Friday, December 16, 2016

Don't Say 'Queen of Claptrap"

If you write about certain figures it can bring on reprisals that can be startling. When I took an assignment to write a column about Dr. Laura for in 2000, I got a lesson I've kept in mind since. The title of my column then was "Queen of Claptrap."

Shortly after the piece went online I began receiving an avalanche of nasty threatening emails from an organized national group that apparently did that sort of thing to any writer who criticized their queen. I was being Freeped by people who were afilliated with a group known as Free Republic

Hey, if you've never had some 500 hate-driven emails land on you in a couple of days, let me tell you it can be scary. Here's the 16-year-old piece:
Anybody who thinks the job of an opinion writer is easy should think again. Yes, everybody has opinions. That part is easy. What I'm referring to here - aside from the small task of gathering an opinion and converting it into an essay - is research. In order to put this piece together, I had to watch and listen to Laura Schlessinger.

Yes, the same Laura Schlessinger who is better known as talk-radio's Dr. Laura, the acerbic, self-styled adviser to the forlorn who has ridden a wave of controversy to a new syndicated television show.

To be fair with the reader, I have to admit that I have no patience with the entire confession-driven genre of programming to which Dr. Laura's television show belongs. I'm talking about the likes of Jerry Springer, Montel Williams, Ricki Lake, and so forth.

However, Schlessinger has been deliberately pushing buttons to move the stories about the views she voices on her broadcasts from the entertainment section to the news and editorial sections.

Thus, Dr. Laura has become a topic for OpEd columnists to consider. After a sampling of her product I have to say a little bit of the supercilious Dr. Laura goes a long way. For my money, she may well be the most obnoxious of the daytime talk-show hosts.

From what I can tell, her formula combines the hard-edge political and cultural outlook of the typical right-wing AM radio windbag - Rush Limbaugh being the most obvious example - with the lonely hearts advice of an Ann Landers.

Dr. Laura's frequently expressed judgments on homosexuality - notions that some would call antediluvian, while others plainly see as hateful - have provoked an anti-Dr. Laura movement that is making news as well. For more about that, check out

Dr. Laura, in spite of her startling throwback opinions, is a modern gal when it comes to making money; so she's got a Web site, too:

"Do the right thing" is Dr. Laura's oft-stated slogan. Well, I can't argue with that. Who can? But the rub is who's defining what "right" is?

Dr. Laura's tonic is basically a dose of Pat Buchanan's political and social agenda, served up with Bobby Knight's bedside manner. The sad part of it - maybe even the scary part - is that some pitiful soul might take her mean-spirited blather to heart, because it sounds bitter and medicinal.

The burgeoning movement to protest her bashing of gays and other people she sees as immoral is gaining momentum. With quotes such as, "a huge portion of the male homosexual populace is predatory on young boys," being attributed to Dr. Laura, it's easy to see why.

While I can't say I'm prepared to endorse everything that's being said and done to "Stop Dr. Laura," I can say with enthusiasm that I'm a great believer in the time-honored tactic of boycott.

Apparently Procter & Gamble got the message. It, like a string of other would-be national sponsors of her TV program, such as Verizon, RadioShack Corp., Kraft Foods, and Kimberly-Clark, have decided to back off.

It won't surprise me if the television show - aired locally at 4 p.m. weekdays by WRIC TV 8 (Ch. 8 broadcast and AT&T Ch. 10 Comcast) - runs into trouble in the Richmond market. Virginia's particular brand of conservatism is baffling to people from other states.

Yes, Virginians are happy with right-of-center politics on many issues. Yet, they aren't comfortable with extremes in any direction; especially those extremes that are blatantly tacky.

Ask Ollie North: In spite of his far-right beliefs, his 1994 $25 million cakewalk to a Senate seat turned out to be a fall from grace. Ollie, with that checkered blue shirt and his self-serving lies to Congress, was just too gauche for Virginians to stomach.

By the same token, Howard Stern's radio show didn't last long in Richmond, either. Although it had plenty of listeners, the big local advertisers weren't comfortable being associated with it. What some of Stern's fans failed to grasp was it wasn't so much his lefty politics that got Howard in trouble in this market; it was his style.

