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TV Review: The Kelly File

Fox News (which, at its best, is better than its competition, though CNN is making improvements) continues its decline. With more piffle on the air in its prime time lineup, more self-aggrandizing segments and more of the same style over substance in shows, guests and topics, the 17-year-old channel’s programming is less informative than ever. The newest addition, a piddling piece of fluff titled The Kelly File, went blank for an hour in its awful premiere last night and wound up with less value to offer than an episode of Three’s Company. At least that vacuous ABC comedy didn’t pretend to be anything decent or satisfying, just an excuse to ogle well-endowed women and chuckle at bawdy jokes, the Ropers or Mr. Furley.

Fox News’ newest darling, Megyn Kelly, whom they’ve been breathlessly grooming and promoting for years now, is another cable television blonde with a law degree and not much else. In other words, she’s like Chrissy from Three’s Company but not as thoughtful. At least dim Chrissy tried to make sense of the world around her. Ms. Kelly, who’s been at her best in fragmented legal segments when she’s pitted against the network’s chief personality, Bill O’Reilly, in his lead-in The O’Reilly Factor, doesn’t approach Chrissy in sincerity or dedication to her task. Megyn Kelly’s as hard and narcissistic as Chrissy Snow was soft and magnanimous.

TV_Fox_Kelly_at_Night_inev_t607Only The Kelly File is presented as factual, not fictional. With heavy promotion, and after her flatlining debate moderation during the 2012 presidential campaign, Ms. Kelly began with a softball interview with Tea Party hero Sen. Ted Cruz, (R, Texas), who has led a rebellion against the nation’s most far-reaching government dictate (ObamaCare), sparked a small government shutdown and challenged Republican Party leaders to confront and defy the President who negotiates with Islamic dictatorships but not duly elected Congressional leaders. One would think the TV personality in charge of the show would have something serious and interesting to ask of such a man.

Think again. Thinking is on the way out in this dumbed down culture – which is not just dumbed down by Fox News – and The Kelly File like its name is merely the latest example of the Oprah-ization of American television and the disappearance of serious, let alone objective, broadcast journalism. The Kelly File joins Fox’s The Five and The O’Reilly Factor in the spread of vacuous if alliterative shows that are more show than news or analysis. If TV feels like Network (1976) come to life, with Howard Beale (Peter Finch) raging while Black Panthers and mystics pop off for higher ratings in a culture down the tubes, it’s not your imagination. In fact, O’Reilly teased a “Mad as Hell” segment earlier this month.

It’s not that Ms. Kelly is not intelligent and certainly there’s a place for attractive people on television. The problem with her show is that she tries too hard, constantly talks about herself and mugs for the camera and none of this adds up to fair, balanced or useful programming. She showed a clip of a race car wipeout video that’s been looping all day long. She talked about Miley Cyrus. She teased her news reel several times. She eventually interviewed three people who question the government’s decision to shoot to kill an unarmed woman in Washington, DC in the most compelling segment, which felt like the shortest segment. Ms. Kelly hardly scratched the surface. When one of the guests, a black man who pointed out that one does not lose one’s individual rights when stopped by police near the White House, Megyn Kelly had nothing else to say or ask. She showed no more interest in the shooting and death of a mother recklessly driving alone with her child for no apparent reason than she did in Sen. Cruz, shutting down government or defaulting on the nation’s debt. It’s as though everything to her is blurry, fast and best left unexamined.

She proceeded without disclosure to share a headline printed by a newspaper owned by the same company that owns Fox News. The headline posed a question that was debunked by her two legal guests in another short segment about a serious, big-city threat to life and a child in a moving vehicle before migrating to her favorite subject, herself, her 10-year-old audition footage and pictures of her spouse and children, one of whom is a baby she calls her “little man” (a demeaning expression which would be unacceptable had a father called his infant daughter his “little woman”). On top of that, the hard-charging cream puff smirked and mugged her way through a free-for-all with Fox’s cast from The Five in which she got facts wrong and wanted to know if the panelists had ever “hooked up.”

