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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Gaza Tourism

Powerful new two-minute film, allegedly by Banksy, exposing conditions in Gaza today (as tongue-in-cheek tourist destination).   Yes, there's a little Banksy on a wall or two, also.

Foxed Up

Jon Stewart, after getting hit by Fox, can't resist a highlight reel--but with a very serious edge.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Crane Gonna Leak

Fifty years ago today one of Bob Dylan's most famous interviews--on Les Crane TV show.  Unfortunately the video disappeared long ago.   I like when Bob offers mock surprise that Allen Ginsberg earlier on show spoke of virtues of pot.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Underrated Lesley Gore

Reports that the singer has died at 68 from cancer.  Carried through "You Don't Own Me" to being openly gay and outspoken years later, even hosted PBS "In the Life" series in 2004.  Quincy Jones was early producer.   "Maybe I Know" was Barry-Greenwich perfection.  Won Oscar nomination for song in "Fame." Even played "Pussycat" on the original "Batman" TV series (see below).



Won't You Lend Your Lungs to Me?

Epic John Oliver takedown last night on cigarette companies still being total dicks.  Plus:  His new ad campaign for Marlboro starring Jeff the Diseased Lung Cowboy.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Pancho and Lefty and Emmylou and Willie and Lyle

From Willie Nelson's induction into Austin City Limits' inaugural Hall of Fame--song by the late great Townes van Zandt.  Full program airs this week.

Monday, February 9, 2015

John Oliver Returns

He returned to HBO last night amid news he has hired investigative reporters.  Here's clip on Death of Radio Shack and more probing Doctors and Meds.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Brian Williams and 'Hogwash'

My mind isn't too far gone as yet, but I had totally forgotten, until reminded by my wife last night, about an "encounter" I had with Brian Williams (who is now taking a brief leave from his NBC post under fire, so to speak) back in 2008.  As a famed and influential journalist, his misreading of my article and sourcing back then might be nearly as troubling as a decade of confabulation.  And, as a sidelight, there's even a reference to seeing bodies floating face down in New Orleans after Katrina.

I was in my seventh year as the editor of Editor & Publisher, then the "bible of the newspaper industry."  I had directed or written hundreds of articles on press coverage of the Iraq war, and how the media screwed up in a truly tragic fashion (especially in the run-up to the 2003 invasion).  For our highly critical, and for quite a time on-the-fringe coverage, we won numerous national awards.  I collected some of my own pieces in a book, So Wrong for So Long, which came out in the spring of 2008.   

Also coming out with a book that spring: Scott McClellan, former punching bag as press secretary for President George W. Bush.  To the surprise of many, McClellan admitted the press had been badly misled on Iraq and he sharply criticized them for falling for the false reports promoted by Bush officials and spokesmen (including himself).  The New York Times called me for a comment, and I talked about the McClellan book in a segment on Bill Moyers' PBS show.  Moyers, of course, was one of the few who got Iraq right from the start.

Well, that sent many in the media into defensive mode.  I collected some of their responses (don't miss David Gregory's and Mike Allen's)  in an E&P piece near  the end of May 2008.   Imagine my surprise when I got a lengthy email from Brian Williams.  It was the first time I had ever heard from him, although in the opening he revealed he was a regular reader of my columns.

This was the passage in my piece that he objected to:
Or this from NBC's Brian Williams: “Sadly, we saw fellow Americans — in some cases floating past facedown (after Katrina). We knew what had just happened. We weren’t allowed that kind of proximity with the weapons inspectors [in Iraq]. I was in Kuwait for the buildup to the war, and, yes, we heard from the Pentagon, on my cell phone, the minute they heard us report something that they didn’t like. The tone of that time was quite extraordinary.” And this: "“It’s tough to go back, to put ourselves in the mind-set. It was post-9/11 America."
So the Pentagon tells the media what kind of reporting is in- and out-of-bounds? Hogwash. Hogwash! HOGWASH.
His letter was marked "not for publication" but I can fairly summarize it here.

Williams was angry that I had allegedly misinterpreted his defense of media coverage and particularly my claim that it was "hogwash."  He said he wanted to make "damn sure" this wasn't being directed his way, "or we could have a problem."  I'm not sure if he was threatening further emails, getting called out on national TV, or some sort of libel suit.

