Friday, May 30, 2008

Spilling the beans

Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan's book is getting a lot of attention -- and for good reason. After all, it isn't often a West Winger spills the beans while the administration for which he worked is still in power.

So, from a historical and journalistic standpoint, McClellan has offered a powerful insider's perspective of President Bush and his top people and their strategies.

But I'm not ready to pat McClellan on the back.

When you're part of an inner circle -- at the White House, in a corporate board room, at a newspaper, a college ... you name the institution - those around you expect nothing less than loyalty and confidentiality, during and after the time you've served.

McClellan knew that when he signed on to be Bush's press secretary. McClellan was aware he'd be the spokesman for the president, perhaps often having to toe a company line with which he disagreed. That's what press secretaries do.

McClellan, who also worked for Bush at the Texas state house, says he likes and respected the president, so he trusted him. Eventually, he says, he became "increasingly dismayed and disillusioned." Many, many Americans know the feeling and it's been reflected in Bush's low approval ratings.

But McClellan was an aide and a confidante. He should have kept his misgivings to himself.

History thanks you, Mr. McClellan. But I wonder how many future confidential jobs you've forfeited as a result of this breach of trust.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"Tootsie" roll

The death of the wonderful director-actor Sydney Pollack prompted a deluge of well-deserved remembrances of his film career, including many about 1982's "Tootsie", one of his landmark movies.

For those who don't know (or remember), parts of "Tootsie" were filmed in Ulster County, specifically at the Hurley Mountain Inn (where Dustin Hoffman's Michael Dorsey character renews acquaintances with Charles Durning, who played Jessica Lange's dad) and at a farmhouse just down the road (where Hoffman's Dorothy Michaels' character, spends a weekend with Durning and Lange).

The filming caused quite a buzz in the community, with celebrity sitings at or near the motel at which the cast and crew stayed (the then Ramada Inn, if memory serves me). I also seem to recall that Schneller's, a popular Uptown Kingston meat market and restaurant of the time, was called upon to cater meals.

The Pollack obits zeroed in on creative differences between the director (who also appeared in the film as Hoffman's agent) and the star. But the end result was terrific, and the movie holds up lo these many years later. That's particularly the case for locals who delight in seeing their community in a supporting role.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Deny, deny, deny

The 1960s comedy "A Guide for the Married Man" featured the likes of Lucille Ball, Jack Benny and Phil Silvers in a series of sex-farce skits that were a bit naughty for the time (and for the family entertainment performers), but pretty tame by today's standards.

In one scene, a wife returns home to find her husband (played by Joey Bishop) in bed with another woman. As she shrieks at hubby in anger, the Bishop character and his lady friend methodically get out of bed, dress, make the bed and leave the room. All the while, Bishop says to his horrified wife, in effect, "What girl? ... What are you talking about?" At the end of the skit, the girlfriend is gone, Bishop is reading a newspaper in his favorite easy chair and the befuddled wife (played by Ann Morgan Guilbert, the next-door neighbor from the "Dick Van Dyke Show") has been convinced she didn't see what she really saw.

The moral of the tale: Deny, deny, deny.

That's what came to mind when I read Hillary Clinton's offensive 24 hours after her verbal transgression at a South Dakota newspaper editorial board meeting. You'll recall Clinton inelegantly suggested one of the reasons she's still campaiging, despite the virtual numerical impossibility of her achieving the Democratic nomination, is that other races weren't determined until June, like in 1968, when Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated.

Most commentators and columnists jumped all over Clinton for suggesting the unthinkable could also happen to her Democratic opponent, Barack Obama. Most also gave Clinton the benefit of the doubt, saying her remarks, while distasteful, probably were careless, not purposely venomous.

An hour or so after her comments spread across the wires, the Internet and cable, Clinton held an impromptu press conference to apologize and confirm she didn't mean it the way it might have sounded. That, too, was duly noted by commentators, who saw the hurt in Clinton's face.

End of story?

Nope. The next day, Clinton said her remarks had been taken out of context. She blamed the Obama camp and the media for gleefully and inaccurately pouncing on her comments.

In other words, deny, deny, deny.

But wait. Clinton's comments at the newspaper editorial board meeting were videotaped and replayed in their entirety. We saw and heard the context for ourselves. The remarks were accurately reported.

No matter. For Clinton, it was deny, deny, deny.

It works in the movies.

Slow start

Here's an anecdotal story from the Memorial Day weekend. I hope it's not more than that.

My wife and I had dinner at one of the restaurants on the Strand in Kingston early Saturday evening. Wonderful weather. Glorious night. Perfect for a holiday throng. Except there wasn't one.

The restaurant at which we dined was about half-filled. After dinner, we noticed one spot doing a fair amount of business. The others were virtually empty.

