Category Archives: Media

A Thousand Days


BLOGGER’S NOTE:  The direction and content of many of the posts on this site begin with the title.  As you know by now, I am always looking for a play on words which compel the reader to ask, “Where the hell is he going with this one?”  My task is then to put together the facts which support the premise or suggest we need to take a second look into what at first seems obvious. The original subject line for today’s entry was, “Rat Place, Rat Time.”  Why?  Because I’m sitting in a row house in Baltimore, Maryland  What better location to reflect on the quickly evolving events which will determine the future for Donald Trump, than the place he described as a “rodent and rat infested mess.”  But as I was organizing my thoughts, Representative Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, announced the committee would be working through the two-week recess scheduled to begin today with hopes that the panel could provide the Judiciary Committee with corroborated evidence to support articles of impeachment, if warranted, by Thanksgiving.

Much is being made of comparable situations in American history as Donald Trump faces the increasing momentum toward impeachment.  I must admit, I wondered, “How does this compare to the cases involving Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton?”  I intentionally chose to omit Andrew Johnson from any such inquiry for two reasons.  First, he had never been elected president, ascending to the position following Abraham Lincoln’s assassination thus the issue never involved overturning a voter referendum.  Second, the forces behind his impeachment were members of his own political party who disapproved of his plans to quickly repatriate the confederate states with minimal punishment.

However, insight does not come from jumping to answers, but by asking better questions.  And the question I realized had not been asked was,  “To fully grasp the scope and import of current events, why would anyone limit comparisons only to two chief executives of the United States?  What about the other 42 predecessors who held the office prior to January 20, 2017?”  That is how my thoughts shifted from WHO and WHAT to WHEN?  And one answer emerged when New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney suggested, with the documentation already at hand, Americans have a pretty good idea of WHO was involved and WHAT happened between Trump and the newly elected president of Ukraine and which closets hold the skeletons.  All that is left to do is corroborate and verify actions by Trump, his accomplices and his enablers.  He closed by suggesting Congress should be able to complete the task by Thanksgiving.

Imagine, the fate and legacy of a president of the United States being determined by Thanksgiving of the third year of his first term.  What are the odds of that happening twice out of 45 opportunities or within the span of 56 years?  According to Representative Maloney, more likely than anyone could have contemplated a month ago.

I know what you’re thinking.  Dr. ESP, surely you’re not going to suggest there is any resemblance between Trump and John Kennedy.  Of course I am.  But not solely due to the coincidence in time in office before their fate is sealed.  Nor does it have anything to do with the ironic and eerie coincidence the names Kellyanne Conway and Lee Harvey Oswald both contain 15 letters.

Image result for writing a novelWriters of fiction and non-fiction write best when they know their subject matters.  And, as many of you know, I am currently drafting a political novel which offers a different and highly improbable twist on the Kennedy assassination.  My focus is on the still unanswered question, what was the motive for killing Kennedy.  To make the incredible just a bit more plausible, I have spent the past two years researching every aspect of the lives of JFK, Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby and other true-life individuals tangential to the story before injecting my fictional characters.  It has been an educational and highly enjoyable exercise in the art of manufacturing a conspiracy by finding the dots to fill in the manufactured connections.

In the end, both my novel and the real time saga of the Trump/Ukraine affair are not about conspiracy.  They are about legacy.  Having pored through every one of Evelyn Lincoln’s entries in Kennedy’s appointment calendar from December 1962 to November 22, 1963, one obtains a clear understanding of the interests and priorities of our 35th president.  And, in a limited number of cases, an appointment or a gap in time raises suspicions Kennedy’s closet may not have been skeleton-less.  I wish I could tell you more, but you’ll just have to read the book when it comes out.

