Saturday, May 17, 2014

Baaaad Baaaad Bosses! One of Journalism's Tiny Imperfections



Why Bosses Tend To Be So Miserable, Difficult and Troubling in Journalism. A Memoir.

I am certain you have now concluded the New York Times is among the worst run places in the world of business, but I am here to assure you that is not the case, and to argue that many news organizations are run by perhaps the worst managers of all, that would be, in some cases...

Former Reporters!

First, a review of the particulars. To those of us who live outside the sanctum, word arrived this week that Jill Abramson was being bounced as executive editor of The New York Times. Her allies got to the news blower first and suggested it was because she was upset at her pay, said to be less than that of her predecessor, Bill Keller. That explanation had just enough time to firm up when it was blown clean out of the water by publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. who started a quick step aimed first at the staff and then at the rest of us.

No, he said, Jill was NOT paid less than her predecessor. The New York Times believes in equal pay for equal work, and so on. In fact, she was paid MORE than her predecessor.  Arthur suggests the problem was really about management style, how she was just a great journalist (true!) and a fine editor (maybe!) but just could not get the staff on her side, for some reason.

The mental word association "bitch," which is cruel, unfair and sexist, seems to pop up any time I read these things. I would never say or think that about her. Toughness and bitchiness are not the same things. Bitchy is someone who nags you like an unhappy spouse until you jump off the nearest ledge. Toughness is jumping off the nearest ledge because, goddamn it, you know SHE would do the same thing in that circumstance and you owed it to her.

My boss at The Chicago Tribune, Ann Marie Lipinski, was tough and the kind of editor I would leap off of the ledge for, but I would respond with a determined "fuck yourself" if anyone suggested she was a "bitch." She knew how to win people to her side with reasoned argument, set high standards and serve up nice big ladles of warmth when that was necessary. Jim Squires, her predecessor, was much the same, but a completely different kind of animal. Nuts in an engaging way for some of us, but just nuts for others. He was bold, pushy and affectionate. In both cases Squires and Lipinski, this worked for me.

Of course they both played favorites. They all have played favorites. It reminds me of one of old Mayor Daley's responses when someone asked him if he had given a contract to a city hall friend. He said something like, "You would expect me to give it to an enemy?" They were called Friends of Ann Marie (FOAMS) in her case, and I could never figure out how you got to be one until I heard from someone that I actually was one! I was immensely surprised and flattered because I avoided her as much as I could. I trusted her, but I didn't want to be seen as a suck up, especially when I was running the Sunday Perspective section, which I took over in 2001 on the grounds I would not have to meet with anybody very much and would pay attention only to the special voices in my head. (That 'nuts' thing works both ways. It worked for about five years, a good run.)

What I learned in 27 years at The Tribune and ten years at UPI before that and a couple of years at little papers even before that is an enduring lesson that plays right into the New York Times story. The fact that you are a great reporter and great handler of copy doesn't mean you will be a great boss. In fact the things that make you valuable in those areas, independence, diligence, drive and so on, may work against you when you slip into the unusual world of managing people.

The problem with bossing is that it shines a bright light on all of our weaknesses, amplifies them, and makes them defining characteristics that slip into the narratives of our careers. You actually get to hear people suggest you were a gaping asshole, something you were not aware of at all.  I think I know why.

First, there is no point in working for a newspaper that isn't pushy, so that's part of the formula. Second, pushy newspapers need to achieve great things. They do that with their staff, which is motivated by its editors, if everything works well. What you want is enough respect so if you say, "please go through this wall for me," your colleagues will say, "Yes Charles, because we know you would do it for us." That doesn't happen much. Most of the time you have to default to authority, which is the worst tool to use with people who are smart, creative and aggressive.

Defaulting to authority. That's what being pushy is about.

I had a great piece of advice from John Crewdson, a reporter without equal and a man with both Sherlock and Mycroft wrapped mysteriously inside, and a very hard boss. "Don't ever tell people you are asking them to do something because I want it. It has to be because YOU want it. You need that authority." That's pretty hard to build without training or experience, so you fall back on what seemed to work for people in your career, bullying and pushing people around.

I was a ghastly boss, I think, because I didn't like the idea of it. Even though I kept getting promoted no matter where I worked (mystified to this day about that!) I would usually revert to doing everyone's work myself and then spreading lots of praise to spackle over the damaged egos. The work would be well done, because I was good at it, but that wasn't the point. I became the person no one wanted to work with, the black hole that stared at copy and sucked in everything around me, emerging a bit later with, admittedly, a pretty good story.

