Thursday, October 30, 2008

Scare on the air - 70 years later

The date was October 30, 1938. The setting was the CBS radio studios in. A scrappy 22 year-old radio and stage producer/actor named Orson Welles, along with his troupe, The Mercury Theatre on the Air, were preparing a special retelling of a science fiction classic. What resulted would become the stuff of legend – even 70 years later.

Welles' group, which had previously done ambitious retellings of classic and contemporary on their weekly radio series, had something special in mind for Halloween of that year. The group obviously felt they needed to do something to grab attention. Ratings for the show weren't very good. The Mercury Theatre didn't even have a sponsor at the time. CBS moved them to Monday night death slot, opposite one of the top shows on the air, the NBC Red Network's Chase and Sanborn Hour, hosted by Don Ameche and featuring Edgar Bergen and his wooden dummy Charlie McCarthy.

Welles and company prepared an adaptation of H.G. Wells' science fiction thriller The War Of The Worlds, which told the tale of a violent alien invasion of Earth. And in keeping with the eccentric nature of their on-stage productions, which included Shakespearian works set in Fascist Italy and the Carribean, among various contemporary settings, this adaptation would be unique.

The broadcast, as envisioned by Welles, was to be done as a hoax. Welles was never a fan of overly-political radio commentators such as Father Charles Coughlin, and perhaps wanted to show people that they could not necessarily believe everything they heard on the radio. Most likely, he was inspired by the horrific thought of his ambitious dramas getting clobbered in the ratings by a radio ventriloquist. Something had to be done.

The show started with an ordinary ballroom concert performance (actually the CBS radio orchestra conducted by Bernard Herrmann) would be interrupted by live news reports and announcer cut-ins, reporters on the scene, sounds of ham radio operators and interviews with fictitious government officials – all relaying a fictional Martian attack on Grovers Mill, New Jersey.

Welles made sure to announce at the beginning of the program that this was merely a dramatic presentation, that Martians weren't really blowing up New Jersey. But he was smart enough to realize that Chase and Sanborn took their first musical break at fifteen minutes past the hour. He scheduled the first 'report' from Grover's Mill at the twelve-minute mark to heighten the audience's confusion. Welles mischievously knew that quite a few channel surfers would have missed the earlier disclaimer claiming it was all fiction. As a result, some listeners happened upon the CBS broadcast at the point when the Martians started to emerge from their spacecraft.
What happened next has been subject to much debate, and the real-life incidents that transpired ironically made the whole thing even more legendary. Many newspapers of the day, including The New York Times, reported that many people listening to Mercury Theatre that night thought they were listening to a real newscast and were pretty freaked out. Listeners reportedly ran to tell their neighbors and friends, and just like the childhood game of 'telephone,' the whole thing took on a life of its own. The media reported mass hysteria over the broadcast, and even more contemporary historical retellings claim the same. In reality, nobody has really come to a consensus on what the overall reaction truly was. Was the reaction really overblown? There were stories of crowds gathering in the Grovers Mill area. And there were other isolated reports of mass panic. In Concrete, Washington, where listeners heard the show on Seattle stations KIRO and KVI, listeners were pretty freaked when a coincidental city-wide power failure occurred during the broadcast, resulting in residents storming the town center with shotguns. Likely, most of the reports of hysteria were, like the radio show, overblown. Most people were perhaps more baffled than scared. But the reports of panic added an entirely new dimension to the hoax broadcast. Life was truly imitating art.

Whatever the reaction by the public was during and immediately after the broadcast, there was definitely an outcry in the days that followed. CBS defended Welles, claiming that there were disclaimers throughout the broadcast, and gave Welles and company a slap on the wrist. CBS did promise never to do anything like that again. The FCC investigated starting the next day. Some in Congress demanded more government control over radio content.

While the Mercury Theatre was mildly rebuked over the whole incident, it did get the troupe what they really needed – attention. Campbell's Soup, impressed over the reaction, signed on as a sponsor. And Hollywood came calling, with RKO Pictures wooing Welles and the Mercury Theatre to the silver screen with a lucrative contract promising complete artistic freedom. The result was 1941's Citizen Kane, regarded by many as the greatest film ever made. The film was controversial, due to its main character's resemblance to powerful newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst. Hearst put pressure on RKO and other studios to destroy the film, but an adamant Welles premiered the film anyway, which initially flopped due to shunning by the Hollywood moguls. Welles lost much of his clout, and subsequent films, such as The Magnificent Ambersons, famously fell victim to studio meddling and editing. In later years, up until his death in 1985, he wound up doing acting gigs, in addition to commercial and television work, to finance his own independent low-budget films, where he at least had creative freedom.

The Mercury Theatre's broadcast of The War of the Worlds has gone down in history as perhaps the most famous of all the old time radio dramas. Many stations, mostly noncommercial, air the original 1938 broadcast every Halloween. Quite a few others, perhaps even in your town, stage live recreations of the original – on the air, on stage, or both. But the original had the magic. I have long been a fan of the broadcast, its lore and even the story itself. I have heard various reenactments. I've seen some of the film versions of the original story, including the frightening Steven Spielberg/Tom Cruise take from a few years ago. I wrote about the legendary Orson Welles version one year ago here. And 70 years later after the original historic broadcast, the story is still as scary as ever.

Here is a listening treat for you, the original 1938 broadcast from Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre On The Air, doing their take on War Of The Worlds. Turn off the lights and enjoy:

As I mentioned before, there have been remakes. And there have been a few contemporary retellings. Perhaps the best, and most famous, was done in 1968 by WKBW in Buffalo , NY (which is now progressive talker WWKB). There are no professional actors taking part in this - it was done by the WKBW on-air staff and news and programming departments. It was updated in 1971 and 1975, to reflect station staff changes. Here's a double treat, a rarity – the 1971 edit of WKBW's adaptation of War Of The Worlds:

You can also download the entire broadcast directly from The Internet Archive (low bitrate) or at The Mercury Theatle website (higher bitrate). For a different experience, try King Daevid Mackenzie's version, which edits together both the Mercury Theatre broadcast and the Chase and Sanborn Hour, approximating the sequence that many had originally heard when flipping around the dial. The Glowing Dial podcast has a three hour show that also features the original, Welles' press conference the following morning, a few interviews, the WKBW 1971 version and even a very rare radio conversation between Orson Welles and the aging H.G. Wells.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A campaign for the ages, and why Barack Obama should be president

Believe it or not, this will all be (hopefully) over one week from today. And what a long strange trip it's been.

If current trends, polling numbers and momentum are correct, the United States of America will do itself a great favor by electing the man who even General Colin Powell, a Republican, calls a 'transitional' figure, Barack Obama. And it could change the course of our nation for the better. That's not small talk. I honestly believe that great things could happen under an Obama Administration.

At the beginning of the year, prior to the primaries, I didn't really have a horse in the race. I was repelled by the media's apparent anointing of Hillary Clinton as the potential nominee, with Obama as the runner-up. I turned away from Clinton for many reasons. I don't dislike Clinton. As a matter of fact, I gained more respect for her in recent months, and would have had no problem voting for her if she had gotten the nomination. But out of the gate, she was too mean, too establishment, too much of a suckup and quite frankly, while I was a strong supporter of her husband, I preferred a candidate not named Clinton or Bush. And I liked Obama, and was inspired by his own personal story, but after being burned by the lackadaisical campaign of John Kerry in 2004, I thought he'd get absolutely creamed in the primaries and general election. He seemingly didn't stand a chance.

But I felt compelled to settle on someone. And I thought that John Edwards, the vice presidential nominee from four years ago, had a compelling message. I disregarded the fact that he came across as much more conservative while serving as the senator from South Carolina. Politicians in deep red states have to do that. Lyndon Johnson and Al Gore were moderate-conservative southern senators that turned out to be much more liberal when broken from those restraints. This year, Edwards pushed a strong, populist, working-class platform, acknowledging what most discovered - that the 'trickle-down economics' philosophy that favors the wealthy at the expense of virtually everyone else almost always leads to financial turmoil, as it did in the 20's and 80's.

But anything could happen in the primaries. Edwards ran an aggressive third place, though Clinton and Obama sucked all the air out of the room. It was definitely an uphill battle. He eventually gave up, and soon admitted to an extramaritial affair that had started to surface during the primaries. I felt deceived. If he had that skeleton in the closet, he had no right to run in the first place until he totally came clean and put it all on the table for the voters to decide. When Edwards ended his campaign, the last of the longshots to fall by the wayside, I had to settle on another horse. By that time, I had really started to like the idea of a President Obama.

