This is Not About Brian Williams

Ever since the trade press broke the news yesterday that I had turned down NBC’s offer to replace Brian Williams as anchor of the Nightly News, I have received such a deluge of inquiries from my readers that I feel compelled to respond, despite my concern as a widely-followed blogger not to become “part of the story.”

While the network’s offer was not as “generous” as the media has made out (you’ll recall that Williams had just been bumped up to $10M a year), money was not the deciding issue.

Nor was my longstanding close personal relationship with Brian, whom I have been mentoring since he was a busboy at Perkins Pancake House in Middleton, New Jersey.

Furthermore, it had nothing to do with my foggy memory regarding whether or not I actually ran into a burning tenement to rescue a baby, back in 1960, an incident that uninformed ill-wishers have since uncharitably characterized as “stolen valor.” I was totally up front with the details of that episode at the time, and I don’t care to revisit it 55 years later just because NBC is overanxious about its so-called “reputation.”

Finally, I have just heard from my agent that he is huddling with executives at Comedy Central about my taking over The Daily Show from Jon Stewart, a far more congenial “fit”, I feel, for someone with my liberal leanings and penchant for irony.

Stay tuned for further developments

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EXTRA: Summer Season Cancelled!

Osterville, MA – Even veteran members of the Cape Cod press corps reacted with stunned disbelief at the announcement today by the Cape Cod Commission that the 2015 summer tourist season has been cancelled.

The bombshell was delivered at the Commission’s annual Press Luncheon held in the Grand Ballroom of the posh Motel 6 in Osterville.

Asked for clarification, CCC spokesperson Mercy Otis responded, “this action, which to some may seem draconian, is intended to relieve the psychic toll on Cape Codders triggered by the annual onslaught of thousands of tourists determined to have a ‘good time’ at whatever cost to the Cape’s infrastructure, environment, and peace of mind.

Asked about the potential impact of this move on the shaky economy of the EU, since guest workers from Europe will no longer be needed, Otis admitted that it would undoubtedly cause widespread hardship, but that “Europeans will simply have to figure out some other way to finance their kids’ college education.”

“Furthermore”, she noted, “this hiatus will allow the Army Corps of Engineers to finally complete the repair work on the Sagamore and Bourne bridges begun immediately following their completion in 1935. Additionally, it will give the DOT some breathing room to finalize the footprint and design of the proposed new carbon fiber toll bridge over the canal.”

Among those in attendance at the luncheon was abecedarian Governor Charlie “Too Tall” Baker, who, having good-naturedly endured a blizzard of “Mutt & Jeff” selfie requests from all the short people in the room, was asked to comment on the Commission’s plan. “OMG”, he responded, “it will be a disaster”, thereby inadvertently triggering the release of $250M in disaster-relief funds to be shared by the Cape’s towns and villages whose tax base will evaporate with the shutdown.

Shortly thereafter, the open bar closed and the conference rapidly dissolved.

*******

This item was originally published under my byline in “Reflections”, the literary journal of The Academy for Lifelong Learning of Cape Cod; June Calender, Editor.

Choppergate

Rightly or wrongly, Brian Williams will now undergo a trial by fire in the social media that may be even more damaging than the negative press.

And the pity is, it could have been avoided.

As press agents have been telling their wayward celebrity clients since David offed Uriah: “get out in front of the story.” Had Williams been the one to first tell the world of his “mis-remembering”, the issue would by now have been long forgotten, and his career unendangered.

Confession is not only good for the soul, but – for the celebrated – it’s good PR, provided of course that it’s preemptive, not reactive.

Williams also denied NBC News the opportunity to get out in front of an issue which damages its journalistic integrity just as much his own. Will NBC scramble its forces to back him up, or just throw him under the truck?

Stay tuned.

The Blizzard of 2015: A Cautionary Tale

I was caught a bit off guard last week when the wife announced that, at 75, she was finished wrestling with our snow-blower and had recycled it.

As a writer, I don’t usually involve myself with day-to-day domestic matters, but, with Juno then impending, I was impelled to quickly go on line to seek alternatives.

My Google search soon came up with what looked like an answer to my needs. The Hyastani Snow Removal and Gas Grill Maintenance Cooperative on Nantucket had recently set up to service Eastern Massachusetts, the Cape & Islands. A productive conversation with owner Ardash Epranian followed, during which I determined that, as a Cypriot, he was intimately familiar with island-to-mainland heavy equipment operations. Satisfied, I signed up for the season and sat back to let the blizzard do its worst.

Well, the best laid plans…..

Now we know that, with Juno’s first icy gust, Nantucket went black, losing all electric power, including that needed to operate the doors of Epranian’s equipment garage. He was last seen going door to door in a skiff along ice floe-choked Main Street in search of a portable generator.