That was all a mistake. I don't keep a list of people who dislike me because of how I was as a boss, but it would be pretty long, I think. I really regret that, not being the kind of leader I wanted to be.

That is why I have some feeling for Jill and her difficulties at the New York Times. She was given control of a whole room of very spirited horses, and apparently thought the whip was the best way to get them to jump through hoops. The took every crack personally and obviously whinnied right up the power chain so everyone knew how unhappy they were. In her defense, a long line of predecessors back many years were equally pushy and difficult. But they were men. In men, that is viewed as strength, although it is not.

All of these stories about failed management are individual, I know that. But somehow, at newspapers, they are not surprising. Being pushy can get you up the ladder, but it won't work unless you understand the people behind you have knives.

At least that's how it seems.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Inside the New York Times!



What, exactly, is going on at the New York Times and why we'll never know and why the real problem is everywhere else!

Let's assume your every waking hour is not occupied with thoughts about The New York Times and what just happened to its editor, Jill Abramson, who was unceremoniously dumped by the head capo. 

The first round of scuttlebutt from the paper obviously came from Jill supporters who let it be known she boldly challenged upper management because she was being paid less than her predecessors in the job. It was a very convenient and dependable way to grab the high ground because everyone knows equal work demands equal pay everywhere. In light of all that, we got this on Huffington Post. It makes Jill's situation seem pretty unfair. One might argue she didn't have to take those jobs at those salaries at all, but that is thinking in retrospect. If one is committed to equal pay for equal work, and the New York Times and the liberal establishment certainly is, then all you can think is that the situation had a really bad smell to it.

The New York Times fired back with its own Sulzberger-level broadside cum explainer in which the boss did everything but hang Jill's knickers on the front of the building for everyone to see. The not so hidden message is that Jill was crabby and pushy in the newsroom and maybe just too cranky to be in charge.  If this was aimed at calming the furies, probably not. She went from being an underpaid, tough, diligent leader to pushy bitch in just a few hours.

Everyone knows that the last genuinely pushy bitch at the New York Times was Abe Rosenthal and that everyone else everywhere else in journalism was a cheap imitator. If it was okay for Abe to be so pushy, why wasn't it okay for Jill to be pushy? Maybe she just wanted to make certain she didn't get trapped by some Jayson Blair incarnate, the liar reporter who ruined his own career and the careers of a whole brace of Times heavyweights.

All of which takes the focus away from a big and troubling issue in journalism, the fact that women are paid lots less than men for the same work all over the place. Having now educated seven years worth of journalism classes, I can say with absolute certainly that there's no difference between men and women except that women tend to be more dependable in turning in their class work.

So I was surprised by an amazing coincidence that landed in the mail just as the Times was stumbling through its latest problem. Straight from Ernie Pyle Hall at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind. came the summary of the 2013 American Journalist survey. There's lots of dark stuff about the news business in the survey, including the fact that job satisfaction is withering.

But this is more important than that. The median salary for women in journalism in 2012 was 83 percent of the median salary for men in the same positions. Even the veterans, those with 20 years or more on the job, earned 6.6 percent less than the men. The income gap among journalists with a dozen years or so on the job is even worse, 21.4 percent.

So don't make the mistake of thinking The Times response to Jill's dismissal reflects any kind of real progress in the field. After all, gap or not, she was making a huge pot of money as editor at The Times, no matter what her predecessors collected.

I don't know what Dean Baquet, the new editor, will make as he tries to fix the mess. Whatever it is, he is worth it. Anyone who has ever worked with him knows his value and his values. The Times is lucky to have him and should have tapped him earlier.


The median salary for everyone else in journalism was $50,028, according to the university.

Man or woman, that was a great salary when I was making it in about 1981.

Pretty sad for now.

Saturday, May 10, 2014



Is that a bud on the Chicago Hearty Fig Or Are You Just Happy To See Me? An Ode to Spring!

Because we are survivors, we survived this winter that just would not end.

It was the worst on record, the worst for everything,
for too much snow, for ice, for wind, for bitter temperatures
for dry skin, for watery eyes and dizziness that would not yield even to

I came to despise the perky weather women with their dire weather warnings and their
charts and their breathy rants on covering up and staying inside and hiding and turning
away from the outdoors of life.

