Weathering a Blizzard of News Media Bravado

by WALTER BRASCH

Ginger Zee is an ABC News weather person. She’s 32 years old, has a B.S. in meteorology, and says even in high school she wanted to be a TV network weatherperson. Not a scientist in a lab studying and analyzing weather, but a TV weather person. For more than a decade, she worked local and regional markets, mostly in Michigan and Chicago.

Her other qualifications are that she is photogenic, has a somewhat bubbly personality, wears a size 4 dress, weighs 125 pounds, and was her high school homecoming queen. If she wasn’t on TV, she says she’d have loved to be a bartender.

It’s entirely possible she’s competent. But, it’s also possible that TV execs bypassed thousands of other competent meteorologists to find someone who knows weather-and looks good on camera. For meeting those qualifications, ABC-TV gives her significant air time. She is the weather person for the weekend editions of “Good Morning America.” If there’s a snow storm, blizzard, or heavy rain, you can see her-or any of a few dozen other TV personalities-male and female-on air, under an umbrella or in a parka, trying not to freeze any of their six-figure salary assets. It’s a good visual, as they say in TV.

It’s also bad journalism.

There is absolutely no need to put someone onto a deserted street with a hill of snow and wind to tell us there is a hill of snow and wind, and to stay off the roads.

First, it’s just not the weather person who may be in danger. On local news, there’s usually an all-purpose staff person who combines driving the SUV or van with responsibilities as a sound and video technician and who endures the same conditions as the weather person. On network TV, there may be a mini-crew of four others to get the picture on air. We don’t see them, and none make anywhere close to the salaries of the on-air talent. But they’re the ones driving, setting up the equipment, coordinating with the studio, and making sure the live performance during a blizzard appears to be not only as dangerous as it looks, but that the weather person also looks good.

Second, technology has given us the ability to station remote cameras. The weather person could stay indoors, among computers, telephones, charts, and maps and tell us the same thing-without being the only ones dumb enough to be blown into a snow bank.

We understand why local news gives us this visual, and leads off almost every non-prime time newscast with a weather report and usually erroneous predictions. But, now network TV not only gives us the same thing, it also leads off the evening news with same information we get from local news. Last weekend, Ginger Zee and weather people from the news networks were bundled up somewhere in New England, facing the cameras and wind gusts of 75 miles per hour. Some weather people were in Times Square showing us that the “crossroads of the world” was pedestrian free because of the blizzard. They had the easier job-there was less snow, less wind, and Times Square was a limousine ride from the network studios.

Newspapers aren’t immune from the “bravado syndrome.” Editors sitting in windowless offices have no hesitation in sending out eager photographers, salivating at getting that one great weather shot, even if it’s of their company car being stuck in a snow bank after sliding off an icy road.

To “humanize” the story-high-paid news consultants like to throw around the concept of “humanizing a story”-some of the reporters had to find people stuck in the snow. There were many to choose from. But, the questions asked were along the lines of, “So, how did you get into this situation?” “How do you feel about this storm?” and “What do you plan to do?”

There wasn’t much reporting in New Jersey. The “Garden State” was snowed under, but didn’t get hit as bad as New England, which saw two feet of snow and 75 miles an hours wind gusts. But, there were stories there, which didn’t receive heavy coverage and didn’t threaten the news crews’ physical safety. New Jersey has begun to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. Could someone have checked to see what the blizzard did to the people and their properties in those shore areas that were once flooded, and now snowed-in and likely to endure even more water damage if temperatures increased and the snow melted before it could be shoveled and trucked from residential and commercial areas?

Getting “the story” is good journalism. Risking your safety and health, and possibly putting others at risk for a weather story, isn’t.

[Walter Brasch has been a journalist more than three decades. He acknowledges while much younger, he thought nothing about rushing into danger. Now that he’s matured, he looks back and thinks that some of his bravado was just plain dumb. Dr. Brasch’s latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth analysis of the health and environmental problems associated with natural gas drilling, and an investigation of the relationship between the energy industry and politicians. It’s available through amazon.com or www.greeleyandstone.com, and local bookstores.]

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Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D.

BREAKING NEWS: AP, Media Fumble News Story

by WALTER BRASCH

On the Sunday before the final presidential debate, Mitt Romney and some of his senior staffers played a flag football game with members of the Press Corps on Delray Beach, Fla.

Ashley Parker of the Associated Press, apparently mistaking fashion reporting for news, reported that Mitt Romney was “wearing black shorts, a black Adidas T-shirt and gray sneakers.” Romney’s team, composed of senior campaign staff whom Parker identified, was “clad in red T-shirts.” She didn’t report what the members of the press wore, their names, or how many were on a team, but did acknowledge she “also played, winning the coin toss for her team, but doing little else by way of yardage accrual.” Yardage accrual? If this was Newswriting 101, and she put that phrase into a news story, there wouldn’t be one college prof anywhere in the country who wouldn’t have red-marked it, and suggested she stop trying to be cute.

Romney was a starter-we don’t know which position he played-made a “brief beach appearance” and left when “the game was in full swing,” possibly not wanting to get too mussed up by having to interact with commoners. There is so much a reporter could have done with Romney’s failure to finish the game, but didn’t. Parker, however, did tell readers breathlessly awaiting the next “factoid” that Ann Romney “made a brief appearance . . . after cheerleading from the sidelines.” She was protected by the Secret Service who served as the offensive line, undeniably allowing her to take enough time to do her nails, brush her hair, put on another coat of makeup for the AP camera, and then throw a touchdown pass to tie the game at 7-7. At 14-14, the game was called because, reported Parker, “Mr. Romney’s aides needed to get to debate prep, and the reporters had stories to file.” Obviously, stories about a beach flag football game on a Sunday afternoon was critical enough breaking news to stop the game and breathlessly inform the nation.

