Hold On, Mr. President – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Hold On, Mr. President” by Sam Donaldson, published in 1987. This is the career memoir of an aggressive TV journalist who covered politics.

Donaldson was born in 1934. By his mid-thirties, he had an all-consuming career, working seven days a week for about a year at ABC-TV in Washington D.C. He covered the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, Vietnam on-location for three months in 1971, the Watergate scandal, and, glutton for punishment that he was– president Jimmy Carter in 1976. He asked hard questions of presidents, especially president Ronald Reagan, on whom he spent a lot of time reporting.

Donaldson felt that Reagan’s unwavering stance on all issues was a liability because it resulted in “thoughtless and false certainty… Deciphering Reagan-speak is a constant in the White House press room… But give Reagan a TelePromTer (sic)… and he can communicate without ambiguity and, in the process, sell you a defense budget that will reduce you to rags or a Nicaragua policy that will curl more than your hair.” Countless erroneous facts and figures emanated from Reagan’s mouth, of which Donaldson provided numerous examples.

In the late 1980’s, Reagan held political rallies whose attendees “… had to apply for tickets from local Republican organizations, and people who were not already true believers, didn’t get them.” Some things never change.

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional details on Donaldson and his generation of TV journalism in Washington, D.C.

The Gambler – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “The Gambler, How Penniless Dropout Kirk Kerkorian Became the Greatest Deal Maker in Capitalist History” by William C. Rempel, published in 2018.

Born in Fresno, CA in June 1917, Kerkorian was the youngest of four children of Armenian extraction. In the first half of the twentieth century, he pursued his passions of amateur boxing and piloting planes. His entrepreneurial spirit led him to go into the chartered airplane business. He began associating with unsavory characters when he bet on sports in 1961. His FBI dossier related this factoid that was learned via wiretapping.

Kerkorian dreamed big and took the outrageous risks required to fulfill them. Thanks to his cultivating friends in high places, in the early 1960’s, he managed to borrow a steep $5 million to purchase a DC-8 (jetliner) to expand his transcontinental shuttle service for the U.S. military and other lucrative clients.

In 1963, Kerkorian got into the casino business. He launched an IPO for his holding company in 1965. Then he became aggressive in acquiring companies against their will. Like Western Air Lines. He also opened the biggest hotel/casino in the world in July 1969. He got international celebrities to provide entertainment on opening night just to rub it in the faces of the competition, such as Howard Hughes.

However, one casino Kerkorian took over had been run by the Mob. In late 1969, the IRS forced him to sell a yacht and a plane to pay back-taxes. In 1972, a German bank was dunning him for an amount of money he couldn’t possibly pay. He didn’t worry. He simply ordered that his financially struggling company, MGM, issue a ginormous dividend to himself, and all other holders of the company’s stock. This way, he could pay off his personal bank debt; never mind that MGM risked going bankrupt. Of course some shareholders sued.

Read the book to learn of Kerkorian’s many other adventures in business and pleasure.

Indecent Exposure

The Book of the Week is “Indecent Exposure, A True Story of Hollywood and Wall Street” by David McClintick, published in 1982. This volume with the provocative but misleading title had nothing to do with sex. It actually consisted of a suspenseful, albeit long story seen mostly through the eyes of Alan J. Hirschfield, the CEO and officer at Columbia, the movie company. It was about how a lack of honesty, the power of propaganda, and clashing egos basically resulted in the redistribution of wealth among the wealthy. This sort of thing happens all the time.

In February 1977, then-famous actor Cliff Robertson received a document saying he owed taxes in connection with a check he never received. He later found out that the check had been forged and cashed in his name, by David Begelman, a high-level executive at the aforesaid Columbia.

It was common practice for Hollywood studios to send movie actors checks for thousands of dollars (usually unreported to the IRS) that defrayed a small portion of their promotion expenses for a new picture. The IRS had just then begun cracking down on that taxable income. Robertson’s reaction set in motion a series of consequences that affected thousands of people; mostly financially.

