear bad news, which could be anything complimentary of the opponent.

Richard Ryman tries to explain:

People have theories on why Buck and Aikman are so despised, or just Buck and not Aikman, or just Aikman and not Buck. (Or Cris Collinsworth, but let’s not go there). Most petition signers offer little in the way of specifics, and many seem to type the wrong first letter when spelling Buck.

Some, while specific, were “heads I win, tails you lose” head-scratchers. One signer said, “Joe Buck never played a down of football and thinks he’s an expert … and Troy is just another ex jock that tries to sound important.”

But there were some thoughtful signers.

Marcia Van Gorden, a grandmother and Packers fan living in Minneapolis, gave an appropriately measured (i.e. grandmotherly) appraisal.

“Maybe I’m being sensitive, but it seems that in comparison to most other announcers, these two don’t seem to provide equitable focus on both teams. That’s in terms of the tone and what’s verbally expressed. An announcer may have played for a particular team, but when it comes to his or her announcing job, that needs to be set aside,” she said.

Don Tremby of Racine knows why “those two guys are lousy. (Last) Sunday’s game, I could tell specifically there was action going on and these guys were up there in the booth chattering about everything they were interested in instead of what was going on in this game. (Aikman) should be put in the bathroom and lock the doors.”

Gussert traces it to when they started doing games and Aikman was, he thinks, more negative.

“When there was a discretionary play-call by the coach or a referee’s call, he would always side against the Packers,” he said. “I would suspect someone (at the network) talked to him about it.”

The hatred is not universal.

“Some Packer fans seem to have a problem with Troy Aikman, but I am not sure why,” said Gary Getzin of Wausau. “Maybe it goes back to the Cowboys in the ’90s, when they beat Green Bay most of the time. Aikman’s analysis as a former quarterback is usually pretty interesting to me. Joe Buck seems to be on top of things and meshes well with him.”

Matthew Faulkner, a Packers fan in Milford, Del., agreed, preferring them to the other No. 1 network announcing teams.

“You know it’s a big game when they are calling it. As an analyst, I appreciate Aikman’s knowledge and experience — you always learn something whether it be about a particular play or scheme,” he said. “You won’t find a better play-by-play man than Buck in my opinion.”

In baseball, the only thing Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians fans could agree on was that Buck liked the other team better. And there’s this tweet from ‏@LionsMemes: “Can Joe Buck shut up about the Packers winning the NFC North, or can’t he resist because he loves them so much?”

Granted, it was on a page called “Shut up Joe Buck,” which guaranteed, shall we say, a certain kind of response.

At least one Dallas fan signed the petition to have Buck and (gasp) Aikman taken off this week’s broadcast because they are biased (gasp, gasp) against the Cowboys.

Such profound hatred requires a professional appraisal. We offer two.

Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television & Popular Culture at Syracuse University, suggested that if fans watched the game alone, they might come away with a different impression. When people are watching the game in groups, they tend to cheer and holler and engage with one another when their team does well, but pay more attention to announcers when things aren’t going their way. As a result, they only hear the bad things about their team, or the good things about the other team, which is much the same thing.

“If they are doing their job, they are for the most part trying to be basically, usually objective,” he said. “Which means half of what they say is going to be objected to by the supporters of either team.”

Buck addressed being reviled by fans of just about every team when he talked to StewPod on Yahoo Sports and in an Esquire interview, both in October before the World Series.

“It’s kind of the world I live in,” he said on the podcast. “Baseball fans in particular are used to hearing their hometown guys and the team announcers go all summer, and then we show up. The deck is kind of stacked against you. I have to play it down the middle.”

Aikman defended himself Thursday to the Dallas Morning News. “I’m surprised they only came up with 25,000,” he joked about the petition’s signatures goal, before claiming the same level of disinterested interest in the game versus the teams.

“If you objectively and rationally look at the job these two do, each one has their own issues,” Thompson said. “Aikman comes not totally prepared, but when it comes to strictly football, he’s good. There might be some people that Joe Buck just rubs the wrong way. That seems to attach itself to Joe Buck.”