Amidst the sand, Parker reported, “There is a long history of candidates and their staff members occasionally interacting with reporters on a social level.” She referred to a couple events during the 2008 campaign; Sen. Barack Obama played Taboo with reporters; Sen. John McCain hosted a barbeque for the media. Those facts alone should have kept any alert comedy writer, satirist, or political pundit in material for the next four years.

A beach football game between politician and press may seem innocent enough-a couple of hours of fun to break the stress of a long, and usually annoying, political campaign. But there’s far more than flags pulled from shorts.

Reporters who socialize with the power elite-and this happens far more than it doesn’t happen-often fail to do their primary job: challenge authority, as the Founding fathers so eloquently asked. It wasn’t White House reporters who broke the Watergate story that eventually led to the resignation of Richard Nixon, it was two police reporters at the Washington Post, who took abuse heaped upon them by the White House reporters and hundreds of others, including some of their own newspaper, for going on what was called a vindictive witch hunt.  It was the media who proved they were better stenographers than reporters who dutifully chowed down whatever crumbs they were fed by the Bush-Cheney administration, and seldom questioned why the U.S. was invading Iraq. A few from the major media and many from the alternative press who did question authority were dismissed as mere gadflies. It was the sycophantic press that also didn’t question the destruction of civil liberties by the passage of the PATRIOT Act.

Against policy wonk/environmentalist Al Gore in 2000, Americans said they would rather have a beer with George W. Bush. Many of the press did have beers with candidate Bush, who once invited the media onto his ranch to watch him shoot and then barbeque pigeons for a group barbecue.

Every year in the nation’s capital is a high society event, the “Gridiron dinner.” Everyone-politicians, members of the press, and a horde of actors and singers-dress up in ball gowns and white-tie tuxedos to drink and schmooze. When it isn’t Gridiron Season, there’s all kinds of social events at all kinds of places that reporters just have to attend in order to get their stories, they simplistically justify.

Sports reporters who are too close to the teams or the sports they cover are derisively known as “homers,” not for Homer Simpson, who some of them act like, but because they favor the home team. Entertainment reporters and arts critics feel important because publicists will often go to extraordinary lengths to get them face-time with celebrities. To prove how “independent” they are, some, who have no discernible creative talent, will write snarky columns about celebrities and their works, thinking they are clever rather than the pompous self-aggrandizing jerks they really are. Many in the media-especially those in television and the print reporters who often do TV talk-show commentaries-probably should drop the pretense they’re journalists and just accept the appellations that they are celebrities.

It isn’t just reporters who cover national stories who get too close to their sources. There are now state and metropolitan gridiron dinners. At a local level, Reporters who cover the police and city council are often on a first-name basis with their sources. Even if they honestly believe they are objective, and will knock down lies and deceptions, they often don’t. They believe they need these sources to get more news, and are afraid that if they become too tough, the news, which is fed to them, will somehow dry up. They often accept “background” and “off-the-record” comments, which they never report or attribute, because somehow it makes them feel that they, unlike their readers of a lesser level, are “in the know.” And yet, every reporter will swear upon a stack of style manuals that he or she is objective and independent.

Don’t believe that? Put yourself in the position of being a reporter. You’re sitting at your desk in the bullpen of a newsroom, now decimated by layoffs. In walks a man in a three-piece suit and a woman in fashionably-acceptable skirt, blouse, blazer, and two-inch heels. They have a story to tell. Now, you may think that because they are PR people or middle-management executives for a large corporation, they are suspect to begin with, but they, like you, are college graduates; they are eloquent; they have a news release with the story laid out. Want anything else? They’re more than pleased to get it for you.

Now, the next day, while walking outside your office, a bag lady accosts you. She’s wearing little more than rags. Her hair is unkempt; her breath stinks. It’s doubtful she was ever a sorority president. “You a reporter?” she barks, knowing that if you’re wearing jeans, a nice but not expensive shirt and a tie you probably aren’t a corporate executive or big-shot politician. She wants to tell you a story-something about a corporation that did something very unethical and possibly illegal. You’re running late to your appointment with a physical trainer who has promised to keep you fit and attractive. You just want to get past this obstacle.

Who do you relate to? Those who look, act, and think more like you-or those who you probably wouldn’t have a drink with after work?

Don’t expect the media to stop having social encounters with their sources; it will never happen. But, do expect that maybe some will heed the call of the Founding Fathers and be independent of the sources they are expected to cover.

[Walter Brasch spent more than 40 years as a journalist and university professor, covering everything from local school board meetings to the White House.  He is currently a syndicated columnist and book author. He acknowledges that in his early 20s he was enamored by being at the same parties as the “power elite,” but quickly got over it, and has been fiercely independent from the power-elites, including the power-media, whether at local, state, or national levels. His current book is the critically-acclaimed Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution.]

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Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D.

