Thursday, December 31, 2009


Oh God (and as you’ll see if you keep reading, I use the name appropriately here). Everything old is new again. Rick Warren (right,center, with John McCain and President Obama)--the celebrity pastor who helms the Saddleback mega-church, and who was invited to speak at President Obama’s inauguration – has sent a letter to his tens of thousands of congregants. It says this:
“With 10% of our church family out of work due to the recession, our expenses in caring for our community in 2009 rose dramatically while our income stagnated. Still, with wise management, we've stayed close to our budget all year. Then... this last weekend the bottom dropped out. On the last weekend of 2009, our total offerings were less than half of what we normally receive - leaving us $900,000 in the red for the year, unless you help make up the difference today and tomorrow.
Warren issued his plea this week, and made it clear the money has to be in place by January 1.

Hello? Does this kind of desperate last minute plea by a celebrity clergyman ring any bells? Let me refresh your memory. High profile pastor Oral Roberts – 1987 – remember? That was the year he told his congregants that unless he was able to raise $8 million by March 31 the Lord would call him home. Whew! Lucky for Oral, he raised $9.1 million quick and the Lord didn’t call him until this very week.

Meanwhile, what about Rod Parsley (left)? A less familiar name, perhaps, but equally as desperate as Rick and Oral. Parsley is the head of the Ohio-based World Harvest Church. This week, Parsley told his congregants this:
“…Everything is at stake…I’m facing the greatest financial attack in 30 years…All I’m asking is for you to help save this great ministry…Let’s turn back this demonically-inspired attack against this ministry…”
The bottom line? Parsley wants members of his flock to pony up $250,000, and fast. And what’s worse – apparently the devil is to blame. Not the U.S. economy, not mis-management of funds, not over-spending, not anything man-made. The devil!

Color me skeptical. Even color me cynical, if it makes you feel better, but I have watched these guys over the years and one wonders: Why do the financial crises of mega-churches always occur so desperately at the eleventh hour? Why are the churches that take in more money than some mega-corporations, not doing a better job of managing their businesses? They are indeed businesses. Purportedly, they are non-profit businesses, but they are businesses just the same. They have customers called congregants and a product that is of great value to the congregants. They have cash flow, real estate, investments and a promotional machine in place that could easily rival the NFL, AIG and Bank of America combined. So, why do they find themselves in such desperate straits?

Further, why are the Warrens, Roberts and Parsleys of the spiritual world always such controversial figures? Warren, you will recall, is the guy who in 2005 said Michael Schiavo’s decision to remove a feeding tube from his wife Terry, who was in a persistent vegetative state, was “an atrocity worthy of Nazism.” He is also the man who publicly crossed the divide between church and state by endorsing Proposition 8, the 2008 California bill that eventually outlawed gay marriage. Warren is also the guy who gathered thousands of young people in a stadium and talked about how powerful Hitler was when he gathered the youth of Germany together in 1939. Watch:

And Parsley? Well, Parsley, who calls himself a “Christocrat,” and who makes no bones about his political views ("The left has chosen the courts as a major battlefield over social issues”) strongly allied himself with John McCain during the 2008 presidential campaign. By Spring of ’08 McCain publicly denounced Parsley’s characterization of Islam as “inherently violent.” Still, as recently as two months prior to rejecting Parsley’s endorsement, at a campaign rally in Cincinnatti, McCain hailed Parsley as a “spiritual guide.” Parsley may have taken his spiritual/political connection a bit too far by 2006, when a group of Ohio clergymen charged that Parsley had violated his church’s tax-exempt status by publicly taking sides on political issues.

Men like Warren and Parsley increasingly come off as extremists in the public arena. Their followers are often average Americans in need of spiritual guidance and affiliation. Those are legitimate human needs that appear to be trampled on by celebrity pastors who prey on their followers’ often limited finances. From the outside looking in, one tends to see these guys as financially predatory toward congregants who are not just looking for something in which to believe, but for someone in whom to believe. The media tends to operate as a societal watchdog, and frequently Warren and Parsley have taken verbal shots at media organizations. Do they fear public scrutiny of their closely guarded finances? Are there elements of successful mega-ministries that their keepers feel are not suitable for public consumption? And what about these last minute, frantic please for funds? Why?

So, will the desperate Rick Warren succeed in raising almost a million dollars in a two-day period? And will the equally anxious Rod Parsley encourage his followers to ante up 250 grand in record time? Compared to the late Oral Roberts’ campaign to raise $8 million way back in 1987, Warren and Parsley’s requests are peanuts. And sadly there are an awful lot of trusting people out there who will heed the call. Call it a hunch, but I predict the pastors will way, way exceed their stated financial goals.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


How about that Hank Krakowski, huh? What a party animal! Wait…what? What did you say? Oh, you don’t know who Hank Krakowski is? There I go again, making assumptions. Sorry. I just figured you must have known him because he just spent $5 million of your money on a three week party in Atlanta.

Krakowski (below,right) is the chief operating officer of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). You know, the FAA – the agency in charge of our air traffic control system and responsible for flight inspection standards. Gosh, who knew they had 3,600 managers? And how fun is this? All 3,600 got to go to the party in Atlanta, 1200 on each of three successive weekends. And Hank? Oh please, Hank was there the entire time, and he got to stay in the plush hotel’s “Governor’s Suite.” By all accounts, the booze was flowing and those crazy managers were partying like it was 1999.

You know…1999, when national unemployment was not in double digits, when the country was not spending billions of dollars annually on two wars, when millions of Americans were not experiencing home foreclosures. But listen, let’s not get judgmental here. The FAA needs a few cocktails. With all the plane crashes this past decade, the reports of safety violations, the commercial airline pilots flying drunk, airliners overshooting their destinations because pilots are “distracted”…I mean come on. Hank and his posse need a martini. Or two. It’s stressful being the FAA. How much bad press can one agency take before it just cracks? Bad publicity like the time that FAA internal report got leaked in 2005 – the one that revealed that weak FAA management had undermined passenger safety at some of the FAA air traffic control facilities. Jeez, it’s always something, right? I mean who can forget all those pesky rumors about the FAA having received 52 warnings about the 9/11 attacks well before the tragedies, in plenty of time to have prevented thousands of deaths? I ask you…who wouldn’t need a jello shot after that?

