As you likely know at this point, Chris Matthews retired from his show Hardball on MSNSBC. I only saw a video of his comments resigning, so I didn’t see what I was told about subsequently, Steve Kornacke's on-air reaction of sadness. I’m sure it was a very tough position for him to be in, from what was described.
Not much is known in great specifics. As far as I know, nothing that happened is “bad,” but more that he just crossed the line one too many times and too far. The issue came to a head last week when journalist Laura Bassett wrote a harsh op-ed column here in GQ. It not only put Matthews career in larger perspective, but linked to a 2017 article she wrote about an awkward and very uncomfortable experience appearing on MSNBC with an unnamed host -- who she now identifies as Matthews, and details much of what was said.
In 2016, right before I had to go on his show and talk about sexual-assault allegations against Donald Trump, Matthews looked over at me in the makeup chair next to him and said, “Why haven’t I fallen in love with you yet?”
And apparently – from another profile of him a few years ago, as well as Ms. Bassett's – this is an issue he’s had for a long time, where women on his staff have had to sort of block him and steer him away before he makes the women guests too uncomfortable. Nothing physical, but overly squeamish. So, this seems to be an ongoing things with him – I don’t think MSNBC fires him for just being too uncomfortably “complimentary” one time only – for something that, even if it's happened a couple times with a warning, you suspend a guy for a few weeks or whatever. It seems like something they’ve discussed with him. And it comes on the heels of him having to apologize a weeks for his odd comments about the rise of Nazi Germany in relation to the Sanders campaign. So, it was probably crossing the line one too many times, too much, and it went public.
As for his on-air comments explaining his resignation, I wasn’t bowled over by them. To be fair, I don’t expect anyone to lay out their guts on the table in public. That’s their choice and up to them. So be it. Furthermore, he wasn’t apologizing, but saying that he was quitting. However, I found it nonetheless a disingenuous statement. He wasn’t retiring because, as he said, he just made some inappropriate compliments. It was clearly much more than that (from the recent complaints and the article in the past), and came right after his Nazi comment. But still, none of it was mean-spirited, none of it was to hurt, some of it probably was to compliment. But I’m sure it was way too much, offending and happened A LOT.
As some readers here may know, I’m not a fan of his. I even wrote a long article about it several years back on the Huffington Post. (What prompted it was when he had Ann Coulter on for a full hour and gave her an open platform to spew her hate.) I finally gave up watching him for a few years. Only recently did I start watching Hardball again, though only for a segment or two at most. But my not liking his work was never because I thought he was a bad guy. He clearly adores politics. It’s because for a smart guy -- which he is -- I find that he doesn’t think enough before he talks. To me, he just blurts out words. Some are really smart, but far too many need a big filter. And this unfortunately appears to be part of that. Honestly, I’m actually sorry to see him go for this reason. But I understand the reason. And I’m sure that it’s much more than what he said, some inappropriate compliments. You don’t fire a guy for that. I just sense that it’s gone on for a long time, and finally got too much.
I absolutely love watching political news, endlessly. But when there's NO actual news to report (at any time, but especially on Primary Days until the polls close), I hate endless repetition of nothingness instead of not covering important news around the country and the world.
And "nothingness" is not hyperbole. When it's Election Day, there's no story until the polls close, and the votes start to get counted. Reports about the weather and turnout and last-minute campaigning are fine. But 12 hours of "Breaking news: People continue to vote in New Hampshire" is irresponsible, most especially when there actual is actual news that is actually important.
For instance, the Republican Senate under Mitch McConnell just blocked three bills that would provided election security. Two of the bills would have required campaigns to alert the FBI and Federal Election Commission in case of foreign offers of assistance -- something one wouldn't think was terribly controversial, since accepting assistance from a foreign government is against the law (unless, apparently, you're a Republican president under impachment). The other bill would have provide additional election funding and banned voting machines from being connected to the internet. All blocked by the Republican Senate, not even voted down. And none of it covered by the TV news media, as far as I can tell.