He then went in some detail explaining why surely I must have been "kidding" when I raised my eyebrows about the Pentagon trying to shape policy.  Of course, he said, this happened all the time, and he cited examples, including being called while on the air to retract his observation that there was mass looting in Baghdad when he had watched it with his very eyes--or so he claimed (we have to wonder about all that now).  But, of course, he merely listened to all those complaints, and then put them aside.  Same with the constant backlash in covering the Obama and McCain campaigns, which floated right off his back. Again: "As my daughter would say, are you kidding me?"

Fair enough so far, you say?  Not really, since Williams wanted it both ways.  In his email he says he was unmoved by the Pentagon pressure, but in his 2008 quote in my piece he asked us to understand that, well, those were very different times and the pressure was, maybe, understandable.

And there was a more significant problem: Why was he writing to me at all?   The passage he objected to--including the hated "hogwash"--did not come from me.  It was clearly marked in my column as the work of two reporters from McClatchy, Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel, who as it happens were among the very few who raised serious and persistent questions about Bush's WMD "evidence" during the run-up to the war.  You can read their full critique here, with the Williams passage.  (They did not include Williams saying in the same interview, "I think it's, it's tough to go back. Put ourselves in the mindset. It was still post-9/11 America.")

So Brian Williams, top anchor and managing editor, had completely gotten this source dead wrong.  He had even written to the wrong person to complain.

But let's continue.  In his email to me, Williams then bizarrely expanded on his you-obviously-don't-understand-those-times defense (even though I had lost a friend in 9/11 and edited a media magazine during the entire period).  How? By linking his contextual defense to one offered by Earl Warren, the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who on his death bed tried to explain why the court had okayed (in the famous "Korematsu" case) the mass detention of Japanese-Americans during World War II.  Like Williams, Warren had explained "you have to understand the times."  If I was Williams, I would not have gone there, if you know what I mean.

Williams then closed his email charging it was just too easy for so many to claim the war was partly the fault of the media or even to make a sweeping (if rather obvious to nearly everyone else) suggestion that the media was "too soft." 

I'm tempted to reply (this time in my own voice): Hogwash.

And see my 2008 piece on Williams' interview with Tom Brokaw also in response to the McClellan book--with Brokaw also vigorously defending war coverage.  With no push back from Brian.


Saturday, February 7, 2015

Bobbing and Weaving

Major tribute to Dylan last night in L.A. (imagine it will appear on cable soon) and amazing recounting of his 30-minute speech here, in which he separates famed songwriters who liked him and those who did not (and his own views of them).  Much more from the speech here as he hails others who have covered his songs--Hendrix, Johnny Cash, Nina Simone, a touching thank you to Joan Baez, and more.  And another lengthy account here with attacks and critics.  Photos here. UPDATEFull transcript of his remarks finally here. Also here from a Dylan fan site were the songs and artists who performed:
1. Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat (Beck)
2. Shooting Star (Aaron Neville)
3. Subterranean Homesick Blues (Alanis Morissette)
4. On A Night Like This (Los Lobos)
5. SeƱor (Tales Of Yankee Power) (Willie Nelson)
6. Blind Willie McTell (Jackson Browne)
7. Highway 61 Revisited (John Mellencamp)
8. One More Cup Of Coffee (Valley Below) (Jack White)
9. What Good Am I? (Tom Jones)
10. I'll Be Your Baby Tonight (Norah Jones)
11. Million Miles (Susan Tedeschi & Derek Trucks)
12. Pressing On (John Doe)
13. Girl From The North Country (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
14. Standing In The Doorway (Bonnie Raitt)
15. Boots Of Spanish Leather (Sheryl Crow)
16. Make You Feel My Love (Garth Brooks from his show in Pittsburgh)
17. Knocking on Heavens Door (Bruce Springsteen and Tom Morello)

39th President of the United States Jimmy Carter introduces Bob Dylan.
Bob gives acceptance speech.
18. Blowin in the Wind (Neil Young)

