Category Archives: media news

Time of My Life, Part 5: Conventions bring serious tasks

Every now and then journalists get to see the most serious tasks imaginable in a totally new context, especially when you’re thrust into a front-row seat.

I had a couple of those experiences while working for the Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise. I want to share them with you briefly here.

In 1988 and again in 1992 I was privileged to attend two Republican National Committee presidential nominating conventions. Beaumont lies between two major cities — New Orleans to the east and Houston to the west. The GOP nominated Vice President George H.W. Bush as president in 1988 in New Orleans; then the party nominated him again for re-election in 1992 in Houston.

I got to witness all of the hubbub, the whoopin’ and hollerin’ up close both times.

The 1988 convention placed me behind the speaker’s podium inside the Superdome in New Orleans, where I witnessed President Reagan deliver a stirring speech to the faithful crowd. After the president finished his speech — and as the crowd cheered the Gipper — he and his wife, Nancy, turned and walked off the stage and so help me as God is my witness, he looked straight at me as we made eye contact. I have to say that was quite a thrill.

I worked in the same media room with some fine reporters and columnists. One of them is Chris Matthews, who at both conventions was a “mere” columnist for the San Francisco Examiner, which was owned by the same Hearst Corporation that owns the Beaumont Enterprise. I got to know Matthews, I like to say, “before he became ‘Chris Matthews,'” the current star of prime-time cable TV coverage on MSBNC. He and I enjoyed a cup of coffee at the Houston convention, chatted for a few minutes. He wouldn’t remember it, but it happened.

The 1992 gathering in the Houston Astrodome was notable as well for a couple of speeches. Conservative firebrand Pat Buchanan sought to wrest the GOP nomination from President Bush and delivered the frightening speech in which he implored the delegates to “take our country back” from some nefarious evil forces Buchanan thought had hijacked the nation. I also got to hear former President Reagan bring down the house when he mentioned the Democrats’ nominee, Bill Clinton, who Reagan said fancied himself to be another Thomas Jefferson. He responded, “Let me tell you, governor. I knew Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson was a friend of mine, and governor, you’re no Thomas Jefferson.”

The former president’s timing was picture perfect, owing to his well-known skill as a film and TV actor.

The biggest takeaway from both conventions was the sight of serious men and women doing the most serious work imaginable — nominating candidates for president and vice president of the United States — while wearing goofy elephant hats, with vests festooned with buttons and labels and generally carrying on like children at a birthday party.

I simply had to suspend my disbelief as I watched these individuals performing this most serious of tasks.

Yes, it was representative democracy in its raw form. It was a joy to watch and to cover it for the newspaper that employed me.

Fox media analyst needs a reality check . . . seriously!

I get that Howard Kurtz, who once worked for the Washington Post, now is a media analyst for a pro-Donald Trump cable news outlet, the Fox News Channel. Thus, he is inclined to speak more kindly of the president and those close to him than others who tend to look more critically at the Trump Era.

But, c’mon, Howard! Get a grip!

He told Laura Ingraham, another Fox News “contributor,” that first lady Melania Trump has gotten the worst media treatment of any first lady in modern times. He said: “Melania is subjected to a particularly brutal kind of treatment and mockery . . . No other modern first lady has been treated like this.” 

Kurtz cannot be serious. Can he? I guess he can — in his own mind.

Let me offer a couple of examples that I submit would contradict his view of Melania Trump’s media treatment: Michelle Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

I’ll stipulate that first ladies as a rule deserve some cushion from the pounding that the media deliver to their husbands. To that extent, Melania Trump is no different from any of her predecessors.

However, do I really need to remind Kurtz of the hideous racially tinged, defamatory insults that those on the right hurled at Michelle Obama during her eight years as first lady? And, yes, the media reported it. I do not want to restate some of the monstrous epithets she endured. You know what they are. Michelle Obama damn sure does.

As for Hillary Clinton, has Kurtz forgotten how the media reported on the far right’s accusations that Hillary and Bill Clinton were actually living as husband and wife, or that the two of them actually ordered the murder of their political opponents in the years prior to President Clinton’s election in 1992?

