Thursday, August 28, 2008

Convential thinking, VI

After a moving biographical video narrated by the wonderful actor David Straithairn of Hyde park, the speech was worth the wait.

Barack Obama's acceptance address was flawless. It hit the right notes, expressing hopes and dreams and patriotism and strength and, yes, specifics. He challenged John McCain. He met head on the personal attacks he's already encountered in anticipation of more of the same. His was a speech about the future.

Barack Obama set the bar high for himself, to be sure. But he also set it high for his political opponents.

Starting Friday, when McCain is to announce his VP selection, it will be fascinating to see how the Republican campaign proceeds.

Will McCain debate Obama on the issues, or will he try to distract Americans with nonsense? More importantly, will Americans let themselves be distracted?

Conventional thinking, V

So here it is, 9:30 Thursday night and we're awaiting Barack Obama's acceptance speech.

Joe Biden, his VP, did OK last night, although this attack dog seemed to be on a short leash. (Biden was more in character - witty and sharp - in brief remarks just a few minutes ago.)

Stevie Wonder, one of my favorites, nearly put me to sleep until he bounced back with "Signed, Sealed and Delivered" (albeit with canned instrumentals and background vocals).

Al Gore was first-rate. Lots of meat - more, in fact, than most speakers this convention week. One can't help but sigh about what might have been had the Supreme Court not elected George W. Bush president instead of Gore in 2000.

The stage is set, the big stadium is full and Obama is due shortly. A black man has been nominated to be president by a major party. No matter what happens in November, this is history unfolding.

Conventional thinking, IV

You have to hand it to Bill Clinton. The man is a helluva speaker. And, like Hillary the night before, Bill hit all the right notes last night in touting Barack Obama and pulling the Democrats together. Perhaps most important for Machiavellian observers, Bill and Hillary did nothing to hurt their "team players" image should Obama lose the general election. The 2012 is right around the corner.

I switched to CNN for convention coverage and found it - you'll excuse the expression - fair and balanced.

CNN has assembled a formidable group of anchors, reporters and commentators. Not much hype. Lots of good information. Full coverage of the roll call. Little hysteria by partisans from either side. Just good solid information.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Conventional thinking, III

Imagine turning on the TV to watch a Super Bowl game. You know there's a game going on because you can hear the crowd cheering and you even get a glimpse of it over the shoulders of the announcers. But mostly, the cameras are on the announcers as they analyze and expound. Pictures of the event? Forget about it.

Couldn't happen? You haven't been watching "coverage" of the Democratic National Convention on any network or cable outlet except for C-SPAN.

Yes, we do get to see the speeches of choice. But most of the convention action isn't deemed important or interesting enough for the American public. Instead, we get plenty of Matthews, Olbermann, O'Reilly, Williams, Greenfield and dozens of other familiar talking heads telling us what we ought to know.

When people complain about "the media," this is who they mean.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Convential thinking, II

It was Hillary Clinton's finest moment. Her best speech. A stemwinder that wonderfully wrapped up her life and experiences and goals and campaign, then neatly linked it to Barack Obama, by way of passing the torch.

And Hillary took it to John McCain, unlike terribly weak keynoter Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia, who failed his party with a sit-on-your-hands address best suited for a college graduation.

"No way. No how. No McCain," Hillary intoned. Perfect.

McCain and Bush convening with the Republicans next week in St. Paul, one of the "twin cities." Get it? Twin cities. Again, perfect.

I could go on, but I'll leave it to others more eloquent. I'll say only that I've never been enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton. Respect her? Yes. Admire her accomplishments? Sure. But she never fully connected for me. Until tonight.

Senator, you hit a home run!

Conventional thinking

You don't have to be a admirer of Ted Kennedy to appreciate what he did last night at the Democratic National Convention.

Perhaps on the grand stage for the final time -- given his serious medical condition -- Kennedy rose to the occasion with a firebrand speech meant to unite the party and rally the troops around Barack Obama.

For those of us who have followed JFK to RFK to Teddy, this was a moment not to be forgotten.

Meanwhile, if you want to watch the convention without the background noise, tune to C-SPAN or log on to the Democrats' Website for the streaming video. No yabbering other than what's going on at the podium.

And incidentally, why does MSNBC feel it's useful to set up shop outdoors near Union Station, where a large bunch of partisans hoot and holler, creating a distraction for commentators and listeners alike?

