Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Tragedy Keeps Brian Williams Away From Mardi Gras While Last-Minute Fill-In Sees Her Star Ascend

Pinch-Hitting Campbell Brown Could Be A Starter Soon
Condolences to Brian Williams and his family over the death of his sister, who lost a long battle with breast cancer.
Which is why you saw Campbell Brown last night anchoring "NBC Nightly News" from New Orleans while still seeing his taped "exclusive" interview with Brownie further fulminating about FEMA and the Dark Lord Chertoff.
That means Williams won't be there for Mardi Gras, a coda for the last six months for Williams, who mightily burnished his credentials as he was inside the Superdome as the roof started to peel off six months ago today.
Williams has made repeated trips to the region to monitor progress and keep track of the human toll, modulating emotions while trying to provide sufficient context. His approach is a welcome antidote to an overwrought Anderson Cooper, who can stop being strident right about now.
For Brown, it's a strong vote of confidence as her star continues to burn brighter amid speculation that Katie Couric will jump ship to CBS.
Brown looked none the worse for the wear despite spending more than two weeks on the air daily in Torino, first filing Olympic wrapups during the week for "Today", while holding down her regular gig co-hosting "Weekend Today."
If Couric decamps to West 57th St., slotting Brown in next to Matt Lauer would be a no-brainer. Natalie Morales could take her spot weekends, or move to weekday newsreader, if Ann Curry goes full-time to "Dateline," which could happen.
Beyond that, the bench gets a little thinner. The suits might look over the river to MSNBC, though the pickings are a tad slim there, and given its sickly ratings, not much in the way of name recognition.
One possibility to investigate, and she's already in 30 Rock: Darlene Rodriguez, who co-anchors the morning news on WNBC-TV. She's got chops as a reporter, keeps interviews moving and her happy talk tends to be more engaging than insipid.
And if you think all this desk jockeying is a little much, consider that "Today" is purported to make a $250 million profit. Talk about much.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Christopher Glenn's Last Roundup

Radio News Legend Rides Off Into Retirement After 35 Years at CBS

"Oh, Charlie, I’m flabbergasted. What can I say. It’s really nice. Time on the Roundup now is eight minutes past the hour."
And those were the final words most people heard from the smooth-as-silk bass of Christopher Glenn as anchor of the "World News Roundup" on CBS News Radio (the broadcast runs 10 minutes, but most stations in major markets cut out at eight past to do traffic. Shame they couldn't make an exception on this day).
Charlie would be Charles Osgood, who voiced a lyrical two-minute tribute to Glenn on the Roundup, which you can hear at http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/02/22/entertainment/main1337111.shtml, along with Glenn's riveting account of the shuttle Challenger explosion 20 years ago.
"His CBS colleagues not only admired and respected him," said Osgood, "they wanted to sound like him."
Indeed. Often imitated, but never duplicated. And you could hurt your larynx trying.
As Glenn did the final time check of his 35-year career at CBS, it sounded like he got a little choked up, which is understandable given the circumstances, but especially worthy of mention as it may have been the first time he got that emotional in a half-century of broadcasting.
Glenn may be signing off, but for the diminishing few who still aspire to a career in radio news, his checkered career at the mic and behind the scenes as an award-winning writer and producer should be studied intently.
It's quite a legacy and for those who worked with him over the years like myself, it was one that was a privilege to be a part of.

Vin Scully Re-Ups With Dodgers, Earth Can Continue Spinning On Its Axis

Not that it was ever in doubt, but Vin Scully has signed a two-year deal to stay behind the mike as the voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers through 2008.
In case you're scoring at home, that would make 59 years covering the travails of dem Bums turned Beach Bums.
"All I have ever really done, all I have ever really accomplished is to talk about the accomplishments of others," Scully said, with his characteristic modesty.
And that's been enough for generations of Dodger fans over six decades.
All of a sudden it feels warm outside. Let's play ball.