Have the media gone that far in their treatment of Melania Trump?

I do not believe that is the case. Thus, Howard Kurtz needs to re-calibrate his media-analyst antennae. Dial it back, Howie, on your criticism of the media as it relates to Donald and Melania Trump.

Actually, Mr. POTUS, it’s all ‘legal’

Donald J. Trump continues to fly off the rails with his ongoing assault on the media.

Here is what he posted this morning on Twitter: A REAL scandal is the one sided coverage, hour by hour, of networks like NBC & Democrat spin machines like Saturday Night Live. It is all nothing less than unfair news coverage and Dem commercials. Should be tested in courts, can’t be legal? Only defame & belittle! Collusion?

If you can past the mangled syntax of this tweet, I’ll provide a simple explanation of why the president — as usual — is dead wrong.

Mr. President, it’s all “legal.” It’s protected by the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment says the government cannot interfere with what a “free press” reports. It says media freedom shall not be “abridged.”

How in the world do the courts rule on the accuracy of media reports? There is no defamation here. There is no slander. No libel.

I get that the president is uncomfortable with the tone of much of the media coverage.

One more time — but most certainly not the final time: It goes with the territory, Mr. President. The media are on duty to do precisely what they are doing at this moment. They are seeking to hold you and your administration accountable for your actions, your rhetoric and the myriad promises you make.

Farewell, Weekly Standard

As he is prone to do, Donald Trump gave a raspberry to a mainstream publication that announced it is shutting down its operation.

The Weekly Standard, a mainstream conservative media outlet, is buttoning itself up and is going away. Why did Trump trash the publication? Because it has been an unfriendly outlet toward the president. He doesn’t like that its co-founder and editor at large, William Kristol, is a “never Trump” advocate.

However, Kristol is a known political conservative, who stands behind his conservative principles, which happens to be at the heart of why he opposes Trump.

What did the president say? He said this via Twitter: The pathetic and dishonest Weekly Standard, run by failed prognosticator Bill Kristol (who like many others, never had a clue), is flat broke and out of business. Too bad. May it rest in peace!

What class. What grace. What, um, whatever . . .

Kristol once served as chief of staff for Vice President Dan Quayle. He founded the Weekly Standard in 1995, becoming one of conservative mainstream media’s leading voices. The publication dogged the presidencies of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. It praised President George W. Bush’s decision to go to war in Afghanistan and later, in Iraq. One can argue with the Weekly Standard’s editorial policy, its philosophy. One cannot question the publication’s commitment to a principle.

That’s no longer viable in this Age of Trump, where opinions are formed by insult and innuendo. Kristol saw it coming when Trump entered the political world with that showy escalator ride in Trump Tower, when he announced his decision to seek the presidency.

I haven’t agreed much over the years with Kristol. However, I happen to be on his side in his view of the presidency of Donald Trump.

His publication is now gone. Yet its record contains a rich history of crisp writing, incisive and often insightful analysis.

It’s now a victim of the changing media climate, one that relies too little on smart reporting and too much on gut-level opinion.

I’m sorry to see it disappear.

Blogging brings a particular joy

My calling as a full-time blogger gives me so much joy, it’s difficult to chronicle all of it.

It keeps me in the game of public policy and politics-watching; it allows me to have my voice heard and my “throat” cleared; it reaches a wide audience that includes those who like what I have to say and those who, well, dislike my message.

I want to speak to the particular joy I receive from those critics, the folks who take the time to give me grief.

They aren’t likely to comment on those matters with which they agree. I have some series going: I write about my Chihuahua mix dog, Toby; I comment on the retired life my wife and I enjoy; I now am writing about the joy that my career as a journalist gave me over nearly four decades.

When I turn my attention to issues relating to Donald Trump and my critical view of the man’s presidency, that brings out the critics. They dust off their weapons and fire away.