Hillary Clinton speaks tonight. Bill Clinton tomorrow. After that, maybe interviewers like Ann Curry, the insufferable "Today Show" news reader who somehow was given the first-rate assignment of platform reporter, will stop asking Hillary-related questions, as she did when dealing with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last night. Won't happen, will it?

Katie Couric, in a radio interview this afternoon, admitted maybe the media is "ginning up" the Hillary issue. You think?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Stakeout III

I'm getting ready to leave for vacation. CNN is still on in the office. Now it's Wolf Blitzer saying Obama's VP announcement "could come at any time." I'm convinced he doesn't know that for sure, just like this morning's anchor didn't know when she made a similar prediction.

Former Secretary of Defense William Cohen was a guest a few minutes ago. Biden? Bayh? Kaine? Clinton? Nope. He thinks the dark horse is Al Gore. Why not? That's as interesting a guess (more so, actually) than anyone else's.

Meanwhile, political operative Paul Begala warned that many of Hillary Clinton's backers (PUMAs - "party unity my ass"), already angered by the way they see Obama and the media having treated their candidate during the primaries, will be further agitated by word that she wasn't considered a serious enough VP candidate to be "formally vetted." Begala's partner James Carville (so low-key he almost seemed sedated compared to his other appearances) pretty much echoed that sentiment in a subsequent chat with Blitzer.

And so it goes. There's no news, so the cable beast is putting out plates of red meat to be chewed for hours and hours and hours. It's keeping Obama on the front burner, leaving McCain largely in the dust, driving up interest among those who live for political intrigue.

I'm presuming that by the time I return from vacation, we'll know.

Stakeout II

CNN is still on in the office. Still no news on Obama's VP pick.

To its credit, CNN is no longer airing pictures of the homes of supposed contenders as often as it was this morning, when the anchors were saying, without foundation, it's now apparent, that the announcement would be made at any moment.

Here's a bit of cynical perspective:

For all the tumult over who Obama (and McCain) will select as a running mate, the VP likely will fade into obscurity in the next administration.

And long after the next president departs, it may be difficult remembering the VP's name in a game of Trival Pursuit.


The TV in my office is tuned to CNN.

MSNBC is still wasting its time (but apparently making money for the parent company) showing the Olympics. I won't watch Fox. So it's CNN.

And much of the time this morning they've been on Veepstakes alert.

Veepstakes. Another made-for-TV word that has taken hold this election cycle as broadcasters breathlessly await word on who'll be the running mates with Barack Obama and John McCain.

It's surely a news story. Print is covering it (typically with no more than one legitimate story a day, inside the paper).

But the cable TV news beast has to be fed. So interspersed with "Were the Chinese gymnasts too young?", the tropical storm in Florida and a couple of money stories, CNN keeps going back to a quarter-split screen featuring live pictures from outside the homes of three supposed Obama VP front-runners, as well as Midway Airport, just in case someone is flying into Chicago to meet with the presidential nominee.

Well, OK, I guess this is what CNN should be doing. No doubt there are print reporters similarly staked out.

But do viewers have to see the pictures of the homes when nothing is going on? You do, because CNN wants you to hang on, or at the least keep clicking back, secure in the knowledge that the news will break on its air first.

Who was it that said the news-gathering process is like watching sausage being made?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

That's Italian!

Alan Chartock is heading to the Democratic Convention in Denver next week, and I'm taking a vacation, so we (along with host Rex Smith) recorded two weeks' worth of "Media Project" programs this morning at WAMC in Albany.

It also gave me a late-morning excuse to stop by a place called Andy & Sons Importing. I'd read about it in the "Best of ..." features in the Albany Times-Union and Metroland and promised myself I'd stop by.

We're talking about Italian food, folks. Homemade sausage, meatballs and sauces, lots of cheese, pre-made specialty dishes, pastry and crusty breads and other good stuff, all crammed into a tiny storefront at 256 Delaware Ave., not far from Exit 23 on the Thruway.

For my first trip, I started slow: a sub sandwich to take back to Kingston for lunch. It was first-rate. Next time, I'll be more creative.

There are plenty of excellent establishments to frequent in the Hudson Valley, so I don't want you to blow the locals off. But if you're in the Capital District and this kind of place strikes your fancy, check it out. You won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Same old, same old

This time it was supposed to be different.