Monday, February 20, 2006

CBS Report On Manners Tries A Little Too Hard To Please

Not That We Want To Be Mean About It Or Anything
In an otherwise-absorbing report on CBS Sunday Morning about manners, or the lack thereof, Martha Teichner showed how being nice could be nice for the bottom line by pointing to Southwest Airlines as a paragon of corporate courtesy.
True, the airline is known for generally friendly employees, whose default position is a smile. You may not get everything you want, but at least they'll be nice about it.
Teichner asked rhetorically whether this corporate culture was resonating, to which she answered how Southwest was the only major airline to make a profit last year. While that's correct, it was a leap to assert that employees happy, peppy and bursting with love for their passengers was the reason.
I'm sure that doesn't hurt, but also consider:

--Southwest has an uncomplicated fare structure, with fare prices and frequent departures throughout the country.
--It keeps costs down by only having one type of airplane -- a 737 -- to service.
--It bought fuel hedges, which limited the airline's exposure to runaway gas prices, at least through 2008.
--Southwest has all-coach service, and limits refreshments to drinks and a bag of pretzels or nuts, no matter how long the flight.
--Because it prides itself on a quick turnaround for its planes, Southwest keeps its fleet in the air longer each day. More flights, more money.

And yes, having a pleasant experience while aboard, definitely motivates passengers to book flights. But that it is only a small part of the equation, if it is a part at all.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Cheney Fan Club Goes Begging For Members On Pages of Corpus Christi Caller-Times

Thanks But No Thanks For The Scoop, Mr. Vice President

Sure, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times got the first phone call about Dick Cheney shooting up Harry Whittington.
It's not every day that a small paper in South Texas is first with what's become the lead story for the last three days.
Still, the Caller-Times is calling Cheney and Co. on not coming clean sooner. See, they first got the call from the Armstrong Ranch 18 hours after Whittington was sprayed with buckshot.

On future visits to South Texas, Cheney can count on the same kind of cordial reception he's received before. But he might want to bear in mind that the Caller-Times takes phone calls on Saturday evenings as well as Sunday mornings.

Despite going hunting in Republican-friendly territory, Cheney was not warmly received by letter writers to the Caller-Times who are apparently not in the habit of mincing words. Said one Albert Pena III:

I staunchly oppose gun control but recognize that certain people should not be allowed to own, carry or use guns. Prohibition of this right is reasonable when it concerns felons, the mentally challenged, and Vice President Dick Cheney.

At the same time, though, Cheney does have his defenders. Or, at least, the media has its detractors. The paper asked in an online poll whether the White House should have disclosed the incident on Saturday night instead of waiting. Some 56 percent, as of this writing, voted yes. A majority, true, but hardly a mandate. And those who say nay are blaming someone else for the hubbub besides the shooter.

Among the anonymous comments from those who voted:

"Who cares? This has happened to practically everyone who has spent any time hunting quail in S. Texas," which is kind of scary when you think about it.

Wrote another: "Reminds me of when Gerald Ford hit a guy on the head with a golf ball. The press is politicizing this issue." Of course, news of that traveled in less time than 18 hours, but what are facts to a fulminating Republican?

And here's one that may have come from the White House Press Office:

"The national media is just upset that some little nothing reporter from a nothing paper broke the news."

Take that, David Gregory!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Torino Pub Alert: Olympic Media Gets Heads-Up From Johnny Weir's Mom

The media has been lapping up whatever quotes U.S. skater Johnny Weir throws at them, as he sashays his way to the Olympic skating finals. Weir has called himself "princessy" -- so reporters don't have to otherwise write in code -- and said after he won the U.S. nationals that his mother was "probably getting drunk right now."
However, Mom isn't chastened by the boy she said was teased a lot, and had hockey pucks shot at him while he practiced at the local ice rink. Patti Weir admits to a wild streak in her salad days. Like Mom, like fabulous son.
"And yes, I'm going to have a drink when this is all over. I just want the press to know that right now."
Duly noted.
Suffice to say, after two-plus weeks of the Olympics, there'll be more than a few members of the Fourth Estate bellying up to the bar in an attempt to one-up Patti.

