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March 19, 2055, Broadway: the Belasco Theater in New York and it is opening night for the previews of “I Will Always Love You,” the story of the last days in the life of Whitney Houston which takes place, almost in its entirety in the Hilton Hotel suite where she was found dead just hours before her anticipated performance at a pre-Grammy party…

Whoops, it is March 19, 2012 and the Belasco Theater in New York is debuting the preview of End of the Rainbow, the story of last brilliant weeks in the life of Judy Garland.  It takes place almost in its entirety in a hotel suite in London where, with fits and starts, she delivers what will tragically be her final comeback tour.

When I heard the first reports of Whitney Houston’s death at age 48, just hours before she was set to perform at the legendary Clive Davis Grammy Eve party, I was neither shocked, nor stunned nor saddened in contrast to the mounting numbers of television reporters and fans gathering at the Hilton Hotel where her lifeless body was found in her fourth-floor bathtub. I had already grieved the loss of Whitney Houston for more than a decade.

I have now spent what remains of “Grammy weekend” wondering if all the people around Whitney Houston throughout the second half of her life were enablers, unwitting or not. Or did they help extend her life throughout these final turbulent years. Read the rest of this entry »

In NBC

Oh, the joy to watch a brilliant news interview, the work of a master such as Bob Costas who, like a knight out of our journalism story books, charged onto NBC’s new high-tech set Monday night and delivered a low tech tour de force…. phoner!

As happens in all high art forms, Costas made this incredibly challenging interview seem effortless.

Getting a newsmaker in the chair (or on the phone as it turned out) is only half the battle. Getting a person in the middle of a media frenzy to really talk is the other, especially when that frenzy is over a pedophile sex scandal and football.

Eric Wemple, the Washington Post’s news media op-ed editor, said it best:

“The tone put this interview into a special category. Over nearly ten minutes Costas managed to be: prepared without being formulaic or rigid, polite without being nice, and skeptical without being prosecutorial.”

The transcript of the Sandusky interview cannot possibly reveal the mine field through which Costas was walking. One wrong step, I kept thinking, and Sandusky can just cut off the questions, put down the phone as in, “Uh, thanks for your interest, Bob, but gotta go now, it’s been a long day.”

Instead, Costa was getting Jerry Sandusky to open up and say (with a disturbingly flat affect), “I shouldn’t have showered with those kids.”

It reminded me of Michael Jackson admitting he slept in the same bed with a 13-year-old for 30 consecutive days in the boy’s mother’s house, but that he and the child (his first accuser) only watched scary movies together.

Pedophiles are very crafty, but if you can keep them talking you can learn a lot. Masters of manipulation, they often believe the “winning ways” which work on 10 year olds will also fool grown-ups. It rarely does. Read the rest of this entry »

UPDATE: Now that Jerry Sandusky has been found guilty on 45 counts of sexual abuse of minors, it’s time to examine  how he got away with hurting so many children for so long: who knew what and when did they know it? To that end, I begin with reposting my November blog on Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett who was that state’s attorney general during at least six of the 15 years Sandusky was molesting children. To date, Corbett has refused to address why the Sandusky case stalled under his watch citing “grand jury restrictions.”  Will he now step forward to explain how and why this investigation got derailed on his watch, then help assure the people of his state that future serial child molesters will be stopped much earlier than Jerry Sandusky?

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett has launched one of the most effective cover-your-ass campaigns in memory, in public everywhere weighing in as a moral compass on everything from the firing of Joe Paterno (“It was the right thing to do”) to the question of whether or not to fire the graduate assistant coach who reported  seeing Jerry Sandusky rape a 10-year-old but did nothing to intervene (he failed “to meet the higher moral obligation.”) 

Sadly,  it appears the man who became Pennsylvania’s governor in 2011 failed to meet a higher moral obligation as well.  For at least six of the 15 years Jerry Sandusky is alleged to have molested children, Tom Corbett was Pennsylvania’s attorney general,  the top law enforcer in the state. The case began, then stalled on his watch.

Corbett as Attorney General used his grand jury’ subpoena power to go after his political rivals on Twitter

Corbett’s priorities towards the end of his AG tenure now seem more curious: he used the grand jury not to finally close in on Sandusky, but to launch a criminal investigation against two anonymous political critics and to subpoena Twitter to reveal their identities.

Gov. Corbett has spent much of his time since the Penn State scandal erupted dodging personal questions by saying he isn’t allowed to talk about the case because of grand jury restrictions.

