Get me rewrite.

One of the stories in journalism these days is about artificial intelligence, and what it’s doing to the industry, as news organizations race to their ultimate goal of having no actual employees (but still lots of readers/viewers).

My alma mater, the Columbus Dispatch, was embarrassed when the AI it was using to write high-school sports stories (thereby confirming the silent opinion of scores of newsroom observers of the sports department, ha ha just kidding not you Kirk but definitely that one guy whose name I forget) glitched so badly it was turning out stuff like:

“The Worthington Christian [[WINNING_TEAM_MASCOT]] defeated the Westerville North [[LOSING_TEAM_MASCOT]] 2-1 in an Ohio boys soccer game on Saturday,” the story reads.

May I just say that I would buy, and wear the shit out of, a T-shirt that reads “Go [[WINNING_TEAM_MASCOT]],” especially if it came in Dri-Fit. Mistakes like that never would have seen the light of day in the olden days, but apparently this one did, because AI not only wrote that sentence, it published it, too. Oopsie.

Today, The Detroit News had a great story about a guy in Port Huron, the sort who would have once been described as a “gadfly,” who has set up an entire local-“news” website written by AI, right down to fake photos of the non-existent reporters whose bylines appear on the stories.

Here’s “Dwight Dixon:”

And here’s “Jurgen Diggler:”

Can’t forget “Stephanie Love:”

I would link to The Detroit News story, but it’s paywalled, because real reporters have to eat and pay rent. But I’ll summarize the best I can: The owner of this site was hard to find, and was traced through the administrators of a Facebook page connected to another publication, which was eventually rebranded as the Blue Water Current, and it sounds as though everyone involved is a real piece of work:

One of the administrators of the Current’s Facebook page is Kevin Lindke, who works at Blue Water Healthy Living. Smith [owner of Blue Water Healthy Living] said he hired Lindke in June because he liked how the self-appointed community watchdog kept tabs on public officials.

Lindke routinely files public records requests and scours government documents and court transcripts. He sometimes breaks news on his popular Facebook page before the local newspaper.

He isn’t above ad hominem attacks, referring to frequent targets as “Twerp,” “Miss Piggy” and “Lying Little Munchkin.” He disparages public officials daily as drunks, philanderers and pedophile sympathizers.

(May I just say? We waste a lot of time talking about whether we’re courting civil war or whatever, but if someone called me or anyone else a pedophile without producing a rap sheet to back it up, I’d be on their doorstep with an axe, not hiring that person. So I’m already inclined to think everyone in this story is not what you’d call quality folks.)

Lindke says his goal is to be a “trusted and respected local news source,” but so far it’s not going well, as the AI is producing copy like this:

“The occurrence of the storm on July 20th, a date forever marked in our collective memory, bore witness to the unwelcomed presence of golf-ball sized hail.”

Also, Lindke referred to his “staff” thusly:

“We’ve assembled a top-tier team of writers,” he wrote on Aug. 4.

Anyway, I don’t want to bite the whole News story. I visited Blue Water Current and found a story about the death of Jimmy Buffett. Here’s the top:

I screenshot it because another thing in the DN story is, this guy pulls down stories without explanation. The rest of it doesn’t improve, but it’s a good reminder that AI only regurgitates what it’s learned by reading human-written prose, and hoo-boy is this a good reminder of how shitty that can be. Besides that “iconic” and dumb alliteration in the lead, I also spotted “outpouring,” “arguably,” and this kicker:

In the wake of his passing, one thing is clear: Jimmy Buffett’s music and spirit will continue to inspire and bring joy to generations to come. So, here’s to Jimmy Buffett, the master of chill. Raise your margarita in his honor.

In other words, we have taught AI all this stuff. And people think great writing doesn’t matter anymore.

Posted at 4:15 pm in Media, Popculch | 23 Comments

Work friends.

A former colleague of mine from Fort Wayne, Leo Morris, died Friday. He was an editorial writer, later the ed-page editor of the News-Sentinel, where I was a columnist; we had another friend in common, so he was one of the first people I got to know when I moved to Indiana, and things went on from there.

We were strictly work friends. We didn’t go to lunch, or out for drinks, but every day I’d mosey down to his glassed-in office and we’d have a chat/download, sometimes when he was eating a disgusting “breakfast” from the downstairs vending machines, or putting peanuts into an RC Cola, a snack he’d grown fond of in his Kentucky childhood. I was fond of the solitaire game on his PC, and I’d play it, or leaf through the many political publications the department subscribed to, while he read page proofs. The editorial page was overstaffed and overpaid when I started, with an editor, two writers and a secretary, a holdover from those days when newspapers enjoyed enormous profit margins. The N-S wasn’t as overstaffed as The Columbus Dispatch, but there was always time for solitaire and talking through column and editorial ideas. Also, Leo kept a candy dish in his office, and I like candy, especially those sour cherry balls and Hershey’s Miniatures.