Firing Squad For Drug Smugglers Has Aussie Media Juiced Up

In A Country With No Death Penalty, Executing Heroin Lowlifes Is A Big Deal

The lead story Down Under is word that Indonesia will execute two Australians who were the ringleaders of a heroin smuggling ring operating out of Bali.
Australia, which has no death penalty, made a big push for clemency. Indonesia, choosing a more draconian tack in the war on drugs, doesn't want anything sullying its tourism cash cow on Bali, where Aussies make a quick hop sort of like we do to the Bahamas or Cabo.
So the pair -- the leaders of the so-called Bali Nine -- have a date with the wrong end of a bullet.

Which has made the Australian media apoplectic, to say the least.
The thought that one of their own, even remorseless drug dealers, facing a firing squad is more than many can handle.
The Age in Melbourne opined: "They were willing to peddle a drug that causes untold misery and death. They deserve to pay a heavy price for their deeds, but not even this reprehensible crime justifies a punishment that denies all hope of redemption or rehabilitation."
However, Rupert Murdoch's Herald Sun, wasn't passing out any hankies, and predictably dismissed widespread criticism of the Australian Federal Police for tipping off Indonesian authorities. "Australians should be grateful that they nipped in the bud this attempt to put more heroin on our streets."

Now that the verdict is in, the media dusted off some sidebars that were likely in the can anticipating the sentence.
The Sydney Morning Herald, which reported Prime Minister John Howard was almost in tears when commenting on the case, has an intriguing sidebar about firing squads, including a nugget that the paramilitary shooters practice on dolls, and no doubt guilty dolls at that.

The Daily Telegraph in Sydney notes how most of the firing squad's guns actually have blanks, and none of the volunteers know who fires the fatal shot, in order to soothe their conscience. And apparently the Indonesians aren't fond of media circuses for their executions. You won't see the Aussie equivalent of Anderson Cooper or Rita Cosbie doing live standups on the killing field.

They are generally carried out in remote and deserted places in the night to ensure there are no witnesses. The time and place is a closely guarded secret and decoy cars are sent out from the jails to foil attempts by the media to witness them.

Although, the Indonesians might have reason to be camera-shy, As the Herald-Sun notes:
"Should the firing squad miss, the commander has the right to shoot the condemned in the head with his pistol."

You just hate when that happens.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Rolling Stones Deny They Were Cuckolded About "Cocks" And "Come"

It Was Only Rock N' Roll, Even If The NFL Didn't Like It
And now comes the backpedaling over the Rolling Stones' Super Bowl half-time less-than-extravaganza.
If you believe the latest words from the band's camp, they were not under the thumb of the nervous nellies at the NFL, which "asked" that two words be censored to the TV audience during their concert.
The way Stones mouthpiece Fran Curtis puts it, Mick and the boys couldn't get any satisfaction from the league no matter how hard they tried. It was a bitch, but they soldiered on. Talk about rough justice.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Puncturing The Myth of the Rolling Stones' Super Bowl Censorship

Five-Second Delay Doesn't Mean ABC Did NFL's Bidding And Bleeped Jagger

If you watched the Rolling Stones play the Super Bowl halftime show, you inevitably kept a close eye on Mick Jagger as he strutted over the lip-locked stage at Ford Field to see how far he might push the envelope.

Not far, as it turned out. So, when a couple of racier lyrics were part of the playlist, the more eagle-eared in the audience noticed Jagger, in effect, censor himself. That happened, most notably, with "Start Me Up," when Jagger belts out, "You make a dead man," um, arrive. Something like that.

Jagger actually refrained from uttering the actual word. Instead, many reporters instantly assumed ABC had kiboshed Mick, fearing a verbal version of a wardrobe malfunction.
Jon Pareles, whose review of the Stones' appeared in The New York Times sports section yesterday (which would be odd in any other paper but the Times), bleated: "The Rolling Stones sang three songs for the Super Bowl XL halftime show last night and were censored in two of them — not a bad average for a band of sexagenarians who still ride a reputation as provocateurs."

If only that was true.

Pareles implies it was ABC that did the censoring on-site. In fact, as it was apparent to anyone watching, Jagger was mum to the TV audience before he would otherwise sing the word that rhymes with mum, at the prior request of the squeamish NFL.