Latest Book: Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution

(www.greeleyandstone.com)

www.walterbrasch.com

www.walterbrasch.blogspot.com

www.facebook.com/walterbrasch

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…

Daily National Breifing 2/17

  AmericanLP covers all the top headlines in politics on both sides of the aisle in this morning’s news brief. Major headlines yesterday once again pointed to a rebounding economy. New applications for unemployment hit a 4-year low. Also, the DNC released a new ad, which you can view at the 1:15 mark, highlighting the diverging ideologies between the Obama administration’s decision to save the auto industry and Mitt Romney’s 2008 Op-Ed “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt”. The bailout was unequivocally a successful administrative decision for President Obama, and coupling this with the rate for unemployment applications falling, and last week’s news that the overall unemployment rate has fallen to 8.3 percent, we have public opinion of the President quickly on the rise. 44% of Americans, according to a Pew Research Center poll believe economic conditions will be better in 2013 than this year. This coincides with a CNN poll yesterday showing the President’s approval rating is back to 50% for the first time in 8 months. The administration, and the Obama re-election campaign, have really begun hammering home the jobs numbers, focusing not on the unemployment rate so much, as that number is still unfortunately high, but rightly talking about how bad things were when Obama came into office (750,000 jobs hemorrhaging from the economy per month) to how his policies have vastly turned this country around (250,000 jobs added in January; a 1 million point swing) and have created the most manufacturing jobs since the 1990’s.

Switching over, AmericanLP discusses the latest from the GOP presidential campaign. Mitt Romney, on the verge of losing his front runner status in some polls, gave a speech Thursday in which he addressed the concerns of entrepreneurs looking for funding to start their own business. In a swipe at the Solyndra controversy, Romney excoriated the benefits of government funding a start-up business and instead suggested entrepreneurs should apply to venture capitalists, angels, or their parents for funding. A statement such as this is on par with Romney’s “$10,000 bet” and once again reinforces the notion that Romney is so fiscally out-of-touch with the general American public (the average salary for Americans is $26,000/year; Romney makes $57,000/day) that it’s hard to fathom how he’ll win the nomination. Romney was born to the kind of wealth where if he wanted to start his own company, he could go to his parents for the capital to get the project off the ground. However, most Americans cannot. Most Americans struggle to pay their own bills, and many are helping their parents through retirement after the recession. It seems every time Romney opens his mouth, he further ostracizes himself from the general American public. Maybe that’s why he chose to drop out of the CNN Georgia debate scheduled in a couple weeks. Rick Santorum also declined the invitation; his motivations for doing so are less clear. With less money and generally one of the candidates who performs well in these debates, it doesn’t really play to Santorum’s strengths not to participate. But Santorum was not immune to the ‘tax return release’ scrutiny either. Santorum released 4 years of his tax returns and they paint a startling contrast to much of what Santorum has been saying on the campaign trail. Posturing himself as a threat to big government, Santorum has actually made $3.6M in lobbying fees since losing his re-election bid for the U.S. Senate. Try as he might, Santorum seems just as much a “Washington Insider” as Newt Gingrich.

A new segment on AmericanLP, “News From The 14th Century,” highlights the ridiculous spectacle yesterday from Congress where Darrell Issa barred a woman from testifying on a birth control hearing in response to the contraception controversy. Republicans, for all their talk of individual freedom, want to deny women access to birth control, even though 98% of Catholic women say they have used some form of contraceptive in their life. Issa, instead of allowing one woman to testify, decided to fill the panel with men and priests. Clearly, they’ll have a deeper understanding of contraception than any woman might…

These are just a few of the highlights from this morning’s briefing. Watch the whole video for more news in politics from around the country. ~ Jason Owen with TJ Walker

Ron Paul’s misguided media anger

Ron Paul is doing a lousy job of handling the spotlight into the racist writings of his old newsletters. By walking off the set of CNN he made a molehill into a mountain. Paul needs to understand that you can’t run for President and then try to control the media by telling them what they can and can’t ask questions about.

The more Paul looks angry at the media for asking questions about the racist rantings in his old newsletters, the more it looks like he has something to hide regarding the sorts of racists he appeals to.

For a long time, Ron Paul got a free pass from the media. He was the cool, quirky guy who had the guts and independence to stand up against the war and a lot of other Republican sacred cows. But he got a free ride because no one thought he had a chance of winning the nomination. Now that he’s first or second in the polls, reporters are doing their jobs. And a part of that job is looking at a candidate’s record and that includes a record of mailing openly racist and anti-Semitic newsletters with your name on them and profiting from that sort of filth.

Paul plays the quirky curmudgeon on TV debates and his followers love that, but if he really wants to capitalize on his newfound success in the polls he’s going to have to learn how to answer questions from the media. Even questions he doesn’t like.

Paul could learn from John McCain. McCain had a problem with the Keating Five scandal in his past. He solved it by answering every single question from reporters and by talking about it and apologizing for hour after hour after hour until reporters were sick of hearing about it. That’s how you put a scandal to rest.

How Conservatives Really Control the Media

Sean Hannity calling President Obama on Fox News Channel a “socialist” every night in prime time on the Fox News Chanel is only the visible tip of the conservative propaganda iceberg. The Right’s real power lies in its ability to shape the narrative and define what is fair and out of bounds for the rest of the media.

Last week MSNBC reported the following:

“So you may not hear Mitt Romney say ‘Keep America American’ anymore, because it was a rallying cry for the KKK group, intimidation against blacks, gays and Jews, and the progressive AMERICAblog was the first to catch on to that.”

Within hours, so-called liberals at MSNBC like Chris Matthews and Al Sharpton were falling over themselves to see who could offer the most debasing, abject apology to Mitt Romney.

Predictably, the rest of the so-called mainstream media and more of the “Liberal Media Establishment” weighed in on the issue, all to denounce MSNBC and to portray Romney as an innocent victim.

