Thursday, December 18, 2008

Media Meltdown

This may very well be a white Christmas, but for much of the country holiday dreams have turned into a nightmare. The current recession and financial uncertainties are resulting in substantial layoffs, which are then only compounding the economic downturn.

Take the media sector, which was already experiencing financial challenges due to technological advances and shifting consumer habits prior to the recession. Media companies are slashing costs, streamlining operations and purging their payrolls. Newspaper staffs, network entertainment divisions and news departments are all being reduced. A lot of very creative and smart people are out of a job at a time when hardly any company is hiring.

Advertising dollars, which were already spreading out over an ever-increasing number of alternatives, are now melting away faster than snow in Las Vegas. Automobile advertising represents 20% or more of a broadcast network's revenue. For a network with $4 billion in ad sales, automobile companies account for about $800 million in revenue. Automobile advertising can account for as much as 50% of a local television station's revenues. Of course, car ads are the lifeblood of local newspapers. So, what if two major automotive companies go out of business? The Detroit Free Press has already announced it will only offer home delivery three days a week.

Journalism, while still a popular subject in college, has been buffeted and battered by the winds of change. Americans are altering the way they get their news. Gallup just released a poll measuring shifts in the popularity of news sources over the past two years. Local TV news ranks first but it has fallen from 55% to 51%. Local newspapers saw a decline from 44% to 40%, and the broadcast network's evening newscasts declined slightly, from 35% to 34%. The real winners were cable news, up from 35% to 40%, and the Internet, up from 22% to 31%. Keep in mind that this past November CNN had the highest rated election night coverage, for the first time surpassing all three of the traditional broadcast networks. And Fox News and CNN each led the ratings during one of this year's presidential debates, another first.

A few days ago a group of journalism students toured a national news organization. A top cable news executive asked where they got their news. While a couple said they occasionally watched local news, none watched the network evening newscasts. A handful read a daily newspaper, but most went online to The New York Times or CNN site. Many watched some cable news each week, mostly CNN and Fox News. Yet all of them expressed concern about where they will be able to find a job and what the future will bring for their chosen profession. That concern is palpable among many formerly well-compensated and very talented journalists who have been squeezed out of the system.

Consolidation of media companies will accelerate in 2009. One or two traditional broadcast networks may very well have new owners by the end of next year. Meanwhile, reductions in operations and personnel will continue, and programming strategies and business models will be driven by financial necessities. The Internet will provide more and more revenue to the bottom line, but not enough to totally offset ad revenue losses. Local media outlets will increasingly rely on "central" content providers or aggregators and less on their own staff. Wages will be reduced, well-known talent will be let go, more reporters will be required to shoot and edit, unions will give concessions and capital budgets will be slashed. "Cough up the bucks," as Neil Young sings in his recent release.

The media industry is evolving at an ever-increasing pace. Web 2.0 is quickly becoming Web 3.0. Of course, no one is totally future proof. However, those who can reinvent themselves will be in the strongest position going forward. Those who adapt to and embrace technological and business changes, and who offer talent and imagination, will have the best chance in tomorrow's workforce. No matter the distribution platform, well produced, interesting and relevant content will be king.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cough up the Bucks

Neil Young pounded his brazen and blunt guitar leads out on stage and they surged through Madison Square Garden last night to the delight of his adoring fans. His presentation included a mixture of old classics and timely new songs.

Young straddles and bends as he cradles his 1953 Gibson Les Paul guitar, the one he calls "Old Black." His left foot thumps, his body twists and turns, almost hulking, and his long stringy hair flops and waves from side to side. He reaches deep inside for his distinctive voice and crinkles his face on the highest notes. He bounces to the left and darts to the right as his fingers fly up and down the guitar neck and his right hand slashes and stabs at the strings. Precision gives way to raw emotion. He is an aging rock star who lives in the moment. "It's better to burn out than to fade away," he screams with passion and fire.

