Sad Cardinals broadcast might be the most unintentionally funny bit going this season. pic.twitter.com/TQzevMPcmY
— Jared Carrabis (@Jared_Carrabis) September 5, 2021
Today in 1926, Radio Corporation of America — then owned by General Electric Co., Westinghouse, AT&T and United Fruit Co. (now known as Chiquita Brands International) — created the National Broadcasting Co. …
… which later returned to RCA’s parent, General Electric Co. (from whose name came the famous NBC chimes), and now is part of what used to be Universal Studios …
… and is part of Comcast cable TV …
In a possibly strange way, that makes every Universal-owned show on NBC “pure NBCUniversal,” or something.
One week from tonight I resume my radio sportscasting side thing on this radio station for at least the next nine Friday nights, with two more Saturday afternoon football games and three Thursday night volleyball matches … before the postseason begins.
I started doing this in September 1988 based on cable TV experience consisting of one girls basketball game and two-thirds of a hockey game. As I’ve written here before, it’s always been a part-time thing — a hobby that brings in money instead of the usual — and having seen a lot of radio from the inside I have concluded that being a part-timer is preferable to being in radio full-time for many reasons.
This is the thing I enjoy the most, and enjoy enough to want to do it to professional (as in network) standards, including the not-so-fun aspect of game prep, which usually takes up at least as much time as the actual game broadcast does. I have never announced beyond NCAA Division III college football, basketball and hockey (plus one semi-pro football championship with NFL rules), and at my age I doubt I will have
I wrote back in late June that I have been uncommonly blessed in broadcasting sports to have announced five state football championship games (where my team was 2–3), three state boys basketball tournaments (no state champion yet, though I have experience at that), three state girls basketball tournaments (one year I called two state championships in two hours, and then added another the next season), 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), four state baseball tournaments (no winner there yet), one state softball tournament (which ended with “And that’s a state championship!”), and one state boys soccer tournament (with the house goalkeeper).
All of this wasn’t actually the motivation for today’s blog. A friend of mine forwarded a joke meme that was previously posted by a radio station that calls itself Steve FM. A long time ago I wrote about my idea for “Steve TV,” based on my temporarily ubiquitous presence on local cable TV due to my being a school board candidate while having announced two pre-state basketball tournament games.
It turns out there are two Steve FMs. One is, to be precise, 96.7 Steve FM in Columbia, S.C., while the other is 104.9 Steve FM (call letters, of course, WSTV, which you’d think would be Steve TV’s call letters, assuming we’re east of the Mississippi River, the W vs. K call-letter dividing line) in Roanoke, Va., a station that refers to itself as “Roanoke’s Random Radio.” Both are owned by iHeart Radio.
Each plays “adult hits,” defined by the always-accurate Wikipedia as “adult contemporary, pop and mainstream rock hits from the 1970s [or late 1960s] through at least the 1990s.” Another feature is that “Due to its broad nature, the adult hits format can be easily automated. This means that the station can be run with little to no on-air personalities (a trait that, in some cases, may be openly promoted by the station), leaving only staff involved in station operations, advertising sales, and promotional presences.”
Wikipedia adds that “A large number of adult hits stations utilize male names as their branding. The practice was popularized by the franchised Jack FM and Bob FM brands, and has been widely imitated with other common male names.” That includes Ben FM, Charlie FM, Chuck FM, Ed FM, Frank FM, Mac FM, Max FM, Mike FM, Rob FM, Sam FM, Ted FM, Tom FM, Wayne FM and, to be more inclusive I suppose, Kate FM.
I am not really a fan of automated radio, though I listen on occasion (until I hear a song I don’t like). Live and local is really the best radio. (It is, for instance, hard to get local weather updates when there is no one to provide them.) On the other hand, if it’s my radio station then I should be the voice, right? (As if anyone would listen to 24/7 Steve.)
Most music radio stations have a playlist of 250 to 300 songs. I have a YouTube playlist called, of course, Presty the DJ …
… with, as of this writing, 712 songs. Since the average radio station plays 360 songs a day, I could go through the whole playlist without a repeat every two days, and, unlike both terrestrial and satellite radio, never hear a song I don’t like.
As long as we’re going through this fantasy exercise, I should point out that I like theme blocks to a point (“60s at 6,” “70s at 7,” “80s at 8,” “Two-for Tuesdays,” etc.) I also like actual news (and entertainment news is not really news unless it has some sort of strange element to it, preferably one that makes a celebrity look stupid).
