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Are we ready for kibitzing on a network news magazine?

How fitting that on the day that Dr. Conrad Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, the second installment of Rock Center aired  featuring yet another empty, cringe-worthy live celebrity interview by Brian Williams.

As clear as we saw that Dr. Murray could not say “no” to Michael Jackson,  it is evident the NBC news anchor lacks someone on his team willing to say what he may not want to hear: Williams must give up  the risky behavior  on his show: vapid interviews filled with what he thinks is wry humor. This week’s installment, Tina Fey. Read the rest of this entry »

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HAVE WE LEARNED NOTHING FROM HOW WE HANDLED THE BIG STORIES OF THE PAST?

A former colleague of mine, someone I consider a real treasure in journalism, posted on my facebook page her reaction to my continuing dialog about Chris Brown’s behavior: “why does anyone care about these people?”  Here’s my fast answer:

Nicole Brown Simpson and Rihanna: battered faces of domestic violence

How O.J. Simpson Tried to Bat Us Back on His Story

In June 1994, the great Roone Arledge, then president of ABC News, put me in charge of O.J. Simpson coverage for all his primetime magazine shows.  At the time, there were four hour-long shows each week: Day One, Turning Point, PrimeTime Live and 20/20.

I had missed the first few days of the Simpson story.  Ironically, I was in Washington, D.C. with Sam Donaldson, working on what, until then, was the biggest story of the year:  an exclusive interview with Paula Corbin Jones who had filed a sexual harassment suit against the President. (Funnily enough, I had to debate an ABC News vice president on “why we should give airtime to this woman and her lawsuit,”  which might be argued today was the first step which led to the President’s impeachment.)

The Paula Jones  interview aired not as the lead but in second position on the show Thursday night, behind the O.J. Simpson updates.  I quickly returned  to Los Angeles early the next morning, on Friday,  the day Simpson was supposed to turn himself in to police but instead led them on that fateful “low-speed white Bronco chase” that turned the story upside down and created a national viewing event that would continue for another year and a half.

Earlier in the week from Washington, D.C., I had quietly asked a freelancer/friend to get me the Simpson divorce papers from the courthouse.  The story was moving so fast, the PrimeTime Live producers on the scene had no time at all to even look at the file.  But late Friday night, as I read page after page, I saw it was all there — the admission of O.J. Simpson’s prior violence against his wife and the details of the domestic violence program he was supposed to complete.

Saturday morning I called my old friend Roy Firestone, the former ESPN sports anchor who I was certain must have interviewed Simpson.  It turned out, Roy had actually interviewed him years before about the wife beating charges.  The tapes were somewhere in storage and he was more than happy to dig them out for me, but he warned me that back then, in more innocent times, he had not pressed O.J. Simpson very hard to account for his behavior.

Later that nght, we aired a one-hour Turning Point, a broadcast that would drive O.J. Simpson into a fury. From behind bars, he insisted that his only lawyer at the time, Bob Shapiro, call me and Barbara Walters on his behalf to demand apologies, retractions and more.  We got it all wrong, Simpson had declared, even though we hadn’t strayed from the exact language in the divorce documents and his own words on tape.

We now know that Nicole Brown kept a diary which noted O.J. Simpson’s first abuse of her in 1977.  She kept the photo of her battered face in a safety deposit box.  She called 911 after Simpson broke the door jam of her condominium while kicking down the door.  Mark Fuhrman answered another 911 call after Simpson shattered the windshield of her Mercedes Benz with a baseball bat. And we also know that on June 12, 1994, O.J. Simpson’s violence escalated to a double murder when he slashed Nicole’s throat from behind, as if slaughtering a farm animal, and stabbed to death a bystander:  her friend, Ron Goldman.

DOES NICOLE’S BATTERED FACE NOT LOOK JUST LIKE RIHANNA’S?

Nicole Simpson’s battered face was once so beautiful, it haunts.  So does Rihanna’s.

The bruises on their foreheads look so similar.   I wonder, is that where blood coagulates when you’re beaten on the top, or side of your head? Read the rest of this entry »

BARBARA WALTERS TELLS PIERS: “I AM NOT A MIDDLE EAST EXPERT,” BUT IN FIVE MINUTES OR LESS, SHE OFFERS MORE HISTORY AND CONTEXT THAN  ANYONE ELSE

I’m totally exhausted.  After nearly two weeks of Egyptian protests which has included the promise of the President to step down in September and begin democratic reforms right away, followed by “thugs” entering Tahrir Square, the molotov cocktails and the roughing up and intimidation of  foreign journalists, I’ve been busier than ever digging daily for research to supplement our great 24/7 American media.

Yes, we all love a demonstration by people yearning for democracy.   But  the coverage of Egypt as some kind of Woodstock has left me scrambling for something more.   One of the low points for me was stumbling across  Elliot Spitzer, excitedly telling viewers he can’t wait to see what happens next in Alexandria.  Continuing on the primetime schedule for CNN was Piers Morgan, covering his first ever live news story.  (Perhaps they might have tried breaking their new anchors in on a car chase or two.)

Neda: the face of the failed Iranian Revolution

Over on Fox, Shep Smith was blaming Mubarak for sending thugs into the main square to attack  peaceful demonstrators  journalists.  First I wondered how anyone knew who was behind the “thugs,” and then I wondered, as I did all week, why not one journalist worried in advance that it might turn as ugly as the 2009 protests in Iran.