Columbia was a public company, and the bad publicity resulting from news of a serious crime committed by one of its executives was a serious public relations problem. Hirschfield, who was on the board of directors, was told by an attorney that he had a duty to inform the executive committee, corporate counsel and the SEC after an internal investigation had been conducted.

As has been the case since the discovery of journalism/tabloidism, (supposedly said by Mark Twain), “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Begelman’s friends in the Hollywood community (of which the check forger had many) rushed to his defense, having heard only vague rumors that described his transgressions in euphemisms. They really had no clue that he had actually committed several felonies, it turned out. They didn’t want to know.

The friends planted tabloidy messages in the media making the excuse “Everybody Does It” because they took unethical liberties with their own expense accounts, and made Hirschfield the villain, saying he was a power-hungry, vindictive executive, as he technically did compete for power with Begelman in the company hierarchy. Hollywood’s and the public’s gullibility in automatically believing in Begelman’s innocence and Hirschfield’s treachery is human nature.

At the board meeting that initiated the long, heated discussion that would determine whether Begelman was fired, Begelman acted like a prisoner on death row who had suddenly found religion. He implied he might kill himself if removed from his primary job. But actually, anyone who knows this kind of person knows that he would be too arrogant to kill himself.

A preliminary inquiry into Begelman’s history yielded more than one serious crime during his Columbia tenure, and previous lying and other worse misdeeds. Hirschfield argued for termination, saying Begelman was unlikely to change his spots, as dishonesty was a lifelong habit with him. Over the next few years, the Hollywood community and the public, however, still having heard only distorted soundbites that minimized Begelman’s sins, fooled itself into believing they weren’t that bad, and continued to defend him.

Interesting sidenote: In 1982, in a joking context, Hirschfield exclaimed to a female friend who was high on the corporate ladder, in front of some colleagues: “Female executives suck!” She laughed. Clearly, if that was uttered in 2018, hilarity would NOT ensue.

Read the book to learn of the consequences of the stupid actions taken by most of the main characters of this entertaining saga.

Genius in Disguise

The Book of the Week is “Genius in Disguise” by Thomas Kunkel, published in 1995. This book describes the life of Harold Ross, who came up with the concept of, and co-founded, The New Yorker magazine.

Born in 1892 in Aspen, Colorado, Ross was bitten by the journalism bug as a teenager. He quit high school to start his career as a news gatherer. He was restless, however, and traveled to various states to ply his trade. Regarding the media, there is nothing new under the sun:  While in New Orleans in 1912, “… he demonstrated the agile reporters’ trick for manufacturing news where none exists.”

Ross worked for the army publication Stars and Stripes during WWI. After the war, he moved to New York City, where his social group consisted of the Algonquin Round Table members and other literati such as his fiancee Jane Grant. She worked for the New York Times, and he served as publisher for a weekly magazine for veterans.

In February 1925, Ross decided to break out on his own by starting The New Yorker. He wanted to sell a weekly magazine that resonated with New Yorkers of his generation. The recent introduction of technological advancements in publishing, the early days of radio, and special postal rates made the time ripe for Ross’ brainchild. Besides, at that time, magazine advertising was the way to gain national reach for products and services.

The New Yorker‘s goal was to entertain wealthy readers. So it avoided reporting on politics and economics. Ross was a difficult managing editor because he was a panicky perfectionist.  In fact, a “… New Yorker piece might be scoured fifteen or twenty times by six or eight different people, all in the name of perfection” for editing, fact-checking and proofreading. Ross became an indispensable, fearless leader. The other party crucial to the publication was its major initial investor, an heir to the Fleischmann yeast fortune.

Read the book to learn how, ironically, the animosity between Ross and Fleischmann maximized The New Yorker‘s profitability; about the one-article issue of August 1946; the difference between Wolcott Gibbs and Aleck Woollcott; and how the publication changed through the decades. A bygone era in magazine publishing.

My Autobiography, Charlie Chaplin

The Book of the Week is “My Autobiography, Charlie Chaplin” published in 1964.

Born in 1889 in London, Chaplin had a traumatic childhood. Both his parents were vaudevillians, but his father had trouble with alcohol; and his mother, with her voice. Thus, they found themselves unemployed. Their relationship suffered, and they separated. Chaplin and his older brother lived with their mother in a hovel. Unsurprisingly, his father failed to pay alimony and child support. Chaplin was pushed by his mother onstage beginning when he was five years old.