His lyrics vary from simple and real to sardonic and rebellious. This "Godfather of Grunge" played his classic tunes such as "Cinnamon Girl" and "Cortez Cortez." His work has influenced many groups including Pearl Jam, Nirvanna and Wilco. He electrified his audience with "Rock and Roll is Here to Stay," an anthem for many baby boomers. The raucous crowd stilled for "The Needle and the Damage Done." Then, hunching over a pipe organ, he played and sang an appeal to the masses called "Mother Earth."

He often strives for relevance in his music; "Ohio," "Rockin'in the Free World," "Let's Roll" and "Let's Impeach the President" are some examples. So it was hardly surprising last night when he shouted "Cough up the Bucks" and sang, "Where did all the cash flow?/Where did all the money stream?" He carries his cynicism around with him where ever he goes. A native Canadian, he is frank, terse and to the point. Though he has had his ups and downs, he is always truthful and resilient.

Near the end of the concert he returned to fan favorites including "Heart of Gold" and "Old Man." Young knows his audience well and he entertains them with raw respect and bold directness.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"Ubi Est Mea"

Perhaps more than any other U.S. city, corruption has been a way of life in Chicago. This, after all, is a city that always got things done; "the city of big shoulders."

Chicago began in 1833 as a small town with a population of about 350. But by 1860 it was the fastest growing city in America and had a population of about 112,000 residents. That year Abe Lincoln was selected in Chicago on the third ballot to become the Republican Party's first candidate for president. Lincoln supporters famously jammed all the seats of the Chicago convention hall, known as the "Wigwam," locking out supporters of New York Senator William Seward. Since then Chicago has hosted more American national political conventions than any other city.

Chicago always did things in a big way. In the 1850's it reversed the flow of the Chicago River to open a path from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River. The 1871 Chicago Fire destroyed more than one-third of the city; they were primarily wooden structures. Chicago quickly rolled up its sleeves and rebuilt itself. By 1885 it became the site of the world's first "skyscraper," which had a steel skeleton. In 1893 it hosted the spectacular Chicago World's Fair, which featured great architecture and electrical power.

Chicago became the "Second City" in size but the first city in railroads, serving as America's transportation hub for decades. Chicago also became the "hog butcher" to the world, as the Chicago Stockyards were America's leading source of livestock. Because of its central location it became a through way for all things going east and west. And up until recently, Chicago's O'Hare airport was the world's busiest.

But there was always a dark side to the city. Chicago became the home of the notorious "Outfit" in the early 1900's. By the 1920's Al "Scarface" Capone was the boss. This powerful crime family operated independently of the five families in New York. During their heyday the Outfit ran illegal activities throughout the Midwest, Miami, Las Vegas and Hollywood. Using skimmed Teamster pension funds they built many of the original casinos in Las Vegas. Jimmy Hoffa may have known too much. Couriers would regularly travel from "Vegas" carrying suitcases full of cash. Frank "The Enforcer" Nitti, Paul "The Waiter" Ricca, Tony "The Big Tuna" Accardo, Jackie "The Lackey" Cerone and Joey "The Doves" Aiuppa all got their cut. Rumors had it that the Kennedy administration talked to Sam "Momo" Giancana about taking out Cuban leader Fidel Castro. The Outfit wasn't happy it lost its Havana business. Soon Momo had too high a profile so in 1975 he was "whacked" while cooking Italian sausage in the basement of his home.

Politics in Chicago has always been rough and tumble. Heads got busted, people were shook down, deals were made and things got done. It was always part of the city culture. From the mid-fifties to the mid-seventies Democratic Mayor Richard J. Daley ran the city. He was the last of the big city bosses. His powerful machine elected alderman, senators, governors and even President John Kennedy. "Vote early and vote often," was the Daley machine mantra. Supporters got city jobs and political favors. The trains ran on time.

Daley harshly cracked down on anti-war demonstrators during the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. Famous for his malapropisms, Daley declared, "Let's get the thing straight, gentlemen. The policeman isn't there to create disorder. The policeman is there to preserve disorder." He was appalled that tens-of-thousands demonstrators would disrupt and damage his city. At one point Daley issued a "shoot to kill" order to police to be carried out against violent rioters. Daley was widely denounced for his tactics.

