Blame the victim, create the victim. We do both.

The story about the aftermath of an attack on a CBS newswoman in Tahir Square and the obituary for B.N. Nathanson, the famous abortion defender-turned-opponent don’t bear any similarities on the surface. But both reveal the power of provocative views spoken loud.

After Lara Logan was separated from her news crew, beaten and assaulted by a mob, a number of  bloggers, Tweeters and “columnists” took her to task for being there in the first place. And we’re not talking about anonymous idiots; these are commentators with big, visible platforms. (No, I’m not going to link to them. )

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who quickly went after the hateful Logan-bashing writers, as did Kim Barker, ProPublica journalist, also writing for the NYTimes. Other writers are still responding with articulate anger. One of the common points is that Logan is being punished for her sex and looks (attractive, blonde female); more than one writer points out that no one would berate a man for being mobbed and sodomized.

There are two reasons for this kind of blame-the-victim spewing: The spewer is a publicity-seeking fuckwit willing to use any shocking rhetoric to stand out. Or, s/he needs to believe that evil things happen for reasons, e.g. you get raped  if you’re too pretty. The reality of random hate crimes is too frightening to acknowledge. (There is now actually debate over whether Logan was raped or “just” sexually assaulted.)

Now, Nathanson. This intelligent activist doctor had a lot to do with legalizing abortion and moving it from a back-alley butcher’s job to the safe medical procedure that is the right of every woman. Later, upset by the large numbers of procedures he carried out and supervised, he spoke up as an opponent to the procedure. In both incarnations he wielded great power over public opinion. He founded what became the powerful pro-choice group NARAL and he gave the anti-abortion faction their favorite line when he pointed out a fetus’s “silent scream” while narrating a sonogram of an abortion in progress.

The other similarity between these news stories is that they reveal the only-sometimes-veiled misogyny that still exists in our society. Nathanson was okay with abortion as long as not many women exercised their right to make decisions about their own bodies, lives and health. Commentators (and others who silently agree and don’t challenge them) mouth politically correct sentiments about women being equal to men in the world of journalism, until they get a chance to berate them for being too attractive, too female, and for asking for trouble.

In both cases, I wonder how this sexism would hold up if the tables were turned: The hate-blogger gets left alone with an angry mob or the anti-choicer is told that he cannot elect a medically safe surgery, but must instead sneak off with a fistful of cash to a dangerous, illegal appointment.

There is a God: Dr. Laura quits.

Dr. Laura, who is to doctors what canned maraschino cherries are to fruit, is quitting her syndicated radio show.

She isn’t going to retire, she says, just extricate herself from situations in which she can be unfairly criticized for using the word,  “n*****r” some 11 times in one radio broadcast.

Okay, Miss Klan-mouth, go find that place where you can say whatever you want, whenever you want, without anyone raising an eyebrow. It’s that place where the nice nurses lock you in, take your shoelaces and sedate you.

I guess there are a lot of white people in America who feel that if Chris Rock can say that word every 3 seconds, then we Caucasians should get to use it at least once a year. Or twice, if a black person cuts us off in traffic.

So, conversely, if black people stop saying it, these white people will ban that ignorant old slur from THEIR vocabularies too?

Yes, it’s all becoming clearer to me now. It’s up to black folks to set this straight. Right.


Goodbye Senator Byrd. Be glad you missed the news today.

One of the faceless commentators talking during the solemn carrying of Senator Robert Byrd’s casket this morning observed that the most significant thing about the late Senator’s tenure is the enormous social change on his long watch.

Byrd himself exemplified that change, moving from membership in the Ku Klux Klan as a young West Virginian to a supporter of civil rights measures as a seasoned statesman.

The comment no doubt gave a lot of other people pause as it did me. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I would have thought longer and deeper about the thesis had the footage of Byrd not been followed by a live studio shot about the oil spill.  On the set was one of the new news-hotties stretching her long legs from a tall chair facing the camera, chatting with Phillipe Cousteau Jr, grandson of the revered Jacques Cousteau.

Yes, Senator Byrd lived a long life. Long enough to die on a day when “news” comes from a nitwit in snakeskin high heels schmoozing a low-wattage, high-ancestry bullshitter about one of the worst environmental disasters on record.

TV as role model.