This was going to be a presidential campaign unlike any in our liftimes.

This was going to be about ideas and change and facts and respect.

Instead, it's been about misdirection and personalities and attacks.

In other words, it's been politics as usual. And the official nominating conventions haven't even taken place yet.

Most of the blame goes to John McCain, who said it wasn't going to be this way. Instead, he has torn a page out of the Karl Rove playbook and scatter-shot darts at Barack Obama, much like George W. Bush did to McCain eight years ago after taking Rove's Kool-Aid. Now Obama feels the need to fight back in kind, lest he be viewed as a punching bag.

Neither man benefits. Nor does the country.

Soon, the two presidential candidates will annoint their running mates. Historically, the VP nominees turn up the heat and the negative rhetoric. Wonderful.

And here we are, in one of those turning-point moments in our nation's history, finally about to rid ourselves of the worst president we've ever had, and hungry for a new voice and a new image for America.

Yet, on this date in late summer, optimism is fading.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

State of Denial

From my Albany hero Bill Hammond in today's Daily News comes this one great paragraph:

"Too many members of the Assembly and Senate are representing the State of Denial instead of the State of New York. They believe - or pretend to believe - that Paterson is exaggerating the dire economic outlook, that his modest spending trims would needlessly harm services for the poor and the sick. Obviously, they've been breathing too much of the smoke blown by the lobbying groups who fund their campaigns."

No cheering in the press box

I guess if you're into the Olympics (I'm not) and Michael Phelps (ditto, although I certainly recognize his achievements), you can't get enough of one or both.

But the kind of fawning atmosphere described in today's USA Today really doesn't say much for the "journalists" at NBC's "Today Show" and ought to make the average viewer's stomach churn.

Ah, but what more can you expect from America's broadcast home of the Games?

Come to think of it, wha does this story say about USA Today's "news" judgment?


Want to know why I "disdain" (the word I used a couple of blogs ago) Chris "Mad Dog" Russo, the sports talker who bolted WFAN the other day?

Check out the video on the site of his new home Sirius satellite radio, where Russo will have a five-hour program weekdays and have a hand in programming an entire 24-hour channel for Sirius (and its new partner, XM).

If the brief video clip of his foolish rant doesn't turn you off, run out and buy a satellite radio before his launch next month.

Documentary alert!

If you're into politics, the presidency and/or the press, you'll enjoy "Thank You, Mr. President: Helen Thomas at the White House."

This tightly edited documentary, filled with vintage clips and the famed correspondent's own words, is airing on HBO.

Just for fun?

Mondays used to be "dark" at Wiltwyck Golf Club in Kingston. It was a day off for virtually all of the staff, except for someone in the pro shop to retrieve members' clubs.

But that changed several years ago when Wiltwyck realized it could generate much-needed revenue by hosting outings, such as yesterday's YMCA Pro-Am tournament.

Indeed, summertime staples in recent years have included Monday fund-raisers hosted by the state Republican Assembly Campaign Committee and similar events hosted by state Senate Democrats. (A Wiltwyck member must sign as "sponsor" for a non-member event to take place there. The GOP Assembly outing began when John Guerin of the town of Ulster, a Wiltwyck member, was the local assemblyman. (Ulster County GOP Chairman Mario Catalano, Guerin's brother-in-law, also belongs to the club.) As for the Senate Democrats, I have a hunch which Wiltwyck member was the sponsor, but I haven't nailed it down yet.)

If memory serves me correctly, when we first heard of the RACC event, we sent over a photographer, expecting the place to be crawling with big shot politicians. Mostly, however, the field was filled with lobbyists paying big dollars to enjoy the day and help fill the party's coffers. Occasionally, I'm told, a major figure was spotted or spoke at the post-golf dinner. But if there was any news, it never made the papers. Until this week.

Read Fred Dicker's piece in Monday's New York Post or today's followup in The New York Times to see what I mean.

My first reaction is that this is much ado about nothing. Maybe I'll think differently upon reflection. But one thing is certain: This is shaping up as a particularly nasty election cycle, what with Democrats poised to wrestle control of the Senate away from Republicans, and the GOP scratching and clawing to remain the majority. In other words, whether or not District ATtorney Carnright steps in, the gloves have come off.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Pork's role

The New York Daily News called state legislators' hand on its editorial page today. Enjoy:

The same state lawmakers who claim they can't trim spending without harming children and puppies are blowing millions on pork-barrel giveaways.