The big surprise in the primaries was that Obama got better as the campaign rolled on. Much better. I give him a ton of credit for taking on the most powerful and most aggressive political machine of our time, that of the Clintons. Hillary threw everything she had at him, and at times got rather nasty, as I assumed she would. I don't blame her too much - if Obama was to be the nominee, he had to be tested. And he passed that test, as far as I was concerned. He was confident, charismatic, intelligent, and had a highly organized campaign with a ground game unsurpassed in political history. Obama and his crew took the best idea of Howard Dean's surprising 2004 run, a mostly tech-saavy people-powered movement, and refined it into a massive grassroots juggernaut. He didn't have a gang behind him - he had a whole army!

This massive effort, and the fact that this was a relatively unknown young black Chicago politician with the unlikely name of Barack Obama who attracted people like flies to honey, really opened my eyes. And with a middle name like 'Hussein,' I knew this guy had to have balls of steel to get as far as fast as he had. To overcome perceived shallow racism and xenophobia in post-9/11 America really says something about Obama's perseverernce and appeal. He wasn't going to let anything stand in his way. He was a fighter. John Kerry couldn't overcome a group of Republicans lying about his honorable military record, which banished him to the Hall of Shame for lightweight candidates, along with names like McGovern, Goldwater, Dole and Mondale. I was convinced that if Obama could overcome all the stuff that made him who he was, things shallow-minded people would hold against him, he could accomplish anything he wanted. I knew Obama could easily become our next president, and a very good one. I was sold.

After clinching the nomination, Obama ran a very strong campaign, and one that kept growing stronger by the day. A characteristic of a good president is one that can evolve, roll with the punches and adapt to a changing environment. He did so without losing focus on the big picture.

Obama also tried to stay above the fray. Kerry was done in by very nasty campaigning. Obama was attacked mercilessly for really stupid stuff, but he stood firm on his message. He wanted to give people a reason to vote for him, rather than against his opponent, in contrast to his rival, John McCain, who had no real compelling statement for his own bid. Sure, Obama could have flooded the airwaves with a ton of negative advertising, and could have easily attacked McCain on many personal points. They could have aggressively brought up the scandal involving S&L swindler Charles Keating, who bankrolled McCain's early political career and used his influence to get McCain and other senators to stonewall investigations into his shady dealings. Aside from a small web campaign, they opted to attack McCain on the issues. When McCain brought up former radical Bill Ayers, Obama could easily have brought up McCain cronies like convicted Watergate felon G. Gordon Liddy, who at times openly advocated the assassination of federal agents. And that's what set the two camps apart. Obama and his minions have held back most of their possible negative attacks, perferring to challenge McCain's positions on the issues and his embrace of the policies of the increasingly unpopular President Bush. In this respect, Obama seemed to be running from a loftier, more confident plain, while McCain seemed like he was desperately gasping for air.

To his credit, McCain himself personally avoided bringing up Obama's former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Smart move. Sure, Wright is wild and outspoken, and the YouTube soundbytes, taken out of context, could easily stir up a lot of phony outrage. But McCain and the Republicans have much more serious pastor problems, when one considers the loose lips of Pat Robertson, Ted Haggard, James Dobson, John Hagee and others. And don't forget Republican running mate Sarah Palin's own crazy guru, Thomas Muthee, the Kenyan/Alaskan witch doctor. Do they really want to go there?

Democrats typically have a tougher time getting their message across. Their ideas are usually a bit too heavy and too wonky for many Americans to wrap their minds around. For Republicans, they have gotten by with merely waving the flag and singing "God Bless The USA." Democrats have a tough time reducing their ideas to small soundbytes, let along simple sentences. To Obama's credit, he was able to get his messages across effectively. After months of pounding, his middle class tax cut plan seemed to resonate. So much that McCain and his minions had to try to spin it in their favor. As of late, they have called it 'socialism,' a charge all too often shouted by Republican candidates going all the way back to Herbert Hoover in 1932. What they won't tell you is that Obama's tax and spending plan is virtually a 21st century version of Clintonomics. It's the same basic principle, but updated for the current environment. And we all know about the booming economy and budget surpluses of the 90's. McCain is still beating the dead horse once referred to by George H.W. Bush as "voodoo economics." As I said, Calvin Coolidge and the Republicans lived by it during the 1920s until the stock market collapsed and Reagan revived it, driving up the deficit and ushering in a late-80s recession. Our current president is a strong advocate of the same plan, and the Wall Street crash of '87 seems to be happening several times a week. History has proven that corporate anarchy and the culture of greed, as advocated by the trickle-down crowd, leads to fiscal catastrophes like the one we're currently experiencing. That, of course, has given Obama's message a bit more resonance.

While Obama's campaign has, at times, taken a 'do no wrong' sense of momentum, the effort of his rival, McCain, has been bogged down by disorganization, chaos and inconsistency. McCain has shifted positions and talking points so often that many voters were left confused as to which John McCain was actually running for the White House. He derided his opponent a big government socialist only a few weeks after impulsively trumpeting a plan to spend $300 million dollars to buy up bad home mortgages and advocating his own form of corporate socialism. He spent the early summer attacking Obama as an inexperienced celebrity, then taps Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, buys her $150,000 worth of designer clothing and tries to mold her into a... celebrity. The Palin pick, designed to attract social conservatives, women and disenfranchised Hillary Clinton supporters, has, in hindsight, been a complete disaster. Many Republicans have jumped ship to support Obama, citing the Palin pick as a major reason. As of late, stories come out daily about the turmoil and finger pointing in the McCain camp. Even Palin has expressed a desire to 'go rogue.'

Of the two candidates, Obama made the smarter running mate pick, bringing in longtime Delaware Senator Joe Biden. The move was not designed to win a particular state or constituency. It was based mostly on who Obama trusted to be at his side during the campaign and in the White House. McCain's pick of Palin, who he had only met a few times prior, was really just a cheap political gimmick. When people actually woke up and realized the only thing separating her from the presidency was a 72 year-old heartbeat, reality started to set in. Think McCain wakes up every morning, smacks himself on the head and says, "Damn, I should have picked Romney?"

One constant line of attack from adversaries this year has been on Obama's resume, or seeming lack of. He doesn't have a long history in the U.S. Senate, and most of his legislative experience has been in the state of Illinois. But his career trajectory is eerily similar to that of our 16th president, who's sole political background was eight years in the Illinois legislature, two years in the House of Representatives, a failed congressional campaign, and a reputation as a dynamic orator. I'm not saying Obama is the second coming of Abraham Lincoln, but it certainly pokes holes in the 'experience' argument. In another example, our 28th president's background consisted of only two years as New Jersey governor and a decade before that as president of Princeton University. Yet Woodrow Wilson consistently ranks near the top of many presidential polls. Both Roosevelts, Theodore and Franklin, would be attacked mercilessly nowadays for their thin resumes. Meanwhile, the most 'experienced' candidate of all, James Buchanan, was a complete disaster in the White House, as his weak and irascable personality all but encouraged the southern states to secede from the Union by 1860. As far as I'm concerned, character, temperament and flexibilty are much better indicators of presidential success than how many lines of text their resumes consist of. It's what separates Barack Obama from someone like Sarah Palin, who McCain has repeatedly trumpeted as being more experienced. But really, who would you rather have in the Oval Office? Ability trumps experience.

While some Democrats, particularly a few wayward Hillary Clinton supporters, may still be grumbling about their current presidential candidate, they should realize that in Obama, they have perhaps the party's best, if most unlikely, nominee since Bill Clinton in 1992 and John F. Kennedy in 1960. The guy is sharp, and unlike many Democrats in the past, like Carter and Clinton, he could have an easier time working with a Democratically-controlled Congress. He is one one of them. And Democrats, shockingly enough, are much more organized than in years past. Many longtime Democratic platforms, such as health care reform and alternative energy, have been bogged down by inter-branch bickering between the White House and Congress. This time, we could see things finally get done in government, positive things. We could see affordable health care available to all, like virtually every other capitalist country in the world. We could see a shift away from Middle East oil, and a cleaning up of the environment. We could see a prosperous middle class, and even a more prosperous upper class. We could again command great respect throughout the world, which will really help to boost our economy, security and overall way of life. And we could see an end to the nasty divisive rhetoric spewed by such groups as evangelical reactionaries. With an Obama win, the tide could most definitely turn. And for the better.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Online political junkies swing to the left

In the midst of the most-talked about presidential election in recent times, independent online political news sites have seen their numbers shoot through the roof. And the biggest one-year gains are being enjoyed by left-leaning websites.