Although various Sandusky molestation reports had been kicking around for years, the case officially landed on Corbett’s desk in 2009. According to the New York Times, officials at Clinton County high school had reported charges to the local district attorney that Mr. Sandusky had molested a boy there, but, citing a conflict of interest, the prosecutor passed it on to the attorney general’s office to investigate.

Corbett did convene a grand jury back in 2009 which begs the question:  why didn’t he bring an indictment?

It’s hard to say. No one has pressed him for an answer.

Instead, reporters have accepted surrogate impressions. The New York Times, for one, quoted Kevin Harley who worked with Corbett during his years as Attorney General is now the Governor’s press secretary:  “He knew what witnesses were going to the grand jury even though he was running for governor. So then he became governor, and he knew at some point that this day would be coming. He just didn’t know when it would be.”

Was running for governor too much of a distraction to bring even the most difficult of grand jury cases forward after more than a year?

David Gregory began his interview with Gov. Corbett with this extraordinary puppy pass:

MR. DAVID GREGORY: Governor Corbett, welcome to MEET THE PRESS.

GOV. TOM CORBETT (R-PA):  Thank you, David.

MR. GREGORY:  I know you’re limited, because you were attorney general, in speaking about the criminal investigation, but I have to ask you more broadly, are there more victims that we don’t know about?

GOV. CORBETT:  I don’t know the answer to that, David.  When you conduct investigations like this–and in my career, I have conducted investigations like this–the more that you can get public about what has happened, the more that you can demonstrate that law enforcement and authorities are going to assist the victims of these types of crimes, it is not uncommon to see more victims come forward.

Gregory did begin to probe how Jerry Sandusky slipped through the cracks for so many years, but bizarrely asked a nine-part complex question:

MR. GREGORY:  I just have to ask you as a trustee, as the governor of the state, as the former attorney general of the state, how did this happen?  I mean, was this, was this a culture of indifference?  A culture of cover-up? Did it extend throughout the university?  Go beyond the university to the police, to the D.A.?  Where?

Gregory’s failure to as a direct question regarding Corbett’s tenure as attorney general allowed the Governor to dodge the issue completely.

GOV. CORBETT: I always wait for the results of an investigation before I issue any opinions.

Why did so many reporters give the governor such softballs when there are so many pointed questions that would have skirted any legal restrictions in the case. Here are just a few:

  • What percentage of the resources of your office did you dedicate to the Sandusky investigation?
  • When did the grand jury looking into Sandusky begin,  end?
  • How many grand juries did you convene in your last two years as attorney general?
  • How many resulted in criminal indictments?
  • What was your pedophile prosecution record during your tenure as AG?
  • When did you first read the 100-page investigation of Jerry Sandusky produced by university police?
  • What actions did you instruct your office to take based on that report?
  • Once you began your campaign for governor, how often did you meet with your prosecutors to discuss the road to an indictment of Jerry Sandusky?
  • Did your criminal investigation that involved the Twitter subpoena result in an indictment?
  • When was your last official conversation about the Sandusky case and what was discussed?
  • Had you decided not to bring an indictment against Jerry Sandusky?
  • What, if any, was  your “pass down” advice (on the Sandusky case) to the attorney general who succeeded you.

As attorney general, Tom Corbett did create a team to go after pedophiles and other assorted child abusers, although he has more often spoken publicly about a disturbing case he  successfully prosecuted as a young district attorney where a pedophile used a Christian charity to recruit his victims.

Maybe Corbett did more or tried harder than it appears. In the scheme of things, he’s probably not any more of the devil than those who did “just barely enough” under legal obligations.  He’s also not any less of an ostrich — or a coward in his failure to now say what he could have done, what he should have done and what laws must be changed tomorrow.

After we ask the right questions of our elected officials, perhaps we can find out what Dottie Sandusky knew and when she knew it.

Watch this video at your own risk of emotional upheaval, sleep disturbance, nausea, possible desensitization to human suffering and other serious side effects. Or not.

So soon after all the navel gazing of whether or not to broadcast the Michael Jackson autopsy photo of the superstar lying on a medical examiner’s table so painfully thin, naked and lifeless, CNN somehow embraced a marathon film festival featuring the violent killing of the deposed Libyan dictator.

