I could list all of the winners of the 67th Emmy Awards, but not only would that take up an entire column, you can see all of the winners at the official Emmys site with interviews, pictures and video of what was going on backstage. But there’s one category I would like to talk about.
Jon Hamm finally won! After seven previous nominations, Hamm took home the Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series statue for his role as Don Draper on Mad Men. It was his last chance, since the show ended earlier this year, so maybe that was in the minds of voters when they filled out their ballots. But he truly deserved it. In fact, he deserved it almost every year he was nominated. It was odd he hadn’t won until now.
In his acceptance speech, Hamm thanked several people by their first names but didn’t really explain who they were. Turns out they were parents of friends and other people who had helped him after his mom died when he was 10 years old.
I made a decision that if Hamm lost again and Modern Family won Best Comedy again, I would never watch the Emmys again. But since he won and Veep won Best Comedy, I guess I have to tune in next year.
Peanutizing and Tattooing
A few years ago, AMC and illustrator Dyna Moe created a website where you could create a Mad Men avatar for yourself, a picture to use on social media and other places on the Web. Now the people behind the new Peanuts movie and the people at NBC have created similar sites.
You can “peanutize” yourself at this site, turning yourself into a Peanuts character. I tried to do one, but they don’t have my particular hair pattern, which is bald on the top but with hair on the sides (I tried an all-bald look but ended up just looking like Charlie Brown). NBC’s Tattoo Yourself site lets you see what you’d look like if your body were covered in tattoos, like the lead character of the new action-drama Blindspot.
I don’t want to know what I’d look like with tattoos. Unless they were on my head and in the shape of hair.
The Return of Brian Williams
After losing his job as anchor of The NBC Nightly News and serving a seven-month suspension for stretching the truth and fabricating stories — okay, let’s face it, he lied — Brian Williams made his debut on MSNBC on Tuesday to lead the channel’s coverage of the Pope’s first visit to the U.S. This is actually a return to the news channel for Williams. He was the lead anchor when MSNBC debuted in 1996. I still remember the late night Williams broke into regular programming and announced that Princess Diana had died.
Tuesday was a fine debut, and I have to admit it was good to see him again. He’s very good. None of his guests or the other reporters made any mention of Williams being back, and Williams didn’t mention the break at all. It was just a straight-forward newscast and very well done.
Williams will not have a regular show on MSNBC. Not yet anyway. For now he’ll be the lead anchor for breaking news and other important events. It’s part of a complete overhaul of the network.
Apple Watch to the Rescue!
If you had no intention of buying an Apple Watch, maybe this will change your mind.
One of the functions on the watch is a heart rate monitor. Paul Houle Jr., a high school football player in Massachusetts, had a fast heartbeat and was having back pains and shortness of breath during practice. His Apple Watch told him that his heart was beating at 145 beats per minute, around 60 to 80 more than it should be. After talking to his trainer, he went to the hospital, where doctors told him he had rhabdomyolysis, which is when your muscle breaks down and floods your system with protein. He had damage to his heart, kidneys, and liver. Houle says that if it weren’t for the watch, he probably would have just thought it was ordinary aches and pains and would have gone to bed. Apple CEO Tim Cook heard about what happened and called Houle. He not only gave the kid a new iPhone, he also said that when Houle’s ready he can join the Apple internship program.
I think I know who’s going to be first in line for that Steve Jobs movie.
They say that celebrity deaths often come in threes. The truth is, celebrity deaths almost always come in threes (at the very least), it’s just that often the deaths aren’t reported in a mainstream way because the people aren’t ultra-famous.
This past week we lost actor and writer Jack Larson, who played Jimmy Olsen on the Adventures of Superman TV series; Jackie Collins, who wrote novels about the lives of the rich and famous; and Yogi Berra, New York Yankee catcher and creator of some fantastic phrases.
My favorite Berra quote, though he didn’t take credit for it: “Always go to other people’s funerals. Otherwise they won’t go to yours.”