So, this morning I wondered if I could gain a similar understanding of the 45th occupant of the oval office if I had equal access to his appointment calendar.  That assumes, of course, it has not yet been transferred to a code-word protected server.  The value of real-time observation in the age of 24/7 presidential news coverage is you no longer need to scour the archives of a presidential library to follow the chief executive’s movement.  Cameras document how he foregoes a trip to Poland on the premise of staying home to oversee the federal response to a pending Category 5 hurricane, bearing down on the Florida coast, but spends the majority of those days golfing.  You watch a man who has violated every one of the ten commandments leave a United Nations session on climate change to discuss religious freedom with evangelical christian leaders who oppose secular freedom for those who adhere to any religion but their own.

Bottom line?  One’s fate can seal one’s legacy. Sometimes, it takes an individual’s complete life time to grasp who they are and solidify their place in history.  In other cases, it only takes a thousand days.  And I will leave it to an historian as talented as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. to publish a sequel to his 1965 tribute to a fallen president, perhaps titled, “A Thousand Days Later.”

For what it’s worth.

Not That There’s Anything Wrong with That


Related imageLike life, the presentation of entertainment awards is not always fair.  I still bristle every time I think about the 1970 Academy Awards.  Despite the fact Midnight Cowboy took home the Oscar for best picture, best director (John Schlesinger) and best adapted screenplay (Waldo Salt), Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of Ratso Rizzo was deprived of the best male performance award when John Wayne won for playing himself in True Grit.  Hoffman’s cinematic achievement was of particular note when viewed side-by-side with his big screen debut two years earlier as Ben Braddock in The Graduate.  

There are two reasons this outcome may not have been the injustice it appeared to be.  First, both Hoffman and Jon Voight (playing Joe Buck) were nominated for best actor and may have divided the vote among Midnight Cowboy’s devotees.  Second, this was Wayne’s third nomination (previously as Davy Crockett in The Alamo and as Marine Sargent John Stryker in Sands of Iwo Jima).  After 43 years on the silver screen and 170 roles in movies and television, perhaps Wayne was more deserving of a lifetime achievement Oscar, but this was the way his peers chose to honor him.  (CINEMA FOOTNOTE:  Midnight Cowboy is the only X-rated film to win an Oscar for best picture, although it would barely garner an R rating 50 years later under today’s standards.)

As I watched the Emmy’s last night, I wondered if there was a totally different reason members of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences decided who would take home the prized statuette, particularly in the acting categories.  Before I make the case, let me say I did not see all of the performances, and of the ones I did see, none of the nominees were unworthy of consideration.  I just wondered if something else was going on.

Were Academy members trying to use this venue, the one time each year they have an international television audience to celebrate, not just the their art, but their values?  Despite its occasional flaws, the entertainment industry has become the voice of diversity and social justice in the era of Donald Trump.  Did voters look at the list of nominees and anticipate who might give the more compelling acceptance speech?  Consider the following four examples.

Jharrel Jerome for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or TV Movie/Jerome portrayed Korey Wise in “When They See Us,” the story of the Central Park Five .  Only by winning the Emmy could Jerome introduce the actual subjects of the story as the “Exonerated Five.”  One more reminder Trump has still not apologized for calling for their execution.  I am not sure Jerome’s performance topped those of Jared Harris in “Chernobyl” or Hugh Grant in “A Very English Scandal,” but I am confident they do not hold a grudge against the Academy for giving Jerome the stage.

Michelle Williams for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or TV Movie/Few viewers of her starring role as Gwen Verdon in “Fosse/Verdon” were probably aware of her demands during the series’ production, but I have no doubt Academy voters did.  As with Jerome, did they ask, “Is this a chance to share an important lesson we have learned with a broader audience?” If so, Williams delivered.

So thank you so much to FX and Fox 21 Studios for supporting me completely and paying me equally. Because they understood that when you put value into a person, it empowers that person to get in touch with their own inherent value. And then where do they put that value? They put it into their work. So the next time a woman – and especially a woman of color, because she stands to make 52 cents on the dollar compared to her white male counterpart – tells you what she needs in order to do her job, listen to her, believe her. Because one day she might stand in front of you and say thank you for allowing her to succeed because of her workplace environment and not in spite of it.