If it was so bad, why were they pursing an eternal quest for backdrop? Highway overpasses, a lot. Downtown streets. Anywhere snow looked bad and people looked
miserable. What do they know? I stopped watching. Just as easy to follow it all on an iPhone.

I been some places, you know?

Red Square, 1977

In a Russia so cold the snow evaporated after it fell and formed fog that became
a dust-like ice that covered everything and sucked every drop of humidity from the
apartment to the frigid window where it caked thick as a frozen pond, but vertical.

So cold that it became hard to breathe, hard to walk, hard to think, hard to write.
Teletype keys so gooey and slow cables could not be sent. Frozen tea in a cup on
a windowsill that framed an endless, unyielding gray, frightening, depressing,
heart-breaking winter.

In Siberia I saw pike hard as baseball bats resting on the frozen rivers just a few
minutes after they were snared by ageless, wrinkled old men with grand fishing skills and blood that pumped on at 50 below.  A friend cooked a pike for me. She thawed it in the bathtub and snapped its guts out like they were made of plastic then, using its needle teeth,  clamped the big fish into a circle. Onions, white potatoes in the center.

I don't remember her.

I don't remember how it tasted, only how it looked.

A pike donut.

Moscow was exciting, with its Communists and its spies and its long-legged ballerinas with promise in their eyes and deceit in their hearts. I loved the place almost as much as I hated it. Not like winter here, because of the unique first shot of vodka feeling caused by being watched all the time. Dangerous.  Exothermic. I miss that fear. I miss that place. I miss that time.

Here? Just cold beyond patience in the land where you can always get anything you want, but not a change in the weather. You have to get into a plane and chase it.

For a while, I was sick. I was afraid it would not stop. My knees hurt. My back hurt. I felt so old, such a betrayal delivered by the simple passing of time. Fear of steps. What the hell happened to the bold me that used to be?

These were my racing thoughts as I wandered out into the back yard on this perfect May afternoon, feeling healthy with my dog scampering around in the yard and my wife working her diligent, patient ways with plants.

My father's day fig. A great gift from my son.

Did it make it through the winter?

It was so robust last year. A dozen fresh figs, delicious beyond description.

Was that dead, too?

My wife called me.

She pointed to tiny green buds on the beaten brown limbs.

What was buried by winter was coming back to life.

We are all like that.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

When Winning Might Be Losing

Charlie Madigan's Screaming Baby Faux News Blog:

Congress, Is Winning Worth It?

Did you ever have a moment in a conversation where something so counterintuitive pops up you just can't get it out of your head? I had one of those with my friend Dennis the other night. We talk a lot when he is around, but he is a musician and spends a lot of time on the road, so what we get is compressed, fast conversations about big things that kind of leave you feeling, WHAT? We have been talking about politics for the better part of 20 years. He is well read, clearly opinionated but not at all bone headed about it like some people.
Testifying like a Girl Scout before Congress

So we're talking about someone I haven't much thought about just yet, Hillary Clinton,  and we moved into one of those non-sequiturs that just seems to need to fit into the flow. Dennis said something about the Republicans and if they took the Senate and I had a dark moment and then thought, "Sure, why not?" Sometimes winning may not be winning in the traditional sense. In fact, this might be perfect for folks who are Democratically minded.


You have to go visit, my most favorite aggregator of all polling stuff, to understand why. Should the Republicans pick up the seats necessary to take control of the U.S. Senate in the fall and retain control of the U.S. House they will then be in full control of one part of government just about everyone loves to hate! I have the numbers to prove it. Go back to 1998 or so and look at approval ratings and you will note that just about as many people despise the institution as like it, to put it somewhat hyperbolically. It's 40 to 40 with the rest in the "Duh!" zone.

As of late March, here's how those numbers looked:

"Congress makes me feel like a happy puppy"....18 percent
"Eat flop pies and die............................................76 percent
"Duh!".....................................................................6 percent
                 Note: Categories completely fabricated

And that's not all. The Republicans are by some measure the most disliked of the political parties, perhaps because no one questions anymore how people feel about Whigs or Know Nothings and the like. Just look at these numbers:

"Oooo Republicans. I could just hug them".......18 percent
"Oooo Democrats. They make me so hot".........30 percent
                  Note: Categories completely fabricated

Okay, so I made up the descriptions. The numbers are basically real, if not the sentiment. It's not so good to be a Republican unless you are in a room full of Republicans. Same holds for the Democrats, but in a little more comfy way. When you take them out of their rooms and stick them in the middle of society, people start throwing things, but less things at Democrats than Republicans.