A commune known as a “workhouse” took in the family. The mother crocheted lace cuffs and the kids attended school. After two weeks, they were transferred to a suburban workhouse. Boys at age eleven were conscripted. So Chaplin’s brother entered the Navy. His mother, however, suffered from mental illness, and was institutionalized. Chaplin went to live with his father in a London slum.

At nine years old, Chaplin showed a true talent and passion for performing. His father got him into a clog-dancing troupe. Later, he lied about his age to get hired by an acting troupe. He had natural ability to play comic characters.

In autumn 1911, Chaplin by chance got into the then-silent motion picture business (only musical sound tracks– no talking), replacing another actor in Hollywood. It was then he created his Tramp character. He was allowed to try his hand at directing and writing, although the bosses of that period were still clinging to their tired “Keystone Kops” scenarios of slapstick chases. His fresh approach that evoked an emotional response became wildly popular among American audiences. He immediately became a legend. Once he came into his own, his brother became his business manager.

“Fulfilling the Mutual [film company] contract I suppose, was the happiest period of my career. I was light and unencumbered, 27 years old, with fabulous prospects, and a friendly, glamorous world before me.” Chaplin and his friends Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford found out that the movie production companies were going to merge, lower the outrageous pay of actors, and take control away from them. So Chaplin et al formed their own production company, United Artists.

During a trip on W.R. Hearst’s yacht, the Hollywood director who had taken over Hearst’s film production company, had a heart attack. Chaplin wrote, “I was not present on that trip but Elinor Glyn, who was aboard…” told Chaplin about the episode. The ridiculous rumors regarding the director’s murder were false. “Hearst, Marion [Davies] and I went to see Ince [the director] at his home two weeks before he died.”

Read the book to learn a wealth of other details of Chaplin’s life, and why he moved to Switzerland with his family; get the explanation– straight from “the horse’s mouth.”

Prime Time

The Book of the Week is “Prime Time, The Life of Edward R. Murrow” by Alexander Kendrick, published in 1969. This is a biography of the famous radio and TV journalist whose career started in the 1920’s.

Born in 1908 in North Carolina, Murrow was the youngest of three sons. He was raised as a Quaker. His family moved to Washington state when he was five years old. Murrow’s graduating high school class numbered eleven. Their motto was “Impossible is un-American.” He then attended Washington State College, majoring in “speech” (public speaking). Participating in student government, he got the chance to travel to Europe.

In the 1930’s, news that was reported via radio in the United States consisted of concerts, sporting events, presidential speeches and sensational courtroom trials– simply conveying facts with no analysis; nothing too depressing. Murrow first went on the air in 1937, covering the coronation of King George VI in England. He did “man on the street” interviews.

Then for nine years, Murrow  was a producer for CBS radio news in London. His boss, Bill Paley introduced the first radio simulcast from London, Paris, Rome, Berlin and Vienna, via shortwave transmitters accompanied by at least one landline, whose signals were sufficiently strong to reach New York City. Such an innovation obsolesced newspapers because it was live. On the eve of WWII, the new political regime in Berlin practiced censoring of broadcasts from Vienna and Prague. But they were live.

Murrow avoided gathering news stories for CBS from certain kinds of people who would profit from peace at any price, and so they favored appeasement of the Germans. Those greedy individuals included war profiteers. He did, however, put himself in harm’s way because he felt obligated to report directly from the “belly of the beast.” One would think he had a death wish and/or an enormous ego. His employer’s office building was bombed in London while he was on a rooftop across the street. He cheated death many times.

After Germany’s surrender, Murrow reported from Buchenwald and Leipzig. After the war, all radio shows went commercial. The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) began investigating it by subpoenaing scripts of the shows. Murrow became a highly paid radio executive for a year and a half. In the fall of 1947 he made even more money when Campbell’s soup sponsored the interview show he hosted. He took his TV show “See It Now” on location to the Korean war front.