Over the years, Mayor Daley consistently brushed aside charges of government corruption. "Look at our Lords disciples," he once said, "One denied Him; one doubted Him; one betrayed Him...If our Lord couldn't have perfection, how are you going to have it in city government?" But soon the Daley machine began to crumble as three powerful aldermen, and Daley associates, were convicted on a series of fraud, conspiracy and bribery charges. The U.S. Attorney described it as a "turning point" in the battle against corruption in Chicago. One local publication wrote, "Chicago politics will never be the same again."

But forty years later, Chicago style politics seems little changed. The charges against Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich may make "Lincoln role over in his grave," but many Chicagoans are probably just thinking, "Here we go again."

That's why the late great Chicago newspaperman, Mike Royko, gave the "Windy City" its official motto: "Ubi Est Mea -- Where's mine?"

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Couric's Do

Katie Couric is an outstanding talent and journalist. She is also courageous. These facts are immutable.

In May 2006 Katie gave up her co-anchor position on the Today Show, a position she successfully held for fifteen years. She wanted to try something different. She also had important personal reasons for wanting a change; she is a single mother raising two young daughters.

Katie chose an opportunity to anchor the CBS Evening News, the flagship newscast for America's most storied broadcast news organization. Katie would be the first woman to solo anchor a network evening newscast. This was a truly historic move.

But from the moment she arrived there were issues. CBS News had a long and rich tradition of growing anchors. It had been through a very difficult decade of budget cuts and internal turbulence. And CBS News also had a rigorous organizational culture, an abundance of ambitious employees and an enormously loyal audience. This was a most difficult transition to execute.

The ratings for all evening newscasts had been declining precipitously over the past decade, so it was time for a change. But CBS News may have changed the broadcast too dramatically. Since people who watch the evening news actually want to watch the evening news, many rejected these changes as non-traditional. Some of them defected to NBC or ABC. Expectations were poorly managed.

Today the CBS Evening News is as good as its competition. Its political coverage this election was very strong and most informative. Katie's interviews with Governor Sarah Palin may have been the most decisive event in a truly historic election. Critics, politicians and viewers all praised Katie for her smart and thoughtful questioning of Governor Palin. Katie "has hit her stride" reported most accounts.

For months CBS executives complained that some viewers and some press could not accept a woman as a national anchor. Charges of misogyny flew, but I couldn't believe them. Yet today's New York Daily News had a story about Katie's new hairstyle which she first wore Monday night. It was picked up by other national publications. There were even several Internet polls on how people liked Katie's new do.

Isn't it sad, that on a day when India is struggling with the aftermath of a despicable terrorist attack and America is reeling through a depressing recession, CBS News anchor Katie Couric's new hairstyle would create such a national stir.

I guess I was wrong. Women are still viewed differently.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Excessive Avarice

As the late great Senator Everett Dirksen (R-IL) so famously observed, “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.” Well there sure is a lot of real taxpayer money being thrown around these days in an effort to stop the U.S. economy from crashing. I haven’t had the courage to tell my 12 year-old daughter that her share of the national deficit is already $20,000 and it will likely double very soon.

Yes, Congress must pass a stimulus package to “jump start” the U.S. economy. Yes, Uncle Sam must inject another $25 billion into Citibank and back $306 billion of its residential and commercial real estate loans. Yes, other banks will need help too. Yes, the U.S. had to pump $154 billion into AIG. It could not let Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac fail. And it is likely to give the U.S. automakers a bailout when they present Congress revised business plans.

It is going to take more than a $750 billion TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program) for the newly established “Office of Financial Stability” to right the ship. Members of the Bush and incoming Obama administrations are working feverishly to set the economy on the road to recovery. This task is made more complicated because of the complexity of many of these failed transactions and by the fact that we live in a global economy. Alarmingly, we still don’t know the full extent of the financial exposure. We do know, regretfully, that hundreds of thousands of Americans are losing their jobs; that tens of thousands of citizens are losing their homes; and that thousands upon thousands of seniors are spending the last few dollars of their life's savings.

