Starving them isn’t working.

So, it must have been a million years ago, when I was fooling around with talk radio in Fort Wayne, an action-packed chapter of my life I already bored you with, when the wife of the station owner told me that she’d recently scored a new show that was going to be big. I should check it out, she said.

“His name is Rush Limbaugh,” she said. “He’s on his way up.”

She was certainly right about that, and as WGL was among the very first stations in the country to buy his show, I had the luxury of getting to know the host and his show before anyone had noticed or written about him. And I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I listened to him for 10 minutes and told someone, “This is a fat guy who cannot score with chicks.”

I hadn’t seen his picture, I swear. I could just tell. I’m witchy that way.

Anyway, soon he was well-established and very successful, and his various bits were familiar, one of which was the various songs he played to introduce certain “updates,” as he called them. The homeless update, the feminazi update, etc. For Carol Moseley Braun, he played the theme from “The Jeffersons.” Movin’ on up, to the east side, and so on. So I added “racist” to “fat guy who cannot score,” and I’ll stand by that. And while Rush Limbaugh is not the first troll that modern conservatism produced and certainly won’t be the last, he was one of the first I encountered as an adult. Alas, there have been so many more.

There’s an old internet saw that says you shouldn’t feed trolls. It’s certainly my instinct, but lots of people must be throwing them popcorn, because one of the truly horrifying things about the current era is how successful a troll can be. You can say any old stupid-ass thing, call people terrible names, repeat bullshit until you’re blue in the face, and you’ll get…a book contract, a cable-news gig, a sinecure of some sort. Ann Coulter, Dinesh D’Souza, Tomi Lahren — it’s a crowded business, but there’s always room, and a paycheck, for one more.

Of course I’m thinking now of Kevin Williamson and his fun hang-the-whores opinions, which finally cost him his new job.

Media, Right and Left Twitter – which is to say, the nucleus of Twitter itself – went a little nuts about it. Many dumb things were said. A few smart things were said. Hysteria was deployed, as was reason. In the end, I’m a walking shrug emoji; if you wanted the bigger paycheck and bigger platform and bigger profile a “mainstream” publication offers, perhaps you should be a little more mainstream, in the sense that you shouldn’t cavalierly call for the execution of a significant percentage of an entire gender, asshole.

Maybe we should stop rewarding trolls. Maybe that’s a good start. Maybe this is a bullshit justification:

Williamson uses colorful and sometimes rash language. He didn’t have to detail the grisly form of punishment he would inflict on women who decide to terminate their pregnancies. He chose to do so because he enjoys provoking a reaction. But The Atlantic knew that about him before it hired him.

Maybe “provoking a reaction” shouldn’t be an end in and of itself. Are we short of reactions these days? Do we really need more? I know, I know — reason and moderation and compromise are BOR-ing! and facts are for the Olds, man, but I’m thinking 30 years of letting trolls bait us into outrage hasn’t been productive. That’s one reason I find the Parkland kids so impressive. They just laugh in the faces of these people, laugh and then organize boycotts. More power to them.

History will not be kind to people like Rush Limbaugh. I suspect he doesn’t give a shit about that down in his Palm Beach mansion, his wife-of-the-moment off doing Pilates somewhere else and crossing big red X’s through dates counting down to key milestones in the pre-nup. But it’s all I have at the moment.


A long read, but worthwhile, on how police and prosecutors built their case against Larry Nassar. Females all around, for the most part. I liked this passage, and forgive me breaking my three-paragraph rule:

Munford started the interview asking what Nassar had changed about treating patients since 2014, when Amanda Thomashow told police and an MSU Title IX investigator that Nassar had sexually assaulted her. The two investigations ended without repercussions, although new protocols were put in place for Nassar when treating patients at MSU.

Nassar said he’d tried to adapt his techniques, then asked his own question.

“Has there been another complaint?” he said. “I’m just, like, confused right now.”

Munford redirected him back to talking about his changes since 2014, hoping to learn if the description of anything he had stopped doing matched what Denhollander experienced 16 years earlier.

When Nassar began making excuses about why he wasn’t following the new protocols, Munford later said, she knew he was being intentionally inappropriate with patients.

“I lecture on this,” Nassar told her. “That’s the thing that’s frustrating. It’s so, you know, the sacrotuberous ligament, it runs from the pubic symphysis, the falciform process, it runs, it’s like the pelvic floor.”

“OK,” Munford said.