HUAC pressured Murrow to preach hatred for the Soviet Union, or else he would be blacklisted from the broadcasting industry, or worse. Fortunately, he was a sufficiently powerful figure to broadcast what he wanted without getting censored. He was still smeared by the Hearst papers and right-wing leaflet printers.

Murrow had this to say about the interrogations over which freshman Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy presided: “… many of those named by witnesses on camera were never given a chance to reply… the newspapers and magazines… also tended to regard McCarthy’s unsupported charges as proven facts, or at least gave that impression.” He also contended that the senator “… had used sweeping, unsupported statements, hypotheses presented as facts, accusations of lying by witnesses, conversion of a congressional hearing into a trial…” etc., etc., etc. Once again, there’s nothing new under the sun.

Nevertheless, Murrow showed himself to be a hypocrite on more than one occasion in his career. He was a contributor to a sobering Collier’s magazine story published in October 1951, about a hypothetical nuclear war that happened in the summer of 1953. His fictional account covered the part where an atom bomb leveled Moscow. In Paris, he complained via radio about those “…irresponsible magazines in the United States which aid Russian propaganda about American intentions.”

Interesting factoid: At the 1952 presidential conventions, there were twelve hundred each of: casts and crews of news shows and reporters, and political delegates.

Murrow put forth three reasons why the government or journalists lie: “when lying is deemed vital to the national security, or prestige, or face-saving.” As is well known, the use of all three excuses has been abused in meta-lies in past decades; especially those following this book’s writing.

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional information on the power struggles between sponsors and TV-show creators in monitoring show-content due to the tug of war between the profit motive and the role of broadcasting in society as perceived by the creators and regulators; on Murrow’s troubles with the State Department and the FBI; his radio and TV shows; and on how American propaganda is targeted internationally toward specific peoples in specific ways.

boys in the trees – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “boys in the trees (sic), A Memoir” by Carly Simon, published in 2015.

Born in 1945 in Manhattan, Simon grew up in a wealthy, dysfunctional family of four children. Her father was the co-founder of Simon and Schuster, the publishing giant. When Simon was eight years old, her 42 year-old mother acquired a boyfriend, in the guise of a 19 year-old babysitter for Simon’s younger brother. The family moved to Riverdale (the northwesternmost section of the Bronx in New York City) and summered on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. The family hung out with the literary, political and musical celebrity crowd in the 1940’s and 1950’s.

Simon found that music soothed her troubled soul. She became a stutterer at an early age, due to prepubescent sexual encounters with an older boy. Her uncle became a second father to her, as her biological father chose the younger of her two older sisters, as his favorite.

Simon was to have “… many difficult experiences with men in the music business.” When she was in her late teens, one or both of the men who helped her record her first song professionally, “… deliberately sabotaged the track; cutting it in the wrong key as payback for me not responding to their sexual advances.”

Nevertheless, Simon bragged about having sex with various big names; Jack Nicholson, Cat Stevens, Warren Beatty and Michael Crichton among them. She claimed that her song, “You’re So Vain” does not represent any one person. The original lyrics do say, “clouds in my coffee” and not “grounds in my coffee.”

Read the book to learn everything you ever wanted to know about Simon’s relationship with James Taylor, plus other information about her family and emotional states, through the time she had to cancel her concert series due to mental illness, in the early 1980’s. The book did not cover her career comeback.

The Deeds of My Fathers

The Book of the Week is “The Deeds of My Fathers” by Paul David Pope, published in 2010. In this tome, the author discussed the lives of his father and grandfather. Annoyingly, lines of dialogue were always accompanied by the word, “said.”

In spring 1906, at fifteen years old, the author’s great grandfather, Generoso Papa, traveled from his birthplace in Italy to New York City. His brother-in-law was already living in America. Papa got a job doing hard, manual labor in the construction trades. His dogged diligence and playing well with vendors, contractors, engineers, building inspectors and city managers led to success. Too, contacts with the Mafia helped maximize profits and crush the competition. By the mid-1920’s, he owned one of the largest construction-industry suppliers in the city. However, workaholic that he was, he never saw his wife and two sons. In January 1927, he had a third son– the author’s father.

