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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.

Monroe Anderson on Leanita McClain

Leanita McClain with Monroe AndersonJournalist, former Chicago Sun-Times columnist, Chicago television executive and host and blogger Monroe Anderson recently talked with me about the 1984 suicide of his friend and colleague, Leanita McClain. He wrote a column about losing her in 2009.

Scott Holleran: How did you meet Leanita McClain?

Monroe Anderson: I was still working for Ebony and living in Prairie Shores at 28th and South King Drive by Michael Reese [Hospital] and it was a very black middle class apartment complex that [Ebony/Jet publisher and businessman] John Johnson had a stake in. I had moved to Chicago in 1972 to work for Ebony. We had a meeting in my apartment to talk about organizing black journalists, which eventually became the Chicago Association of Black Journalists. I was married to Christine Harris, my college sweetheart at Indiana University. Leanita was a student who struck me as very quiet, very poised. She was attractive. I remember her not saying anything.

Scott Holleran: Where did you live in 1984?

Monroe Anderson: In Lincoln Park.

Scott Holleran: Where do you live now?

Monroe Anderson: Lincoln Park.

Scott Holleran: Did you feel guilty about moving to a predominantly white neighborhood?

Monroe Anderson: No, no, no, though there have been attempts to make me feel guilty. I looked in Hyde Park and the DePaul [University] area and I couldn’t afford it. I didn’t move here to live with whites but because I didn’t know how long I’d be in Chicago and I wanted to make a profit and gain [property] value.

Scott Holleran: Leanita McClain was a friend and colleague and you both split from your spouses around the same time. Following your divorces, did she confide in you about her mental state?

Monroe Anderson: Yes. Leanita had talked with me about her attempt at suicide, and how her stomach had been pumped. This was my first and only [experience with] suicide. She was talking about suicide, like a kind of banter back and forth, and I did not take it seriously until she attempted it. Then, instead of banter, I lectured her about it. I talked her into going to therapy. In retrospect, I know that she wasn’t honest with me. She had reached out to me first—she felt I was safe. She came and told me about leaving Clarence [Page] to find herself, which is what my wife had left me to do.

She knew I wanted to write opinion pieces and she encouraged me. I would talk to her about them. Because I had grown up in a segregated community, I had not known any white people until I went to college. So I felt comfortable talking about my ideas with her. Leanita became my go-between.

Scott Holleran: Was Leanita friends with other black Chicago journalists, such as Vernon Jarrett, Bob Petty, Rosemarie Gulley, and Harry Porterfield?

Monroe Anderson: She was friends with all of them. Vernon was her mentor.

Scott Holleran: Was she political?

Monroe Anderson: No.

Scott Holleran: Did she think Harold Washington was a type of great black hope when he ran for mayor of Chicago and did she have unrealistic expectations about his candidacy that were dashed?

Monroe Anderson: It was the idea of Harold Washington—and he was a charming communicator—and, when she was forced to face reality, it was too personal. All those Democrats [who refused to support Washington’s candidacy] became Republicans overnight. From her perspective, when he met all the benchmarks that should have allowed him to be mayor and wasn’t supported, it was a rejection of her.

Scott Holleran: She wrote of being her brother’s keeper. Did Leanita McClain consider serving her race as a moral obligation?

Monroe Anderson: No. It was because of the history of racism in this country. I know that when I went to Indiana University in 1965, in this lilywhite environment, I felt that I, too, carried the weight of my race on my back. These things are rarely discussed openly.

Scott Holleran: Is there anything you would have done differently about Leanita McClain?

