A video guide to the Bucks’ NBA championship:
A video guide to the Bucks’ NBA championship:
Matt Taibbi, who is not a conservative:
[Monday’s] NPR article, “Outrage As A Business Model: How Ben Shapiro Is Using Facebook To Build An Empire,” is among the more unintentionally funny efforts at media criticism in recent times.
The piece is about Ben Shapiro, but one doesn’t have to have ever followed Shapiro, or even once read the Daily Wire, to get the joke. The essence of NPR’s complaint is that a conservative media figure not only “has more followers than The Washington Post” but outperforms mainstream outlets in the digital arena, a fact that, “experts worry,” may be “furthering polarization” in America. NPR refers to polarizing media as if they’re making an anthropological discovery of a new and alien phenomenon.
The piece goes on to note that “other conservative outlets such as The Blaze, BreitbartNews and The Western Journal” that “publish aggregated and opinion content” have also “generally been more successful… than legacy news outlets over the past year, according to NPR’s analysis.” In other words, they’re doing better than us.
Is the complaint that Shapiro peddles misinformation? No: “The articles The Daily Wire publishes don’t normally include falsehoods.” Are they worried about the stoking of Trumpism, or belief that the 2020 election was stolen? No, because Shapiro “publicly denounced the alt-right and other people in Trump’s orbit,” as well as “the conspiracy theory that Trump is the rightful winner of the 2020 election.” Are they mad that the site is opinion disguised as news? No, because, “publicly the site does not purport to be a traditional news source.”
The main complaint, instead, is that:
By only covering specific stories that bolster the conservative agenda (such as… polarizing ones about race and sexuality issues)… readers still come away from The Daily Wire’s content with the impression that Republican politicians can do little wrong and cancel culture is among the nation’s greatest threats.
NPR has not run a piece critical of Democrats since Christ was a boy. Moreover, much like the New York Times editorial page (but somehow worse), the public news leader’s monomaniacal focus on “race and sexuality issues” has become an industry in-joke. For at least a year especially, listening to NPR has been like being pinned in wrestling beyond the three-count. Everything is about race or gender, and you can’t make it stop.
Conservatives have always hated NPR, but in the last year I hear more and more politically progressive people, in the media, talking about the station as a kind of mass torture experiment, one that makes the most patient and sensible people want to drive off the road in anguish. A brief list of just a few recent NPR reports:
“Billie Eilish Says She Is Sorry After TikTok Video Shows Her Mouthing A Racist Slur.” Pop star caught on tape using the word “chink” when she was “13 or 14 years old” triggers international outrage and expenditure of U.S. national media funding.
“Black TikTok Creators Are On Strike To Protest A Lack Of Credit For Their Work.” White TikTok users dance to Nicky Minaj lyrics like, “I’m a f****** Black Barbie. Pretty face, perfect body,” kicking off “a debate about cultural appropriation on the app.”
“Geocaching While Black: Outdoor Pastime Reveals Racism And Bias.” Area man who plays GPS-based treasure hunt game requiring forays into remote places and private property describes “horrifying” experience of people asking what he’s doing.
“Broadway Is Reopening This Fall, And Every New Play Is By A Black Writer.” All seven new plays being written by black writers is “a step toward progress,” but critics “will be watching Broadway’s next moves” to make sure “momentum” continues.
“She Struggled To Reclaim Her Indigenous Name. She Hopes Others Have It Easier.” It took Cold Lake First Nations member Danita Bilozaze nine whole months to change her name to reflect her Indigenous identity.
“Tom Hanks Is A Non-Racist. It’s Time For Him To Be Anti-Racist.” Tom Hanks pushing for more widespread teaching of the Tulsa massacre doesn’t change the fact that he’s built a career playing “white men ‘doing the right thing,’” NPR complains.
Mixed in with Ibram Kendi recommendations for children’s books, instructions on how to “decolonize your bookshelf” and “talk to your parents about racism” (even if your parents are an interracial couple), and important dispatches from the war on complacency like “Monuments And Teams Have Changed Names As America Reckons With Racism, Birds Are Next,” “National” Public Radio in the last year has committed itself to a sliver of a sliver of a sliver of the most moralizing, tendentious, humor-deprived, jargon-obsessed segment of American society. Yet without any irony, yesterday’s piece still made deadpan complaint about Shapiro’s habit of “telling [people] what their opinions should be” and speaking in “buzzwords.”
This was functionally the same piece as the recent New York Times article, “Is the Rise of the Substack Economy Bad for Democracy?” which similarly blamed Substack for hurting “traditional news” — and, as the headline suggests, democracy itself — by being a) popular and b) financially successful, which in media terms means not losing money hand over fist. There, too, the reasons for the rise of an alternative media outlet were presented by critics as a frightening, unsolvable Scooby-Doo mystery.
It’s not. NPR sucks and is unlistenable, so people are going elsewhere. People like Shapiro are running their strategy in reverse and making fortunes doing it. One of these professional analysts has to figure this one out eventually, right?
Cockburn of The Spectator:
‘Hey, that’s some nice Facebook traffic you’re getting. Would be a shame if something happened to it.’
The average New York Times article on Facebook collects just under 2,000 likes, shares, and comments. The average Daily Wire link receives nearly 40,000. At the peak of the 2020 election, Daily Wire articles averaged almost 100,000 engagements. No other publication comes close.
And all of this really bothers NPR. For 2,000 petulant words, NPR does everything it can to imply that the Daily Wire should be kicked off Facebook. Why? Because…because…it’s just not fair! Why do people read their articles more than ours?
That’s the guts of the entire temper tantrum posing as an article. NPR gets very angry at the public for not liking the ‘right’ news outlets and basically calls for Big Tech to decide what people are supposed to read. And they do it with the same cudgel they’ve become so fond of in the past year: kvetching about ‘misinformation’.
The articles the Daily Wire publishes don’t normally include falsehoods (with some exceptions), and the site said it is committed to ‘truthful, accurate and ethical reporting.’