Saturday evening on a perfect holiday weekend.

Maybe traffic picked up later Saturday night and on into Sunday and Monday. If not, with the cost of gas making everyone think twice about spending on travel and entertainment, it could be a long summer hereabouts. As I said, I hope not.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Tell us another one

For those of you who follow such things, this one is from the world of baseball.

The Yankees this week began the process of moving phenom pitcher Joba Chamberlain from a reliever to a starter.

Manager Joe Girardi said this was "the plan" before the season even began. This was the time of the season on the blueprint to make the move.

Sure it was.

The Yankees broke spring training with five starting pitchers, three veterans and two rookies. Chamberlain was to be the setup man for Mariano Rivera, a role he filled brilliantly late last season.

Does Girardi mean to tell us that had the Yankees starters performed as expected and the team was playing well, "the plan" to make Chamberlain a starter would have been implemented anyway?

Tell us another one.

Starting pitcher has been lousy, the Yankees are falling out of the race and a new course was sought. That's why Chamberlain is becoming a starter now, not at the beginning of next season.

There's no shame in that. Happens in baseball all the time. Why must the Yankees say otherwise?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Fair alternative

There may be less livestock at the Columbia County Fair this year.

Judging from the slab of prime rib on my plate last night (as well as the giant chicken served up to the one of my dining companions, Tony Jones, former owner of The Independent), we may have consumed most of it.

The event was a dinner at Kozel's Restaurant in West Ghent for sponsors and the board of the fair, which takes place over the Labor Day weekend in Chatham. I was there with Lisa Robinson, advertising director of The Independent, wearing the hat of interim publisher of that twice-a-week community newspaper, which is the major media sponsor of the fair. Also at our table were Vicki Simons, Tony's wife and former editor of The Independent, as well as Roger Coleman, publisher of the dailies in Catskill and Hudson, and his advertising director, Pam Geskie, a former Freeman sales rep, whose father just happens to be the legendary Kingston area radio guy Orvil Norman.

Ricky Skaggs and Eddie Money will be the entertainment headliners at this year's Columbia County Fair.

Fairs in Columbia, Greene, Ulster and, of course, the big one in Dutchess are part of the charm of the region. And with gasoline prices stretching everyone's budget, these events offer a favorable (and less expensive) alternative to more distant destinations. Keep them in mind as you make your plans this summer.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

In the Capitol

Assembly Democrats hate being called lapdogs. They resent it when critics (including me) portray them as little more than puppets of Speaker Sheldon Silver, sheepishly rubber-stamping the deals he cuts with special interests. ...

Standing in the way of reform is none other than, you guessed it, Silver. ...

If members want to show they have minds and spines of their own, they'll advance a straightforward version of the long-overdue reform. If they want people like me to keep branding them as feckless, fall-in-line pols, they'll cave in to Shelly - and tack on a poison-pill amendment that effectively guarantees the measure's failure. ...

If Silver were a judge overseeing a case like this, he'd have no choice but to recuse himself. But Silver plows ahead in spite of his conflict of interest. So it's up to rank-and-file lawmakers to do what they were elected to do - represent the people, not act like lemmings. ...

Otherwise, we can all go back to counting sheep.


The words of out of touch Freeman editorial writers who know nothing about Albany because we don't have a reporter covering the state Capitol? A personal attack by meanspirited editors hiding behind their computers?

You may have read or heard that kind of criticism of us when we've dared to take on local state representatives and the Legislature as a whole, sometimes employing words not unlike "lapdogs."

No. Those were comments in Tuesday's New York Daily News about a pending reform bill. Bill Hammond is the columnist who wrote them. His beat is Albany. His time is spent in the Capitol. He knows the issues and the players. His conclusions are strikingly similar to those I've read in the newspaper I publish.

We may have been one of the first newspapers to describe Albany as "dysfunctional," but we're certainly not alone.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Frank Vogt

Ulster County lost a giant yesterday when Frank Vogt died in Florida at age 85.

What a man he was.

FBI agent, district attorney, county judge ... Frank Vogt was imposing and tough, wise and fair, funny and caring.

I'm not sure he'd be comfortable with the comparison, but I considered him the John Wayne of our community. If you're of a certain age, you know what I mean.

I saw a lot of Frank the last several years on and around the golf course. We played in the same foursome a time or two. (He couldn't resist reminding me my game needed lots of work and that my wife, with whom he'd also played, was the real golfer in the family). But mostly we chatted in the clubhouse, where our lockers were opposite each other. It didn't matter what we talked about, I just remember thinking each time we parted that it was too bad there weren't more Frank Vogts around.