So it comes as no surprise that Krakowski, no stranger to controversy, arranged the three week party, er, uh, I mean convention – after all, the chief reasoned to an undercover ABC reporter, “This is worth it because we have to get the frontline managers on-board with what we're trying to do.” What Krakowski purports that the FAA was doing was training managers on the new contract enacted for air traffic controllers. Here’s the rub, though: The contract in question went into effect in October, and the big par-tay happened in December. Kind of like a big 1999-style hotel Christmas party, you know? Watch this ABC News report:

There’s one thing that is sort of bothering me about the party, though. I mean $5 million, right? I think Krakowski thinks we taxpayers forgot about things that could directly affect our safety. Things like revelations that air traffic controllers are still, in many locations, using communication technology developed in the 1960s. Things like the 2008 Time Magazine interview with a veteran air traffic controller. He said, “The FAA had a mandate from Congress to start running things like a business, to be more cost-effective. That has manifested itself in the rise of runway incursions [airplanes invading each other's ground space]. These are very clearly the result of a reduction in staffing, a decline in experience, and an increase in the use of employee overtime, which leads to increased fatigue. The result is a 300% to 400% increase in operational errors.”

Let’s review: Staffing reductions, fatigued air traffic controllers, terrorist threats, antiquated technology and “operational errors.” Add to all of that interminable flight delays and I’m thinking what may be needed here is a COO who is a tad more careful with each $5 million that he oversees. And I’m thinking cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and party weekends for 3,600 managers in plush hotels may be slightly inappropriate at this time. The FAA is, and has long been, mired in controversy, questionable safety oversights and inadequate staffing. Krakowski’s management style and priorities have often been called in to question by people in high places. His judgment has also been questioned. And if there is one thing we need regarding air traffic control and airliner safety, it is impeccable judgment.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

NO, Ms. Napolitano - The System Did Not Work

If you are one of the millions of travelers who spent a portion of your holiday trip battling the angry airport crowds or desperately trying to re-route yourself due to severe northeast storms, chances are your focus was simply getting from point A to point B. The good news? Well, really there is no good news right now about all that. The bad news? Your airport/airline experience is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to air travel issues.

Here are two names with which you may or may not be familiar. Jim DeMint and Gale Rossides. These are two mighty antagonists in this story. Jim DeMint is the Republican U.S. senator from North Carolina. Gail Rossides is the acting administrator of the Transportation Security Administration. Both are polarizing and controversial figures in this story.

Let’s start with DeMint: Jim DeMint (right) has been a senator since 2005. Before that he served seven year as the Congressional representative from is state’s fourth district, considered by some to be one of the most conservative in the state. In fact, DeMint is often referred to as the most conservative of all U.S. senators. For the record, DeMint supports a no-exception full ban on abortions. He has suggested that all illegal immigrants should be summarily dismissed from the U.S., shipped back to their countries of origin and required to apply for entry into the U.S. Significantly, he was only one of two U.S. senators to vote against the confirmation of Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State (the other was our own Louisiana Senator David Vitter). There is nothing remotely moderate about Jim DeMint. And oh…by the way, he is now the ranking member of the U.S. Senate subcommittee on aviation operations, safety and security.

It is that last distinction that matters here. In 2008, President Obama revealed his intention to unionize Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees. The TSA falls under Homeland Security as the agency responsible for security in all modes of travel. Right now, the TSA does not have a Chief Administrator. The Obama administration has nominated counter-terrorism guru Errol Southers for the post. That brings us back to DeMint. The Senator is credited with delaying Southers’ confirmation, due to DeMint’s opposition to allowing collective bargaining for TSA employees.

That, of course, brings us to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab,(left) now and forever to be known as the Christmas Day “underwear bomber.” Abdulmutallab may be one of many such bombers, as the buzz now is that a number of other would-be terrorists are set to destroy U.S. bound flights. Not surprisingly, Al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the near-tragedy on the Northwest Airlines Detroit-bound flight 253. What is somewhat more surprising is that reports indicate that Yemen, a poverty-stricken middle-eastern country, may be ground zero for the training of other commercial airline suicide bombers.

The TSA, the agency designed to protect you and me from the Abdulmutallabs of the world, has an acting administrator, Gale Rossides. (right) One could say Rossides does not have the sense of urgency required for the job. In November a government report was released that indicates that air cargo that is to be loaded on passenger planes is not being properly safeguarded in the warehouses where it is stored prior to flight. According to the report, investigators were able to easily infiltrates supposedly secure storage warehouses, and it gets worse: Reportedly, some cargo handlers have not even completed required background checks. In a classic case of understatement, Rossides responded to the report by saying simply that it raises “legitimate concerns.”

Rossides is a bureaucrat. What we need at TSA is an aggressive anti-terrorist problem solver who will put boots on the ground, tighten up screening processes for both passengers and employees, and take all necessary steps stop people like Abdulmutallab from boarding airliners. Evidently, we do not have that leadership at TSA right now. Interestingly it was 10 years, almost to the day between the shoe bomber and the underwear bomber. In that decade, thousands of people lost their lives on 9/11 and al-Qaeda has stayed its course.

While Jim DeMint plays politics with the Obama administration, and Gale Rossides focuses on her often-stated goal of creating the proper “business model” for TSA, al-Queda may be taking advantage of this country’s misplaced priorities by using the time to prepare more bomb attacks.

Contrary to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s proclamations about how the system worked exactly as it was supposed to, it appears there really is no system in place to ensure the safety of American air travelers. And, it is clear that there are individuals, both elected and appointed, in positions for which they are woefully unprepared or politicized to our detriment. I, for one, do not feel particularly safe. Do you?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


You just knew it had to happen. That magazine that turns up in your mailbox every month has become pretty mundane, right? Enter the Digital Newsstand.

The New York Times Reports that Time Inc., Conde Nast, the Hearst Corporation, Meredith and the News Corporation have banded together to not only save the magazine genre, but bring it forward into the digital society. While it seems that this could have happened sooner, and may have saved some now defunct publications (Gourmet, Metropolitan Home, Modern Bride, among many others), at least it is on the horizon.

