Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

Wikileaks, Julian Assange and irony

December 24, 2010

Julian Assange released US State Department classified material on Wikileaks and he was a hero. Well to some people. To others he was a criminal, a terrorist, an all around bad person.

But Assange had no doubt about the righteousness of his actions. He defended his actions  by saying:

WikiLeaks coined a new type of journalism: scientific journalism. We work with other media outlets to bring people the news, but also to prove it is true. Scientific journalism allows you to read a news story, then to click online to see the original document it is based on. That way you can judge for yourself: Is the story true? Did the journalist report it accurately?

and

In its landmark ruling in the Pentagon Papers case, the US Supreme Court said “only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government”. The swirling storm around WikiLeaks today reinforces the need to defend the right of all media to reveal the truth.

But as is the case of so many things in life, if you’re trying to convince others of the purity of your mission, your words can all to often come back to bite you in the ass.

Which is what happened to Assange, when information was leaked to the Guardian newspaper with detailed information on the sexual assault case against him in Sweden.

Assange’s lawyers were furious.

Bjorn Hurtig, the Wikileaks founder’s lawyer in Sweden was outraged over the revelations saying the documents could hinder Mr. Assange’s right to a fair trial. In a statement to the Australian press, he said, “I do not like the idea that Julian may be forced into a trial in the media. And I feel especially concerned that he will be presented with the evidence in his own language for the first time when reading the newspaper. I do not know who has given these documents to the media, but the purpose can only be one thing – trying to make Julian look bad.”
And he wasn’t the only one upset with the information leak.
Other supporters were more open, blaming The Guardian for a ‘personal smear’ and questioned the timing of the release of the documents in Saturday’s Guardian.

Although I think lawyers are paid to not have a sense of irony.

The whole thing rather brings to the fore the problem that I have with Assange and Wikileaks: Who makes the decision, and how, about what the public should know and what it shouldn’t?

According to governments, they have the need to keep most of their discussions and decisions under the cloak of secrecy. But according to Assange, he has the right, or even the obligation, to expose that information to the public at large.

The truth is, governments, whether they are local, provincial or federal find it more convenient to only release that information that puts them in a good light and are compelled to bury any material that would point out their bad decisions, their wastage of resources and their incompetence.

But there are also areas where governments need to keep secrets, sometimes in the short term and others for the long term.

And there are many cases where personal privacy trumps the need for the public to know. Even for Julian Assange.

The question is, who makes those decisions.

 

The new norm: Bad spelling, wrong words and a declining language

September 26, 2010

An amusing column on the death of the English language.

The English language, which arose from humble Anglo-Saxon roots to become the lingua franca of 600 million people worldwide and the dominant lexicon of international discourse, is dead. It succumbed last month at the age of 1,617 after a long illness. It is survived by an ignominiously diminished form of itself.

And why did it succumb?

The end came quietly on Aug. 21 on the letters page of The Washington Post. A reader castigated the newspaper for having written that Sasha Obama was the “youngest” daughter of the president and first lady, rather than their “younger” daughter. In so doing, however, the letter writer called the first couple the “Obama’s.” This, too, was published, constituting an illiterate proofreading of an illiterate criticism of an illiteracy. Moments later, already severely weakened, English died of shame.

The author, Gene Weingarten, gives some other examples found in the print media.

The Lewiston (Maine) Sun-Journal has written of “spading and neutering.” The Miami Herald reported on someone who “eeks out a living” — alas, not by running an amusement-park haunted house. The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star described professional football as a “doggy dog world.” The Vallejo (Calif.) Times-Herald and the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune were the two most recent papers, out of dozens, to report on the treatment of “prostrate cancer.”

The examples given by Weingarten were written by (I presume) professionals who are being paid for their copy, but he would be even further convinced of the demise of the English language if he were to read the comments posted on internet sites by members of the typing public.

Along with the fact that too much of the unsolicited commentary on these sites is rude, intemperate and sometimes downright vicious, much of it borders on being illiterate.

Some examples taken at random from various sites:

“what a joke cant she be concidered a habitial and put away before she ends up dead trying to fly off of a balcony.”

“Yeah cause are system is a daggon joke!”

“Who the f…. is that heffer??”

Some of the mess that you see posted is certainly due to bad typing and obviously a refusal to spell check. But after a while you get to believe that a lot of it is simply a complete inability to spell and worse yet, no awareness that the spelling might be wrong.