And let’s face it, we’re in an age when social media has an out-of-proportion effect. In other words, when people are of a mind to complain, they like to find other liked-minded complainers to commiserate with. Hello Twitter. Howdy Facebook.

“You can have these conversations turn into a critical mass within hours,” Thompson said.

Ryan Martin, psychology chair at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, specializes in studying anger and what to do about it. He said all that social media sharing probably is not healthy.

“That kind of venting usually gets people more worked up than it does help,” Martin said. “The more you invest personally in the outcome of a game, and the more you build your life up around it, the more angry you’re going to get when things don’t go your way.”

Martin, by the way, grew up a Vikings fan, and was convinced Buck loved the Packers.

USA Today ranked the top NFL announcers one year ago, and came up with …

Disclosure, coming up with No. 1 and No. 2 and No. 9 and No. 10 were simple. Filling in the rest was next-to-impossible. Get me on a different day and maybe Buck is No. 3. Heck, maybe even Tirico is No. 2. The next guy on our list could be up there too. But today, we get Buck at No. 4, which feels about right. He got a lot of flak early in his NFL career for being too lifeless on the call — his lack of enthusiasm on the David Tyree catch became infamous — and over-talkative. He’s improved greatly at both. Here’s what he told FTW about his football strategy earlier this year:

If you’re well-read and you know what the storylines are, I think you can bounce around. You set up the play, you set up the players doing the play, then you get out of the way. This is TV. People are seeing the handoff to Rashad Jennings. Then you pick it up on the backside. Who made the tackle or who made the catch? Football is a more cut and dry.

It sounded like he didn’t have that mentality early on. Now he’s on top of calls, he always gets down-and-distance right, knows when to yell and knows when to flip on the cough button. (If it seems like I’m harping on those last three, it’s because it’s all anyone should ever look for in a football announcer.) …


Here’s where we start our next level of announcers, fascinatingly the color men for three of the four broadcast network — two ex-quarterbacks and one ex-coach. Why is Aikman eighth instead of lower? Because he’s the easiest to ignore. The next insight Aikman gives to a game will be one of the first. He’s content to let the replay dictate what he says and where he goes with it. But Aikman is inoffensive enough that he rarely detracts from a game, except when he’s wishy-washy on replays (take a drink every time Troy says, “well, Joe, I’m not sure” and you’ll be on the floor by halftime). The worst you can say about Aikman is that he’s a non-factor.

Gene Mueller, who works for the Packers’ flagship radio station, commits an act possibly against his own professional interests:

Green Bay football fans are touted as among the best in the game: endlessly loyal, savvy and smart. …

Why is it then, that this gaggle that bleeds green and gold, that pays hundreds of dollars so they can frame a worthless piece of paper in a man-cave (I’m one of ’em), that can recite the name of every coach back to the founder by heart have its collective undies in a bundle about … television announcers?

Joe Buck and Troy Aikman are working a lot of Packers games these days on Fox–that’s what happens when your team is really good. The network assigns you their top crew. Yet some in Titletown have worked themselves in a froth about the two, claiming they’re biased against Green Bay. One chucklehead is going so far as to launch a petition drive to have them yanked from Packers telecasts.


We seem to slog through these same smelly waters each year around this time as Green Bay is advancing in the postseason. It was just two years ago this month that Buck took to the pages of the Journal/Sentinel to affirm his respect for franchise. Buck told columnist Gary D’Amato the origin may be the guilt-by-association that comes with being alongside former Cowboy Troy Aikman, renowned 1990’s Packers-slayer. Three times, Green Bay went to Dallas in the Jimmy Johnson era to fluff it’s playoff progress. Three times, Aikman and crew sent them home for the winter. “it’s just the nature of the business,” Aikman told D’Amato. “It’s part of the job. … they want you to be biased toward their team.” Buck’s dad, Jack, worked the Ice Bowl for CBS so the offspring’s Green Bay chops run deep. “In the NFL there’s Green Bay and then there’s everywhere else,” he told J/S. “It’s just rare. It’s an honor to be there.”