"The Rolling Stones were aware of our plan, which was to simply lower the volume on his microphone at those two appropriate moments," NFL flack Brian McCarthy told Reuters.
Mark Caro in the Chicago Tribune, gets the real story right and provides some historical context. Indeed, the Stones, ever the savvy businessmen, have known early on the benefits of going along to get along.

Thirty-nine years after the Rolling Stones begrudgingly changed "Let's Spend the Night Together" to "Let's Spend Some Time Together" on "The Ed Sullivan Show," the '60s rock icons were back in self-censoring mode for their Super Bowl halftime performance Sunday.

Leave it to the bemused British press to suggest, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, that Jagger should get into the habit of such things. From The Times of London:

Some title advice: end the youthful flirtation with “Mr D.” and dance instead with “Mr J. C.”, while expressing Sympathy for the Prophet. In Will You Be My Lover Tonight? replace “Lover” with “TV Dinner Companion”. Enrich Sticky Fingers by amending it to Sticky Toffee Pudding.
All this fuss and not a single nipple ring in sight.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Radio Station Scams Media About Gay Baiting "American Idol" Host

Jock Pretends To Try And Out Seacrest. Newspaper Falls For Gag
At first blush it sounded like a good story.
The impossibly peripatetic Ryan Seacrest was at a popular New Jersey radio show, "The Jersey Guys" on New Jersey 101.5. to talk about the highest profile of his zillion projects, hosting "American Idol."
But as The Trentonian, a raggy little tabloid reported, co-host cum yabbo Craig Carton wasted little time quizzing Seacrest about which team he played for.
"Ryan," Carton said, "Are you gay?
"Ryan, are you a homosexual?
"With that, Seacrest was headed for the door."I can’t stay here, man," Seacrest said. "I gotta jet."
I posted this story yesterday on the New York Radio Message Board, after spotting it on Gawker. That was followed by a lively debate on the idiocy that passes for a radio show courtesy of Carton and his guilty-by-association partner Ray Rossi.
But then there were whispers that Seacrest wasn't even in the studio, although the Jersey Guys made it seem like he was. Then came word that it was all a set-up. A bit. Somebody pretending to be Seacrest. Ha-ha.
Which prompted an unusual bylined article in today's Trentonian from editor Carl Barbatti, that starts: "We were scammed."
So, what went wrong? Maybe it was a matter of trust. The usual Jersey Guys patter involves talking about the news of the day rather than schmoozing with celebrities. Take them for what they are, but at least they didn't have a rep for faking news and interviews.
You could say The Trentonian should have exercised some due diligence. What the hell would Seacrest be doing in the middle of Jersey when he also does a top-rated morning drive radio show in Los Angeles, has "Idol" duties, tapes "American Top 40" and is now the first face of the "E" network.
Even Seacrest would appear to have his limits, and a radio station in central Jersey would likely be one of them.
But then again, NJ101.5 FM is a respected, high-rated talk station that hosts the "Ask The Governor" program. If it's good enough for Jon Corzine, then why not Seacrest?
Which means this goes beyond radio shtick. Listeners had no reason but to assume Seacrest was in the studio while Carton desperately tried to out him. Does NJ101.5 FM care enough about its credibility to discipline Carton and his producer for duping The Trentonian and other media outlets?
Maybe not enough to detract from management enjoying the notoriety. After all, you might tune in to hear what those wacky Jersey Guys do next.
And don't expect Carton to be repentant anytime soon. As he said on the air yesterday:
"It's mind-boggling to me that this many people give a damn about the sexual preferences of Ryan Seacrest."
Of course, this defense came only after the station was flooded with angry calls, including one that called him a "hate-mongering Jew."
The better course: Carton, Out(ta here).

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

John Roberts Signs Off At CBS To Go On At CNN

He May Have Thought He Was Dan Rather's Apparent, But Sean McManus Thought Otherwise
John Roberts is calling it quits at CBS, after getting passed over to be Dan Rather's successor at the Evening News following years as his chief fill-in.