“People don’t understand this stuff,” Nassar told her. “So you’re really coming in, the way I describe it, you know, even in some of the videos is, is that if you go towards the labia and go lateral, so you’re going in and apart. And that, there’s muscles that attach to the ligament. And so as you’re treating that, you can feel the release. And that’s, like, a great teaching thing, too.”

The spiral into technical terms in Munford’s interview illustrated how Nassar evaded prosecution for so long. His medical explanations convinced Meridian Township police not to pursue charges in a 2004 investigation. Medical information also was part of the unsuccessful 2014 case.

He couldn’t explain why he had visible erections while this was going on, however. But “sacrotuberous ligament” — that was enough.

OK, weekend dead ahead. Enjoy yours.

Posted at 9:27 am in Media | 40 Comments


Most days, I don’t go around feelin’ all feministy. The older I get, the less touchy I get about things that some women are extremely touchy about. Please don’t misunderstand: I’m absolutely a feminist. But I’m taking a longer view, watching the arc bend toward justice, and trying to be more charitable toward the entire human race, not just women.

That makes no sense. But here’s where I’m going with it:

Even with this mellow outlook, I can still be prodded to incandescent heights of rage from time to time. This week was one of them. The catalysts, in order:

Larry Nassar’s boss. William Strampel, the former dean of the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine, has been primarily known so far as the man who told the perp in the biggest institutional sex-abuse case in god-knows-how-long that he was doing a great job, and keep doin’ what you’re doin’. Which makes him look like a twit, but this week new charges were filed against him, and now he looks like another monster from the same mold:

Four women told investigators that, while they were medical students at MSU, Dr. William Derkey Strampel, 70 either sexually harassed or sexually assaulted them, court records say. The women said he made sexually inappropriate comments, groped them and appeared to offer them favorable treatment in exchange for sexual acts.

He also had plenty-plenty porn on his office computer. Police said many of the photos appeared to be of MSU students, likely the same medical students whose lives he was making miserable. If you read the story, Strampel comes across as a 70-year-old man who combines the arrogance of too many medical professionals with the sensibilities of the Mad Men era. He grabbed asses, eyed women up and down while they stood in front of him, and oh yeah he was a bully, too:

In 2011, a woman identified as Victim 2 fell asleep in class and Strampel summoned her to his office later. He told her not to sit down but to turn around twice so he could observe her body, she told police, before going on a rant degrading her body.

The woman told police Strampel told her she needed to dress sexier if she wanted to advance in her profession. The conversation lasted about an hour and Strampel never brought up a reason for the meeting.

For anyone likely to cut this guy slack because it’s a different era now or whatever, please consider that there’s probably no group in America who’s had more training on the subject of sexual harassment than academics. Which means this geezer just plain thought he could do whatever the hell he wanted and get away with it, more or less forever.

You wonder how people like Nassar get away with it for so long? It helps to have bosses like this.

Then the Atlantic hired Kevin Williamson.

You might know Williamson as a troll-y scribe for National Review, the conservative magazine. It’s safe to say that getting beamed up to the more mainstream Atlantic is a big career move. A few years ago, and not that many, Williamson got into a tweet-spat about abortion and the appropriate punishments for doing or having one. Unlike most right-to-lifers, who like to tell women they’re “the other victim” of the procedure, Williamson took off the gloves and got right to the point: Women who have abortions should be executed, he said. Painfully, perhaps by hanging.

He has deleted the tweets, but never retracted the statements. Women having a legal procedure he disapproves of should be executed painfully. That’s what Kevin Williamson said, and apparently still believes. So of course he’s working for a high-profile national magazine now.

Ask yourself how likely this would be if Williamson had expressed similar thoughts about African Americans, or any other group of people in this country. Ask yourself why this sort of statement is acceptable. If that’s too depressing, amuse yourself by considering, first, how common this belief is among virulent abortion opponents (it really is) and how much the very same people are clutching their pearls over some of the potty-mouthing coming from the Parkland kids. Oliver Willis puts it plainly:

Jessica Valenti gets it:

How can you say that you want a workplace that values women when you hire someone who wants 25% of those women dead? How can you lead in a newsroom when your female subordinates now know that you consider their lives worth less than the clicks you’ll generate from a handful of articles?

I have had two abortions — one when I was younger and not ready to be a parent, another when I was a mother who desperately wanted more children but doing so could put my life at risk. I do not believe I should die because of this. I cannot believe that I need to write that sentence.

