Trump Zombies and Violence

Greg Gianforte’s election to Congress in Montana after assaulting a reporter has exposed the violent truth about Trumpers: They have decided they didn’t want to have to think critically and wanted a lawless bully to clear out a safe space for them using force.

45 would be NOTHING if not for his Cult followers. They aren’t misunderstood souls who have been led astray. No – these people have waited their whole lives for a stupider, meaner, more vindictive version of Reagan.

They fucking LOVE him and his scorched earth policy.

These were the people in school who stood behind the bully and egged him (or her) on. They often lacked the intestinal fortitude it took to be an honest-to-god bully, but could be counted on for malicious snickers and ostracizing as well as violence under the cover and protection of a group.. They were conferred power and status through their association with said Bully and flaunted it when the Bully was not around.

They are the tribe in Lord of the Flies that put Jack in charge and followed him into savagery.

They willfully and with malice choose to support a corollary of anarchy – it’s not that there are no rules, it’s that they are ignoring any that don’t suit their purpose of regaining a position of being the shitter and not the shittee. Oh, sure, they’re still getting shat upon in spades, but they’re okay with it if they can do a little shitting of their own.

The people who support him – the Public and Politicians – are all motivated by the same thing: The acquisition of Power

They are willing to allow 45’s destruction of the Constitution and looting of the Treasury if they can get a taste of the action.

Gianforte’s assholery didn’t spring up out of Zeus’s forehead. People *like* the tough talk and promises of cutting the safety net out from under other people – and they’re SURE it will never happen to them. Lest we attribute his victory to early voting, remember Gianforte raised $100K in the 12 hours after this hit the news cycle.

Whenever you’re tempted to reason with a Trumpologist remember that this is not an isolated incident. The Governor of Texas joked about shooting Journalists on Friday and it received a collective yawn. There are Press pens at 45’s events that are nothing more than modern day stockades. My god – POUTS assaulted the Prime Minister of Montenegro when he shoved him in the chest – and Trumpologists are *giddy* that he’s showing people who’s boss.

Assaults on and the arrest of Journalists are becoming all too common and not getting nearly enough coverage – by which I mean none at all on the Fox propaganda mill. 2 reporters in the last 10 days were arrested for asking politicians questions. Press and protesters at the Turkish Embassy were beaten by Erdogan’s goons and that goes by unprocessed in the never ending shit geyser.

Violence against political opponents and the press have become normalized and encouraged. It is only a matter of time before a member of the Press is murdered, and before this implied violence makes its way further than a murderous White Supremacist in Portland.

There is a serious mental illness problem in America. Its face may be Donald Trump, but its heart are Trumpers: The 2 in 5 adults who think violence is an appropriate response to questions or intellectual disagreements. Their brutality is vindicated by a man like Trump, and his “I’ve had ENOUGH of rules!!” behavior gives them permission to ignore facts and embrace their cruelty. The really frightening thing is they’re just getting warmed up.

 

Infectious Fascism and Someone Else’s Beer

Our local liquor store had been in business since the early 1980s, when the shopping center was built. The original owner passed it along to his 3 sons when he died, many years ago. There was nothing special or fancy about the shop, which had long, wide shelves stocked full of not-too-high-priced wines and liquor that tended to come in the Handle Size. They did a brisk trade in beer, $1 shooters sold out of an empty fish tank on the counter, and “Oh, jeeze! We’re all out of vodka/wine and I’m almost home!” purchases.

It had a coveted corner location on a major intersection with high visibility, and was next to a busy grocery store. The long floor-to-ceiling windows faced due west, which meant high cooling bills as the high altitude sunshine blasted in year round, roasting  the products on the front shelf and raising the temperature unbearably during the summer. A few years ago the Brothers balked at the raising utility prices from keeping the store cold enough to properly store their inventory, and slowly adjusted the thermostat upwards. The heat coupled with storing the wine upright – as one would store a fine vintage Yoo-Hoo – served to spoil their wares.

As if wine bottles that were warm to the touch weren’t enough, over the years the shop developed a nose-curling funk stank from their dogged insistence upon carpet, which served as a 1-way booze sponge when a bottle or case was inevitably broken, and because one of the brothers smoked indoors while doing the books afterhours.  Mmmm… the cheeky bouquet of nicotine braised in sour carpet wine!