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo ran a check on some of the 6,500 so-called member items dished out by legislators in 2006 from a $120 million slush fund.

Over and over, he found mindless and/or wasteful earmarks.

Emblematic was a $5,000 gift engineered by Long Island Sen. Charles Fuschillo for his friends at the Massapequa Elks Lodge.

Cuomo stopped the Elks from using the money - taxpayer funds - to buy, of all things, a walk-in freezer for the club's exclusive use.

Other beneficiaries lacked even basic tax documents to show they were going concerns.

And a whopping 2,700 organizations - more than 40% of the total - walked away from money rather than fill out paperwork explaining who they were and what public need they would supposedly fill.

Among the absconders was the Building Blocks Local Development Corp. of Brooklyn, whose 2005 tax return showed it had delivered zero community service because it had zero money. No matter.

Sen. Kevin Parker, a Brooklyn Democrat now running for reelection, has sent the group $15,000 annually for the past three years.

The Legislature is giving away millions not to serve urgent needs, but to buy support at election time. Whether funds are wisely used is beside the point.

Fuschillo said, for example, he was stunned the Elks tried to buy a freezer. He had thought they'd put the $5,000 to "defray the cost of charitable endeavors."

Whatever that means.

This is exactly the kind of waste that must stop in the face of New York's fiscal crisis. And it must stop Monday, when the Legislature meets in special session at Gov. Paterson's order.

He has called on the Legislature to chop its pork budget in half, for a saving of $100 million.

That's not nearly enough.

Get rid of it all.

Dry spell

Did you ever get the feeling something about your day just wasn't right?

You know what I mean: You think you've forgotten to run an errand or you haven't put out the trash or you've neglected to buy a birthday card for your wife?

That's what I experienced Sunday.

Something was missing and I couldn't quite put my finger on it.

I was up early, picked up the newspapers, drove with my wife to Kingston for an 8:50 tee-time, played 18 holes of golf (poorly), ate lunch, returned home, read the papers, watched the Yankees, talked to (and saw) my son, David, and granddaughter, Elizabeth, via Web-cam in Connecticut, made myself a sandwich, searched (unsuccessfully) for a good movie on the satellite, talked by phone to my son, Matt, and his fiance, Jessica, on Cape Cod, and called it a night by 9:30.

Yet, the day just wasn't right. It unlike most and I couldn't remember why.

And then I did!

It didn't rain on Sunday.

No dark clouds. No thunder. No lightning. No torrential downpowers. Not even a sprinkle.

Imagine that. A perfect summer's day in the Hudson Valley.

And they said it couldn't happen!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Not mad about Mad Dog

My disdain for sports talk host Chris Russo was documented on a blog months ago. So pardon me if I don't shed any tears about his departure from the "Mike and the Mad Dog" show on WFAN.

Now that he has a brand name, Russo will likely succeed financially on his own (although he'll virtually disappear from the public consciousness if he goes to satellite radio, as reported). Francesa, arrogant, but incredibly knowledgeable, will do much better as a solo act than his former partner.

But there's no denying Russo and Mike Francesa were a remarkable presence on the air. They took a format essentially invented by Bill Mazer in the 1960s and refined by Art Rust Jr. a couple of decades later, and elevated it to new heights. For proof, look at the amount of coverage their split garnered in the metro dailies, and the emotion it prompted as callers paid their respects this afternoon when Francesa began his post-Russo career. (Russo also broke down when he phoned in a brief farewell. It will be repeated this evening at 6 p.m. on WFAN and YES.)

New York Post columnist Phil Mushnick - conscience of Gotham sports scribes - incisively dubbed Mike and the Mag Dog, "The Know It All and the Village Idiot."

You have to hand it to them, though. They sure were successful.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Open invitation

I know she's on vacation with her husband, but I sure wish Hillary Clinton had stopped by the Freeman office in Kingston while she was visiting Rhinebeck and Woodstock (and, we hear, but without confirmation, staying overnight at the Emerson in Mount Tremper).

The thing is, she's a United States senator representing our state and she's never paid a call on our newspaper's editorial board.

Her colleague Chuck Schumer stops by a couple of times a year.