As recent as last night, Bill O’Reilly and fellow right-wing media ideologist Bernard Goldberg hashed over the affair in Prime Time. The focus of their debate was whether NBC did enough in their apologizing or whether they were still evil because of their so-called liberal bias.

The otherwise normally sensible Mediaite.com describes the story this way:

“It turns out, the (MSNBC’s) story was not exactly true. …”

There is only one little problem with all of this hysteria. MSNBC’s story that Romney said “keep America American” and that this was a phrase used by the Klan appears to be 100% factual and truthful!

The Romney campaign initially refused to respond to this story for two days. Finally, they claimed that Romney never said “Keep America, American.” They claim he said “Keep America, America.” The central point of evidence is a video you can see here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?f…

When I play the video to various people, most claim they hear Romney saying “Keep America American” (I definitely do). But to be fair, a few do hear Romney saying “Keep America America.” But here’s what isn’t a close call. The Los Angeles Times reporter on December 9, 2011 reported that Romney said this: “We have on one side a president who wants to transform America into a European-style nation, and you have on the other hand someone like myself that wants to turn around America and keep America American with the principals that made us the greatest nation on Earth. And I will do that with your help.”

Was the reporter ever contacted by the Romney campaign demanding a retraction? Are there comments on the LATimes website at the time of the story (this was before the controversy broke out)?

No and no.

So now we are supposed to believe that The Los Angeles Times reporter just makes up stuff and that most people who hear Romney on this video with their own ears saying “Keep America American” should disbelieve their own ears and instead put their trust in the Romney campaign’s press release.

This stretches credulity.

Another school of thought in most of the media reporters is that MSNBC was horribly irresponsible for not providing more context to the story, presumably to cast Romney in a more favorable light.

Fair enough; let’s parse the phrase “Keep America American.” After all, it truly would be unfair to pick a random phrase like “I love America” or “I am a vegetarian” and show that the Klan or a Nazi had once used the phrase. But “Keep America American” is not that general. It’s not a phrase that easily floats from everyone’s mouth. The phrase had a specific meaning in the 1920s and it has one today. The similarity is that in both cases, what it means is this “My ideas and principles are good and the ideals and values of people who oppose us are bad. And these ideas are bad because they got their ideas from other countries and other parts of the world. We should reject their ideas and values not just because they are bad but specifically because their ideas originated from other parts of the world.”

It doesn’t matter how you slice or dice it, the phrase “Keep America American” is a rhetorical cheap shot used by demagogues in the act of committing demagoguery. No, it doesn’t mean Romney is a closet Klansman, but it does mean he uses rhetorical cheap shots that have a long tradition and it’s fair game to point out their tradition.

So are we being unfair to Romney for looking at the phrase he used and inferring one set of ideas when he was really implying something else? NO. Just look at the full quote above. Romney is rejecting Obama and his ideas, specifically because Obama’s ideas are European. That’s what makes them bad, they aren’t from America-get it?

What O’Reilly and all of the right wing echo chamber have been doing for the last week is tending to the media landscape. And what they have done, to a remarkable degree of success, is to say that any suggestion of racism among prominent republicans is out of bounds. In the conservative media establishment’s worldview, there is no such thing as racism among conservatives. Only liberals can be racist. Therefore any story that hints at or suggests that a conservative is racist is inherently wrong and demands an immediate denunciation and retraction.

This bit of zeitgeist shaping was done with such efficiency and collaboration that it left the other side helpless.

In the conservative world view, it is quite Ok to brand Obama a “socialist” or even a “communist” if he does something so radical as suggesting Richard Nixon’s healthcare plan. Never mind that socialism and communism are hated ideologies by most Americans and is represented by regimes such as Cambodia’s where 7 million people were slaughtered by a genocidal communist. No, that’s considered completely fair, and normal because, well, because that’s what every conservative gets away with in the media every day.

But no one is ever allowed to compare any extreme Republican rhetoric with, say, fascists or racists. That’s considered automatically beyond the pale. There is an un-written rule imposed by the conservative media establishment and accepted by even liberal mainstream media:

“Thou shalt not accuse any Republican of doing anything even mildly racist or even racist-friendly unless you can capture video tape of the republican saying ‘I hate all black people and want to string them all up and kill them!'”

The result is a media climate where any ambitious, smart reporter pulls his/her punches when reporting on Republicans. Don’t report anything that can tie a Republican to an extremist cause or organization, even if the facts bear it out. Instead, use that time to report that Obama isn’t a citizen or that Bill Clinton made a fortune on Whitewater or that House Democrats want to wage “class warfare” because they want to raises taxes to the same rates they were in 1994.

The strongest form of power is away the subtlest and Conservatives have both overt and subtle power to get the media, all the media, to sell their propaganda.

more info www.DailyNational.com

Death by Healthy Doses

by Walter Brasch

They buried Bouldergrass today. The cause of death was listed as “media-induced health.”

Bouldergrass had begun his health crusade more than a decade ago when he began reading more than the sports pages of his local newspaper, subscribed to his first magazine, and decided TV news could be informative if it didn’t mention anything about wars, famines, and poverty.

Based on what he read and saw in the media, Bouldergrass moved from smog-bound Los Angeles to a rural community in scenic green Vermont, gave up alcohol and a two-pack-a-day cigarette habit, and was immediately hospitalized for having too much oxygen in his body.

To burn off some of that oxygen, he joined America’s “beautiful people” on the jogging paths where the media helped him believe he was sweating out the bad karma. In less than a year, the karma left his body which was now coexisting with leg cramps, fallen arches, and several compressed disks. But at least he was as healthy as all the ads told him he could be.