The idea seems to be that it you can sound it out phonetically, you can spell it the same way. Although that doesn’t really excuse having your dog “spaded” (which probably is an example of animal cruelty) or going to your doctor for a “prostrate” exam.

George Steinbrenner dies and CBC remembers Seinfeld

July 17, 2010

George Steinbrenner died this past Tuesday with news stories on all TV stations talking about his accomplishments and the controversies .that he generated, of which there were many.

CBC Television had a different take on Steinbrenner’s career.

The CBC news show pointed out that for some people the Steinbrenner name would be  more familiar to the viewers of the old Jerry Seinfeld show, where the George Costanza character worked for Steinbrenner, who was portrayed by an actor always filmed with his back to the camera. The news story then went from Steinbrenner to clips from Seinfeld showing the actor playing a fictitious Steinbrenner.

It was a bit bizarre and I wondered whom in the CBC news department thought that clips from an old TV show showing the backside of an actor playing a comedic interpretation of the Yankee’s owner was a valid part of the retrospective  for Steinbrenner.

I ‘m sure they did better on the sports channels.

More interface with Shaw Cable: Or, it only hurts when I pound my head on the table

July 12, 2010

Just when I was starting to have semi-fond feelings for the technical staff at Shaw Cable – at least the ones who work with the business accounts (don’t even talk to me about the residential account people) – I was brought down to earth.

Over the years I have had my ups and downs with Shaw over various things. But after I realized that because my e-mail was a business account and not residential (how I got there is a story in itself) and started dealing with the technicians in that department I thought I had reached Nirvana. The business technicians seemed much more technically competent and helpful.

Then came the reckoning.

For the past 15 years or so I have sent out a little e-mail ALERT, under the name of the BC Wildlife Federation, to about 450 people; a list that I have accumulated over that period. I forward articles, etc., that I think will be of interest to most of the group (you can’t please everyone all of the time or, more correctly, any of the time).

However, recently a nasty problem has raised its head.

A while back, I sent out an ALERT and it just disappeared into the black hole of the internet. I send out the emails with my recipients listed as blind copies and nothing came back to me and nothing went to anyone on my list. It was just gone!

I contacted Shaw and discovered that after all of this time I had been tagged as a spammer. When I tried to determine why, after all of these years, I had suddenly been blocked I was given a number of reasons: Too many addresses on an e-mail, although I was within the limit set for me by Shaw. Inactive addresses that I had not deleted from my list, of which I was guilty.The fact that I was blind copying the addresses on my list,which according to the technician raised the spam suspicion level (this seemed ridiculous to me).

So I reduced the number of addresses per e-mail, which meant that I had to send out more e-mails to cover my list. I deleted the old inactive addresses from my book but I continued to blind copy my list as I didn’t want to have everyone’s e-mail address out there for all the world to see.

I was back on line and everything went well for a while. Then I was closed down again.

This time I was told that I needed to put a line on my posts that told the recipient how to opt out of receiving the ALERTs. I was naive enough to think that anyone who wanted off the list would simply hit reply and ask to be removed – which various people had done over the years. So I added this information and eventually was able to get off the blocking list.

Then the other day it happened again. I sent out an ALERT and it disappeared.

I called Shaw and this time I was told that there had been complaints about the list being spam. I asked them for the nature of the complaint and who had made the complaint(s) so I could remove them from the list. They said they couldn’t do that, although they did indicate that they did have that information (whether or not that was actually true, I don’t know).

I pointed out to them that their handling of this was similar to being tried in court and not being allowed to know what the charges were or who was making the accusations. This argument did not resonate with them in any way – obviously not civil libertarians.

The told me that it was my problem and it was up to me to fix it and they did this to protect their customers. I pointed out to them that I was their customer and they should be trying to help me. Again they were unmoved by this venture into logical discourse.

What they now told me was that I needed to contact everyone on my list and get confirmation from them that they wanted to continue to receive the ALERTs. (This was not a short conversation as I tried the patience of a technician close to the breaking point – although he gamely managed to stay civil – and then did the same with a supervisor. None of which gained me any ground in my attempt to get them to assist me in solving my problem).

Knowing when I was whipped I decided to go the route of getting ‘opt-ins’ from my list.

In my first attempt I wrote up a note asking the recipient to give me a ‘yes’ or’ no’ answer to the question of whether they wished to continue receiving the ALERTs. I put 70 addresses on one email and sent it. Of course it also disappeared into the blogosphere. Now I was in a catch-22 situation. I had to contact my list but Shaw was blocking me from doing so.