As NPR’s quoted experts explain, only covering specific stories that bolster the conservative agenda (such as negative reports about socialist countries and polarizing ones about race and sexuality issues) and only including certain facts, readers still come away from the Daily Wire‘s content with the impression that Republican politicians can do little wrong and cancel culture is among the nation’s greatest threats.
Grrr! The conservative outlet promotes conservatism! Why can’t they be 100 percent fair and unbiased, like all the publications that deep-sixed Hunter Biden’s laptop for partisan political purposes? Why can’t they do responsible and accurate reporting like the Washington Post, which won a Pulitzer Prize for writing approximately infinity articles about Russian collusion? Why can’t they be more like the bravely non-partisan New York Times, which forced out an editor for publishing an op-ed by a sitting US senator stating a view that more than half the country agreed with? Why can’t they come up with rhetorical innovations like ‘mostly peaceful protests’ in order to lie to the public about what’s happening right in front of their faces?
And speaking of Pravda-esque sleight of hand, NPR’s article delivers this gem from William and Mary academic Jaime Settle, who explains how even telling the truth is actually ‘misinformation’ if it makes NPR’s Facebook shares look bad.
‘They tend to not provide very much context for the information that they are providing,’ Settle said. ‘If you’ve stripped enough context away, any piece of truth can become a piece of misinformation.’
Soon, NPR is reduced to basically suggesting that Facebook’s news consumers are touched in the head:
‘On its “About” page, the site declares, “The Daily Wire does not claim to be without bias,” [but] It’s not clear that the millions of people engaging with the site’s news stories every month recognize that.
‘The Daily Wire‘s content looks no different in Facebook’s newsfeed than an article from a local newspaper, making it potentially difficult to distinguish between more and less reliable or biased information sources. “This is about what we end up consuming inadvertently,” Settle said.’
To borrow a word from Taylor Lorenz, does NPR think that Facebook users are r-slurred? They use the Daily Wire because they can’t tell the difference between it and the ‘right’ news sources?
Please. The truth is the exact opposite. The Daily Wire, and every other conservative outlet thriving on Facebook, is doing well because it is very obviously not part of the sanctimonious, equivocating, censorious, hypocritical, hysterical, deceptive, propagandistic orgy of self-righteous school-marmery that passes for ‘mainstream’ media. Unlike the typical NPR reporter, actual news consumers know the press is biased, so they at least want to pick an outlet that isn’t biased against them.
If the standard press wants their articles to be shared more, they could start by not being a never-ending cascade of moralizing lectures and psy-ops promoting foreign wars or polyamory. But that would be difficult. It takes decades of responsible practice to build up trust from the general public. It only takes a few days to simply call your rivals ‘misinformation’ and get them banned.
Wisconsin Public Radio (for whom, you may recall, I was a participant on its Friday morning political pundit panel, previously) recently ran a piece quoting UW–Milwaukee Prof. Mordecai Lee, a former state legislator, that Gov. Tony Evers won the budget battle with the state Legislature, despite the fact that the budget the Legislature created and passed is what Evers signed (with 50 Evers vetoes).
The WPR commenters all agreed with Lee, which means they are ignorant because no one, impartial or not, could look at that budget and say that Evers had anything to do with it other than signing it.
Matt Taibbi, not a conservative:
On Monday, June 28th, Fox host Tucker Carlson dropped a bomb mid-show, announcing he’d been approached by a “whistleblower” who told him he was being spied on by the NSA.
“The National Security Agency is monitoring our electronic communications,” he said, “and is planning to leak them in an attempt to take this show off the air.”
The reaction was swift, mocking, and ferocious. “Carlson is sounding more and more like InfoWars host and notorious conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones,” chirped CNN media analyst Brian Stelter. Vox ripped Carlson as a “serial fabulist” whose claims were “evidence-free.” The Washington Post quipped that “in a testament to just how far the credibility of Tucker Carlson Tonighthas cratered,” even groups like Pen America and the Reporters Committee on the Freedom of the Press were no-commenting the story, while CNN learned from its always-reliable “people familiar with the matter” that even Carlson’s bosses at Fox didn’t believe him.
None of this was surprising. A lot of media people despise Carlson. He may be Exhibit A in the n+2 epithet phenomenon that became standard math in the Trump era, i.e. if you thought he was an “asshole” in 2015 you jumped after Charlottesville straight past racist to white supremacist, and stayed there. He’s spoken of in newsrooms in hushed tones, like a mythical monster. The paranoid rumor that he’s running for president (he’s not) comes almost entirely from a handful of editors and producers who’ve convinced themselves it’s true, half out of anxiety and half subconscious desperation to find a click-generating replacement for Donald Trump.
The NSA story took a turn on the morning of July 7th last week, when Carlson went on Maria Bartiromo’s program. He said that it would shortly come out that the NSA “leaked the contents of my email to journalists,” claiming he knew this because one of them called him for comment. On cue, hours later, a piece came out in Axios, “Scoop: Tucker Carlson sought Putin interview at time of spying claim.”
In a flash, the gloating and non-denial denials that littered early coverage of this story (like the NSA’s meaningless insistence that Carlson was not a “target” of surveillance) dried up. They were instantly replaced by new, more tortured rhetoric, exemplified by an amazingly loathsome interview conducted by former Bush official Nicolle Wallace on MSNBC. The Wallace panel included rodentine former Robert Mueller team member Andrew Weissman, and another of the networks’ seemingly limitless pool of interchangeable ex-FBI stooge-commentators, Frank Figliuzzi.
Weissman denounced Carlson for sowing “distrust” in the intel community, which he said was “so anti-American.” Wallace, who we recall was MSNBC’s idea of a “crossover” voice to attract a younger demographic, agreed that Carlson had contributed to a “growing chorus of distrust in our country’s intelligence agencies.” Figliuzzi said the playbook of Carlson and the GOP was to “erode the public’s trust in their institutions.” Each made an identical point in the same words minus tiny, nervous variations, as if they were all trying to read the same statement off a moving teleprompter.
The scene was perfectly representative of what the erstwhile “liberal” press has become: collections of current and former enforcement types, masquerading as journalists, engaged in patriotic denunciations of critics and rote recitals of quasi-official statements.