To make sure he didn’t get skin cancer from being in the sun too long, he slathered four pounds of No. 35 sunblock on his body every time he ran, and went to suntan parlors twice a week to get that “healthy glow” advertisers told him he needed. He stopped blocking when he learned that suntan parlors weren’t good for your health, and that the ingredients in the lotions could cause cancer. So, he wore a jogging suit that covered more skin than an Arab woman’s black chador with veil-and developed a severe case of heat exhaustion.

From ultrathin models and billions of dollars in weight-reducing advertising that told him “thin was in,” he began a series of crash diets. When he was down to 107 pounds, advertising told him he needed to “bulk up” to be a “real man.” So, he began lifting weights and playing racquetball three hours a day. Four groin pulls and seven back injuries later, he had just 6 percent body fat, and a revolving charge account with his local orthopedist.

Several years earlier, Bouldergrass had stopped eating veal as part of a protest of America’s inhumane treatment of animals destined for supermarkets. Now, in an “enlightened” age of health, he gave up all meat, not because of mankind’s cruelty to animals, but because the media revealed that vascular surgeons owned stock in meat packing companies. Besides, it was the “healthy” thing to do.

He gave up pasta when he saw a TV report about the microscopic creepy crawlers that infest most dough.

He gave up drinking soda and began drinking juice, until he read a report that said apple juice had higher than normal levels of arsenic.

He ate soup because it was healthy and so Mmm Mmm Good, until he learned that soup had more salt than Lot’s wife. When he found low-salt soup, he again had a cup a day-until last month when he gave it up because a Harvard study revealed that soup cans contained significant amounts of Bisphenol-A-, which can lead to cancer and heart disease.

For a couple of years, lured by a multi-million dollar ad campaign and innumerable articles in the supermarket tabloids, Bouldergrass ate only oat bran muffins for breakfast and a diet of beta carotenes for lunch, until he found himself spending more time in the bathroom than at work. He eliminated the muffins entirely after reading an article that told him eating oatmeal, bran, and hood ornaments from Buick Roadsters were bad for your health.

Bouldergrass gave up milk when he learned that acid rain fell onto pastures and was eaten by cows. When he learned that industrial conglomerates had dumped everything from drinking water to radioactive waste into streams and rivers, he stopped eating fish. For awhile, based upon conflicting reports in the media, he juggled low-calorie, low-fat, and low-carbohydrate diets until his body systems dropped into the low end of inertia.

At the movies, he smuggled in packets of oleo to squeeze onto plain popcorn until he was bombarded by news stories that revealed oleo was as bad as butter and that most theatrical popcorn was worse than an all-day diet of sirloin.

When he learned that coffee and chocolate were unhealthy, he gave up an addiction to getting high from caffeine and sugar, and was now forced to work 12-hour days without any stimulants other than the fear of what his children were doing while he was at work.

Unfortunately, he soon had to give up decaffeinated coffee and sugarless candy with cyclamates since both caused laboratory mice to develop an incurable yen to listen to music from the Grand Funk Railroad.

He gave up pizza when the media reported that certain “health care investigators” claimed pizza was little more than junk food. But, he began eating several slices a day to improve his health when Congress, fattened by lobbyists campaigns, last month declared frozen pizza was a vegetable. He figured it made sense, since three decades earlier the Reagan administration had declared catsup to be a vegetable, and five years ago the Department of Agriculture decided butter-coated french fries were a vegetable.

Left with a diet of fruits and vegetables, he was lean and trim. Until he accidentally stumbled across a protest by an environmental group which complained that the use of pesticides on farm crops was a greater health hazard than the bugs the pesticides were supposed to kill. Even the city’s polluted water couldn’t clean off all the pesticides. That’s also when he stopped taking showers, and merely poured a gallon of distilled water over his head every morning.

For weeks, he survived on buckets of vitamins because the magazines told him that’s what he should do. Then, after reading an article that artificial vitamins shaped like the Flintstones caused dinosaur rot, he also gave them up.

The last time I saw Bouldergrass, he was in a hospital room claiming to see visions of monster genetic tomatoes squishing their way toward him. He was mumbling something about cholesterol and high density lipoproteins. Tubes were sticking out of every opening in his emaciated body, as well as a couple of openings that hadn’t been there when he first checked in.

In one last attempt to regain his health, Bouldergrass enlisted in Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move army. But the only movement he was doing was when the nurses flipped him so he wouldn’t get bed sores.

Shortly before he died, he pulled me near him, asked that I write his obit, and in a throaty whisper begged, “Make sure you tell them that thanks to what I learned from the media, I died healthy.”

[Walter Brasch, a robust figure of health, doesn’t follow anyone’s advice on what is or is not healthy. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed Before the First Snow, a social issues mystery novel. Brasch says the book is a great Christmas or Chanukah gift, and increased sales will improve his own mental, if not physical, health.]

Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D.

Latest Book: Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution

(www.greeleyandstone.com)

www.walterbrasch.com

www.walterbrasch.blogspot.com

www.facebook.com/walterbrasch

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…

Why the Penn State Story Is Important

The media didn’t descend on State College simply because of a sex scandal.  The PSU controversy is about far more than a coach who used his powerful position to prey on boys.  It is about a powerful institution, one which for decades trumpeted itself as being a teacher of morality and character, of being the ultimate example of “success with honor.”  It is about powerful coaches and administrators who put the institution and its football program above the health, safety and welfare of children.  This is why this is a powerful news story and why the media descended on central Pennsylvania.