We began shopping elsewhere, save for the times we emerged from the adjacent King Soopers, arms full of groceries (yes, we brought our own bags), and too tired or lazy to drive 6 miles round trip for a bottle of wine to go with dinner. Don’t judge me! The cork that crumbles like The Mummy is punishment enough.

Just before Valentine’s Day we found ourselves lacking the fortitude of an additional errand, the grueling 15 minute drive more than either of us could possibly handle, and so found ourselves choosing from wine bottles with dust on them.  I noticed a marked lack of champagne and other bubbly beverages appropriate for a manufactured holiday. “This is weird,” I told my husband, “Why aren’t there cases of cheap champagne stacked 5 high and 2 deep in here? In fact, there’s almost no champagne at all,” I gestured to the picked over front shelf, which was normally full of the boxed wine and cheap champagne that the Brothers counted on their clientele not being able to suss out were treated to daily solar pasteurization. It was a minor curiosity, one I chalked up to a screw up in ordering and went on with my evening.

A few weeks later, before St. Patrick’s Day, it was obvious something was up. The store was still very busy, but their stock had visibly dwindled – the shelves were no longer full, with empty spaces behind the wine and spirits.

“What’s going on?” I asked the young woman who worked there. “Not much,” she replied absentmindedly. “No – I mean ‘What’s going on here?’” She stopped and looked at me in confusion. She really had no idea what I was talking about. I gestured with my arm, “The shelves aren’t fully stocked…” She had a blank look on her face. “Are you guys remodeling? Selling?” Again, the clerk had a blank look, “No…” I left it at that, but told my husband changes were coming.

I wondered if they were going to finally move the stock out of the beating summer sun in the front window… Maybe they were going to set up a Growler station, or a tasting counter – moving forward  with the upwardly mobile neighborhood and appealing to the higher income residents who were replacing the middle income folks that had been a staple of the area when it was built 35 years ago. I had mentally moved the first row of shelves, replaced the nasty carpet with some easy-to-clean wood flooring that would brighten the space up, and show off the better selection of wine they would carry. I couldn’t wait.

At the end of March the only vodka left was bubblegum or peach flavored, the Bourbon shelves were flat-out empty, and most of the decent wine was gone. The Smoking Brother told me they were having distribution problems, but they would be getting a shipment in the following week. What he was telling me didn’t feel right – but I had been doing business with him for 16 years and gave him the benefit of the doubt by allowing him to assure me I wasn’t seeing what I was looking at.

We were gone most of April and upon returning we immediately noticed the barren shelves. Most telling is there was not a whiff of the upcoming drinking holiday Cinco De Mayo: No cut-outs of busty Latinas shucking gag inducing Lime-a-Rita beer, no garish plastic Papel Picado banners stamped with ‘Corona’, or posters of a Sombrero-sporting mustachioed stereotype peddling rot-gut tequila. You know – The Free Crap distributors beg store owners to take and give a price break for the best placement. But, there was still lots of beer – a good deal of it craft beer from start-up breweries & local brew pubs.

Several customers walked in and stopped dead, looking around at the long, mostly-empty shelves. They would do a 180 or full 360 to take it in; most left empty handed. It was clear the store was closing, but no sign indicated a last day or what was going on. I asked the only employee (someone I’d never seen before) what was going on and was answered with ‘Dunno’.

I suddenly realized: They must have sold the liquor license to King Soopers, the grocery store in the same complex. A recent change in the law allowed grocery stores to sell liquor, but only if they buy an existing license. I was happy for them in the distant way you can be when you hear good news from a stranger you’ve known for 15 years: It doesn’t change your life, but it gives you a pleasant feeling.

A few weeks later they were still open – somehow defying retail gravity. Richard walked the empty aisles with a curious expression on his face as he passed islands of bottles neatly arranged – 6 Rieslings here, 4 Moscatos half an aisle later, a lone bottle of gin in the next aisle. What stock was left would have neatly fit in 12 or 15 feet of shelf space, but instead was spread around the empty shop with the fastidious denial of a screamingly bad comb-over.

