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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.

MSNBC Gets Ayn Rand Wrong

Microsoft’s media venture with NBC Universal’s NBC News, MSNBC, is at it again, propagandizing for the Obama administration and distorting the news, which it does nearly full-time with its roster of former Democratic Party operatives (Chris Matthews, Lawrence O’Donnell), most favored former government spouses (Mrs. Alan Greenspan, Andrea Mitchell, who never discloses that fact), and lying Christian preachers such as its new host, the Reverend Al Sharpton. Now, they’re lying about Ayn Rand.

In yesterday’s broadcast of the cable news channel’s Rachel Maddow program, the hostess, who had railed against Tea Party Republicans for refusing to compromise with the Obama administration, calling the nation’s imminent so-called default an “apocalyptic deadline”, interviewed an old Washington Post journalist named E.J. Dionne and promptly missed her cue by mispronouncing the name Ayn Rand. The pompous hostess makes a habit of snorting and sniffing her way through all sorts of other people’s mistakes, so one would think she would be more careful. It’s Ayn, pronounced like the word mine, not Ann as she stated. Then Ms. Maddow proceeded to let her guest completely misrepresent Rand and her famous novel, The Fountainhead. In the video segment, linked here [link no longer available] in its entirety with the errors contained at approximately 14:00, Dionne falsely stated that the 1943 novel by Ayn Rand is her first. The Fountainhead is not her first novel. That was We the Living.

Dionne, in a set-up segment which was clearly discussed if not rehearsed in advance, proceeded to falsely assert that, in The Fountainhead, when the main character doesn’t get his way, he “blows up a building”. Wrong, E.J. Dionne. Not only is the insinuation that the novel’s protagonist, architect Howard Roark, cavalierly acts on a whim when he doesn’t get what he wants, a total misrepresentation of the novel; to state that Roark “blows up a building” is to distort the plot and theme of Rand’s literary masterpiece, a bestseller still in print which has sold millions of copies and is taught in schools across the country. What E.J. Dionne (and Ms. Maddow and MSNBC by refusing to correct these errors) fail to grasp is that it’s his building, in every sense, and that’s the point of the novel. Roark created the building, contracted for its exact design and construction on simple, narrowly defined terms and one basic condition, and it is essentially his to destroy.

Expecting the lowest standards of journalism from this corrupt media outlet, which I have defended, even praised, in the past, is too much. Errors and distortions are routine in MSNBC programming (Dionne’s error originates in his commentary in the similarly slanted Washington Post), though welfare state and status quo advocate Dionne’s failure to grasp the concept of property ownership comes with the territory. It took eight months for Newsweek to correct MSNBC pundit Howard Fineman’s smear against Ayn Rand following my blog post about his mistake. With any luck and the help of an MSNBC or Post intern or executive with integrity and a mind of his or her own, Maddow’s and Dionne’s attempt to disparage Ayn Rand and the Tea Party movement won’t stand uncorrected that long. Don’t count on it and expect more lies and distortions. The rich and powerful intellectual fusion of the press and the state, best exemplified by MSNBC, more than state-sponsored NPR and PBS, knows that they’re fighting the philosophy of Ayn Rand. The contest is just getting started.

[7/24/2011 Update: No response to my request for a correction from E.J. Dionne at the Washington Post]

[12/08/2011 Update: Still no response to my request for a correction from E.J. Dionne at the Washington Post]

21st Century Media

The DailyWith exciting developments in technology and new media, such as Apple‘s announcement about iCloud, the possibilities are truly dazzling for creating content across multiple platforms. I’ve been writing for print, broadcast, and online (and currently creating for page and screen) since the 1980s and I have never been more optimistic about the future of the arts, including journalism.

As I’ve previously observed, there is the ominous threat of government control of the press. Whether a newspaper already heavily influenced by powerful Mormons hires a top government official to write a regular column, as recently happened in Utah, or top reporters flee journalism to work for government, as recently happened in Oregon, separation of government and the press (like separation of government and religion or government and business) is rapidly eroding. Today’s media is plastered with government bureaucrats or former politicians: shrill Chris Matthews and smarmy Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC, CNN’s sleazy Eliot Spitzer, and the parade of clowns on FoxNews that’s like a festival of 20th century fools, from Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich to Karl Rove and Sarah Palin. None honored the United States of America while in government and none have anything new and original, much less rational, to say. They represent the failed past and suggest a dark future of government-controlled media and a state of de facto censorship, whether from the left or from the right.

Companies such as Apple are changing how we produce and consume news and information in ways which may make it harder to establish a centralized press and easier to escape government controls. Apple’s new operating system for the iPhone and iPad, iOS 5, will make creating a digital newsstand more desirable, according to this media post. This Mashable piece observes that Apple’s new favorite social media, Twitter, counters Microsoft’s relationship with Facebook, and offers real market competition, which makes it harder for the state to insidiously control or seize the media. Google is reportedly now supporting certain tags which may encourage people to read work by individual writers and discourage stealing writers’ content. The New York Observer is remaking its print and online editions to feature longer articles, unveiling its new Web site tomorrow. Of course, the Observer is liberal, and some changes may also make it easier to disrupt and censor the press in certain cases, a legitimate concern given the nation’s trend toward total government control.

But opportunities exist for those willing to discover, explore, and create challenging new voices for reason and means of distribution, though Rupert Murdoch’s heavily hyped The Daily, dubbed the first magazine application for the iPad and apparently managed mostly by former New York Times staffers, which may explain why no one wants to read, let alone pay for, its content, is not likely to be one of them (incidentally, I have ideas for creating an organ of objective journalism if anyone serious is interested). To preserve a free press and the freedom of speech, we need the innovations of visionary businessmen such as Steve Jobs, who was greeted by an ovation for being a man of ability during his speech yesterday. People must be free to nurture the spirit of enterprise that is integral to restoring the lost art of objective communication.

News Corporation’s The Daily may fail, but at least Rupert Murdoch, like former Atari video game creator Steve Jobs and Polaroid’s Edwin Land, are using what freedom we have left to manufacture technology so we can choose what to produce and consume to improve our lives. In this sense, media entrepreneurs deserve our admiration and support.