Any time I have written or spoken publicly my abortions, I have been threatened with death — and I’m far from alone. Women are terrorized about their reproductive decisions — whether it’s threats online or the increasingly frenzied violence against abortion providers and clinics. And, of course, it was just over two years ago that a shooter killed three people and injured nine others at a Colorado Planned Parenthood, screaming about “baby parts” — rhetoric directly taken from conservative writers.

By hiring Williamson, The Atlantic is sending a clear message: That the worst kind of harassment and intimidation women face — extremism that has been directly linked to real life violence — is acceptable. And that it’s more valuable to the magazine than the women who read it or work at there.

Yup. So right now I’m feeling real feministy. How do you feel?

Posted at 12:48 pm in Current events, Media | 92 Comments

The brooding report.

A friend of mine is going through a serious depression right now, so I don’t want to call what I had on Friday a dark night of the soul, or anything like that. Rather, it was more like a gray day of the soul, just a walking-around all-day funk, probably because I slept particularly badly the night before, the weather was indeed cold and gray, and so are the inch-long gray roots I’m sporting at the minute, having once again forgotten to make a hair appointment.

Which is to say, it was a day meant for gloomy brooding. So I did.

And I came to a few conclusions: One, that I think I’m done with journalism, at least the make-a-living-at-it model. It’s a shrinking field, and no employer has any use for a 60-year-old with all the wrong skills. I could sit in my home office and send out pitch after pitch to editor after editor, but my stomach for rejection after rejection just isn’t there anymore. And for all the talk of journalism being more important than ever, it seems like the whole industry is slipping into the sea, and we have no idea how to stop it. It’s plain what the chaos merchants in D.C. and St. Petersburg are up to – impugn every source as “fake news” until the public trusts no one, then step in with your own version of the quote-truth-unquote, and dare anyone to prove otherwise. Meanwhile, Silicon Valley sits on its vast mountains of money and says hey don’t blame us before they go back to working on building offshore tax havens or a drug that will allow Peter Thiel to live forever or whatever it is they’re up to.

So I’m kinda…bearish on journalism these days. I don’t think it can save us. Yes, there is outstanding work being done by a handful of well-funded and smartly staffed outlets, but there aren’t enough of them, and what’s being done at the local level – where most Americans get their news – is simply criminal.

What I’m saying is, there has to be a better way to help humanity. And even if journalism is it, I’ve lost my taste for it.

Immediately after I reached this conclusion, I heard from an editor responding affirmatively to a pitch I made a while back. So yeah, plans may change. But I doubt it.

That said, I’m still interested in how the field is evolving. Do any of you do newsletters? I’ve gotten into them lately, and sample them like items on a buffet. For all the shit people shovel on it, I do appreciate the Axios daily emails; I sometimes feel like I’m drowning in reading obligations, and appreciate their bullet-point summations. I subscribed to the Crooked Media newsletter. Tried TheSkimm, and unsubscribed — I’m just not a daffy enough young woman to get into that one, although I appreciate what they’re trying to do, i.e. make young women better informed.

I subscribed to Lenny, Lena Dunham’s newsletter, and will unsubscribe when I think of it, because not only is it worthless, I’m running cold on Lena Dunham these days. So.

Any suggestions for others, leave them in comments.

So that’s why I missed Friday. Brooding.

Today it’s sunny, Alan is out for a few hours and I think I may take Wendy to the dog park. I should go to the gym, but I’m thinking a need a day off from shoulds, and who will grant such a gift but me? So let it be written, so let it be done.

How about some Sunday reading?

Having just gone through a kitchen remodeling, I’m glad I didn’t read this beforehand, but it’s worth reading just the same: There is nothing wrong with your house, by Kate Wagner, who runs one of the best making-fun-of-McMansions blogs in existence. Funny and true.

Not funny at all, but even more true, and necessary to read in this era of #NeverAgain: What it’s like to survive being wounded in a mass shooting.

Rosemarie underwent nine surgeries in the three weeks after the shooting, and she spent nearly two months on life support while her organs healed.

But the woman who emerged from heavy sedation in November was not the same sunny, self-possessed person around whom the whole family once revolved.

A debilitating nausea set in. She has vomited almost every day since, and for months, doctors could not explain why. In February, after a short-lived attempt to bring her home ended with Steve taking her to the emergency room in an ambulance, the condition was diagnosed: Rosemarie has gastroparesis, meaning her damaged stomach muscles cannot push food through her system. She will need yet another surgery to treat the condition as well as to remove her gallbladder, which is infected.