It will be interesting to see whether WRIC will be able to run the commercials of major local advertisers such as Ukrop's Super Markets or any of the big banks in or adjacent to the Dr. Laura show.

With the anti-Dr. Laura movement picking up speed, I wonder how many Richmond companies are going to be willing to write off the entire gay and lesbian market for the sake of riding Laura Schlessinger's publicity wave. Beyond the organized alternative-lifestyle groups, the controversy that is swelling up around this talk show has bad vibes.

In ad jargon, it's going to be too easy for local agencies to buy around the Dr. Laura telecast. That simply means that roughly the same audience is readily available to an advertiser through other vehicles, so Dr. Laura and her hefty baggage can easily be avoided.

Bottom line: My hope is Dr. Laura will get canceled before I have to write any more about her. Just the thought of having to watch her on television again gives me the willies.
There you have it. That's all it took to set off a bunch of creeps. When I read about the threats that are being hurled at anyone who challenges the darlings of the organized right-wing it sometimes reminds me of this episode.   

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Downside of Banning Fake News

by F.T. Rea

Since election day most of the concern about fake news has been focused on the role such off-brand political stories may have played in tilting the presidential race. However, the bizarre Comet Pizza story about a pitifully gullible, assault-rifle-toting vigilante -- claiming he was aiming to rescue captive children -- bodes of more crazy-sounding real news stories to come. 

Happy new year. 

Speaking of craziness, most folks know it's quite likely there are more wannabe vigilantes waiting for just the right provocation. So, dear sane reader, I'm wondering if we may be about to see a snowballing of paranoia over what troubles fake news could animate. Given all the propaganda and misleading advertising we have absorbed the irony of such a national panic would be noteworthy. 

All of which could be seen as an opportunity for some players inside the beltway. Goosed on by a muscular Trump administration, Republicans in Congress might just imagine it's their duty to shield the citizenry from counterfeit stories masquerading as curated news, crafted and published by sources you can find and hold accountable. Accordingly, those emboldened legislators could opt to outlaw forms of fake news deemed to be dangerous.

What fresh hell would facilitate such an Orwellian development? 

More breaking news stories, a la Comet Pizza, but with corpses strewn about the crime scene. In 2017, if planted bogus news is viewed as having played a significant role in a couple of spectacular bloodbaths, one can almost hear a cacophonous chorus of cries for action.

Twelve months from now, picture a Saturday Night Live skit being busted, in progress. In this scenario, it would be for presenting a satirical news item about the White House being painted gold, President Trump quibbling over the deal, cheating the contractors, etc. If this were to happen, SNL cast members would go down in history as the first comedians arrested for violating the new ban on disseminating fake news stories about certain government officials. 

It wouldn't be a matter of putting the kibosh on a comedic performance testing obscenity laws, such as in Lenny Bruce's dirty-talking days. This would be branding satire as illegal when it constitutes a threat to order by transmitting words, sounds and images depicting deliberately false information about specific protected officials. 

In this case, the fake news cops would be protecting a sitting president who may be more thin-skinned than any of his predecessors. What limits on his power Trump will accept are yet to be known. He's already blustered aplenty about how he will curb the "lying press," once he's in power. Furthermore, it's hardly a reach to suggest that President-elect Trump now appears to believe he's got a blank-check mandate to do what he pleases about vexations from the mainstream media. 

After inauguration day on Jan. 20, no one should be surprised if protest marches denouncing the Trump administration's policies are confronted with a more robust response than did those in the days after election day's surprise. No doubt, Trump's "strongman" style is going to be appreciated and emulated by some in the law enforcement/security business. 

Hey, don't say it can't happen here. I'm old enough to remember Selma in 1965 and Kent State in 1970. Our American history is replete with displays of black-boot tactics to quell dissent

Sure the feds ought to pursue criminal hackers and spies, but it would be a mistake for us to ask the government to solve our current fake news problem. The last thing this country needs is a new police force dedicated to imposing a solution. 