Joe Paterno may have been the most influential single person in this Commonwealth.  When the university tried to fire him he simply said no.  He had no superiors at Penn State and had made himself the symbol of the university.  His high powered football program brought in a net $70 million/year to the university.  He did a lot of good throughout his years but now all anyone will remember is the vision of a ten year old boy being raped by one of his assistants in his locker room.

It is a cataclysmic fall from grace.  There is no one who is not mesmerized by this tale of immorality, cover-up and neglect of those they are supposed to protect.  When parents send their children to college they need to know it will be a safe environment.  They must be reassured that any sexual predators will be caught and prosecuted vigorously.  They need to know coeds will be protected from date rape and sexual assaults and that when these crimes occur they are investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Penn State failed to protect children it knew were being molested by someone in a position of trust and power.  Sometime someone, probably Mr. Paterno, made the decision this could bring down the football program.  They decided that was more important and got away with the cover up for decades.  If not for a brave Mom and school administrator in Clinton County Jerry Sandusky would still be “grooming” boys for abuse.

This is why this is a national story, one for which the press is swarming like flies on manure.  It stinks and the reputation of one of the largest state universities in the nation hangs in the balance.  Little of the press coverage has focused on the individual sex acts.  The victims aren’t being paraded on television.  Instead the media focus has been on those who perpetrated the crimes, those who looked the other way and those who covered it all up.  It is on a Governor who, as Attorney General, should have more forcefully and quickly acted to stop a predator.

The media swarm is forcing us, as a state, to re-examine our priorities, enact tougher laws to protect children and change the culture at Penn State.  This is important and goes far beyond a titillating sex scandal.

Joe Sestak framed this as a loss of faith and that’s a good description:

For all of us associated with Penn State this has been a harrowing two weeks.  We’ve had to re-evaluate our feelings towards a beloved coach, a valued football program we thought was teaching proper values, and our university’s actions.  These are worthy of the media spotlight.

OCCUPY WALL STREET: Separating Fact from Media

 

By Walter Brasch

Newspaper columnist Ann Coulter, spreading the lies of the extreme right wing, called the Occupy Wall Street protestors, “tattooed, body-pierced, sunken-chested 19-year-olds getting in fights with the police for fun.” She claimed the protestors, now in the thousands in New York, are “directionless losers [who] pose for cameras while uttering random liberal clichés lacking any reason or coherence.” (Several hundred thousand of these “directionless losers” are expected to attend rallies in more than 650 cities, Oct. 15.)

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), House majority leader, called the protest nothing more than “growing mobs,” completely oblivious to his myriad statements that he supports “mobs” when they are from the Tea Party. Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, tacking as far right as possible to avoid anyone thinking he was once a moderate, called the protest “dangerous.”

Republican presidential contender Herman Cain, in a moment that demonstrated how out of touch he is with the economic reality of the five-year recession, argued, “Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks; if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself!”

Glenn Beck, too irrational even for Fox News, which terminated him less than two years after it tried to make him a TV superstar, told his radio audience, the protestors “will come for you and drag you into the streets and kill you.”

Lauren Ellis of Mother Jones, at one time a cutting edge magazine for social justice, believed that the protestors have a “lack of focus.” Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, wrote, “A protest without an objective is like a party or a picnic of the unemployed and the indolent. Unless you have an objective, what are you doing out there?”

First, let’s see just who these protestors really are. And then, let’s see what they stand for, since the mainstream media, of which Fox News is an entrenched part, don’t seem to be getting the message from the people.

The protestors rightly say they are part of the 99 percent; the other one percent have 42 percent of the nation’s wealth, the top 20 percent have more than 85 percent of the nation’s wealth, the highest accumulation since 1928, the year before the Great Depression. Even the most oblivious recognize the protestors as a large cross-section of America. They are students and teachers; housewives, plumbers, and physicians; combat veterans from every war from World War II to the present. They are young, middle-aged, and elderly. They are high school dropouts and Ph.D.s. They are from all religions and no religion, and a broad spectrum of political views.

Support has come from senior politicians with very different philosophies. Vice President Joe Biden believes the protests are because “In the minds of the vast majority of the American-the middle class is being screwed.” Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), unlike a vast majority of Republican politicians, stated, “If they were demonstrating peacefully, and making a point, and arguing our case, and drawing attention to the Fed-I would say, ‘good!'”

Second, like all protests, there are different opinions within the ranks. But, there is a core of beliefs. The protestors are fed up with corporate greed that has a base of corporate welfare and special tax benefits for the rich. They support the trade union movement, Medicare and Social Security, affordable health care for all citizens, and programs to assist the unemployed, disenfranchised, and underclass. A nation that cannot take care of the least among us doesn’t deserve to be called the best of us.

They’re mad that the home mortgage crisis, begun when greed overcame ethics and was then magnified by the failure of regulatory agencies and the Congress to provide adequate oversight, robbed all of America of its financial security. During the first half of this year alone, banks and lending agencies have sent notices to more than 1.2 million homeowners whose loans and mortgages are in default status, according to RealtyTrak. Of course, less regulation is just what conservatives want-after all, their mantra has become, “no government in our lives.”

The protestors are mad that the wealthiest corporations pay little or no taxes. They point to the Bank of America, part of the mortgage crisis problem, which earned a $4.4 billion profit last year, but received a $1.9 billion tax refund on top of a bailout of about $1 trillion. They look at ExxonMobil, which earned more than $19 billion profit in 2009, paid no taxes and received a $156 million federal rebate. Its profit for the first half of 2011 is about $ 21.3 billion.