I also like comedy bits to a point. I grew up listening to Larry Lujack’s “Animal Stories” and “Cheap Trashy Showbiz Report” on WLS in Chicago. Later the former Rick and Len had “Small Town Crime Wave” and other bits on WAPL in Appleton. The most hilarious was probably “PO’d in the Post,” when they would reread segments from The Post~Crescent’s “Sound Off” column, which was nothing more than voicemails of people anonymously complaining about something.
Readers might recall that Rush Limbaugh started as a top 40 DJ …
… and his original idea was to combine rock and roll and right-wing politics. I’m not sure anyone has done that, and therefore I wonder if that’s possible, though combining rock music with libertarian politics is more consistent.
I usually listen to radio for music more than talk anyway.
To the Person Who Gave Me the Virus:
I have no idea who you are, but our paths almost surely crossed last month in Las Vegas.
Even now I wouldn’t change a thing about that trip, by the way, which was a blast. The existence of the virus, it’s true, made my life a fraction of one percent more dangerous than it was before. But since I don’t have any mental disorders, I hadn’t calibrated my risk tolerance so precisely that such a tiny change would make me radically alter my life.
Naturally if you knew you were sick, you should have stayed home. Of all the advice they’ve given — mask wearing, social distancing, and all the rest — staying home when you’re sick would do by far the most good, yet we hear it urged upon us the least.
At the same time, The Hill reports that you can easily confuse the symptoms of the virus for allergies, so it’s entirely possible not to be aware that you’re contagious. I see no reason to assume bad will on your part.
Every time I leave my house I am taking a risk. We all are. I don’t blame you for the constraints imposed by reality.
If the chance of being struck by lightning increased tenfold tomorrow, this would not affect my behavior in any way. Not being neurotic, I don’t live my life as if the present rate of lightning strikes is precisely as high as I can tolerate.
It has become almost impossible to have a rational conversation about any of this. For one thing, most people are shockingly misinformed. Ask the average person what the likelihood is of someone in his age cohort needing to be hospitalized for COVID, and his answer will be off by a factor of 10, if not 100. Guaranteed.
For that matter, I cannot believe how many people think masks are accomplishing anything. The laughable “studies” on masks generally assume what they set out to prove, and/or confine themselves to strangely arbitrary timeframes, before explosions in COVID spread.
Dozens of countries have seen their COVID charts go almost vertical after (not necessarily immediately after, but after) introducing large-scale masking, which is what the charts would look like if masks accomplished absolutely nothing. These places are ignored, because nobody is told about them.
Meanwhile, there have been essentially zero COVID deaths in Sweden over the past month, and the rest of Scandinavia is also doing very well despite very little masking or other restrictions.
The world acts as if these countries do not exist. As usual with the “you’re to blame for the virus” people, success stories like these are of no interest, because there’s nobody they can demonize — and demonizing people is their favorite pastime.
The case of Nepal is interesting, too. After a lockdown that ended in July 2020, they decided essentially to proceed as normal. They’re a poor country, and they chose the radical, unheard-of approach of overturning a policy that would have had them starving to death.
And guess what?
They’re doing fine.
“Public health officials” were stumped, but at this point who can be surprised by that? What we laughingly call our “public health” establishment has made fools of themselves during this entire fiasco.
Nepal is at 340 deaths per million. Compare that to locked-down countries like the UK (1909), Spain (1756), Belgium (2170), or Peru (5883).
Back in the United States, the Sun Belt spike of 2020 came down with zero behavioral changes of any kind. The “COVID is your fault” people are too determined to blame someone to show any curiosity about this, even though it absolutely should evoke curiosity.
COVID comes and goes seasonally and regionally, and blows its way past our silly masks and six-foot floor stickers.
With my friend Tim Scott, I created a website where people can test their ability to determine which alleged mitigation measures accomplished what. If they work, it should be easy and obvious to choose which line on a graph represents a state or country that implemented it and which line represents one that did not.
So go ahead. Try your hand at it. If any of the insanity accomplished anything, it’ll be a breeze: CovidChartsQuiz.com. …
Now it’s true: I was definitely laid up in bed for a while. But not a single kid should have missed a single basketball practice to keep me from getting sick. Imagine the selfishness involved in that kind of demand.
And nor should you, mysterious Las Vegas person, feel sorry for me. I don’t want you staying in your house! I don’t want you refusing to live! I’m glad you were out living your life, enjoying things that make life worth living. Merely preserving your biological existence is unworthy of a human being.