We shared a foundational belief: That we didn’t know what we really thought about anything until we’d written about it. He liked bluegrass music more than I did, but we both loved Warren Zevon. He was a nice guy, even a sweetheart.

Politically, he was conservative, although he called himself a libertarian. In time, I would come to understand libertarians and their philosophy as…well, you know. We’ve all known a few, and it suited Leo, who’d grown up a bookish boy who liked to hold things at arm’s length, and then write about them. It ensures you’ll never have to be disappointed in your side, because your side is ridiculous and never wins elections. I used to tease him that “Being a libertarian means never having to say ‘so help me God,'” i.e. take an oath of office. Only two issues aroused real passion in him:  SCOTUS’ Kelo decision, which he seemed to consider equivalent to genocide as a moral crime, and the fact Jane Fonda wasn’t doing a life sentence for treason, treason I say. (He was a Vietnam vet. He never, ever, ever forgave her.)

I was long gone from the paper by the time Trump was elected, and the last time I’d talked to Leo was after the Goeglein affair, but if I’d have been there, I’d have teased him that he was cheated out of a Washington Post contributor’s spot. As you recall, the WP’s embarrassing Gary Abernathy, the bard of Hillsboro, Ohio, was picked to be the paper’s ed-page Reasonable MAGA voice, the Buckeye Salena Zito, after the paper he edited was one of two or three in the country to endorse Trump for president. But the N-S endorsed him, too, and Leo wrote the editorial. I know he did because he was the only one left in the department, and I recognized his arm’s-length style in the argument: They – as in, the editorial We, intoning as one – didn’t like Trump very much, but they hated Hillary and Trump would probably get bored and resign or leave office early, and then Mike Pence would be president, and they liked him very much. Maybe that was too weird for the WashPost, but whatever.

I don’t know when I soured on even being work friends with Leo; maybe it was after my year in Ann Arbor, when I was toiling on the copy desk. In my absence, Leo had started a blog on the paper’s website, which was unmistakably modeled on Glenn Reynolds’, whom you people who remember the ol’ blogosphere know as Instapundit. Fresh from nine months of vigorous intellectual discussions with smart people, I’d lost my patience with Iraq-war boosterism, and ironic conservative detachment. But the paper was circling the drain at that point, so if his heart really wasn’t in it anymore, neither was anyone else’s.

Then we moved to Michigan, the paper folded and Leo started writing for the Indiana Policy Review, a “think tank” that does no thinking, but is instead a welfare program funded by a couple of rich right-wing Hoosier families for the benefit of one man, Leo’s old boss at the N-S, Craig Ladwig. It was part of a Heritage Foundation seed-the-hinterlands project when it launched around 1990, and never did much, although Mike Pence was on the board of directors, and it was there that he wrote the pieces that gained him a fair amount of ridicule in the 2016 election, especially the one where he claimed smoking doesn’t kill. Jane Mayer found the receipts for The New Yorker:

In a 2008 speech, Pence described himself as “part of what we called the seed corn Heritage Foundation was spreading around the country in the state think-tank movement.” It isn’t fully clear whose money was behind the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, because think tanks, as nonprofits, don’t have to disclose their donors. But the early funders of the Heritage Foundation included some Fortune 500 companies, in fields such as oil, chemicals, and tobacco, that opposed health, safety, and environmental regulations.

Cecil Bohanon, one of two adjunct scholars at Pence’s think tank, had a history of financial ties to tobacco-company front groups, and in 2000 Pence echoed industry talking points in an essay that argued, “Smoking doesn’t kill. In fact, two out of every three smokers doesn’t die from a smoking-related illness.” A greater “scourge” than cigarettes, he argued, was “big government disguised as do-gooder, healthcare rhetoric.” Bohanon, who still writes for the think tank’s publication, also has ties to the Kochs. Last year, John Hardin, the head of university relations for the Charles Koch Foundation, told an Indiana newspaper that the Kochs had been funding Bohanon’s work as a professor of free-market economics at Ball State University “for years.”

Guess what killed Leo, a lifelong smoker? I guess he was the unlucky one out of three.