“When’s the last day?” I asked Morose Brother who spent a decade and a half demanding I show my ID every time I used a credit card. “Before the end of the month,” he answered with his usual dourness. Looking into my eyes he said “We sold the business,” and then spit into his dip cup.  “I… did you sell the license or the business?” “We sold the business and we’ll be closing sometime before the end of the month,” he repeated with a finality that forbade further discussion.

“How could they be selling the business?” I asked Richard when we were in the car, “When there’s no business to sell? I mean… there’s no inventory – and they lease the space. The only thing of value in that store is the license on the wall.” I chalked it up to him being contractually prohibited from discussing the details of the sale.

The very next day the City seized the store for failure to pay Sales & Use Taxes.

A quick call to City Hall revealed that they hadn’t paid a dime of the taxes they’d been collecting since January, and they’d been sending in partial payments for months before that.

It suddenly became clear that the inventory sell down was really them stiffing their suppliers – everyone from Coors to small craft brew companies struggling to make ends meet – and pocketing the money.

They stole not only from their liquor distributors and the city, but from their customers as well, by not submitting tax revenue that keeps schools open, roads paved and a live voice when you dial 911.

In retrospect it was quite obvious what was happening, but I didn’t want to accept the grand theft in front of me, so I provided pretty stories about Growler Stations and wood floors that morphed into them cashing out big by selling the license for a keen profit. None of it made sense to the scene in front of my eyes, but I held on to the fable rather than accept the felony.

I had been performing Olympic-quality mental gymnastics trying to explain away the obvious because the obvious made me uncomfortable.

It was a personal microcosm of what’s happening around the country: How we’re all staring in disbelief at the emerging Fascism around us, willing it to be something else.

We’ve watched fanaticism morph into a Fascist Cult of Personality, yet refuse to name it as such because then we have a REAL problem on our hands.

We’ve heard friends, family and colleagues embrace a man whose beastly policies call for banning Muslims, gutting the EPA, drilling for oil in National Parks and Monuments, building a useless Wall, disenfranchising women, and simultaneously cancelling the insurance policies of 23 million Americans while making it unaffordable for tens of millions more.

These aren’t policy differences on things like how to best fund infrastructure improvements or whether schools should focus more on science and less on the arts. This is the fundamental rejection of the invisible frame of our Social Contract by an alarming number of Americans.

They *like* the idea that ICE officers ate lunch in a café before arresting the kitchen staff.

They’re THRILLED journalists are finally getting the beat down that’s coming to them.

They’re relieved they can stop acting tolerant and want LGBTQ folks to climb back in the closet and for anyone darker than a flat white to know their place.

These people who benefit so much from the Public Commons of Society honestly don’t care if you lose your job, house or insurance – they don’t give a tinker’s damn for anyone who loses their disability, Medicare, Social Security or any other safety net program.

“I DON’T OWE YOU ANYTHING” they shriek like a misunderstood teen, unironically running the Social Contract through Mom & Dad’s shredder after they’ve slammed the office door.

The toughest thing about watching acquaintances and those we love support such heartlessness is when we finally realize they understand fully what they’re doing. It’s much easier to deal with people when we convince ourselves they are ignorantly supporting evil policies, and that if it was properly explained they would be enlightened. Otherwise, we have to accept that an uncomfortably large chunk of America is okay with a semi-literate bully dragging us backwards 6 months for every day he is in office.

Accepting that this is actually happening is a real hurdle. None of wants to stare into *that* abyss and it’s ever so much easier not to court discord and just let sleeping dogs lie.

Please don’t be like me, though, when I watched the local liquor store go under and cheat its vendors, and I chose not to see it because I couldn’t accept the Brothers could do that. Don’t imagine people are constrained by your sense of decency, however well or little you know them.

Once we see the hard truth of Trumpers actions, we have to either accept this Fascist Cult of Personality or fight it. There is no middle ground. When you stop selling yourself on proverbial Growler Stations and wood floors to brighten the place up, you can’t unsee the unsavory and uncomfortable truth that 45’s followers heartily approve of a stratified society that plays out like Lord of the Flies – only, in this story line there are no adults to step in to save the day when things are at their bleakest. There is no higher authority to appeal to, because our current POTUS thinks laws are impractical to follow (his words, not mine).

Make no mistake that we are in dangerous territory with 45’s spreading Fascism, and we ignore it at our own peril.

