You Could Die Laughing

I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters” – Donald Trump, January 23, 2016

I will probably vomit on the next Trumpologist who feigns surprise and pretends to condemn the terrorism and murder committed by Nazis in Charlottesville this weekend.

Who KNEW that the guy who bragged about getting away with murder might collect Fascist admirers?

Who could imagine that the guy who retweeted Nazi slogans and images of himself  would attract Nazis?

 

pepe-the-trump

 

It was all one big laugh riot when Trump said Mexicans are rapists, Blacks are lazy and Journalists should be imprisoned or murdered!

Wasn’t it a hoot when he said POWs aren’t heroes because they got caught, and how US soldiers with PTSD aren’t strong? Hey remember that lighthearted day he attacked the grieving Gold Star Parents of a dead US soldier because they’re Muslim?

Gosh – didn’t we all know it was just funnin’ when he said a woman questioning him has to be on the rag? Such a gigglefest to see a thin-skinned narcissist rage-tweet to his followers to watch a non-existent sex tape of the Venezuelan Miss Universe who had the temerity to complain about his fat-shaming. Calling women disgusting, fat pigs is just in jest!

 

Trump Inauguration

 

Oh, my, but how I laughed and laughed and laughed when Trump mocked a disabled reporter!! Although I *was* confused by the folks who lied to themselves and me in self-righteous fury at the pictorial proof.

I’m sure we all looked at his proposal of putting Syrians in concentration camps and deporting them as the jackanapes it was intended to be. And really, who *wouldn’t* chuckle deeply at the notion of Muslims being forced to register with the government and wear ID tags in public, while their mosques are closed by government decree? Trump continuing to lie about seeing ‘thousands and thousands of Muslims cheering in New Jersey on 9-11’ – despite an utter lack of evidence and the (Republican) NJ Governor & the head of the 9-11 Commission saying it’s an absolute fabrication – is really just an elaborate prank, doncha know?

 

Trump Protester Beaten

By gum – who thought Trump was serious when he encouraged crowds to beat up protestors? You’re reading FAR too much into it if you heard Trump say he’d pay the legal bills for those committing assault in his name.

‘Maybe he should have been roughed up‘. Donald Trump, Nov 22, 2016, on a protester

‘Knock the crap out of protesters, I’ll pay your legal fees’ Donald Trump, Feb 1, 2016

‘Go ahead and punch someone in the face and I’ll pay your legal bills.’ Donald Trump, March 13, 2016

Certainly NO-ONE could infer a message from those ratcheted-up statements, and to try to read into it the encouragement of violence and lawlessness, or look at his statements over the last 2 years and see an appeal to Nazis and Fascist is just horrible identity politics, and you should feel ashamed of yourself!

Who could have foreseen that encouraging THIS in March 11 of 2016:

 

Trump Nazis March 2016

 

Would lead to THIS in Charlottesville, August 11, 2017?

 

Nazi March in VA Aug 2017 5

 

Trump suporters can spare me their fake hand-wringing and denouncing this weekend’s terrorism as something coming out of the blue!

Trumpologists’ mealy mouthed denials of seeing Nazis in their midst are no better than Captain Renault from Casablanca standing in Rick’s Cafe collecting his winnings, while being shocked – SHOCKED I TELL YOU! – to find gambling in this establishment!

Fuck your False Equivalence, and Whataboutism with a side of ‘He was just joking’!!

 

Whataboutism

 

Is it REALLY that fucking hard to denounce the terrorism that killed peaceful protestor Heather Heyer?!!

If you don’t denounce the whole Nazi business – including Trump – you have Heather’s blood on your hands.

If you’ve ever wondered what you would’ve done during slavery, the Holocaust, or the Civil Rights movement…you’re doing it now.

Remember to Keep Laughing at the truth, Trumpologists, and Grab Them By The Pussy!!

Nazi March VA Day 2 Car 2

Fury and Truth

All of us know what it’s like to be white hot with rage over having been wronged on a grand level.

Perhaps it was a friend, a colleague or a loved one who betrayed you, cheated you – cheated *on* you. At the crescendo of your rage you hurled the accusation like the self-righteous Hammer of Thor, “How could you?!”

Every one of us knows how shaken a rage like that leaves you: The pounding heart and headache from cortisol screaming through your veins, and that queasy feeling when you realize you were not quite in control, and said things you regret. But, ‘Dammit!’ you say, ‘I’m not the bad guy here!’