Leo’s weekly column, offered free to Hoosier newspapers, was picked up by the smaller ones, so he still had a readership. I would hit the IPR site for a little self-induced exasperation, but I always figured that if somehow we were still under the same office roof, we could shoot the shit and share some Hershey’s Miniatures, but then I read this and thought, sadly, that nope, that could never happen:

President Trump did not, in point of fact, ask Vice President Mike Pence to reject the electoral votes resulting from the November balloting, therefore Banks and the other Trump-supporting nominee (Jim Jordan of Ohio) were not supporting efforts to “overturn the election.”

The Constitution gives states the authority over the selection of electoral votes, based on state legislatures’ duly authorized procedures. In several states, notably ones Trump lost by dubious margins or under suspicious circumstances, governors or election officials ignored those procedures and made up new rules on the fly.

Legislators from some of the states asked – formally, in letters – for more time so they could determine whether the illegal conduct was enough reason to toss the existing certification of electors and submit new slates more accurately reflecting the states’ votes.

There is not a consensus among constitutional scholars over what powers the vice president might or might not have over electoral disputes, so we can have a legitimate and (we can only hope) respectful debate over the issue. But to be clear: He was being asked to give those legislatures more time. He wasn’t being asked to overturn anything.

JFC, even Mike Pence didn’t believe that. And note that leap from “suspicious circumstances” to “illegal conduct,” and how close margins in swing states are now “dubious.”

So there you go: Another relationship sundered by MAGA.

When I heard earlier this week that Leo was ill, I sent him a note wishing him well. I wasn’t aware how sick he was, and I’m sure he didn’t get to read it. But I meant every word. We all have to die sometime, but gasping for breath is a terrible way to go. This Indiana Policy Review’s appreciation of him is OK, but in the unmistakable voice of Craig, who drops eye-popping lines like “It can be said that Morris was the last real journalist left in Indiana” and uh, whu-?

Oh well. They won’t be around much longer, either. None of us will, in the earth’s time. Which reminds me that Leo was a climate-change denier, too, and I just smile sadly. You tell your young friends, though, that working at home has its advantages, but you’ll never have the unique relationships of work friends, who are some of the most memorable people I’ve known in my life, and I treasure them. Even the ones who are wrong.

Posted at 5:00 pm in Media | 56 Comments

Fishsticks the Svengali.

I don’t know why I subscribe to Axios. All that smart-brevity stuff is mainly just a news roundup at the beginning and end of the day. Skimmable = skippable, but we don’t have to keep up with everything, do we?

But start a news item this way…

Elon Musk and Tucker Carlson are joining forces…

…and OK, you have my attention. Apparently Tucker is starting a version of his show on Twitter? Fantastic idea. Take Tuck’s elderly, white, terrified viewers and try to explain Twitter to them — that’ll go well. But he’s certainly playing his Svengali role to the hilt, I’d say:

“At the most basic level, the news you consume is a lie — a lie of the stealthiest and most insidious kind,” Carlson said in a video announcing he plans to relaunch his show on Twitter. “Facts have been withheld on purpose along with proportion and perspective. You are being manipulated.”

Hello, pot? This is the kettle. You’re black.

The rest of the story is a little scare-mongering itself, but I’m not going to express confidence that truth will prevail when I can’t open a social-media app without seeing AI bullshit clogging it up, followed by credulous comments.

That said, there is also some excellent AI work going on, and you should follow this guy, who does a lot of it:

Obama looks like he maybe played bass in Sly Stone’s backup band.

The E. Jean Carroll verdict is in, and it’s a good one, if for no other reason than it sets him up for a lifetime of small-dick jokes. She’ll likely never see a dime of her award, but who cares. With a case like this, the headlines and vindication are the settlement. The pussy-grabber finally got his hand slapped. It ain’t prison time, but it’s good enough.

Finally, you may have seen this already, the FBI’s instructional video on how to survive a mass shooting. When “thoughts and prayers” don’t work, and yelling “mental health” does nothing, it’ll be, “you should have watched the video. Then you might not have been shot.”

This stupid country.

Happy Wednesday, all. I got a deadline, and have to go hard today.

Posted at 11:09 am in Current events, Media | 71 Comments

Cabin fever.

The weather rarely gives us a break at this latitude. We had one week — a single week — of glorious, sunny, summertime weather earlier in April, and since then? Cold garbage. Finally my reserve cracked, and I ran some errands, taking the long way there and back. For some reason, I ended up near Camden Street in Detroit, where I shot this photo in October 2008, while escorting a pair of French journalists around town on a two-day pulse-of-America visit:

They wanted to see the famous $1 houses that were flooding the market, a story written by my old colleague Ron French that went all over the world. They were going through one across the street from this one, which was being stripped of its bricks by a couple of raggedy men. Note the professionally wrapped pallet of bricks to the side; someone was making money off this project, probably pretty good money. Old bricks are in demand for new housing. Luxury housing.