Here is a quick look at the near future of Sports Illustrated:

Thursday, December 3, 2009


You will hear a lot of debate in the coming days about the issue of privacy for high profile people. The debate happens periodically, but this time it started shortly after 2:30AM on Friday, November 27. That is when golf pro Tiger Woods drove his 2009 Cadillac SUV into a fire hydrant and a tree. Somewhere in the mix, his wife used a golf club to break the back windows. The exclusive Orlando, FL gated community in which they live has never seen so much nocturnal chaos. Tiger’s face was reportedly cut up, but there was no blood on the steering wheel or the dashboard, so some predatory media types concluded that Mrs. Tiger caused the lacerations when she confronted Mr. Tiger about his extra-marital affairs with various women. Of course, many of us already knew about Tiger’s affairs because the National Enquirer had conveniently informed us just two days earlier.

Since then, the Woods drama has played out on every television network, news show, talk show, tabloid, pop culture web site, celebrity magazine and even on the front pages of some major daily newspapers. Social networking sites are abuzz with chatter about the incident. Within a few days all of this will be ancient history. Does anybody remember Kate Gosselin? Richard Heene? Mark Sanford? John Ensign? John Edwards? Each could claim (and has) some level of intrusion of privacy during their own individual scandals. After all, we’re living in the high tech era of le scandale, are we not? Think back: Since we’ve all had access to countless online entities that keep us informed of everything, haven’t scandals just permeated our lives? Eliot Spitzer, Anna Nicole Smith, Michael Jackson, Kobe Bryant, Chris Brown, Michael Phelps, David Letterman…need I go on?

Almost every time one of the above-mentioned people was caught doing whatever they did, they issued statements pleading for privacy. As a guy who teaches media ethics and admittedly reads lots of celebrity gossip, I’d just like to be the first to clear something up for them all: You traded off your right to privacy when you decided to ask us to love you. You can’t really expect to be able to go to Target to buy socks and deodorant without many of us surrounding you. You saw success and fame as synonymous, and with the fame comes loss of self. If you do not understand all of this, ask some of your elders for guidance. Consult with Elizabeth Taylor, Elton John and Magic Johnson.

I predict each would tell you not to smoke out of a bong at a party, not to party with young women in Vegas and not to pay for sex while holding high office. They will no doubt tell you not to beat up your famous girlfriend on a public street in your car, not to use public funds to travel to see your paramour while you are governor, and not to have sex with anybody who owns a video camera. Don’t tweet, don’t Facebook, don’t text, don’t sext and don’t voice mail. If traditional media doesn’t get you, technology will. Any minute now, we’re probably going to see video tapes of the Tiger Woods incident from the very security cameras he had installed on his own property.

It is truly about bad behavior. This very morning, before I wrote this piece, I read all of the following: Rolling Stone Ron Woods, 62,(right) was arrested for assaulting his 21-year-old girlfriend. Louisiana GOP Senator and sex scandal veteran David Vitter cut in front of a line full of people waiting for coffee at the Russel Senate office building, without so much as an “excuse me.” And Tiger? Well, TMZ reports that Tiger and his alleged mistress were texting the night of the crash. Wife grabs phone, places angry call to mistress. Fight ensues, vestibule of the Woods mansion is badly damaged and, the rest is tawdry history.

A quick media ethics lesson: Privacy is a moral value. We define moral values in our culture as something held in high esteem, something honored and revered. Moral values are part of the cultural fiber that holds us all together. Other obvious moral values are elements such as truth, justice, autonomy and generosity. Bad behavior and moral values do not mix. In media we adhere to a moral value called “social utility.” That is the process of deciding which information is important to convey a story to the public and which is not. After deceiving the public with his fa├žade of a squeaky clean image, social utility informs us that his personal behavior is viable fodder for news. So it is incongruous for Tiger Woods to issue a mea culpa that includes statements like this:

“…But no matter how intense curiosity about public figures can be, there is an important and deep principle at stake which is the right to some simple, human measure of privacy. I realize there are some who don't share my view on that. But for me, the virtue of privacy is one that must be protected in matters that are intimate and within one's own family. Personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn't have to mean public confessions.”

I have an abiding respect for the general public’s judgment. People like John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, David Vitter, Tiger Woods and Christian Bale will likely not gain much from asking the public for privacy. But when Mike Tyson’s child died, and he asked for privacy, we obliged. When the crew of the “Miracle on the Hudson” flight asked for privacy, they got it.
When actor Owen Wilson asked for privacy after a failed suicide attempt, the press wrote about him, but did not pursue him for comment.

As a journalist and a media consumer, I would say this to Tiger Woods: All the gated communities, high-level press agents, public relations firms and athletic prowess in the world cannot protect you from the public’s disdain for deception. Success is not about how many tournaments you win, how many millions you earn or how many high profile endorsements you garner. Success is a cumulative, lifelong process that relies on a strong moral compass. Tiger, if you thought you lacked privacy before 2:30AM, November 27, you haven’t seen anything yet.

Monday, November 30, 2009

But What Will We Do at 4PM?

It’s the same old boy meets girl story. Okay, maybe it’s not. Wait. It’s more like middle-aged white Jewish guy doesn’t meet black billionaire media tycoon, but follows her career from afar. The guy would be me, and the tycoon would be our holy St. Oprah of Chicago.

Around 1983, I was on a plane reading PEOPLE magazine, when I came across a story about a Chicago talk show hostess (that’s what they called female talk show hosts in those days). There were photos of her – extremely overweight, too much makeup, too much hair, huge, strangely compelling smile. Could she be the next Phil Donahue, the writer wondered? Nah, I thought. Nobody can out-Phil Phil Donahue. At the time, I was a Donahue fanatic, always going on about how Phil had the best gig in the universe. I was so hooked on Phil that a few years earlier, when I worked at a St. Louis TV station, I used to lock my office door at 10AM so that I could watch his show, even though there was a hard and fast rule that employees were never to switch the channel from our own KPLR-TV, Channel 11 – “The Ones to Watch.” Get it? 11, the “ones” to watch. Oy.

But Phil(below, left) had invented a genre that caused the American public to switch its collective allegiance from soap operas to his talk show. One day he would have a world leader on his stage, and the next day he would have male strippers. Ku Klux Klan-ers, motion picture legends, crooked politicians, gay activists, punk rockers, atheists, life-changing scientists – if you can think of a category of human being, you saw it on Phil, sometime between 1974 and 1996, the years his syndicated program aired first from Chicago and later from New York.