Megyn Kelly ended her show by urging us to “continue the conversation” apparently without realizing that, like most in today’s perceptual-bound culture, especially TV, she hadn’t started one. She hadn’t came close. In fact, Ms. Kelly in her Kelly File premiere never seemed for a second like she wants to, or knows how to, think for herself, much less give the audience the facts and analysis with which to do the same. Her predecessor with his self-proclaimed influence factor boasts every night that “the spin stops here.” Increasingly on Fox News and in what’s best described as a lighter version of the preceding show, so does news, thought and intelligent conversation.

[Summer 2015 postscript: the show and hostess have improved. Ms. Kelly has demonstrated that she is capable of being more serious than she was in her debut, discussing the Islamic terrorist attack on free speech and the first Islamic terrorist beheading in America at length and exploring important issues in greater depth. But in her moderation of the 2016 Republican presidential debate, she reverted to her sensationalistic, anti-conceptual approach with loaded and improper questions about supernaturalism and quotes from reality TV show-based celebrity spats.]

Bezos Buys the Washington Post

The news that Jeff Bezos, who created Amazon.com, bought the Washington Post from its owner for $250 million is not surprising; the businessman has always been interested in and favored by media, with which he has long, deep connections, and the newspaper industry has been self-destructing for decades. Whatever their respective merits, and I think both Bezos and the Post are generally competent, I think their shared commodity is in some sense narcissism. The self-centeredness, as against an ability to think in principles, characterizes an enterprise that should be based on a core principle, such as dedication to reporting and disseminating objective truth, and it may prevent the new company from achieving much beyond more of the same in a different incarnation.

I took an instant dislike to Bezos when he was overexposed upon his company Amazon’s heavily promoted launch, because I don’t usually trust people who smile all the time and he did back then. It struck me as simpering. I came to appreciate the value proposition of his retailing business, which owns the company that purchased a journalistic enterprise in which I was part owner. I chose not to continue as an editor and journalist there, partly because I was not convinced of the Amazon-owned company’s understanding of, or commitment to, what it takes to create outstanding stories let alone to protect individual rights, which is essential to editorial production. But Amazon was a good match for the operation and things turned out pretty much as I figured. In my experience, Amazon.com is run like a lot of tech firms by amazing men and women of ability who think they know more than they in fact do; tech people can be pretentious, self-important and utterly disconnected from reality.

Which brings me to journalists, who are much worse in this regard, especially at vaunted newspapers such as the Washington Post, which, in my experience, is also run like a lot of newspapers by amazing men and women of ability who think they know more than they in fact do.

The Post was catapulted in stature by Woodward and Bernstein, two reporters who famously spent years and barrels of ink tracking down relatively trivial information about a scandal that ultimately brought down an American president, Nixon, and left in their wake an entire generation of New Left type journalists who cumulatively proceeded to waste everyone’s time over relatively trivial issues, reporting stories that didn’t matter, distorting the truth, lying, plagiarizing and stealing and becoming part of, rather than being a bold challenge to, the establishment they insisted they were fighting – and they have been entrenched preaching subjective dogma and ruining journalism ever since.

That’s neither Woodward’s and Bernstein’s nor the Post‘s fault, really, but their complicity in aiding the impression that what they did about Watergate was essentially good journalism, even honorable, crusading journalism, is undeniable; The Washington Post‘s reports on Watergate mark the beginning of the end of any last shred of objective mainstream journalism and all we have left is the sickening residue of Fox News and MSNBC and a bunch of snooty newspapers that run wire copy, snooty editorials and celebrity trash that barely move the reader past the first paragraph much less move the reader to think, challenge, question, debate and change the world.