So I phoned back to Shaw.

Now if anyone has ever had the need to phone into a call-in centre you know it’s not a process for the impatient. There is a wait (although admittedly Shaw has a call-back process that works fairly well if you choose to use it). But by now this was about 11:00 PM so I opted to just hang on to the phone and eventually I got another technician.

I gave him a ticket number I had received from Shaw some time back which (I presume) explained the history of my problem and I would hope all that had happened since. I told him about my problem with trying to follow their instructions about sending out an opt-in request.

His solution? Send individual e-mails to each of the 450+ list members. I said that bordered on ridiculous. It could have been a serious suggestion, but I think it was a standard call-in centre ploy to try and get your customer off the phone and out of your hair in the quickest time possible. However, that may just be me being cynical.

He then went away and studied further on the situation and came and told me that my e-mails had now been limited to 20 addresses each. At this point, being late and my frustration level set at maximum I hung up. Rudely, I’m afraid.

Then I decided, OK we will play by the new rules. So I set up an e-mail and, playing it safe, put on 18 addresses. It disappeared, presumably into Shaw’s spam folder. I tried it again with 18 different addresses with the same result. I then tried to send an e-mail with 5 addresses, again with the same result.

At that point I gave in to the inevitable. But it is an interesting conundrum.

Shaw shuts down my service because they have tagged me as a spammer. The can’t or won’t reverse their decision when I explain the situation but tell me that I have to fix the problem on my own. Then to complete the circle, they won’t let me even try to fix the problem.

For this I pay them money.

Welcome to the new world of customer service.

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair Runs True To Form

July 3, 2010

TO Police Chief Bill Blair fell off my list of credible people a long time ago, even before the stupid and uninformed statements he made while arguing in support of the long-gun registry and against Bill C-391, the private member’s legislation aimed at dumping it.

He once again shows his true colours in the wake of the G20 summit in Toronto.

Toronto’s police chief is admitting there never was a five-metre rule that had people fearing arrest if they strayed too close to the G20 security perimeter.

Civil libertarians were fuming after hearing Friday that the Ontario cabinet gave police the power to stop and search anyone coming within five metres of the G20 fences in Toronto for a one-week period.

However, the Ministry of Community Safety says all the cabinet did was update the law that governs entry to such places as court houses to include specific areas inside the G20 fences — not outside.

A ministry spokeswoman says the change was about property, not police powers, and did not include any mention of a zone five metres outside the G20 security perimeter.

When asked Tuesday if there actually was a five-metre rule given the ministry’s clarification, Chief Bill Blair smiled and said, “No, but I was trying to keep the criminals out.”

Then, in what seems to have become a standard police media event, the Toronto police laid out a table showing what they purported to be ‘weapons’ that they had confiscated from activists at the event. However, as is often the case in these show and tell events, it turns out that there was a bit of fudging going on.

Toronto Police staged a display of weaponry to demonstrate “the extent of the criminal conspiracy” among hard-line G20 protesters, but several of the items had nothing to do with the summit.

Facing criticism for their tactics, police invited journalists on Tuesday to view a range of weapons, from a machete and baseball bat to bear spray and crowbars.

Chief Bill Blair, who told reporters the items were evidence of the protesters’ intent, singled out arrows covered in sports socks, which he said were designed to be dipped in a flammable liquid and set ablaze.

However, the arrows belong to Brian Barrett, a 25-year-old landscaper who was heading to a role-playing fantasy game when he was stopped at Union Station on Saturday morning. Police took his jousting gear but let Mr. Barrett go, saying it was a case of bad timing

[snip]

Police also displayed a crossbow and chainsaw seized in an incident on Friday that they said had no ties to the summit. When asked, Chief Blair acknowledged they were unrelated, but said “everything else” had been confiscated from demonstrators.

On Wednesday, however, Michael Went and Doug Kerr e-mailed a letter to Chief Blair saying their bamboo poles may have been included in the exhibit. As they headed to a picnic to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots on Sunday morning, police seized seven or eight of the long poles, citing the G20 summit. The couple had planned to use the poles to fly a rainbow flag and decorate the park.

“It makes you wonder what are the other things that they’ve displayed [that] were taken from people on the street that weren’t doing anything wrong?” asked Mr. Kerr, a 42-year-old management consultant.