We live in a time of “fake news”, of people believing what they want to believe and reading only that which supports their suppositions, facts be damned. Truth is, Aikman and Buck have no anti-Packers bias, and the haters have yet to present the smoking gun that proves a slant. None. There’s nothing in it for the duo to take a side, to pick a fight, to emit even the slightest bit of a bias. They’re in the league up to their elbows every week, needing to talk to coaches, players and front-office types. If anything, the networks–not just Fox–are too quick to anoint the next super-star, to make irrational comparisons between a hot rookie four games into a pro career and a legend with his retired number on a stadium wall. Or, to ask the hard questions about a sport that is having a hard time dealing with players who end up on police blotters or who die way too young  from the hits they’ve absorbed over a career.

Are Aikman and Buck critical of Green Bay when the Packers are playing poorly? Certainly. That’s their job.  Fun fact: we here at Radio City get accused occasionally of being too soft on the Packers in tough times, the thought being that the front office keeps an editorial boot on our collective necks since we’re “The Flagship Station”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Listen to Wayne Larrivee and Larry McCarren, who call it like it is no matter what. And, having worked the network pre-game for a season, I can honestly say that NO ONE in local programming or in the Packers front office EVER told me what to say. The only edict: always refer to the team in the plural, as in “Packers”. Thus, in the team’s eyes, you aren’t a “Packer fan”. You’re a “Green Bay Packers fan.”

Does anyone question the loyalty–or the pigskin acumen–of the local fan base that booed the Packers offense and Aaron Rodgers during the regular season loss to the Cowboys back in October? Or the legion of sports talk radio listeners/self-appointed GM’s who wanted everyone fired and Green Bay’s city charter revoked amid the four game slide that left the Packers 4-6? What then of those loyal season ticket holders took a pass on playoff tickets when the offer to buy came around at the height of the slide? Enough to give thousands who’d never get inside Lambeau a chance to buy in for Sunday’s win over the Giants, thank you very much.  How about the folks who’ve owned seats since Lisle Blackbourn yet eagerly sell their tickets at huge profits, handing someone swaddled in purple and gold a prime spot at the Lambeau 50 yard line?

You can’t spell “fanatic” without “fan”. Our love knows no boundaries, and a lot of us think we always know more than the executives/coaches/players who’ve worked the sport all of their lives. We pay for our seat, buy our schwag, invest our emotions and think that gives us the right to spout off. Fine. These traits aren’t unique to Packers fans.

What IS ours, and ours alone, is the respect the rest of NFL fandom seems to have for us: the way we honor our past, embrace our present, anticipate our future. While other franchises can’t sell all of their seats Green Bay’s season ticket waiting list stretches from DePere to Waldo–single spaced, I might add. Other cities think we’re smarter than the average NFL bear, loyal to the end and wise to the ways of the oddly-shaped ball.

So why would some of us diminish our cred with such a ridiculous, petty, baseless fight? A good fan should be more concerned with Jordy’s ribs, the sporadic run game, the banged-up secondary and the need to stop a Dallas ground attack that shredded the Pack’s defense that first time around.

THAT’S what a solid, head-in-the-game Packers fan is thinking about as Sunday approaches, not the men who’ll be describing the game for a national TV audience, two guys who are convicted of nothing but trying to do an occasionally glamorous job rendered thankless by a few who hear what they want to hear while disregarding the rest.

You’re smarter than that, Packers fans. And the Rhodes Scholars among us will turn down the TV volume and let Wayne and Larry describe what we hope is another Green Bay win Sunday night.

The other option — which won’t happen before Sunday and probably won’t happen at all — is for the networks to use available technology to allow fans of each participating team their own announcer in the much-lower-tech 1960s. (And as CBS and Turner have done in three broadcasts of the NCAA Final Four, the second two featuring announcers for each team.) If you want Packer-oriented announcers, Fox would have to hire Kevin Harlan from CBS and Jon Gruden from ESPN. (Gruden was a Packer assistant before he was Tampa Bay’s coach, but Fox can use its John Lynch for Bucs games.)