So, Jeff Bezos has an opportunity to doubt the modern faith in subjectivism, change that mentality, fire those deadbeat journalists and empty suits who are often as overpaid, overstaffed and corrupt as the priests and politicians with whom they cavort. The Seattle businessman can transform journalism starting with the Washington Post, unless he chooses, as I suspect he will given his past, to become a passive, compliant spectator in the pews of the church of modern subjectivism, smiling endlessly and accomplishing nothing. Jeff Bezos has created something of real value in his Amazon, with its innovative Prime, Instant Video, Gold Box, Wish List and reasonably priced choices available in convenient distribution. He is a producer, an intelligent capitalist whose patience paid off with one of the most exciting retailers on earth. Ultimately, and I say this as a writer who’s been inside both Amazon and the Washington Post, whether he can save the newspaper, revive the free press and enlighten those who choose to think depends on whether Jeff Bezos is ready to do what newspapers stopped doing decades ago: seek to make money with reasonably priced products, delivered in a convenient distribution, that report the facts of reality and challenge the status quo—from A to Z.

Goodbye to Kathy

KTYI lost a friend this past Christmas. Kathy was a fellow writer and journalist, as well as a wife and a mother. I’m sad to say that she ended her own life.

Most readers may know of my past coverage of suicide, most recently in a newspaper article about teen depression and suicide in the suburbs north of Chicago, from my 1998 book review of The History of Suicide (Johns Hopkins University Press) and 2011 blog series about journalist Leanita McClain to last month’s post about a nurse who killed herself after a humiliating prank. In that post, I denounced today’s cultural nihilism, including cynical jokers: “Ask the family of those who lost wife, mother, friend and nurse Jacintha Saldanha if what one laughs at matters and has consequences in daily life.” In that sense, Kathy’s death hits home.

We had shared so many aspects of our lives. We took our families to Disneyland, where we attended a candlelight procession and celebrated Christmas with a festive dinner followed by well-told tales by the fire. We cheered for the Trojans at USC, toured floats after the Tournament of Roses parade and we rooted for one another’s success, such as when she published her children’s story about cooking on Christmas Eve, which she had written and read to her children in their youths. When things took a turn for the worse, and she had to sell the house she loved, we embraced, taking one last look with her husband at what they had made. Through lost homes and loved ones, break-ups and snaggle-toothed dogs, Halloween-costumed kids and fairy tale weddings, Kathy was a comrade in the combat of life, soldiering on and cashing in. So it seemed, though I know one can never know the truth of another’s innermost thoughts.

We met at 20th Century Fox. She sat next to me during a press screening, having smiled as I made my way to an empty seat. As we mutually groaned at the godawful movie, she leaned over and whispered something that struck me as a perfect combination of biting and outrageous and spot on. Kathy had a knack for that. I sat there and couldn’t stop laughing and we were instant pals. Her humor was dry, ironic and usually rooted in truth. She liked movies that were positive, light and cheerful and above all Kathy observed and reported about motion pictures with wit and intelligence. At one point in our relationship, I tried to recruit her to write for Box Office Mojo, which I edited. We’d tried several other critics to bring a different view from my own reviews, though none worked out. Kathy preferred to give voice to her words in audio reviews, courtesy of her distinctively Midwestern accent.

When I learned that she had killed herself, I felt suicide’s aftermath like I was walking into a brick wall; as a swift, single, negative force. You knew when Kathy, who was tall, blonde and always looking sharp, was in the theater, or room, and hers was often a voice of encouragement. She would send notes about scripts she thought I should write, cheering me on and knowing – and stating – exactly why. She never failed to make me laugh. I had known that she was troubled. I had also known that she hated the left’s lock on academia, the culture and the government and was horrified at the possibility that Obama might be re-elected. Kathy struggled with the challenge of coping with difficulties and clearing life’s obstacles. Life is serious and life is hard and I know she knew that. Whatever her flaws, doubts and fears, Kathy could be full of life. From my viewpoint, I think she did her best to hold on.

When I told a friend of Kathy’s suicide, her jaw dropped and her hand went to her mouth as she gasped: “another one!” She’d lost someone she knew, too, and there are others. I have reason to think, as I wrote last month, that despair is coming to define our times. I know that Kathy’s suicide is a horrible thing, especially for those who agonize over the loss, though I smile when I think of Kathy at her best. I will always associate her choice to end her life with the beginning of Obama and the end of America, an association which is confirmed to me by her widower; Kathy’s final exit is, for me, a personal warning sign of the horror yet to come.