Roberts, complete with his square jaw, sandy gray hair and blue eyes that made him something of a matinee idol at the network, will soon be at CNN, where he will be a senior national correspondent based in Washington.

"For nearly 14 years at the network, and two years at our Miami station, I have been a part of CBS News, and it a huge part of me. Ultimately, though, all relationships must come to an end, and regrettably, it is time to end my relationship here," he wrote in an email to colleagues.

For Roberts, being the chief White House correspondent and anchor of the news on Sunday night while waiting for Rather to leave had apparently worn thin, especially if that big paycheck and higher profile that awaited him would prove elusive.

"Leaving CBS News will be difficult - no question. The ache of anxious anticipation has been gnawing away at me for some time now," he wrote.

Roberts' departure will be a loss. He had the reporting chops to go with his good looks. Roberts was as comfortable ad-libbing a stand-up on the White House lawn as he was reporting from a moving Humvee in Kuwait as it screamed across the desert, or spending days in the stink of post-Katrina New Orleans.

I mostly worked with him in radio, where he'd come in on Sundays to read the 3 p.m. newscast whenever he was in the building to do that night's Evening News. Other anchors, more accustomed to TV, would dread such assignments.
But Roberts, who cut his teeth in radio both as a deejay and newsman in his native Canada, loved the change of pace, and was good as any in reading copy to the time allotted, or swapping out stories on the fly if something went wrong or there was breaking news.
It may have been just your meat-and-potatoes newscast, but Roberts gave it a little extra sheen and authority.

Too bad CBS couldn't have found some other way to give him a showcase. It would be to CNN's advantage to do just that.

Bring Out Your Dead: N.Y. Times Has A New Obituaries Editor

A Chance For Gray Lady To Reset Her Priorities And Pay Proper Tribute
Word came down earlier this week that The New York Times tapped Bill McDonald, who has worn more than a few hats in the newsroom on West 43rd St., to be its new obits editor. He replaces Charles Strum, who moves to the night desk.
In making the announcement, Bill Keller said writing obits was a "journalistic form in which this paper has always taken special pride."
Which obviously means Keller doesn't read his own paper's obits often enough.
Sure, there's a swell valedictory today by Peter Applebome about Coretta Scott King, with lots of the little details that keep you reading an obit over two-thirds of a page.
She stunned Dr. King's father, who presided over the wedding, by demanding that the promise to obey her husband be removed from the wedding vows. Reluctantly, he went along. After the wedding, the bridegroom fell asleep in the car while the new Mrs. King drove back to Atlanta.
Good stuff, indeed.
The Times obits are also good at remembering those who were captured in a moment of time, then faded from memory but still more than worthy of mention, e.g. Yippie co-founder Stew Albert, who is also mentioned today.
Yet, The Times obit page too often acts like it dirties itself when it has to cover the deaths of movie stars who check out way too early. For them, it's a few inches of wire copy or a brief at the bottom of the page. Chris Penn most recently got that treatment.
Then there's the Times' inimitable practice for the lesser lights that have been granted some precious newsprint to put out the obit days after the person died, when other media outlets have long since disposed of such news. This attitude of "you're dead when we say you're dead" is as baffling as it is arrogant.
We've already taken The Times to task on several occasions for its most grievous obit sin -- virtually ignoring the deaths of its own people. More than anything else, this should be job one for McDonald to fix.
Beyond saying a proper farewell to those deserving of such treatment --- most recently Constance Hays and David Rosenbaum -- it should be a matter of professional pride.
Does Keller and Co. feel even the slightest bit of embarrassment that the most in-depth coverage of Rosenbaum's murder last month as well as the most heartfelt tributes to him -- Rosenbaum was about so much more than his bylines -- appeared in The Washington Post?
Even the Jan. 14 story about the memorial service for Rosenbaum, attended by 700 people including members of Congress, was relegated to the bottom of the obit page. The tributes to Rosenbaum were diluted with information about the murder investigation, a story the Post owned from the start.
Time for The Times to make sure it takes care of its own one last time. If McDonald is looking for his own legacy, there's no better place to start.