UPDATED 10/27:THE NEW LIBYAN GOVERNMENT HAS VOWED TO PROSECUTE QADDAFI’S KILLERS FOR THE CRIMES U.S. NEWS ANCHORS FAILED TO MENTION.

Once upon a time, we let these images live online and not enter our homes uninvited. This week, however, marked a watershed moment for emotional assault by violent news video.

And it wasn’t just CNN. They just happened to be the network that caught me off guard first.

I had selected CNN for this story cycle early on, when my morning sampling showed their coverage was immediate, smart and very measured.

I had switched over from ABC News after George Stephanopoulos delivered the unofficial report that Muammar Qaddafi had been killed and, after a brief interview with Christiane Amanpour, moved off the story for a Lara Spencer interview with one of the young actresses from ABC’s comedy hit, Modern Family.

CNN, in contrast, was live from the Pentagon and Libya as they set out to verify the breaking news which, in that part of the world, is often riddled with half-truths and propaganda, occasionally disseminated by our own officials. Case in point: the fairy tales of Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch.

During the Arab Spring we first heard Mubarak’s sons were safe in London. Then they weren’t.

CNN certainly captured a classic exchange as their reporter pressed the Libyan Minister of Information who, while refusing to provide an official statement, seemed to confirm many of the details of Qaddafi’s demise.

History was in the making and I was glued to the set. But despite having spent nearly 20 in network news, I was completely ill-prepared to see the Qaddafi “cell phone” footage which CNN obtained and rushed to air. There was no warning that I was about to see a snuff film.

Read the rest of this entry »

As soon as I heard the breaking news of the death of Steve Jobs last night, I felt compelled to write a thank you note to him and bring it, along with a rose and a red apple, to his flagship store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

Maybe maybe the public restraint I saw is generational, but if Steve Jobs is to be the Princess Diana for us geeks, we’re going to have to do much better in our spontaneous expression of love, honor and appreciation.

Someone magical has left the planet, no matter how we all will forever live in his iClouds. And I feel shameful for my greed in wishing we all had many more years of him.  I feel a lot of pain that his family didn’t have enough. Read the rest of this entry »

Farewell to Andy Rooney: It's Complicated

I, for one, will miss Andy Rooney who, at 92, is closing out a 47-year career at CBS News during which time he walked the halls with other broadcast giants such as Edward R. Murrow, Fred Friendly, Walter Cronkite, Don Hewitt, Mike Wallace and more.

He also worked along side quite a few “non-giants” (we all know the list) and  once had his pay suspended after writing a letter to then CEO Laurence Tisch to complain that CBS News  ”has been turned into primarily a business enterprise and the moral enterprise has been lost.”

Back in March 1987, Tisch had cut more than 215 jobs and  the Writer’s Guild tried to protect their members and, at the time, was five weeks into a strike.  In a gesture of solidarity, Andy Rooney refused to appear on “60 Minutes” and was suspended without pay. His weekly salary then was reported to be  about $7700.

Sunday night, the crumpled Mr. Rooney is signing off 60 Minutes, with his 1,097th commentary and that is nothing short of remarkable. And while most weeks of his 33-year career at 60 minutes he offered a dose of humanity at the end of the broadcast,  he occasionally spewed speech that would wound. Read the rest of this entry »

LAZY REPORTING, DISLIKE OF BACHMANN FUELS CONTINUED FOG OF PHARMA

Gardasil®: worthy of a presidential debate

Has broadcast news been consciously or subconsciously bullied, compromised by the large amount of ad dollars pharmaceutical companies have pumped into their shrinking flagship programs?

Or was it just too hard to resist focusing on another Michele Bachmann gaffe instead of the most important thing she, or just about anyone has had to say in the Republican campaign for president: that government should not mandate vaccinating our daughters with the controversial drug, Gardasil®.

 

Read the rest of this entry »

THE WAR FOR THE OPRAH SPACE BEGINS

Anderson Cooper's new set: the couch undermines the intimacy

Yesterday  the first shot was heard around the new talk show world as Warner Brothers officially entered the high risk/high reward battle to replace Oprah.

Even the queen of the talk placed a stake in the outcome when  she launched  her own heir apparent,  Dr. Oz,  under her Harpo banner.

Katie Couric  follows next year as will Ricki Lake, Bethenny Frankel and I’m sure many more.

The first kid on this scary new block turns out to be Anderson Cooper who, as bravely as he has waded into snake-infested flood waters, has now stepped into the fierce competition of syndicated talk. Read the rest of this entry »