Not that it matters to Carlson’s critics, but odds favor the NSA scandal being true. An extraordinarily rich recent history of illegal, politically-directed leaks has gone mostly uncovered, in another glaring recent press failure that itself is part of this story.
It’s admitted. Go back to December, 2015, and you’ll find a Wall Street Journal story by Adam Entous and Danny Yadron quoting senior government officials copping to the fact that the Obama White House reviewed intercepts of conversations between “U.S lawmakers and American-Jewish groups.”
The White House in that case was anxious to know what congressional opponents to Obama’s Iran deal were thinking, and peeked in the electronic cookie jar to get an advance preview at such “incidentally” collected info. This prompted what one official called an “Oh, shit” moment, when they realized that what they’d done might result in “the executive branch being accused of spying.”
After Obama left office, illegal leaks of classified intercepts became commonplace. Many, including the famed January, 2017 leak of conversations between Michael Flynn and Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak, were key elements of major, news-cycle-dominating bombshells. Others, like “Russian ambassador told Moscow that Kushner wanted secret communications channel with Kremlin,” or news that former National Security Adviser Susan Rice unmasked the identities of senior Trump officials in foreign intercepts, were openly violative of the prohibition against disclosing the existence of such surveillance, let alone the contents.
These leaks tended to go to the same small coterie of reporters at outlets like the Washington Post, New York Times, and CNN, and not one prompted blowback. This was a major forgotten element of the Reality Winner story. Winner, a relatively low-level contractor acting on her own, was caught, charged, and jailed with extraordinary speed after leaking an NSA document about Russian interference to the Intercept. But these dozens of similar violations by senior intelligence officials, mainly in leaks about Trump, went not just unpunished but un-investigated. As Winner’s lawyer, Titus Nichols, told me years ago, his client’s case was “about low-hanging fruit.”
The key issue in those cases was not even so much that someone in government might have been improperly accessing foreign surveillance intercepts — revelations to that effect have been a regular occurrence since the Bush years, with the FBI a serial violator — but that such intercepts were being leaked for public effect, with the enthusiastic cooperation of reporters, often in stories involving American citizens. They got away with it in the Trump years, because it was Trump, but the arrogance to think they can keep getting away with it by power-smearing everyone who objects is mind-blowing.
During Trump’s first run for president, I nearly lost my mind trying to explain to fellow reporters that he was succeeding in part because of us, that the prestige media’s ham-handed, hysterical, anti-intellectual approach to covering the Trump phenomenon was itself massively fueling it, making a case for establishment corruption and incompetence more eloquently than he could.
Something similar now is happening with the collapse of traditional media and the rise of Carlson, the current #1 voice on cable, who is rapidly stealing the audience MSNBC somehow believed it could corral with spokesgoons like Wallace. It seems impossible that Carlson’s haters don’t realize how easy they’ve made it for him, turning themselves into such caricatures of illiberalism that they’re practically handing him the top spot.
The inspiration for his current show seemingly came when Carlson watched his former colleagues among the GOP Brahmins make a show of reacting with horror to Trump’s arrival. These were people who had no problem wantonly bombing poor and mostly nonwhite countries all over the world, made a joke of the rule of law (and America’s reputation abroad) with policies like torture, rendition, and mass surveillance, and shamelessly whored themselves out to Wall Street even after the 2008 crash. Yet they pretended to severe moral anguish before Trump even took office.
Carlson grasped that the sudden piety of the Kristols and Max Boots and David Frenches was rooted in the same terror the Democratic Party nomenklatura felt at the possibility of a Bernie Sanders presidency in 2020, i.e. fear of a line-jumping outsider tearing away their hard-fought consultancies and sinecures.
“He was threatening their rice bowl,” Carlson says. “That’s all it was. I was like, ‘Fuck these people.’”
Biden’s minions, including those in the news media, need to remember the words of Theodore Roosevelt:
“Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.”
There is a faction of the news media that seems stuck on January 6. They need to get some perspective. And political hucksters who claim that the Capitol riot was worse than the September 11 attacks deserve all the derision they get.
One symptom of the January 6 fixation is a recent Vice articleentitled, “‘So, So Angry’: Reporters Who Survived the Capitol Riot Are Still Struggling.” A sampling:
The emotional scars are still there. Six months after their office was attacked, the Capitol Hill press corps is grappling with how to cover the insurrection’s fallout, as well as its impact on them personally and professionally. Some reporters who were there won’t go back into the building. A number have sought therapy to deal with the trauma. One longtime Capitol Hill reporter opted for early retirement shortly after living through the riot. Many still aren’t sleeping well.
Matt Laslo is especially bitter, and notes that he is now unwilling to talk to some Republican lawmakers:
Laslo has struggled with moving past the day. “It’s my office, the building I love most in the f***ing world. I used to call the Capitol my girlfriend. I’ve devoted 15 years of my g**damn life to that building,” he said, choking up. “Now? Instead of being there every day, I’m there once a month. I don’t want to be there.”
The piece has been widely shared by the Capitol Hill press corps.
Somewhere, Ernie Pyle (reporter killed in World War II) and Welles Hangen (NBC reporter killed in Cambodia in 1970) may be rolling over in their graves.
Let me get two things out of the way up front. First, I do not doubt that this was a genuinely traumatic event, and that people have had difficulty processing it. There were few fatalities or serious injuries, and fewer directly at the hands of the rioters, but nobody inside the building knew that until after it was all over. People felt besieged and endangered in their normal workplace, because they were besieged and endangered. Journalists properly told their stories of that harrowing experience, including our own John McCormack. And everyone works through that sort of thing differently, with different needs for time off or, in some cases, therapy or prayer. I was on the street a few blocks from my office in One World Trade Center on September 11 when the second plane hit. I had panic attacks for months. Some people were fine. Some seemed fine for a while, then had serious issues later.