Billy Porter for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series/Porter became the first openly gay black man to win an Emmy for his role as Pray Tell in “Pose.”  Did Academy members hope Porter would make the connection that the presence of authentic characters, not stereotypes or caricatures, of all genders, colors and sexual preference/identity can be teachers and role models.  If not, his acceptance speech made the point anyway.

We as artists are the people that get to change the molecular structure of the hearts and minds of the people who live on this planet. Please don’t ever stop doing that. Please don’t ever stop telling the truth.

Peter Dinklage for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama/If you questioned whether Dinklage would win an Emmy for the fourth time as Tyrion Lannister on “Game of Thrones,” you were mistaken.  Despite his four foot four inch frame, he stands tall among his peers as a representative of the entertainment community.  Once again last night, he did not disappoint.

 I have no idea what I’m about to say, but here we go. I count myself so fortunate to be a member of a community that is all about tolerance and diversity, because no other place could I be standing on a stage like this.

And no one, except Fox censors were shocked when he referred to the GOT cast and crew as “10 years of the most incredible, talented, funniest motherfucking (bleeped out) people–hey, it’s over, I don’t care–I’ve ever been lucky enough to work with.”  That too was a message, about loyalty to and faith in one’s co-workers, not self-interest.

So, sometimes it is not a question of whether the BEST man or woman wins.  A better question is whether the RIGHT one does?  Last night the moment eclipsed the performances, and even if there were artistic injustices, I’m okay with it.  Sometimes life is unfair.  But on occasions like this, we should echo Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

For what it’s worth.


The King of Politics


Image result for the king of comedyAs some of you may already know, I co-host a monthly film series called “Cinema and Conversation” at our local book store.  Last night, I screened the 1983 Martin Scorsese movie, “The King of Comedy.”  It stars Robert De Niro as a wannabe stand-up comic Rupert Pupkin, who dreams of being on “The Jerry Langford Show,” the equivalent of a comic’s highly-sought breakthrough appearance on “The Tonight Show.”  Although favorably received by critics, it was a commercial failure, grossing only $2.5 million and it now ranks #6,644 on the all-time box office revenue list.

As I told last night’s attendees, you have to look at this movie from two perspectives.  First, it is a an example of how a talented filmmaker can turn a simple premise into a compelling theatrical experience through brilliant casting and understated directing.  At another level, “The King of Comedy” may be the most profound movie of the last 50 years, foretelling a future culture which did not exist when the film hit theaters in 1983.  Below the surface, “The King of Comedy” is a parable about a divided America in the Trump era.

This is not about Donald Trump’s self-serving interests, general character or policies.  You know how I feel about those.  This film explains why some of us view him as a villain and others see him as a hero.  When Pupkin (De Niro) gets a chance to share his dream with Langford (portrayed by Jerry Lewis), the talk show host gives him the following advice.

I know it’s a hackneyed expression, but it’s the truth, you’ve got to start from the bottom…It looks so simple to the viewer at home, those things that come so easily that are so relaxed and look like it’s a matter of just taking another breath.  It takes years and years and years of honing that and working that.

Pupkin’s response, “I don’t mean to interrupt you, but there’s a problem.  I’m 34 years old.”  Undeterred, Pupkin takes an unconventional, questionable path to getting his 15 minutes of fame.

Now close your eyes and visualize the same scene in my forthcoming remake, “The King of Politics.”  Trump shares his dream of becoming president of the United States with a former commander-in-chief (a hologram of Ronald Reagan) who advises him:

I know it’s a hackneyed expression that in America anyone can grow up to be president.  Look at me.  But it’s not that easy.  It’s not like anything you’ll ever experience.  But you can prepare yourself by first being a mayor or governor.  Or even president of the Screen Actors Guild.  It takes years and years and years to understand how government works.