During the election 45 promised the state sponsored murder of children, he promised to crack down on Freedom of the Press, and he promised to violate the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 14th amendments, as well as end abortion, civil rights, voting rights, marriage equality and the EPA.

When you look at it this way 45 had a spectacularly successful first 100 days, now didn’t he?

Trumpers voted for him *precisely* because he promised to abuse other people and break things. They are the groupies that enable a bully to prevail, and who become emboldened by their support of him.

Trumpers like the chaos, the angst and the destruction they were promised when they voted.

It’s hard to see friends and family infected by Fascism. Worse – when they demand our tolerance while spreading this virulent disease of hate.

But, it is no longer possible to separate the Message from Man or the Masses – they own who they support and his policies, and anyone who tells you different is trying to sell you someone else’s beer.

Balloon Boy, Baby Jessica and Newsertainment

Raise your hand if you remember Balloon Boy.

I lost what little respect I had left for my News Director that day, when he ordered us to take over regular programming and do a play-by-play of what was assumed to be an out-of-control weather balloon carrying a small child.

We didn’t know at the time that it was a hoax, but the ND jumped on the ‘Can’t miss a breaking story, even it’s not really news or verified’ bandwagon that was a creeping cancer in News Rooms across the country.

What we *did* know was the balloon was coming down from somewhere above 13,000 feet on a cold Colorado morning: It meant the 5-year-old child purported to be inside might have died of hypothermia, or might die on impact falling from such a height.

The News Director – KNOWING it could be coverage of a snuff shot – ordered the anchor on duty to describe a silver Mylar balloon being blown above barren fields as National Guard helicopters followed it, and Sheriff’s SUV’s chased it on the ground.

For 20 agonizing minutes this went on. I vaguely recall trying to get a physics professor on the line to fill time. I probably ended up calling Dr. Bill Wattenburg. It was agonizingly bad radio, I was embarrassed at the content and queasy about being part of a possible snuff shot play-by-play.

I remember CNN was covering it wall-to-wall, and several televisions in the News Room were on the live helicopter feed we were getting from TV downstairs, who was getting it from the ABC affiliate in Denver.

My ND stood with his hands on his head as the balloon crashed into the dirt and hooted out, “Oh! Oh-ho!! Look at that!!” It was so ugly when you realize he thought there was a little boy – the same age as his son – inside the basket of the balloon. Let’s not even talk about how unprofessional or undignified his reaction was.

His ‘spectating the train wreck’ approach to news was giving people a pass for death-voyeurism. He was treating presumed personal tragedy as entertainment.

That was the book (ratings period) we fell from 1st place in the Bay Area for the first time in 30 years, and stopped being the #1 station in the country. It was part of an inexorable downward spiral, as Cumulus picked the bones clean on a great station. First they cleaned the News Room out of the professionals who brought depth to their coverage and who might fight back against such lurid programming. Next they gave their listeners Balloon Boys and Singing Dogs. Finally they wondered why revenue was falling as listeners abandoned the station in droves.

My point is this: Fake News and Bullshit Stories have been around for a while. Balloon Boy himself is rooted in the Baby Jessica story from 1987, which was the start of 24 Hour Coverage of ‘Important Stories’ rather than actual News. It was the unleashing of Voyeurism-is-News school of programming.

CNN (gosh – those call letters again) covered Baby Jessica breathlessly for 2 1/2 days, as the country watched crews digging around the clock. But, what if rescuers had not been in time? What if the well had collapsed around Jessica and she was smothered on live TV singing nursery rhymes? CNN was A-Okay with broadcasting a tragedy or a happy ending – as long as they had eyeballs. Those eyeballs – a big slice of America – lapped up this personal disaster as amusement, and thus Newsertainment was born.

In the 30 years since Baby Jessica brought great ratings, News Directors push every story as if its lightening in a bottle, hoping to convince viewers to watch longer. Fox is an egregious abuser of this programming crutch, and their elderly viewers must be marinaded in cortisol from the daily stress response of being bludgeoned with cyrons screaming BREAKING NEWS!! at the bottom of their cathode ray screens.

In those 3 decades Newsertainment infiltrated every level of programming, giving birth to Reality TV: a format inexpensive to produce that the public confused with Actual Reality.