Second, I bow to nobody in my view that the Capitol riot was indefensible, that it involved lawbreaking and both real and threatened violence, that it targeted and disrupted an essential process in the peaceful transition of power, and that Donald Trump bears moral and political responsibility for it. Trump was responsible not only for his incendiary speech but for a two-month course of conduct consisting of (1) claiming, loudly and falsely, that the election was stolen; (2) continuing to contest the election result through every available forum for two months; (3) not limiting his contest of the election to the legally legitimate channels for an election contest; (4) focusing attention on the in-person gathering of the entire Congress and the vice president to count the electoral votes on January 6 as a point of vulnerability to mob pressure; and (5) specifically violating his oath to the Constitution by the attempt to get the vice president to unilaterally prevent the counting of electoral votes.
I said at the time, and still believe, that Trump was properly impeached for this and should have been convicted. I said at the time, and still believe, that the maximum available punishments should be used against everyone who broke the law that day, in order to show for all time that this should never be repeated. I said at the time, and still believe, that a great many societies in human history would rationally have reacted to such an event by placing the heads of Trump and the rioters on pikes around the Capitol as a warning to others.
All that being out of the way: Get over yourselves. The Capitol Hill press corps are not the first people to deal with a traumatic event and be expected to keep doing their jobs. This was not the worst of those, and some of those other events were also wholly or partly the work of political actors. Ask any of us who went through September 11. Ask doctors and nurses who had to keep going back to the emergency rooms and intensive-care units over the past year and a half. Lots of people worked other frontline jobs during the pandemic. We ask cops, firemen, and soldiers to pick themselves up and keep going all the time. Even throughout the worst waves of politically stoked anti-police violence last summer — on top of all the routine exposures to death and danger that cops face — we still asked every cop to be prepared at any time to act with Solomonic wisdom and emotional impartiality in making life-and-death decisions in a split second that cannot be reversed. Small businesspeople in places such as Minneapolis had their life’s work destroyed by rioters, and most of the sympathy of the national political press corps was with the rioters. People go on, because that is what adults have always done.
Can people go back to work in the Capitol? Nobody seems to care much about the folks at the Family Research Council going back to work in their building after a left-winger tried to shoot the place up after it was targeted by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The press has focused comparatively little on the people who work at the Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee, the recipients of pipe bombs on January 6 whose culprit has yet to be identified.
People went back to work in the Pentagon on September 11 itself. Don Rumsfeld, in his autobiography, described heading straight back from the scene of the attack into his office that morning, and continuing to work even as smoke from the crash scene that destroyed a wing of the building was still forcing its way in:
As people arrived on-site to assist, I turned back toward my office to gather what additional information I could. On my way I picked up a small, twisted piece of metal from whatever had hit the Pentagon. . . . The smoke from the crash site was spreading through the building. The smell of jet fuel and smoke trailed us down the corridor. Upon arriving back in my office, I spoke briefly with the President . . .
Before long, the smoke in my office became heavy, so along with several staff members I headed to the National Military Command Center in the basement. A complex of rooms outfitted with televisions, computer terminals, and screens tracking military activities around the world, the NMCC is a well-equipped communications hub. Despite the fires still raging in the Pentagon and sprinklers dousing wires and cables with water, our links to the outside world were functioning, although sporadically. . . . The vice chairman [of the Joint Chiefs of Staff], General Dick Myers…had been on Capitol Hill. . . . Upon learning of the attack, he rushed back to the Pentagon and joined me in the command center . . .
As we were working at the Pentagon, smoke from the crash site was seeping into the NMCC. Our eyes became red and our throats itchy. An Arlington County firefighter reported that carbon dioxide had reached dangerous levels in much of the building. The air-conditioning was supposed to have been disabled to avoid circulating the hazardous smoke, but apparently it took some time for it to be shut down. Myers suggested that I order the evacuation of the command center, and he argued that the staff would feel bound to remain there as long as I stayed in the building. I told him to have all nonessential personnel leave but that I intended to keep working there as long as we were able. Relocating to any of the remote sites would take at least an hour of travel and settling in, precious moments I did not want to lose if we could keep working in the Pentagon. Eventually we moved into a smaller communications center elsewhere in the building . . . which had less smoke. As the day went on, the firefighters stamped out enough of the fi re so that the smoke in some portions of the building became tolerable.
There are three overlapping reasons why national political reporters may be inclined to excessively magnify and dwell upon January 6. One, ever since Watergate, there has been a journalistic culture among the national political press of making reporters the hero of the story. It was not always like this; Robert Capa was not the story when he landed with the first wave on D-Day, and Ernie Pyle was not the story on Okinawa. But for people who spent four years comparing themselves to firefighters running toward danger whenever Trump tweeted at them, the allure of making this a story about peril to the press is irresistible. Two, of course, a lot of the Capitol Hill press corps is young — young enough that September 11 is a childhood memory and that “embedded reporter” evokes campaign coverage, not David Bloom and Michael Kelly riding to their deaths in Iraq.
Third, of course, is simply the temptation to keep January 6 alive as a never-ending partisan club in order to preserve the Trump-centric voter dynamics of the 2020 election and avoid contesting the 2022 elections around the current president and the current Congress. That undoubtedly is why unprincipled political operatives seem devoted to the “January 6 was worse than September 11” talking point. Never mind that 3,000 Americans died; the important thing is that Republicans won the 2002 and 2004 elections on the strength of George W. Bush’s response to the September 11 attacks. For Democrats still sore at that — and in particular for Democrats who were Republicans then and see money to be made now off January 6 — the desire to repeat that has overwhelmed their basic sense of decency and proportion.
So it is that we get Matthew Dowd, a onetime Bush pollster who has long since returned to his original partisan team with the Democrats, telling Joy Reid on MSNBC that “Jan. 6 was worse than 9/11 because it’s continued to rip our country apart and give permission to people to pursue autocratic means.”
Steve Schmidt of the Lincoln Project, another ex-Republican strategist who left the party years ago, claimed that the January 6 attacks were “profoundly more dangerous than the 9/11 attacks, and in the end, the 1/6 attacks are likely to kill a lot more Americans than were killed in the 9/11 attacks including the casualties of the wars that lasted 20 years following it.”
