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?