Category Archives: Media

Who You Gonna Call?

Recent movies such as The Irishman have demonstrated how CGI can be employed to alter the actors’ facial features.  What if that same technology provided a low-cost means of updating classic films?  Rather than recast roles, the special effects team would need only alter appearances and re-record the soundtrack.  Consider the following example.  A coronavirus era re-release of the Harold Ramis hit Ghostbusters.  In this excerpt, the Virusbusters try to convince Donald Trump to take the pandemic seriously.


AN AIDE (Tommy Hollis)
(entering with the Virusbusters)

The Virusbusters are here, Mr. President.

DONALD TRUMP (David Marguiles)
(looking them over)

Okay, the Virusbusters. And where’s Jared?

JARED (William Atherton)
(Jared shoulders his way forward.)

Here I am, sir. And I’m prepared to make a full report. These men are complete hoaxsters. Someone has a fever or a slight cough and calls these bozos, who conveniently show up to get rid of the problem by suggesting they get tested, isolate themselves and wear masks.

(to Jared)

You’d think they’d recommend Hydroxychloroquine or Clorox.

 Dr. Fauci (Bill Murray)

I know he’s your son-in-law, but that man is a psychopath, Mr. President.


Or a mixture of gases, no doubt the army has a surplus.

(Trump looks for help from his advisors.)


All I know is, this isn’t your typical seasonal flu reality show. I’ve seen every form of contagion known to man, but this beats me.

(Trump turns to Franklin Graham.)

GRAHAM (Tom McDermott)

Officially, the Church will not take a position on the religious implications of this phenomena. However, since it started, people have been lining up at every church in the city.  We’ve had to put out additional collection plates.  Personally, I think it’s a sign from God but don’t quote me on that.

(shaking his head)

I can’t call a press conference and tell everyone to just start praying.  I’d have to go to church to set an example.

(Ben Carson steps forward. Trump looks at him quizzically.)

CARSON (Ernie Hudson)

Mr. President, you may not remember me.  I’m Ben Carson, your secretary of HUD. I’m not usually welcome in the oval office, but I had to come and tell you – this thing is real.  Since I joined the task force, I have seen shit that would turn you white.

(He rubs his eyes wearily.)

So what do I do now?


Mr. President, it’s a pretty simple choice. You can believe Jared here … or you can accept the fact that this country is heading for a disaster of really Biblical proportions.


What do you mean “Biblical?”


Old Testament, Mr. President. “Wrath of God”-type stuff. The beaches will close, people won’t be able to get a haircut or their nails done …

BIRX (Dan Akroyd)
(chimes in)

… no political rallies, no golf, mass unemployment, inspectors general sacrificed …


Enough! I get the point.  But what if you’re wrong?


If I’m wrong then nothing happens and you toss us in the can like you want to do with Biden and Obama. But if I’m right, and if we can stop this thing … well, let’s just say that you could save the lives of a lot of registered voters.

VIRUSBUSTERS!  Not coming to a theater near you this spring.

For what it’s worth.

No News Is No News


I stopped watching the Sunday morning “news” programs, because they do everything BUT give the news.  Oh for the days when Meet the Press meant that someone in the news would be questioned by a panel of journalists.  Today, the same show consists largely of op-ed writers at a round table talking at (and often past) each other.  You might know it by the frat-boy moniker, “circle jerk.”

Lynne Russell - Late-1990s - YouTubeMaybe some of you aging, more COVID-19 susceptible folks remember the original CNN Headline News with Lynne Russell.  Every 30 minutes you got a version of the news Sargent Friday (Jack Webb) would be proud of, “Just the facts, ma’am.”  News based on the basic principles of journalism:  who, what, when, where and how.  For a medium which characterizes the current administration as a “reality TV show,” the mirrors in the make-up rooms of every cable news studio must be draped in sack cloth.   Their programs now consist of a series of cliff-hangers, unintended parodies of that old joke, “Global apocalypse; details at eleven.”