Julian Falconer, a Toronto lawyer representing four independent journalists in summit-related police complaints, called the display of unrelated objects a “public-relations exercise [that] borders on the absurd.”

The items, which were laid out on tables in the lobby of police headquarters, also included gas masks, cans of spray paint, a replica gun, saws, pocket knives, a staple gun, a drill, a slingshot, chains and handcuffs. However, there were also objects not normally considered dangerous, including bandanas, skateboard and bicycle helmets, golf balls, tennis balls, goggles, rope and walkie-talkies.

OK, well some of the stuff was legit! But then if they’d taken away the phony items the table wouldn’t have been so impressive looking.

(Thanks to Mark Steyn for pointing me to some of this.)

Tiger Woods: “That’s none of your business”

June 16, 2010

Just watched the pre-event interview on the Golf Channel with Tiger Woods at the US Open at Pebble Beach.

Lots of golf questions, then he was asked if he had arrived at any resolution, “one way or the other”, with his wife, Elin. Tiger looked the reporter in the eye and said, “That’s none of your business”.

Good answer!

Tiger Talks. Media Whines

February 21, 2010

Tiger stood at the podium Friday morning and gave a prepared speech to a limited and question-restricted audience in which he spoke at length about his problems and his path to redemption.,

Although Woods had been criticized for months about his disappearance from public view and chastised in the media for not making a public statement the criticism did not abate with his planned appearance at the PGA headquarters.

Firstly he was slammed for timing his reappearance with the Friday of the Accenture World Match Championship, one of the sponsors that had dropped him early into the scandal, with the feelings that his timing had upstaged the event. Some opined that it was an act of revenge for being dropped by the sponsor. I liked David Feherty’s comment in a CBS interview, that if Tiger was looking for revenge he would be out there winning the Accenture tournament this week..

Then they didn’t like the idea that Tiger would make a statement and there would be no question and answer period afterword. Which breaks their little hearts, but why the hell would Woods set himself up for a bunch of questions that would be provocative in nature and not really relevant to anything other than prurient curiosity.

Prior to the Friday event, Alex Miceli who works as a commentator for the Golf Channel was asked about Tiger’s press conference and went off on a stupid rant about Tiger manipulating the press and being gutless and selfish and how he owed the world an explanation for what he had done.

He owes the world an explanation? What an unadulterated load of garbage. He’s not who he is or where is in the golf world because anyone voted him into the position. He’s there because of his hard work, talent and dedication. He may owe some people an apology and an explanation, but it certainly isn’t Alex Miceli or any of the other media  types, and it certainly isn’t “the world”.

There was a lot of crying about the timing of the press conference, in that it was on the Friday of the Accenture tournament and how it took away from that event. Hell, Accenture probably got more publicity in the media that they ever could have hoped for if Tiger had made his appearance the following week.

Actually the timing was pretty brilliant. To begin with, if you want to limit the damage you put out your news on a Friday, where it dies away over the weekend and is old news by Monday. Governments have been doing that with bad news for years. Next, the Olympics are in full swing and much of the major networks’ television time are into that spectacle and there is no time to chatter on about Tiger Woods. The final benefit about going public at that time was that only Letterman is live right now and he’s not doing too many jokes about other peoples’ infidelity problems. Leno’s not back on the air, The Daily Show is on re-runs as is Saturday Night Live. I can’t believe that Tiger’s camp didn’t take a lot of this into consideration.

Manipulative and controlling? That’s supposed to be a crime when you’re dealing with your personal life? They’re all just burned because Woods doesn’t play their game.

Tiger’s biggest challenge will be the first tournaments that he enters when he decides to come back. There will be rabble in the crowds and an embarrassing questions in the press room. But what interest me more is whether that sheen of invincibility will have been removed and whether there will still be that psychological edge against opponents when he is coming down the stretch on Sunday.

Drinking the Olympic Kool-Aid

February 14, 2010

The 2010 Winter Olympics are now underway in Vancouver.

My early – pre-torch run – impression was that the Canadians were pretty blase about the whole thing. But that seemed to change as the Olympic flame wended its way across Canada. There were certainly enthusiastic crowds that turned out to watch the torch as it was carried through the various locales.

Personally, I am not a fan of the Olympics. I think that somewhere they lost their way, although the winter games possibly less so than the more prestigious summer games.