I have to wonder who is far enough gone in their paranoid bunkers to believe this sort of thing, yet these guys say it out loud without shame or embarrassment. Our system has been through worse. In 2017, a Bernie Sanders supporter tracked down congressional Republicans practicing baseball and fired 70 rounds at them, seriously wounding House Republican whip Steve Scalise. Had things gone down just a little differently, numerous Republican senators and congressmen could have been killed. Nobody treats that today as an important event. Joe Biden has called January 6 the “worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War,” when it was not even the worst act of violence within the Capitol in Biden’s own lifetime: In 1954, Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire inside the House chamber, wounding five congressmen.
Then again, maybe the Biden White House has already changed its mind, given that just today, press secretary Jen Psaki described new state election laws as “the worst challenge to our democracy since the Civil War.”
The Capitol riot was both bad and indefensible. Property got destroyed, important democratic processes were interrupted, people got hurt, and people died. But not everything that is indefensible is equally bad. It callously cheapens the death and mass trauma of September 11 to compare the two events for partisan gain, fundraising, or ratings. It would be futile to appeal to the sense of shame of people such as Dowd and Schmidt, but one hopes that some of our national press corps would be embarrassed by their naked opportunism.
Ricky Cobb, a sociology prof in the Chicago area, tweets under the handle “Super 70s Sports.” He is very clever and very popular. He comments on more than sports. A while back, he said, “When you’re discussing the greatest TV theme songs, I’m coming to that party with Fred G. Sanford.”
That struck me as an excellent choice. Quincy Jones wrote the theme to Sanford and Son, the immortal sitcom. He called his piece “The Streetbeater.” It is funky, groovy, and irresistible. It will put a spring in your step (as you beat the streets).
I also thought of Danny Elfman’s theme to The Simpsons. Leonard Bernstein once said, “I’d give five years of my life to have written The Stars and Stripes Forever.” Many of us would give a couple of years — a couple of months? — to have written the Simpsons theme. One suspects, and hopes, it has made the composer a pretty penny. The piece promises wacky fun — and is wacky fun all on its own.
In an online column, I took up the subject of TV themes, and invited readers to send me their nominations, their favorites. The invitation struck a chord (no pun intended). Many people wrote quite personally. TV is a personal thing, and so is music.
“Perhaps I am moved by nostalgia,” one note began — and a lot of others began in similar fashion — “but I have always loved the theme from Our Miss Brooks (the radio show, although the TV version used the same theme at first).” Our Miss Brooks ran on the radio from 1948 to 1957. Its theme — whistling and whimsical — was written by Wilbur Hatch.
Another reader spoke of his father, who lived a rocky life, and died when our reader was just 14. He loved The Jeffersons, the father did — which begins with a rousing, striving, aspirational gospel song: “Movin’ On Up.”
“Countless times,” said another reader, “I have crooned the Baretta theme to my children and grandchildren, as they sulked over some just punishment.” One line of that song goes, “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.” Another line goes, “Don’t roll the dice if you can’t pay the price.”
Years ago, a husband and wife moved from Boston to Virginia. He tormented her all the way down with the Green Acres theme. As you may recall, Eddie Albert sings, “You are my wife!” Eva Gabor sighs, “Goodbye, city life!”
One man has a special appreciation of the Bewitched theme. “It may have to do, however, with my adolescent interest in Elizabeth Montgomery.” More than a few of us could sing a few verses of that song.
What makes a good TV theme? Good music, for one thing — music for its own sake. Yet a TV theme should sell the show, too: It should set the mood, or establish the tone. There is an old line — an old truth — about advertising: An ad can be wonderfully funny, touching, or brilliant — but if you can’t remember the product afterward, the ad is no good.
On another occasion, we might take up the subject of ad jingles. Millions can sing “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.” The phrase — the musical phrase — was written in 1971 by . . . Barry Manilow.
In my judgment, “Love Boat” is a superb TV theme song. It is both cheesy and alluring — like the show, right? “Love, exciting and new. Come aboard, we’re expecting you.” Route 66, too, has a superb theme. The music says, “The open road. Confidence. A bright day ahead.”
Nelson Riddle, writer of so much music, wrote that theme. It is instrumental, having no words. Or it is a “song without words,” if you like. (I have borrowed Mendelssohn’s heading.) The Sanford and Son and Simpsons themes, too, are songs without words. And, like Riddle’s road music, they serve their shows brilliantly.
What about songs with words? Well, some TV songs have lyrics that enter our national language. Earlier this year, I wrote of going to a golf range, where there is an element of camaraderie. “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name,” I quoted. That comes from the Cheers theme.
“Who can turn the world on with her smile?” Chances are, you are familiar with that question. And the next one: “Who can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?” What beautiful lyrics, and they belong to “Love Is All Around,” which is the theme song to The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
Sometimes, you need the words of a theme song to explain the premise of the show. Why, in fact, is Eva Gabor living on a farm? Why are those hillbillies living in Beverly Hills? How did the Bradys become a bunch? (They are an example of what we now call a “blended” family.) How did that disparate group of people come to be on a desert island (Gilligan’s)? The theme songs to all of those shows tell you just what you need to know.
Some themes are instantly and forever recognizable by just a few notes. Take four notes in an ascending scale, followed by two snaps of the fingers, and you have the Addams Family theme (composed by Vic Mizzy, who also gave us the Green Acres song).
Can you imagine having written four notes that virtually the whole world knows? I can see Beethoven — thinking of his Fifth Symphony — nodding yes.
Speaking of four notes: The first four of the Twilight Zone theme — those screwy, dizzying intervals — are lodged in our brains. When I was in school, people would sing them when confronted by something weird or mysterious. You had entered the twilight zone, you see. (The music was composed by Marius Constant, a Romanian who went to Paris to study with, among others, Messiaen and Honegger.)
How about the theme to Mission: Impossible, with its stout bass figure? This is the work of Lalo Schifrin, who grew up in Buenos Aires (and then, like Constant, went to Paris). What a thrill it was, one year, when Schifrin came on a National Review cruise.
We can think of dumb songs: “A horse is a horse, of course, of course” (Mister Ed). “George, George, George of the Jungle.” “It’s Howdy Doody time!” But are those songs really dumb? Here I am, in 2021 — more than half a century later — talking about them.