Comscore, a group that monitors internet trends, released the report showing which politically-oriented sites, blogs and online communities have been the most popular in this election cycle. The survey monitors only independent sites, and not ones associated with any newspaper, magazine or broadcast media entity.

The big winner – and the most-read independent political site of them all – is Huffington Post. The three year-old news and commentary site, an ambitious effort by namesake Arianna Huffington and others, was yet another attempt at creating a headline clearing house to rival Matt Drudge's conservative-leaning Drudge Report. In addition, the headlines were supplemented by a long list of bloggers (including Hollywood celebrities) and even sections devoted to media and entertainment news. While many Drudge-inspired sites have come and gone, this effort has paid off. Big time. During the period spanning September 2007 to September 2008, HuffPo saw its readership numbers surge a whopping 474%, reeling in over 4.5 million unique visitors.

Coming in second is another relatively new site, the just over a year old Politico. The non-partisan site, founded by several former Washington Post staffers, has also seen strong one year gains, up 344% to over 2.3 million unique visitors during the past month. Politico has been a must-read site for political junkies, and has even broken some big stories, including the most recent scandal involving the Republican Party's $150,000 shopping spree for Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin. While Politico also puts out a magazine, it is clear that it is the site that fuels the whole thing, and not the other way around. Politico plays it straight down the middle ideologically, and does not favor any particular candidates. Readers on both sides of the political spectrum have criticized the site for being slanted toward one side or the other, which means that they are obviously doing their job.

In third place is a surprising entry. Since it's founding in the early days of the internet, the Drudge Report has been one of the most-visited sites on the internet. It seemed as if everyone read it, and was a go-to for news and political junkies. And it has been copied, imitated and parodied by many over the years. But years later, Drudge seems to have become more and more irrelevant, eclipsed by other sites with more content, more vibrant layouts and original content. Perhaps readers grew bored with the c. 1995-style plain text layout. Or the blatant right-wing spin and mock outrage-stirring. Drudge even got some egg on his face last week by playing up the hoax attack involving McCain campaign volunteer Ashley Todd. He hyped it heavily, after reportedly being tipped off by Republican operatives (where he gets many of his stories), and found himself in a rather embarrassing spot when it was discovered Todd lied about the whole thing. Are we finally seeing the tide turn to the point that Drudge will slide into obscurity? Will Drudge Report fizzle out into obscurity like Excite, Metaverse, “The Spot” and many other ancient relics of the early web? To be fair, his readership has gone up during the election season, up 70% to 2.1 unique visitors, but it is evident that the site has lost much of its clout, having been eclipsed by younger, scrappier up-and-comers in HuffPo and Politico.

Perhaps the bland mid-90s Windows 95 look, which Drudge devotedly still clings to, also hurt reactionary message board community Free Republic, which actually lost readers from last September, sliding 3%

Several sites in the top 20 enjoyed massive gains in the past year. The non-partisan Real Clear Politics, which concentrates heavily on polling data, shot up 481% to #4. And Talking Points Memo, the left-leaning blog run by Josh Marshall, shot up 1,321%, placing it at #11, thanks in part to a heavy breaking news approach that employs real-time election data. The venerable Daily Kos shot up 381% to #7 on the list. Crooks and Liars, a blog that has been a go-to destination for television news show clips, is still quite popular (and does drive a lot of traffic to other sites, as I can personally attest). Media Matters for America saw a slight gain. And Americablog makes its first showing on the list this year. Of the left-leaning sites listed the only one that has declined is the five year-old Raw Story. This earlier attempt at a left-leaning Drudge Report dropped 3%, most likely eclipsed by the similar HuffPo. Nonetheless, it's still a good site, particularly for stories regarding the mainstream media.

A few right-wing sites did enjoy gains., part of Brent Bozell's consortium of phony outrage, enjoyed a 547% gain in readers who like to piss and moan about liberal bias in the media. is up 514%., World Net Daily and Michelle Malkin saw some gains as well.

Some new non-partisan sites have made quite a splash too. CQ Politics, and Pollster have started making a big splash as of late.

And before writing this, I had no idea what Capitol Advantage was. As I did a little digging, they're the folks who publish Roll Call and other publications. They are also heavy into federal government directories.

In addition to the aforementioned sites, there are many other useful ones. A longtime favorite of mine is the nonpartisan, which monitors the latest polling data for the presidential, senate and congressional races. The site also features an interactive roll-over map with the latest electoral college estimates. And the relatively-new Democratic Convention Watch has continued even past last August's Denver shindig. Initially, they tracked delegate and superdelegate numbers through the primary season, but as of late have been following campaign headlines and newspaper endorsements, as has Editor and Publisher. And of course, there's the traditional news sites, such as television and newspapers, as well as news aggregator portals such as Yahoo!, Google and MSN.

However you get your political fix, there's plenty of ways to do it via the World Wide Web.

Here is the list (color coded by yours truly) of the top twenty political web sites:

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Pumpkin carving fun for Republicans

Hey, remember that weird story out of Pittsburgh earlier this week?

Allegedly, a College Republican and McCain campaign volunteer named Ashley Todd made a wild claim about being robbed and assaulted at an ATM by a crazed black Obama supporter. The assailant allegedly took the $60 that she withdrew, noticed the McCain/Palin sticker on her car, and decided to cold-cock her in the eye and carve a large “B” in her cheek, demanding that she vote for “Barack” instead.

Well, this created a ton of buzz in the right-wing media. Matt Drudge was all over it before the mainstream media was, with big, screaming top-of-page headlines (minus the siren). Fox News was hyperventilating. Reactionary bloggers were drooling. They now had evidence of how nasty and hate-filled those evil librulz really were. To defile this poor 20 year-old college girl because she's a Republican! And to top it off, they had the perfect bogeyman to rile up the racist base – a big, hulking black man.

A big, nasty black guy roughing up an innocent white girl? Oh, the horror!
If true, it could sway voters away from Obama to the seeming security of the Republican ticket. If false, it could be one of the final nails in the McCain campaign coffin, or so claimed FOX News VP and talking points writer John Moody.

Unfortunately for them, it was all bullshit.

Unless that 'big, hulking black man' was wandering around town attacking young Republican women with a butterknife and eye shadow, the story didn't float. After intense scrutiny and a lie detector test cast doubt on Todd's story, she confessed that it was all a ruse. There was no mugging. There was no mutilation. And there was no big scary black dude. Yep, she made it all up.

Gee, I wonder what gave it away? The half-assed makeup job on her eye? Or perhaps the backward “B” carved on her cheek with what appears to be a very dull blade?
Anyway, Todd was arrested for making a phony claim by a rather pissed off Pittsburgh police force, who have enough problems on their hands without chasing down an imaginary mugger. Didn't she realize that this stuff never works?

The funny part of all of this? The right-wing media totally ate this up! They were convinced they really had something – a way to validate their long-held beliefs that liberals, Democrats and African-Americans were hatemongers threatening the security of those innocent, upstanding, God-fearing 'my shit don't stink' conservative Republicans. And they got rightfully punked!

Of course, it didn't stop there. Launching into spin mode, some were claiming that Todd was a Democratic plant from the get-go, or that she was yet another Code Pink member frolicking in campaign hijinks.

Sigh. Will they ever learn?

Anyone who thought last spring that this campaign would be less nasty than in years past and more focused on issues surely must be disappointed. What it has devolved into is a desperate Republican base throwing every nasty thing in their arsenal at Barack Obama to see what sticks. And we're seeing it all. They were adamant that Obama is a secret Muslim terrorist plant who went to a shady Islamic school. They claimed his birth certificate was a forgery. They accused him of running around with hippie terrorists as a young third grader, blowing up government buildings. There were radical militant preachers. Terrorist fist-bumps. His willingness to meet with enemies. And now, they've been claiming him to be a (gasp!) socialist. Damn, they really are desperate.

Of course, like Ashley Todd's shoddily-carved pumpkin head, it's all bullshit. Obama was born in a Honolulu hospital. He went to a Catholic school before attending seditionist colleges like Columbia and Harvard. He and Bill Ayers weren't very close. The religious figures Obama hung around were far less radical than the array of right-wing preachers the Republicans have been coddling for three decades. And considering that McCain wants to buy out home mortgages and even establish an X Prize-type award for ways to fix the economy and establish energy independence, it sounds rather funny for him to call the other guy a 'big government socialist.'
Suffice it to say, the Republicans have retreated once again to the tried-and-true fear tactics that have served them well over the years. And that means scaring the hell out of isolated white voters with lowest-common-denominator schemes. Think Joe the Plumber would be name-dropped ad nauseum by McCain if he was Jamal the Plumber? I don't think so.