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A figure of Madison media history died last week:

Richard E. “Dick” Flanigan, age 81, passed away on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017, following a short illness. …

His first job after college was working for WTVO in Rockford, Ill. This is where he met his future wife, Valerie Vinet. They were married a year later, in 1968. The newlyweds made Madison their home and Dick began working at WMTV where he served as the art director. During his career, he hosted Lenny’s Inferno as Mr. Mephisto from 1969-1982.

If you are old enough and you grew up in Madison, you may have watched …

Isthmus interviewed Flanigan several years ago:

Mr. Mephisto. If you are at least 30 years old and lived in Madison between 1966 and 1982, this name is familiar to you — especially if you were a horror-movie buff, insomniac or impressionable boy during those years. Mephisto was the host of Ferdie’s Inferno and, later, Lenny’s Inferno, during its run late Fridays on WMTV.

The Inferno,” Flanigan says, “and he said in light of what this is all about, it made sense to have Mephisto there.”

Indeed. The festival’s focus on frightening independent films synchs well with the inventive low-budget approach taken by the Inferno and the entire phenomenon of late-night horror shows on television. “The whole idea behind doing the Inferno the way we did it was, it was fun,” Flanigan explains. “If it wasn’t fun I don’t think we would have lasted as long as we did.”

Born and raised in Rockford, Illinois, Flanigan came to Madison in 1967 when WMTV hired him as its art director. This was, he says, “like dying and going to heaven.” Ferdie’s Inferno had already been on the air for a couple of years by then, with program manager Jack Crowley as Mephisto. Sponsored by American TV, the show broadcast classic horror movies, vintage episodes of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits and other frightening fare. Mephisto presided over commercial breaks. Flanigan remembers Crowley as “crazy” but also “a good man.” When he left the station, promotions manager Carl Ames succeeded him in the role of Mephisto. “One of the best on-air talents I ever saw,” Flanigan says of Ames, “and one of the best writers.” When Ames left WMTV circa 1969, Flanigan inherited Mephisto duties. It was, he recalls, “the path of least resistance.”

By then, Ferd Mattioli’s health was in decline, and his brother, Lenny, had come up from Chicago to run American TV. The company sponsored the show through 1982, at which point it went of the air here.

“It was almost all improv,” Flanigan says of the format. “We didn’t have any budget. Which was OK, fine, I understand the business end of it. So I tried to create the format where we had the most flexibility and I could surround myself with people who were more talented than I was. People who were very good at what they do, and they’re crazy.”

A glimpse of this can be seen in a montage of still photos from the show.

Among the most significant of these characters was John Sveum, who filled the role of the voice in the box that sat on Mephisto’s desk. …

“I brought John Sveum in from the beginning and created this idea of just a voice in the box,” Flanigan recalls. “What that did was there’s nothing you can’t do with a box that has a voice, and there’s always the mystery of just exactly is in there.” The interplay between Mephisto and the voice in the box was among the Inferno‘s most memorable dynamics. The voice in the box also freed Sveum up to fill other roles. “Things just happened,” remembers Flanigan, who calls Sveum “really gifted” in his ability to take on different characters who appeared on the show. …

Over the years, Flanigan has learned there are countless people in his sons’ generation who grew up with the show, who stayed up past their bedtimes to watch, and are now adults.

It was a great ride, he allows. “When you have to supply content for 12 years, you go through the gamut,” he observes. “We had serials, we had half-hour shows, hour shows, we had Twilight Zone, we had Outer Limits. I turned thumbs down on Doctor Who. That was the biggest mistake I ever made.”

Maybe so, but this was offset by all the good decisions he made. None were better than lobbying the station and his sponsor for the Universal horror package that included the original Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, Dracula and other vintage classics. These were the movies Flanigan himself had grown up on.