One afternoon, I was talking with Lee Hoiby, the (classical) composer. We were talking about popular standards — “Tangerine” and so on. I asked for his opinion on a number of songs. “Is this one good?” “How about this one?” Ultimately, he said, “You know, if they’ve lasted, they are almost by definition good.”
Some TV theme songs work as stand-alone songs, quite apart from the shows they serve. In addition to some I have already cited — “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” (Cheers) — think of “Happy Days.” And “Suicide Is Painless” (M*A*S*H). And “Moonlighting.” And “Those Were the Days” (All in the Family)!
Quick aside: The music for “Those Were the Days” was written by Charles Strouse, who also did Annie and Bye Bye Birdie.
One reader wrote to say he did not like “And Then There’s Maude,” because it is a feminist anthem. Okay, but what a feminist anthem! (“Lady Godiva was a freedom rider. She didn’t care if the whole world looked.”)
There is a category of TV theme music I would characterize as “urban cool.” Think of the themes to Barney Miller and The Odd Couple. Both of those shows are set in New York. Peter Gunn is set in a city unspecified. Its music reflects some urban cool, too — also danger and excitement, for the protagonist is a private eye.
Many, many readers nominated the Peter Gunn theme as the best TV theme of all, or at any rate near the top. It is by Henry Mancini — who, in one passage, repeated, suggests Ravel’s Boléro (consciously or not, and I suspect consciously).
A long way from urban cool — though cool in its own way — is “The Fishin’ Hole,” the theme music to The Andy Griffith Show. It is the personification — the musicalization? — of carefree happiness. One of its three co-writers, Earle Hagen, does the whistling we hear.
Of westerns, there used to be a great many. And they had music to suit. Perfectly typical of this genre is the theme song to Rawhide, whose music is by Dimitri Tiomkin. He was born, Jewish, in the Russian Empire. He studied at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, with Glazunov, among others. He was able to flee the Bolsheviks. Once in Hollywood, he helped create the sound of the American West. Isn’t the human imagination remarkable?
Aaron Copland, too, helped create the sound of the American West — through such scores as Rodeo and Billy the Kid. Copland was not a Jewish refugee or immigrant from the Russian or Soviet Empire, but his parents were. Copland grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. Whether he ever saw a butte, desert, or canyon — besides Manhattan’s — I don’t know.
Classical music has not made many appearances as TV themes. There was a news show — The Huntley-Brinkley Report. It closed with the Scherzo from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Also, William F. Buckley Jr. used Bach for his Firing Line: the last movement of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 2. When you think about it, that fleet, merry trumpet tune doesn’t go with the concept of a firing line. At all. But WFB made it work, as he did most everything else.
Hawaii Five-0. The Rockford Files. Hogan’s Heroes. Hill Street Blues. Taxi. These are shows whose themes were frequently mentioned by my readers, for good reason. I have to think that Hogan’s Heroes was a special challenge, for a composer. What do you do with a sitcom set in a German POW camp?
Rising to the challenge was Jerry Fielding (born Joshua Itzhak Feldman). He composed a march. The snare drums, at the beginning, are slightly menacing. But then the music turns friendly, in a Sousa-like way. Everything will be all right.
Obviously, I could go on and on, having left dozens of worthy themes unmentioned. (Scores of them, you might quip.) I could write a paean to “Meet the Flintstones.” That family lived in the Stone Age. Living in an opposite age were the Jetsons — who got an awfully good theme song, too.
Speaking of ages, epochs, and eras: I can hear critics say to me, “Hey, Gramps, how ’bout some shows from, you know: this century. Heard any good theme music since Reagan was president?” Fair enough — but perhaps we can wait for the more recent themes to ripen into classics.
The sports broadcasting gods have smiled on me again, so I will be broadcasting the WIAA softball tournament today starting at 11:40 a.m. Central time on this fine radio station, followed, we hope, by the championship game at 6:40 p.m. Central time on this fine radio station.
I previously wrote about my uncommon luck in being able to do state games for a part-time guy. My first state tournament was the first year I was announcing games, in 1989. It took me 25 years to get to do state football, but since then I have done five state championship games, the last two with the right team winning.
I have done three state boys basketball tournaments, three state girls basketball tournaments (most recently this season; one year I called two state championships in two hours), one state wrestling tournament, two state girls volleyball tournaments (most recently this year despite my team losing the game before state; then came positive COVID tests for the winning team), two state baseball tournaments, and one state boys soccer tournament (with the house goalkeeper).
Add softball to the list today to conclude a school year where I did state in the fall, winter and spring, which I think is a first. That, of course, came after a simultaneous first and last, first and last, announcing a child’s game.
The similarity between that game and the most recent game I did was the score: 1–0. A first-inning bases-loaded walk was the only run in our third baseman son’s final game. The only run in the softball sectional final came on, in order, an outfield error, a pitching change (which moved said outfielder to shortstop), a pinch-runner, a base hit, a stolen base by said pinch-runner, a hit batter to load the bases with no one out, and a ground ball to the shortstop, who threw … to first base and not home, where the only run scored. (I assume either muscle memory took over, since most shortstop throws are to first base, or she forgot something her coach had told her about one minute earlier.)
This is why Jim McKay opened every “Wide World of Sports” show with “the thrill of victory … and the agony of defeat … the human drama of athletic competition.” Especially in high school, which is where advanced metrics go to die. The unpredictability and the raw emotion of players, their parents, coaches and fans is what makes it compelling.
Upper Midwest Airchecks brings us the day that was two weeks after my 11th birthday and two weeks and three days before the Bicentennial:
Tonight I am doing something I’ve never gotten to do before, and something I won’t do ever again.
The pitcher depicted in this GIF …
… has had quite a week, beginning with channeling his inner Terry Kath at his last high school concert …
… followed by playing the National Anthem before his last conference home game:
I have announced a lot of different things in my more than 30 years of sports announcing on the side, but until tonight I have never announced a child’s game, though I once announced a state soccer match with a child, a goalkeeper:
Platteville is playing Madison Edgewood at Sun Prairie (the future Sun Prairie East, by the way) today at 5:40 p.m. on WPVL in Platteville. If Platteville loses, that will end Dylan’s baseball career, and his parents’ watching him play baseball since he started playing T-ball years ago.