Reality TV took over television and bestowed upon the American public ‘Who Wants To Marry A Millionaire’ and such cultural icons as Mama June, Snookie and the entire Kardashian clan. The public loved to snicker about Ozzy Osbourne’s substance abuse, and D List stars talking about their addictions was a fine good time. Singing contests were better with someone like William Hung to humiliate. Nothing was too trivial or serious to make into Reality TV. You could watch a show about everything from a pre-pubescent beauty pageant contestant getting exploited by her mother (and the production company), to a vicious bully firing people arbitrarily.

People began to confuse the characters edited for broadcast with being real people. The lines between Actual Reality and Reality TV blurred.

‘The Media’ (not journalists) began to insert themselves into the story, hoping for ever more eyeballs. Expert panels turned into people shouting over one another – because who doesn’t like a good, mean fight? News became factoids and infotainment while Reality TV is nothing like Actual Reality.

In the end viewers tuned out of the experiment of Newsertainment. It’s as simple as that. The product became unwatchable and people stopped trusting news they get from The Media. And why should they? What little bit that isn’t fluff and glurge isn’t well researched or edited for want of researchers and editors in most news rooms.

The Media’s treatment of News as entertainment and Entertainment as reality blurred the lines to the point that it was inevitable America would end up with a POTUS #45.

Balloon Boy was just one brick on a path paved with bad decisions that brings us to the open grave of my beloved industry. It’s heartbreaking watching the few reporters left in the industry (there are 60% fewer reporters now than at the peak in the 1990s) trying to fill hundreds of hours of programming, or try to feed the continual beast of web site content. That content gets more and more diluted so gets fewer and fewer eyeballs, and the viscous circle continues.

I don’t know if I’ll ever see News recover. I do know that people like my News Director bashed News over the head with a shovel, and I’ll never forgive him for that.

I’d like to ask a favor: The next time you see a breaking story that’s not really a breaking story – don’t watch it. Perhaps you come across a grisly story of a tortured toddler – please don’t click. Trust me – you’ll live not knowing the gory details of how a dog mauled a baby, or exactly *how much* filth is caused by hoarding 50 dogs, or how terribly that toddler was tortured.

When a piece from a once-respectable publication (I’m looking at you Time) is ‘How To Find And Keep Love’ or ‘POTUS’ Top 10 Tweets Of All Time!’ could you just scroll past?

You don’t need to watch or encourage pregnant teens being exploited for their mistakes or their counterparts who wail and gnash their teeth because daddy bought the wrong color Mercedes.

Clicks and eyeballs will ultimately drive programming back to News. The only way we stop getting glurge, fluff and bullshit is if we stop consuming it. It’s that simple.

Keep clicking on crap and all we’ll get is crap. Idiocracy will look like a documentary and stories like Balloon Boy will win the Pulitzer. For the love of information – STOP CLICKING!

It wasn’t an agenda, dammit. It was information.

trump-rope-tree-journalist

Welcome to the post-fact world.

It is a place where your opinion is as good as empirical proof. You’re ‘feels’ count as much as peer-reviewed Scientific Evidence. And if what you don’t like is on tape ? Wave your hands and repeat this magic charm: “Lib-rul Mee-Dia, Lib-rul Mee-Dia, Lib-rul Mee-Dia” and suddenly proof of your candidate boasting “Grab Them By The Pussy!!” isn’t sexual assault anymore.

Don’t like those pesky ‘facts’ the Lügenpresse has inconveniently dug up? Vilify them and threaten them with murder! Why not? The GOP Presidential candidate is openly encouraging physical violence against the Press, saying they have too much freedom and should be jailed. It’s bad enough this bloviating Fascist (with a capital F) is saying it, but he’s doing so to the cheers of tens of millions of Americans rabid to destroy our First Amendment rights – and all with the endorsement and monetary backing of the Republican Party.

Now we are asked to indulgently chuckle when Deplorables wear shirts advocating murdering the Press, and the overthrow of our Constitution.

I know several journalists who are near the breaking point: Burnout, depression, disgust and hopelessness now have a new colleague: FEAR. They are all are asking if it is worth it to be constantly vilified and have your motives questioned or be outright disbelieved, all while being terrifically underpaid and having to face a shitstorm when they print actual facts.