Sadly, these people have no shame in their desperate attempts to win in ten days. And here's hoping that these scummy tactics will drive the final nail in the coffin of intolerance and hate.

The party of Lincoln has devolved into the party of paranoid, self-absorbed white people.

Oops! She did it again!

The following entry reminds me of an old fable:

A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog asks, "How do I know you won't sting me?" The scorpion says, "Because if I do, I will die too."

The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream, the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown, but has just enough time to gasp, "Why?"

Replies the scorpion: "Its my nature..."

If there's one thing we can probably all agree on, it's that we can always count on Michele Bachmann, the gaffe-prone extremist congressperson from Minnesota, to be Michele Bachmann. And no matter how much she tries to avoid it, she just can't help who she is, or what she truly believes in.

Last week, on an appearance on MSNBC's “Hardball,” Bachmann let it all out, accusing Barack Obama and other Democrats of fostering “anti-American” ideas, and that they should be investigated. Well, that motivated Democrats and supporters to take action. Immediately, roughly $1.3 million dollars in donations were made online to the campaign of her rival, El Tinklenberg. The Democratic Party made the race a high priority, funneling even more support to defeat her. And House Speaker Nance Pelosi visited the district to stump and was able to round up another $1 million dollars to help send Bachmann packing.

Sensing doom (and they've been sensing a lot of doom lately), the Republican Party decided to cut her off, pulling all their financial and advertising support for the candidate who was once assured of victory in the heavily-red area she represents. She led in the polls for awhile, but the latest Survey USA poll shows Tinklenberg leading 47-44 percent. The newest University of Minnesota poll shows a similar result, 45-43 percent in Tinklenberg's favor.

Yes, Bachmann really screwed up this time.

Sensing the hornets nest that she just upset, Bachmann went into damage control mode, issuing a few half-hearted apologies, and claiming that her words were twisted (though it was she who said them on nationwide television). She also claimed that she did not mean to call Obama or any other Democrat “un-American.” And she even taped an apology ad, to begin airing this weekend. Only thing is, everyone knows who Bachmann really is. And they really know that in the end, Bachmann will always be Bachmann.

And much as it's impossible for a zebra to change its stripes, it's likewise difficult for Bachmann to move away from her nasty ultra-partisan demeanor. Thinking nobody else would find out, on Tuesday, Bachmann went on the ultra-right-wing radio talk shows of Laura Ingraham, Hugh Hewitt and Mike Gallagher to plead her case. She evidently felt she could safely preach to the choir of mouth-breathing liberal-haters that could possibly help a sister out. And if she had been apologetic in the mainstream spotlight, she didn't show it here. What she said on these shows was much different than the damage control she's been doing in the mainstream media.

From Hewitt's show:

BACHMANN: All I did on Chris Matthews is I questioned Chris Matthews and said, "look, if John McCain had friends like Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers and Father Pfleger, you’d be all over him Chris, but you’ve laid off of Barack Obama." And so, he was using the word “Anti-American” and I told Chris, what I question are Barack Obama’s views. Because Barack Obama’s views are against America. They won’t be good for our country.
Bachmann did not specify the difference between “anti-American” and “against America,” however. And she expanded her attacks to include Chicago religious figures such as Jeremiah Wright and Father Michael Pfleger, a rather animated and outspoken white Catholic priest who is renowned for his work in mostly African-American parishes.

Here is what she said on Mike Gallagher’s radio show the same day:

BACHMANN: And they can’t take it because the point is what are Barack Obama’s policies? Are they for America or will they be against traditional American ideals and values? And I’ll tell you what. Punishing tax rates, redistribution of wealth, socialized medicine, inputing censorship in the form of the un-Fairness Doctrine and taking away the secret ballot from the worker has nothing to do with traditional American values. That’s why your listeners need to know. Otherwise the United States may be literally changed forever.

Of course, she also hit up listeners for money to take on the suddenly expanded coffers of her rival, in a desperate plea to fight undesirables like Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

She also blasted NBC's “Today” show and MSNBC's Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann, accusing them of conspiring to raise money for her opponent. While claiming to 'call Matthews on the carpet,” she pulled the 'blame the media' card, claiming elsewhere that Matthews and others twisted her words and goaded her into making ridiculous statements.

And that's why the 'blame the liberal media' card is faltering so badly for the reactionary crowd. It's one that's been used for decades by right-wingers in their feeble attempts to blame everyone else for their problems. Sarah Palin and others with the McCain campaign have been using the same excuse to cover for her ineptitude with reporters, and that's why most of Palin's rare interviews have been with friendly suck-ups such as Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and James Dobson. But let's be real here – Palin couldn't even stand up to scrutiny from Katie Couric, and she even held Palin's hand throughout their interview together, asking her at one point, "you do realize we're taping this, right?"

Palin and company lashed out at the media for asking questions she deemed none of their business. Meaning that it's all right to exploit her son who's serving in Iraq or the newborn with Down Syndrome, but that her 17-year-old daughter who got knocked up is off-limits. Let's get real here.

No, it is not the media's fault that these morons can't stand up to a talking head when they don't get the puff pieces they want. And the media not there to ask cupcake questions about hair styles and moose hunting. If they want their assess kissed by media personalities, stick to the overly partisan media that is FOX News, Hannity and Hugh Hewitt. The news media is supposed to ask challenging questions, especially to someone who could potentially lead this country. Because if someone like Palin can't stand up to Katie Couric, of all people, how the hell is she going to sit across the table from an intimidating force like Vladimir Putin? Putin doesn't partake in small talk about moose hunting and hockey. Regardless of your opinion of him, he's a hard-ass and a brutal negotiator. Obama at least seems to understand this.

With the likelihood of a President Obama coming closer and closer to fruition, and a filibuster-proof Democrat-controlled senate occurring for the first time since the Carter Administration, perhaps we are seeing a changing tide. People are starting to tire of the divisive culture of 'patriotic correctness,' which seems to stipulate that the majority of Americans are 'un-American.' They are finally starting to see right-wingers for who they really are – a bunch of obnoxious crybabies who wrap themselves in the flag and sing “God Bless The USA” to cover for the fact that their ideas are ruining the very country they claim to love. People are tired of this 'divide and conquer' strategy that's turning the red and the blue into the Bloods and the Crips, especially when the McCain campaign is claiming that some areas of the country are more 'American' than others.

Hate to break it to all of you, but this country belongs to all of us. And if it takes the defeats of people like John McCain and Michele Bachmann to finally drum it into everyone's heads, then so be it.

You can donate to El Tinklenberg's campaign, if you so choose, at this link.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

More news for short-attention spans

As we mark the 12 day mark until the presidential election, here's some of the stuff I haven't covered yet.

Maddow in the New York Times

Catching up with some various tidbits over the past week, we start with yet another profile of Air America and MSNBC phenom Rachel Maddow, this one a New York Times piece published Monday. Here's an excerpt:

Rachel Maddow, a woman who does not own a television set, has done something that is virtually unheard of: she has doubled the audience for a cable news channel’s 9 p.m. hour in a matter of days.

More important for her bosses at MSNBC is that “The Rachel Maddow Show,” her left-leaning news and commentary program, has averaged a higher rating among 25- to 54-year-olds than “Larry King Live” on CNN for 13 of the 25 nights she has been host. While the average total audience of her program remains slightly smaller than that of Mr. King’s, Ms. Maddow, 35, has made MSNBC competitive in that time slot for the first time in a decade. The channel at that hour has an average viewership of 1.7 million since she started on Sept. 8, compared with 800,000 before.

Given that advertising dollars — and the reputations of networks — rise and fall on prime-time ratings, Ms. Maddow’s rise has been closely watched by media executives.

“I’m pinching myself,” said Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC, who used to caution that it “takes two or three years for a show to find its audience.” That was certainly true for Keith Olbermann, whose five-year-old “Countdown” program at 8 p.m. (which leads into Ms. Maddow’s program) now beats CNN in the 25-to-54-year-old demographic segment every evening.