The doctors must wait for her old injuries to heal before they can operate. But on Friday, her stomach wound reopened and became infected — another setback. So Rosemarie must remain at a rehab facility, dependent on an intravenous nutrient solution for sustenance and a daily dose of Ativan to keep her crushing anxiety at bay.

But hey: Freedom. And meanwhile, this is what the other side has been up to, at least one member of it:

Imagine being moved to do such a thing. They used to say that email was the problem, that being able to dash off a nastygram and hit “send” made for more of them. If you had to find pen and paper, write something down, fold it up, find an envelope and stamp and walk it to a mailbox, you were less likely to be this much of a shithead. But I guess not.

OK, it’s time to go outside. It’s 34 whole degrees. A good week ahead to all.

Posted at 12:46 pm in Current events, Media | 76 Comments

The litterbox is full.

Because life can’t be all despair over the country or the weather or one’s lack of preparedness for the upcoming holiday, I devoted a small bit of time today to absorbing Art in the form of a short story that evidently has half of men’s-rights Twitter running around with their hair on fire and their butts extremely hurt.

It’s called “Cat Person.” Go ahead and read it; it’s pretty good. Not to spoil, but it tells the story of a doomed kinda-relationship that’s mostly carried on via electronic devices. It doesn’t end well, and features an explicit – for the New Yorker – sex scene that should ring true to anyone who’s ever had bad sex, which I assume = pretty much everyone. It also touches on a number of ripped-from-the-headline themes. Which explains the butthurt.

The reaction to the story has its own Twitter account. Don’t look before you read the story. And if you read it, be sure to read the Q&A with the author, too.

Man, pop culture lighting up over a piece of fiction that isn’t “Gone Girl” or “50 Shades”? This is a banner day. And it’s only Monday.

And Mario Batali is the first sexual harasser of the week to go down in flames. I don’t watch cooking shows, but I know who he is – the ponytail guy who has a house in northern Michigan and hung a lot with Jim Harrison before he died. I am, how you say, not surprised. Isn’t this sort of the culture of commercial kitchens? An old boyfriend of mine used to be a server in a white-tablecloth place, and told stories that curled my hair, one involving a chef throwing knives across the kitchen at some waiter who’d displeased him. Sex shenanigans would seem to be an improvement.

And tomorrow (today if you read this Tuesday) is Roy Moore’s fate. That’ll be a fun one to bat around. Or maybe consider emigration/suicide over.

What am I talking about? He’s going to win.

It’s snowing where I am. May it cover all of our sins.

Posted at 8:58 pm in Current events, Media | 47 Comments

Fast news day.

What a day to be working all day in Lansing – John Conyers quits, and…well, it was big news here. This remarkable column from the alt-weekly should give you an idea what things had come to by the time he stepped down. Bonus: It includes the phrase “polishing his knob.” In the lead!

(I would have messed with that, had this been mine to edit. Did he call it polishing the knob, or is that the writer’s euphemism? Also, I just want a lot more detail about the quid pro quo.) And it seems knob-polishing is only part of what was wrong in that office by the time its leader threw in the towel. To be sure, congressional offices can be efficient no matter whose name is on the door, as long as the staff is competent. But there’s a line.

Then there was the Russia Olympic ban, which led me to this story, which led me to watch the film in question, “Icarus,” last night. Highly recommended if you have Netflix – it’s that rare documentary that is simultaneously funny, serious, eye candy and important. It’s about sports doping, but it’s fascinating to watch in light of what we now know about Russian election interference. These people do not play, and the fact our president admires Vladimir Putin will eventually go down as a shameful chapter in American history, assuming we survive it. So do so.

Back to our sexual-harassment theme, you may have already seen this NYT piece, their follow-up to the Weinstein story. It’s devastating, in that it details the webs of accomplices, both active and passive, who allowed him to get away with his activities for so many years. The part about the National Enquirer is particularly nauseating. You think you can’t lower your opinion of those guys any more, and then you have to. Because, as Josh Marshall tweeted today, in calling it a “deeply malevolent” force in American life, “beyond just publishing exposes it’s also a kind of protection racket and enforcer for some of the county’s worst people.” Amen, brother.

Got some work to do, so I’m-a do it. Happy hump day, all.

Posted at 11:17 am in Current events, Media | 72 Comments

Lights, camera, Fellini.

So, the Washington Post/Project Veritas story. Of course you’re allowed the belly laughs you undoubtedly had, watching James O’Keefe’s moron underling try to “cancel” her interview with the Post reporter batting her around like a cat with a mouse. But once you’ve had them, consider what this is saying about our particular moment.