That will apply to all the parents of the seniors on tonight’s losing team, though at least two of them plan to play at the college level. It will also apply to the losing coach, because the Platteville coach’s stepson and the Edgewood coach’s son play for their fathers. It may make for an emotional postgame, less for being eliminated from the postseason as for the end of a season and, like graduation five days ago, the last time this group of players will ever be together, given future life circumstances.
I did announce a few games of Dylan’s and his teammates the summer before his freshman year online …
… but with no other children in the house who compete in sports that are covered on the radio, Dylan’s last game will be the last game of a child I will announce.
Playing for your father means you’re usually expected to be a “coach on the floor,” as the phrase goes. They’re also usually expected to be go-betweens between their coach/father and their teammates. Conversely, coaches of their kids can treat their players as they see appropriate, but they go home with their kids, and the line between coach and father may be at the front door, or not. When I do pregame interviews with coaches whose kids are on their team, I usually ask them about what that’s been like for them, and I always get interesting answers, though none like former Marquette coach Al McGuire, who when asked why his son Allie was starting over another player, replied, “Because I’m sleeping with his mother.”
(Less colorful but as honest was McGuire’s answer when a player asked him why he wasn’t starting over Allie: “Kid, you can’t be as good as my son to be in the starting lineup, you’ve got to be better than my son because he’s my son.”)
I have one tenuous connection to Edgewood, whose most famous alumnus is probably the late Chris Farley, who was a year ahead of me in high school. Edgewood played Madison La Follette in a nonconference football game in the early 1980s. Chris played offensive and defensive line. I played trumpet.
Farley is buried in Resurrection Cemetery in Madison, the final resting place of my older brother 33 years earlier. He is buried in Resurrection’s mausoleum, and you can imagine that gets a lot of visitors.
Kevin D. Williamson writes about the New York Times 1619 project and draws conclusions about journalism education:
What to make of the case of Nikole Hannah-Jones, organizer of the New York Times’ sloppy and troubled 1619 Project, who has been denied, at least for the moment, tenure for a professorship at the University of North Carolina after a pressure campaign from conservative critics? …
It is a truth universally acknowledged that professors of journalism are among the most genuinely worthless specimens walking God’s green earth and that any halfway self-respecting society would exile them to the moon, and I am not at all sure that an advanced degree in journalism is more of a qualification than a disqualification when it comes to instructing students. (Set aside for the moment that journalism is not something that can be learned in a classroom. It is a trade, not an art or a science, and journalism degrees are some of the purest lab-grade bunkum ever produced.) …
And, of course, the more persuasive criticism of Hannah-Jones is about that — her practice of journalism, which is distinct from scholarship, though the two intersect at points. The National Association of Scholars sent an open letter to the Pulitzer committee (who are weasels in full, or at least mustelid-adjacent) demanding that they revoke the prize given to Hannah-Jones, and their account, along with the case made here at National Review and elsewhere, is damning. One of the Times’ own fact-checkers on the project, historian and African-American studies professor Leslie M. Harris of Northwestern University, warned the Times that key claims of the work were unsupportable. She listed other mistakes that she had communicated to the Times before the project was published but that went uncorrected.
When the Times did get around to amending the report, it did so in a guilty, sneaky, underhanded way — “stealth edits,” or unacknowledged corrections — for obviously political reasons. Donald Trump, running for reelection as president, had made a pet cause of the 1619 Project, some Democrats worried that the 1619 Project was giving him rhetorical ammunition, and the editors of the Times buckled under the consequent pressure. Hannah-Jones did the cable-news circuit claiming, preposterously, that the 1619 Project had never said what it said, and the Times reworked critical passages in an attempt to deny Trump a talking point. This is intellectual dishonesty — it is intellectual dishonesty in scholarship, it is intellectual dishonesty in journalism, and it is intellectual dishonesty in any other context. …
As usual, our focus on the personality in question — on the hate object with a face and a name — leads us astray. As an ideological and cultural matter, how much does it really matter who, exactly, sits in the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism? Because the chances are 104 percent that the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism is going to be a semi-maniacal ideologue of approximately the Hannah-Jones kind in any case. The ideology is built into the position, and so is the bias. They aren’t going to hire Charles Murray. The Associated Press is going to go right on being a biased and at times incompetent organization with or without Emily Wilder.
If you want to cancel something, cancel the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media in toto. People who want to work as reporters should study economics, history, Victorian novels, French poetry, art, physics — almost anything but what is taught in journalism schools. You can’t go building a bullsh** farm and plant it thickly with bullsh** and then act surprised when there’s bullsh** under foot. In many years of interviewing college students and recent graduates for journalism jobs, I have never once met a journalism major who could tell me what “millage” is, though I have heard them hold forth on privilege and intersectionality and whatever the bullsh** chef’s special is down at the bullsh** market.
A UW friend of mine asked for my opinion about this, 33 years after I departed UW–Madison with a double-major (journalism and political science, which makes me, yes, one of those liberal arts graduates) bachelor’s degree and toward my 33-year career in this silly line of work.
In Britain, journalism is a trade, the sort of thing you get at a British equivalent of a Wisconsin technical college or a community college in other states. That would seem to disagree with Williamson’s assertion about going to school to learn economics (two classes), history (minor), Victorian novels, French poetry, art, physics (negative to the last four), etc.
I was a student of the UW School of Journalism and Mass Communication in the 1980s. Highlights included:
The 33 years since graduation have proven that journalism is like most lines of work where you get better at it by doing it. I got hired for my first full-time job because I was getting a journalism degree (which made me, I think, one of the few J-school graduates to have a job lined up before graduating, which made for a pleasant final six weeks of college.)
Journalism classes were about one-sixth of my UW Bachelor of Arts credits. The idea was to be broadly educated in areas beyond my major, which is what Williamson claims to support. It’s difficult to get hired, though, if your employer has to train you from ground zero. (Though I have come to the conclusion that if I had someone with superior work ethic, I could teach them what they need to do. More on that later.)