So, where's the great benefit in winning control over all of that if you are a Republican? The House has spent the past six years struggling desperately not to give President Obama anything at all, which may not be so much about his lack of "play along skills" as it is about the bitterness of a party that is still upset about having its butt kicked by a community organizer from Kenya, for chrissake!

Where did it get them? They are having a bladder battle over who is more authentic. They can't get through ten sentences without having much of the rest of the country sit up and say, "Said WHA?" The only thing that keeps the nation from making "obstructionist" their middle name is that people don't spell well. And they are always, always, always bitching about something. If it's not health care its taxes or something else.

Not a happy picture, I think. So, let them win.

Yes, that means some Democrats are going to lose. Just go off somewhere and collect money for the coming conflict, which is really all about 2016, not 2014.

Now, finally, we get to the thought.

Because they could dent a steel ball with a rubber hammer, the Republicans in control of the House and the Senate will just make things all that much worse. They will try and fail to repeal Obamacare, a move the President will VETO, but that will just make all of those moms and dads whose kids are now covered, all those unfortunate people with "preexisting conditions" and a host of others who are now covered, hate them all the more.

They can blabber all they want about being tough on Russia (someone is bound to say Communism never really died. My bet would be someone from the southwest.) There will be a push to do something about more Jesus-ey things in public spaces, all the ridiculous things the party has tried in the past couple of decades.

Then it will be time to elect a president. People will be running AWAY from the Republican Party as quickly as they can. They will have a bunch of primaries that draw all the strangest characters out of their gated communities. They won't be able to settle on anything even though they tweak the primary process to make it more fleet and get it out of the hands of the people as quickly as they can.

Then along comes Hillary, smart and experienced and a little dented up but then who isn't? Maybe Sarah Palin will make more noise to try to counter Ms. Clinton. But that will just make her seem even more like a shrill, nutty quitter from Alaska.

The Democrats will be rolling in money, just as the Republicans will be rolling in money. But somehow, the Republicans always make that process seem a tad perverse. It may well be as evil an addiction for the Democrats, but they pull it off better.

Thank God Dennis had to go to Europe. I can't imagine where this would have gone next.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Screaming Baby Lineup

Charlie Madigan's Screaming Baby

Faux News Blog: Obama-Hating Fools

I simply don't understand why so many Republicans have decided their opponent in next November's midterm election is President Obama. Oh, it might just work because the man's numbers are sliding and people have always either loved or hated him. But one has to wonder what it means to present yourself as "anti-everything-Obama" when he's never running again and really isn't the issue. 

What is the issue?

Take a look at some polling results from my respected friends at, the collector of all the numbers the numbers collectors collect (simple, huh?). What you see in there when you look at Congress is that the Democrats and the Republicans are about flat even on the sample ballot question, which is one of those "If the election were held today..." things, about 45 percent in the U.S. Senate for each group in the last Quinnipiac University Poll, and a two point edge for Democrats (which doesn't mean anything at all) in the House contests.

The folks over at Gallup might have a handy explanation for why Obama hatred may be on the rise on the Republican side. That, too, is explained by some numbers. The president's approval rating sucks, at 42 percent (with disproval at 53 percent). That puts him just about where his predecessor, George Bush, not a favorite of many at the end of his two terms, was standing at just about this time.

It might just be that all two term presidents in this picky, unforgiving era trip over that polling bump in their last years in office. But I don't believe it's accurate to point to Obama's perceived failures, personality flaws, race, failure to unleash his armies against Russia over Crimea, or anything else as deciding what happens in November.

It actually could be people like this guy, Sheldon Adelson, will have more to do with it than what people think about President Obama.


Sheldon Adelson

As the Supremes said just a couple of days ago in an opinion that had many a right thinking Democrat and liberal barfing in the vitreous china, money is just like talking!

The Constitution is very picky about protecting language, and if money is just like talking, you can't put many limits at all on what people say with their dollars in the political process.