At the same time I know dozens of out of work journalists who are dying a million deaths at this election’s coverage and the propaganda churning out 24/7. We feel helpless and wish we could use our expertise to bring some context to stories that are either ignored or blown out of proportion. We long to put a halt to the continual indignation cycle the News has become.

When corporations pulled the plug on Newspapers and quit funding Television and Radio Newsrooms adequately, and when they decided clicks were more important than truth they fired tens of thousands of people whose job it was to research and write about facts. Most folks don’t realize the skill it takes for a producer to research any given subject, and put together pieces and write questions for their anchors. It is a lost art.

People don’t realize it, but all of those unemployed people were the screen that separated the facts from the bullshit. We gave you a baseline from which to start the discussion about social and economic issues, as well as local and international events. It wasn’t an agenda, dammit. It was information.

But, you fired us – and they fired us. They couldn’t make enough profit by employing an adequate number of educated professionals to ensure accuracy and excellence. You couldn’t be arsed to pay for a quality product. Do you pay $10 a month for Netflix but won’t pony up $5 to subscribe to a news site like the New York Times? Congratulations – you’re part of the problem.

The collapse of Traditional News has left a void that blogs have filled, which has given rise and fed the needs of modern Conspiracy Theorists.

I used to deal with Conspiracy Theorists when I was a Talk Radio Host in the 80s and 90s, before Talk was all taken over by screeching hatred, thanks to the Mays brothers of Cheap Channel fame. People like this were a novelty and a hoot to put on the air. The longer they talked the more they just showed how bug-nuts crazy they were. FWIW: Just like today, the Conspiracy Theorists then glommed onto the New World Order, The Illuminati, The Jews and the UN taking over the US. I’ve been hearing that any day now the Dems are coming for your guns. Any. Day. Now. Oh, and Chemtrails are REAL, man (and fluoride and vaccines). None of that has changed in 30 years.

What has changed is that AM radio was taken over by the Alt-Right a quarter of a century ago, when the Mays Brothers shit canned anyone who wasn’t Frog Marching to their ultra-conservative tune. Liberal, Progressive, Middle-of-the-Road and Soft Republicans (those who believed in compromise) were no longer welcome in their 500 station cross-country monopoly that had a stranglehold on the industry.

Soon AM radio became a vacuum of hate speech and lies. Rush Limbaugh defended his pathological lying by saying he was an entertainer, not a news person. Glenn Beck simultaneously cheated thousands of old people out of their life savings in a bogus gold investment scheme, while managing to poison them with convoluted non-sensical conspiracies about Obama’s secret S.S. Civilian Army and the Boston Bombing ‘Cover-Up’. Anti-Journalist and Supreme Radio Hack Sean Hannity was rewarded for years of lying on behalf of the GOP with a plum job at Fox, where it appears Trump’s hand is up his puppet ass this very moment.

AM Talk Radio encouraged sick, gullible, uneducated and mentally unstable people to plumb the depths of their paranoia. No conspiracy was too obscure or far-fetched, and for these lost souls that conspiracy made them feel smarter than everyone else and in control.

The saturation of the AM dial with non-stop conspiracies is what tilled the ground for this current Conspiracy Theory movement.

The internet, which tends to make smart people smarter and dumb people dumber, has given these Conspiracy Theorists an echo chamber that validates them and gives their insane theories credibility. They are no longer at the margins of media, where people point out just how mentally unstable they sound. They don’t have to wait on hold to get on the air and be crazy – they can go online 24/7 and get their biases confirmed and their paranoia stoked. Now, people like Alex Jones are revered, instead of being revealed for the whack-job charlatan he really is.

30 years of encouraging the worst in people and stoking paranoia leads in a direct line to Candidate Trump, and the flaming Porta-Potty of his campaign this election cycle.

Sure, Trump may not get elected tomorrow, but the Conspiracy Theorists won’t be going away any time soon. They’ve been emboldened by a misogynistic, bigoted, racist, homophobic candidate. Their nuttery has been sanctioned by the GOP, and their hypocrisy encouraged by Evangelical Christians who apparently think the Commandments are actually the 10 Suggestions.

If Trump loses expect to see these people lose it mentally, because people in positions of power (I’m looking at you Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz and Mitch McConnell and John McCain) haven’t insisted on the Facts being recited any time in recent memory. They chose, instead, to endure the repeated lies for the sake of political expedience.