The next day you felt that horrible emotional hangover of being wrung out, fuzzy headed with a sour stomach, and detached. There was always that betrayal staring you in the face, but at least you had the mantle of indignation to wrap around you to get through the days to come.

Imagine being THAT angry Every. Day. Of. Your. Life.

No – let’s crank it up even higher.

Think about leveling up to that kind of fury a dozen times a day.

You could not be an effective parent, partner, boss – or really anything. Partly because being in that many fights would be a full time job, but mostly because no-one can be that continually choked with rage and make sound, well-considered decisions.

Here’s the thing: There’s a difference between Being Angry and Being Right.

Trump thinks if he’s Angry he’s Right, and if he’s Right he’s Justified in meting out insults, threats and punishments.

It’s as simple as that – Trump has conflated the raw fury of not getting his every whim granted with that being a reasonable thing to expect.

There is not one thing reasonable about it.

In fact, every American should be keenly aware that our President’s Spiral of Rage is causing him to lose control every hour he is awake, and it appears to be accelerating.

I’m frightened by Donald Trump’s complete lack of self-control, his erratic behavior and constant self-aggrandizement. Above all, I am terrified at his need to make every snag and denial a scorched earth confrontation.

It is only a matter of time until Trump has a Grand Mal Tantrum and does something we ALL regret.

It’s such a simple thing to say Rage is not Truth, but it’s easy to forget when you’re caught in the undertow of toxic behavior and nonstop lies.

I’ll be here in the weeks and months to come to remind you to guide your boat by the stars of these absolute truths: Being Angry is not the same thing as Being Right, hurtful behavior is never okay, and this is NOT normal.

Fake Men and Angry Women

Last month I opened a parody account on Twitter, spoofing a well-known male politician’s name. In *3 weeks* I garnered 35% of the followers it took me a year to get with an account using my own name. Fake Man is averaging 10,000 views a day – totally smoking my Real Name’s views, due to his being liked hundreds more times a week with a clearly fake male name than with a real news woman’s name.

McCain's Conscience Numbers_LI

My latest tweet under Fake Man’s name was simply ‘Interesting Read’ in response to a linked article at the end of a *28-post thread* by the original poster. I received 16 likes off of 2,900 views, and one retweet off of a stupid throw away compliment. Why in the name of all that is logical would ANYONE retweet ‘Interesting Read’??!!!

Suddenly, one liners Claudia couldn’t get an inch of traction on have become an endless flow of positive reinforcement for Fake Man. I’ve had to turn the Twitter notifications off of my phone at night because the continual pinging was waking my husband and I up.

The best part? I’m tweeting EXACTLY the same things as before, but in the last 3 weeks not 1 person has called me angry, stupid, crazy, old, ugly, fat or bitch. You cannot BELIEVE the amount of abuse an opinionated woman who won’t be bullied takes on the internet. A fake man gets far more respect than a real woman.

 

McCain's Conscience Intersting Read_LI

 

The ‘go-to’ phrase for insecure men is that I’m angry. I bet I’ve heard, “You’re an angry woman,” every day that I post in earnest as myself on social media. It is – almost without exception – men possessed of a certain attitude that women aren’t as smart as men. Any good point I make based in fact must be made because I’m angry, not because I’m smart. Therefore, they can dismiss anything I say – thus preserving their bubble of past-its-expiration-date testosterone.

Women almost never accuse strange women of being angry – they prefer bitch, cunt or cow – and being accused incorrectly of harboring anger is something insecure men latch on to. For whatever reason (chauvinism, anger at equality, projection or intimidation) these men unconsciously reproduce the dynamics of being in an argument with a partner, not a stranger. They take it from casual to personal in 3 seconds flat. They beat their chest and pronounce their superiority and attack like a screeching baboon flinging poo. I would find it even more hilarious than I do if it weren’t so damn pitiful.

I look at these keening men who are clearly battling an inferiority complex and wonder at the women these wretched souls deal with on a daily basis. So often I am utterly grateful I don’t have to deal with them in any fashion in real life. I feel bad for the women in their personal circles, but feel deep empathy for the women I will never meet who must deal with these Rageaholic men in a professional manner.

Because that’s what it is: Rage. Pure, unadulterated rage.

Joe Knab Bullying

These tiny men are enraged that they have to share, or observe simple manners or treat women as equals.

You see the problem is they *don’t* see me as an equal. My approaching them as such causes such fury as to make them apoplectic and my laughing makes them reckless.