For example, yesterday on Morning Joe,  Mika Brzezinski announced this lead-in to a story of particular interest to those of us who believe Florida governor, Ron “deSanitize the data,” is cooking the books when it comes to reporting COVID-19 cases and related deaths.  “Coming up, questions about Florida under-reporting coronavirus cases in the wake of the state’s reopening.”  An HOUR later, they finally interviewed Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg who confirmed the “official” state numbers were limited to tests administered by public health agencies when 90 percent of tests were done at private laboratories.

Which brings me to today’s main theme, when news programming is more interested in journalists talking to each other what do they fail to cover.  Take an op-ed in this morning’s New York Times, actually one I find somewhat innovative in which liberal Gail Collins and conservative Brett Stephens present their thoughts as a dialogue.  Today’s conversation was titled, “Donald Trump, Unmasked.”  Stephens has become part of the growing herd of former Republicans who now admit Trump is anything but a conservative and is a threat to national security.  While hoping Joe Biden dethrones the incumbent, Stephens suggested the presumptive Democratic nominees needs to present himself as more than the anti-Trump.

All this means there’s an opportunity for Joe Biden, provided he can articulate not just a biting critique of Trump but a compelling rationale for his candidacy.

If folks like Brett Stephens had paid attention during one of Biden’s recent virtual town halls, they might have heard that rationale.  When asked what he might do differently from Trump to re-open the economy, Biden suggested job-sharing.  Four versus eight hour shifts for company employees.  Half the employees on a factory floor would facilitate physical distancing.  And public assistance such as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) would be needed only to subsidize half the salary for each worker.  Media outlets Zoom-Zoomed right by this recommendation faster than a Mazda Miata in favor of commentary about how soon Biden can get out of his basement.

It’s not like the American news media have not been burned enough times already for reporting opinion instead of facts.  Vietnam.  Iraq.  Racial injustice.  Mortgage lending.  Universal health care.  And there are already models out there.  If your cable or streaming television service offers BBC World News,  give it a try.  Thirty minutes several times a day.  An anchor at a desk reporting the news.  BBC correspondents tell us what is happening, not what they think.  The closest they come to opinion is covering what world leaders are saying.  News that actual abides by the Fox tagline, “We report. You decide.”

This weekend, I re-watched the 1976 production of Network, Paddy Chayefsky’s tour-de-force in which Union Broadcasting System (UBS) news anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch), in a drunken on-air rage, exposes the essence of television news.

Television is not the truth. Television’s a goddamned amusement park! Television is a circus, a carnival, a traveling troupe of acrobats, storytellers, dancers, singers, jugglers, sideshow freaks, lion tamers, and football players. We’re in the boredom-killing business!

The transformation at UBS is complete when the network president assigns management of “the news” to the head of entertainment programming Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway).

The question of the day?  As boredom increases during this global pandemic, do we become more susceptible to this circus or do we follow Howard Beale and open our windows and tell the world, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore”? Or better yet, emulate Dana Freeling (Dominique Dunne), who, upon seeing her house implode at the end of the movie Poltergeist , screams, “WHAT’S HAPPENING?”  Wouldn’t it be nice if there was someone who would tell us?

For what it’s worth.

Orange Juice Gulch*

Walter Winchell | American journalist | BritannicaHaving just watched the HBO series based on Philip Roth’s 2004 novel The Plot Against America, I wondered how Walter Winchell might have covered the coronavirus pandemic. Something like this?

Good evening Mr. and Mrs. America, from border to border and coast to coast and all the cruise ships still at sea. Let’s go to press.

Dateline: Washington, D.C.  The White House has become a virtual coronavirus petri dish.  The latest count of those now in isolation include:

  • Donald Trump’s personal valet
  • Katie Miller, wife of White House “ratzi”* Steven Miller and Mike Pence’s press secretary
  • Ivanka Trump’s personal assistant
  • 11 secret service agents

Oh, the humanity!