They rightfully note that it is slimy when General Electric, whose CEO is a close Obama advisor, earned a $26 billion profit during the past five years, but still received a $4.1 billion refund.  

They’re mad that the federal government has given the oil industry more than $4 billion in subsidy, although the industry earned more than $1 trillion in profits the past decade.

They’re mad that Goldman Sachs, after receiving a $10 billion government bailout, and a $2.7 billion profit in the first quarter of 2011, shipped about 1,000 jobs overseas. During the past decade, corporations, which have paid little or no federal taxes, have outsourced at least 2.4 million jobs and are hoarding trillions which could be used to spur job growth and the economy.

They’re mad that corporations that took federal bailout money gave seven-figure bonuses to their executives.

They’re mad that the U.S., of all industrialized countries, has the highest ratio of executive pay to that of the average worker. The U.S. average is about 300 to 475 times that of the average worker. In Japan, Germany, France, Italy, Canada, and England, the average CEO earns between 10 and 20 times what the average worker earns, and no one in those countries believes the CEOs are underpaid.

They’re mad that 47 percent of all persons who earned at least $250,000 last year, including about 1,500 millionaires, paid no taxes, according to Newsmax. If you’re a Republican member of Congress, that’s perfectly acceptable. They’re the ones who thought President Obama was launching class warfare against the rich by trying to restore the tax rate for the wealthiest Americans. They succeeded in blocking tax reform and a jobs bill, but failed to understand the simple reality-if there is class warfare, it is being waged by the elite greedy and their Congressional lackeys.

Herman Cain, Fox TV pundit Sean Hannity, and others from the extreme right wing said the protestors are un-American, apparently for protesting corporate greed. The Occupy Wall Street protestors aren’t un-American; those who defend the destruction of the middle class by defending greed, and unethical and illegal behavior, are.

[Walter Brasch is an award-winning syndicated columnist, and the author of 17 books. His latest book is Before the First Snow, a social issues mystery set in rural Pennsylvania.]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D.

Latest Book: Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution

(www.greeleyandstone.com)

www.walterbrasch.com

www.walterbrasch.blogspot.com

www.facebook.com/walterbrasch

On Fixing The World, Or, Help George Carlin Stick It To God

Once again The Fates have come our way to provide a story, and once again, we have a contender for the “Ironic Story Of The Year”.

It’s got everything you need for serious irony: an irascible comedian who mocked religion at every opportunity, a city that loved him, and the rich coincidence of his having been born at the crossroads of New York City’s communities of religious education.

And that’s why, today, we’ll be talking about the effort to name the street right next to Manhattan’s Seminary Row…Carlin Street.

(And before we go further, a language warning: we’ll be quoting George Carlin liberally, and that means there may be present today certain of the seven words with which he created one of his best known routines. You are now officially warned.)

I’ve begun worshipping the Sun for a number of reasons. First of all, unlike some other gods I could mention, I can see the Sun. It’s there for me every day. And the things it brings me are quite apparent all the time: heat, light, food, a lovely day. There’s no mystery, no one asks for money, I don’t have to dress up, and there’s no boring pageantry. And interestingly enough, I have found that the prayers I offer to the Sun and the prayers I formerly offered to God are all answered at about the same 50-percent rate.

–George Carlin, from the book Brain Droppings

There is a peculiarity to life in Manhattan that exists nowhere else on Earth: for more than 120 years, two of the world’s most important seminary institutions, the Union Theological Seminary and The Jewish Theological Seminary, have been literally kitty-corner from each other, right there at Broadway and W 122nd St.

It is such a significant part of the culture of the community that W 122nd St is now officially known as Seminary Row, as it has been for over 40 years.

And just one block away is the place where George Carlin grew up, on W 121st. During his childhood the Catholic Carlin was an altar boy, and it has been suggested that all this religious exposure may have impacted his comedy:

Now, speaking of consistency, Catholics, which I was until I reached the age of reason, Catholics and other Christians are against abortions, and they’re against homosexuals. Well who has less abortions than homosexuals?! Leave these fucking people alone, for Christ sakes! Here is an entire class of people guaranteed never to have an abortion! And the Catholics and Christians are just tossing them aside! You’d think they’d make natural allies. Go look for consistency in religion. And speaking of my friends the Catholics, when John Cardinal O’Connor of New York and some of these other Cardinals and Bishops have experienced their first pregnancies and their first labor pains and they’ve raised a couple of children on minimum wage, then I’ll be glad to hear what they have to say about abortion. I’m sure it’ll be interesting. Enlightening, too. But, in the meantime what they ought to be doing is telling these priests who took a vow of chastity to keep their hands off the altar boys! Keep your hands to yourself, Father! You know? When Jesus said ‘Suffer the little children come unto me’, that’s not what he was talking about!

It’s not just the two seminaries, either, that would have influenced Carlin: Columbia University is immediately next door, as are The Manhattan School of Music/Julliard (The Julliard School later moved to Lincoln Center, but when Carlin lived on the block they had 1800 students enrolled), and The Riverside Church, which is presumably the exact place that set Carlin on his future path.

Fun Fact: Italian  game design studio Molleindustria, the same folks who partnered with YesLab to produce Phone Story (the App that was yanked after one day at the App Store because it says a bit too much about how phones are made; it’s still available on the Android market), also created the game Operation: Pedopreist, which is one of several “Radical Games” that you can play online at their website.

So now comes before us Kevin Bartini (he’s the warm-up comic for “The Daily Show”), with an organizing effort to change W 121st to Carlin Street.