Don't get me wrong. She doesn't owe us a meeting. I understand her schedule is packed - even now that her presidential run is over. I know her media demands are significant. And I know we're not the largest daily newspaper in New York. (Actually, we're about in the middle of the pack in terms of paid circulation.)

But we do publish a daily newspaper in a state in which she's the U.S. senator, and she's never given our editorial board the opportunity to ask her questions pertinent to our readers.

Sorry, you didn't give us a call, Senator. Maybe next time. We'll be here. Oh, it's 79 Hurley Avenue, Kingston. We're not far from the Thruway interchange. You can't miss us.

Have a nice vacation.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Pay to stay home

Once again I direct your attention to Bill Hammond
of the New York Daily News, whose take on our state Legislature is routinely more critical than what you'll generally find on our editorial page.

And, as I've pointed out before, Hammond is on the scene at the Capitol.

Some Albany insiders with whom we're all familiar allege the opinions of newspapers like ours who don't regularly staff the Legislature are worthless.

What say they about Hammond?

Isaac Hayes

If you're into soul music the way I am, you were saddened by the news of Isaac Hayes' death.

This was one of the giants of soul. Not just the Isaac Hayes best known for the hard-driving "Theme from Shaft", but as a seminal influence on the genre. Indeed, "Black Moses" not only sang, produced and orchestrated, he was a writer of some of the signature songs of Memphis soul, including "Soul Man" and "Hold on I'm Coming" for Sam and Dave.

Must-sees for Isaac Hayes fans are the documentaries "Only the Strong Survive" and "Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story."

You can't make this stuff up

Yet another sign that the world as we know it is coming to an end. Here's an Associated Press dispatch filed this morning:

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) -- Swedish authorities say parents can now name their newborns "Budweiser" or "Metallica" if they so wish.

For decades, Swedish tax authorities had banned parents from naming their children after fast food chains, rock bands or their favorite brand of beer.

But tax authority spokesman Lars Tegenfeldt says the guidelines have been relaxed. He says "there is nothing negative about a name like Coca-Cola or McDonald's today. In the 1970s, maybe it was."

Still, authorities are drawing the line at giving children swear words for names. And forget about naming your child God, Allah or Devil.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Ping pong, anyone?

Have I told you about newspaper's policy on "ping pong letters"?

In short, it's one volley per writer.

Let me explain.

Often we'll get responses to someone's letter to the editor. That typically prompts the original letter writer to submit a response to the response. We say, one to a customer.

It's not that we're taking sides in the debate. It's that at some point, the debate has to end. And, given space restrictions and reader tolerance, we stop it sooner than later. If not, we're into an unending game of letter-writing ping pong.

If others want to weigh in, that's fine. The more voices the better. And if you really want to get into a debate, dig into the reader comment section below each story at As long as you sign your real name, you can get in the game.

As for ping pong in print, sorry, that's off the table.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Thanks, but no thanks

A couple of our top editors disagree with me about the Olympics in Beijing. Since they're the editors, I'm going to let them win the argument and devote whatever space to it that they see fit.

As for me, I haven't been interested in the Olympics since Lake Placid -- and only then, because I had a chance to cover the event for a few days.

I admire the athletes (at least those who are true amateurs and also substance-free). But I don't care for the jingoism and the tape-delayed made-for-TV dramatics. (You do know, of course, that it's a 12-hour time difference between China and here. That means "tonight's" televised opening ceremonies at 8 p.m. Eastern actually began at 8 a.m. Eastern.)

I'll read all I need to know in our daily Associated Press roundup, regardless of where our editors place it.

Beyond that, if I can out from behind my desk long enough to do something else, it will be to play golf and watch the baseball pennant races on TV.

If you like the Olympics, you're about to get your fill. If you're like me, you'll pass.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Favre to the Jets

This will not be the definitive word on Brett Favre. (It's been too long since I wrote sports full-time for me to be anything more than a casual observer.)

And it certainly won't be the final word on Favre. (If you thought the last month's media coverage was overkill, wait until you see what happens now that Favre will be playing in the media capital of the world.)

But for what it's worth, unless the New York Jets believe they have a legitimate chance at winning the Super Bowl, I wouldn't have made the move to obtain Favre. Because if the Jets go from poor to mediocre, or even from poor to not bad, but not from poor to championship caliber, all they're doing is delaying the development of young quarterback Kellen Clemens.