Like Pupkin, Trump interrupts Reagan.  “But there’s just one problem, I’m 72 years old.”

I tip my hat to screenwriter Paul D. Zimmerman for virtually inking the script for my Trump bio-pic.  Why?  Because Trump IS a modern day Rupert Pupkin.  When Langford tries to exit the conversation with Pupkin, telling him to call his secretary, Pupkin mistakes the brush-off as encouragement.  When his phone calls are not returned, he goes to Langford’s office where the assistant (Shelley Hack) echoes her bosses admonition you do not start at the top.  The normal process is for the show to send a talent scout to watch you perform.  But Pupkin has never tested his material before a live audience.  To which the assistant replies:

As soon as you start working again, call and we’ll send someone down to check out your act.

Still believing he is destined to the be the new king of comedy without prior evidence of his talent or appeal, Pupkin goes on a journey of increasingly aberrant behavior to achieve his goal.  Sound familiar?

Like Pupkin, Trump is never dispirited by those who give him the cold shoulder or make jokes at his expense such as the ones delivered by President Obama and Seth Meyers at the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner.  It only hardens his resolve to succeed.  And as the reincarnation of De Niro’s character, he crafts an unconventional and increasingly unethical, if not illegal, campaign which gives him his more than 15 minutes in the national spotlight.

But I digress.  This post is not about Trump.  It is a simple and rational explanation for the chasm which divides his supporters and critics.  For 38-40 percent of the country, Trump as Pupkin is an improbable success story.  It is as film critic Scott McCauley suggests of the Scorsese version, “…a saga of start at the top grandiosity.”  Trump believes he deserves to be at the apex of the political world just as Pupkin sees himself as the new king in the realm of entertainment. And both Trump and Pupkin prove it by beating the odds.

As for the rest of us?  It is not as though we believe there is only one way to earn the keys to the White House.  That every candidate needs to pay their political dues before becoming chief executive of the United State. After all, I vaguely remember supporting a wet-behind-the-ears freshman senator named Barack Obama.  In his manifesto for governance, he self-described his mission as audacious.  The difference, of course, is in this latter case, Obama’s success was not fueled by foreign interference, paying off porn stars or promoting hate of others. Although Obama’s rise was accelerated, it did not rest on shortcuts.

SPOILER ALERT.  Scorsese’s portrait of an overachiever concludes at the protagonist’s moment of ultimate success.  But the last scene is perhaps a harbinger of things to come.  Pupkin is silent in front of his adoring fans.  Is he merely basking in the glow of his new-found notoriety?  Or was he a one trick pony?  Was his rise the story?  Will his audience grow tired of him if there is no second act?  The demo tape he makes is called, “The Best of Rupert Pupkin.” It is equivalent to an actor receiving an Oscar for lifetime achievement after his or her first cinematic role.

Stay tuned for the sequel, “The King of Politics: Part II,” coming to a theater near you next November.

For What it’s Worth.


Serenity Now


Joe McGinniss showed America that politicians are sold like products.  And we loved it.

~David Greenberg, Politico Magazine, 2014

Image result for selling of the president 1968In The Selling of the President 1968, McGinniss documents how a team of media advisers used television to convince America there was a NEW Richard Nixon.  Among them was Harry Treleaven, a Madison Avenue guru who came up with “Nixon’s the ONE!” and devised a campaign strategy based on image, not issues which he claimed just bored voters.  And Roger Ailes, a relatively unknown local television producer in Cleveland, was responsible for the television spots which portrayed Nixon as the calm in the storm of Vietnam, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, and the Chicago riots during the Democratic convention.

There is just one problem.  Money and PR can, as they say, “put a shine on a turd,” but it is still a turd.  And eventually the consumer recognizes that fact, and no amount of subsequent marketing can produce repeat purchases or referrals.