I visited a neighborhood store that is usually packed during the holiday season. Not so today. “No one is spending money,” said my friend the owner, “I am dying.” My neighborhood is one of the wealthiest in the country yet several of its stores have closed in just the past few weeks. All anyone talks about is the economy (although talk of a possible “Jet-Giant” Superbowl represents a welcome diversion). Soberly President-elect Obama says, “it’s going to get worse before it gets better.” And a Russian political analyst is predicting the United States will “collapse and break apart.”

American has overcome great difficulties in its history and emerged stronger than ever. The Civil War, The Depression and World War II are examples of its unmatched spirit, resilience, ingenuity and tenacity. I am confident that my daughter’s children will be born into the greatest nation in the history of the world.

But let us not lose sight of the fact that excessive avarice is largely responsible for the nightmare we are living through today. Our democratic capitalist system makes it possible for just about anyone to become wealthy. On the other hand, it permitted a few greedy corporate executives to exploit the system for enormous personal gain by setting up a Ponzi scheme involving risky real estate loans and complicated securities. The regulations were few, checks and balances were minimized, controls were scant, CEO appointed boards co-conspired, and salaries, bonuses and fees were outrageously high.

Here is one thing I, a U.S. taxpayer, am going to insist on: go after the people who profited while bringing this country to its knees. Citibank’s former CEO, Charles O. Prince, made tens of millions of dollars along with the head of its trading division, Thomas Maheras, its senior “risk” officer, David C. Bushnell, and many other top executives, all based on the bank’s surging performance. But many of these deals were unreasonably risky and they have nearly bankrupted the institution. Take Stanley O’Neal, formerly CEO of Merrill Lynch. His golden parachute, the one he got for destroying his company, is in excess of $160 million dollars. The board stacked with O’Neal loyalists approved the package. These are just a few names of executives who have gotten rich and gotten the hell out of town.

Here’s a proposal. Until recently the national debt was nearly $6 trillion and it is likely to more than double during America’s economic recovery. So the increase is about 50% of the new total. The IRS should take back 50% of Stan O’Neal’s golden parachute, or $80 million, and re-allocate it to the TARP. My name for this program is the “Excessive Avarice & Total Incompetence Tax.” That’s "EAT IT" for short. A million here and a million there and pretty soon we're talking real money.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Senator Clinton Again

At long last it appears that Senator Hillary Clinton will be President-elect Barack Obama's Secretary of State. The announcement will apparently be made after Thanksgiving, along with the names of the rest of Obama's national security team.

So now it falls to New York Governor David Paterson to appoint a replacement. And, of course, a lot of lobbying is going on behind the scenes for this plum assignment. The governor has taken his own name out of the running, but the state's aggressive attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, is a strong candidate.

Governor Paterson, if you haven't done so already, give William Jefferson Clinton a call and see if he's interested. It is not unprecedented. Two former presidents have served in the U.S. Congress in the past. Former President John Quincy Adams spent 17 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and President Andrew Johnson served as a U.S. Senator.

President Clinton is one of the most powerful and admired politicians in the United States. His presidency was largely very successful; the country prospered and during his two terms America was widely respected around the world.

With the U.S. economy in the tank and our troops fighting two wars, there is plenty of work to be done. Clinton is exceptionally knowledgeable on most issues, passionate and he has unmatched experience, including as a state governor. And he will have more time because, with Hillary's appointment as secretary of state, Bill will have to curtail his outside speaking and fund-raising. And the Clinton's can buy a second home in Foggy Bottom, just a short hop from Reagan Airport and the New York shuttle.

