Saturday, January 22, 2005

Reality Bites Back On The Beach

We're going to try and beat out the blizzard and head to the tropics for a couple of weeks. More masterful missives starting Feb. 4. Stay warm.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Fun With Geography On "Law And Order"

"If that's her address she's living in the middle of the East River."

Heard on a rerun of "Law And Order SVU."

I'm not a regular viewer of Law and Order or its 14 spinoffs, due more to TV fatigue than anger over production crews clogging Manhattan streets at any given moment.

One thing that did always bug me about the shows is address fiction. Every time they go to a new scene and show the address on the screen, it's often for an address that's not only doesn't exist, but if you go by how streets are numbered in the city, if it did exist would be in some body of water, which is actually pretty easy to do in Manhattan (860 West 118th St?).

You'd think they'd get some hapless production assistant to scout locations to ensure a building sounds real, but no. It's easier just to have some co-op floating on the Hudson. Whether the "SVU" writers on the rerun I caught last night on USA used this as an inside joke albeit one that's a little tacky given it centered on a girl nearly beaten to death, I don't know. But such is life -- and near-death -- when your show is done in New York and your writers are sunning themselves in LA.

Watching "SVU" also made me realize how much I missed "Homicide: Life On The Street." Richard Belzer's character John Munch on the latter seamlessly transferred to the former with a tad fewer wisecracks and a slightly softer shell.

For a "Homicide" homey, it was quite a revelation to see him choke up when answering why he pushed so hard on this case. He recounted seeing a neighborhood girl beat up and he did nothing. One day her mother threw her through a plate-glass window.

"I felt like I was letting her down again," the Belz tells a bewildered Mariska Hargitay. The episode closes with him reading to the latest victim, still comatose in the hospital. Therapy, perhaps, and a quality TV moment, though I'm sure John Munch I would have joked his way around the angst.

Friday, January 14, 2005

The Weekly Read-Out--Mudslides, Wayward Goats, Dumb Caddies and Hopeless Hockey

Location, location, location. If you looked at the pictures from the La Conchita mudslide and wondered if some of those deaths could have been avoided, you're probably right. But not for the reasons you may think.,0,783095.story?coll=la-home-headlines.

Of course, a good deal is not the only reason people will take a chance on where to plant themselves. LA Times columnist Steve Lopez found that includes people who ought to know better.,0,1721179.column?coll=la-home-utilities.

Train driver suffers from PTGS, that's Post-Traumatic Goat Syndrome to you and me, after he hits a billy who wound up on the business side of an express.,,2-2005020261,00.html

OK, let's try and figure this one out. You're the caddie for Vijay Singh, the top golfer on the planet. Which means you get to travel the world making a seven-figure sum for basically holding his clubs and whispering sweet nothings about nine-irons. And yet you didn't enjoy your work and had to get away from the fairway rate race?,10069,1388353,00.html

News Flash! No hockey in Buffalo. Life goes on! And despite the fact the Sabres announced a cut in ticket prices before the lockout and locals sports-starved after the Bills closed up shop for the season, not many are pining for pucks. Which could bode ill for the NHL across the land if they ever play again.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

How Do You Say Me So Horny In Swedish?

Gonna have some afternoon delight....

Harry The Nazi and Other Royal Clangers

Prince Harry may have seen The Producers one too many times in deciding that a Nazi desert uniform would be a swell thing to wear to a costume party.
Ah, the tabloids live for moments like this. Just when Becks and Posh are laying low and Tony Blair isn't bobbing and weaving over Iraq, the royals manage to save the day. "Harry The Nazi" blared The Sun, which had an exclusive picture of the shirt. Its sister Murdoch paper, the newly tabbed Times was content to run a photo of someone reading The Sun, while running a poll asking readers whether Harry stepped over the line or if it was just a case of princes being princes, something Britons have gotten used to with this bunch.,,2-1438439,00.html.
The Mirror has Harry uttering a brief but brilliant understatement: "It was a poor choice."
The Times quotes the head of the Reform rabbis in Great Britain saying the apology should be accepted, but The Guardian instead led with calls from The Simon Wiesenthal Center for Harry to visit Auschwitz the next time he's on holiday.,2763,1389624,00.html.
All this comes at a time when his grandmother is set to commemorate later this month the Holocaust and 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by having a reception at St. James's Palace for survivors of the Nazi death camps and British soldiers who freed them.
That should be enough to keep her in the news, but she caught a case of the foot-in-mouth disease that runs rampant in her family. She doesn't chat much with her lowly subjects, but when the old girl does strike up a conversation, she makes sure it's a doozy.
Many in the UK are not amused she predicted Paris would get the 2012 Summer Olympics and declared (decreed?) that most Londoners don't want the Games.,,2-2005020524,00.html. No doubt, Olympic organizers in London, which last had the Olympics in 1948, would like to crown the Queen right about now.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The Buck Doesn't Stop Here At CBS

Don't expect the report on the infamous "60 Minutes Wednesday" segment on President Bush's National Guard service to be the last word on who gets tossed from CBS News.
No doubt, CBS Chairman Les Moonves wanted to appear strong and resolute in getting rid of four top dogs in the news division to show how the network is serious about erasing the notion that it ignored facts that got in the way of a good story.
Let's look at how far and wide Moonves traveled on both sides of West 57th St. to find both scoundrels and scapegoats after the report was handed down.