There’s a smorgasbord of conspiracies to choose from. Would you like a Truther, Birther or Vaxxer conspiracy? Can I interest you in some Jadehelm? Or, would you like something from Secretary Clinton? She is, after all, a dead, sick, Manchurian Candidate who murders political opponents.

Or, would you like the total bullshit conspiracy being screamed by Trump in full-throated rage that the election system is rigged if he doesn’t win– and that it’s being rigged by the Press? You know – the conspiracy that has called for the open murder by hanging of the Fourth Estate, while simultaneously choking the shit out of the Constitution until it dies.

Is it any wonder my friends still left working in the Press are disillusion and scared shitless?

If you’re not concerned you should be, because they’re just getting warmed up,  and no matter who wins it’s going to be a very long 4 years. I’ve a feeling they’re equally as poor at winning as they are at losing.

Oh, and don’t bother arguing the facts with these folks, it’s a waste of time.

Lack of evidence is proof of conspiracy.

It’s a Post Fact World, baby. Strap in.

KGO and the Death of Radio

 

 

Radio died for me today.

The Great Lady – KGO Radio in San Francisco – was killed off this morning, ending a long downward spiral for a once-great station. Many good people I had the honor of working with were laid off today.

KGO was the #1 radio station in San Francisco for 3 decades; it was a 50,000 watt powerhouse whose signal went from the Pacific coast to the Rocky Mountains – from Mexico to Canada and on up to Alaska. It was the West Coast Flagship station for ABC News. It was where you went to stay informed, and on any given afternoon at least half-a-million people were listening.

KGO was responsible for the News Talk format, and it employed the absolute greats in the field. I could not even begin to estimate how many journalism awards KGO Radio won – it would be in the hundreds. The News won those awards – but, Bret Burkhart was a force unto himself and won more awards than I know. And Ravi Peruman won awards for his work, especially the piece he did on the Harvey Milk assassination.

Over the decades it raised $20+ million for Leukemia research during its annual Cure-A-Thon. It was the voice of information during a night of chaos after the Loma Prieta quake. For nearly 20 years it was the home of 49ers Football. It was the voice of San Francisco.

We were based in the ABC broadcast center along the Embarcadero, the newsroom looked out on the Ferry Building, and I watched many sunrises over the Bay Bridge from my desk. There was a deck that ran the length of the building, it had a barbeque and patio furniture so you could sit out and enjoy the sun before the fog rolled in.

Our GM installed a fancy machine that made honest-to-gosh fresh ground espresso and lattes – there were employee appreciation luncheons, and bottles of good champagne for the milestones. There were beers at Gumpy’s (the Cheers-type bar across the street), and wild celebrations after awards ceremonies. There was a camaraderie, a shared goal of excellence and we were all proud to work at what the business itself had dubbed ‘the best News Talk station in the country’.

That all changed when Citadel bought the ABC-owned radio stations for an obscenely high price in 2007. That’s when everything changed. The Vulture Capitalists that bought KGO weren’t interested in radio – they were interested in nothing but money. They weren’t interested in making money off of radio – they were simply interested in what the next quarter would mean for their profit statement.

Citadel, along with Cumulus, Entercom and Clear Channel (a.k.a. iHeart Radio) destroyed radio as we knew it. If you can’t stand to listen to radio anymore you can thank these companies. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 allowed them to consolidate thousands of Mom-and-Pop radio stations into just a handful of owners. What was once a thriving marketplace of ideas and new music became a moribund feedback loop of homogeneity and satellite programs.

In a feeding frenzy of buying these few companies overpaid for stations, borrowing 4 and 5 times more than what they were worth – starting out hopelessly in debt. They would buy 10 stations in a market, shove them all into one building that was owned by a subsidy, to whom they would pay rent, and then sell all of the physical assets of those stations (buildings, radio equipment and everything inside down to the last paperclip). The Grinch left more at Cindy Lou Who’s house than these vultures did. Next, they cleared out 80% of the staff – such a savings on labor! – and forced the remaining 20% to pick up the slack.

They took all that gooey, gooey money they got from the sale of EVERYTHING and instead of paying off their obscene loans, the Vultures gave themselves 8 figure bonuses annually on top of their obscene pay. My favorite was the $27 million bonus (on top of $3 million annual pay) Farid Suliman, the CEO at Citadel, took the week the company declared bankruptcy, which was the year they cleared out half the newsroom, which had been cut in half the year before.