In Detroit, wave after wave of foreclosure, much of it due to mortgage fraud, was leaving neighborhoods like this rapidly emptying, and arsonists and scrappers did the rest. America was about to elect its first black president, and the agony of financial-crisis Detroit notwithstanding, optimism was in the air. It was a very strange time.

This was shot with my first iPhone, and thanks to the geotagging, I was able to pinpoint the exact spot it was taken. Which is good, because on Tuesday, there wasn’t much left:

The vacant lot to the left is where the men were working. The house on the right is still standing, but barely. Spindly volunteer trees reach the second story. The porch steps are in pieces. And the $1 house the French guys were so eager to document is gone, too. The whole neighborhood is pretty much toast, but for a few stubborn hangers-on. I went around a couple blocks and found this, too:

Ah, memories.

You know what I remember most from that visit in 2008? The realtor brought along his handyman, the guy who went through these wrecks and decided whether they could be brought back. He looked around and said, “This used to be a neighborhood.” Only a year before, he said, it’d been more or less fully occupied, with poor people to be sure, but they were hanging on. Now it’s urban farmland and construction debris.

For some reason this sent my brain cartwheeling back to the ’90s, working for Knight-Ridder, the newspaper chain. The editors had been tasked by corporate with coming up with a mission statement (yes, really) and a so-called master narrative for each city. We sat in meetings for this project and asked perfectly reasonable questions: “A mission statement? For a newspaper? Isn’t it, ‘cover the news in our city?'” To his credit, the editor running the meeting seemed as baffled as we were. And Fort Wayne’s master narrative, which we were instructed was the overarching story of the city, was only a community-theater version of Detroit’s grand opera: Once-thriving industrial city struggles to find its footing in new economy.

And to think, that was probably some vice president’s quarterly project. And they kept us inside for those meetings, when we could have been outdoors, looking for stories in houses just like that.

That’s really a non sequitur, I know, but like I said: My cabin fever is bad this year.

I guess I should say a few words about Gordon Lightfoot, recently departed. He was part of the aural landscape of my youth, but I paid little attention to lyrics. In recent years, I corrected that. “Sundown” fascinates me as a song about a man who’s thinking of hurting his cheating girlfriend, and still might. The woman in question was, of course, Cathy Smith, the background-singing, drug-dealing bit of bad news who sold John Belushi his fatal speedball. I think lots of men might be tempted to hurt her, but she did the damage herself. (Went to prison, deported to Canada, died a few years back.) As for the song everybody knows, about the ore carrier known around these parts as the Fitz, well, it’s a great song. A friend and I were discussing how often people who have never been to the Great Lakes can’t believe how big they are, once they see them. Imagine being in a ship, 729 feet long, that’s losing the battle with a storm, and not only that, an ice storm, a hurricane of sorts, the lake treating it like a toy. It must have been terrifying, the waves turning the minutes to hours, and all that.

But I snickered when a journalist friend noted on his Facebook today that he once “heard a folksinger at the Old Shillelagh, weary of endless requests, abridge the Lightfoot song as follows: ‘There was a big boat, and it sank.'”

And they’re all still down there in Lake Superior. Which never gives up its dead, but you’ve already heard that, many times. Ah, well: Rest in peace, Gordon. It was a great life you had.

Posted at 5:52 pm in Current events, Detroit life, Media | 66 Comments

Bookazines of death.

I hate learning that I am a peddler of conventional wisdom, but apparently I am: I read the long NYT thing on Tucker Carlson and realized my belief that Tucker is on the downslope of his career is just that:

But there’s good reason to believe Mr. Carlson will be the exception that proves the rule. For one thing, unlike previous stars who have left Fox News, Mr. Carlson departed when he was still at the height of his power, making his firing all the more sudden and shocking. Three days before his sacking, he gave the keynote address at the Heritage Foundation’s 50th anniversary gala. Two weeks before that, he browbeat Texas’ Republican governor to issue a pardon to a man who had been convicted of murdering a Black Lives Matter protester in Austin.