In 1928, the author’s grandfather purchased Il Progresso, the largest Italian newspaper in the city. In it, he praised Mussolini, raised money for him, and printed Fascist propaganda. In the ensuing years, he became friends with politicians, including New York City mayors Jimmy Walker and Fiorello LaGuardia, and presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Roy Cohn helped him purchase a radio station.

In the early 1950’s, the author’s father, who called himself Gene Pope, had a falling out with his mother and older brothers. He was crowded out of the family businesses. In 1952, he struck out on his own and acquired what became the National Enquirer with seed money from a Mafia don. He changed its editorial bent. It became like today’s media. Tabloidy.

This was Pope’s philosophy on his publication’s contents: “Crime was the most important ingredient, followed by scandals, disasters and personalities; the more famous people were, the more they were laid low and humiliated.” Sounds like the 2018 midterm-elections attack-ads in America (!) It seems the candidates want more hate. 

Some candidates claim not to know about the attack ads against their opponents. However, a man is known by the company he keeps, and the candidates keep company with the producers of the ads. It would be different if the ads were 100% true.

And now, a parody, sung to the tune of “The Beat Goes On” (apologies to Cher, and the estate of Sonny Bono):

The hate goes on, the hate goes on
Ads keep pounding a message to the brain
La de da de de, la de da de da

Woo-oo-dstock was once the rage, uh huh
History has turned the page, uh huh
Facebook, the current thing, uh huh

Twitter is our newborn king, uh huh
And the hate goes on, the hate goes on
Ads keep pounding a message to the brain
La de da de de, la de da de da

The Internet’s the new frontier, uh huh
Little minds still inspire fear, uh huh
And leading men still keep assigning blame
Technology lets them stay in the game

And the hate goes on, the hate goes on
Ads keep pounding a message to the brain
La de da de de, la de da de da
Voters sit in Starbucks and complain
Politicians scheming just to gain

Negativity flying faster all the time
NRA still cries, we have to arm ourselves against crime!

And the hate goes on, the hate goes on.
Ads keep pounding a message to the brain.
La de da de de, la de da de da.

And the hate goes on, yes, the hate goes on.
And the hate goes on, and the hate goes on.
The hate goes on, and the hate goes on.

It would be refreshing to see a candidate condemn the attack ads against his opponent, instead of tacitly applauding them, or repeating their contents loudly and often… And instead– actually concentrate on the issues– how he or she is going to be a PUBLIC SERVANT.

In future elections, it would be even nicer to see a political-contribution boycott of the hate-mongers. However, it would take more than one influential, courageous donor to stand up and refuse to be a party to purchasing airtime for the purpose of spreading ugly lies.

But it is the candidates who must ultimately decide to take the high road and grow up. Voters might react favorably to the first side to do so. Even so, this would be an extremely difficult feat. “Everybody does it” is the excuse everybody uses to justify their unethical behavior. Everyone is drowning each other out with a blizzard of defamation. So multiple groups on one side would have to agree to run a wrap-around campaign to promise to spread messages based on substance, and follow through.

That said, unfortunately, honesty isn’t always a guarantee of competence for an elected official. President Jimmy Carter wasn’t widely reputed to be a liar. Yet, most Americans agree, he was a terrible president. Assessing a candidate, and predicting election results are like gambling–  difficult to gauge– because human behavior is unpredictable in the short term.

Anyhow, in 1957, the National Enquirer‘s stories sought to satisfy readers’ morbid curiosity by detailing gruesome occurrences in the city. The publication that was initially drowning in a sea of red ink, turned profitable after years and years. By the mid-1960’s, readers were enthralled by poignant, inspirational stories about underdogs who triumphed, medical matters, celebrity gossip and aliens.

In the early 1970’s, Gene moved his publication’s printing presses from New Jersey to Florida. “He worried about his health, claiming air pollution was killing him, even as he continued to smoke four packs a day.”

Gene spared no expenses in getting a story– bribing anyone and everyone associated with stories to get exclusive, salacious information, and sending his reporters on-location– around the corner or around the world. In this way, the Enquirer acquired a reputation as a tabloid that appealed to the lowest common denominator. The highbrow New York Times didn’t pay interviewees, but instead appealed to their egos, generating favorable publicity for them if they talked.