Mary Mapes -- As the story producer, everyone knew she was a goner. Still, you just can't help but marvel at how one of TV journalism's most dogged and fearless reporters (remember, it's the producers that do most of the work at newsmagazines) has had her career snuffed out. Her scoop on Abu Ghraib, among many others, meant a level of trust accorded few others in the business. Take her name off the story and it's doubtless the story would have been held up. Mapes had the street cred to back up her powers of persuasion. But ultimately, a lethal combo of the fear of being scooped, sheer bravado and the lack of hubris did her in. Which is why she was the only one unequivocally fired by Moonves yesterday. The rest were merely asked to resign.

Josh Howard -- This one's a shame. First off, he's a nice guy as well as a solid newsman, two qualities that don't necessarily go hand in hand. I briefly met him during my time at CBS, and he was someone who was quick to inspire confidence. After serving for so long in Don Hewitt's shadow at the "60 Minutes" mothership, he finally got his executive producer gig at the Wednesday edition and had this dumped in his lap. One could argue Howard was guilty of not asking the right questions to Mapes, or enough of them. But maybe he did, and just didn't get the right answers. Shortly after this scandal blew up, Howard had joked to his staff that maybe he should have gone to dental school. No word on what he told the staff during his goodbyes yesterday, but The New York Times reported he was shaken by the dismissal. Too bad.

Mary Murphy -- As Howard's deputy, she was the one who got her hands dirty as the main overlord of each segment's production. That meant she was the one who had to get out the fine tooth comb for all of Mapes's sources and documentation. But Moonves found Murphy was too quick to defer to Mapes and "did not perform her important supervisory function." Fair enough. You could argue either way whether that transgression was sufficient to get canned. But it wouldn't look good for CBS to merely fire Mapes, as she was hardly a lone wolf. And since Murphy's judgments carried sway with Howard, then their guilt by association made it easier for Moonves to send them packing. Which brings us to....

Betsy West -- No doubt waxing nostalgic, right about now, about her 23 years at ABC, the Senior VP in charge of prime time news was put in charge by News President Andrew Heyward to ride herd on the story to ensure it was a slam dunk come air time. But West's undoing, Moonves said was "defending the segment even when it was becoming increasingly apparent that it was flawed." While a Senior VP is not normally hands on with a typical segment, this was anything but typical. So West walks the plank.

But if you let the dominoes fall where they may, why does CBS News chief Andrew Heyward escape relatively unscathed? Heyward issued marching orders, according to Moonves's statement, to West and Howard not to let the "60 Minutes Wednesday" staff "stampede us in any way." He also ordered a close look at the sourcing behind the story after it appeared at a time when everybody and their grandma at CBS was standing behind the story. Despite his plea for new information, none was forthcoming. In other words, Heyward's underlings essentially ignored him. Moonves concedes that raises questions about accountability, which he says will be addressed by "Heyward and me." For now though, he labeled Heyward "the right person to be leading CBS News during this challenging time."

We'll see for how much longer.

And then there's Dan Rather, who Moonves said was guilty of little more than being too trusting of Mapes, with whom he had worked closely for years. Rather didn't hesitate to take at face value what Mapes told him because he never had any reason to. While the report found Rather played a somewhat "minimal role" in the production of the piece, it's easy to conclude his fate would have been different had he not already announced his intention to step down in March as CBS Evening News anchor. That he will remain with "60 Minutes Wednesday is hardly a source of comfort for some, though. .

What may ultimately have done in Mapes is that her accounts to the investigative panel differed markedly from what other CBS staffers said. Still, The Washington Post quoted Mapes as saying she was up front with the panel and was shocked by what she called "vitriolic scapegoating" by Moonves, who she said was motivated by "ratings rather than journalism."

Sometimes, though, it's hard to tell the sloppy reporter from the scapegoat. And sometimes it just doesn't matter.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Counting Tsunami Dead: The New Math

With tsunami media coverage thankfully still going at full tilt, the media may find itself circling back to what mattered most after the waves retreated.
First, it was coming to grips with the sheer level of destruction and the hard-to-truly-comprehend number of dead. Then it was on to the brittle task of recovery, at once tenuous, tedious and nearly impossible.
But as time goes on, more journalists may need to return to the numbers. The official tsunami toll is past 146,000 at this writing, but it's easy to believe that number is wildly conservative, given what The Australian witnessed in Bandeh Aceh.