This is especially so when we’ve been given no indication of precisely what would constitute an all-clear. It’s all arbitrariness piled upon more anti-scientific arbitrariness.
We should all be inspired by the words of Lord Sumption in the UK:
“What sort of life do we think we are protecting? There is more to life than the avoidance of death. Life is a drink with friends. Life is a crowded football match or a live concert. Life is a family celebration with children and grandchildren. Life is companionship, an arm around one’s back, laughter or tears shared at less than two meters. These things are not just optional extras. They are life itself. They are fundamental to our humanity, to our existence as social beings. Of course death is permanent, whereas joy may be temporarily suspended. But the force of that point depends on how temporary it really is.”
Thank you, Las Vegas person, for refusing to be inhuman, for refusing to be an automaton, and for saying yes to those things that bring us joy and make our lives meaningful.
CNN and other alarmist mass media outlets have been implicated in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans but nobody seems to care, including those outlets themselves. Throughout the pandemic, CNN and certain other cable news networks deliberately induced panic in order to boost their ratings and the CDC recently revealed that anxiety is the second most important contributing factor to death from/with Covid. Mass media pundits may have been as deadly as Masses or mass meetings.
Anxiety, you see, suppresses the immune system, making panicked people more likely to contract and spread Covid and other infectious diseases and less able to fend off those nasties once infected. It stands to reason, then, that outlets that remain laser-focused on facts, like AIER, and that stressed moderate policies, like the Great Barrington Declaration, saved lives to the extent that, despite suffering sundry forms of censorship, they were able to calm anxieties.
First, CNN et al. It is by now notorious that its producers were caught on tape admitting that its infamous death ticker was a cynical ploy to boost ratings. Producer Charlies Chester told his fake Tinder date that “fear really drives numbers … which is why we constantly have the death toll on the side.” (The video is such a smoking gun that it is technically illegal in Massachusetts and other states that have effectively outlawed the Second Amendment.)
Chester admitted that constantly displaying the seemingly quickly increasing number was not to inform audiences but to get them to keep tuning in. Network president Jeff Zucker, Chester said, used a “red phone” to tell producers to ratchet up the number for ratings effect.
While it remains unclear why anyone would watch cable news for any reason, people did tune in, in large numbers, and many found themselves made more anxious by the spectacle they saw to the point that some semi-responsible mass media outlets, like the BBC, questioned whether remaining informed was worth the emotional costs of the nonstop Covid death cult coverage.
If people had known about the close link between anxiety and death, they most certainly would have turned off the boob tube and maybe the few news executives who still have souls would have toned down the death and despair angle too. Then president Edward Stringham knew nothing good could come of the constant hype and ordered TV coverage turned off in AIER offices during working hours.
Second, the CDC, the putative “science,” has established that anxiety was linked to Covid-19 infection and death. In a study released on 1 July and titled “Underlying Medical Conditions and Severe Illness Among 540,667 Adults Hospitalized with COVID-19, March 2020-March 2021,” a score of Ph.D. and M.D. researchers show that “the strongest risk factors for death were  obesity … [and 2] anxiety and fear-related disorders.”
Specifically, obese people were 30 percent more likely to die if they contracted Covid, while people suffering anxiety were 28 percent more likely to pass away. In other words, being anxious was almost as deadly as being fat.
The authors point out, however, that the exact causal connections between anxiety and death by/with Covid-19 remains unclear and “may include a reduced ability to prevent infection among patients with anxiety disorders, the immunomodulatory and/or cardiovascular effects of medications used to treat these disorders, or severe COVID-19 illness exacerbating anxiety disorders.”
In any event, sitting around watching CNN while stress eating was hardly a recipe for immune system health. And that points to one of the many bizarre aspects of the public health policies promulgated during the pandemic, the almost complete lack of calls for improving immune health, which can be greatly augmented through proper diet, exercise, and attitude. Instead, many lockdown policies served to limit exercise and many who tried to discuss vitamins found themselves attacked and censored.
In fact, as clinically nearly useless and environmentally harmful mask mandates begin to creep back into policy discourse, it is important to point out that individual measures, including losing weight and boosting natural immunities, is a much more effective way of “staying safe,” from all sorts of maladies, than top-down policies. Listen to your personal doctor, not Dr. Fow Chi, and for goodness sake read rational sources of news, or better yet listen to them while getting some exercise. And eat a lemon instead of watching one.
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.