O’Keefe sent this woman on her mission, apparently in the belief that Washington Post reporters would say, in essence, “Tell me your story and I will immediately put it in the newspaper. Will it affect the election? Oh my, yes. Judge Roy Moore is finished, I tell you. Finished!”

And if they wouldn’t use those exact words, well, they can always fix it in post. (TV joke there.)

I guess what amazes me most about this caper is how…not just dumb, but ignorant it was. You don’t have to know much about how reporting is done to be flabbergasted that anyone thought this would work. Or, giving them credit for a few more IQ points, assume they knew it wouldn’t work, but they could get enough to piece together something their supporters would accept as Stickin’ it to the Man, and keep O’Keefe in $300,000 worth of high cotton for a little while longer.

I read somewhere that bloggers — bloggers! — at Breitbart are knocking down six figures a year. This gravy train has many cars; in Tomi Lahren’s, you can get you hair highlighted. But how long will the people who pay for the coal to keep it running down the track keep doing so?

The trouble is that many of these rich donors are out of touch with reality (if I had a billion dollars and nobody ever told me “no,” I would probably be out of touch, too). Rather than investing in the tedious and time-consuming work of incremental gain, they demand instant gratification. Rather than supporting young conservatives who have a steady working-class temperament, they fawn over eccentric young dreamers with delusions of grandeur.

Meanwhile, lots of deserving conservative causes and individuals wither on the vine.

What a world, when a whole, well-funded organization is built on telling lies to support a candidate alleged to have molested young teens. AMERICA.

I was going to write more on this, but again, my feeble efforts have been overtaken by events. Today? Matt Lauer, aka the Phantom Graduate of Ohio University. (Seriously. I graduated from the j-school there the same time he did, and I have zero memory of him. Assuming he may have been in a different sequence, like radio-TV, well, J.C. was a fixture in that department, and he doesn’t remember him either. None of our classmates, ditto. Weird.) More chainsaws can be heard in the forest, and more trees will be falling soon.

One of the women I swim with said today, while we were showering, that all of 2017 seems like a Fellini movie. Either that, or Kubrick:

What a natural-born model that lady is. So expressive.

Happy Wednesday. all.

Posted at 8:43 am in Current events, Media | 166 Comments

A loud chorus.

Over the years, I’ve had many opportunities to teach writing, from classroom visits to fourth-graders to adjunct gigs at the local U. I’ve “taught,” so to speak, everything from fiction to journalism, with most falling in the personal-essay category, thanks to my long stint as a columnist. And if I had to boil down the best single bumper-sticker piece of advice I have, it’s this: Tell the truth. If you’re writing in your journal, tell the truth about your day and feelings about it. If you’re writing journalism, don’t make shit up. Fiction uses make-believe to tell truths that readers recognize. If you make the 17 syllables of a haiku paint a particular picture, make sure every brushstroke is correct.

Journalists are big believers in facts, but facts do not always add up to truth, and it’s this that’s been bothering me in recent years. It’s a fact that propagandists have set up vast informational networks that look like journalism, but aren’t. Consumers are too busy, distracted, ignorant or angry to insist on anything better. I don’t think it’s any mystery why I started watching MSNBC during the worst of the Iraq war; as I said of Twitter recently, I needed something that validated the angry voices in my head, and Keith Olbermann filled the bill. (For a while, anyway. Now he just chaps my ass.) Imagine being old and confused and fearful of death, and you can understand the appeal of Fox News pretty clearly.

Add to that the both-sides thing, in which it reporting on Something Bad being done by one politician must be matched by Something Bad done by someone on the other side. So you end up with Donald Trump’s buffet table of outrages contrasted with a private email server, or Uranium One.

Hey, at least we got some memes out of it. But her emails!

I was thinking about how traditional reporters can work better, smarter, without becoming beholden to one side. Because even though “both sides do it” is trite crap, both sides – all sides – definitely do stupid and newsworthy things that have to be reported on. It’s just that one side is doing so much more of it at the moment. But the pendulum will swing, as it always does.

These thoughts were pinging around my head when I heard this story explained on the NYT morning podcast.

On Sunday afternoon, when Elmer T. Williams’s wife told him that a mass shooting had taken place at a church in Texas, he leapt into action. First, he skimmed a handful of news stories about the massacre. Then, when he felt sufficiently informed, he went into his home video studio, put on his trademark aviator sunglasses, and hit record.