Dickens Turns 203 Today

The real Sir Charles:  greatest (and funniest?) novelist in the English language.  If you have never plunged in, do not ignore the lesser-known "Hard Times" and "Our Mutual Friend." Also: "A Tale of Two Cities" is great, even if you did read it in 8th grade.   "Bleak House" may be the greatest--also, the basis for one of the best series ever on PBS, from 2005.    It kicked off my own obsession, which included a visit to his house in London.  Here's the trailer:

Friday, February 6, 2015

Full Nelson

Tracy friended me at Facebook, still a thrill.  Reviewed one of her Mother Earth albums at Crawdaddy--in 1971.  Still maybe the greatest rock vocal performance of our time  (and why some of us always preferred her to Janis) on this song she penned herself--here for a large crowd in...a detention center.  No auto-tuning! And here's a tribute from someone I knew a little long ago, Al Kooper, with his "Best Of" picks.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

American Gun Culture

Glad to see Gail Collins at NYT tackle one of the under-covered aspects of "American Sniper"--what she pictures as the insane final scene where Kyle walks through the house, with kids around, and points loaded gun at his wife.  It's "all in fun" and, wait for it, his wife has said this indicated to her that actually he was getting healthy and back to his fun-lovin' self!  You know, the guy loved to point loaded gun at TVs and pretend to shoot bad guys.  Gail frames all this with current gun control battles. 

The Lies of Brian

Update Good timeline of Williams' tales via Brian Stelter at CNN site. 

Earlier: No, it's not Monty Python, but the NBC anchor getting away with--until today's Stars & Stripes story--claiming for years he was in copter shot down in Iraq.   Now he's finally apologized but the stain shouldn't go away.  Prediction:  goody buddy Jon Stewart will have him on his show this week and let him laugh it off as just getting old, forgetting things....And may claim he did teach daughter to fly without wires on TV....Dave Weigel tweets: "To put this Brian Williams thing in perspective, imagine how any news org would cover a senator who fudged such a story."

Here's Williams gassing about it on Letterman as recently as 2013.  And below that, in 2007.


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Friday, January 23, 2015

Now We Take Berlin!

January update:  Trip to Berlin now set--so very light posting for the next 10 days--and amazingly have arranged interviews with all four key tunnelers who took part in the "CBS" and "NBC" tunnels, plus the first woman who escaped (with baby) and much more... 

And further:  Signed contract this week so, so as the tunnelers no doubt said at some point, there's no turning back now!  My risks a good deal lighter, however.   My photo at left is from memorial at Bernauer Strasse with photos of more than 100 who lost their lives at the Wall--with the remains of the Wall visible behind their pictures. 

Further update:  Thrilled to be working closely with my daughter on this, as she and husband already hard at work as (paid) researchers in Berlin.  My next trip there: late-January.  And I hear tremendous interest from A-list screenwriters on movie.

Update Thursday:  Publishers Weekly covers the book (and movie) deal tonight.   NYT, ABC, CBS,  and a few dozen others picked up the AP story today.  

Update Wednesday:  And now another wild week, since we did things backwards, my book proposal sold to the movies first, for Paul Greengrass film--and only now comes the remarkably major book deal.  Here's the Associated Press story now, with the great Rachel Klayman at Crown/Random
House to edit. 

Friday: Big news today for yours truly, as my proposal for my next book The Tunnels was purchased by great upstart company FilmNation for a major film directed by one of my film heroes, Paul Greengrass.  Just up at Variety.

Quite flattered by interest over past 10 days from several leading studios and A-list directors but very happy to be with Greengrass--I was one of early boosters of his Bloody Sunday back in 2002, and since--and producer Mark Gordon (who did Saving Private Ryan and so many others).  Amazing story of  young folks in the West who at unfathomable risk dug tunnels under the Berlin Wall in 1962 to bring out family and lovers and others--and now a wonderful chance to tell it on the page and on the screen.  The Variety description includes the key angle of CBS and NBC financing two key tunnels--but omits what happened then:  JFK at the White House trying to suppress the two network specials as nuclear tensions rose.

Special thanks to Brian Siberell and Michelle Weiner at CAA and my literary agent Gary Morris at the David Black Agency.  Yowza.  And great chance to work with my daughter, who lives in Berlin about a mile from the former path of the Wall.   My photo above of some of those who died trying to get over or under or around the Wall, at the Memorial on Bernauer Strausse (remnant of the Wall behind them).