(By the way, I hope Chad Pennington, loyal ex-Jet, finds a good situation for himself. I know pro football is a "what have you done for me lately?" business, but Pennington sure did get the bum's rush after working hard to compete for the No. 1 job.)

Yes, the Jets will be more interesting to watch. But all the seats are sold in their stadium. And all the TV money is in place and distributed among the teams in the NFL.
They will see more merchandise money. (Has Modell's received its Favre No. 4 Jets' jerseys yet?) But if Favre and/or the team flops, he'll be taking playing time away from the future of the franchise, which will set back the franchise long term.

It's been nearly 40 years since that frigid day in late 1968 when my father and I sat way up near the top behind home plate at Shea Stadium to watch the Jets beat Oakland in the American Football League championship game and advance to Super Bowl III. It was a few years earlier when we went to the Polo Ground to see the New York Titans (later the Jets) play early AFL games. In other words, I feel a historical connection to the Jets, even though in recent years I've paid a lot less attention to them and the NFL than I once did.

Favre to the Jets ought to excite me. Sorry to say, it doesn't.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Port side

I meant to mention in the previous post about my stop in Ulster Park that going south from Kingston on Route 9W now means seeing a spruced up hamlet of Port Ewen.

Months of aggravating, but necessary roadwork is finally over, and in its wake are an improved thoroughfare and eye-catching crosswalks and parking lanes.

With a new town hall nearing completion and a relatively new firehouse down the road, this stretch of Esopus is looking better all the time.

El Paso - New York, not Texas

Back on the road today visiting advertisers, some already in the paper, some we're hoping to attract.

One stop along the way with sales rep Jody Wallack was the El Paso Winery in Ulster Park. As my friend, columnist-broadcaster Stan Fischler, likes to say about someplace he's never been, I aspired to go there. After all, I've been passing the winery on Route 9W for years without ever venturing inside. It was time.

We were greeted by Jay Vogel, who runs the place with his wife. (I think he'd say it's the other way around.) The small shop offers a variety of their blends, as well as a host of related products. Yes, there are free wine-tastings, too. I look forward to trying the bottle of Chianti I purchased.

El Paso Winery is yet another unique business tucked into a corner of Ulster County.

What's news?

Here's some required reading for those of you who can't distinguish between news and rumors in the blogosphere. It is the syndicated column by Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post Writers Group, as it appears on the Opinion page of today's Freeman:

The tabloid story that everybody's talking about -- but almost no one is writing about -- has created an interesting debate on the Internet about the dueling roles of old/new media and what constitutes legitimate news.

The item prompting this debate concerns allegations of a former presidential candidate's alleged affair, an alleged "love child" and a recent secret rendezvous in a Hollywood hotel.

Scandalous, no?

Well, yes and no. The "news" is being breathlessly discussed that way on the internet, but not much in the mainstream media. When does a story in the blogosphere become hot enough to make the jump to the MSM?

The short answer is: When there are facts to report. Until then, a rumor is a rumor is a rumor.

And tabloids, though sometimes right, are generally considered prurient entertainment, not reliable journalism. There is a difference in standards, even if mainstream journalism sometimes falls short of perfection.

The blogosphere is another creature altogether -- a mixture of the highest and lowest levels of discourse, a village square where the planet's brightest lights and dimmest creatures commingle in a random loop of spontaneous ignition. Content, often begun as a conversation among neighbors, is freewheeling and unrated. Journagossip.

As we've witnessed several times in recent years, what happens in the blogosphere can eventually reach a tipping point and jump the invisible barrier to the MSM. Mickey Kaus, a respected journalist and blogger, has created a theory of "undernews" around the phenomenon -- news that simmers in the blogosphere until someone high on the mainstream food chain decides to take a bite of the apple.

The cycle looks something like this: First, the "news" is essentially gossip, based loosely on unnamed sources. Then the news is the story of the gossip. (Ah, the dull thrill of irony.) Then the story is the nonreporting of the story. And, voila, the "news" is News! What began in the tabloid world as gossip has gained legitimacy by virtue of the media covering itself.

As here.

Sort of.

I'm trying to write this column without repeating the actual allegations because they're unproved, but also because I don't care. Of greater concern than the tragedy of human frailty, which is not news, is the driving force behind the story -- schadenfreude -- the pleasure in others' misery.