Grab a Snickers Bar, Get Insulted
The next time you go to buy a Snickers bar, you might be in for a shock.
Mars, the company that makes the classic candy bar, has created new packaging for a new advertising campaign. Instead of the word Snickers on the front, you’ll see words like whiny, impatient, feisty, grouchy, snippy, and loopy. I know those sound like the long-lost dwarfs, but they’re actually hunger symptoms. Don’t worry: if you don’t want to be insulted by your candy, there will still be bars in the original packaging.
National Coffee Day
Tuesday is National Coffee Day, which is funny because anyone who would celebrate such a day literally has coffee every single day of the week already. But here’s something: If you usually go to Dunkin’ Donuts for your java fix, Tuesday is a good day to go. The company’s giving away free medium hot or iced dark roast coffee to customers all day. If you want to make your own, check out these 15 easy coffee recipes from Food.com. And since everything seems to be pumpkin-spice flavored these days, here’s a recipe from AllRecipes for a Quick Pumpkin Spice Latte.
Or if you don’t want to go to all that trouble, you could just pick up a jar of Folgers instant. It was good enough for Mrs. Olson:
Upcoming Events and Anniversaries
Political cartoonist Thomas Nast born (September 27, 1840)
Nast was known as the Father of the American Cartoon.
Ted Williams hits .400 (September 28, 1941)
Will the elusive batting average ever be reached again?
James Dean dies (September 30, 1957)
The actor’s official website has some great info, including rare photos.
The Ford Model T introduced (October 1, 1908)
The Saturday Evening Post ran the very first ad for the car in our October 3, 1908, issue. The ad’s also featured in our special collector’s edition Automobiles in America.
Johnny Carson’s first Tonight Show (October 1, 1962)
Sadly, only 33 episodes of Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show (between the first airing through May 1, 1972) exist. The others were erased. Here’s audio of his very first episode.
Bob Simon: 1941-2015
When the week started we thought the big media news would be what is happening with Brian Williams, but then word came Wednesday night that veteran CBS reporter and 60 Minutes correspondent Bob Simon had died in a car accident in Manhattan. Simon was in a Lincoln Town Car going home from work when it rear-ended a car that was stopped at a stoplight. Police are still investigating the accident.
In his almost 50-year career, Simon won 27 Emmy Awards and several Peabody Awards and covered almost every story imaginable. Beginning as a reporter for CBS in 1967, he covered college campuses and political conventions. As a foreign correspondent, he covered the Vietnam War and political unrest in places like Northern Ireland, Somalia, and Haiti. He became CBS’s chief Middle East correspondent in the late ’80s and during the Gulf War he was captured and tortured by Iraqi forces. He was held prisoner for 40 days. Simon was 73 and is survived by his wife, Francoise; daughter, Tanya, who is a producer at 60 Minutes and often worked with him on stories; and grandson, Jack.
Brian Williams Benched For Six Months
Though the investigation is still ongoing, NBC has decided to suspend NBC Nightly News anchor and managing editor Brian Williams for six months without pay for not being completely truthful about a 2003 incident in Iraq. Williams said that the chopper he was riding in was hit by enemy fire. But as we all now know it wasn’t Williams’ chopper that got hit. A different chopper was hit and went down, then Williams’ chopper arrived on the scene 30 to 60 minutes later. Call it a lie, call it “misremembering”; either way, Lester Holt is going to be his replacement until the summer.
What makes this a not-so-cut-and-dried decision is that Williams actually did tell the truth about the incident the first handful of times he talked about it on air. Add in that he’s a well-liked guy and gets good ratings and those are probably the reasons why NBC seems to be saying that he’ll be back at the anchor desk.
But the damage might be too much for Williams and NBC to fix.