We boomers have a kind of television-show DNA that the generations before and after do not. Our parents managed to live lives free of the talking box; people born later have more technology around them than the Apollo astronauts did. The TV personalities and shows of our childhoods are a currency that spends across geographical and class lines.

Say “Beatles” and we think “Ed Sullivan.” Only recently have we discarded “Walt Disney” and taken up “Pixar” as the name that comes to mind for all-things-animated.


News of actor John Forsythe’s death reminded me of this. Forsythe went to his reward being most remembered for his latter-day sex symbol role in “Dynasty,” a long-running series he starred in late in his long career.  (“Dynasty,” you may recall, is the show that made women’s dresses and jackets sprout shoulder pads the size of terriers.)

When I saw the obit for Forsythe I also remembered his brief role as a retired Air Force major running a private school for girls.  “The John Forsythe Show,” kept me riveted each week of the 1965-66 season that it ran. It convinced me that boarding school would save my life, and indeed it did a few years later.

Much is made of the mind-melting properties of too-much television. We all cluck and shake our heads when we read those stories about how many hours Americans–especially kids–spend in front of the tube. But now and then, an idea from a silly sitcom takes root and grows into something good. So, here’s hoping that Mr. Forsythe’s heirs live long and prosper with the fruits of his TV labors.

Old airwaves

Whenever I read big news in the TV industry, I think back to the wild predictions made by my father in the 1960s.

He’d gone from radio (“The Night Owl Show”) to local TV (“From the Esso Desk…”) to management of local TV (a station wagon emblazoned with the NBC peacock) and finally to the nascent cable business, which his fellow New Englanders regarded as just to the left of Edsel manufacturing.

The early days were not exactly glamorous. I have fond memories of driving around with him while he craned his neck, looking up at power poles and cables. When he spotted someone illegally tapped into his cable service, he’d knock on their door and tell them to Get up that pole and disconnect it before I sue your ass. It worked quite well.

He could spin quite a vision of the future:

Someday, we’ll all have hundreds of channels to pick from. (This was in the days when NBC, ABC and CBS were it.)

Television sets will get really, really thin, like wallpaper. (Almost there, Dad.)

Every town will have its business on its own little channel. (We call it “local access.”)

I’m not sure what he would have made of the news today that Comcast is buying up, among other things, his old employer NBC. That’s such a leap from the early days of the television business that even he might need a minute to catch up.

There’s not a perfect analogy, but it’s a little like a phone company providing your conversations. All Comcast is NOT doing these days is leading me to the recliner and handing me the remote.

Naturally, this big-business buying up big-media makes me nervous. But one thing does hearten me.

First, despite the too-high rates and the Byzantine channel structure, I have to say that I always get very good customer service from Comcast. I periodically call to whine about the cost of this or that, or question some pay-per-view listing. (Really, I’m sure I only saw ‘Mall Cop’ once.) Each time I’ve gotten an articulate person who figures out how to solve the problem. No small feat.

So, maybe there will be a Nordstrom effect — other media companies, wireless providers, utilities and the like will have to adopt the customer-service model because the big kid on the block is doing it. We’ll see.

Look what you started, Dad.

Just Ed

Get ready to read and hear the phrase “second banana” repeated a million times over the next few days. The death of Ed McMahon, the most famous sidekick in broadcasting history, is the reason.

The man McMahon sat next to for almost 30 years was my all-time favorite television figure. I mourned his death like a beloved uncle. To be honest, McMahon used to be a bit of a distraction. Any sentence he uttered meant that was one less I could hear from my hero.

But McMahon was an important part of the mix. On the rare nights that he was missing from the second chair, the show just wasn’t as crisp. When the joke was on him, as it often was, McMahon wasn’t a fall guy. He was a funny guy, and there’s a difference. It seems to me he deserves at least one obit in which he does not have to share billing with the Man behind the desk.

He was a hustler, McMahon was. He shilled for any number of brands and clients, from dog food to sweepstakes. He was a 1950s-era salesman at heart. He was also a type found in the early days of television: someone who came to the medium because he was a good talker, a clever wit and would grab any break that came along.

He was also a decorated combat veteran. In this and other ways that are less openly admired, he was a real survivor. He did work he loved, he did it well, and he did it for a long time.

Godspeed, Ed.