And then there's the story of Trump chastising the Department of Justice's sentencing recommendation for the convicted Roger Stone, which the DOJ subsequently overruled the lawyers on the case and said they'd be lowering the recommendation -- upon which four Department lawyers resigned from the case, one of whom resigned from the Department of Justice entirely.
Happily, this story was not ignored. Unhappily, not by much. This is a major, significant story. Former DOJ lawyers have said that they're unaware of anything like this happening at the agency before. It speaks to more than just this one case (which is substantive on its own), but also a breakdown of the Department of Justice, inappropriate interference by the president, and a crisis of confidence. And being short shrift in an "Oh, by the way" kind of effort doesn't cut it -- most especially when for 12 hours you're covering the Breaking Story that "People are voting in New Hampshire."
One other thing of note about this story which I haven't heard mentioned today. And that's how as big as its impact is on the Department of Justice as a government agency, it may conceivably have zero impact on the Roger Stone case.
The DOJ sentencing recommendation is just that and nothing more. It's a recommendation to the judge. And the judge is under no obligation to follow it. Keep in mind that when the lawyers recommended a long sentence for Paul Manafort, the judge gave him much less. That could always be the case here with Roger Stone. In fact, it could also be the opposite -- if the DOJ now recommends a short sentence for Stone, the judge could ignore that and give him a much longer one.
And all this, along with the witness firings, by Trump within just a week of his acquittal.
And all I could think of was -- rest easy, this time it's not about the GOP enabling Trump and being complicit -- that the question to ask is not about Trump but whether Susan Collins (R-ME) has finally learned her lesson.
History suggests probably not, and it's too little too late if she has, but it's still the more interesting question, since almost no one but her thought the question was ever if Trump had. Or will.
Every year when there's a Jewish holiday, TV stations tend to do a little piece wishing "our Jewish friends" a happy Purim or whatever. This year, WGN in Chicago sort of screwed up. ("Sort of" in this case shall be defined as royally.)
An editor for Chicago Lawyer magazine quickly noted the major gaffe and sent out a really blunt, very pointed Tweet to the station.
To those not as familiar with such images, that's an altered Star of David badge on a concentration camp uniform during the Holocaust.
This is known as a Yipes moment.
WGN is the major independent station in Chicago, and used to carry all the Cubs games for over 40 years, on both TV and radio. (They still carry a few games on TV, but none on radio.) They even carried the White Sox games. And still carry the Bulls and Blackhawks. So, as you can imagine, I watched it a LOT. Most people probably known them as one of the first "superstations" in the early days of cable, and they still broadcast nationally on cable as WGN America. Their reputation has always been very middle-of-the-road, very wholesome, very Midwestern moderate to a bit conservative. (More conservative in its earlier days, a bit less so today.) In fact, WGN radio still has an hour-long Noon Farm Report every weekday -- the station has a very strong single and broadcasts throughout the Farm Belt.
The station sent an apology to Mr. Karlinsky, and directed readers to their WGN News Twitter account. And also offered several on-air apologies, and had a page of apology up here on their website.
It's a reasonably good apology, and it's clear they're mortified. But I still have to shake my head a bit at their effort to correct things. Well-meaning but not pulling it off as smoothly as I suspect they wished.
For one thing, an article about this on Talking Points Memo references that the station posted an apology on its website and wrote that the graphic used on the air was from their file of stock graphics and that they "failed to recognize that the image was an offensive Nazi symbol. We are extremely embarrassed and we deeply apologize to our viewers and to the Jewish community for this mistake. Ignorance is not an excuse." Very good, but oddly when you click on the link and go to the WGN webpage with the apology, that wording is changed. No mention of a Nazi symbol. What they say is --
“Last night we ran a story to recognize Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. Regrettably, we failed to recognize that the artwork we chose to accompany the story contained an offensive symbol. This was an unfortunate mistake. Ignorance is not an excuse. We are extremely embarrassed and we deeply apologize to our viewers and to the Jewish community for this mistake.
"We are investigating how this situation occurred, reviewing our in-house policies and making changes in order to avoid such mistakes from happening in the future. Thank you for your understanding. We promise to do better.”