Roughly an hour later, Mr. Williams, 51, a popular right-wing YouTube personality who calls himself “The Doctor of Common Sense,” had filmed, edited and uploaded a three-minute monologue about the Sutherland Springs church shooting to his YouTube page, which had roughly 90,000 subscribers. Authorities had not yet named a suspect, but that didn’t deter Mr. Williams, who is black, from speculating that the gunman was probably “either a Muslim or black.”

… YouTube has long been a haven for slapdash political punditry, but in recent months, a certain type of hyper-prolific conspiracist has emerged as a dominant force. By reacting quickly and voluminously to breaking news, these rapid-response pundits — the YouTube equivalent of talk radio shock jocks — have successfully climbed the site’s search results, and exposed legions of viewers to their far-fetched theories.

It so happens I follow a disgraced former state rep on Facebook, a guy who started out far to the right and since his downfall, has drifted deep into these weeds. And I see this sort of thing on his page all the time. I don’t know if he’s weighed in on the Texas shooting, because he may still be hashing over the Las Vegas shooting. Did you know there was a second shooter? You don’t? You need to stop listening to the lamestream media, then, and here, allow me to show you a bit of video the authorities don’t want you to see.

He has lots of company. I followed a bunch of them back when I was trying to understand them better, and man — there’s a lot of them. And one thing these YouTube people are doing is blanking out the voices of the sane and the professional. You might think, big deal, they’re nuts. And they are, no doubt, or close to it. But their work is surprisingly effective at spreading misinformation at a critical time, in both how the event is processed in real time and in this moment in history. I promise you, you know someone who believes this shit:

His hit productions have included fact-challenged videos like “Barack and Michelle Obama Both Come Out The Closet,” which garnered 1.6 million views, and “Hillary Clinton Is On Crack Cocaine,” which had 665,000. He was admitted to YouTube’s partner program, which allows popular posters to earn money by displaying ads on certain types of videos, and claims to have made as much as $10,000 a month from his channel.

“I like to call myself a reporter who reports the news for the common person,” Mr. Williams said.

Real reporters don’t respond to this, for the same reason you don’t invite the crazy people who send you letters and leave 3 a.m. voicemails on your office phone to lunch. Maybe they should.

Oh, well. Related: How American politics went batshit crazy, an instructive timeline.

And finally, in case you wanted to be made even angrier today, let’s check in with Omarosa, shall we? A great read.

And I live in Wayne County. My previous permanent or semi-permanent addresses were in Franklin, Athens and Allen counties. BOR-ring.

Posted at 12:14 pm in Current events, Media | 105 Comments

Blue collar.

God bless this nice lady, Heather Bryant for falling for, and marrying, a truck mechanic. As someone who did what lots of journalists do — marry a co-worker — I could have spared myself a lot of grief over the last 15 years if I’d done the same. As it is, our two-income household is a very fragile thing, and likely will remain so until we collapse, exhausted, into retirement like a couple of people outrunning zombies in a horror movie. A truck mechanic likely out-earns both of us, and maybe both of us together.

And of course, all journalists love a good essay, especially one that tells us how much we suck. I’d have probably given her a version of the look she describes, too:

While they didn’t explicitly say it, the person was very much thrown off by the nature of my husband’s work. I was left with a very strong feeling they were expecting a more middle-class answer than a garbage worker. Their facial reaction has been stuck in my head for a while now. Surprise. A little confusion. And just enough distaste to notice.

Face it, you just don’t meet many Stanford Fellow/truck mechanic couples these days. And lady, that’s a hell of a lot of subtext to read into one facial expression, but never mind that.

Because I agree with her: Journalism would be better if we hired more people who had the basic skills, or a trainable aptitude for the job, but no college degree. As she puts it:

That person was genuinely surprised that the spouse of a journalist had such a blue collar job. The reaction makes me wonder how badly our industry really lacks for people with more diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. Our journalism would be better if we were a better representation of the backgrounds and experiences our audiences have.

From time to time during my career, I’ve heard of various programs to do just that. All collapsed, or graduated trainees into jobs at such insultingly low salaries (because that was the motivation for starting it in the first place — to snag candidates without an expectation of ever making a college graduate’s living) that they failed to sustain themselves.

I remember one at my alma mater, and can’t remember if it was for non-grads or just those with no journalism classes or experience. It was specifically for racial minorities, because the lack of diversity in the newsroom was and remains a stubborn problem. I’m not sure how it turned out, because its big splash was ruined by one of its leaders calling it a six-week journalism boot camp, and someone else informed the world that “boot” was an obscure, but definite, racial slur. (Yeah, I’d never heard it either, and I thought I’d heard them all. I think the etymology is shoeshine boy > boot black > boot.)