Obama Administration Vs. Free Speech

The Obama administration, continuing its assault on free speech, attacked CNN for reporting on new information regarding an Islamic terrorist attack on September 11.

A senior government official targeted the television network with an unprecedented attack on freedom of the press, which is protected in the United States – for now – by the First Amendment. In a free society, it is never proper for the state to malign, attack or control free speech, which is why any negative or intimidating comment regarding the particular exercise of free speech, including a press report, is improper. Yet the U.S. government described CNN’s report, which is predicated on new disclosures about the assassinated U.S. ambassador’s concern for his security in his diary, as “indefensible” and “disgusting”. Chillingly, America’s government issued a veiled threat by accusing the TV network of violating an agreement. Will the Obama administration apprehend and detain CNN executives, editors and producers as it recently did to interrogate a filmmaker?

It’s a legitimate question. The U.S. government’s condemnation of the free press is part of a series of diversionary acts of what amount to censorship that began when the Obama administration responded to the 9/11/2012 Islamicist assault with a denunciation of a motion picture rumored to have triggered the siege, which led to the deaths of four Americans, as I wrote about here. The alarming approach by the administration, which routinely lies to the public, was repeated last week when, at taxpayer expense, the secretary of state (Hillary Clinton) appeared in an advertisement aimed at Moslems in Pakistan explicitly attacking free speech, saying: “We absolutely reject [the film’s] content and message.” The statement itself ought to be considered a violation of the First Amendment. Anyone with an active mind can imagine the media’s reaction if a Republican president had denounced a movie in such terms. The press would have raked him over the coals for it for months, even years.

Not now, not under the reign of Barack Obama, a president whose administration is so committed to total government control of thought, speech and the press – as well as health care, banks and cars – that he is turning on his most ardent followers, such as the sad, unpopular mediocrity known as CNN, which rarely reports anything important first. But this time CNN, to their credit, is fighting back. In a promptly delivered rebuttal statement aimed at the White House and the State Department, CNN defended its report and asked “why is the State Department now attacking the messenger?” It is a good question, especially since it is abundantly clear that Secretary Clinton was either lying to the press and public when she said she had no knowledge that the ambassador was concerned about an Islamicist hit list or she’s inept in foreign policy and should be fired. Whatever one thinks of the television network, its report and its use of the diary, which is an entirely separate issue from freedom of speech, every freedom-loving American should stand with CNN for free speech against our horrifying, oppressive government, which used the exact words to describe what is tantamount to censorship: indefensible, disgusting and, I must add: dictatorial.

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Remembering Andrew Breitbart

Media activist Andrew Breitbart died this morning in Los Angeles at the age of 43, according to one of his Web sites. While I do not agree with his activist approach to communications or his political philosophy, he exposed hypocrisy in the leftist-dominated media. He got people thinking about the press. The media has become an industry of toadying influence peddlers that ignore, distort or evade the facts, support the welfare state and cheer for total government control, so it makes sense that his media activism caught on. Breitbart activated and participated in major news, such as corruption and hypocrisy among those in power, and he brought important news to the public’s attention as he denounced collectivism. Though his career was more reactive than creative, Breitbart was often passionate about what he regarded as liberty.

I heard the charismatic conservative address an enthusiastic crowd last year. He arrived late and proceeded to talk extemporaneously for almost an hour – no small achievement – about a range of issues, taking questions and going well past his scheduled time. He also rambled, used foul language and stalled in several spots, going completely off the topic. I left thinking that Breitbart’s was an essentially libertarian view of freedom, mixed with a conservative’s religious morality. At times, he bordered on incoherent, so I wondered if he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. I concluded that he was not in good health. I can’t say that I am shocked by his death. I say this partly because some are sure to speculate about his cause of death. I have since read that he had a history of health problems.

Andrew Breitbart should be remembered as one who shed light on the media and the government. The husband and father was an avenger when he thought there had been a particular injustice. He did not stand by and do nothing when he thought something was wrong. Whatever else, in a nation heading toward dictatorship, this fact alone makes him better than most Americans.