As it happened, Oprah could and indeed did become “the next Phil Donahue.” Oprah took Phil’s concept, beginning with her hosting gig on AM Chicago (right), and nursed it along until it evolved into something much broader than Donahue had ever envisioned. One could safely say Oprah invented the concept of media convergence. Today, convergence is a term that is tossed around to describe various media working in harmony to convey information to a mass audience. It can be as simple as Oprah starting a book club, or as technologically advanced as Oprah using Skype, contemporary software that allows ordinary viewers to communicate remotely (sometimes from their own kitchens) in real time with Oprah, in front of a live audience. Today, Oprah’s convergence methodology extends to her “Oprah Radio,” her diverse collection of programming on XM satellite radio. It even reaches out to movie audiences, most recently through her collaboration with movie maker Tyler Perry on the film Precious. “O,” the magazine is celebrating its 10th year in print, in conjunction with the Heart Corporation. Oprah is media convergence, defined.

The evolution of Oprah is something to behold, and a lesson in “anything is possible.” Oprah was born to a coal miner and house maid in a rural Mississippi town with a population even today that doesn’t reach 8,000. If legend is accurate, Oprah was the result of a single sexual encounter between her parents. For the four of you out there who haven’t heard the story, you can Google her and read all about it, but the highlights are extreme poverty, sexual molestation, the ability to read before age three, a pregnancy at age 14 that resulted in a still birth, and an inner drive that allowed her to achieve more than her early life story would have portended. As for the molestation part, Oprah revealed over the years that she was abused by a cousin, an uncle and a family acquaintance, beginning at age nine.

Her early story is all about over-achieving. By her senior year in high school she was already working in TV news. The obvious progression, as the years added up, was to put her on air as a newscaster,(left) but Oprah could not manage the requisite poker face. If a story was funny, she looked straight in the camera and laughed that hearty Oprah laugh we know so well now. If a story was sad, her empathy fairly spilled over the airwaves, sometimes even resulting in tears. It was clear Oprah was not to be Walter Cronkite. By 1984 she had a local Chicago morning talk show. By 1986 she was nationally syndicated. The rest we’ve been watching for 25 years.

Well…almost 25 years. Recently, Oprah revealed that 25 would mark her sterling silver transition from the daytime talk arena into ownership of her own network, The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). It is likely Oprah will do for cable all that she did for all other media. Just as traditional network news traces its most important paradigm shift to the day John F. Kennedy was killed, cable TV will probably mark its true ascent to the moment Oprah chose cable over network syndication.

Why does it matter to you? Does it even matter? It does. It should. Oprah Winfrey is living proof that one human being can make a positive difference in the lives of millions of others. Whether it is a post-Katrina Louisiana housing development built with Oprah dollars, or a South African school for girls built with Oprah’s sheer will and determination, it matters. Everything Oprah has done in these 25 years has been geared toward enabling individuals to become their “best selves,” as she terms it. She has given a voice to individuals who otherwise may have remained involuntarily silent. She has offered a platform for individuals who could substantively contribute to the mix of ideas – individuals who had previously been unable to find the widest audience. Consider Mattie Stepanek, the self-titled “poet and peacemaker,” who suffered from a rare form of muscular dystrophy that finally claimed his life. Mattie’s words had already reached many people by the time Oprah met him, but she enabled him to reach tens of millions more. Watch: After this quarter century of everything Oprah, it is not really about whether you find her appealing or whether you even watch her show. It is about recognizing excellence; separating the glitz and glamour from the real and the important. Oprah’s steady emergence was the visual representation of the intersection of the civil rights movement and television’s grasp on popular culture. When she finally got to interview her lifelong heroes (Barbara Walters, Mary Tyler Moore, Sidney Poitier) we all got to experience the same full circle moments. Since Oprah could beat the odds she overcame, maybe we can too. If Oprah can come outside of herself and dedicate her best energy to enriching the lives of those who need it the most, maybe that can be a catalyst for us to do so, as well. Oprah has high standards in an era when standards have all but disappeared. There is a critical message in there somewhere for us all.

Oprah has given us a 23-month notice that she’s closing down The Oprah Winfrey Show. That’s plenty of time for us to recognize what she brought to the cultural table, and to understand how she found a way to use media to enrich all of our lives.

And selfishly, here’s my favorite part of Oprah’s impending departure – her last broadcast is scheduled for September 9, 2011 – my birthday!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Unnecessary Headlines: Couples Edition

Hands down, the couple of the moment is Sarah Palin and Levi Johnston. Johnston, 19, has decided to unleash holy hell on the Palin clan, starting with his assertion on CBS This Morning that the then-Governor used to refer to her downs syndrome child as “retarded.” Oy. This, just days before he stretches out for his full frontal nudity photoshoot for Playgirl Magazine. Meanwhile, this week, in between her public denials of Johnston’s probable truths, it was revealed that Sarah received $1.5 million in advance for her memoirs, before she resigned. I can’t help wondering whatever happened to Bristol. After he had Levi’s baby, she appeared on morning talk shows promoting abstinence for teens. Then she disappeared. Those zany Palins. It’s always something, isn’t it?

Coming in second in our couples of the week are Lou Dobb and Geraldo Rivera (below, right). CNN’s Dobbs (left) has been sounding crazier and crazier lately. Who knew? Until recently, Dobbs sort of blended in with the wallpaper. Lately he keeps making odd headlines. Much of it has to do with verbal jabs from Rivera, who essentially called Dobbs out for racism, when he said Dobbs demeaned all Hispanics by his negative comments regarding immigration. Calling Dobbs a “hatemonger,” Rivera believes Dobbs has painted young Latin men trying to get into this country as “a profoundly negative icon.” Later in the week, for his part, Dobbs responded, “"My house has been shot and hit . . . and you know what, I'm not in the mood to put up with little fools like Geraldo Rivera.” Dobbs claims someone shot at his house, while his wife was standing outside, implying that he is now a target since Rivera made his claims. Police later took the winds out of his paranoid sails when they said the shot was from a hunter in the area.