More important, at Fox, he exercised power in ways that were new and unique for a cable star. He was a sophisticated political operator as much as he was a talented television host — to an astonishingly unsettling degree, as he continued to thrive while making racist and sexist comments and earning the praise of neo-Nazis. Like Donald Trump — to say nothing of other Republican politicians and conservative media figures — he gave voice to an anger, sense of grievance and conspiratorial mind-set that resonated with many Americans, particularly those on the far right. Unlike Mr. Trump — not to mention his motley crew of cheerleaders and imitators — Mr. Carlson developed and articulated a coherent political ideology that could prove more lasting, and influential, than any cult of personality. Mr. Carlson has left Fox News. But his dark and outsize influence on the conservative movement — and on American politics — is hardly over.

Oh, well. I’ve been wrong before. I hope I’m not, in this case, because I’d really not like to see that guy’s mug anymore. And to think I felt so, so hopeful after the November elections.

Anyway. My friend who worked in publishing gave me a name for those things they sell in the checkout lines of grocery stores, the ones that aren’t magazines, exactly, but not books, either: Bookazines. One-off publications, often under a trusted brand (Cook’s Illustrated has zillions of ‘zines), dedicated to a single topic. I have no idea if Meredith, now known as Dotdash Meredith, published this, but it was on their rack on Saturday:

That guy. Why do they all look like that? For a demographic whose self-image is of rugged individualism, why do they ALL look like that? Shaved head, beard, perma-scowl. Anyway, I snapped a pic and posted it on Twitter, and as sometimes happens, a bell rang in the back of my crowded brain. I got into my picture archives and whaddaya know, March 2020:

Same typeface, same subtitle (“survival guide”), same point of sale: My local Kroger, in a safe suburb. Yes, people died of Covid here, but in far fewer numbers than in our next-door neighbor, poor, black Detroit. And if you feel you need to “prep” here, I offer this advice often offered on the internet: Touch grass. Go outdoors, feel the breeze on your face. Consider that maybe when a ball rolls into your yard, you don’t need to shoot the children who lost control of it.

Man, doesn’t that sound fatuous? Of course you need to shoot those people, just as you need to shoot your neighbors when they object to you firing you AR-15 (!!!) in your yard (!!!!) because you woke their baby:

The attack happened near the town of Cleveland, north of Houston, on a street where some residents say neighbors often unwind by firing off guns.

Goddamn, I’m downgrading Texas from “wouldn’t visit with an engraved invitation” to “don’t even want to fly over in an airplane at 36,000 feet.” The mountains of Afghanistan sound less dangerous.

Moving on, I googled the coronation date for King Charles and came up with a Wikipedia page that is truly a one-stop shop for everything you need to know about the event, coming this Saturday, the 6th. The coronation episode of “The Crown” is my favorite of favorites — when all the crowned heads put on their coronets! the bitterness of the abdicated ex-king! — and while I don’t expect to be glued to whatever screen carries Charles’, I will likely watch the highlight reel. The wiki, no doubt curated by an army of regal-philes, has deets galore:

Due to Elizabeth’s advanced age, Charles’s coronation has been planned for years, under the code name Operation Golden Orb.

…Charles will be attended by four pages of honour. They are Prince George of Wales, Lord Oliver Cholmondeley (son of the Marquess and Marchioness of Cholmondeley), Nicholas Barclay (grandson of Sarah Troughton), and Ralph Tollemache (son of the Hon. Edward Tollemache). Camilla will also be attended by four pages of honour.

(I chuckled over that one, only because I chuckle every time I see “Cholmondeley” spelled out. It’s pronounced “chumley.”)

Of course, Camilla will get her due, as well:

The Queen will be anointed without a screen or canopy and then presented with the Queen Consort’s Ring. She will then be crowned by the archbishop of Canterbury using Queen Mary’s Crown. The crown was removed from display at the Tower of London for modification work in February 2023. The crown will be reset with the Cullinan III, IV and V diamonds and four of its detachable arches will be removed. It will be the first time a queen is crowned using another consort’s crown since 1727, when Caroline of Ansbach used the Crown of Mary of Modena. The decision not to use the Crown of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother avoids a potential diplomatic dispute with Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, which have all made claims of ownership of the Koh-i-Noor diamond in the past. This will be the first coronation of a consort since that of Queen Elizabeth (later known as the Queen Mother) in 1937. Camilla will be handed the Queen Consort’s Sceptre with Cross and the Queen Consort’s Rod with Dove, before walking over to her own throne beside the King, where she will sit.

OMG I can only imagine the Cult of Diana will seethe over this one! It’s gonna be great. I can’t wait.

Hope I live that long! Better get my Prepper Survival Guide to help in case there’s a zombie apocalypse before then.