What a man he was.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Suing a blogger

After reading Paul Kirby's story the other day about the mayor of Kingston suing a blogger for libel, what popped into my mind was the famous question "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno asked actor Hugh Grant after the latter had been arrested for soliciting a prostitute: "What the hell were you thinking?"

Why would the mayor or any other public official sue anyone for libel, much less a blogger with little standing and few readers? The mayor almost certainly won't win, the bar to prevail in a libel case having been set at an incredibly high level for people in his position. And even if by some miracle he does win, there's little he can get from this blogger, whose pockets apparently aren't very deep.

All the mayor is likely to accomplish is to draw more attention to what he believed was the libelous remark. (Many more people have read the subsequent news accounts of what the blogger said than when it showed up on the blog in the first place.) And he'll make a martyr of someone who hasn't earned it.

I'll say this: Much as I cringe at nuisance libel suits, if the mayor gets the attention of the many bloggers and anonymous Internet commentators who believe anything -- and I mean anything -- goes, that's not such a bad thing.

Those of us who have been in journalism for more than 20 minutes have a healthy respect for what we do and how we do it. Journalists also understand when we're near the legal line and take pains not to cross it.

There are some interesting and thoughtful blogs floating around in cyberspace. And then there are those bloggers who need to understand that what may pass for discourse in a tavern or at a private party isn't necessarily fit for public consumption.

Put another way, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own set of facts.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Round and round

An editorial cartoon in the Freeman used the "Groundhog Day" analogy to the Obama-Clinton campaign. Perfect. Just like the movie of the same name, it seems like we've been in this place before.

That's what I was the thinking this afternoon when I flipped on the TV in my office to see if the world had exploded yet. Fortunately, no.

But what I did walk into was another cable news talk fest about, in no particular order: Why is Hillary still running? How come Obama can't win the big states? Is this a black vs. white, man vs. woman contest? Why is Hillary still running? Can the Democratic Party be healed? Why isn't Obama wearing a flag lapel pin? And, oh yes, why is Hiillary still running?

On and on, the same heads talk at us from one program to the next, from one channel to the other. It's really quite amazing how the proverbial dead horse is being beaten. Day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute.

Sure, the process by which Americans will select the next leader of the free world is pretty darn important. But give us a break! Isn't there anything else going on? Rumor has it thousands were killed in an earthquake in China and thousands more perished in a cyclone in Myanmar. I also understand horrific weather in the Midwest killed dozens and ruined countless homes. A war in Iraq? Yes, that, too.

Mostly on the cable news networks, however, it's "Groundhog Day." Cue Sonny and Cher.

Oops, hold on a second. This just in: Barbara Walters is plugging her new book. But you already knew that.

Monday, May 5, 2008

You know you're a baby boomer ...

Southern comic Jeff Foxworthy sets up his punch lines with, "You know you're a redneck when ..."

How about, you know you're a baby boomer when ...?

I'm a baby boomer. I'll be 60 in a couple of months.

Here's one: You know you're a baby boomer when you tell your contemporaries that you don't understand today's music - just like our parents whined to their friends in the '50s and '60s.

Here's another, this one straight out of the front page of Saturday's Freeman: You know you're a baby boomer when you're taken aback after reading that some colleges now allow coed roommates.

Imagine that. Whether they're lovers or just friends, at an increasing number of institutions of higher learning, it's OK for males and females to live in the same dorm rooms, according to The Associated Press.

Why that caught me eye is that 40 years ago, I was among a handful of New Paltz students who helped steer the college to what was then a groundbreaking coed dorms policy. That's coed dorms, mind you, not coed roommates.

In coed dorms, the sexes are separated by floors and or wings. With coed roommates, no such barriers exist.

You know you're a baby boomer when you're shocked by the formal acceptance of coed roommates.

No wonder I see my father when I look in the mirror.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Readership is up

The decline in the newspaper industry's paid circulation can't be denied. The statistics don't lie.

But newspapers continue to make it worse for themselves by reporting on their dwindling numbers without emphasizing a different startling fact: More people are reading newspapers today than ever before!

That's right. If you combine the number of people who purchase a newspaper each day with those who visit a newspaper's Internet site at least once a day, you'll discover that newspaper readership is through the roof. That goes for just about every newspaper about which I'm aware, including the Freeman.

It's a message that should resonate with advertisers and readers alike. It should also get the attention of public figures who mistakenly believe newspapers aren't "where it's at." Again, the statistics don't lie. But newspapers don't do a good enough job telling people this story.

Imagine walking up to a retail store and seeing a sign in the window that says, "Fewer people shopping here these days." It would never happen. Who'd want to go into a place like that? But that's what the newspapers of America are telling their customers. Hardly a way to maintain enthusiasm.

So, with apologies to JFK, let the word go forth: People read newspapers. Lots of people. Every day.