Meanwhile, back here in Cummaquid, I called every snow-plowing service on the Cape, only to be told that the earliest anyone could get to me was sometime in May.

Anyone out there got a snow-blower my wife could borrow?

This Is Not About Charlie Hebdo

Whenever serious (or, sometimes, merely frivolous) challenges to freedom of the Press arise, the watchdogs of the Fourth Estate hasten to remind us about the First Amendment and the significance of its position atop the Bill of Rights. Such prominent positioning supposedly reflects the framers’ intent to place it first and foremost in importance relative to the nine immediately-succeeding Amendments.

Journalism veterans and neophytes alike celebrate its sentiment, its economy of words and its clarity of meaning…and for good reason. It is emblazoned – four stories high – on the front of the Newseum in Washington DC. In my news-media lectures I have often referred to it (however hyperbolically) as “the most important 45-word statement ever written in American English”, postulating that from the freedoms it guarantees flow all the others

The worm in this otherwise rosy apple is that Founding Father James Madison and his Congressional colleagues who drafted the Amendments and submitted them to the States for ratification apparently had other priorities in mind. What they proposed as the first amendment had in fact to do with the number of representatives to be elected relative to the number of constituents. The second amendment proposed dealt with Congressional compensation (finally ratified as Amendment XXVII in 1992). This left our revered First Amendment running third on the list of twelve actually promulgated; it ascended to 1st place only when numbers one and two failed to make the cut.

There is not, of course, any historical document entitled “The Bill of Rights”. What remains for posterity is an original handwritten copy of “The 1789 Joint Resolution of Congress Proposing Twelve Amendments to the Constitution”, a transcript of which can be read here.

Heavenly Tourism

Publisher Tyndale House advises that a boy named Alex who — with his father — co-authored a book that became part of the popular genre “Heavenly Tourism“, has confessed that he made it all up…in order to bring attention to himself. Wow, a six-year old making up a tall tale to get attention!

You’d think the publisher might have become just a teensy bit suspicious when he noted that the kid’s family name was…get ready for it…Malarkey!

Ichthyological Ruminations

Has anyone else noticed how the Great White is gradually replacing the codfish as the graphic emblem of Cape Cod?

Not sure if this is an unwitting social commentary or a reflection of the effects of global climate change.

Shouldn’t be too many years before we have to change our name to Cape Shark, unless we sink back into the Atlantic first.

The Ortolan and the Omnivore: A Tale of Gluttony

France’s League for the Protection of Birds has, in recent years, been more or less successful in making French authorities toe the line on an EU ban against trapping the endangered ortolan (emberiza hortulana), a tiny bobolink-like songbird coveted by gastronomes of the French persuasion as an exquisite delicacy, all the more enticing because its taking is forbidden.

Now, we are advised by the Daily Telegraph, a cabal of grands chefs, including Alain DuCasse, is pressuring the Élysée Palace to relax the ban for one day each month.

Traditionally, ortolans are eaten with one’s head covered by a napkin because: [1.] (sensual) the exotic aroma is thereby captured, concentrated and savored, and/or, [2.] (spiritual) God cannot see you engaging in such egregious gluttony, one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

Ortolans have often figured in the culinary history of La Belle France (cf: Mitterrand, François: Last meal of) and at least once in America as an object of the appetite of the late New York Times food critic, Craig Claiborne.

In 1975, Claiborne bid $300 at a charity auction and, having won, got his pick of a restaurant meal for two anywhere in the world, with no limit on the cost. He chose to eat — along with his friend, the chef Pierre Franey — at the Parisian establishment, Chez Denis. Their 31-course dinner took five hours to consume and included copious quantities of legendary-label wines. Claiborne wrote about the meal in The New York Times of November 14, 1975 under the title, Just a Quiet Dinner for Two in Paris: 31 Dishes, Nine Wines, a $4000 check; a paean to conspicuous consumption seldom equaled in the annals of gastronomy.

Ortolan – need I note — was a featured course.

The article ran on the Times’ front page and created an instant international sensation, the gist of which was best summed up by Pope Paul VI, who pronounced it “scandalous.” But the best (for me) was yet to come when, four days later, Times columnist Russell Baker wrote a scathing send-up of Claiborne called “Francs and Beans”. It remains to this day near the top my all time, all time list of favorite parodies.

So funny was it, that the morning I read it, I was on a breakfast flight from LaGuardia to Toronto, absorbed in the Times, as was my wont. Two sentences into Baker’s column I was laughing so hard I was choking on my croissant with tears in my eyes, much to the puzzlement of the other suits on board who were unused to seeing anyone so overcome with delight at anything in the “old gray lady”…especially at 7am..