And Lordy, Sheldon Adelson knows how to spread money around. The Las Vegas mogul (I won't call him an oligarch because we don't live in an oligarchy...yet) pumped over $90 million in the process in 2012 and lost and lost and lost just like the eager fools who toss their hard earned cash at his slots in Vegas (He is a casino mogul, which somehow makes him seem seamy, a description I know is not fair, but there you are! Journalists are starting to be viewed that way, too. But they have neither the influence nor the money any more.)

But look, he is a passionate conservative and he has $40 billion in his pocket by one recent measure. That's big. Big enough to bankroll the whole Republican Party, which he may well be able to do now that the lid on what you can pile up in the pot has been removed.

You might think his influence would be minimal in a Congressional election because, well, 435 is a lot of seats to compete for (and a third of the Senate, too). But that's not what it's about.

Almost everyone who is running again, and that is almost everyone, will be handily reelected because of a strange algorithm that allows people to despise Congress as an entity (and even each party) but keep on supporting their own local character. Some of that is good, because there are some solid members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. But not all of them. Most of them are surfing on their incumbency, which is like owning a cash register that fills itself, magically, every couple of years if you beg enough.

And there's no shortage of begging. Just look at how the Republican Presidential wanna-bes flocked to the desert a couple of weeks back to solicit Adelson's support. It's like somehow, the "man of the people" ambition that used to define even staunch Republicans has been transformed into a "man of a really rich man" ambition.

There's nothing like being embraced by someone who has $40 billion. Admittedly, it makes the candidates look like street walkers, but they have shed their shyness about that already.

Do candidates seem like this to you?

What can he do with it?

I don't know because that is up to him. He can give huge wads to the Republican Party and the party can then use it in November to buy cars for everyone who can haul at least five other voters to the polls. I know that's extreme, but we are living in extreme times. He can sponsor lots of ads suggesting Democrats are Marxists in masquerade who are eager to take all the money from everyone (him, too!) and redistribute it.

He can do what he wants, in fact. It's why we have a great and awful country. Money continues to speak loudly, you know?

As with every Midterm election, this one will be all about turnout. Remember 2010? Turnout of the Obama haters gave the Republicans huge advances. Also, money translates into turnout. Very mechanical, not at all ideological and central to deciding who will win.

Don't blame it on the president. Blame it on the process.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Charlie Madigan's Screaming Baby

Faux News Blog: Money, Micturation and 


I suspect you are all wondering exactly what to think of the Supreme Court's latest ruling on the question of campaign finance. It took me back to the deep woods of Pennsylvania and the long walks I once took on the Appalachian Trail, which looked a lot like this picture of that very same place. Oh, the hardwoods and the streams and the undergrowth and the chirping birds! Sooner or later, you would feel a little twinge of fullness in, let's be frank, the bladder. You knew it was time to select just the right place. This tree, for example, with its spot of white, its gracious age, its lumps and bumps. I would walk right up to one of those things and micturate. Maybe make my initials on the side of it, depending on the amount. Ah, the relief that provided! It was as though a vile force that had filled you was released, and you were free again to move happily on down that trail, just as in life.

A lovely slice of the Appalachian Trail, perhaps where I micturated.
This is exactly the same impulse I felt when I heard the Supreme Court had cleared the way for the very wealthy to exert even more influence on the political process by taking the cap off of the maximum anyone can "contribute" in an election cycle. In the middle of the night, I was dragged from a deep sleep by the overwhelming need to micturate, not literally, but figuratively, on what has become of the American political process. What a clever thing, I thought. That would make a sweet blog, talking about pissing on politics and politicians.

Then I thought about my representative in Congress, Jan Schakowsky of Evanston and what she said about it:

Money needs to play a smaller role in politics – not larger.  Allowing the dollars of a privileged few to play an even bigger role will only further dilute the ability of millions of Americans to have their concerns heard.  

I have followed Jan Schakowsky since way back. I have always liked her, which I am sure she knows because I faithfully wait for her to show up at the annual Evanston 4th of July Parade, and wave like a teenager at a rock concert. Why? I don't know. It might be because I have always thought of her as a good politician, someone who is there because she is doing the public's work. She is not a fool. She knows how the system works and I am certain, has sent plenty of spectacular benefits back home to Evanston. I am NOT going to micturate figuratively on that kind of politician. There are lots of others like her all over the place, I am certain, in both parties. There are also lots of dishonest players. But the danger of wetting on everything in the abstract is that you sprinkle the good even as you douse the bad.