You think the claws are out on cable? They’re nothing next to recent bride Ivanka Trump (below, left) and longtime New York Post gossip columnist Cindy Adams (below, right). Adams published a column the other day in which she went into great detail about Trump’s wedding to Jared Kushner. The column went so far as to describe the chandeliers in the reception tent. No big whoop, the readers reasoned. Adams is always going to high profile events with celebrities. But then, Trump comes forward with a public statement: Not only wasn’t Adams at her wedding, she wasn’t even invited. Adams claimed that Trump had included a marketing flyer for Trump properties in her wedding invitations. Trump says it never happened. Adams says it’s true she didn’t attend, but that many of the guests talked to her afterwards, and several confirmed story about the flyer. The moral of this story is, do not look for Cindy Adams to be a contestant on next season’s “Celebrity “Apprentice.”

And you thought Jon and Kate Gosselin were the couple du jour. Hey, we’ve moved on, right?


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

And Now, the Non-News: SEX IN THE WORKPLACE

I may be in the severe minority here, but before last week I had never heard of Steve Phillips. I don’t watch ESPN’s programming, where Phillips was a commentator, and I know very little about the New York Mets, the team Philips used to manage. But suddenly, Phillips was a household word because he pulled a Letterman with a young production assistant at the network. By early this week, both he and the young woman were unemployed.

It seems the woman, Brooke Hundley, 22,(left) went all Glenn Close on Phillips’ wife in August, and then cyber-stalked Phillips’ teenage son via Facebook. All very juicy, no? Granted, the whole thing is sort of tawdry, but in the end, do you care? I do not. Here is what I do care about: When two consenting adults decide to get naked together, privately, it seems to me the public at large has nothing to do with it. Somehow, a letter from Hundley to Marni Phillips made its way to the Internet last week, complete with Hundley’s description of birthmarks near Phillips’ penis. Again, do we care? We do not. What I care about is privacy.

Phillips,(below, right) as it turns out, is no saint. When he managed the Mets he was sued by a staffer for sexual harassment. Then he was fired. He has a habit of getting fired from some of the best gigs in the world of professional sports. The issue that stands out there is harassment. If there is a clear case of sexual harassment, then there is something newsworthy. In the case of Brooke Hundley, she has yet to utter the word harassment. That being the case, why has this incident been splashed all over countless blogs, news and information sites and newspapers? Further, how exactly will ESPN justify firing Phillips, whose job performance was by all reports more than satisfactory?

I worked in the hotel business for 16 years, and I can tell you without hesitation that people who work together like to have sex together. You may not like hearing that, but it is what it is. I remember the hotel general manager and sales director in Omaha who used to have sex in a suite on Friday nights. Everybody knew it. Nobody cared much. Then there was the human resources director and executive chef in a New Orleans hotel where I worked – both married to other people at the time, but currently married to each other after she evidently couldn’t resist the smell of his – er, uh – marinara sauce.

Look, men and women have all kinds of sex in and around the workplace. Anyone who doubts this is deluding himself or herself. We are left with this dilemma: Is this a moral issue or a legal issue? If it is a moral issue, everyone really needs to settle it for themselves, in their own minds. If it is a legal issue, then employers have a responsibility to take action. In this case, Steve Phillips is what we might call an aging horndog, and Brooke Hundley, by no fault of her own, is a rather unattractive young woman who had a brief fling with a nice looking older man who happened to be married. The results are all unfortunate. Hundley is hurt and angry; Marni Phillips filed for divorce in September; Steve Phillips has checked himself into some sort of treatment facility – for what, we do not know. But as for ESPN, one is left to wonder: When this all ends up in court – and trust me, it will – on what grounds will the network base its case for firing Hundley and Phillips? And if they are going to fire Hundley and Phillips and somehow get away with it, how many millions of jobs are in jeopardy in this sluggish economy, simply because people who work together have sex?

At a time when there are huge issues facing our country, a 50-something ex-jock who still thinks he’s a 20-something frat boy, who does the deed with a 20-something starry-eyed girl is not news. It is non-news. Let’s focus on the big stuff: Jobs, health care, global warming, and, well…of course, what will become of Don Draper (left) on Mad Men now that his secret has been revealed? Sunday can’t come soon enough for me. How about you?

Monday, October 26, 2009


By now you have heard about last week’s White House debacle, when FOX News was temporarily shut out of scheduled interviews with Treasury Department pay czar Kenneth Feinberg. After it was revealed last Thursday that Fox would not be given access to Feinberg, remarkably, execs from all four of the other major news networks stood together and vowed to refuse the Feinberg interview unless Fox was given equal access. The White House caved and everybody got to interview Feinberg.

Make no mistake: It is not that ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN all hold FOX in high regard. They do not. They may be in awe of the network’s overall ratings, but organizations that brought the likes of Eric Severeid, Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley and Tom Brokaw to the public forum surely do not extend extreme respect for one that brings us Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilley. It’s not about respect. It is about freedom. These five networks work in a pool agreement with the White House, and share access and information. After all, what is freedom of the press if not access and information? Someone at the executive level of government forgot that, apparently, or worse, tried to compromise that freedom.

It is important to realize that in this country we have already lost enough freedoms. We lost our freedom of privacy when technology advanced faster than our creative ability to cope with it. We lost our freedom to feel secure on city streets and even in our own homes when urban crime spiked in every major city in America. Chicago is exhibit A. I live in New Orleans, also high on the example list. What we can’t afford is to lose is our freedom of information. And we cannot afford for all of our information to come from entities deemed acceptable by the White House. And we certainly cannot tolerate a government that would try to stifle the voice of those who question it. That is precisely what the White House tried to do on Thursday, in the ongoing ideological battle between the administration and FOX News.

This has nothing to do with whether you or I appreciate or detest Fox New. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the mix of ideas from disparate sources that allows you and I to hear all perspectives on issues, and then decide for ourselves what we believe is right and wrong.

The Obama administration is in a tough spot with FOX. Millions of Americans are buying into the ideology of some of the network’s most vocal extremists. Their clear message is that the country is on the wrong path and President Obama is the misguided pathfinder. As one who believes television is a tremendously powerful and influential force in our culture, I get it. The White House would like Beck and O’Reilley(right), et al to shut up. But as one who believes the right to speak and to freely express is paramount in this country, I know that the worst thing that could happen would be for the White House to decide who will share information and who will not.