To be clear, that's a solid apology, as I said, and fine. I'm just not sure why the reference to what the mistake actually was is gone. Maybe they heard back that it made things more hurtful. Though it might just have been that they felt it was too embarrassing to the station to mention.
Further, though, they embedded a video of the on-air TV apology -- which was good, and again you tell tell that the anchors are really mortified -- by ending it,“So, let’s take a closer look…” and then run a story about Yom Kippur. At first, my reaction was that this wasn’t a case of “So, let’s take a look…” at all, as if it was their way to make good and be nice, but instead simply a piece they’d planned to do regardless and they just wanted to sound like they were doing something special for their Jewish friends. However, as I watched, I‘m not sure – it sort of seems like they might-well have rushed to find some Jewish temple, any Jewish temple really quickly, to get it on the air in time. I say that because for a story honoring the most solemn and High Holy day for Jews, a day so sacred that famously 50 years ago this year Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers wouldn't pitch in his regular start during the 1965 World Series because if tell on Yom Kippur, a day of deep reflection, no work, and fasting, WGN came up with a temple SO laid-back that the guy blowing the shofar is in a t-shirt. And further, on this day of fasting, most of the report shows temple members are sitting around a sloppy communal table eating! Clearly they were breaking the fast, but "eating" is really not the way most Jews think of describing Yom Kippur. This says to me that WGN probably did rush to get a story done, and the morning service was likely over by the point they arrived. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the shofar-blowing was over, too, and they asked him to do it for the camera -- which might possibly explain why he was in t-shirt. Or not.
The TV apology also, like on the webpage, doesn't explain what the "offensive image" was. That's really not necessary, and perhaps it was felt it would have detracted from the solemnity of the day, though in some ways I wonder if it might have been more appropriate to do a story about that rather than just a traditional piece about The Meaning of Yom Kippur. In a messy room with juice bottles lying around, and religious leaders dressed in their casuals. That way you address the offense so that it hopefully won't be repeated elsewhere. And ultimately, that offensive image is why you'r apologizing in the first place.
Again, I do get the sense that their heart was in the right place. They just could have used a tad more guidance on repeatedly getting it right. Here's the on-air apology and report.
It appears that Mark Evanier is going to start posting long tales about the wonderful Stan Freberg, who passed away yesterday. Given that Mark was such good friends with the fellow, and worked with him, as well, and is one of the best storytellers I know, I'm guessing they should be required reading.
The first piece is about Freberg's classic Stan Freberg Presents The United States of America -- Volume 1: The Early Years, and why it took 35 years for Volume 2 to get done.
He mentions that his next tale will be about the making of that Volume 2 (on which Mark worked). What he doesn't mention yet is that Volume 2 was released by Rhino Records. Rhino's president at the time was Harold Bronson, a fellow I know -- and have always been proud that he was the one who put out Volume 2.
You can read the first one here.
I often talk about and post articles by my friend Nell Minow, the combination corporate governance world expert and Movie Mom film critic. But sometimes it's good to know from whence they came.
This is a terrific article here from the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin about Nell's father, Newton Minow. Newton Minow has the rare distinction of being probably the only FCC Chairman in the history of the department who anyone can name -- this includes the current head -- and what makes it all the more impressive is that he was FCC Chairman over a half a century ago, 54 years, That's because of his famous speech, still remembered today, calling television a "vast wasteland." Oddly, as the article points out, Minow had never thought of his speech that way when he was preparing it, but rather as his "public interest" speech, the topic he felt was of most critical concern.
(I particularly loved reading that. Some of you may recall that just last week I wrote a piece here about the sports radio host who went on a ranting sexist smear, and I noted specifically -- because it's always struck me as critical -- that radio stations are licensed to do only three things -- broadcast in the “public interest, convenience and necessity.”)
Left out of the article (understandably, I guess, for a law journal...) is that TV producer Sherwood Schwartz was so bothered by the FCC Chairman daring to call his industry a "vast wasteland" that when Schwartz needed a name for a boat on his new show, he called it, 'the S.S. Minnow.' And so it was that the Captain and his little buddy Gilligan took their passengers on the ill-fated three hour cruise.