 So I can't just piss on the whole political process. It would not be fair.

I have to direct my stream elsewhere.

I know! Sheldon Adelson.


I think in any other world, I would have nothing but admiration for someone who worked so hard early in life to become successful. Sheldon Adelson is quite the story from that perspective. But now he is a Las Vegas/world level casino mogul, which means he makes his money by taking it from people who are dumb enough to be lured by the distant promise of riches, a discount airfare, and a $4.99 slab of roast beef with potatoes and everything, which is what Vegas has always meant to me.
A pensive Sheldon Adelson

I would have been a terrible gambler because I know that no matter how much I pick up, at the end of the day it comes because whole rooms full of fools don't mind throwing their hard earned money at the slots, or the tables, or wherever else they go. I know they enjoy it, but still, what a way to make a living, picking the pockets of suckers who are just in town for a good time. Sheldon the Casino mogul is so successful at this that his fortune is estimated at $40 billion. That means he can cough up, oh, say, $92 million backing various conservative and Republican political causes in 2012 without even breaking a sweat. Don't get him wrong. He thinks it is bad for the wealthy to put mountains of money into the political process, but if that's allowed, he will. I don't get the logic, but it's his, not mine. I think he hates George Soros, the fat cat who bankrolls lots of Democratic and liberal stuff and feels the need to offset that influence. Or he just truly enjoys buying politicians! Don't know, but one is as good a reason as the other. 

 Newt Gingrich would have been a washed up has-been were it not for Sheldon Adelson in 2012, who gave him enough life to ride his ridiculous presidential campaign for months beyond when it should have just collapsed. Sheldon is just the character the Supreme Court had in mind in this latest ruling in erasing the overall limit on campaign spending. He can now just fill trucks full of bucks and dump then into any crazy political construct he can find that supports his causes. (There are still individual contribution limits, so he can't do that for individual politicians yet. But it's only a matter of time.) On the other hand, he and his wife give a lot of money away to causes they believe in that are not full of political parasites. And, of course, the court is right, he is entitled to his political opinions. So maybe he is not such a good target after all, although only my sense of fairness keeps me holding my water in this case.

I may have to default and end up micturating on the majority of the U.S. Supreme Court that unleashed this ruling. It was the high court, after all, that opened the political process to the same abuse that led to post Watergate campaign reforms by ruling that giving money is just like speech so it has to be free of government control. Oh, yes, and corporations are just like individuals so they can shovel money into politics, too, because the First Amendment says they can. I wish I could say they have brought wreckage to the political process, but they didn't. The process did that all on its own by deciding "just short of whoring" was a good job description for members of Congress. (An apology to those of you in the sex trades. It's still a great hyperbole to use in politics. Maybe you can think of yourselves as aggressive fund raisers or something.)

The problem with micturating on the Supreme Court is that I do believe in the First Amendment with a deep passion that recognizes that sometimes, even Nazis have to express themselves.

Dang. Out of options. I'm not going to micturate on anything.

I abandoned my middle of the night thoughts with a look at the New York Times website, where the paper reported on a mass that was held on the border at Nogales. Okay, so it was a holy publicity stunt, but I have been moved by lesser things. I could not resist these hands reaching through the border fence to get Communion from a bishop. These are pleading hands, in this case, waiting for the Consecrated host that is so crucial to Roman Catholic belief. But I prefer to view them as metaphors for a people in need. 
Reaching for bread of life at Nogales
It's very easy to think of politics as a target for bold humor and unforgiving criticism. In that world, you can imagine pissing on all kinds of things. But there are still people who have some hope that their lives can be better with just a little political influence. The sad thing is that their argument through the institutions that claim to represent God here on earth does not carry anywhere near as much weight as the riches of our very own Oligarchs, who are always eager to send money. 
Just to the wrong places.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Charlie Madigan's Screaming Baby:

 A Faux News Blog

What the hell, you might ask, is a faux news blog? Well,
it's not a traditional blog and its not actual news. It's kind of commentary unleashed, but not the commentary Nate Silver disdains as "bullshit." There's already plenty of that. The floor of the news pen is littered with cow pies, actually. I would like to think of it as commentary that is not boring, first, and not like everything else, second. And also not like a cow pie.