OK, then, the world await us, but likely not until tomorrow. Have a great week, all.

Posted at 11:17 am in Current events, Media | 69 Comments

Six degrees.

I wrote a short note about Jerry Springer on my Facebook page. It ran like this:

So Jerry Springer has moved to the undiscovered country. Huh. The obituaries will focus on “Jerry Springer,” host of the televised pro-wrestling show that made him famous, but before that, he was a lawyer, mayor of Cincinnati, and one-time primary candidate to be governor of Ohio. And before even that, he was a Cincinnati city councilman who resigned in disgrace after being exposed as a man who paid prostitutes with personal checks. Which is to say, Jerry was a man whose TV and political careers were chronologically the opposite of Donald Trump’s, and also that he had a functional sense of shame, unlike you-know-who. I interviewed him when he was running for governor, and even then he seemed to see himself more as a court jester than a policy maker, but what the hell, it takes all kinds. RIP.

As I was making lunch I remembered something else about his gubernatorial run, in 1982. Springer washed out of the Democratic primary field pretty early. On the other side, the eventual GOP nominee was Bud Brown, a former congressman, attorney general and all-around Republican public servant. He lost in the general election to Dick Celeste (who had his own issues related to his sex life, i.e., a zipper problem second only to Bill Clinton’s, but we never talked about that outside of the bar, back then), who went on to serve two terms. But! Bud Brown was the father of Clancy Brown, an actor perhaps best-known as the heaviest (in the menacing sense, not his weight) of the prison guards in “The Shawshank Redemption.” He’s also a well-known voice actor, and if you have a kid my age you know him as the voice of Mr. Krabs on “SpongeBob SquarePants,” the owner of the Krusty Krab restaurant, where SpongeBob works.

So that’s two weird connections to showbiz out of one election. In Ohio. Funny little world we live in.

If you want to know more about Springer’s 1974 downfall, here’s a good history from the Cincinnati Enquirer. It serves to remind me of my low-grade contempt for Ohio’s Queen City, which for years was run by stick-up-the-butt German Catholics, all of whom were happy to outsource their vice to Kentucky, and maybe cross the bridge themselves to misbehave (or buy bourbon by the case). Not that Springer was that sort of German, but you know what I’m talking about.

I remember the first time I saw the Springer TV show. I’d awakened in the middle of the night, and turned on the TV to anesthetize myself back to sleep. It didn’t work, because they were showing an episode of a talk show where people were twerking and throwing chairs, hosted by the former MAYOR OF CINCINNATI?!?

Like I said: A funny little world.

OK, then, it’s nearly Friday, so I’m-a hit Publish and start thinking Weekend, why not. Everyone have a good one, and maybe pour one out for Jerry, a man way ahead of his time.

Posted at 6:19 pm in Media | 28 Comments

All about Eve Tucker.

The more we learn about Tucker Carlson, the more astonishing it is that he lasted five months at Fox, let alone however long it was. Once those texts were subpoenaed, it was all over. He called a top executive a cunt in one of them.

Also, this unpaywalled column by Jack Shafer at Politico gets it right, I think. Even superstars at Fox are just like those Fisher-Price people who can be plugged into, and pulled out of, holes in a child’s toy:

Roger Ailes, the original architect of Fox, who founded the network in 1996 with Murdoch, explained its show-making philosophy to Andrew Ferguson of the Weekly Standard in 2017. The subject was the early evening news-talk program, The Five, which in recent months has outperformed even Carlson’s show. Ailes explained how he filled the slot vacated by solo artist Beck with an ensemble of pundits — building a sort of Archies talk show for the Fox audience. The Five would be performed by five commentators at 5 p.m. Get it?

“Go around the table,” Ailes told Ferguson. “Over on this end, we’ve got the bombshell in a skirt, drop-dead gorgeous. … But smart! She’s got to be smart, or it doesn’t work.” Next, he said, “We have a gruff longshoreman type, salty but not too salty for TV. In the middle there’s the handsome matinee idol. Next to him we have the Salvation Army girl, cute and innocent —but you get the idea she might be a lotta fun after a few pops. On the end, we need a wiseguy, the cut-up.”

When Ailes finally cast the show with his types, Ferguson writes, he summoned them to his office and had them stand in a semi-circle around his desk to explain why he was calling the show The Five. “‘I’m calling it The Five because you are types, not people. You all are about to become very famous, and you’re going to make a lotta money. A lotta money. But don’t ever forget. Right behind you I’ve got somebody exactly like you ready to take your place. So don’t fuck up.”