Air America announces video contest

Air America Media has announced a video contest, asking people to create an original “Obama for President” commercial. Through Sunday, 10/26, contestants can post their entry to Air America’s You Tube site. The top ten most viewed entries will become finalists, and featured on Air America’s Web site on Monday, 10/27, where final voting will occur through 10/31. The winning video will be awarded $500, streamed on Air America’s Web site and promoted on-air.
You can find out more on Air America’s You Tube page, and on

Marc Maron – the comic

And here's an interview with another Air America host, one not named Rachel Maddow. The Comic's Comic, a comedy-oriented blog, has a profile of on-again, off-again, and now on-again host Marc Maron. He's doing the online video show with Sam Seder, and is also on the road working for both Air America and London newspaper The Guardian commenting on the upcoming election:

"Everything's pretty good, man. The road trip has been good in a lot of ways, like I needed to get out. I just moved back to New York City from Los Angeles, everything has been up in the air, and the past couple of years for me personally have been miserable. So nothing is better than running away!" Maron tells me. "If given the opportunity, it's always fun to run."

It's not as if the satirical stand-up comedian hasn't criss-crossed the country before, either for road work or with friends. But this time feels very different.

"It's interesting to do it for a reason," he says. "We're interviewing people. Shooting video. And right now we're checking out the meteor crater. I've never seen my producer get so excited for something. I guess it's interesting to see what could happen that's entirely out of our control." He looks out at the massive 4,000-foot wide, 550-foot deep Meteor Crater east of Flagstaff and finds perspective. "There's no reason that can't happen again. So it just makes everything seem small and insignificant," he says.

Comedian gets death threat after mocking Bush

While on the subject of comedians, here's proof positive that some people out there still hate you for your freedom. British comedian Russell Brand received a death threat after ridiculing President George W. Bush as host of last month's MTV Video Music Awards.

Brand evidently ruffled a few right-wing feathers when he called Bush a "retard" during the ceremony.

He let news of the threat slip while appearing on Britain's Radio 1, "(Hosting the awards) was a lot of fun, especially the death threat.

He joked, "If you are going to kill someone, don't give them advance notice, that gives you a chance to prepare.

"How can you, while watching the telly, think 'Oh, I don't enjoy this. No, I'm not enjoying this at all. Right, I'm going to kill him'. That's a huge jump."

Is that their idea of 'freedom?'

Good news/bad news

Speaking of thin-skinned Republicans, I’ve got both good news and bad news.

Here’s the good: Bill O’Reilly is ditching his radio show. Boo hoo.

“I can’t work 60 hours a day”, he said. Besides, his radio show, launched in 2002, around the time Rush Limbaugh blew out his eardrums with Oxycontin, has never really caught on – he’s mostly on weaker stations and was just dropped in the Washington, DC market.

The bad news? O’Reilly just signed a big contract with FOX Noise, for roughly $10 million a year.

As P.T. Barnum once said…

Monday, October 20, 2008

Loose lips could sink the dip

Conventional political wisdom would dictate that, if in a tight election race, a candidate should not do anything to embarrass either themselves or the people he or she represents. Don't insult or alienate likely voters. And above all, don't rock the boat. That seems to be the sane thing to do.

Then again, Michele Bachmann is not necessarily a sane person.

The incumbent congresswoman, who represents Minnesota's 6th district, has garnered a bizarre reputation during her four years in the U.S. House. She's a hardcore partisan flamethrower. And she's flat-out nuts. She once greeted President Bush with a kiss on the lips. Then there was that time she hid in the bushes to spy on a gay/lesbian rally. She had paranoid delusions and once filed a suspect police report alleging she was kidnapped. She often spouted crazy conspiracy theories. And she worships Ann Coulter. Bachmann has even inspired two sites attacking her, unusual for a representative. She's the crazy reactionary Republican for people who think Katherine Harris is too normal and Sarah Palin too rational.

Bachmann has a hard-fought reputation for saying really crazy stuff to the media. And her most recent television appearance, on MSNBC's Hardball, could finally be her undoing.

In an interview Thursday with show host Chris Matthews, Rep. Bachmann seemed to be channeling former red-baiting Sen. Joe McCarthy. She demanded the news media investigate what she calls "anti-American sentiment" in Congress, and even slammed Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama as "anti-American." She called for a resurrection of the old House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which was charged during that era with fighting "un-American" ideas. Mostly, what they fought against was liberals and hippies. Sleazy red-baiting politicians like Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon infamously used HUAC to get their names in the papers and scare the hell out of their voters.

Bachmann held nothing back in her tirade. “What I would say is that the news media should do a penetrating expose and take a look. I wish they would,” she said. “I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out, are they pro-America or anti-America? I think the American people would love to see an expose like that.”

On Obama she said, “Absolutely, I’m very concerned that he may have anti-American views.” Ironically, the day before, she said, “If the presidency would somehow go to Barack Obama, I would welcome him to the 6th District as well. As a matter of fact, I would put my hand on his shoulder and give him a kiss if he wanted to.” Obviously, her mouth moves faster than her mind.

As a former resident of Minnesota, I realize that the state has long had a reputation of bucking the national political norm. The state Democratic party is actually called the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL), the result of a merger between two state parties back in the 1940s. Even Obama will have 'DFL' next to his name on Minnesota's ballots. State Republicans, for decades following Watergate, called themselves the Independent Republican Party (IR). Minnesota was the only state that went for local icon Walter Mondale in the 1984 presidential election.

And then there were the politicians themselves. Populist liberal crusader Paul Wellstone, one of the most-loved (by liberals and moderates) and most-derided (by far-right Republicans) politicians in the history of the state, was elected to the Senate (twice) with help from an off-the-wall campaign and a dilapidated green school bus. But he was running against incumbent Rudy Boschwitz, an utter flake who ran a really sleazy campaign that turned off many rational voters. Given many Minnesotans' cynicism toward typical political hijinks, 'third' parties are quite popular in the state. Independent campaigners were elected as governor twice in the 1990s. Former Republican-turned independent Arne Carlson won the seat in 1990 after waging a strong third party campaign, and was recruited by the Republican party only two weeks prior to the election after their own nominee got caught in an underage hot tub sex party scandal. Most famously, Carlson's successor, former wrestler and actor James George Janos, ran an independent bid for governor in 1998 under his stage name, Jesse Ventura, and beat two well-known party politicians. To be fair, his rivals, Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Hubert “Skip” Humphrey III, were stiff, predictable establishment hacks who were strongly aligned with their respective parties and didn't excite the population at large. The off-the-wall Ventura was effective at waving his middle finger at the two parties and promising to move away from politics as usual. Oh, yeah, then there was Harold Stassen, former governor and perennial longshot presidential candidate. And then there's this year's Senate election, where comedian and former Air America Radio host Al Franken has a very good shot at upsetting the incumbent, Coleman, who won his seat six years ago only after a tragic plane crash claimed the life of his opponent Wellstone merely a few weeks before the election. Not surprisingly, a credible independent, Ventura and Ross Perot acolyte Dean Barkley, is running relatively strong in that race.

Minnesotans, for the most part, tend to be very middle-of-the-road, not overly partisan. I think they're some of the smartest and savviest voters in the country. They are often too sophisticated to fall for typical political gimmickry and grandstanding. Witness perhaps the state's 'reddest' district, the affluent western suburbs of Minneapolis, where retiring congressman Jim Ramstad has garnered a strong reputation as a very moderate and inoffensive Republican who has constantly stayed above partisan squabbles, concentrating instead on serving the needs of his district. He's a very good congressman. Minnesota, considered a 'purple' state that still leans toward the Democrats in presidential elections, has a long reputation for keeping reactionary partisan flamethrowers out of public office, Bachmann aside. Right-wing political fundamentalism typically doesn't go over well with a constituency known for being mostly laid-back Lutherans. Bachmann's antics couldn't possibly be doing her any favors in her home state. She could easily win this district, as it is heavily Republican. In fact, these types of races are often stupid-proof for incumbents. Instead, she's inching closer to the political fight of her life. All because her mouth got in the way.

After accusing the Democratic side of Congress of being everything short of 'traitors' in her scathing, unhinged television tirade, Democrats fought back where it counts. Hard. Immediately, her DFL rival, El Tinklenberg, started receiving a windfall of support from across the country, with more than half a million dollars in donations flowing into the campaign's coffers. At one point, Tinklenberg's campaign was pulling in $200 a minute. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee just made the race high priority in their 'Red to Blue' campaign of taking Republican districts. After running four or five points behind the incumbent in recent polls, Tinklenberg stands a strong chance of closing the gap, and possibly taking the whole thing. Overnight, Bachmann has become his strongest fundraiser.