Perhaps they subliminally  knew not to paint Mubarak with the same brush stroke as Ahmadinejad who put an end to his country’s pro-democracy demonstrations in 2009 by cutting down people like Neda, the Iranian girl shot in the heart in front of her father.

Barbara Walters give a history lesson to Piers Morgan

What a joy it was to finally hear Barbara Walters join Piers Morgan mid-week and offer him, and us viewers, a history lesson.  As he pressed with indignation to find out why Obama wasn’t insisting  Mubarak step down immediately Barbara Walters gently, respectfully and very clearly,  explained that the region is full of dictators and always has been.  We support the ones who share our interests.

Yes, yes, yes! Finally someone  spoke who was not giddy about the overthrow of Mubarak.

Like Barbara Walters, I will qualify my observations as those not of a mideast expert, but as a journalist with strong interest in the region who has covered stories there…  certainly not as many as Barbara Walters who has sat down one on one with many or most of their 20th century titans.

Leslie Gelb,  president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations wrote this weekend in the Daily Beast, “all who ignore this history are naive...   The Muslim Brotherhood jumps immediately to mind… (for the potential to hijack democracy) but don’t overlook the potentially equal or greater threat …  from Egypt’s beloved armed forces. The history of venomous domestic and foreign-policy pronouncements by the MB should keep us all awake at night. And never forget that the murderers of the great President Anwar Sadat were Muslim Brothers embedded in the army.”

Now I didn’t watch all channels all the time, so I might have missed  the coverage where you get context and  keen insights.   But  I’ve felt pretty much on my own.   So as someone who has more than an average interest in both the story and how it’s covered, here’s my own personal briefing book for anyone else who might need it. Read the rest of this entry »

INTERVIEW IS TOUGHEST, BUT FOR WHOM?

WHEW, WHO ELSE  BUT THE QUEEN OF TALK COULD EVER HANDLE QUESTIONS LIKE THESE…

It began at 9:00 p.m. just like this:  after days of intensive CNN promotion where we see Oprah call it “one of the toughest interviews I’ve had in twenty years,” Piers Morgan opened the door, sat down and asked the first question on his highly anticipated new talk show.  I turned up the volume, shushed my husband and leaned forward.

"one of the toughest interviews Ive had in twenty years"

PIERS: Tell me this, do you ever get surreal moments when, I’m trying to picture what it’s like being you, when you wake up in the morning and you go, ‘Bloody hell, I’m Oprah Winfrey.’

OPRAH:  Well I don’t say, “bloody hell,” but I did have a surreal moment, January 1st, when I launched my new network.

It had been only a matter of seconds before Oprah was pitching her heart out about her new cable network, OWN.  Watching the January 1st launch, she told Morgan,  had moved her to tears when she finally “got it.”   Groomed in the rough and tumble world of London’s Fleet Street, he was more than ready for his follow up.

PIERS: What does it really mean to have your own network?

With the words, “exclusive” written in the lower third of the screen*, Oprah revealed a story she had only shared with the few dozen reporters who attended her press conference at the  Television Critics Association on January 7th.  She said she never loved commercials as much as when she saw them on her OWN network. (*Full disclosure, I have over-used “exclusive” myself  plenty over the years.)

Okay, to be fair, Morgan wants Oprah to get a little something out of the interview, so perhaps it’s good to get a few warm up questions out of the way.  Let’s dig in now.

PIERS: How many people do you trust?

Oprah says about 5 or 6, but she’s not going to say who they are.  Oprah’s on to him now and lets him know she’s not going to discuss what she told Barbara Walters about Gayle.

PIERS: Typical Oprah, you nailed the lie!

Oprah makes it very clear that she will never address those “rumors” again.  And Morgan backs off, but not before Oprah explains why she cried in the Walters interview while discussing her friendship with Gayle.

Having been warned by Oprah not to tread on “rumor” territory, or to expect her to cry again, Morgan deftly backs her in a corner with this follow up:

PIERS: How did Gayle react to your reaction?

OPRAH: She said, ‘that’s so nice.’

It turns out, Gayle didn’t have a chance to see the Barbara Walters interview until they were in Australia, something which made Morgan absolutely collapse in laughter.  But then he composed himself in order to continue Oprah’s toughest interview.  Read the rest of this entry »

Snooki: "Most Fascinating What?"

EVERYBODY’S GOT A LIST NOW

Yes, after all these years, Time Magazine has finally squandered the “Man/Person of the Year” franchise. Barbara Walters has her annual special of “most fascinating” which, I saw in the sneak preview,  features Snooki.  Matt Lauer ‘s list included Lebron James, Kim Kardashian and Sharif el-Gamal,  the developer of the controversial Islamic prayer center near Ground Zero.  And now my old pal Judith Regan has invited a gang of us for her “person of the year” award on her Sirius radio program. Sorry, Time, but we no longer sit around the dinner table and ponder your annual selection.  It’s more fun to come up with lists in our alternate universe.

I have already hand picked my personal candidates. I’m certain next week’s radio think tank will also come up with some buzzier candidates, at least some more inspired than Time, which is now asking people to click on for their pick online (see below). Read the rest of this entry »