Another I remember was started by a chain of weeklies whose bosses simply couldn’t get people to work for the poverty-level wages they were offering, and I thought I’d seen most of those, too (the lousy salaries, that is). Many of the younger staffers in Fort Wayne had second jobs, if not to make ends meet, then at least to have a little bit of extra spending money. Fort Wayne is a cheap city to live in, and a running joke — which was actually true — was that the bosses lured potential hires by mentioning that all the grocery stores doubled coupons, and sometimes tripled them.

I don’t think that training program worked, either. Probably the chain went under, or was sold to an even more chintzy owner. Even in rural Kansas, even in double-coupon Fort Wayne, being a journalist is a hard choice these days; the pay isn’t great, the hours are long and the president rains contempt on the whole craft with every tweet. You’d think being an enemy of the people would pay better.

Michael Moore hired a guy, Ben Hamper, off the line at some GM factory to be a columnist, first for the Flint weekly he ran, then for Mother Jones. I think I read a couple of his pieces, and they were pretty good — one took aim at Bruce Springsteen, Troubadour of the Working Class — but Moore didn’t last at MJ, and neither did Hamper. I just checked, and his home page is dead. Facebook says he lives in northern Michigan now, and works for a public radio station. Talk about frying pan to fire.

There are some lucky people who can make a decent living, and I count our co-prosperity sphere among them. But as I said before, it’s a creaky arrangement and has been for a while. I’ll be honest: If Kate told me she wanted to change her major to journalism, I’d cry, then tell her to reconsider.

So yeah, sure, let’s get some blue collars in the newsroom. I knew one at WANE-TV, in the early ’90s. He’d been a union electrician in Michigan, a very smart guy who decided one day he was tired of wiring buildings, put himself through Michigan State and graduated into a sub-100 media market, i.e. Fort Wayne.

I went to his going-away party. I asked what he planned to do next.

“Get re-certified as an electrician,” he said. “I found some of my tax returns a few months ago. I was making more money in 1973 than I am today.” This was 20 years later.

God bless him, too.

So, bloggage:

Someone on Twitter remarked that she’d been trying to figure out who in the Trump family was Fredo, then realized they’re all Fredo. Yes, I’d say so:

President Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton before agreeing to meet with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign, according to three advisers to the White House briefed on the meeting and two others with knowledge of it.

The meeting was also attended by his campaign chairman at the time, Paul J. Manafort, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Mr. Manafort and Mr. Kushner only recently disclosed the meeting, though not its content, in confidential government documents described to The New York Times.

The Times reported the existence of the meeting on Saturday. But in subsequent interviews, the advisers and others revealed the motivation behind it.

“Game of Thrones” fan, are you? The definitive essay on George R.R. Martin’s fondness for soup.

Happy week ahead, all.

Posted at 12:01 am in Current events, Media | 86 Comments

Drowning in…something.

So, Father’s Day is upon us. Barely noon, and I have already tired of the social-media parade of World’s Greatest Dads. (Admittedly, I contributed.) Holidays like this turn us all into Mitch Albom; there’s just no room for shadows, even though shadows are what give figures dimension and make them more interesting.

My dad did OK. He could be a jerk, but he was my jerk, my dad, and he did well enough. That’s all you need to get a headstart in the world. Good-enough parents, not great ones.

And in the Department of Pre-emptive Apologies, I have a week’s worth of evening stuff coming up. And guess what it is? One of the women in my swimming cohort is training a few of us to be lifeguards. I’ve been thinking for a while now that I haven’t had a CPR refresher since I took a class in the ’80s, and my first aid is equally rusty. Tim, our coach, is 77 and creaky, and has said often that he’d really like to have some backup on morning swims, so here we all go. It should be over in a week, but I have another conflict Thursday, so it might take a little bit longer.

I did the qualifying stuff Saturday: 300-yard swim, two minutes of no-hands water treading and the infamous pick-up-a-brick exercise. That’s where you swim 20 yards or so, surface-dive to pick up a 10-pound brick in 10 feet of water, then take it back to the starting point, get it out of the pool and then heave yourself out behind it, all in a minute-forty. The last was harder than I expected, but I made it with plenty of time to spare. The two women I was testing with needed multiple tries, but then again, none of us are planning to get jobs as lifeguards. But you never know. The siren song of the red tank suit and the privilege of sitting on the high chair in mirrored shades may well lure me out of journalism.