The race was already closer than it should have been, with only a few points separating them in the polls. But Bachmann is obviously looked upon by many there as a hard-right goofball, much too fundamentalist, much too reactionary and too much of a grandstander for the polite, fiscally conservative suburban and rural Minnesotans she represents, and her latest antics could very well be the straw that broke the elephant's back. Feather boas are one thing in the Land of 10,000+ Lakes, but hard-right flamethrowing is tougher to swallow than lutefisk and Grain Belt beer in Miami. Considering that Democratic candidates across the country (and especially in Minnesota) are giddy about a potential Obama surge helping down-ticket candidates, and Republicans are grousing about being saddled with the dysfunctional campaign of John McCain and the much-derided Sarah Palin, this could be the year that some rather unsavory, vindictive and mentally unstable characters, like Michele Bachmann, finally get their walking papers.

There's a lesson to be learned in all of this. Playing the part of a crazed, obnoxious radical Republican typically only works if running for office in a safe cant-lose red state. Politicians in, say, South Carolina can wrap themselves in Confederate flags and claim Jesus rode dinosaurs and watch their poll numbers shoot through the roof (no offense intended, natch, to my faithful S.C. readers). But in a hotly contested state like Minnesota (and there's a reason the Republican held their convention in St. Paul this year), and in a lukewarm red district that seems uncomfortable with embarrassing partisan rhetoric, perhaps going apeshit on national television less than three weeks before an election is not the best political strategy. How “American” would she look if normal Americans tossed her out of office? At least she has a potential career as a crazy right-wing television pundit to fall back on. Move over Ann Coulter.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

WCPT hits the FM dial

Fans of Chicago progressive talk station WCPT (820AM) can rejoice come Monday morning, as the station will be heard via three FM signals in the metro area.

NewsWeb will simulcast WCPT's signal on three of the company's Chicago-area FM stations. WKIE (92.7FM), located in Dekalb, serves the area far west of Chicago, including Rockford and Beloit, WI. WDEK (92.5FM), licenced to suburban Arlington Heights, can be heard from Downtown all the way up to Kenosha, WI. And Park Forest's WRZA (99.9FM) has a 50,000 watter signal serving areas south of Chicago, such as Joliet, and parts of northwestern Indiana. The new FM trimulcast will displace the Adult Hits format known as "9 FM."

The move extends the reach of WCPT's programming to northern Illinois, Southern Wisconsin, and Northwest Indiana.

WCPT, a daytime-only operation, will still run from sunrise to sunset on 820AM. When the AM station signs off, progressive talk programming will continue on the FMs until 9A,when "Dance Factory," carried over from the 9 FM lineup, will take over until 5A. But the three FM stations will air progressive talk programming from 5A-9P.

"Breakout stars like Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz and Stephanie Miller illustrate the enthusiasm that exists for the progressive Talk radio format," NewsWeb VP/Group Station Manager Harvey Wells said. "We're thrilled to be able to offer even more outstanding programming to the Chicago area."

With the move, there will be some schedule shifting. Mike Malloy has been dropped and replaced by the Air America shows of Rachel Maddow and Ron Reagan, which fit in more effectively slot-wise with the start time of "Dance Factory" (which is brokered programming that is a guaranteed revenue earner).

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Debating the debaters ( the 'Hey Joe' edition)

So, the third and final presidential debate is now in the books, and we now embark on the final 19 days until we find out who our next president will be. And with all that wrapped up, why not offer my own opinion of it. Hopefully this won't be as controversial as the Nova M article I wrote.

In the three debates that have transpired, we saw the two main candidates vying for the office. We saw them face to face. We heard their proposals. We observed their style. And we noticed how tightly controlled the campaigns and personnas of Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain are.

A common complaint heard over the past few weeks was how dry and boring the debates were. Media pundits were starved for red meat, and got soyburger. They wanted something juicy to write about, something akin to a face-slapping soap opera.They wanted yelling. They wanted gaffes. They wanted soundbytes. They wanted smackdowns. They really wanted blood.

I'm talking about Gerald Ford in 1976, claiming that the Soviets did not control Eastern Europe. Or Ronald Reagan telling Jimmy Carter "there you go again" or cracking a hilarious joke about his age in 1984 that even made his rival, Walter Mondale, laugh. Or Lloyd Bentsen telling Dan Quayle that he's "no Jack Kennedy." Or Bill Clinton scolding George H.W. Bush for attacking his patriotism. Or James Stockdale wondering who and where he was. Okay, nobody wanted Stockdale. Instead, we got two candidates who were heavily coached and were adament with their own styles.

Of the two, McCain was the most unpredictable. Throughout the debates, he has been aggressive, impulsive, agitated, confrontational and at times somewhat rude. He has also obviously shifted his demeanor based on feedback (mostly negative) from the previous two outings. Obama wisely used the debates as a closing pitch to people wondering what kind of president he would be. He consistently came across as calm, cool and confident, while clinging tightly to his seemingly well-informed policy agenda and swatting away juvenile cheap shots. After running through and surviving the Clinton Machine gauntlet earlier in the year, he seemed pretty hardened. He certainly was not intimidated, and there's no doubt that his style left a strong impression on viewers.

For last night, Obama was likely encouraged to play to his perceived strengths. Stay calm and cool. With polls showing his lead over McCain rising higher every day, he didn't need to deviate from the successful formula. If it ain't broke, why fix it? McCain, on the other hand, has been getting lots of heat from his supporters, who wanted him to get tough on his opponent. The war-loving crowd wanted aggression. They wanted bullying. They wanted to make Obama squirm. McCain, who's chances for victory have been shrinking day by day, promised he'd 'kick his ass.'

Of the three debates, last night's final showdown produced the most fireworks. As opposed to the traditional stand-up setting of the first one and the town hall format of the second, this one featured the two candidates seated on plush swivel chairs facing both the moderator, Bob Scheiffer and each other, only a few feet away. It was like a negotiation session at the kitchen table. And the looser format allowed each of them to swwp away many of their grievences.

The debate, taking place on a day when the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped over 700 points, opened with questions about their economic plan, and which of their programs they would have to sacrifice. Obama was down to business, though a bit vague on specifics. McCain started throwing verbal punches right off the ropes. He stumbled badly when he inexplicably went off topic launched into an explanation of his energy policy, likely leading viewers to likely wonder if he was channeling the spirit of Admiral Stockdale.

Of the previous moderators, Scheiffer was the most effective. He has a straight-forward, down-home style and seemed to be the only one not afraid to cut to the chase. With many media types and spectators wondering when they'd square off over unsavory types like Bill Ayers and Charles Keating, Scheiffer put it on the table, chastising the negative campaigns being waged, and challenging each of the candidates to Obama's 'say it to my face' challenge. McCain, who's campaign has devolved into 'don't vote for the other guy,' went first and feigned hurt at Rep. John Lewis' comparison of McCain to George Wallace, while appearing to fight back fake crockodile tears. Oh, and he brought up Ayers in the same breath. Obama retaliated effectively, telling McCain virtually everything he should know about his relationship with Ayers. And he also wondered why McCain didn't denounce the people at McCain/Palin rallies who shouted things like 'terrorist' and 'kill him.' McCain's rationale of waging a hostile campaign because Obama would not participate in a series of town hall debates with him was transparent and weak.

In a later question, designed to get some sort of reaction from Obama about McCain's controversial running mate Sarah Palin, Obama didn't take the bait. He merely acknowledged that Palin has been successful at rallying the far-right base. McCain strained to find ways to attack Obama's running mate, Joe Biden.

We didn't get a whole lot of 'gotcha' moments last night. The closest was a well-rehearsed line that McCain directed toward Obama. McCain knew Obama would compare him to President Bush and when he did, McCain saw his opening. He snapped, "if you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have done it four years ago." Obama wasn't rattled in the least, landing a quick comeback that it was hard to tell the two apart. In the meantime, McCain, who had obviously not been listening to Obama, kept up the 'tax-and-spend liberal' meme, making me wonder if he thinks he's running against Walter Mondale. The Bush line will get play on the news channels, but I don't think it will go further than that. We all know McCain has been building his political ambitions over the past few years by kissing Bush's ass.