Monroe Anderson: No. Because there’s nothing I could do. We talked literally every day, like Gayle [King] and Oprah [Winfrey], and the weekend before Memorial Day, she had avoided me. I didn’t make too much of it but then I didn’t talk to her that Friday, or Saturday, or Sunday, so on that Monday I called her, because she hadn’t called me. There was no answer. I came in Tuesday morning and her office was dark and the newspapers were stacked up in front of her door. That’s when I called a friend who knew her real estate agent—she was selling her house—who had a key. They went over and found her. He called me and said ‘she’s gone’. I had just come out of a divorce and I had just lost my father, who had a heart attack, and her suicide was part of a maturing process for me. I had done everything to save my marriage and I realized that, sometimes, there’s nothing you can do. It’s gonna be what it’s gonna be. I think she was just crazy. I would tell her that too. She would say ‘I’m not happy’. She just didn’t get the mental health help she needed. Not a week went by when she didn’t talk about suicide. Her mother was an albino and she didn’t talk about—she talked about being poor but not about her mom being an albino.

Scott Holleran: Have you spoken with Keenan Michael Coleman, whom she was reportedly dating prior to her suicide?

Monroe Anderson: No. I had met him while she was dating him.

Scott Holleran: Did Leanita McClain pull a gun on him after they split?

Monroe Anderson: Yes. She shot at him. She called me and I went and got the gun. She didn’t shoot to hit him; she shot to scare him. She was hysterical. I got a call from her saying ‘I shot at him! There’s a big hole in my wall and he left and he’s gone!’ I got in my car and drove there and she was crying, tears running down her face, and she showed me the gun, and the hole in the wall—and her concern was that she would never see him again. I was not gonna leave that gun there—I calmed her down, and I took it home and, since I didn’t want a gun in the house, I called Clarence [Page] and told him to take it. I later went to see her and she wasn’t frantic anymore.

Scott Holleran: What advice do you have for those who have been affected by suicide?

Monroe Anderson: There’s nothing you can do about it. Don’t encourage it—but when they do it, they do it. A friend of mine here in Chicago, who moved to L.A., has written this book about his son’s mental illness and suicide called The Dragon and the Angel. If someone wants to end their life, there’s nothing you can do to stop them.

Scott Holleran: A Chicago Tribune reporter was quoted in her obituary as saying that Leanita McClain carried the weight of the city upon her shoulders. Should she have shrugged?

Monroe Anderson: Yes.

Clarence Page on Leanita McClain

Clarence PageI met Pulitzer Prize-winning Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page while he was on a book tour in Los Angeles and I scheduled him for an interview on The Leonard Peikoff Show at KIEV. I remember the interview as lively and interesting, and we reconnected years later through social media. This is an edited transcript of our recent conversation about the suicide of his former wife, Leanita McClain.

Scott Holleran: You were married to Leanita McClain for several years before you divorced. How did you meet?

Clarence Page: I was working in the [Chicago] Tribune newsroom—it was about 1972, because she was four years younger—and I looked up and she was the new intern hired from Northwestern [University in Evanston] and she was fresh off the campus. She was about 22. I was fresh out of the Army. I was about 26.

As soon as I met her I wanted to go out with her but I didn’t want to be too forward. I had two tickets to see Westworld and I asked her to attend the screening. We dated rather steadily and it was a slow build. We moved in together into an apartment between Lincoln Park and Lakeview, a one-bedroom apartment off Broadway on Wrightwood, just south of Diversey. We lived there and, after we moved in, we were married in six months—I was an only child and she was [the youngest of three children] and I wasn’t that eager to jump the broom. One day, my mom called and Leanita was there and answered the phone. She felt so guilty and nervous and she said ‘can we please get married?’ We went to City Hall and later we moved into the condominium on Lake Shore Drive off Belmont Harbor. It was in 1980 that she wrote the Newsweek piece [“The Middle-Class Black’s Burden”] and I left the Trib and went to [Chicago CBS affiliate] WBBM-TV.