Why the screaming baby? It's a cool image and it sends a message about what I feel like doing with this enterprise. Babies don't have many filters on their reactions early on. In that way, they are completely authentic! My objective is to present an adult reaction that is baby-like in one important sense. It is not filtered. I'm not interesting in behaving well, winning affirmation, being approved, nothing like that. I just want to react honestly whenever I need to and maybe invite you to think. That is the whole point of commentary, to my mind. You can either agree with me, disagree with me or just ignore me. I would rather the first two of the trio. I ask only honesty in your reactions.

I started this effort with my peculiar assessment of news coverage of the missing airplane, which has become so wacky that even Courtney Love had her unusual moment in the spotlight. All the attention to the past few weeks of missing airplane has led me to conclude the oceans are full of things that look like missing airplane parts, but are not, and media will do anything for ratings. Airplane wrecks are always good for a couple of days of coverage, at best. They are too bad, of course, and we mourn for the next of kin. But basically, its a couple of hundred tons of metal and flammable stuff slamming into the ground because not enough air was going over the wings. This one is different because it slammed into the ocean. In more convenient crashes, news stories start out with certainty that the "black boxes" that record flight data will be found.  The National Transportation and Safety Board ultimately sorts it all out and we find out long after we have forgotten the dead that rust on a hidden thingamabob someplace led to a chain of events and suddenly, a breathless Wolf Blitzer won't go away! A federal thingamabob greasing order goes out, that problem is solved, then something else happens.

I have two subjects today. The first is the Imperial Presidency, and what a crock of shit that argument is, and the second is the way the president keeps pumping up the rhetoric around the health care law. Obviously, the Republicans, perhaps bankrupt despite their affinity for dirty money, want to use it as a theme for the upcoming election. President Obama is on the defense, again. More on that later.

"The Imperial Presidency."

There is just one imperial president at this point, and his name is Vladimir Putin and he is not from here.

The House Judiciary Committee conducted one of its supremely political hearings the other day to address the question of  the "imperial presidency" and ponder whether President Obama's White House isn't whittling away at Congressional authority just to get its way.

I say, yo, you bet it is. What might one expect a president to do once everything he has tried has crashed on the rocky shores of a Congress determined to wreck his ship of state? I'm not an Obama apologist, although I voted for him two times and would most certainly again if this were the 1930s and he were a Roosevelt and you could get more than two terms. And also if he were white because, back then, blacks in the White House were generally serving tables and not yet much a part of the political conversation. (See, things DO get better!)

I believe what this hearing is really about is underlining a message the Republicans have been trying to send for months now, that Barack Obama is an imperial president who uses executive orders to achieve what he cannot get through the Congress. 

Snap my butt with a wet towel, that is a novel, novel thought. 

Except that's hardly an imperial presidency. You want imperial presidencies, look at Lyndon Johnson, Franklin Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, just to name a few from the modern era. George Bush I don't list as an imperial president. Too dumb. He was a puppet who had an imperial vice president's hand stuck up...well, you know what I mean.

Harry Truman was kind of imperial, too, dropping those atom bombs on Japan and being very pushy and determined in the White House. Abe Lincoln, now there was an imperial president. He managed a whole war without a lot of help from the Hill. I think all the presidents who participated in the slaughter of Native Americans were imperial, too, and they stretched across parties and generations. Teddy Roosevelt, he was as imperial as they come. Warren G. Harding, probably not imperial.

In the case of President Obama, I think they are lying about this imperial presidency thing because they want any advantage they can get in their death struggle with this compelling character. They have called him just about every name you can call him (including liar on the floor of the House). Now the struggle over health care has spread a little blood in the water and they are in a frenzy, seeing the issue as a pathway to victory in November.

It's how they play the game. They want to build a word association among an electorate that wouldn't know an imperial presidency if it bit it on the shins. They want lots of unthinking people everywhere to think, "Obama, well he's just trying to be the king," or something even more stupid. It's this year's variant on the "death panels" crap they pumped out a couple of years ago.

I hope it just doesn't work. And I hope that because I don't want to think the electorate is that stupid. It's track record indicates it is, but you can always change that with just one election. But not if you don't vote. People who sit this one out will decide who wins, unfortunately.

God Endorses Health Care

I suppose I understand why Obama felt the need the other day to make a huge deal out of the fact that something like 7 million people have done something technical connected to the health care law. It is as though the hand of God reached out and touched Health and Human Services and its finicky bastard of a computer program.