Yes, I enjoy getting ’em riled. Not because I want them fired up, that I want to cause them heartburn or cause anxiety attacks. My joy comes only in knowing they, too, are engaged at some level.

Bear in mind this important note, though: No one is required to read these musings. We’re all free to look the other way, to ignore whatever it is that is posted under the name of High Plains Blogger.

That these critics choose to read it and then to comment tells me that (a) they want their blood pressure to increase or (b) they cannot get enough of whatever anger they have pent up inside of them.

Whatever, man.

I know it’s too much to ask these critics to share these messages. I ask only one thing: Just keep reading.

Many thanks to you all. Some of you keep me humble. All of you, though, keep me energized.

Can all these observers be so totally wrong?

Social media are exploding at this moment. They are swarming with comments, predictions, speculation, conjecture and assorted opinions that seem to run along the same line.

Donald John Trump is in seriously deep doo-doo. Three of his former close aides and friends — Michael Flynn, Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort — are convicted felons. Cohen today received a three-year prison sentence. The president’s former “fixer” and friend is now getting ready to wear a prison jump suit.

I’m not sure what the future holds for Flynn, the former Army general and national security adviser and Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman.

The social media chatter, though, is alive and abuzz with belief that Donald Trump might be among the next tall tree to fall.

Can they all be wrong? Can they all be mistaken?

The odds are against that notion. It looks to me as though the odds are lengthening about whether Donald Trump is going to finish his term as president of the United States.

This drama needs to play itself out.

They have become the face of persecuted journalists

Talk about an inspired choice.

Time magazine has unveiled its “Persons of the Year.” The lead “person of the year” is none other than Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the U.S. resident who was tortured and killed by his countrymen in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

Because he gave his life reporting on and commenting on the issue of free political expression, Khashoggi has joined a group of other journalists to earn the honor bestowed by Time on those who had the most impact on the world — for better or worse.

Khashoggi, who’s been in the news quite a bit of late, has become the face and the voice of persecuted journalists around the world.

They are “The Guardians” saluted by Time. Oh, there are others worth recognizing, too.

Such as the five employees of The Capital in Annapolis, Md., who were gunned down by a madman. Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters also are the faces of persecuted journalists. The editor of the Capital made it clear that “We’re going to publish a newspaper” the next day. So they did. They carried on in memory of their slain colleagues.

Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quyhn, a Vietnamese blogger, has been calling out her government’s repression of human rights. She goes by the pen name of Mother Mushroom. She was taken captive and sentenced to 10 years in prison. However, this brave woman of letters was released. She, too, is the face and the voice of persecuted journalists.

Time magazine has held up the cudgel for journalists who seek to report on the affairs of the world, their communities and to tell the truth. They aren’t enemies of any people, although it is clear that Jamal Khashoggi was the enemy of the autocratic government that had him tortured and murdered. The CIA has put the finger on Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, who denies it. Donald Trump has sided with the prince and has disrespected the work of the CIA.

I am going to stand with Time magazine and with the men and women who have fought for — and died for — the cause of reporting the truth to their audience.

Time of My Life, Part 3: Miracle on Burnside Street

Walter Cronkite coined the phrase on the evening news, calling it “the Miracle on Burnside Street.”

Every so often, reporters get a chance to report on “miracles.” This one occurred on Dec. 28, 1978. It was in the middle of the night. It was bitter cold. I jumped at the chance to chronicle the event.

A DC-8 jetliner was making an approach to Portland (Ore.) International Airport. It ran out of fuel. The pilot, sensing tragedy was about to occur, aimed the jet on a glide path toward the darkest patch of ground he could see from the flight deck. He crashed the bird in a stand of tall timber in suburban Portland.

Here’s one miracle: The plane didn’t catch fire. The second “miracle,” if you want to call it that, was that only 10 people died out of the more than 100 passengers and crew on board.

I was a young reporter working for the Oregon City Enterprise-Courier, a small daily newspaper about 15 miles south of Portland. I got word of the crash and then jumped in my car and sped toward where I heard it had landed. I had my notebook, pen and a camera on hand.