Yet Donald Trump remains untouched by the contagion.  When asked how he would explain his good fortune, Trump turned to task force chair Dr. Deborah Birx.

“Dr. Birx, I’m not a doctor but I’ve been thinking a lot about this.  Is it possible we should consider a vaccine based on Kentucky Fried Chicken, Diet Coke, taco salad or big beautiful slices of chocolate cake?  It worked for me.  Maybe the doctors could look into that.”

In other news, Kim Jung-Un is still not dead.   DOJ drops charges against Jeffrey Epstein; corpse remains under house arrest pending review by trial judge.  Top “G-Man”* Christopher Wray is in danger of “Garboing It.”*  In the world of entertainment, Katherine Schwarzenegger and Chris Pratt announce they are “getting storked”* later this year.  While on a sadder note, former Chicago QB Jay Cutler and reality star Kristin Cavallari are in the process of getting “Reno-vated.”* And finally in the NBA, all games are tied 0-0 and heading into overtime.

And that’s the news.  Good night Mr. and Mrs America.  And a special good night to Donald Trump whom I remind, “Nothing recedes like success.”*

POSTSCRIPT:  In the past 48 hours, health departments in several red states report emergency rooms have been flooded with patients who injected themselves with a “cocktail” consisting of Diet Coke and chocolate cake.  Based on the four puncture wounds on the arms of those being treated, doctors surmise this dangerous combination was administered using a spork.

*Actual quotes and terms coined by Winchell. “Orange Juice Gulch” was how he often referred to New York’s Time Square, at the time populated by a number of take out food vendors including Orange Julius.


While researching this post, I found other Walter Winchell quotes which could apply to America today.

The same thing happened today that happened yesterday, only to different people.

We must not indulge in unfavorable views of mankind, since by doing it we make bad men believe they are no worse than others, and we teach the good that they are good in vain.

The way to become famous fast is to throw a brick at someone who is famous.

An optimist is someone who gets treed by a lion but enjoys the scenery.

For what it’s worth.  Stay well.

One If By Contact, Two If By Inhalation

NOTE:  The following is a reprint of a "Letter to the Editor" sent to our local newspaper.  Some of the content is copied from the February 28 post titled, "CULTure in America."

In what can only be called a textbook example of shooting the messenger, News-Leader columnist Howard Pines joined fellow columnist Steve Nicklas in disparaging Dr. Nancy Messonnier, CDC-based director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.  Dr. Messonnier was removed as CDC’s coronavirus response chief after suggesting at a February 25 White House briefing the disease represented “a severe illness” which had the potential of significantly disrupting Americans’ daily lives.

On February 28, Nicklas wrote in the News-Leader:

Most health officials will not exaggerate the potential impacts of a malady, but in contrast, Dr. Nancy Messonnier’s performance sounded like an exaggeration on steroids.  She is head of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases and is FBI agent Rod Rosenstein’s sister.

FACTUAL NOTE:  Rosenstein was not an FBI agent, but deputy attorney general under Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr.  If you are going to peddle conspiracy theories, the least you can do is keep your supposed “deep state” actors straight.

In his April 29 column, Pines attacks Messonnier claiming Dr. Messonnier “jumped the gun and issued a blunt warning—without the president’s consent.”  Please keep in mind, Dr. Messonnier, by virtue of her position either helped prepare the President’s Daily Briefs (PDB) or, at a minimum, had access to the information contained in them.  And as we now know, the PDBs, beginning in January warned Donald Trump the virus would likely spread to the United States and represented a national security threat.  Yet, on the day before Dr. Messonnier’s statement, Trump tweeted, “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA.”  Two days later, Trump patted himself on the back, saying, “When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty job we’ve done.”

So, you have two people with access to the same information.  One rightfully warns the public of the potential devastation, recommends preparedness and is taken off the field.  The other continued to deny the inevitable, and according to Pines, Trump was so angry Messonnier had...