Speaking of which, this is an outstanding “This American Life” segment on a 66-year-old lifeguard who sued New York City for age discrimination. A NYT account of the same situation.

Who knows, I may not pass the final. But I’ll be fresh on my CPR and first aid. I have this fantasy that my post-retirement career will be as a personal trainer to postmenopausal women. Step one!

Just one link today: Mark Bittman is doing regular food writing again. For New York magazine, no no registration, no paywall. Huzzah.

So, maybe see you guys on…Wednesday? That’ll work.

Posted at 1:31 pm in Media, Same ol' same ol' | 66 Comments

We meet again.

Yes, my little minions, I made it to and from Columbus in one piece. The greatest threat was potentially dying of boredom on the trip down from Lansing on Friday, which seemed endless, all gray skies and flat fields and nothing on the damn radio. I turned on Google Maps’ navigation function as I drew near, and it led me, turn by turn, into an area I remembered as a slum, where today the greatest threat is being hit by a guy on a $3,000 bicycle who was just doored by a BMW.

Gentrification. On the one hand, it displaces the poor. On the other, it displaces the Short North Posse.

Anyway, the party was fun. Nice to see friends old and new, and my biggest fear — that I’d look around and think, “What do I have in common with all these old people” — was not realized. We have a strange relationship with the people we work with; we often spend more time with them than our own families, and when it comes to an end? Sometimes we stay in touch, sometimes people fall off the earth. But it was great to see everyone.

Several journos-turned-authors in the group, or editors of authors. That was interesting. Also, lots had bailed out when the parachutes were still pretty big. Not so much anymore. The copy desk has already been outsourced – to Austin, Texas. That’s how you get mistakes like this, which is not the Columbus Dispatch’s, but a Michigan chain with similar cost pressures:


Oopsie. The Lions played the Giants this weekend, not the Cowboys.

And while you’re feeling contempt for the media, do consider that this AP photographer literally risked his life to capture some startling images of the Russian-ambassador assassination in Ankara earlier today.

A strange business. Let’s turn from the tragic to the comical, shall we?

Remember how Tim Goeglein disgraced himself and embarrassed his hometown paper by plagiarizing a couple dozen columns over the course of several years? Well, guess what? He’s writing again — for the same paper, which apparently now has no standards whatsoever.

But he’s delivering a message they’re comfortable with, so I guess all is forgiven:

In 1988 Dan Quayle became vice president of the United States and Dan Coats was plucked from near-obscurity by Indiana Gov. Robert Orr and appointed the new U.S. senator from Indiana. Without peer, Coats was the right man for the job because his character and integrity were unassailable and because he had never lost an election. Even though most Hoosiers hadn’t a clue who he was, those who knew him best knew his personal integrity and natural grace would carry him to the heights of political power.

It’s really a remarkable column. I’m sure it’s not plagiarized, but it’s so…weird and icky that I had to read it a couple times. Coats, who is leaving the Senate at the end of this term, moves Tim to many adjectives, most of them deployed with some stupid adverb, so he’s “loved and respected roundly and widely,” a man who “intentionally widened his gyre in a manner that would serve him and our country powerfully in all the years ahead.” Needless to say, his faith is “deeply felt.” About that faith:

It is that faith that is at the heart of the man himself – utterly foundational to understanding everything he finds most important in life: his long marriage to Marsha, his boundless love for their three children, and the unmatched devotion he has for their many grandchildren. His exceptional respect, love and devotion to his wife and family are his pillars.

Tim! If you’re reading this, here’s a lesson from Comp 101: Show, don’t tell. If you can’t think of a single anecdote or example of all this love and respect in action, adding a bunch of extra adjectives won’t help sell it. And if you choose the wrong ones, it’s just creepy. Lots of people respect, love and are devoted to their spouses and families, so to call one guy’s exceptional, absent of any evidence, is irritating to many readers. And almost everyone would do anything, even give their life, for their own child, so calling Coats’ paternal love boundless is just trite.

Also, stop saying categorical. And immutable. You use utterly twice in adjacent paragraphs. And slipping in the vanilla good in the midst of all that silly froufrou is almost jarring.

At the end, Tim stands revealed as the worst kind of boot-licking toady, all flattery and blandishments and sweet nothings in the ear. Which, when you come to think of it, is probably a good skill set in Washington these days. There’s a new administration hiring, and they like that stuff.

Expect spottier posting for the next couple of weeks, as we move through the holidays. The spirit may move within me, it may take a fortnight off. Fingers crossed.

Posted at 5:38 pm in Current events, Media | 73 Comments