I trust the common sense of the American public. This is the citizenry that recognized that Sarah Palin was not ready for her political closeup, and saw to it that she didn’t get it. This is the same populus that will most likely, in a historical minute, recognize the right of all people to share their lives together legally, regardless of their sexuality. We are also the people who knew that Iraq was a mistake all along, and ultimately, we, the people prevailed and those who wanted to further the war had to step aside. So, what I know is this: The American people will not tolerate a government that ever tries to place its powerful hand over the mouths of dissenters. I, for one, hope I never have to see it try to do that again.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Day The Justice Put Love Asunder

We who live in Louisiana occasionally must cringe in humiliation at the bad behavior of some of our fellow Louisianans. Surely you remember the Jena Six, the story of the six black students who allegedly beat up a white student in 2006, resulting in one of the black kids being convicted and sentenced to a possible 20 years in prison. A similar attack on a black student by whites a week earlier had resulted in only a suspension from school. The Jena Six incident started when white kids hung nooses from a tree in the school courtyard, a perceived threat to the black kids. Welcome to Louisiana.

Now comes word that we have further reason to hang our heads in shame in Louisiana, due to the ridiculous rantings of one Keith Bardwell, a Tangipahoa Parish justice of the peace who decided to play God and refuse to marry Beth Humphries and Terence McKay because he’s black and she’s white. “I've had countless numbers of people that was born in that situation, and that they claim that the blacks or the whites didn't accept the children," Bardwell told CBS 'Early Show's' Harry Smith. "And I didn't want to put the children in that position."

If haven’t yet seen Bardwell defending his decision, watch this Associated Press report:

I often tell people that having lived through the 1960s and now into this new century, I believe racism is more widespread and threatening today than it was in the days of the civil rights movement. Some people disagree with my assessment ,but I firmly believe it. How many Keith Bardwells still lurk out there and never emerge until they do something blatantly stupid like this? It makes one wonder: Are civil rights strides necessarily permanent? Do landmark legal decisions change ideology or simply change the way the country does business? Consider the case of Mildred and Richard Loving, the couple whose struggles challenged the U.S. Constitution and ultimately encouraged the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down state laws that denied interracial couples the right to marry in this country. Here is an ABC news report from 1967:

The Lovings unknowingly changed the course of love and marriage in this country, and had it not been them, it would likely have been another interracial couple who made it happen. But cultural change and altering the hearts and minds of status-quo prone Americans does not come quickly. It would take fully 30 years until America in majority supported interracial marriage, according to polls from Gallup. Watch this quick statistical recap:

Some might say the problem is really generational, and men and women with mindsets similar to Bardwell’s are dying off. They would argue that the evidence from polls like the one you just watched suggest that the youngest generation supports equality. Unfortunately, the same could be said of the youngest generation in the 1960s, but age tends to narrow the thinking of many people, and if we asked those same people who were 18-29 in 1967 their opinions of interracial marriage today, I wonder if many of them would opt for the tradition of “marrying your own kind.”

At least interracial couples have the strength of the law on their sides. Now, if we can only move the culture along to a point when Mike and Sam or Barb and Sue can legally marry. As I said, cultural change comes slowly. But I have faith that it is coming.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Have we had just about enough of Glenn Beck yet? Really. I have forced myself to watch this guy on FOX several times now. I did that because I am a journalist, and a cultural commentator [read: ‘blogger’], and I need to be up on who’s saying what to whom about what. Glenn Beck is saying not much to a lot of people about nothing.

Interestingly, Beck is not the first of his kind. He is just the latest. Does the name Joe Pyne ring a bell? No, I didn’t imagine it would. Pyne had a television talk show in 1960s in which he was known for insulting not only his guests, but individual audience members who could step up to the mic and comment on the topic at hand. I remember as a kid watching Pyne conduct his TV circus and being strangely drawn to the confrontational moments so common in each episode. Here’s a clip that shows a typical Pyne exchange. This time he was interviewing radical student activist Jerry Rubin:

Pyne died in 1970, but it would only be a historical nanosecond before one Morton Downey, Jr., emerged, also confrontational, and more often than not, offensive. With his ever-present cigarette burning between his fingers, Downey was loud, crass and sometimes uninformed. Like Glenn Beck. One could safely assert that Downey was Rush Limbaugh’s predecessor. Like Limbaugh, Downey was not a journalist, not really terribly well informed about the issues of the day and not prone to civil discourse. To give you an idea of Downey’s politics, one of his favorite and oft-used phrases on his television show as “pablum-puking liberal.” Here’s part of an episode of Downey’s show with guest Pat Buchannan:

What these media clowns had in common was a decidedly right-wing ideology, a lack of decorum and no filter between their brain cells and their speaking voice. What Beck adds to this mix is extreme narcissism. While his predecessors filled their shows with raucous audience participation and guests they could humiliate on air, Beck likes the camera all to himself.

Advertisers left in droves after Beck declared President Obama a racist. No matter. FOX chose to keep him on, because the ratings are through the roof. The ratings excel because the public at large is generally not as aggressive in its communication about major issues. There is some sort of twisted vicarious thrill a lot of people experience through a Glenn Beck. But are his chosen issues major? The other day Beck delivered a 10-minute rant about Obama’s plea for citizens to volunteer their time for worthy causes. Somehow Beck found something bad in that presidential request.

When words do not seem to have the emotional largesse that Beck desires, he resorts to tears. Evidently he can cry on demand. When he cannot cry on demand, such as in a recent publicity photo shoot, the makeup people carefully oil the skin under his eyes to make him appear tearful. When words and tears do not carry the necessary emphasis, Beck interviews someone remotely with their image appearing on a large screen behind him. When the interviewee says something disagreeable to Beck, he looks into Camera 1 and mocks the person by making sarcastic faces.

I envision Glenn Beck going home after work, sitting around in sweat pants and a t-shirt, eating potato chips and onion dip and watching “The Bachelor” or something equally innocuous. In the morning, I suppose he gets up and puts on his “Glenn Beck” disguise and goes back out into the world to simply piss people off for money. Reportedly lots and lots of money. I like what Jon Stewart said of Beck: “Finally a guy who says what people who don’t think are thinking.” That’s Glenn Beck.