I wonder if we’ll see a plot twist in six months, a scenario where Williams isn’t “fired” but supposedly leaves on his own to do another show on another network. And I don’t mean The Daily Show. Sure, Williams would be great on it (he’s an extremely funny guy) but I don’t think he wants to give up his real news career just yet, and it would seem like he was trivializing all of the serious work he did for years and almost admitting he wasn’t a “real” news person and that’s why he’s now doing a fake-news show.
Jon Stewart Leaving The Daily Show
The day after the Williams news we learned that Jon Stewart will be leaving his show too, after more than 16 years. After he took over for original host Craig Kilborn, Stewart made the show into must-see TV for young viewers, pundits, and media people in general. Actually anyone who liked to see the media and politicians skewered on a nightly basis. No word yet on who will replace him when he leaves, which will be later this year. Comedy Central has been losing a lot of people lately (John Oliver to HBO, then Stephen Colbert to CBS, and now Stewart) but they also have a deep bench. Or maybe they’ll be pick someone completely out of left field, like CBS did when they hired James Corden for The Late Late Show.
I was a Kilborn fan. Maybe we can start a letter-writing campaign for Comedy Central to bring him back for a whole new generation, along with Five Questions and maybe even Yambo too. Bring back Yambo!
The Monopoly Game Controversy
So what’s the true story about the origins of the classic board game Monopoly? Supposedly it will soon celebrate its 80th anniversary because for years we’ve been told it was invented during the Depression by a man named Charles Darrow. The story says he created it as something for his family to play during hard times. But according to a new book, that might not be the case. In The Monopolists, Mary Pilon says that the game was actually based on another game created by a feminist activist named Lizze Magie, who was a fan of anti-monopoly economist Henry George and wanted to honor him in some way. Hers was called The Landlord Game and she patented it in 1903. It grew in popularity throughout the 1920s and 30s.
So how did Darrow come into the picture? Read the synopsis of Pilon’s book at The Daily Beast and find out for yourself. Or better yet buy the book. I can picture it as a movie actually. Pilon’s book, not the game itself, which is already a movie that plans to start filming this summer. Originally it was going to be a satire of the financial and real estate world directed by Ridley Scott but now it’s going for more of a Goonies feel.
I guess I’m one of the reasons why RadioShack has been in trouble that past several years. Sorry! I can’t remember the last time I went into one. It must have been over a decade ago. I think I needed some sort of special connector or something. But I never really had a reason to go into one. I wouldn’t buy a phone or a computer there, and they’re not the only place that sells batteries.
The 95-year-old chain has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and will be closing between 1,600 and 2,500 stores. They’re also going to team up with Sprint for the remaining locations, which will sell Sprint products and services but still be co-branded with RadioShack in some way (Sprint/RadioShack? SprintShack?). The Harvard Business Review has a piece on why the two companies are joining forces. Or as the clever title puts it, “shacking up.”
Please Be Careful What You Say Around Your TV
All this talk about privacy issues on social media sites and a new “credit card information being hacked” story on the news every week has made us forget another form of danger: our televisions! Seems that some Samsung smart TVs (every piece of tech is now called “smart” if they do things we don’t want them to do) not only have a feature where you can control the TVs by using your voice, the sets are actually recording what goes on in the room and can send the info to third parties (but don’t worry – they have your best interest at heart). Luckily there’s a way to turn it off, but shouldn’t it be off in the first place and then we can turn it on if we choose to do so? I think we all know why it’s not set up that way.
This is all rather horrifying to me. I have this nightmarish vision of a future world where our appliances tell us how to run our lives. Our TVs will say, “You don’t really want to watch another episode of The Bachelor, do you ?” and my toaster will chastise me for putting too much butter on my bread.
If that wasn’t enough, Samsung TVs are also inserting Pepsi ads into movies and TV shows as you watch them. All that stuff we read about in science fiction like The Minority Report is actually coming true.
RIP, Lizabeth Scott
Just last week I was watching the 1947 Humphrey Bogart noir Dead Reckoning and couldn’t believe that his co-star Lizabeth Scott was still alive. But Scott passed away on January 31 in Los Angeles at the age of 92. Her death was just announced this week.