There is a sad little man on Facebook (a friend of a friend and a retired cop) who borders on the frightening now because it seems he is obsessed with me. He seeks me out on her posts to hurl invectives and he becomes unhinged when I refuse to be cowed by his pathetic behavior. When I grow bored with his antics and stop responding, this lonely little troll comes and shit posts on my page. Yes – a man who wore a gun for a living cannot grasp boundaries and believes it’s his right to harass me ad nauseum because I dared to answer him as an equal. I cannot imagine how this awful man abused his power over the decades as an officer of the peace.

Barry Kittay 1 (3)_LI

Barry Kittay 2 (2)_LI

He is only one of dozens of angry impotent men I see every month who project their Rage on any woman foolish enough to imagine herself an equal. This trend really took off in earnest in 2015 when bigots and sexists got permission to let their freak flag fly by Trump. “Grab ‘Em By The Pussy!!” was their rallying cry – and Oh! The sweet relief of finally being reassured that you ARE the biggest, brightest boy and it’s okay to threaten those mean scary girls until they get back in their place.

A tremendously well written, well thought out piece by Sara Robinson for Rewire stopped me in my tracks as I read it last night. You should read it, too, because Robinson nails it completely:

“This is something most women know in their bones, but which most men don’t have to reckon with to nearly the same degree. This is the truth Margaret Atwood got at in one of her most famous passages: Men are afraid that women will laugh at them; women are afraid that men will kill them. Robert Heinlein put the same idea another way: “Never frighten a little man. He’ll kill you.” Women learn young—as a matter of basic survival—that if you so much as crack a grin in the direction of a fragile man, you put yourself in grave danger. You may possibly provoke him to violence so brutal and so disproportionate that you could end up beaten, sexually assaulted, or dead. And in his mind, you will have had every bit of it coming, since your disrespectful laughter is the one thing in the world that can deflate his sense of masculine control and power in a matter of seconds.”

I once had a News Director come over a conference room table in a wild fury – with Human Resources and a Union representative in attendance – because I pointed out with a smile during a contentious meeting his multiple egregious spelling errors in a ‘Company All’ email. Look: Apologizing for the ‘incontinence’ you caused someone is fucking funny no matter who you are. Unless you are a rage-filled impotent little man absolutely terrified by a laughing woman. I will say that his physically threatening me was a main factor in the state finding in my favor that ‘any reasonable person could not continue working under such hostile circumstances without fear of reprisal,” and granted me extended unemployment benefits when I quit.

This morning in a freewheeling thread with 33 posts a man’s jabbing at a poster was tolerated without comment, while I was called ‘angry’. For what it’s worth? I have been hit by a bus AND I have Hashimoto’s – so my question was only 33% smart assery.

Angry Woman 1

Who ARE these men so addicted to fury at women? These insecure masters of projection who know deep down that they will never have the control over others they so desire, and who so shrilly demand that women acquiescence to them through fluttered eyelashes and muttered demurral?

Why do they imagine it’s their RIGHT to cruelly dominate women in conversation and the work place, in act and deed?

Any woman who DARES to resist and speak up the same way a man would in the same situation is labeled ‘Angry’ and attacked, often by multiple male strangers – weak Omega wolfs emboldened by the pack mentality who materialize out of the woodwork to provide a mealy-mouthed echo chamber of Rage.

If Angry Woman does not show immediate submission to the Omega she is to be ground down and bullied until she knows her place. If she cannot be properly tyrannized into submission she is labeled Crazy – the ultimate sentence of Excommunication for worshipers at the Temple of the Perpetually Enraged.

A Crazy Woman’s facts needn’t be taken any more seriously than you take her. Who cares about *facts* when a good Ad Hominem attack coupled with a bullshit Straw Man argument are ALWAYS good for dismissing stupid Wimmin.

Rageaholic Math: Sexist Character Assassination + Putting Words In My Mouth = I’m Crazy

Uh-huh. Got it.

My experience isn’t singular, and one has to look no further than how shamefully the most powerful women in the country are treated.

Senator Kamala Harris was spoken to appallingly during Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Senate Intelligence Committee hearing regarding his lying about Russian contacts under oath. Harris – a self-possessed brilliant woman of color who is a former a prosecutor and the former Attorney General of California – was described as *hysterical* by Fox pundits after dispassionately pressing the current Attorney General to cite which policy or law prohibited him from answering every question that was put before him that afternoon . This was Harris’ wheelhouse as a prosecutor & AG, yet she was unsuccessful in getting Sessions to co-operate because she was interrupted and chastised by Senator John McCain and Republican Committee Chair Senator Richard Burr. Sessions ridiculously claimed Harris’ behavior made him nervous – dog whistle for ‘The Pushy Black Woman Is Scary!!!”