The author wrote that his father developed psychological problems in his later years, and ruled his empire by fear. He had dirt on various people and let them know it, so that way, he could cash in on a favor from them in the future if he so desired. The son lamented, “No doubt I was spoiled by material things, but not by love.” Read the book to learn the details.

The Greatest Story Ever Sold – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “The Greatest Story Ever Sold, The Decline and Fall of the Truth from 9/11 to Katrina” by Frank Rich, published in 2006. Rich was right when he said, “…the very idea of truth is an afterthought and an irrelevancy in a culture where the best story wins.” There have been so many “great” stories in history, but Rich obviously thought this one was the greatest.

The author argued that the George W. Bush administration was one big, taxpayer-paid-for propaganda monster that used clever timing to minimize all adverse occurrences, to paper over the greed, incompetence and evilness of its leadership. The administration used insidious strategies, including secrecy, restricting of access to information, and even censorship to muffle opponents. Sounds familiar… Unfortunately, the reason history repeats itself so often is that human nature doesn’t change.

In October 2001, American troops in Afghanistan weren’t made available to journalists– war information came from a press pool. Only Al Jazeera, an Arab network based in Qatar (not viewed in the U.S.), was allowed to show (horrific) images of the war. An organization, the Office of Strategic Influence was specially created to spread fake war-news. The New York Times blew its cover in February 2002.

Next, a year later, the administration aired an ABC-TV reality show (!) about the war in Afghanistan. Too bad it got poor ratings. In order to increase security abroad, Attorney General John Ashcroft ordered plenty of wild goose chases, arresting people left and right. No one was ever proven to be a terrorist. But numerous suspects were denied due process in military tribunals– the proceedings, legal and illegal, were all kept secret, including the torture.

One would have thought America was winning the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and on terror– but only because the American government engaged in extensive efforts to report on only war heroes and battle victories, and smear as “unpatriotic” everyone with any negative utterances (even true ones!) about the troops, the wars, war coverage (or forced lack thereof), etc.

In May 2003, Bush proclaimed, “… major combat operations in Iraq have ended.” Tell that to all the members of the American military who were redeployed immediately after their “last” tour and those who died, journalists of all nationalities who died, and Iraqis of all stripes who died in 2004, 2005, 2006…

By 2004, needless deaths numbered in the hundreds. That was before the propaganda blitz helped Bush to beat John Kerry in his re-election bid. A litany of liars from the Bush campaign screamed louder and longer, and apparently more convincingly than Kerry’s.

Another example of how effective repetition can be: Question: How is it known that six million Jews died in the Holocaust? Answer: The Jews have been screaming that figure louder and longer than anyone for the last seventy years.

If, for instance, the Democrats were to scream for the next two years (not that they should, but if they did) that Donald Trump declared business bankruptcy six times (!!!!!!) during his business career, such repetition might influence voters. Not that the Holocaust is comparable to financial ruin.

But a few media outlets would have viewers believe that the current presidency’s recent political scandals have ruined numerous lives and caused permanent ruptures in the fabric of the universe. If any recent presidency has done that, it was the George Bush administration.

Sadly, there wasn’t room enough in the book to mention the numerous other ways the president’s henchmen employed thought-control on the American populace during the Bush/Kerry election. However, one was a viral, comedic, animated/cgi music video created by the Spiridellis brothers, “This Land!”– a parody of the folk song “This Land is Your Land, This Land Is My Land.” It helped to give the impression that Kerry was big on bragging about his three purple hearts he received fighting in the Vietnam War while Bush was macho. Arguably, the video favored Bush.

Other memorable messages the media spewed against Kerry was that he was “un-presidential” and his wife displayed behavior unbecoming a potential first lady.

Read the book to learn why the author thought that Bush was worse than the late former president Richard Nixon; and how much taxpayers shelled out for the scripted, repulsive, libelous, slanderous reality-show featuring a morally bankrupt cast of characters that was the George W. Bush administration.