On Memorial Day in 1980, our four-year-old nephew died in a tragic accident. After that, things took a bad turn. We could hardly see a four-year-old without her breaking down. It was a rollercoaster. She was the one who wanted to leave. She said she needed to be alone. I took it personally and figured that she just got tired of me. Then, one day she called me and said she had cut her wrists and had taken pills. I rushed her over to St. Joseph’s Hospital. I talked her into moving back in and she did—but she moved out again within a week. She bought a house in Hyde Park, with the primary motive to get married and have kids; then she backed out and went ahead and bought it anyway—she was digging a hole and feeling that she deserved this feeling. At one point, she fainted during a TV show taping. I picked her up and took her to her home and her refrigerator was empty.

Psychologically, you could see that Lea’s problem was race. Now we know that she was clinically depressed and what we would now call bipolar.

SH: What was she like as a journalist?

Clarence Page: She liked the copy desk best and she was happiest there. She didn’t like people that much—she didn’t like strangers and getting into people’s business, so she was not one who had dreamed of being a reporter her whole life. She had wanted to be a teacher like her sisters. A teacher at Chicago State [where Lea had attended college] had told her that she was an excellent writer and thought she could get a scholarship to Northwestern. They sent her a $6,000 check for her tuition to the housing project. Her father, who was a factory floor janitor, sat there staring at it because it was more than he made in a whole year.

But she never had a fire in her belly. One of her assignments was to cover the circus and Leanita was assigned to write a feature story, so she had to ride an elephant. She was scared of the elephant, riding down State Street, and the photographer kept telling her to smile and she came back and wrote that she had hated the experience—but her editor made her rewrite it. She was talented enough to write a piece of fiction. And that was one of my early indications that she was not in sync with the newsroom.

Scott Holleran: How was her My Turn column in Newsweek received?

Clarence Page: Black folks loved it—conservatives hated it. But everyone thought it was moving. This piece was more like the agony of the black middle class. She was saying what [certain] black intellectuals had been saying about the terrible twoness of being African and being American and Leanita changed the metaphysics to having a foot in each world and not feeling comfortable in either. She was the only one writing about the paradox.

Scott Holleran: What advice do you have for those who have been affected by suicide?

Clarence Page: The first thing is that it’s like Alzheimer’s—which my dad had and just died from—in that it’s harder on the survivor, so you need to not be ashamed to get counseling and get through it. Be aware of the danger signs and don’t be in denial. Get help. They usually try at least twice before and Leanita fit right into that pattern. Don’t hesitate to get them into counseling and if the person still commits suicide, don’t feel guilty. There’s more open discussion now and there’s a general understanding to get out of the superstition stage and start to deal with these [depressant] emotions.

Scott Holleran: What advice do you have for those who may have thoughts of suicide?

Clarence Page: Like the campaign to help gay teens says, it gets better. A disparate number [of suicides] are gay kids or they are carrying a cloud of depression—my wife, who teaches at George Washington University—has been concerned about certain students. Since [the suicidal murders at] Virginia Tech, there’s more awareness. When I think of Leanita, she wasn’t the only tragic case in journalism. One of the Trib’s Pulitzer Prize-winners, George Bliss, had a nervous breakdown. He went away, came back and sat there, spaced out, and apparently he had a problem grasping reality. Then, he shot his wife and shot himself. That affected Leanita deeply.

Scott Holleran: In her suicide note, Leanita McClain asked you to handle the arrangements. How did you cope and what pulled you through?

Clarence Page: At the time, I felt sad and remorseful and guilty but I also didn’t feel alone—I had her family and a circle of friends and it helped that I was being interviewed all the time.

Scott Holleran: Do you think you suffered a type of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

Clarence Page: Yes, I suppose so. I’m an Army veteran, though in a way it was like ‘ignorance is bliss’. When [she] finally did [kill herself], I was shocked but not surprised. It was therapeutic for me to help her friends and family. And I learned a lot about the media. It made me a more responsible reporter.

Scott Holleran: One Tribune reporter was quoted in her obituary as saying that Leanita McClain carried the weight of the city upon her shoulders. Should she have shrugged?

Clarence Page: I think so. She was emblematic of Chicago and a racial and political mood of the city at that time, which she filtered through her own personal troubles.