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Voice of a (Golden Ager) Generation?

It's come to this:  Dylan on the cover of AARP magazine.  And as per usual for mag (which celebrates older folks but oddly refuses to let them look like themselves) with a heavily airbrushed photo.  And now--here's the cover story.


'Sniper' Under Attack (Updated)

Update #8  Iraq vet with must-read piece at New York with words of praise for the film in getting parts the soldiers' experiences there right--but also finding much fault with its "myopia"--and it's certainly not the Iraq war film we still need...And yet another valid and lengthy critique about what film gets wrong from a second Vox writer.  "Its premises are wrong, and its results are dangerous. By feeding that narrative, American Sniper is part of the problem."

Update #7  And now Matt Taibbi joins in, calling the film almost  too "absurd" to critique.  "[T]o turn the Iraq war into a saccharine, almost PG-rated two-hour cinematic diversion about a killing machine with a heart of gold (is there any film theme more perfectly 2015-America than that?) who slowly, very slowly, starts to feel bad after shooting enough women and children – Gump notwithstanding, that was a hard one to see coming.
Sniper is a movie whose politics are so ludicrous and idiotic that under normal circumstances it would be beneath criticism. The only thing that forces us to take it seriously is the extraordinary fact that an almost exactly similar worldview consumed the walnut-sized mind of the president who got us into the war in question....

"Well done, Clint! You made a movie about mass-bloodshed in Iraq that critics pronounced not political! That's as Hollywood as Hollywood gets."

And this important point:  "The thing is, it always looks bad when you criticize a soldier for doing what he's told. It's equally dangerous to be seduced by the pathos and drama of the individual solider's experience, because most wars are about something much larger than that, too."

Update #6  Two more good takes on the dangerous fictions in the film related to the war itself and how Eastwood falsely presents it.  A detailed accounting here from Vox on the "whitewash."

And this piece IDs what it calls the most "pernicious" lie in the film--that the U.S. was fighting "al Qaeda" right from the start of our invasion--not only completely false (no Al Qaeda in Iraq at that point) but also lending credence to Bush and Cheney claims that Saddam had something to do with 9/11 and we had to root out Al Qaeda in Iraq.  That famous scene in movie (and trailer) where Kyle shoots woman happened on his first tour, at the beginning of the invasion, and in the film the enemy is already labeled Al Qaeda.

Plus: Alyssa Rosenberg of the Washington Post finds the film "mediocre" but more than that also misleading and untruthful (see second half of her piece).  See also raises the issue (see below) of ignoring Kyle bragging about killing Americans here at home.

Update #5   Writer at the New Orleans Times-Picayune hits Kyle for his clear lie about shooting 30 bad guys in that city--from the roof of the Superdome.  I've noted it before but good to see it in the city's leading news outlet.

Okay, let's say that Kyle was just gassing about this while drunk--what does this show about this "hero's" make-up to brag about being judge and executioner--of American citizens, not "savage" Iraqis?  This is a question none of his, and the film's, supporters wish to tackle.

More: The Guardian in London fact-checks the film vs. both history and Kyle's own book--and finds it wanting in many aspects.  I'd had pointed out nearly all of this many days ago.

Update #4  New piece hits what's left out of the film and portrayal of U.S. mission--by Marine who served with Kyle in Fallujah.

And a good piece here from Charlie Fink at Medium, which opens by recalling the Liberty Valance line--"When the legend becomes fact print the legend." Goes on to say that since we've apparently learned nothing from our Iraq invasion it could easily happen again tomorrow--after everyone has viewed this movie we'll be ready.  
And truth is gone, banished, most probably for good. We’re not cying about the right things and we are never going to. We lost a war, we destroyed a country, we displaced millions and started what may yet be regarded as World War 3. So far, we suffered five thousand dead, twenty five thousand wounded, and five hundred thousand traumatized. We transferred hundreds of billions of dollars of public wealth into private hands to pay for the war. We could have cured cancer, or world hunger. Instead we destroyed Iraq, for false reasons, at huge cost to us. We remain bogged down in Afghanistan. We are on our way back to Iraq. And so there will be more Chris Kyles, and more killing, and more transfer of wealth.
A bit of a backlash developing in Hollywood over making a "sociopath" a "super hero."