Following the debate, snarky media pundits jumped over each other to declare a Toledo-area plumber named Joe Wurzelbacher to be the winner of last night's debate. McCain initially brought up "Joe the plumber," who was shown a few days ago talking with Obama during the Democrat's door-knocking tour of Toledo (and is allegedly related to former McCain sugardaddy Charles Keating). Obviously, McCain took delight in a voter (in Ohio, no less) telling Obama that he was a small businessman who is wary of his tax plan. But bringing up Joe was a move that could easily backfire in the long run. The main thing that the low-key exchange between Obama and Wurzelbacher showed is that Obama took five minutes, I repeat, FIVE minutes expaining to one person how his economic plan would benefit him. Considering that the impatient and short-tempered McCain likely does not have these types of lengthy exchanges with individual prospective voters, this is pretty damned impressive. Obama is actually willing to discuss his plan one-on-one with a guy who is obviously not a likely Obama voter. That says alot, particularly since the next president will be having these types of discussions with other detractors, such as Vladimir Putin. But McCain obviously likes Joe, and wanted to milk the situation for all it was worth. In fact, he mentioned him roughly 11 times last night. McCain was able to use the likely bewildered Joe the plumber as a way of explaining his proposals, but for the most part, he did Obama a favor by further showing how he connects with individual voters. Joe the plumber could come back to haunt McCain.

McCain had the toughest challenge last night. His last two debate performances were a bit erratic, but not terrible. To jump-start his campaign and have any chance of building momentum, he had to be on top of his game. And he needed Obama to stumble. Obama, playing it safe, was virtually the same guy he has been - calm, cool, confident and collected. He was unflappable, and as a result, many could fairly claim that he came out on top once again.

McCain has been reinventing himself every week, and has done little to combat the Obama campaign's charges of erratic behavior. His underdog campain has been reeking of desperation as of late. It appears that more and more people are feeling more secure with Obama's steely approach than McCain's high-strung panicky demeanor. Obama seems a man in control. McCain seems like a man trying to control himself.

So, that was the third and final debate of the 2008 election campaign. It was obviously designed as a media smorgasbord with lots and lots of red meat. It was supposed to provoke controversy. It was supposed to spice up what could have resembled yet another wonky episode of "Meet The Press." And it was probably supposed to allow the candidates, who have been launching verbal volleys at each other for months, to clear the table with all the negative attack stuff and to vent their hostilities. Here's hoping that worked. All in all, it was the best of the three debates.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Nova M(assacre)?

Following recent events at Nova M Radio, more is coming out as to what is going on at the fledgling syndicator and radio station operator.

Last week, the broadcaster announced the addition of a second Phoenix-area signal to compliment KPHX. And they announced the departure of program director/afternoon host Jeff Farias. Now, it appears there's more to the story.

Along with Farias, several other staffers have been let go, including CEO John Manzo, sales director Kim Macias and webmaster Billy Foster. No official explanation has been given for any of the departures.

Rumors have been swirling about, with Nova M reportedly claiming that Farias left on his own terms, according to a statement on their website. But Farias and others close to him are claiming that they didn't jump – they were pushed. What's going on here?

A lot of the internet scuttlebutt claims that it all started with a power play showdown between Manzo and owner Sheldon Drobny. The story (not confirmed, and denied by Manzo) goes that Manzo was let go and the other three, who sided with him, departed as well. A few supporters, however, have disputed this scenario.

Farias is not publicly commenting on the situation, likely due to legal advice, but Leonard Clark, a former contributor to Farias' show, has started a website and posted a few diary entries on Daily Kos here and here in support of Farias, and to help explain his side of the story.

Replacing Manzo at Nova M is Arizona radio executive Art Mobley. No replacements have been announced for the other former staffers as of yet, though the Air America shows of Rachel Maddow and Ron Reagan are currently airing in place of Farias.

UPDATE: Some more info gleamed about KPHX's new stablemate, KNUV (1190AM). And yes, it appears that Nova M will indeed purchase the station outright, in contrast to the current LMA agreement the company has with Continental Media to lease KPHX (1480AM). This all lends to speculation that Nova M may eventually relocate altogether to 1190 once the KPHX lease runs out. Again, that's all just speculation.

UPDATE II: John Manzo emailed me, and said that he is unable to offer comment at this time, which is understandable. He also informed me that he has not been hired by Randi Rhodes, which I had reported. That has been corrected. He did ask that I remove the article. I am unable to remove the complete article at this time, since the information is already widespread around the web, including some reputable trade publications and scribes. I have, however, done some rewording of the article, in respect to Manzo. And I will consider the request to remove the article, if deemed prudent. For right now, it will stay, albeit with corrections.

In addition, there will likely be other additions to this article, as some other people connected with the matter have emailed me.

Things we said today

Another day, another catch-all entry...

Michael Savage hates us for our freedom

Filmmaker Robert Greenwald's Brave New Films (creator of documentaries such as "Outfoxed") is suing reactionary radio talker Michael Savage and and his syndicator, over allegations that Savage filed a takedown notice against the plaintiff's YouTube channel. The reason was that BNF used a clip of Savage's show in a video posted on the site.

The clip, called "Michael Savage Hates Muslims," was posted on YouTube and BNF's associated anti-SAVAGE website. Savage's syndicator, TRN, allegedly filed a takedown notice on October 2, and that lead to BNF getting terminated from YouTube due to previous infractions. Viacom complained about BNF last year over use of some of the company's content, though Viacom later dropped the complaint.

Greenwald's company maintains that the use of Savage's show, and other clips, is permitted under fair use.

TRN has denied that neither Savage nor anyone else involved with his show had anything to do with the YouTube complaints.

In 2007, Savage sued the Counsel on American-Islamic Relations over its use of the very same audio clip in a similar video, claiming copyright infringement. The court dismissed the case entirely, concluding that the CAIR's repurposing of the audio was fair use.

And of course, Savage is no stranger to odd behavior. This past July, he landed in hot water and lost several affiliates after a nasty on-air tirade directed at disabled children.

Compassionate Conservatism

Okay, the next time some reactionary nutcase tries to tell you all liberals are hatemongers, you have my permission to laugh in their face (with extra spittle).

Last week, we saw those raucus McCain/Palin rallies that featured death threats aimed toward Obama, racial taunts aimed toward African-American technicians working at the rally, and even some racist nutcase with a toy monkey named "Little Hussein." In other words, all the fun you'd expect at a Dixiecrat rally in 1948.

And now we've got the case of KTLK-FM (100.3) in Minneapolis (not to be confused with the Los Angeles AM liberal talker with similar call letters). One of their newest wingnut hosts, Chris Baker, is talkin' tough and saying nothing. He recently called presidential candidate Barack Obama "a little bitch." And just like McCain, he likely wouldn't say something like that to Obama's face.

Last Wednesday's show, however, generated even more press. And it certainly pissed off basketball legend Magic Johnson. Baker and cohost Langdon Perry claimed the former NBA star "faked AIDS." Johnson, who retired in 1991 after disclosing he had contracted HIV, released a statement saying, "I am outraged Chris Baker and Langdon Perry would minimize such a serious and deadly issue." The station quickly came out to quench the controversy, which of course would not be there if they actually sought to hire responsible broadcasters instead of whiny loudmouthed brats.

Chris Baker and Langdon Perry, the turds that wouldn't flush.

Air America stuff

Shelly send some more programming notes:

First, it’s Air America’s "Debate Night in America" airs Wednesday October 15. Air America coverage of the third and final debate will air from 8P-12A ET, and will be anchored by David Bender and Ron Reagan.

Immediate post-debate commentary will be heard from Rachel Maddow, Ron Kuby, Mark Green, Lionel, Thom Hartmann, Jon Elliott, and the rest of the America team. Listener calls will also be taken.

In semi-related news, Republican Nominee John McCain claims that he will bring up William Ayers at the debate, signalling that he has no more ideas and marking the embarassing beginning of the end of the McCain campaign juggernaut.

Also, Air America has partnered with London's The Guardian for a cross-country election road show. The tour, which begins in Los Angeles, features Air America’s Marc Maron and “The Guardian’s” investigative reporter James Ridgeway, along with GuardianFilms’ team of filmmakers and editors led by Patrick Farrelly and Kate O’Callaghan, travelling to key battleground states across the country, ending in Washington, DC on Election Day. Maron and Ridgway will be joined by politicians, opinion-makers and ordinary citizens to discuss the forces shaping the US vote in the presidential election.

Oh, those big government conservatives!

As part of the Republican Party's quest for smaller, less intrusive government (sarcasm alert!), President Bush signed into law a controversial bill yesterday that would stiffen penalties for movie and music piracy at the federal level.

The law creates an intellectual property "czar" who will report directly to the president on how to better protect copyrights both domestically and internationally. The Justice Department had argued that the creation of this position would undermine its authority.