Tucker Carlson got too big for his britches, and by the time he started talking like an evangelist, even Rupert Murdoch knew he was living on borrowed time. By the time the texts dropped and the Dominion business reached a crescendo, he had a target on his back. This is an old story. Bette Davis made a movie about it.

Ultimately, though, I want to not think of Tucker Carlson after this week. It’s almost fly-fishing season in Maine; let him go get his lines wet and wonder if people will remember who he is when his non-compete expires.

Kate came over last night for her fortnightly laundry date and told some hilarious work stories I wish I could relate here, but they’d probably get her fired. She makes part of her living doing live sound engineering at a number of venues, and had a memorable gig recently. That’s all I can say, other than that I’m still chuckling.

I’m writing this in between gigs, so to speak, myself. Have an interview scheduled in about 20 minutes.

Would you like to se some real bullshit? How about this, Floridians?

A pair of bills making their way through the Florida Legislature could fuel a deluge of property sales and demolitions of historic properties in coastal cities, including Miami Beach and Palm Beach.

If the bills become law, Florida Senate Bill 1356 and House Bill 1317 would strip local municipalities of their authority to determine if certain structures can be demolished, and what could be built in their place.

…The proposed legislation would be a boon for developers.

It would allow owners and developers to demolish “non-conforming” properties within a half mile of the coast and within specific flood zones — regardless of whether the buildings are in a historic district. Non-conforming buildings are any that do not meet new construction requirements under the National Flood Insurance Program.

Sure, those Art Deco hotels in Miami Beach are pretty, but they’re so …short. We need to clear them out and make room for some more glass high-rises. As for Key West, I shudder to think.

Fucking Florida. It’s not going to be worth a fiddler’s damn once DeSantis and crew are done with it.

OK, nearly time for my phone chat. It’s Wednesday, and after it’s over, we’ll be on the downslope of the week.

Posted at 11:27 am in Current events, Media | 27 Comments

A bad weekend, a good Monday.

I didn’t blog yesterday because I spent most of Sunday — the whole weekend, really — trying to find the errors in my 2021 tax return that had the IRS asking us for an extra $14,000 including penalties and interest. The good news is, we found the errors. The bad news? We’ll still have to write them a big check, but for way less than $14,000. For the first time in a decade, TurboTax failed me. Or maybe I failed TurboTax. I don’t know. All I know is, our taxes have become too much for me to handle, and next year we’re hiring a pro.

Then Monday arrived, and in my last round of abs work at the gym this morning, I ripped a loud and completely unexpected fart in the vicinity of perhaps the only other person there who wasn’t wearing earbuds. I said “excuse me” to the air and then added, “OK, Monday, I see you.” It was almost literally the cherry on a shit sundae of a few days.

But then I came home and showered, dried off and learned woo-hoo! Tucker Carlson was fired! I mean, it won’t free us from the menace — people that evil always land on their feet, often with a raise — but the humiliation has to be worth something. I mean, for a little while, it freed me from thinking about taxes and that fart.

I don’t really have a take, at least not yet. He’s not done yet; he likes the power too much. And make no mistake — he wasn’t fired for being a terrible person, he was fired for saying mean things about Fox management in private text messages. (You all know that you shouldn’t do that by now, right? Confine your shit-talking to the open air, preferably after a scan for parabolic mics.) So it’s not like the world is a better place with his voice temporarily silenced. It’s just reorganizing itself. But when he resurfaces, it’s likely to be on a much smaller platform than the mighty Fox News, much as Megyn Kelly went from spaghetti-strapped blonde hottie to terrible daytime talk-show hostess to…whatever she is now. The media landscape is a crowded, cutthroat place; someone is always willing to step into your shoes, once they’ve been taken off your feet.

Honestly, though, I have to say that the decision to cut the cord is one I’ve never, ever regretted. It amazes me when people bitch about “the media” and think it consists entirely of cable news. I haven’t missed it for one day since we went all-streaming a few years back. Outlets like the NYT have gotten very good at breaking news, and when it happens, I open my laptop. Who wastes time on Don Lemon and Sean Hannity when they can watch something good on Hulu or Netflix or HBO or Amazon Video? Not I.

OK, then. Time to put this day to bed and consider whether I need to resign my membership to the gym. Probably not, but hey — it was a loud one.

Posted at 5:05 pm in Media | 29 Comments

Big, big correction.

A friend of mine, another columnist, once observed that a doctor’s mistakes get buried; a lawyer’s go to jail, but a journalist’s run on Page One under the headline: Correction:

Due to a reporter’s error — or an editor’s, or whoever — the something of the something was misstated in Tuesday’s story. The actual facts are, etc.