I am not sure just when the Olympics ‘jumped the shark’ for me personally, but it may have been in 1988 when Ben Johnson fell of his pedestal – or podium – as the case may be.

I was on a sheep hunt in B.C.’s Spence’s Bridge area at the time and was sitting in a local pub watching the race on TV. It was an exhilarating moment which was brought to earth a couple days later when the drug scandal broke.

We had known for years that there was a win at any cost mentality at the Olympics, seeing female East German swimmers with shoulders you could set a table on, and Russian female athletes on one hand who looked as though part of their daily regimen was a morning shave, to lithe little gymnasts who never seemed to grow up. All of which pretty much turned out to be true.

But that was the doing of those nasty Eastern bloc socialists and somehow ‘our’ athletes were the true amateurs, and at one point that may have been a bit closer to the truth.

But the Olympics became corrupted when governments began to use them to showcase their country and more importantly their political agendas. It may have always been thus, but in modern times the 1936 Olympics in Germany stands out.

Hitler used the games to try and sell his theories of white supremacy, only allowing members of the Aryan race to compete for the country. But his boast of Aryan supremacy was famously brought down by the 4 gold medals won by the great U.S. athlete, Jesse Owens.

It turns out that the 1936 Olympics was simply the harbinger of things to come, with government beginning to demand and expect medal winning capabilities from the athletes they sent to the games and the use of Olympic boycotts to make political statements.

The Olympic Council of Ireland boycotted the 1936 Berlin Games, because the IOC insisted its team be restricted to the Irish Free State rather than represent the entire island of Ireland.[104] There were two boycotts of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics: Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland refused to attend because of the repression of the Hungarian uprising by the Soviet Union; Cambodia, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon boycotted the Games because of the Suez Crisis. In 1972 and 1976 a large number of African countries threatened the IOC with a boycott to force them to ban South Africa and Rhodesia, because of their segregationist regimes. New Zealand was also one of the African boycott targets, because its national rugby union team had toured apartheid-ruled South Africa. The IOC conceded in the first two cases, but refused to ban New Zealand on the grounds that rugby was not an Olympic sport.  Fulfilling their threat, twenty African countries were joined by Guyana and Iraq in a Tanzania-led withdrawal from the Montreal Games, after a few of their athletes had already competed. Taiwan also decided to boycott these Games because the People’s Republic of China (PRC) exerted pressure on the Montreal organizing committee to keep the delegation from the Republic of China (ROC) from competing under that name. The ROC refused a proposed compromise that would have still allowed them to use the ROC flag and anthem as long as the name was changed. Taiwan did not participate again until 1984, when it returned under the name of Chinese Taipei and with a special flag and anthem.

In 1980 and 1984, the Cold War opponents boycotted each other’s Games. Sixty-five nations refused to compete at the Moscow Olympics in 1980 because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. This boycott reduced the number of nations participating to 81, the lowest number since 1956.[110] The Soviet Union and 14 of its Eastern Bloc partners (except Romania) countered by boycotting the Los Angeles Olympics of 1984, contending that they could not guarantee the safety of their athletes. Soviet officials defended their decision to withdraw from the Games by saying that “chauvinistic sentiments and an anti-Soviet hysteria are being whipped up in the United States”. The boycotting nations of the Eastern Bloc staged their own alternate event, the Friendship Games, in July and August.

There had been growing calls for boycotts of Chinese goods and the 2008 Olympics in Beijing in protest of China’s human rights record, and in response to the disturbances in Tibet and ongoing conflict in Darfur. Ultimately, no nation supported a boycott. In August 2008, the government of Georgia called for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics, set to be held in Sochi, Russia, in response to Russia’s participation in the 2008 South Ossetia war. The International Olympic Committee responded to concerns about the status of the 2014 games by stating that it is “premature to make judgments about how events happening today might sit with an event taking place six years from now”

Which is quite a history of governments playing their owns games on the backs of their athletes.

Then there is the case of the vanishing amateur. For years various countries got around the rules against professional athletes in the Olympics by various means, but when it became increasingly apparent that many athletes were amateurs in name only the barriers against professional athletes came crashing down. Professional hockey players are now key to winning Olympic teams and the U.S. basketball dream team at the 1992 games in Barcelona featured players such as Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Scottie Pippen and Charles Barkley. With the addition of golf to the Summer Olympics we can expect to see full rosters of PGA professionals on many country’s teams.