In similar news, Bush also announced this morning that he will scatter $250 million to the winds. And they call us liberals like it's a bad thing. Sheesh!

Urban talk comes to Macon

Okay, it's not a liberal talk station, but it does include a few talkers that, well, are listed in the middle column of this very blog. So it's something, right?

Clear Channel's WIBB (1280AM) has flipped from Rhythmic Oldies to black-oriented talk. Included in the lineup are shows from the Reverend Al Sharpton, Warren Ballentine, Michael Baisden and Bev Smith. Former MACON City Council President Anita Ponder will host mornings with Todd Haygood.

The rest:

  • Another day, another Rachel Maddow article. This one's from the San Jose Mercury News.
  • Adventures in right-wing radio

    Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes at a typical conservative talk radio station? Well, former WABC host Richard Bey, a liberal talker who later hosted a morning show for rival WWRL, is spilling the beans, via a New York radio message board.

    What prompted the following diatribe is the recent sudden resignation of Phil Boyce, program director of the biggest conservative talk station in the country, WABC in New York. Boyce is often credited (or blamed, based on one's perspective) for the rise of Sean Hannity and other reactionary talk show hosts. While others on the site, which serves mostly as a tribute to WABC's past heritage as one of the biggest Top 40 stations in the country, sung the praises of the talk programmer, Bey had another story to tell, that of an insecure man who absolutely loathed liberals.

    A reader forwarded this link to me, suggesting I save it immediately, fearing the pro-WABC board operator would remove it. Just in case it is removed, here are the three posts by Bey:

    Posted by Richard Bey on October 12, 2008 at 16:11:12:

    The Phil Boyce depicted here bears little resemblance to the petty, vindictive and ruthlessly ideological man I worked with for almost four years. If one was not a right winger one was treated poorly by Boyce. He was not a hands on PD, but rather seemed a lonely insecure man who spent much of his time in the office reading and writing emails to listeners. Over the years I was there his most substantive contribution to our show was the ridiculous idea to change its name to ‘The Osama Hour.”

    I was well liked and remain friends with most employees at the station from board ops to call screeners and producers. When Boyce asked WABC hosts to show up for a live Mike Gallagher broadcast at Condemi Motors, I was the only host to drive over and sit in for the show on my day off. I appeared at every station promotion requested, even picking up and driving home hosts and staff to WABC events without reimbursement.

    I made every effort to support the station and its lineup but for Boyce I had the wrong ideology. If one was not a supportive Dominionist right winger one was treated on a level that was below second class.

    His petty discriminations were there from the beginning though I never complained. At the station every conservative received work places and desks. After asking politely if he could show me a secure drawer where I could stash headphones and research Boyce brusquely told me to go out and find one myself. One day he called Steve and me in for a meeting at 3 pm and kept us waiting outside his office until 5:45 while he sat flirtatiously talking with a pretty women who had written a book on relationships. Finally, after almost three hours, when I mentioned that his disregard for us was inconsiderate, rather than apologize, he exploded that Mitch Dolan did the same to him, keeping him waiting so late that he missed his train home. “Did I KNOW HOW THAT FELT?!?” he ranted, eyes wide. Unfortunately, yes, I did. At other times Boyce had the veins sticking out his neck complaining to Steve and me that ‘we were not loyal enough to him’ and that he ‘paid us boys good money to work for him’ and we should show him more gratitude. He would threaten Steve by demanding he think about his son and how would he eat if he was fired. Such petulant rants were puerile and sad, rather than scary. It was a sorry sight to observe someone who craved so much reassurance of his worth and importance.

    Posted by Richard Bey on October 12, 2008 at 16:12:35:

    After I was fired, Boyce remained vindictive and small. KABC called and offered me a part time job as a fill in host. Twice they booked me and twice I was cancelled, after the second time I was told Boyce would not allow me to use a studio at WABC. When I filled in for Jim Bohannon at Westwood 1, their management told my agent that Boyce had ‘trashed me up and down’.

    According to the Pueblo Chieftain, Boyce visits and confers with fellow Dominionist James Dobson when returning to Pueblo, Colorado. He refers in that article to Dobson as “one of his favorites” and indeed his relationship to the Dobson Dominionist empire does influence his stewardship. Recently, in the NY Daily News, Boyce asserted that it was the influence of his right wing radio hosts that pressured McCain to choose Sarah Palin for the ticket. Dobson originally said he would not endorse McCain but did so after Boyce’s minions pressured him into adding Palin. When Bruce Anderson went on vacation, Boyce would fly in a guy all the way from Colorado to sit in for him. It was embarrassing to hear this amateur with no knowledge of NYC or its politics try to prepare a NY broadcast in a high pitched and unprofessional voice. His first name escapes me but his last name was ‘Trout’. Later I learned that Mike Trout was the co-host of ‘Focus on the Family’ with Dr. Dobson for 15 years until the discovery that he was cheating on his wife. Perhaps there is no connection between the ‘Trouts’ from Colorado. But I doubt it.

    Boyce used his position as PD to create a cadre that was loyal to him, not to the company we worked for, nor to the listeners, nor to our obligation to tell them the truth. During later years at WABC it was becoming clear that there would be no more Flippers. On my show new hires as board ops and call screeners were now radical conservatives. Even the new interns at the station in many cases were imported from red states with conservative political credentials. One call screener was a young waitress Boyce met delivering his food at the diner. Boyce did to that station what Gonzales did to the justice department, hiring based on ideology and personal loyalty rather than talent and competence. Boyce did hire his daughter’s young boyfriend from Oklahoma to produce Batchelor and Alexander and later promoted him to the John Gambling show. When his daughter dumped the boyfriend for Andrew Wilcow, the old boyfriend was fired and the new boyfriend was given his own show. The old boyfriend was even forbidden at the last minute from attending the company Christmas party to say goodbye to his old friends because Boyce’s daughter would be there with her new boyfriend. Talk about Mayberry Machiavellis!

    When Hannity was in tough negotiations with ABC Network, Boyce took Hannity’s side against the corporation (something I’ve never seen a PD do in 25 years of broadcasting). When Hannity refused to do his live reads (in violation of his contract) throwing them on the floor and storming out of the studio, Boyce blamed the board-op and threatened him with firing.

    Observe the evolution of this station: David Limbaugh (Rush’s brother) is the lawyer and negotiator for Hannity, Hannity’s friend, cohort and frequent guest Mark Levin gets his two hour lead out. That’s eight hours of broadcasting all connected by inter-personal as well as political relationships. Boyce was the gardener for a media kudzu that strangled all life out of real political argument at WABC.

    Posted by Richard Bey on October 12, 2008 at 16:15:28:

    Tim McCarthy was GM at the time. He called me at home to talk about my firing. He was a complete gentleman, a real leader and a consummate broadcasting professional who allowed Boyce to take credit for several of HIS broadcast ideas. He did this because, unlike Boyce, he does not need the constant deference and reassurance of toadying co-workers. I would work with Tim again anywhere, anytime so this is not sour grapes about a dismissal.

    The assertion that what we hear on WABC these days is entertainment is ludicrous. It is in denial of the stated assertions of Boyce and his hosts. Recently, Boyce asserted in the NY Daily News that “McCain would not have picked Palin if it weren’t for pressure from talk radio” Hannity asserted on FoxNews that he was a ‘journalist’. The hosts proudly crowed about killing Congress’ immigration bill, eliciting a complaint from the former Republican Senate leader about their undue influence.. Anyone who thinks this is entertainment needs a trip to Blockbuster to rent Elia Kazan’s ‘A FACE IN THE CROWD’.

    I have often been accused of dumbing down television with my old syndicated program and indeed my show was followed by imitators in daytime and now in primetime. It’s my opinion that my show had a satirical edge that is always lacking in its imitators but I most probably will never escape the stereotype that I was in part responsible for lowering the standards of television. So be it. In any respect, the standards of daytime TV were never particularly high.

    Boyce is responsible for something far more serious. Lowering the standards of talk radio to the most simplistic and inaccurate of baselines, lowering them to a level where every issue is stereotyped as US vs. the Other, lowering them and supercharging them with the most base and dangerous of human emotions: hatred and fear.

    One may observe its repercussions in the hateful shouts of those at current political rallies where cries of ‘Terrorist!’, ‘Kill him’ and “Traitor!” ring out across the auditorium. These poor ignorant angry people have been primed to explode by the handiwork of Boyce and his cadre.

    That is his legacy.

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