Police and fire personnel had cordoned off the area, so I had to park some distance away. I didn’t have a “press credential,” per se, on me. So I improvised. I pulled out my driver’s license and a business card.

I approached one security checkpoint and flashed both pieces of ID just to prove to whoever saw that I was the person whose name was on the business card. The fireman let me through. I went to the next one and did the same thing; the police officer waved me by. Same for the third checkpoint.

Eventually, I got to the crash site and was stunned by the appearance of the DC-8 jet tail standing among the trees; it was bathed in spotlights.

I talked to some witnesses who watched the plane crash through the forest. It destroyed no homes that I could see. I was able the next day to write a story for our newspaper; I followed up for a couple of days after that.

But before I departed the crash site, I noticed something that tore my guts out. I noticed 10 bodies laid out in a row. One of them was an infant. The medical personnel were laying blankets and tarps over them. I watched someone place a tarp over the tiny body.

Reporters aren’t supposed to cry when they’re on the job.

I cried anyway.

Don’t stop tweeting, Mr. POTUS

I’ve turned the corner. I used to wish Donald Trump wouldn’t tweet so much; now I want him to keep it up.

Why? Because his Twitter tirades provide such a trove of grist that highlights his utter hypocrisy, duplicity . . . not to mention his idiocy.

This has just surfaced. In 2012, he fired off a tweet criticizing then-President Barack Obama for “burning through” three White House chiefs of staff in three years. Oh, but hold on! Trump just announced the departure of his second chief of staff in less than two years, and he’s about to bring aboard his third chief of staff in, oh, the same amount of time — a year less than Obama did!

See how it goes? Trump says these things, either via his big mouth or via his Twitter account. Then he demonstrates a propensity for doing the same thing, only more of it.

Obama’s golf outings? Trump said he wouldn’t “have time” to break away from his plans to “make America great again” to play golf. Well now. He’s lapped the presidential field several times in the number of golf outings.

Sounding more “presidential”? Hasn’t happened. His tweets show us a continuing pattern of juvenile petulance.

Now we find the chief of staff matter.

Ain’t it just grand? Keep it up, Mr. President. You keep digging yourself deeper into that proverbial hole.

The Twitter universe has gone bonkers. Take a look.

Time of My Life: a look back

I have shared with you already my thoughts about my annoying penchant of stressing the negative and pushing aside the positive aspects of a career I enjoyed for 37 years.

I vowed in an earlier blog post that I would seek to look with fondness at a career in daily journalism that gave me much more joy than sadness. Yeah, the sadness at the end of that career stung, but it’s over now. I am a happy fellow, enjoying retirement with my wife and our puppy named Toby.

So, with that I want to announce the start of a recurring feature on this blog. I want to share with you some of the particular events I was privileged to see up close, some of the remarkable things I was able to do, and some of the amazing individuals with whom I had contact during my modestly successful career.

It won’t be an overly frequent feature, but I’ll bring some of these things up when the spirit moves me, or when I lack more topical subjects on which to comment.

I’ve already introduced a couple of such recurring features: Puppy Tales and Happy Trails. You know what they cover. This one I’ll call Time of My Life.

I will ask only thing of you: Understand that I never once saw myself as anyone’s “enemy,” certainly not an “enemy of the American people.” I was just one of many young people who came of age in the early 1970s seeking to make a difference in the community we called home. I clashed a time or two with elected public officials, but in the end they all seemed to understand that I was just doing my job, just as they were doing theirs.

I am likely to share some of those clashes with you. I do not intend to portray myself as the “good guy” and the person with whom I butted heads as the “bad guy.” That’s just one element of this series.

The rest of it will seek to relay to you how much dadgum fun I had pursuing a craft that at times seemed to define me. The fun started in Oregon, my home state and continued through two communities in Texas, in Beaumont and then in Amarillo.

I was fond of telling people after I became an editorial writer, editor and columnist that I had the “best job in the world.” Why? Because I was allowed to foist my opinions on thousands of people every day.

Can it be any more fun than that?