She was one of the great femme fatales of film noir in the ’40s and ’50s. Besides Dead Reckoning, she appeared in The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers, Dark City, Pitfall, Too Late For Tears, and I Walk Alone. She also appeared in the Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis comedy Scared Stiff and in several TV shows before retiring in the early ’60s.
Friday the 13th
If you’re the superstitious sort you’re probably FREAKING OUT today because it’s Friday the 13th. Don’t walk under ladders! Don’t get near a black cat! Don’t eat cheddar cheese while wearing denim! OK, I made up that last one but it seems to make as much sense as the others. I’m not sure if people agree on how fear of the day got started, but Wikipedia has a fairly detailed explanation.
It’s funny how now we can’t think of Friday the 13th without also thinking of the horror film franchise.
Tomorrow is the big day! For women, that is. The big day for men is probably Super Bowl Sunday or the day a new video game is released or a day we don’t have to shave (did I get all of the male clichés in there?). But if you’re the type of couple that celebrates on the 14th, here are some great ideas for Valentine’s Day dinner from Food Network and several more from Food & Wine.
Either that or just get some pizza delivered. You know your significant other better than I do. But definitely put the video games away for the night (and check out some classic Valentine’s Day covers from the Post.
Susan B. Anthony’s Birthday (February 15, 1820)
Thomas Jefferson Elected President (February 17, 1801)
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Published (February 18, 1885)
Read The Saturday Evening Post Archive Director Jeff Nilsson’s piece about the next Mark Twain (and Twain’s connection to the Post).
Pluto Discovered (February 18, 1930)
Is Pluto a planet or not? Here’s the official NASA viewpoint.
Astronaut John Glenn Becomes First American to Orbit the Earth (February 20, 1962)
Back in my newspaper reporter days we had a name for reporters who exaggerated details in a story: We called them “pipe artists,” and the stories they produced were “pipeski.” I think the phrase was derived from pipe dreams, which in turn is a reference to opium-induced fantasies. Whatever its origin, I discovered when I moved on to TV, no one used — or even knew — the expression.
Too bad: Broadcasting really needs a term for Brian Williams and his Choppergate misadventure. Who knew he was a pipe artist? And now that we know he invented a story about being in a helicopter that took enemy fire in Iraq, we must all wonder how much of his work over the years has been infected with pipeski. And beyond that, why was there pressure for him to embellish in the first place?
The answer to that may lie in the nature of the medium. A network half-hour newscast contains only 22 minutes of content — the other eight minutes are filled with commercials. Thus, competition among reporters for those precious minutes is fierce. There are more stories than there are minutes to accommodate them, so correspondents need to advocate for their stories. Part of a producer’s job is to separate the salesmanship from the journalism, discard the former and go with the latter.
But producers are only human and they tend to cut star reporters — especially those being groomed for the anchor slot — more than a little slack. In fact, the presence of a star reporter, in the minds of many producers, makes a story more important and thus more worthy of airtime.
When I was executive producer of Good Morning America, the network assigned us a correspondent who had been a star reporter at a local ABC station. He was our “on the go” guy, but I had a problem with him because I knew him to be a pipe artist. He had faked a combat incident in one of Israel’s many wars with its Arab neighbors (although he fooled his bosses at the local station) and so I accepted him on the show with great reluctance.
He sold stories to me with vigor. Every story he covered was the most important story of the day, if not the decade. And if I responded with a dubious lifted eyebrow, the details of the story got more and more dramatic. It was a constant struggle to keep his reports within the bounds of journalistic ethics. The audience, by the way, loved him.
Which brings us to Brian Williams, a smooth, self-assured anchor with a ready wit. He seemed to combine Peter Jennings’ panache with Walter Cronkite’s gravitas, spiced with a hint of David Brinkley’s humor. But now his mistake reveals a fabulist with a self-aggrandizing streak, an anchorman who brought the sensibilities of barroom bragging to his newscast.