Beyond being immortalized on Gilligan's Island, Newton Minow has had an actually-illustrious career, dating back to working with Adlai Stevenson in his runs for the presidency, and then JFK, to being a senior partner and early political adviser to Barack Obama, and being one of the leading organizers of all presidential debates, including the first one with Kennedy and Nixon. And much else politically in between.
That and, of course, being poker-playing buddy with my dad. Actually, one of my dad's favorite stories concerns when Minow had left Glencoe and gone to Washington and the FCC. He had to go on a trip overseas, and so called my father (who had been his doctor) to find out about what shots he needed. "Newt," my dad said with a bit of surprise, "you do know you have the Surgeon General of the United States just down the hall, and the Bethesda Medical Center to check with." But Newt wanted to stick with what he knew and felt comfortable with. My dad liked that.
(And it's from Newton Minow that I was given -- and still have -- two prize possessions. Old 45 RPM singles of campaign songs for Adlai Stevenson running for the White House in 1956 and for John F. Kennedy four years later.)
Anyway, take a look at the article here about a interesting man, who continues to practice law at the age of 88.
I was just watching ESPN, and they were doing a story about Lance Stephenson of the Indiana Pacers popping off about how well he was doing in the playoffs against LeBron James of the Miami Heat. At the end, the host, Linda Cohn, said to analyst P.J. Carlessimo -- "Okay, it's really interesting. If Lance Stephenson is so great, why does he have to tell us he's getting under Lebron's skin?"
Well...hmm, here's one possible answer: because he's egotistical. I mean, what a concept, a star athlete with an ego. Who would imagine? A star athlete who brags and postures. I mean, one day we may even see an athlete who scores a touchdown or tackles a player or breaks up a pass and then dances around for the crowd. A player who slam dunks and then pounds his chest as he runs down the court. A ballplayer who hits a home run and stands at the plate making sure the crowd sees him admiring it. An athlete who has a microphone jammed in his face and asked, "Tell us how you did so great and won the game with that play?"
Yes, yes, I know this is not likely, but just imagine it happening one day. Imagine!
"If Lance Stephenson is so great," she asks, "why does he have to tell us?"
I should note that this is the same host who literally five minutes later led off a segment, "Let's go to Johnny Manziel. A man who likes attention" -- and then put on screen a photo Manziel tweeted of him at a pool party surrounded by a dozen girls in bikinis and guys in trunks, most preening for the camera holding up drinks.
Has ESPN not re-run -- and re-run -- videotape of Rickey Henderson stealing a base to break Ty Cobb's record, ripping out the base, holding it above his head and should, "Now, I am the greatest of all time"??!
Has ESPN not endlessly videotape of Muhammad Ali, for goodness sake, relentlessly proclaiming himself, "The Greatest!!!"?
Has ESPN already forgotten replaying the Seattle Seahawk's Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman's epic meltdown rant after the last Super Bowl about how great he was and so much better than Michael Crabtree -- "I’m the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s what you’re going to get!" -- and has gone on ESPN to debate Skip Bayless while proclaiming, "I'm better at life than you!"???
Why does he have to tell us?
C'mon, he doesn't have to. He chose to. He wants to. He wants the attention. He's posturing. He likes the acclaim. It's entertainment, it's show biz. He draws fans to himself, and that can raise one's value. And besides, you ask him to. You goad him to. You pray to the TV Sports God he does.
And maybe, too, it's gamesmanship, where players -- all the time -- try to get into the head of your opponent. Try to get them thinking about you and not about what they're supposed to do. So, you tell reporters how good you're doing against someone, and that they are lost and don't stand a chance against you, because you're so much better..
And yes, maybe he is overcompensating, and he's not actually that great. It happens. Sometimes, after all, players try to build himself up, psyche himself that he can do the job.
But maybe not. Especially when you yourself, minutes later, explain how so much of it all is show biz. Including what you do.
In fairness, it's not inherently an unreasonable question, if you're seriously asking and truly want to analyze the motivations behind the statement. What's unreasonable is how it was asked, the suggestion that great athletes don't brag, and the context, most especially given what was said mere minutes later.
But sometimes, even when asking questions, you just want controversy. Which sort of answers your own question.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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