So here we have a reformed drug addict and recovering alcoholic, the son of a drug addict/alcoholic divorced mother who killed herself, a college dropout who converted to Mormonism simply because his second wife-to-be said she wouldn’t marry him unless he had a religion. Beck simply knows how to yell a little louder than the rest of us and how to feign passion about issues that he seems rather unclear about. And if you just can’t get home in time for the late afternoon Glenn Beck show, and you don’t have three hours every single day to listen to Beck on the radio, maybe you can catch him on his standup comedy tour. That’s not a joke. He goes on tour and tells funny liberal people jokes. He packs them in, and they love it when he constantly repeats “us conservatives.”

Beck found a schtick that works in a time that was fully ready for a mediocre right-wing stand-up comedian to appear on a news network and belittle people who do not agree with him. Nothing about him is distinctive or original – not his tendency to yell over his guests’ comments, not his lack of solid research on the issues he attacks and certainly not his narcissism. At a time when the average American citizen feels his or her voice is not heard, Beck offers them a voice, even if he says things that in their hearts they know do not live up to their own moral code.
Pyne was a novelty late night guilty pleasure. Downey was a loud mouth, educated lawyer who pretended to be one with the working middle class. But Beck? Beck is a full-blown media superstar right now. So, what makes a tearful, semi-informed extremist into a bonafide superstar these days? See for yourself:

Thursday, October 8, 2009


Michael Vick, convicted animal abuser, has been signed to do a reality show on BET about his life.

Let’s review: Vick, a college dropout who had a four year paid scholarship, opts to become a pro-NFL player. He’s good. Real good. But he’s a thug. Between 2001 and 2007 Vick the Thug makes minor headlines with keywords like marijuana, transmission of genital herpes, airport security skirmishes, more marijuana and oh…yes…dog fighting. Vick’s barbaric treatment of dogs finally lands him in prison, and as we all know, he emerges from his incarceration victorious, with a new NFL contract, great suits and a poorly executed appearance on CBS 60 Minutes. The next thing we know, the Human Society of America is shining spotlights on him and having him deliver animal cruelty speeches to kids. Nobody’s buying it and everybody wants him to go away. Poll after poll shows he’s persona non grata among football fans, animal lovers and well, just about everybody.

Now comes word that the BET Network will produce an eight-part “docu-series” called “The Michael Vick Project,” which will tell the story of Vick’s life from childhood to incarceration. You know, because we haven’t heard enough about the dog-murdering thug.

Vick told the L.A. Times, “I just want people to really get to know me as an individual. What I want to do is change the perception of me. I am a human being. I've made some mistakes in the past, and I wish it had never happened. But it's not about how you fall, but about how you pick yourself up."

Those of us who love and protect dogs, who realize the vital importance of treating all animals with kindness and respect, do not see Michael Vick as a fallen victim. We see him as a street thug who condoned the vicious use of dogs for blood sport. We do not have any interest in seeing Vick pick himself up. We do not understand a television network paying Vick a reported $600,000 to tell the story of his life. We might have at least minimal tolerance for the docu-series if we knew that Vick was donating all of the money to animal rescue organizations. But, of course, he is not. He is using the money to pay down the enormous debt he has incurred as a street thug.

Here is what you can do. First, write letters to Debra Lee, Chairman and CEO of BET, and to Scott Mills, President and COO of BET. This is their address: One BET Plaza, 1235 W Street NE, Washington D.C. 20018. If you wish to call them instead, this is the phone number: (202) 608-2000. Tell them you are boycotting BET until such time that the decision to air this program is reversed. Then, contact every animal rights organization you can and lobby them to put pressure on BET to cancel this program before it begins. If the program does indeed make it to air in 2010, as announced, boycott all of the show’s advertisers and write to each company’s executives to inform them of your actions.

It is time to stop rewarding young, deliberately uneducated athletes and others for their fully unacceptable behavior. When animals become the victims of these people’s sense of entitlement, we have to step up, en masse and take action. I urge you to take a look at your own pets after you read this piece and think about how important they are in your life. All of the dogs that Vick killed or allowed to bleed to death on his property could have had quality lives and could have been loved. They were not afforded that opportunity and it is up to all of us to see that the perpetrator of the crime is not granted airtime to rehabilitate his image. Please do it.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Oh don’t get excited. The headline is irresistibly seductive, and here you are. Unfortunately you’re not getting any sex here. It just seems like time to update some of our most tawdry political bad behavior stories. What’s John Edwards up to? Is Liz divorcing him? Why is David Vitter about to be investigated…again? And Senator John Ensign from Nevada – you remember: he’s the guy who allegedly had an affair with an ex-campaign aide and may have been the recipient of a little strong-arming by his paramour’s husband. (Very “David Letterman, right?) Ensign thought it would all just go away, but…it hasn’t. It’s all so trashy, isn’t it? And we hang on every word, don’t we? Go figure.

The Edwards epic just keeps gaining new layers. Now, The National Enquirer reports Elizabeth Edwards may divorce John Edwards. The new book by Andrew Young -- Edwards’ former aide who claimed paternity to Rielle Hunter’s child until he didn’t want to any longer—reportedly reveals Edwards may have had more campaign trail dalliances with more campaign workers. Oy. And let’s not get too journalistically snooty about the Enquirer. The Enquirer broke the Edwards story, and everything it has reported so far has been accurate.

I told people way back when, when Edwards was campaigning for president, that I did not trust him. For me, it started when he came to New Orleans, to the Ninth Ward, and did a live TV feed that showcased him “helping” rehab a house that was damaged by Katrina. Word spread through town pretty fast that as soon as the cameras were off, he put the tools down and got into a waiting black SUV and took off. Edwards was (and is) all image, and not enough substance. To his credit, he does some good work, even now. He is reportedly very active in a campaign called “Half in 10,” which aims to cut poverty in half in 10 years. He even made a public appearance on its behalf as recently as last week. And say what you will about the guy, it cannot be easy to make those appearances right now. You just never know when we pesky reporters are likely to ask him if he spread his DNA further than earlier reported. That’s what we do. We ask.