Burr was simply repeating his performance of a week previous when he interrupted Harris’ questioning Rod Rosenstien about his role in firing James Comey. She was chastised both times for her aggressive behavior, and I’m surprised Burr didn’t tell her to act more ladylike and that she’d be a WHOLE lot prettier if she’d just smile once in a while.

Perhaps you think Kamala Harris WAS being too pushy. Well, then why were her male counterparts not interrupted or prevented from speaking when they asked the SAME questions using the same vernacular Harris did?  Democratic Senators Ron Wyden, Angus King and Martin Heinrich were allowed to ask tough questions and make snarky remarks – and The Good Old Boys demanded that only The Angry Woman know her place.

Afterward, Heinrich, Wyden and King spoke up for Harris, saying she’d done nothing wrong and she was being subject to an unfair double standard. Unfortunately, these statements were made to the press and on social media; they were not entered in the Senatorial Record, where it belongs.

Harris’ treatment goes hand in glove with the most stomach turning, cringe worthy treatment of Senior Senator Elizabeth Warren as she used her time to read a 1986 letter by Corretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King, Jr, detailing Attorney-General-Nominee Sessions’ horrific and well documented Civil Rights record over the decades – a letter which would have allowed Warren to point out that Sessions was too racist for even the Reagan judiciary and his appointment was rejected resoundingly.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used his power to exercise a little known rule to allow the GOP majority vote to silence Warren. Warren protested by continuing to read and her mic was cut off. McConnell thought his on-camera finger wagging diatribe meant to humiliate an equal colleague was a brilliant stroke. Instead, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, She persisted” became a rally cry for women across the country.

McConnell Nevertheless She Persisted

Imagine that, Senator Pearlclucther – a WOMAN staring at you unblinkingly, nonplussed by your attempts at intimidation. It must have made his blood boil and caused him to work his mouth like was gumming a piece of lettuce, right up until Elaine Chao put him back on his feet and reassured him that men ARE the Big Daddies in control. You know Elaine – Mitch’s wife and the utterly unqualified 18th Secretary of Transportation in Trump’s cabinet. A position tendered only when McConnell refused to throw his support behind PEOTUS. Elaine is undoubtedly thought of as ‘one of the good ones’ on SO many levels.

A majority of Congressmen are AGHAST and offended that female Senators intend to do their job and expect the same respect and courtesy from their male counterparts as they are required to give. These men are holdovers from a day when slapping your Secretary’s ass was A-Okay, and they are positively flummoxed that these Crazy Women won’t back down and aren’t subservient. It is a downright affront and assault to their very Maleness that these inferior females Don’t. Know. Their. Place.

If you think the whole damn GOP isn’t full of ugly men like this, kindly remember that not ONE woman was included in the committee to design Trumpcare, nor was there ONE concession made to female needs in the Whip or reconciliation processes. It was just one giant ‘Women are chattel who belong to us and whose physical needs are unimportant – They have no Personal Agency or Self Determination and do not even get to decide when they have children’.

There is a bottomless well of terrible behavior to draw upon: Sean Spicer verbally attacked reporter April Ryan (a WOC) when she shook her head ‘no’ at his direct contradiction to his own statement made days before, and one that Spicer was peddling as today’s version of the truth. He dressed down Ryan in a shocking fashion, flexing his power. Bill O’Reilly took it a step further and mocked Congresswoman Maxine Walters’ hair, asking if she was wearing a James Brown wig instead of addressing her real concerns and points – because terribly executed Ad Hominem attacks never get old.

What do you expect from a party who decided to bet the farm on the phrase ‘Grab ‘Em By The Pussy!!’ and who bats nary an eyelash when POTUS ogles and paws the First Lady of France? (Yer Honor! Look what she was wearing! She was in such GREAT shape – Beautiful!) Is it any wonder the First Lady of Japan spent 2 hours at the G-20 dinner seated next to Trump pretending not to understand a word of English when she is perfectly fluent?

The example has been set at the top, and is flowing down like some noxious champagne pyramid, filling every glass with a bubbly mix of chauvinism and cruelty. Men who chafed at having to display a modicum of control around women have been released to wallow in a perpetual Rumspringa of Misogyny, drinking deeply from the Cup of Rage.

The public push to control women is worse now than it was when I first became aware at 16. The anger and hatred and need to punish women is horrifying and palpable. Women have fewer rights and health care options now than they did in the 1980s – and goddam if I wasn’t FURIOUS at how few rights I was ‘granted’ then.