The Vultures relied more and more on satellite programming, and laid off scores of professionals. This drained the product of any local flavor – and had real consequences in many marketplaces when a local emergency happened and there were no live people to cover it and tell people to evacuate or shelter-in-place.

Sure the product SUCKED and ratings dropped but, hey – the Vultures were making bank.

KGO – like Wile E. Coyote – continued to run on air for nearly three years after Citadel bought us. We finally looked down after they cut three-fourths of the news room, the helicopter, airplane, most traffic reporters, and virtually all admins. Then we fell to the bottom of that long canyon. Poof.

The Crash of 2008 accelerated the demise of radio, but it was on a path to destruction no matter what. The Vultures had created a cycle of cutting people and services to keep their bonuses intact. The cuts meant a shabbier and more worthless product, which drove down listenership, and thus ad revenue. I likened their cuts to a Doctor telling her patient, “Look, your toe is bleeding – we need to take off the foot to stop it. Oh. Now your foot is bleeding – let’s take off the leg to stop it.”

Every one of these Radio behemoths is teetering on the edge of complete disintegration. iHeart Radio, formerly known as Clear Channel (the name of the beast that started this whole buggery), has a few weeks to come up with $6 billion of the $21 billion they owe creditors. Cumulus – the company that bought Citadel a few years ago and finished off KGO today – owes nearly $3 billion and their stock has gone from $4 to 46 cents in the last year. Entercom seems healthy with only $500 million in debt, and $9 million in cash on hand. They are all out of assets to sell, and they owe billions more than their stations are worth. They are not underwater on their loans – they are drowning in debt they have no way to pay.

I will never forgive the Dickey brothers, the Mays brothers, Farid Suliman, and David Field for what they did to Radio. Like vampires they sucked the life force out of radio, and killed it. What they did should have been illegal. But, there were no regulations to stop it, and there still aren’t.

KGO was making a $5 million a year profit on top of paying its full staff *very well* (and that was in the Bay Area) when Citadel bought it and killed it in 10 quarters. When I left the station at the end of 2011 I was doing 4 jobs – our newsroom having been cut from 32 top-notch professionals to 13 overworked souls. The rest of the station had it just as bad – the cuts were capricious and in one afternoon I watched 412 years of corporate memory walk out the door. It was the first of many cullings.

When I gave my notice I didn’t have anything left to give to the station. I simply couldn’t continue to do 4 people’s jobs, and I knew that what I was putting out was 60% garbage and 40% news. I fought the good fight to try to keep information on the air. But, the lack of personnel, and the *terrible* management were demoralizing.

The day I had a knock down drag ‘em out fight over whether we should run the story on the ‘Singing Dog’ in New York City or go with the rapidly unfolding events of the Egyptian Revolution and the Arab Spring, I knew I had lost. There was no point in trying to push that rock up the hill anymore.

Leaving KGO was the toughest professional decision I have ever made. Radio had been my life for 25 years – and I grieved. We radio people are an odd lot – but we’re indulgent with each other’s idiosyncrasies, have each other’s backs, and we play fantastic practical jokes. I never felt more at home in a job than when we were all working on breaking news. We worked as a team – a well-tuned machine that came together to relentlessly find the facts our listeners counted on.

We weren’t producers and reporters and anchors and engineers – we were a unit that leaned in and skipped dinner or going home and worked hour after hour because our job was News. We were dedicated professionals who all had go-bags in our car just in case, and followed the story where it took us. We were the most dedicated people you will ever find in a news room anywhere, and it reflected in the superior news we produced for decades.

To all my friends who were laid off today: I am so sorry for your loss. I wish you the best of luck in finding a place to use your talents. Never forget that News is a noble profession and can make a difference in the world, and you worked in a place that set the standard for it in Radio. It was an honor to have worked with you, and to have called KGO my home.

 

This was originally a Facebook post I wrote on March 31, 2016, after mass layoffs at KGO and KFO , and posted for my friends to see. One of them, Dennis Willis, posted it to his website Soundwavestv.com later that night, and it went viral, getting more than 100,000 views and 20,000 shares in under 4 days.