If the battered fourth estate and we the befuddled people don't soon find a practical way to solve this problem, one of our favorite forms of push-back humor -- satire -- may be in for a rough ride with Trump in the Gold House. As satire has often been used more effectively by the left than the right, there are surely some Trump advisers already licking their chops at the prospect of scaring lefty satirists out of their wits. 

Meanwhile, the legit news people in the mainstream media have to recognize that their routine mashing up of news and entertainment, a dumbing-down trend that's become more prevalent over the last decade, helped to pave the way for this dilemma. It's on the industry itself to establish and adhere to some rules -- new reliable standards that draw a bright line between a calm reality and attention-getting exaggeration, even hokum

Then the rest of us need to think about the inherent peril of living in an echo chamber that reinforces preconceived notions and makes us more gullible. On Facebook, maybe we should take more care not to share those unverified click bait stories and trashy memes. 

Furthermore, the trending notion that there's no such thing as truth, today, should be rejected. Our media culture -- both mainstream and social -- needs to evolve to where the whole scamming mindset of misleading headlines, doling out fake news and trolling for hire, or just sicko amusement, etc., becomes as uncool as it gets. 


Promoting that simple concept is a worthwhile cause for 2017. Happy new year, again. What could be cooler than saving satire? 

 30 –

Monday, December 12, 2016

A Seasonal Story, of a Sort

by F.T. Rea

With the recent passing of the 36th anniversary of his death, I couldn't help but wonder what the founder of the Beatles — John Lennon, a master of word-play and sarcasm — would have to say about today's music, art and politics. It would be anybody's guess. After all, in his nearly 20 years as a public figure Lennon’s knack for changing before our eyes was dazzling. There's no reason to think such a restless soul wouldn't have kept on changing ... and commenting.

In February of 1964 the Beatles made their initial appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show. Those two Sunday nights were less than three months after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Surely, the somber mood of the nation, still trying to regain its balance, had something to do with why those fresh sounding Beatles tunes cut through the fog of melancholia with such verve. Notably, there's been no explosion in American pop music since then equivalent to the impact of Liverpool’s Fab Four.

Then, on Dec. 8, 1980, the murder of moody John Lennon had an impact on the public few would have predicted. It was as though a world leader, or a family member, had been gunned down on the street in Manhattan.

Lennon’s obvious contributions as a songwriter and musician were huge. Yet, it was his sense of humor and delight in taking risks that really set him apart from many of his celebrity counterparts, some of whom toyed with politics and social causes as if they were hairdos or dance crazes.

With the Vietnam War still underway in the early-'70s, President Richard M. Nixon looked at Lennon and saw in him a charismatic working class hero with the power to galvanize a generation’s anti-establishment sentiments. Fearing such potential, the Nixon administration did everything it could to hound Lennon out of the USA. The details of that nasty little campaign are just as bewildering as some of the better known abuses that flowed from the Dirty Tricks Department in the White House during those scandal-ridden days.

With so many years of perspective on Lennon’s death, it seems to me now that even if that particular gunman (a person I choose not to name because I refuse to add in any way to his celebrity) hadn’t pulled the trigger, it could easily have been another one. Like the comets of each generation are bound to do, sometimes Lennon burned too bright for his own good.

Accordingly, with assassinations in mind, I’m reminded of a news item that ran in the Nashville Banner on Feb. 24, 1987. The article's lede was this:
Two Nashville musicians remained free on $500 bond today after they went on a magazine-shredding tear …to protest People magazine’s current cover story.
The two musicians were Mike McAdam and Gregg Wetzel. As members of the Good Humor Band they were fixtures in Richmond’s rock ‘n’ roll scene in the late-'70s/early-‘80s. By the time the story mentioned above was published the pair had moved on and established themselves as respected sidemen in Nashville — McAdam on guitar and Wetzel on piano.

In a nutshell, Mike and Gregg became incensed at seeing the magazine with a cover story about John Lennon’s murderer. They felt spotlighting the killer in that way might encourage another deranged wannabe to take gun in hand to hunt down another comet. So the boys fortified themselves with an adequate dose of what-it-takes — legend has it they were drinking out of an Elvis decanter — and set out on a mission to destroy the cover of every copy of the offensive publication they could find on the strip.