Whether this particular story gets reported more broadly depends on multiple factors too numerous to list here, but my guess after 30 years in newspapers is that most editors simply don't want to go there. We've traveled this road too many times, seen too much roadkill, and the scenery only gets worse.

What we recognize, inevitably, is that we've all become gossips, prying into other people's private lives, sifting through their garbage, peeking in their windows, wallowing in their pain. Fifteen minutes of fame have morphed into 15 minutes of infamy. The sensation of the consumer is the same we feel at a friend's funeral. Someday it will be ours.

When I was a little girl, my best friend was Mrs. Brown, a 65-year-old widow who lived on the corner across the street. Several times a week, I joined Mrs. Brown for lunch. She always ate the same thing: a hamburger patty, a scoop of cottage cheese, two slices of tomato with pepper, and a cup of hot tea with lemon.

One day, Mrs. Brown veered from course and also ate a slice of pecan pie. No sooner had she taken her last bite than her telephone rang. It was Mrs. MacQueen, another widow who lived on the opposite corner: "I saw you eat that piece of pie," she said.

Mrs. Brown and I were both horrified, even though I knew that Mrs. Brown also watched Mrs. MacQueen's every move from her own dining room window. They gossiped incessantly about one another. Heaven forbid, one should have had a night visitor.

Or that either had been a blogger.

In a matter of decades, we have become a nation of Mrs. Browns and Mrs. MacQueens -- nosy little old ladies who can't leave each other alone to eat a piece of pie, or even to fall from grace and suffer sorrow in the privacy of our own hearts. Ruinous humiliation is the coin of this wretched realm.

That's the real scandal, and there may be nothing we can do about it. In a free society where standards of civility and manners are voluntary, few are signing up.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Don't take a deep breath

As a follow up to the entry about the Olympics, here's a column by the Washington Post's Sally Jenkins. How much time do you figure NBC will devote to this?

When did that happen?

It may be an admission that I haven't been in New Paltz for quite some time, but I was shocked this afternoon to see a Japanese restaurant where The Homestead used to be.

It was 42 years ago when I first arrived at a college student in New Paltz and The Homestead was already there. Today you would call it a nightspot. Then, it was a bar. If you didn't go to The Homestead, it was either P&Gs or Joe's East West.

I'm afraid I can't tell you when The Homestead closed, but it sure surprised me when I looked across the street from the former Chez Joey, which is now called Fat Bob's.
Several other storefronts looked the same, particularly Jack's and Manny's. But The Homestead is no more. Wow.

On camera

Another sign that the world as we know it is coming to an end: They're going to use instant replay at the Little League World Series.

That's the Little League World Series, not the Major League World Series.

So important are championship baseball games for young people, apparently, that adults will rely on replays so that, perish the thought, a judgment call -- part of the sport for its history -- can be reversed.

The big leaguers may have replay by World Series time, too. But at least you can make the case that so much money is at stake, it would be foolish not take advantage of what video technology has to offer, rather than have important games decided by human error.

Not so at Little League level, where kids are supposed to be taught all about athletics and sportsmanship and dealing with defeat, seemingly unfair defeat.

Did somebody say our priorities are misplaced? Yes. Me.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Olympic "news"

If you have too much time on your hands and you want to have some fun, try monitoring the broadcast network newscasts and morning "news" programs for the next three weeks and see what they devote to the Olympics, which begin Friday in Beijing.

NBC will be televising the games. The "countdown" was launched this morning with The Today Show's Matt Lauer live from the Great Wall of China.

It's safe to predict that ABC, CBS and Fox won't judge the "news" value of the Olympics nearly as highly as will NBC. That's no surprise, given the amount of money NBC has invested in the Olympics. But it does nothing to dissuade already cynical news consumers who already believe that when it comes to "news" content on corporate-owned TV networks, dollars make a difference.

Friday, August 1, 2008


I'm partial to all of our advertisers, but I can't help but point you in the direction of one in particular: Fabulous Furniture on Route 28 in the Ulster County hamlet of Boiceville, at which I stopped yesterday with Freeman sales rep Brenda Williams.

Steve Heller has some unusually creative furniture and sculpture in and around his emporium. He obviously wants you to buy something, but I don't think he'll mind if you just look and admire the cool things on the grounds.

Equally talented is Steve's wife, the noted entertainment journalist Martha Frankel, whose memoir "Hats & Eyeglasses" has received excellent notices.