Here’s the thing, though: I had some wonderful male mentors who taught me from the earliest age that my opinion mattered. Norman Lear indulgently squandered 10  or 15 minutes with me every week or so when I bum-rushed his personal assistant – wait no! I joyously ran across KTTV from the commissary, ignoring my mother’s protestations, leaving her arthritic knees behind flights of stairs. Dashing across the lot at full speed and into the building where his office was I took the stairs 2 at a time, swinging around the corner to see if Norman’s door was open: If it was I waved at his assistant, and galloped across his office to throw myself into his arms. After our hug I would sit across from him and tell him about life on the set, school and the stories I was writing. He always made me feel like what I had to say was important, and encouraged me to write. At the start of the 2nd season a top of the line IBM Selectric auto-correct type writer was in my school room when I got to work one morning. That was a big thing. To this day I remember the solid weight, the way it vibrated when I turned it on and how it responded to the words in my head that came out my fingers. I could write and make mistakes and change my mind.

That kindness has given me an art, a craft, several livelihoods and the way to express myself almost as fast as I can talk.

Claudia and Norman

Oliver Hailey really taught me the hard basics of how to write and put in the work you must do to make a piece original and polished. Oliver allowed me to join a writing class with 7 other students – two of whom were Brett Somers and Charles Nelson Reilly. Need I mention the level of wit required to keep up with that class, which was held at the Debbie Reynolds Studio? I was 15 and was doing a dual enrollment in High School and Community College. Oliver believed in the value of my writing and my ability to tell of a story, and he never let me off easy. I remember with absolute clarity the first time I nailed a short story and the class gave me actual respectful applause instead of just nodded heads. I cannot tell you the personal power that gave me – it is a compass I carry with me as I write: A burden that nags me into making a piece, a paragraph, a sentence or even a word be exactly right and to always *Pay Attention*  and to write in sequence – not matter how long that takes.

Greg Mullavey taught me about timing, NEVER denying a premise and allowing another performer to have the last word.

Martin Mull (probably doesn’t know it) taught me to believe in my comedy, to commit to it completely, and to develop a 1,000-yard gaze with a nod – A shield I carry with me always and wish I’d taken out of my armory sooner.

Claudia Gridiron 2002 2

 

 

There were men who hired me in radio *because* I could match the worst people wit for wit – Bruce Kamen being the most loved. He told me the thing that some General Managers would hate would be the very thing others would love – but to stay true to myself always. In other words: Don’t change your stance for the paycheck. It is advice that allowed me to leave Talk Radio with my dignity, and move into News with a good reputation – plus one HELL of a reference.

I would have walked across coals for Mickey Luckoff, the greatest General Manager of the greatest Radio station in the United States for 35 years (voted by our peers). Under his management at KGO I was part of the News Team that won 4 Associated Press Mark Twain Awards and 5 Edward R. Murrow Awards.

It bolsters me to know that there are men everywhere who are allies and accomplices to Equality.

Here’s the thing, though: I didn’t feel like I could tell my truth on my own blog about the abuse I take online without also acknowledging there were positive male influences in my life. I wanted to head off the “Yeah, but… Is she a man hater?” questions at the pass.

I love men. I’m married to one. I gave birth to one. 5 are my brothers, and I can count on more than 2 hands the number I consider dear friends. (Why, some of my BEST friends are male…)

It doesn’t change the fact that too many men are raging assholes who mean harm to women and too many men won’t stand up to their dickish behavior, chalking up online harassment toward women as inevitable and innocuous. It’s not.

Online Harassment of Angry Women is meant to silence the smartest, strongest and most outspoken among us. It’s nothing any of us should put up with, and I am so proud of all of my friends who brook no bullying on their timelines – and that includes me when I’m being an asshole. We all make mistakes or act like a dick and we *must* be called on it and admit it (admitting before being called is preferable) or it never changes.

Guys? If you see a another guy acting like a dick towards a woman and you don’t call him on it you’re not minding your own business – you’re enthusiastically encouraging dickish behavior. If a woman looks like she’s handling herself just fine and you don’t add a voice of encouragement? You’re part of the problem and a voyeur. Nothing ever changes until the majority stands up for what’s right.

I won’t hold my breath that folks will suddenly see the light and be counted among the righteous. That’s why we’re where we are.

As for me? I will Resist to my dying breath – a proud Angry Woman. It would be an honor to be scolded, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, She persisted”

 

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!

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.