Bartini, who told the Village Voice that this is a “no-brainer”, says his interest is motivated not just by the fact that Carlin grew up in the neighborhood; he also wants to acknowledge the influence the neighborhood had on Carlin’s comedy:

“…and the Invisible Man has a special list of ten things that he does not want you to do, and if you do any of these ten things he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry, forever and ever, ’til the end of time – but he loves you.”

A petition is now circulating, and after 6 days 3000 signatures had been collected…but this is George Carlin, and this is New York City, and, dammit, this is America, and I think we can do a lot better than that if we try, so do me a favor, sign the petition, and go show some love to someone who truly deserves the recognition.

You won’t have to wear a suit or a big hat, no one will be bowing or kneeling, and there won’t be a collection plate. Sacramental wine is encouraged; if you’d prefer sacramental pizza I’m sure no one’s going to complain – but if you have ’em both together, make sure it’s not at a Sbarro or something.

I think we’ve enough for today, and there’s no need to drag this out when you have your mission, so let’s go get those signatures, and let’s get Carlin Street officially on the map.

And just think: if we succeed – it could well have been God’s will.

And what could be more ironic than that?

Does God send natural disasters as punishment?

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A Few Cutting Remarks

Throughout the country, the taxpayers have been revolting. Shocked by the enormity of the taxpayer revolt, and the untimely retirement of several hundred politicians, today’s current legislators, civil servants, and business executives have suddenly became the “people’s champions.” In a parallel universe, we can report the following, just since the latest election:

— Congress got the taxpayers’ message, and cut tax-supported junkets to only 15 per member. “The people have spoken,” said Rep. Horace Sludgepump from the Bahamas where he was on a fact-finding tour for the Maritime subcommittee. However, Rep. Sludgepump cautions that forcing Congressmen to stay at home and work for a living could bring chaos to the nation. Nevertheless, he promises to cut expenses even further three months before the next election.

— The Department of Defense was able to significantly reduce its budget by cutting back on the hours its golf courses and officers clubs were open. Complaining about the cuts were tax-reforming members of Congress whose districts were in the golf club re-appropriation. However, they were voted down by congressmen from Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota who were pleased to tell their constituents there would be new naval bases in their states.

— The Governor’s office announced that although the administration was forced to make severe cuts in education and human services, by strict cost-counting measures it was able to maintain staff salaries, and keep off the unemployment lines 125 administrative assistants, 265 executive assistants, 835 assistants to the administrative assistant, and 1,255 deputy special assistants.

— The budget cuts directly affect the nation’s 200,000 homeless veterans. But, there’s an upside to this. Sixty-three-year-old Cpl. Willie Joe Lumpkin, a veteran of the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars, re-enlisted. “After being downsized three times in the past decade and having the bank foreclose on my mortgage,” says Lumpkin, “at least I now have a bed and meals.” Lumpkin is expected to have shelter in Afghanistan for at least the next year.

— The president of Mammoth State University said that it too will cut expenses. Beginning next semester, the university will eliminate the departments of history, journalism, and philosophy, recruit high school students with at least a “C-” average who are willing to pay the increased tuition rates, add low-paid graduate assistants to teach megasection classes formerly taught by full-time professors, and cut the library budget by 35 percent. When asked if those changes weren’t severe, the President replied, “We tried to be as humane as possible. We allowed our 1,249 administrators to keep their jobs, have maintained our $6 million football program without restriction, and added three more PR people to better explain the mission of the university.”

— Slagheap World Airlines announced that in the spirit of national cost cutting, it would cut back its cockpit crew to one pilot and eliminate flight attendants, meals, and life rafts. “This way,” said the president, “we won’t have to penalize our loyal stockholders by lowering our return on investment.”

— The Association of American Landlords, which had lobbied extensively against annual safety inspections and property tax increases because they would be unfair to their tenants who would be required to pay higher rents, has also made concessions. Beginning September, in the spirit of tax reform, the landlords will sub-divide all apartments, and raise rents only 10 percent. “Sharing a bathroom and kitchen will bring people closer together,” said the Association president from his McMansion Media Room.

— Newspapers have been swept up in the spirit of reform. At the Daily Bugle, publisher Ben “Cash” Fleaux, from his villa in Bermuda, announced that his newspaper was forced to eliminate stories about local government, consumer and environmental reporting, and news of the courts when it cut its editorial staff by half in order to maximize profits during the Recession. To compensate, the Bugle is running more PR releases and added more stories about celebrities in rehab.

— The medical insurance industry, in keeping with the spirit of cost cutting, today announced it was cancelling coverage for 25 percent of its subscribers. “We hated to do it,” said an insurance spokesperson, “but some people insist on getting catastrophic illnesses, and that’s unfair to the rest who are healthy and don’t apply for benefits.”

— Finally, Dr. Guy Nacologist, the state’s richest obstetrician, announced that in keeping with the spirit of tax reform, he was now requiring all his patients to deliver their babies in eight months, thus saving a full month. When asked if he had also considered lowering his fees, he looked at the reporter, and then pointedly proclaimed that with the increase in country club fees, his patients were lucky he didn’t raise their costs by a similar amount.

[Walter Brasch says that since columnists are the soul of a newspaper, they should be downsized only after the last editor shuts off the lights in the newsroom. He reminds his readers that without their support, he’s likely to become unemployed and a burden on their hard-earned tax dollars. His next book is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, available at amazon.com and other stores after June 20. Also check out his YouTube video.]