Dr. ESP, how can you say that? If you are correct, Nixon should not have won again in 1972.  True in theory, but that year both major parties offered their respective flawed candidates.  And as they also say, “Better the turd you know than the one you don’t know.”  And a few dirty tricks did not hurt Nixon’s cause.

I share this moment in political history because the analogy of candidate as product explains both Trump’s electoral college victory in 2016 and his inability to expand his base since then.  Consider the following business case I wrote during my tenure at Miami University based on a friend’s experience with a new product line.

In 1997, his company licensed the Chuck E. Cheese brand to produce and sell frozen foods in grocery stores, not unlike Boston Market or P. F. Chang.  He hired a marketing consultant to conduct mall intercept surveys of women who were observed shopping with children ages three through twelve, the target market for the branded items.  Seventy one percent of the respondents said they were extremely or very likely to purchase the product.

Initial sales exceeded projections.  However, there was an immediate drop-off, particularly in repeat purchases.  It was not the quality of the products.  Or ease of preparation.  The primary issue was family disruption.  Many parents reported older children had no interest in the product and often made fun of their little brothers and sisters.  You can just hear the sing-song teasing.  “The little baby has to have Chuck E. Cheese.”  The product could have been the best thing since sliced pizza, but it was still not worth the ensuing sibling altercations.

Is that not what the product called Donald Trump has done to America?  During the campaign, his mall intercepts with targeted consumers were arenas with supporters in MAGA caps.  But now he is constantly present in our homes, our extended families and our communities.  And the back and forth cacophony between supporters and resisters is the equivalent of sibling teasing.  It gets old very quickly and continues to irritate over time.

In the aftermath of every era of disruption, Americans yearn for a “return to normalcy,” a phrase coined in a 1920 speech by Warren G. Harding in response to World War I.  Some pundits refer to the recent decline in Trump’s approval rating as the result of “Trump fatigue,”  something it took the Bushes and Clintons decades to achieve.  Colorado Senator Mike Bennett even promised if he becomes president there could be weeks without our hearing from him.  He, like many of us, look forward to a day when we no longer need Frank Costanza’s relaxation cry “SERENITY NOW” as our mantra.

America may have been born by revolution, but it survives and grows through evolution.  Take Medicare for All as an example.  Some day America may have a national health system.  But not tomorrow.  Universal coverage is a worthy goal toward which we were making uneasy progress.  Less than a decade ago Republicans made repeal of the Affordable Care Act a winning campaign theme.  Today, a majority of voters support it.  Maybe we take the next step by adding a public option to reach those still without coverage.  I understand the arguments against the for-profit insurance industry.  But you do not change the world campaigning.  You change it when you govern.  And to govern, you must first get elected.

Which brings me to a final point.  Jill Biden was on the right track, but the way she raised the specter of her husband’s electability makes me wonder if she’s been spending too much time around Joe.  Last month in New Hampshire she urged voters to back her husband even if they consider another candidate to be “better” on the issues.  It would have been more appropriate to present a vision of the policy process in a Biden White House.

We have exceptional candidates running for the nomination and they have presented a range of ideas to improve the lives of every American.  And no one should expect them or their perspectives to disappear if they are not the nominee.  The difference is that when Joe is president, all of those same people will still have a voice.  Because we all agree on the goal whether we are talking about economic opportunity, social justice, health care, climate change or making our country and cities safe.  And Joe knows the way to get there is by bringing more people into the conversation.

Which brings me back to 1968 and Harry Treleaven who I believe misread what was happening.  Issues do not bore voters.  They care a lot about issues but in the abstract.  They want better schools for their children.  Or lower drug prices.  Or assurances they will still have their jobs.  They respond to the vision not to detailed solutions.  Take immigration as an example.  If you believe illegal immigrants are taking your jobs and terrorizing your neighborhoods, you do not care if Trump steals funds from projects that benefit service men and women to build his wall or that he inhumanely separates infants and children from their parents.