I don't know what that means in more concrete terms. There have been plenty of stories about people who can afford to find out they don't feel well now when only a year ago they had to depend just on how they felt. Does that mean their problems are going to be fixed by medical science? I guess in many cases it does. Or maybe it doesn't. It's a great fund raiser for Obama's opponents, so I understand why the politicians are so loud about it. But we need time to know.

That has always been the achilles heel (Hard to fix!) problem with the health care act. It's one of those things we can only measure over the long term. And fix as we are measuring it. If I could look back on it 40 years down the road...but then, I'll be dead!

So it could be that this era, way down the time continuum, will be viewed as the point at which we started to deal with this problem. Not the point at which we finished it.

But what can you expect in a country where you can't take a Swiss Army Knife on an airliner, but you can carry a concealed weapon into a bar, or even a church, in lots of places? We are not the most rational place in the universe.

Monday, March 31, 2014

              Charlie Madigan's Screamer Faux News Blog:

      The search continues in an ocean full of our own garbage

This is not Charlie Madigan, but it is screaming!

                           So, what is the news telling us about this very airliner?

The Malaysian plane has been someplace we can't locate for a long time now, and even satellites that supposedly can read our license plates and measure the vibrations of conversations behind windows are at a loss. What we have found is just how much of a ridiculous, sloppy mess we have made of our oceans.

We have also found what a ridiculous, sloppy mess the news business is. Spend a few endless hours on CNN watching every conceivable specialist in airplanes guessing in the absence of any knowledge. Nothing stops modern media from its advertising-supported news shows, even the absence of news.

Media even trots out the families of victims of other airplane crashes to ask them how they felt when it happened to them. Without even turning up the sound, my guess would be "Bad." Why do we do this?

"Plane Found!" That I would watch.

 "We can't find the plane!" Not so much.

What purpose is served by this search? I suggest it's because this is what the culture, the world culture, thinks it must do when something as big as an airliner goes missing. We may be demanding a satisfaction that we will never get in anything just because we believe we are entitled to know.

You might think, "How hard can it be to find a big airliner when, after all, we located the Titanic and even went down to visit its spooky remains?"

Cherub from Main Titanic Stairway

Titanic at rest on the ocean floor

The only problem with that comparison is that we knew exactly where the Titanic hit the iceberg in 1912 and exactly how it broke up and went forever to the ocean floor. It's like a vintage mausoleum down there, just waiting for visits from people who actually had nothing to do with the heartbreak of that wreck. (Watching the movie does not qualify as connecting you to the event, even if you cried.)

The loss of the plane has been the cause of much inspiration, but I think the best response to that call for clarity comes from Courtney Love, who has plenty of time to think about these kinds of things.

Courtney believes she has found the plane! Thank God. Now we can all rest. Here's her idea.

Is it real? Did she find the plane? I don't know, but I do know it presents the perfect chance to display a picture of another wreck that sometimes has been very hard to find, Courtney Love.

The search (for the plane) will undoubtedly continue, even though the oceans are so full of decades and decades of non-decomposing human crap my guess is we will never see any of it floating out there where a satellite or flyover can eye and identify it.

That leaves us with a conclusion: There are some things we cannot know. This is very sad, of course, because the plane did not disappear by itself. It carried 239 passengers and crew members, and we should mourn them and the losses to their families. Finding the plane doesn't change that either way. Loss remains loss.

This puts it all in the same category as religion.

Just like Jesus, saints and all the rest, at one point we believed the airliner existed, and now it is gone.

Maybe this is one for the lawyers.

The rest of us should move on to other big media subjects like:

1. How long is it going to take the Republicans to conclude the Russians invaded Crimea because of Obama care?

2. Now that Butter is healthy again, what else do we get to do that used to be fatal?

3. Why do we suddenly find gas prices climbing just as vacation approaches?

4. Is the Pope, a southern hemisphere kind of believer if ever there was one, still a Catholic? (The answer will forever adapt the old "Do Bears Shit in the Woods" comparison.

I would like to say, "I mean no disrespect," to close this column, but that's not true. I am building a powerful disrespect for commercial media that keeps screaming even when there is nothing to scream about. It has made it difficult to watch news, which was something I once delighted in.

Time to go now.