Meanwhile, guess who’s back in the public prurient consciousness for a minute -- David Vitter. He of the high priced Washington call girl scandal of a couple of years ago. How’s this: he calls for an investigation of ACORN after the scandal that suggested ACORN workers were counseling prostitutes. About five seconds after he comes forward with his outrage over ACORN, a group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington steps up to suggest Vitter himself should be investigated. After all, the group reasons, it seems likely that Vitter violated the state’s rule that says it is professional misconduct for a lawyer to “commit a criminal act especially one that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects.”

Do you love it or what? Vitter has never really appeared to be the brightest bulb in the room, but even he has to be scratching his head right now and asking himself what the hell he was thinking. Washington in 2009 is just high theatre. It’s got everything. Sex, scandals, cover-ups, under-the-table deals, power…it’s like Dynasty on acid.

John Ensign even looks like Blake Carrington from Dynasty. Suddenly, the seemingly dormant Ensign affair seems to be back in the headlines. It seems despite their earlier show of support, Ensign’s Republican cronies are abandoning him faster than a gaggle of feminists at a Chris Brown concert. Here’s the rub: The New York Times reports that Ensign will be investigated by the Justice Department, over allegations that not only did he get his secret squeeze’s husband a job, but that he may have had a severe conflict of interest when the husband, Douglas Hampton, started lobbying Ensign on behalf of his clients. Hampton was subject to a one-year delay in any lobbying efforts because he had been a top Congressional aide. According to the Times, preliminary whispers indicate the FBI may be involved with any potential investigation of Ensign.

All of this tawdry stuff causes one to think about two things: judgment and privacy. The online media explosion has created a new paradigm…well, maybe not that new. It seems now one can live a public life or a private life, but there are no gray areas in between. And since we all know that, one has to wonder how an experienced public figure – a legislator – can exercise such deplorable judgment. In the end, it’s about “getting away with it” for these guys. I just wish Edwards, Vitter, Ensign, et al would wise up and realize the last guy that got away with it was John F. Kennedy. The entire Washington press corps knew Kennedy was getting away with it and via their silence they aided and abetted. That was 1960. This is now. Are you listening boys?

Monday, September 7, 2009


It comes as no surprise to many Americans that their government often operates in a clandestine fashion. If private information can be viewed as two ends of a spectrum – from reasonable discretion all the way over to full-on secrecy-- the U.S. government is trending toward the latter. Thanks largely to a savvier electorate that demands full information from its legislators and others in government, those secrets are revealing themselves now, albeit slowly. The citizens, coupled with an increasingly investigative mass media now know more than even a decade ago. If information is the new power in America, then here are some empowering reports of late:

• Some months ago in Greenberg Rants, we were happy to let you know the Huffington Post introduced something called its “Investigative Fund,” a non-profit, deep reporting unit that would use staffers and freelancers to dig into the important issues and report them. I had a good feeling about this group from the beginning and its recent revelation that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been keeping a secret validates my belief. It seems the EPA knew that atrazine, a powerful, commonly used herbicide has been found to exceed federal safety limits in drinking water in four states. Water customers have not been told and the EPA has not published the results, according to an August 24 Huffington Post report. To date, six states have sued Syngenta, the company that manufactures atrazine, for the cost of filtering the chemical out of their drinking water. While the EPA evidently does not consider the health hazard risk level high enough to ban the use of the chemical, individual states do. And it is significant that the European Union banned the use of atrazine anywhere in its 27 member nations, as far back as 2004. Watch this:

• Back in 2006, President George W. Bush acknowledged the existence of “black sites.” These were secret prisons operated by the CIA, where individuals identified as “unlawful enemy combatants” were held. He made this revelation only because the Washington Post had published a piece telling of the sites, written by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Dana Priest. Now, the ACLU has uncovered a 2006 document that shows the Bush administration was seeking something akin to the Nuremberg defense for U.S. military and intelligence personnel who seized the individuals who ended up in these black sites. The Nuremberg Defense holds that one cannot be held responsible for acts committed if they were following orders. Had Bush been successful in this effort, neither commanding officers nor subordinate military personnel would have been held accountable for randomly nabbing and imprisoning possible terrorists. The Bush administration’s attempts to establish this defense flies in the face of the Geneva Conventions, which were clearly designed to ensure humanitarian treatment of prisoners of war and others during armed conflict.

Would U.S. citizens ever have known of the existence of black sites without Priest’s expose? Further, just this week, a Muslim convert named Al-Kidd got the go ahead from three U.S. Court of Appeals judges to sue former Attorney General John Ashcroft. Al-Kidd was a post-9/11 detainee who was eventually released, and whose life was turned upside down by the U.S. Government, even after his exoneration. Were it not for Al-Kidd’s persistence, and the good work of investigative journalists, would Ashcroft and other Bush administration officials never be held accountable for unlawful seizure of innocent citizens? Keep your eye on the Al-Kidd story. It could be the first of many such cases, as the government is said to have rounded up many Muslims who were later found to have nothing to do with terrorism.

• Last month, Stars & Stripes, the official publication for the U.S. Military, revealed that journalists about to be embedded with U.S. troops were being profiled by a public relations firm hired by the Pentagon. Reportedly, the firm was to determine if previous published works by the targeted journalists had portrayed the U.S. military in a positive light. Negative reports resulted in some journalists being denied access to fighting units. Only after Stars and Stripe issued its report did the Pentagon issue a statement saying it was reviewing the program. The $1.5 million contract with the Rendon Group was terminated seven days after the published article.

"As the senior U.S. communicator in Afghanistan, it was clear that the issue of Rendon’s support to US forces in Afghanistan had become a distraction from our main mission,” said Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, in an e-mail sent Sunday to Stars and Stripes. No mention was made of the U.S. tradition of freedom of the press; not a word was said about the First Amendment to the Constitution; and nothing was mentioned about the danger of manipulating information that is conveyed to the American people.

And, as was the case with the EPA’s withholding information about poison in water supplies, or the Bush administration’s wish to hold harmless all activity related to secret detentions, no one seems to discuss the government’s penchant for secrecy. When do national security concerns become overly-exaggerated in the interest of withholding vital information from you and me? At what point do governmental rights of confidentiality begin to interfere with American citizens’ rights to know the truth? Keep your eyes and ears open. You and I are the reasons this government exists, and recent claims of governmental “transparency” need to be honored.