Amid mud that stinks of sulphur, debris stretching as far as the eye can see and ruined concrete shells of what once were large homes, stands Darma, a Medan businessman.
At his feet is the drowned family rooster. Across the way, 50m from what was a lawn, is his brother; his corpse floating bloated and black in a lagoon. "Everyone is gone," he said. "Everyone.",5744,11873293^2703,00.html.

Moreover, the Indonesian health ministry has all but guaranteed that thousands more are dead and as-yet unaccounted for all over Sumatra.

But there may be other reasons in play for why accurate numbers are hard to come by, all the more reason for the media to be watchful about who is spouting figures and why. Thai officials could be playing a numbers game to spin the damage in Phuket and keep the tourists flocking to the island, reports The Age in Melbourne.
Tragically, merely surviving the tsunami will not be enough if fears of cholera and dysentery are realized. The United Nations appears to be preparing for the inevitable.

The Weekly Read-Out

He long ago became the only reason to still watch That 70s Show. Now Topher Grace keeps showing why he won't be appearing on The Surreal Life anytime soon.

From the More Proof That Carbs Are Bad For You File:

We're just hoping they don't start jumping up and down at the same time:,5744,11873423^2703,00.html

And maybe the third time will be the charm for this guy in the Czech Republic:

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Out Go The Waves, In Come The Jackals

The tsunami is the ultimate human interest story. Be it the Sri Lankan fisherman who lost everything except his life, or the fat Swiss tourist on a Phuket beach who chugs a Singha musing about how life goes on, reporters don't have to roam far to find good copy.
So much has been written about helping hands and heroism. Now come the tales about the scum that rises from the earth following such disasters.
The entrepeneurial spirit may be at its ugliest in Thailand, according to the New Zealand Herald:
A world away from the disaster we are reminded that criminals are avid readers of the obituaries, which has forced Swedish authorities to take drastic measures:
And the chicken hawks have wasted no time circling over the tsunami zone, as The Straits Times reported:,5562,293773,00.html
With so much cruelty abounding amid the misery, some good news is in order. As Mark Burnett has demonstrated, everybody loves a Survivor. He might want Malawati on the next edition. Richard Hatch wouldn't stand a chance.

Is That A Hot Dog, Or Are You Just Glad To See Me?

One hot dog truck in Baldwin, NY, gave a new definition to customer service.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Tsunami Bad Enough Without Media Having To Create Sympathy

It's heartening to see NBC has fully grasped the scope of the tsunami disaster and sent not only a cadre of correspondents, but no less than Nightly News anchor newbie Brian Williams to Aceh to develop some street cred and shake off the rep that he's great behind a desk but still finds ill-fitting those ubiquitous vests that journalists on foreign assignments wear to indicate they're reporting from some far-flung locale.
Williams was on the phone when he filed this morning for "Today." We'll see tonight whether he shakes off the jet lag from 30 hours of flying, and eminently confident he'll be well coiffed to go live, unlike his colleague Kevin Sites, who over the weekend not only didn't bother brushing his rock-star hair, but failed to brush his face as well. This was apparently a way to show empathy with the locals struggling to survive.
That should be easy enough to do given the bottomless supply of tragic stories in the tsunami zone. So why did "Today" producers feel a need to put music behind Ann Curry's package about a Sri Lankan man who lost his wife and daughter? Nobody needed help getting a lump in their throat as he described holding his daughter's hand in the final seconds of her life. Sure, it's early in the morning, but give us a little credit.
One of the great foreign correspondents in front of the tsunami story is CBS's Barry Petersen (full disclosure: I once worked at CBS News Radio, where I was on the receiving end of many a Petersen dispatch). During his long tenure roaming the world, Petersen has seen his share of strife, death and destruction.
It was refreshing for him to remind us that journalists are human too. Sure, you're supposed to remain apart from a story so you can give a clear, lucid account of what's unfolding. But Petersen's dispatch on "Sunday Morning" showed how hard it is in Thailand, revealing that he couldn't help but cry hearing tale after woeful tale about decimated families and viewing photos of smiling, beautiful children forever frozen in time.
Of course, you don't need pictures to have your heart rendered. On yesterday's "All Things Considered" Jennifer Ludden interviewed a blogger in Singapore, who spoke of a brother-in-law who lost at least 50 relatives in Aceh.
Ludden kept her composure, but you could tell it wasn't easy. As these and other stories continue to unfold, you'll grow suspicious when correspondents don't shed a tear.