Update #3  Film gets Oscar nod for Best Picture for Actor Bradley Cooper.  Now Cooper again offers bullshit defense of film, explaining again that it is "not political" and not really about Iraq, so ignore that, brother.  Just a "character" study.  Yes, true, but in ways he may not realize.     Then Kyle's widow says, hey, even Mother Teresa gets criticized.  And, about Kyle's many lies after returning home....

Update #2  Good Salon piece by Laura Miller on Kyle, as revealed in his memoir. 

Update:  Among other things, we also now know that Eastwood and star Bradley Cooper both went to Texas to assure Kyle's father that their film would do nothing to hurt his son's reputation at all--which they apparently lived up to.  The dad says he told them he would "unleash hell" on Eastwood if he went back on his promise.  

Earlier:  Let me say quickly that I have not seen Eastwood's new American Sniper, but I have read a bunch of reviews and I get the drift.  But let me also emphasize that my views my change somewhat if I see the film.  And Kyle no doubt had some good post-war virtues.  But to begin:

Given the horrid number of Iraqi civilians killed by U.S. gunmen one has to wonder how many of the record-setting victims of his marksmanship fell into that category--though not hinted at in the film, apparently.  We do see him offing a mother and child--but she has, of course, just handed the boy a bomb.  The film, from the reviews,  even goes so far as to suggest that the vast majority of the bad guys were "al-Qaeda" which is absurd given the al-Qaeda numbers there--but it's necessary to emphasize the revenge-for-9/11 focus.  Also the film apparently does not raise questions about sniper Chris Kyle's treatment for many of the PTSD vets he tried to aid--you know, take them to a firing range for fun (which led to his death and, it must be noted, that of another man).  Kyle's widow, however, claims that the man who shot her husband--and the other victim--was not suffering from PTSD.

In the book that inspired the film Kyle bragged that he  “hated the damn savages” he was fighting. He recounts telling an Army colonel, “I don’t shoot people with Korans. I’d like to, but I don’t.”   A New Yorker profile called him part lawman, part "executioner."  Yes, he did have some good qualities, too, in aiding vets he didn't take to rifle ranges.  But as A.O. Scott of the NYT wrote, "And though George W. Bush's name is never invoked, American Sniper can be seen as an expression of nostalgia for his Manichaean approach to foreign policy."

Even a conservative National Review writer has hit another (alleged) media-promoted Kyle myth--that he and his widow donated all or most of the massive profits from his book to help vets.

Finally, here is a Washington Post piece from a few months back looking at his post-Iraq lies or exaggerations and one has to wonder about his record in the war as well.    He claimed he climbed on top of the Superdown in NOLA and shot 30 bad guys from there after Katrina.  Killed a couple of others or more elsewhere.   Police and reporters can't find any of the dead.  Claimed he punched out Jesse Ventura in a bar--while Jesse was in a wheelchair, no less--and lost a million dollar lawsuit (since affirmed a couple of times since this article) for seemingly making it all up.  And so on. You won't see any of that in the Eastwood epilog.

Kyle, of course, became a prominent anti-gun control advocate and claimed Obama mild opposition to assault rifles was move to take away all gun rights and other rights. 

Lengthy post here adds a couple other alleged Kyle lies to the mix and much more. This review raises other questions about Eastwood dropping all of the troubling Kyle claims and deadly quotes--making him a more sympathetic hero but not the real Kyle (in that view).

With Beethoven in Berlin

Will be a thrill next Friday to catch a Beethoven concert in his native Germany at the historic Konzerthaus in Berlin, no less.  Of course, his role in celebrating the end of the Wall in 1989 is documented in our Journeys With Beethoven book--and film--so this will be especially significant for me as I embark on my own Wall book.  Here's one of the pieces for this program, the stirring Egmont Overture, led by Leonard Bernstein, who also led the 1989 LvB Ninth Symphony celebration there.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Diane Krall "Pines" for Richard Manuel

Surprised to come upon this, Diana Krall doing Richard Manuel's classic for The Band, "Whispering Pines," one of the loveliest ballads of them all.  R.I.P. Richard.  Yes, I've seen those pines outside Big Pink.