All of which leaves the Olympic Games as a rather tarnished spectacle in my eyes. Certainly there are magnificent moments brought on by the skill and focus of superior athletes. That is the case with any high level sporting event. But to spout on about the purity of the games and their noble aspect is an insult to one’s intelligence.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), which controls the Olympics, is run primarily by a group of elitists and has had its own problems with scandal.

Scandal broke on 10 December 1998, when Swiss IOC member Marc Hodler, head of the coordination committee overseeing the organization of the 2002 games, announced that several members of the IOC had taken bribes. Soon four independent investigations were underway: by the IOC, the USOC, the SLOC, and the United States Department of Justice.

Before any of the investigations could even get under way both Welch and Johnson resigned their posts as the head of the SLOC. Many others soon followed. The Department of Justice filed charges against the two: fifteen charges of bribery and fraud. Johnson and Welch were eventually acquitted of all criminal charges in December 2003.

As a result of the investigation ten members of the IOC were expelled and another ten were sanctioned. This was the first expulsion or sanction for corruption in the more than a century the IOC had existed. Although nothing strictly illegal had been done, it was felt that the acceptance of the gifts was morally dubious. Stricter rules were adopted for future bids and ceilings were put into place as to how much IOC members could accept from bid cities.

and on the same event.

Speaking for the first time since the controversy blew up, Welch openly admitted giving IOC members whatever they wanted in order to buy their support – arranging everything from plastic surgery for a member’s wife to cash payments into bank accounts and scholarships for relatives.

The Olympic movement was rocked when the scandal came to light three years ago and six members were expelled after an investigation by the committee’s headquarters in Lausanne.

But Welch claims this was a face-saving exercise. ‘It was all for show,’ he told OSM . ‘If what those expelled members did was wrong and everyone else on the IOC was to be judged by the same standards, then probably 80 per cent should have been kicked out.’

Those were the people, he said, who were ‘imposing themselves on you, asking for things and pushing for lavish hospitality’. He said they expected to be treated ‘like lords’ and other cities wishing to host the Olympics had played along too. ‘We bust our butts off to be the greatest hosts,’ he said.

The IOC considered their investigation of allegations against its members to have been thorough and found no evidence of wrongdoing by other members.

Welch, who is now aged 55 and lives in California, revealed that one IOC member was known as a ‘human vacuum cleaner’ because he sucked up a quarter of a million dollars worth of gifts, hospitality and cash.

Another IOC member tricked Welch into paying cash into a London bank account for a daughter who, it was later discovered, did not exist. In both cases the IOC members were expelled.

There is nothing pure and clean and wonderful about the Olympics. That may have been the case at one time in our innocent past, but not for a long time now.

Most of the athletes – at least the top ranked ones in many countries  – do very well financially and more power to them. If governments are going to bask in their glory then they should be able to make their hard work and dedication pay off. They are the ones that bring the viewers to the TV sets and to the actual events.

But don’t feed me any of the crap about patriotism and noble ideals. The Olympics is a sports spectacle that is used by politicians, at best to showcase their country or their region, and at the worst to improve on their personal images and drive political agendas.

The aftermath of the late night wars

February 1, 2010

I am somewhat puzzled by the fact that Jay Leno has apparently turned out to be the villain in NBC’s debacle over the Tonight Show.

It seems to me that the only villain here is the NBC decision makers and I suspect they’re less villain than incompetent.

How did this all play out?

1. Five years ago Leno’s contract comes due with NBC at the same time that Conan O’Brien is making noises about leaving the Late Night Show and taking his act somewhere else. NBC doesn’t want to lose O’Brien and see him go to another network, so they promise him the Tonight Show in 5 years if he stays where he is. O’Brien agrees.

2. The NBC execs tell Leno that they will give him a 5 year contract and at the end of the contract – even though his show is currently number one in late night – he has to leave the Tonight Show and let O’Brien take over that time slot. They apparently think that by the end of the 5 years, Leno’s rating will have slipped away.

3. Leno agrees, and at the end of his 5 year contract – even though he is still holding the Tonight Show in its #1 spot – Leno steps down and turns the show over to O’Brien. Leno actually steps away before his contract is over.

4. Leno asks to be released from his contact with NBC but NBC decides now that it doesn’t want to lose him either, knowing that he will probably be picked up by another network and become a competitor to their existing shows.