It’s humiliating. No one likes to admit a mistake, particularly a careless or stupid one, let alone have it displayed to the world, usually on the front page, or at least on the page where the original boo-boo was published. But that’s how we roll, or did. You can’t expect the public’s trust if you can’t admit when you make a mistake. So we do, publicly. Mea culpa. It’s a strong motivator to get it right the first time, although it happens to everyone. To err is human, etc.

This, I should mention, is not true at Fox News. Alan has been monitoring how the fair ‘n’ balanced network is admitting their settlement with Dominion Voting Systems, and calling out how far it’s falling off the main page: “Ten pages in! After Gisele Bundchen doing something!” But that’s what we expect, right? Terrible people are terrible, and their terrible audience doesn’t give a shit that they’re going into the second quarter $800 million poorer. I’m a little disappointed; I was hoping for a settlement with a B in it, if they had to settle at all. I was, truth be told, hoping for a jury foreman who asks, like the one in “The Verdict,” “Are we limited to the amount the plaintiff is asking for, or can we go higher?” On the other hand, I know shit rolls downhill, and one of my former students works for the Wall Street Journal, and a squeeze at the top usually means a bigger one down below, so.

But it’s generally a very good day. Fox News had to take it in the shorts, and that’s just fine, because they’re terrible. A pox on all their houses. And I’m sure they all have several.

I was thinking of Fox before the settlement, reading about the old man in Kansas City who shot a black kid for the crime of knocking on his door. I said on Facebook that Fox, and others, many others, have made their profits on scaring the shit out of old people. For decades. I am absolutely no fan of Michael Moore, but the part in “Bowling for Columbine” where he points out the way TV news relentlessly, endlessly deals in fear? That part was dead-on. And Fox is the worst of the lot, so when that old man saw a black kid on his porch and just assumed he was there to do harm? That is something that can also be laid at the doorstep of Fox News, Sinclair Broadcasting, and many others.

Almost everyone I’ve ever known who keeps a loaded gun next to the front door? Lives in the country, where violence almost never happens, except when it’s perpetrated … by them.

But by and large, this was a good day. So let’s enjoy it.

Posted at 7:39 pm in Media | 29 Comments

A few Monday notes.

I generally avoid news about the former president these days — had to abandon the Haberman book, at least for a while, because I so disliked the feeling of having him in my head again — but a detail from the coverage of the Waco rally this weekend caught my eye. It was something about how they played a recording of the “J6 prison choir,” a choral group made up of January 6 defendants, singing the National Anthem, with spoken-word breaks by you-know-who, reading the pledge of allegiance.

Folks, they did not lie. It exists. Click and despair.

I was feeling pretty good after the election, but despair is beginning to creep in around the edges again. I saw another piece, on NPR, about the decline in American life expectancy. It’s worth a click if only for that graphic, with the United States in red, parting ways with the rest of the developed world, post-Covid. Freedumb strikes again.

But despair is a sin, as the lord reminds us. And so I will keep my sunny side up, up, even though it’s a Monday.

Bill Zehme died over the weekend. Most people wouldn’t remember the name, but in journalism circles, he was big, one of the tiny fraternity (and it was so often a fraternity) who got to profile big-time celebrities. He was good at it, and his pieces on Jay Leno, Frank Sinatra, Hugh Hefner, etc., were good enough that their subjects are providing mournful quotes in the wake of his death. The ones who survive, anyway.

As for me, the one I’ll always remember was his oddly sympathetic piece on post-downfall Bob Greene. I think someone must have asked him later why he was so nice to the guy, and he replied that when he was a struggling journalism student, or maybe just launched in his career, he’d written to Bob, and Bob had replied with just the encouragement he needed. He may have even met with him in person, and the titanic journo had bucked up the fetal one, and that meant so much, etc etc. All I could think was: Dummy, he did that to everyone, and if the supplicant was a pretty girl, the encouragement often continued at the Marriott down the street?

Ah, well. That was a different time, as we say so often.

Hope your weekend was good. Mine was fine, although I erred in eating an enormous Mexican dinner at 9 p.m. on a Friday night, which kept me up for hours past my bedtime, not with heartburn, but what I think of as Spanish Sleeplessness, because it happened multiple times when we were in Spain, where restaurants don’t even open until 8 p.m. I’m so goddamn old, my body can’t handle digestion and sleep at the same time.

Ah, well. Back to the mangle, as the work week starts.

Posted at 8:27 am in Current events, Media | 51 Comments