“I remember being in a movie theater and seeing the coming attraction for Frankenstein,” he says. “It was being re-run. I was born in ’35, and this thing was being brought back. In those days, they used to do that, wait seven, eight years and bring it back. And I’d never heard of it. And I’m sitting in the theater and I’m looking at this and it scared the hell out of me. It really did.”

The original King Kong was another classic that scared him. But one of the most effective horror movies of all, he says, was the original Thing from Another World. “I took a stopwatch,” he remembers, “and in an 87-minute movie, that Thing was onscreen for less than three minutes, and yet they created this atmosphere and this tense buildup to confrontation using one of the oldest ploys in the world, a small group of people banded together where they can’t get help, menaced by an overpowering force.

“I remember the first time I saw The Thing,” he continues. “I was a freshman or sophomore in high school, and I went alone in the middle of winter. And I had to walk from a bus stop on an unlit street to get home, and it was edgy, it really was. That movie really got to me. But then you see it again and you like it just as much the second time.”

Growing up on the old classics impressed upon him that the best movies start with good writing. A good director and good cast are also essential to a good movie, in his view. All the CGI in the world can’t make up for any one of those three factors, he contends.

Describing himself as a cinephile with eclectic tastes, he says he is impatient with most contemporary slasher flicks that substitute gore and other fright-for-fright’s-sake conventions instead of a compelling narrative arc. “You can’t kill Mike Myers,” he observes, “so why try? It’s boring. Put the costume on ’em and the story is lousy and there’s no direction, the movie isn’t gonna go anywhere. It’s inept.”

He also tends to dismiss spinoffs, sequels and remakes as inadvisable, with little chance of equaling or surpassing the original movie, though he cites the latest Indiana Jones release as an exception to this rule. He is an admirer of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, as well as Hitchcock. …

He pauses, calling to mind an anecdote from his Inferno days. “Boy, I sure wish I had this Inferno. We did an Inferno with Kentucky Fried Theater when they were just starting out. They came out and they just wanted to be on the show. There were a couple things they did that were hilarious. One of them, he was real thin and he took his shirt off and we had a turntable in the studio big enough for a car, because they used to do car commercials and they’d rotate them on this turntable. Well he went out on that turntable and he did a mime of a piece of bacon frying. And it was hilarious to watch the convolutions he went through, but I said we can add to that, because we had a kitchen set there, so I told our studio manager to start one of the stovetops and put a metal frying pan on that and as he’s doing this pour some water on it and hang a mic over it and it sounded just like bacon frying when that water hit that hot pan. And he could hear it and he’d react to that and it was hilarious.”

That was one of the shows that went unrecorded for the archives. “Who knew?” Flanigan asks. Every week was like that. You never knew what might happen. “We’d get ahold of something that Lenny would give us to destroy because Lenny loved that stuff and we enjoyed doing it. He loved watching pickaxes go through TV sets.” Characters on the show would tear apart various stereo components, set fire to a turntable and cook eggs on them, brandish a big hocking knife, throw things at Mephisto.

Mephisto was an easy target. His face was white. Everything else was black: hair, soul patch, hat, cape. And there was that Mephisto snarl. “The thing about Mephisto that I always thought made people like him was that he treated everybody as if I am god, this is my domain, what I say goes, which was exactly wrong, because he wasn’t,” Flanigan observes. “There are people who throw pies and people that get hit. Mephisto never threw a pie. But he never once thought he wasn’t the boss. And of course he was a doormat. You can’t help but kind of like him. He’s the biggest idiot you ever met in your life and they just abuse him, but he just kind of swings with it.”

“The Inferno” was one of the last late-night shows that TV stations used to carry, in the days before late-night network TV after “The Tonight Show.” That lasted longer than the related trend of TV stations producing their own kids’ shows, such as WISC-TV’s “Circus 3,” or TV stations’ carrying old movies on weekend afternoons and weeknights. All have been replaced by more news programming, more network programming (sports on weekends), syndicated programming and infomercials.

Milwaukee and Green Bay TV stations had their own versions.