5. NBC then asks Leno to step into the prime time 10 PM time slot and do his show there. Leno accepts, even though he must know it is a risky move to try and put a talk show in that time slot. But NBC says they have done the research and besides, it is far cheaper for them to run than a drama or a sitcom. The affiliates aren’t happy, but NBC thinks it will work.

In hindsight, there are people second guessing Leno’s decision to accept this show. They seem to feel that he should have refused the offer from NBC. But why would he? NBC wouldn’t release him from his contract, have offered him the challenge of trying to make his show work in prime time, enabled him to keep his staff employed and have ensured him that their research says that the concept will work. Why would he feel compelled to turn that down?

6. Now seven months down the road, Conan O’Brien’s Tonight Show is down on the rating scale, having lost Leno’s #1 position. Leno hasn’t captured a big enough market at 10 PM – even though the show is making a profit for the network –  and the affiliates are about to rebel. Now NBC has another problem. Forced to cancel Leno’s show or lose affiliates, they have the option of dumping Leno and keeping O’Brien, who doesn’t have the ratings they want. But NBC, true to its corporate self, wants to have it both ways. They want to find some way to keep both men rather than lose one of them -either one – to some competitor. So they come up with their next brilliant idea.

7. NBC comes to Leno and tells him that they are thinking about giving him a half hour show at 11:35 PM and moving O’Brien and the Tonight Show back to 12:05 AM.

If Leno made a mistake anywhere in this process, it was here. He should have picked up the phone, called O’Brien and said, “what the hell’s going on here? Are you OK with this”? But he didn’t. He says he asked if Conan was alright with this and the network said that he would be, and he left it at that. A lot of his own problems might have been alleviated if he had just made that call.

Conan’s reply to NBC was, in effect, stick it in your ear and it all went further downhill from there.

8. NBC drops Conan O’Brien from the Tonight Show and asks Jay Leno to step back in and Leno accepts. Now Conan is the martyr and Jay is the villain.

But if NBC had confidence in O’Brien, they would have capitulated at that point, left him in the 11:35 slot and started negotiations with Leno to release him from his contract. The network had the option at that point of who they wanted to keep and who they wanted to let go. They made the decision that, rightly or wrongly, Leno was the one they needed to keep.

So should Leno have turned down their offer to return to the Tonight Show? A lot of people seem to think that he should have. By why would he? This was now a business decision, both on NBC’s and Leno’s part.

Leno gets to return as the host of the highly desirable Tonight Show franchise and he gets to keep his long time staff employed. Should he have walked away from the offer in some kind of high moral dudgeon? He could have done that, especially with how he had been jerked around by the network brass, being moved from his job while he was leading the field in the ratings and then being put into a high risk time slot with only 4 months, as it turned out, to make the show work.

But I think that Leno recognized that there was no logic in doing that. He would have put his staff on the unemployment rolls and for what? Would NBC have kept Conan anyway? Maybe and maybe not. Or would the Tonight Show franchise have simply crashed and burned? I think he made the only decision that made sense for him.

The question now will be whether he can return the show to its former glory. NBC has done him no favours by giving him back the chair. If he takes it back to #1 he will be a hero, but if he can’t bring the ratings back up he will be chewed up and spit out by the critics – which in this case is a good chunk of the North American viewing public. He has a major job ahead of him and I am sure that he knows that all too well.

But for all of those noble people out there who think that Leno should have gotten on his high horse and ridden off into the twilight, is that what you would do if you were offered your dream job at the miserable sum of $30 million a year?

Yeah, sure. Get a life.

Me and my racist truck

January 23, 2010

Politics anywhere can be nasty, but the US style seems to be exceptionally intolerant these days.

Scott Brown, the newly elected Republican Senator from Massachusetts, was recently called a racist by MSNBC commentator, Keith Olbermann, although I’m not sure why. I think it was just a given because he was a Republican and had the audacity to win Teddy Kennedy’s old seat.

However Howard Fineman, a senior editor with Newsweek, came up with the definitive way to spot a racist.

….. Mr. Fineman, a frequent MSNBC political analyst, said Mr. Brown’s truck could have been part of a racist code to Massachusetts voters.

Mr. Olbermann proposed Mr. Brown’s win was part of racist backlash against the black President Obama on his Tuesday evening program. Gamely, Mr. Fineman offered some supporting evidence.

“In some places, there are codes, there are images,” he told Mr. Olbermann. “You know, there are pickup trucks, you could say there was a racial aspect to it one way or another.”

Does this mean I have to sell my truck?


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