Tomorrow night, when 10 candidates again take the stage, they would be wise to play to the voters and not to the pundits who do not view the election with the same prism as the general electorate.  When asked about health care, I hope they remember you cannot make a case for any specific solution in 90 seconds.  Remind voters, those without insurance AND those currently insured, why universal coverage is important to both.  Whether the answer is ACA 2.0 or Medicate for All is not important.  All that matters is that today the financial burden of health care for the uninsured falls largely on subsidies embedded in premiums paid by the insured.  That’s not right and we will fix it.

Then use the four years we give you to convince us of the best way to get there.

For what it’s worth.

The Hens in the Fox House


If you have either read Gabriel Sherman’s The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News-and Divided the Country or watched the Showtime mini-series based on the book, you know Ailes believed Donald Trump’s occupancy of the Oval Office was dependent on his network’s coverage of the 2016 election.  The most telling moment comes in Episode 6 when Ailes calls Trump following the latter’s attack on Fox debate moderator Meghan Kelly and his pledge never to appear on Fox News again.  Ailes reminds Trump, “We can make you or break you.”  Not surprisingly, Trump calls into Fox and Friends the following morning.

Nice story!  But like most everything else associated with Trump it is just not true.  How do I know?  For three and a half years Fox News and the White House have been attached at the hip and not once has Trump’s job approval rating equaled 46.1 percent, his share of the 2016 popular vote.  For most of the Trump era, that figure has hovered between 38 and 42 percent.  Giving Ailes and the Fox News team the benefit of the doubt, they can and did help deliver a sizable share of Trump voters in 2016.  No small accomplishment.

Image result for jimmy fallon trump hairSo where did the other four to eight percent come from?  Hens chasing the Fox News ratings.  The mother hen was NBC.  As I have previously documented, the Peacock Network became the normalizer-in-chief thanks to Trump’s hosting Saturday Night Live, his appearance with David Feherty on NBC’s Golf Channel, and the now infamous guest spot on the Tonight Show when host Jimmy Fallon played with Trump’s hair.

But NBC was not alone.  All of the major networks chose schmoozing over newsing.  They would interview Trump without fact-checking or challenging him on many of his most outlandish and clearly inaccurate statements.  For example, when Trump declared he had no business dealings with Russia, not once was he asked directly, “Mr. Trump, then how do you reconcile that with your son’s 2008 statement at a New York real estate conference,  ‘In terms of high-end product influx into the U.S., Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.’?”

Equally damning were the occasions when news organizations never followed up on Trump promises to clarify situations raised during the campaign.  When questions arose about Melania Trump’s immigration status upon arriving in the U.S., Trump assured attendees at an August 9, 2016 North Carolina rally, “She has got it so documented.  She will hold a news conference over the next few weeks to address the issue.”  We are still waiting.  And it took four yours for Ms. Trump to admit she LIED when she claimed to be a college graduate with a degree in design and architecture from a university in Slovenia.  On August 31, the reference was removed from her bio on the White House website when it was discovered she dropped out after her first year.  I wonder if Melania’s philosophy of honesty is, “Be late than be never.”

I chose this example because since January 2017,  Trump’s Department of Homeland Security (drum roll) “has investigated possible cases of immigration fraud that resulted in U.S. citizenship, sending 95 of these cases to the Department of Justice for prosecution and denaturalization.”  (Source: Bipartisan Policy Center).  In June 2018, Francis Cissna, director of Citizenship and Immigration Services,  told the Associated Press, “We finally have a process in place to get to the bottom of all these bad cases and start denaturalizing people who should not have been naturalized in the first place.”  I wonder if they have a hotline you can call if you know someone who might have lied on their citizenship application.

The bottom line?  It is not what the Fox does.  It is what the hens do.  Step ONE: Stop lobbing soft-boiled eggs.

For what it’s worth.