Naturally, this sort of endeavor is best undertaken in the wee hours. In the course of their fifth stop, at a Nashville convenience store, the avenging angels were apprehended by the cops and charged with “malicious mischief.”

Shortly afterwards, in a interview about the incident, McAdam said, “If another guy like [name withheld again] sees that, he might think he can get on the cover of People magazine by killing a politician or artist.”


Primary among the reasons John Lennon was selected and stalked by his murderer was that Lennon did indeed have a rare ability to move people. In that sense, he was slain for somewhat the same reason as political figures such as Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy. Two thousand years ago, wasn't Jesus H. Christ taken out of the game for much the same reason?

It's always been dangerous to challenge the established order. To risk changing. To give peace a chance. Indeed, we may be entering an era in which questioning the wisdom of the powers that be will become increasingly more dangerous. Wouldn't it be fun to hear what Lennon would have to say today about our rather mock-worthy President-elect? 

Although Nixon miscalculated Lennon’s intentions, the soon-to-be-disgraced president was probably right about his potential to focus the anti-establishment sentiments in the air. What Nixon didn’t grasp was that mischief streak aside, Lennon was generally more interested in promoting peace than fomenting revolution.

To flesh out the 29-year-old magazine-cover-shredding yarn, Wetzel recently added, “The cops looked at me and McAdam, decided we weren’t exactly flight risks and entrusted our transport to the pokey with an attractive female officer, all by her lonesome. On the way to the hoosegow, Mickey hit on the cop. True story.”


-- 30 –

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Wilder the Ringmaster

As a former-governor of Virginia and former-mayor of Richmond, L. Douglas Wilder knows a thing or two about campaigning. At 85, he's still at it. Last night (April 6, 2016) in a jam-packed hall on the Virginia Union University campus, Doug presided.

My guess is Wilder woke up one morning, looked out his window and saw a circus passing. It was a line of Richmond's mayoral hopefuls that went on, and on. His first thought was – that circus needs a ringmaster! In other words, the Doug Wilder that Richmonders of all ages and persuasions have learned to have strong feelings about – one way or another – still can't resist jumping into the fray.

So he invited all of the declared and supposed mayoral candidates to subject themselves to questions and of course -- a bunch of free exposure. Why wouldn't the media turn out to cover the circus?

Wilder didn't hesitate to assert his point of view on several matters, although he sometimes cloaked it in the form of questions. Bob Holsworth acted as Wilder's sidekick. All in all, Wilder was roughest on the three candidates who are currently serving on City Council -- Jon Baliles, Chris Hilbert and Michelle Mosby.

The crowd on hand was lively. There were several times when they laughed or hooted. The two biggest crowd reactions came from remarks by Joe Morrissey and Chad Ingold. They both got laughs for timely quips. Alan Schintzius also provoked a few good chuckles. Most of the others played it pretty straight. Maybe some of them would have been better off loosening up a bit, but it was the first forum. We'll see how they evolve.

To sum up I'm going to assign a grade to all 12 of the folks who answered the call to appear on Wilder's stage as candidates, or in Hilbert's case – a guy still thinking about it.

The grades assigned are meant to characterize how well they represented themselves. Which means the quality of the content of what they said, and how clearly they made their points. That, and their quickness on their feet, their poise, and so forth. For this post I'm not going to get into who might be the most qualified candidates. Nor am I going to speculate about who stands a better, or worse, chance of winning.

No one scored an “A.” None of those who endured the inquisition knocked the ball out of the park. As well, no one deserved an “F” for embarrassing themselves. They are listed in what I hope is alphabetical order:
  • Four earned a “B.” They are: Jon Baliles, Jack Berry, Chad Ingold and Joe Morrissey.
  • Four earned a “C.” They are: Lillie Estes, Michelle Mosby, Alan Schintzius and Rick Tatnall.
  • Four earned a “D.” They are: Brad Froman, Chris Hilbert, Bruce Tyler and Lawrence Williams.
Bottom line: The whole shebang went over so well, it's hard to image that Ringmaster Wilder didn't thoroughly enjoy himself.

-- Art and words by F.T. Rea