There was a lot about journalism I learned after I left UW. J-school did not cover such subjects as how you handle threats to your health from people who don’t like your work. (Short term: Carry an aluminum baseball bat in your car. Today, I honestly believe reporters should conceal-carry handguns for their own safety.) The reason more than anything is the reality of learning by doing, or experiencing. Here, for instance.
Back in 1999, the New York Times reported:
This summer, the Reader Inc. Editorial Training Center plans to open its doors in Oshkosh, Wis., to its first class of 20 students. All will be recruited by some of Thomson’s 56 newspapers, all committed to going back to work at those newspapers.
”Our hope is we can recruit some good people with roots in the community,” said Stewart Rieckman, the executive editor of the Oshkosh Northwestern (circulation 27,000).
As soon as traditional journalism-school graduates hit the newsroom, Mr. Rieckman said, ”they’re looking for the next stepping stone.”
Terry Quinn, a senior vice president of Thomson Newspapers, said the program would teach journalistic skills, but also explain in detail the medium’s business side.
Trainees will ”spend a week in their home newspaper office being acclimatized and electronically hooked up,” Mr. Quinn said. ”Then they go for 12 weeks to the training center in Wisconsin and then they go back for a further six weeks’ training” at the sponsoring newspaper.
Their reward, if they make the grade, will be a job at a starting salary of $17,000 to $22,000.
(Side note: I reached that salary a decade before that.)
Michael Janeway, director of Columbia University’s program for Journalism in the Arts, called Reader Inc. ”a shot at short-cutting” a good journalism education. ”They’re rationalizing their own paltry investment in news editorial instead of investing in salaries,” he said.
But Mr. Quinn contends that traditional journalism schools impart a subtle snobbery about small-town journalism that has hurt the profession. ”I call them ‘wannabe’ Woodward and Bernsteins,” he said. ”They turn up their noses at the kind of community journalism that connects with readers.”
Thomson Newspapers, the former (and unlamented) owner of eight Wisconsin daily newspapers, then sold all their Wisconsin daily newspapers to Gannett and exited the newspaper business. I had predicted the sale in print, except I got the order of buyer and seller wrong.
Two decades later, Quinn had a partial point about “‘wannabe’ Woodward and Bernsteins,” except that Quinn’s perspective came from the owner of daily newspapers that had multiples of circulation more than The Post~Crescent, the largest Wisconsin daily Thomson owned. Appleton is not a small town. Small towns do not have daily newspapers. Small towns have, or are covered by, newspapers printed less often than every day that cover things like city council and school board meetings, school concerts, local events, etc.
If journalism had too many “Woodstein” (what the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were called by their editor, but you knew that from the movie “All the President’s Men,” right?) types, that would be one thing. Similar to small-market sports teams, the thing for their bosses to do is to get the best possible work out of them to benefit where they are working now, which would have the side benefit of making their résumés look good.
The bigger problem is the J-school graduates who are out to change the world, or so they think. They bring an agenda with them, which is not necessarily (in fact, it usually isn’t) what their audience wants to know about — what is happening in their area in ways that affect them. They also bring with them their generation’s qualities, if that’s what you want to call them, of fragility and inability to cope with people who don’t like them.
I have written often in this space about the failings of those now in my line of work. This piece, for instance, notes my brief days at a daily newspaper. If I may quote myself (and of course I can, because this is my blog):
I worked in a daily newspaper newsroom in the early 1990s, as one of four reporters (in addition to a sports reporter). The number of married reporters in that office totaled zero. The number of reporters with children in that office totaled zero. The number of homeowners among the reporting staff totaled zero. The number of regular churchgoers among the reporting staff probably totaled zero. You can’t cover your community without, to use a cliché, skin in the game beyond a regular paycheck.
That, of course, is advice that late-1980s Steve would have ignored. Late-’80s Steve worked and lived in a community where, it’s safe to say, the number of people like me — college-educated and unattached — could be counted with, at most, two hands, out of a community of more than 4,000. (I dated two of them. Didn’t work out.) Some would also argue that entanglements prevent reporters from being impartial and unbiased. Impartiality is dangerously close to apathy, and eliminating bias is probably impossible among human beings, but being fair is not.
I have had some mentoring opportunities in my career. A local high school graduate who was switching her online college major to journalism asked to do some writing. So I hired her to do such mundane things as covering government meetings, which she did with more enthusiasm than I ever mustered. She got her degree, and she has been a weekly newspaper editor and a TV news producer. She told me she learned more from me than she ever learned in journalism school.
I have spoken to numerous journalism and communication classes about the various adventures of my job. One of those was not the local university’s late communications department, whose chair believed that weekly newspapers were beneath him. I outlasted his career.
There will always be people who don’t like your work, because they don’t want to read what they disagree with. (Mark Twain wrote that if you don’t read the newspaper you are uninformed; if you read the newspaper you are misinformed.)
If I were teaching journalism I think I would teach such subjects as:
Again, though, you get better at this by doing it, but not merely by doing it, but by having your work professionally judged and corrected. (I suspect that saved me in my early days from unpleasant conversations with people I was reporting on, though I have had at least my share of those over the years.) That is what editors are supposed to do. I sometimes wonder based on what I read if editors (particularly copy editors) exist anymore. Certainly one thing that’s harder to find is living, breathing institutional memory, the people who covered stories years ago and can provide context to current affairs. They get laid off because some suit thinks they make too much money, or they have bad attitudes, or whatever.
A friend of the inspiration of this post posted a photo of a roll of toilet paper, saying it had more use than news reporting today. Today’s newspaper is inevitably the next day’s recycling. The media has such an important role in our lives that it is the only line of work constitutionally protected. But people in my line of work need to listen to their critics, particularly those who don’t get paychecks from media companies. Some of them are too arrogant to do that, particularly to listen to those with a different ideological worldview.
The reason to do this work is because the work is necessary. You will get paid little, a lot of people won’t like you, and a lot of your work will go unnoticed. As John F. Kennedy put it, life is unfair.
Today is the 61st anniversary of what I used to consider the greatest radio station on the planet in its best format: