NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from November 9, 2006 – the last from this year.
Ed Bradley died today – of leukemia. He was not a usual man — not at all. Good, funny, gifted, fierce, loving and decent, he was a gentleman to the core. For two political convention seasons in the 80s I was his CBS News floor producer. In the midst of one of them, his mother had a stroke and was very ill in Philadelphia. She wouldn’t let him miss work though – insisted that he be on the convention floor every night. The convention was in New York , so Ed drove to Philadelphia after we were off the air each night, sleeping in a limo on the way to Philly – spending the night and morning with his mother and then returning in the limo the next day. He was there for her — and for his work, as she insisted that he be.
If you saw him on 60 Minutes, interviewing Aretha Franklin in the kitchen with a dish towel over his shoulder, chopping while they talked, or jamming with Aaron Neville, you saw another, wonderful Ed — no pretense, no baloney. And if you saw him with his godchildren – daughters of the wonderful Vertamae Grovesnor, you saw yet another part of this wonderful man.
Somehow though, when I read the CNN Alert just an hour ago — what I remembered at once was that night in 1975, 41 years ago this month, when Saigon fell. I was just back from maternity leave and alone on the overnight for the foreign desk at CBS. As a long-time CBS correspondent in Vietnam, Ed was the last guy out — or just about. What I can’t get out of my head is his account of walking down the deserted embassy hallway — where almost all the lights were out except one far down the hall — and his description of thinking of “the light at the end of the tunnel” — and then – as he signed off for the last time from Saigon – ending with the words of Saigon hookers “fini bi bi.” I’m not sure I can describe the sensitivity and sadness of this report – but I do remember sending him an email “Ernie Pyle, move over.”
The thing is – he was at least as wonderful as he was gifted and as talented as he was dear. It’s just so sad to think of him gone and of such a miserable disease. He’s leaving a beautiful legacy but that doesn’t make it OK. Not at all.
The freaks’ll stay together, They’re a tight old crew
You look at them, And they look at you…. Devil Baby, by Mark Knopfler
This is a song about a freak show. And why not?
Today I turned on the TV and found not one, but two “active shooter” situations going on in California. UPDATE: One hour after I wrote this, a news conference in San Bernardino, scene of the first of these shooting events, reported 14 people dead and 14 wounded, by “as many as three gunmen.”
Before that was Colorado and the viciousness and cruelty of targeting Planned Parenthood — and women. Before that was Paris. And the Russian plane. And always — Isis/Isil/DAESH/BokoHaram. And of course, Donald Trump. SO.
This is a song about a freak show. And that’s why.
Interesting how the media is characterizing this premeditated act of terror against Planned Parenthood as committed by a “calm and crazy” person whereas the attacks in Paris, including Charlie Hebdo (another workplace targeted for political reasons), were carried out by terrorists who were only characterized as “calm”. The media’s attempt to make the string of fatal attacks against clinics isolated attacks by insane individuals, whereas the string of fatal vigilante attacks by Muslim extremists are considered political acts of terror, is because the media fears being seen as taking sides in the abortion debate.
Then read this:
Here’s the first post I read about this topic – also from Christina Page. Thank you Christina for reminding us all of the importance of words!
The media needs to change this language immediately. They are referring to him as a shooter. He is a terrorist. This language needs to be corrected from the inception (I think behind the scenes so as to not make that the issue). If they start naturally referring to him that way, that’s what we want and that’s what it will be. All of the messengers should just not sway from this language. Terror was understood right from the start in Paris, this is the very same. One officer killed, four officers shot and 4 civilians.
It’s gratifying to hear so many establishment pundits, right and left, advocating the conscious use of the word “terrorist” but if it weren’t for the advocacy from women like Christina and others, who knows how much longer it would have taken to get them to do it?
We watched Olivia Pope have an abortion right in front of us, with Silent Night playing in the background; it was unsettling, right? Not just for the irony of the Christmas soundtrack, but also because the song’s “mother and child” were themselves unwelcome. There’s more to these sorts of moments than pretty, sort of symbolic, Christmas music. As usual with Olivia, the truth is complicated.
“Family is the only thing that has kept you alive here.” Huck tells his captive, Olivia’s father Eli. But Eli argues that family doesn’t save us, it’s an “antidote to greatness.” “Family doesn’t complete you, it destroys you” he says.
For Olivia though, destruction is the inevitable outcome of the the stolid White House life, the outfits entombed in the Presidential bedroom, the so-called fairytale life of a First Lady, her very real prison. We see she manages her performance well; we need to know that for her choice to make sense. No she wasn’t leaving because she wasn’t good at First Lady-ing. A bird (even a successful one) in a gilded cage is still locked up.
We always knew (and some of us hoped) that she’d go. Fitz’s questionable worthiness, not withstanding, she had to get out o there! Her life, however twisted, said so much to all of us and taught us this – that this is possible: Olivia Pope doesn’t do shotgun, she drives the car!
Even so, a woman of such stature who had surrendered so much, couldn’t walk away without an amputation – metaphorical – but real too. Alone, telling no one, she chooses to end a pregnancy that no one knows exists. It’s hers. Hers to keep, or not. Hers to speak about, or not. And so as she leaves her pregnancy behind her, so too she leaves a life that has been confining almost to the point of trauma.
As fiercely pro-choice but also a baby addict, I find I surprise myself as I write this. I feel, I see, I know that sometimes choices I’d fight not to have to make myself are life and soul-saving for another.
Eli’s meditation on family is either a counterpoint or a validation of his daughter’s decision. Like the decision itself, it depends on who’s watching. From over here where I am, she made the right choice (because, after all, she had a choice) the right way. Would that every women had the power, and the money, and the access, to do the same.
Like most of us, I don’t think I’ve felt like this since 9/11, although Paris may feel scary in a different way because the scope and savvy of ISIS makes Al Qaeda look primitive in comparison.
I spend hours on the Web every day, and probably understand the reach, creativity and strategic smarts of ISIS outreach more than most of my peers. It’s kind of amazing that people committed to such a regressive lifestyle are so adept at using modern methods to build it. They’ve been using Twitter, Whatsapp and other basic tools for some time but even though I raised two gamers, it never occurred to me until I heard it this morning that online game consoles are great, almost invisible, ISIS communication tools.
There have been hints though, in our popular culture. Portraits of these tactics have appeared in TV shows as disparate in audience as NCIS and The Good Wife: plots about the online recruiting American teenagers for homegrown violence and about exploiting western commitment to privacy and free speech and thought, as well as the seemingly insurmountable gap between the world that nurtures these terrorists and the world we have tried to create for our own kids.
Of course, that dissonance means nothing if your goal is to return us all to a particularly fierce, and very old, version of holiness. It’s so sad to note, too, that our wonderful technology is once again taking us away from all we’d hope it would be.
The ultimate goal of every great reporter is to find a terrific story that nobody else has, and report it. Right now, released almost simultaneously, are not one, but two movies about journalism and how it works. In one, eagerness to tell the tale combined with politics to destroy the story, and several stellar careers. In the other, universal caution and the power of the establishment combined in efforts to do the same. Based on true stories,Truth and Spotlight portray, with fierce and sometimes heartbreaking commitment, the professional, ethical and political challenges every good reporter faces.
Each features a wonderful cast: in Spotlight, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, and Stanley Tucci; in Truth, Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid, Elizabeth Moss, Bruce Greenwood and Stacy Keach. They’re all great.
Both stories beautifully illustrate the adventure, pain, excitement, drudgery and teamwork required in the service of a seriously reported story. Although Spotlight is a far better film, the familiar TV-ness of Truth, as Dan Rather and his 60 Minutes production team, pursue the “George W. Bush Went AWOL from the National Guard” story made it particularly heartbreaking for me. I emerged agitated and halfway out of breath.
It’s was just so sad to witness great work sidelined not by corporate politics or even overt censorship but by small decisions made in service of a great story and a tight deadline. All good journalists understand the importance of this: “If you don’t have time to check one more way, or listen to the person who still has reservations, the story shouldn’t air; if it’s about the President of the United States, even airtight isn’t good enough.” Eager to get on the air and armed with several good pieces of evidence, Mapes insisted the story was ready though – and so it aired.
In this case, although the story was never proven to be false, challenges to errors or lack of clarity in several small details (which were indeed careless or at least a product of selective listening) provided enough ammunition to cost both Rather and Mapes their jobs. In each case the removal was deeply humiliating. Knowing what was coming, it was agony to witness, especially when the entire editorial process was so familiar and the problem elements stood out so clearly.
Spotlight, again drawn from a true story, followed reporters uncovering the child sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, revealed by the Boston Globe’s investigative unit the “Spotlight” team at the Boston Globe. In this case, the adversary wasn’t the White House and all the weapons at its disposal, Rather, it was one of the few institutions with more power: the Catholic Church and its hold over Boston and the Globe, whose readers were 56% Catholic as were much of the editorial staff.
Piece by piece, through roadblocks and threats, the team pulled the story of the abusive priests together, with victims on the record, only to be confronted by their new editor, who wasn’t satisfied that this information alone would bring change:
Show me that the church manipulated the system so that these guys wouldn’t have to face charges. Show me they put those same priests back into parishes time and time again. Show me this was systemic, that came from the top down.”
So they did. And their story rocked the Church worldwide. Literally.
To arrive there though, team members had to deal not only with the pain of the victims and horror of the story but also with their own relationships with the Church. That wasn’t just deep connection or lapsed faith, but also an emotional and spiritual system internalized by these longtime-Boston journalists as they grew up their very Catholic hometown.
In this case though, a combination of fierce commitment and great editorial guidance allowed them to resolve any questions that might arise before their initial story ran. They ended up writing hundreds. And won the Pulitzer Prize.
So. Two news movies. Both worth the time and money it will take to see them. Together they bring us perfect lessons: this is what happens when newsgathering doesn’t live up to the tough standards required of the profession, and these are the remarkable things that can happen when it does.
It’s hard to believe, watching now. Even more than Mad Men, Amazon’s Good Girls’ Revolt is all too familiar. The story of the women of Newsweek and their battle for equality in the newsroom, it’s a heartbreaker, and it’s not because of the huge moments of oppression or betrayal, although they are present. (Through some creative reporting, a young researcher discovers what really happened at the 1969 Altamont Festival that “killed the 60’s.” But the rewrite assignment – and the credit – goes to a guy who never left the building. “That’s how we do things here. We have a process. Men are the reporters – you girls are the researchers.”) The researcher on this story loves the thrill of reporting so much she surrenders everything she’s learned, even though she’ll never get credit for it in the office, much less in print.
Sadly, many of us remember; it happened to us.
Implicit, explicit and intractable power all in male hands, all the time, permeates every moment of Good Girls Revolt’s pilot episode. We know where their pending revolution is coming from.
Even more frequent than the “big stuff” were the small assumptions, dismissals, insults and slights that eat away, day by day, at confidence and ambition and hope.
Four women in a hallway conversation greeted by the boss: “Hello, my little coven.”
The Managing Editor sending his best researcher, who keeps her reporter partner (and lover) safe and “his” stories on the cover, for coffee. “Black, two sugars, right?”
“Sweetie,” “honey,” “cutie.”
A husband who “gives his wife a year” to write a novel before moving her to Connecticut to raise babies, but then puts a hole in her diaphragm so she’ll be pregnant before that year ends.
Three guys hungrily ogling a smart, but lovely women as she tries unsuccessfully to make it through the newsroom without incident.
Sadly, many of us remember; it happened to us.
For me it was a very sweet 60 Minutes producer sitting next to a very pregnant me in the newsroom and urging me not to come back to work – to stay home like his wife did. Or the executive who called with sympathy for my miscarriage and told me that, pregnant woman that I’d been, I shouldn’t have been working so hard – as if I was my fault. (His assistant asked me if I’d even wanted the baby at all.)
In addition to newsroom battles, this introductory episode takes us to a “consciousness raising” meeting, led by a pregnant “Eleanor Holmes Norton” and featuring, like a 12-step program, the telling of individual stories of humiliation, discrimination and sexual harassment.
Sadly, many of us remember; it happened to us.
In my own community, oppressive sexual relationships between researcher and producer weren’t frequent, but they weren’t rare, either. They almost never ended well. One correspondent told me at a bureau Christmas party “I’d really love to sleep with you. Really. But I never dip my pen in the company inkwell.” He thought I’d be impressed.
We need this show – and so do our daughters and nieces and sons and nephews and husbands and young friends. Here’s how Buzzfeed’s Ann Helen Peterson ends her piece on the show:
Good Girls Revolt may be about a bunch of accidental revolutionaries. Its politics may be embroidered with melodrama, and romance, and fixation on clothes. But, then again, so is life. And that doesn’t make the show, or the work of the women behind the scenes, any less feminist — or necessary.
As [production designer Jeannine] Oppewall says, “Sometimes I look at my nieces, who don’t quite yet see the amount of work it took for us to pull this off, and I’m like, ‘You better have a look at the past, because if you’re not vigilant, the past can always be your future.’ You gotta babysit it and talk about it and push it and make it seem like this is absolutely the way it should be.”
Cancer has taken so many people I’ve loved and admired. This new interview with two hugely admired and much-loved celebrities reminded me of how deeply it affects us all . We know, in our heads, that the presence of beauty, courage, fame and an amazing marriage and family can’t keep the monster at bay. Neither can being the most respected broadcast journalist of the past 30 years; Tom Brokaw had cancer too. So did my husband, by the way. Thankfully, they are still with us. But it’s a roll of the dice, not fame or fortune, or even education, that’s made it so.
So why are we not all enraged? Why do we refuse to keep this plague at (or at least near) the top of our agenda? We face so much right now: attacks on women, racial tension, income inequality, climate change, declining education systems and infrastructure – fill in your own particular blank. But no matter how we feel about any of these issues, we all grieve for those we’ve lost to cancer; we all long for their presence in our lives and know that it is just a lack of knowledge that took them from us.
No family is untouched; the lucky ones face it among older members but so many lose loved ones — family and friends, well before they’ve seen their children grow up, or get married or find their way in the world and before they’ve exhausted the gifts that brought so much to all of us. I’ve been thinking about them a great deal recently, and have felt, for some time, a need to honor them once again here. Many died before there was an Internet but I’ve added links where I could.
Listening to Viola Davis last night and reading responses from so many of my friends was inspiring, but hardly surprising. I’ve written often about the gift, through the Internet, of access to the ideas of women of color their perspectives on America and race.
But last night and this morning, it was as if it was brand new, with this post from AwesomelyLuvvie saying it all. The depth of joy and pride wasn’t surprising, of course. It was just so wonderful and passionate. I remembered all the “first women” of the 70’s and 80’s: astronauts and VP Candidates, fire fighters and West Point grads, Supreme Court justices, rabbis, and orchestra conductors, and could only imagine how much bigger this must feel – especially since Davis’ speech was so phenomenal.
So hats off Luvvie! And hats off to Viola Davis and her sisters, those who won, those who didn’t and the fierce women who supported them.
Once upon a time, things were hopeful. We were too. Not because there was peace and love and bounty in the world but because, if we all tried, maybe there could be,
That’s what was so perfect about the Mad Men finale: the ironies of hindsight. There was the desperate Don Draper, moving toward bliss and emerging from both the 60’s and his misery to create the perfect, pseudo-idealistic yet consummately cynical commercial: a UN of young people on a hilltop, singing about Coke.
This video is what that video should have been. Musicians from 12 cities on 5 continents, brought together by Playing for Change, join to pay tribute to the fiftieth anniversary of The Grateful Dead and to remind us of what had all hoped, and maybe still hoped, could be.
I was a little teary. The friend who sent me the link said he’d been “crying like a girlymon the whole weekend…”