Ombudsmania

This column frequently fields inquiries from its readers as to how we decide on subject matter, a question familiar to all wordmongers since the Gilgamesh tablets were chiseled.

For a hodgepodge blog like this, it’s actually easier to list topics we don’t cover, for example: embarrassing public gaffes by celebrities, such as the time Charlton Heston was spotted streaking (remember streaking?) through a Ladies Sodality meeting in Goleta, provoking squeals of scandalized delight from those attending. Not covered here.

Or the occasion when Julia Roberts left a tooth behind after pressing her face into wet cement at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in order to preserve her radiant smile for posterity. We took a pass.

When then Israeli PM Golda Meir was taken in flagrante with dashing young IDF commando, Benjamin Netanyahu, did we spike it? You bet your Bibi!

Did Ted Cruz, in his cruzada to discredit climate-change science, conflate Flat-Earthism with Geocentrism? Yes, he did, but we ignored it.

When Bill Clinton was “not having sex with that woman”, he was apparently unaware that LBJ’s secret White House recording system was still running. We erased the tapes.

Furthermore, any item having to do with the Third Reich coming to our attention is scrutinized in strict accordance with the memetics of Godwin’s Law.

As responsible journalists, we take our job very seriously. You will never find us crowing over the misadventures of the misguided, be they the sappier breed of Liberals or harder core Wingnuts.

This pledge will remain in effect until whim or circumstances demand reconsideration.

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Missing Emails

Hillary rang over the weekend. She was seeking advice from this old newsosaur on how to get out in front (however belatedly) of her personal server problem. At first I thought she said “personal savior”, and was about to refer her to my old pal Francis in Rome, whose enviable global image says volumes about the PR campaign I designed for him.

But, when I realized she was actually referring to her email problem, I said, “Hill (we’re really close ever since I counseled her not to get into a messy divorce proceeding back in ‘98), let me give you some free advice. Nobody will remember this issue in 2016; the Democrats because they won’t want to, and the Republicans because they will have fruitlessly beaten the subject to death in front of the House Oversight Committee over the next couple of months.

Anyway, I said, there have been so many incidents in history wherein official documents were lost to posterity because they (a) never existed, or (b) never reached their intended addressee, or (c) were clandestinely destroyed, lest they surface and embarrass somebody.

Take, for example, the wax tablet King Leonidas sent to Greek Army HQ from Thermopylae complaining that he had only 300 men to hold off Xerxes’ Persian hordes. Never got an answer! Tablet probably melted when Persians burned Athens shortly thereafter.

Jeff Davis swore to his dying day that he’d penned a conciliatory Emancipation Proclamation just before intolerable Northern provocations forced him to fire on Fort Sumter. Never found!

The hastily scribbled cuneiform tablet sent to Caesar warning him to stay out of town on the Ides of March. Never found!

I could have gone on, but Hill interrupted to say she and her people were running late for a meeting with Monica and her people about declaring an entente cordiale for 2016, so she signed off and I hung hanged hung up, cussing myself for forgetting to send my regards to Bill.

O’Reilly and Me and the FNC

Got a call the other day from my old CBS News colleague, Bill O’Reilly. Although I can’t recall ever having actually seen him around the newsroom during my time there (tall as he is), he was undoubtedly off in some high-risk war zone, not hanging around 524 W. 57 looking to score brownie points with the brass.

Anyway, back to the phone call. “Citizen”, he started off (he’s called me that ever since this column panned his book, “Killing Robespierre”, thereby ruining its chances for a slot on the NYT Best Seller list), “I want to get out in front of this ‘stolen valor’ thing and I’d be grateful to see some plausible ameliorating spin from an influential blogger such as yourself”. “Certainly, Mr. O’Reilly”, I replied (I try to keep my relationships with celebrities formal, so as not to be open to charges of cronyism), “I’ll get my people on it tout de suite.”

After exhaustive research, we managed to unearth this creditable item from The [Racine] Journal Times:

“Is O’Reilly guilty of the same offense as [Brian] Williams, exaggerating the danger he faced while on assignment as a war correspondent? Yes. Does it matter as much? No. Williams is the managing editor of NBC News; he is in charge of a journalistic, news-gathering operation; in effect, the reporter-in-chief. Williams’ factual inaccuracies, especially with regard to a life-or-death situation such as coming under enemy fire in a war zone, damage the credibility of NBC News. Williams is a reporter, obligated to truthfully and accurately report the news. O’Reilly, in contrast, is a commentator; if Fox News were a newspaper, he’d be its star columnist.

O’Reilly’s “No Spin Zone” is, of course, an “all spin all the time zone”, and everybody knows it…fans, foes and frenemies alike. A commentator is not a reporter, and I would apply the same distinction to any of the host of opinion-mongers who post comments on the Internet, including myself.

Not so incidentally, resumé padding by those engaged in the high-stakes pursuit of Fame & Glory in the entertainment industry is hardly unknown, and is rarely punished by more than a slap on the wrist, if even that; so going after a performer (despite his genuine journalistic creds) like O’Reilly seems like selective prosecution.

To those who would have it that this is all an effort by Liberals to bring down FNC’s fattest cash cow, I hasten to concede that they’re almost certainly correct. Meanwhile, anyone who thinks that the Murdoch/Ailes/O’Reilly axis is just going to roll over and apologize, had best not hold his breath; these are guys who bring guns to a knife fight.