…scared people unnecessarily.  He then canceled the meeting (of the coronavirus task force) and replaced it with a news conference where he announced that the White House response would be put under the command of Vice President Mike Pence (instead of HHS Secretary Alex Azar who had also tried to get Trump to focus on the pandemic in early January) and stalled any move to take more assertive action.”

It is a good thing Pines and Nicklas were not around in 1776.  Pines would have accused Paul Revere of “jumping the gun,” warning Boston residents of the British invasion before receiving permission to do so.  And Nicklas might had questioned Revere’s loyalty to the colonies because he once served as an altar boy in the Church of England.  And we might be singing “God Save the Queen” instead of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

For what it's worth.

1600 Sunset Boulevard


Even a social scientist who constantly warns others about the difference between correlation and causation can jump the shark when the evidence seems overwhelming.  For me, that line blurred when comparing the inverse relationship between Donald Trump’s approval ratings to the length of his daily 5:00 p.m. “press beefings.” In what can only be labeled the ultimate April Fool’s joke, Trump’s margin of disapproval on April 1 dropped to a low of 3.9 percent (49.7 disapproval versus 45.8 disapproval), attributed in large part to his “somber tone” on March 28. (Source: FiveThirtyEight)

Forget the 70 days of denial, misinformation and inaction.  Trump, for whatever reason, recognized he needed to step up to the plate (or in his case, the microphone).  And step up he did.  What began as a one-hour press conference expanded to 90 minutes, then two hours, until Monday when the event clocked in at a record two hours and 24 minutes.  The next day FiveThirtyEight reported his net disapproval rating was back to 7.1 percent.  (UPDATE:  Still climbing, 7.3  percent as of this morning)  There were other contributing factors.  During the same time frame, the COVID-19 death toll among Americans surpassed that of any other nation.  And the New York Times and Washington Post documented the extent to which Trump’s “no one saw this coming” was a “Grim Fairy Tale.”

But as more pundits than you can shake a swab at keep asking, “Why does Trump keep disgracing himself personally and politically with these inane reality shows?”  If you can get past the fact the messages are confusing at best and dangerous to the public safety at worst (which we should not), you realize you are watching the unraveling of a pathetic human being.  If you possessed just one ounce more empathy than Trump has shown the doctors, nurses, first responders, essential workers and victims of this pandemic, you might even feel sorry for him.

Norma Desmond | Villains Wiki | FandomThe pundits suggest this is unprecedented.  They are wrong.  We see it time and time again.  Athletes who try to stay in the game long after their skills have diminished.  The musician whose voice is shot or whose instrumental dexterity is long gone.  The corporate executive, who comes out of retirement, does not realize the nature of commerce has changed dramatically since his last gig.  Though perhaps the best metaphor is Billy Wilder’s 1950 Sunset Boulevard, the story of Norma Desmond, an aging silent movie star, who is convinced she has many more superb performances to share with her fans.

All these individuals, real and fictional, have two things in common.  They crave the limelight and dread the possibility they are no longer relevant.  And in that pursuit there is always one more comeback.  Next season.  The remix of a top-forty favorite.  One more failing company in need of a white knight.  Even when reality sets in, when the audience no longer shows up, they believe there is a second act just around the next corner.

Bill Maher, among others, has wondered whether someone will have to forcibly remove Trump from the Oval Office if he loses in November.  I do not share their concern.  It is far more likely he will, like Norma Desmond, make the January 20, 2021 finale of “Mr Trump Goes to Washington,” a prelude to his next fantasy (with apologies to Wilder and the other Sunset Boulevard screenwriters).  As he stands on the south portico for the last time, Trump looks toward the television cameras and delivers his farewell missive.

And I promise you I’ll never desert you again because after the White House, I’ll turn OANN into the next Fox News and build Trump Tower Moscow. You see, this is my life! It always will be! Nothing else! Just me, and the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark!… All right, Mr. Murdoch, I’m ready for my close-up.

[Fade to black.]

For what it’s worth.