No one contests that Williams — when he was a correspondent for, but not yet anchor of NBC’s Nightly News — flew in a U.S. military helicopter in Iraq in 2003. But it was another helicopter, in another formation, that was sufficiently damaged by an RPG — a rocket-propelled grenade — to force it into an emergency landing at a tiny U.S. enclave in the desert known as Rams Base. In the news report that aired shortly afterward — the first time he told the story — Williams acknowledged the downed Chinook helicopter was a different vehicle. But there was some exaggeration even then: Williams’ report gave the mistaken impression that his Chinook was in the same formation and was flying the same mission as the RPG-damaged chopper, and that the one he was in had taken ground fire. Pilots later said it hadn’t.
A few years ago, Williams went on the Late Show with David Letterman and retold the helicopter story, only this time he was a passenger in the RPG-struck aircraft. And then last week, on his own show the version of the story that had him in the RPGed Chinook was repeated. The helicopter’s crew took to Facebook to vent their anger about the misrepresentation. Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper, picked up the story and found other crew members who criticized Williams’ account.
Faced with the facts, Williams went on the air and apologized. Apparently, he said, he had conflated being a passenger in a helicopter that had taken fire with being in a helicopter so badly damaged it was forced down. The fog of war and a dozen-year-old memory were his excuses.
That doesn’t wash. You conflate the restaurant you ate in last month with the one you ate in two months ago; you don’t conflate a life-threatening situation with a weather-related aborted helicopter ride. The original 2003 news report was only slightly factually wrong, but Williams had expanded on that inaccurate tale. And now witnesses are coming forward claiming that he injected fabulist elements into his award-winning coverage of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath. Among other things, he reported flooding in the French Quarter — where he was staying, although it was one of the neighborhoods in the crescent city that was spared flood damage. He also gave shifting accounts of whether he heard about or witnessed a suicide in the Superdome.
Why would a news correspondent jeopardize his career by exaggerating a story? What was wrong with “After we were forced down by a sand storm, we met the crew of a similar helicopter that had been shot down?” And why jeopardize a multi-million dollar anchor chair by adding more fictional elements to the story?
If you ever belly up to the bar with correspondents who have been to war, they will tell stories. And sometimes these encounters wind up as “can you top this” contests where facts may get gilded with light fiction. But the ethical ones leave that stuff in the barroom, even when they are selling their stories to editors and producer. And they certainly keep it out of the newspaper and off the air.
But even if a good journalist is supposed to check his ego — and his fictions — at the door to the newsroom, TV strokes egos like no other medium. And no ego gets stroked as much as an anchor’s. Perhaps Williams, feeling diminished because he wasn’t in a Chinook that took enemy fire, just put himself there.
Or maybe he was trying to live up to the impossible-to-match tradition of Edward R. Murrow, who flew a very dangerous mission over Berlin during World War II in an RAF bomber named D-Dog. Read Murrow’s amazing 19-minute report. Even better, hear Murrow deliver it.
Murrow didn’t report D-Dog to aggrandize himself — it was very clear to him the high price that could be exacted for we-were-there reports. In the next-to-the last paragraph of his story, he tells his audience: “There were four reporters on this operation. Two of them didn’t come back. Two friends of mine, Norman Stockton of Australian Associated Newspapers, and Lowell Bennett, an American representing International News Service. There is something of a tradition amongst reporters, that those who are prevented by circumstances from filing their stories will be covered by their colleagues. This has been my effort to do so.”
Murrow’s D-Dog sets a high bar for war reporting. But there is a much lower bar that is the very least this profession asks for — truth and accuracy. The pipe artist wiggles under that low bar. The highly motivated but ethical journalist will clear the bar. Pipe artists and ethical journalists share a trait: They are ambitious. If they weren’t they wouldn’t be in the profession. But ethical journalists understand that facts are what distinguish, not the sheen they try to put on them.
Originally published at Zócalo Public Square (zocalopublicsquare.org).