Yes, Bill is a bit of a maverick and he likes to speak his mind. But he may be more constrained as a senator than as a private citizen. And senators are independent operators, so he will have plenty of flexibility. Can you imagine both Senator Chuck Schumer and Senator Bill Clinton serving the same state in the same chamber? My hunch is Clinton would try not to do anything that undermines or embarrasses his wife in the world's greatest deliberative body (like South Carolina), nor with the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Yet he would be a powerful force and voice to assist in positive change for America.

The Clinton Senate seat is up again in two years. If Bill Clinton does not like the job he can always step aside. But this is "an all hands on deck" time in our nation's history, to quote Obama. This country needs all the heavy-hitters it can muster on the front lines fully engaged. The country needs ideas, innovation, imagination and people who can deal with the complicated and challenging issues facing America today.

President-elect Barack Obama is confident, intelligent and secure enough to handle strong-willed people. Bill Clinton is a smart, savvy and superbly experienced leader. And America needs all the help it can get.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Two weeks ago Senator Barack Obama was elected to our nation’s highest office by a large margin. This coming January 20 a record breaking four million people are forecast to attend his inauguration at the U.S. Capitol. This is especially amazing since Barack Obama is responsible for the recession? Aghast, didn’t you hear!

“The Obama recession is in full swing,” radio right-winger and spitball zinger Rush Limbaugh has declared. “This Obama recession might turn into a depression,” he warned, “and his ideas are killing the economy.” Limbaugh’s charge is based on Obama’s pledge to raise income taxes for people making more than $250,000 a year and that he may increase capital gains rates for the wealthy.

Do I hear an echo? Oh, yes, it’s Sean Hannity. “Wall Street keeps sinking, could it be the Obama recession?” asks Hannity. This is now a major topic on his television show and throughout the right-wing radio talk world as well. Hey, Sean, can’t you find a way to pin this on Bill Ayers and the Reverend Wright too? Like it’s a radical left-wing cabal headed up by Hussein Obama. If I am not mistaken, your fear is that America doesn’t know who the real Barack Hussein Obama is?

Well, in case you haven’t seen it, the United States is already in a “prolonged” recession. The National Association for Business Economics, NABE, just released a survey of leading economists and the findings are depressing.

Most economists surveyed believe that the U.S. recession began on or about the beginning of 2008, well before Obama’s first primary win. During the third quarter of this year they estimate that GDP (Gross Domestic Product) contracted by .3%, and it will fall an amazing 2.6% in this, the fourth quarter. A recession is two consecutive quarters of negative GDP. Nearly three-fourths of those surveyed believe that economy will grow a paltry .7% next year, starting off with a 1.3% decline in the first quarter and slowly improving.

However, unemployment is forecast to hit 7.5% by the end of next year, and given the recent surge in layoffs that number will probably be quickly revised upward. The unemployment rate is currently at 6.5%.

If this forecast is not bad enough, consider we are in a global meltdown and that most economists don’t know how the current financial crisis will play out. Banks and financial institutions are uncertain about their future, foreclosures are at a record high, and our great economic engine, the U.S. auto industry, may soon be out of business.

The U.S. government bailout is not working because it was not well thought out. But it is adding to America’s national debt, which is now approaching $11 trillion. That’s double what it was in 2000 when President George Bush was sworn into office as a compassionate conservative. During his tenure President Bush has added more than $15,000 in debt for each and every American, and the total debt is growing at a rate of $3.90 billion a day!

Meanwhile, we are mired in two costly wars, both in dollars and precious lives. And we urgently need to fix health care, education, entitlements, the environment, infrastructure and the list goes on. Furthermore, China and Japan are among the nations that own a large chunk of America and we are asking for more foreign investment. Thankfully, the George W. Bush administration will leave office in just a few weeks.

But Limbaugh and Hannity will go on and on. Each of them is free to shout and scream any outrageous, idiotic and inane comment they want in our great country. They daily manifest deceitfulness, divisiveness and greed. Clearly they are not encumbered by responsibility, integrity and decency. But each, with their $100 million plus employment contracts, are sure not feeling any economic pain from the Obama-cession.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Ones and Zeros

The television station business is terrible and, given today’s uncertain economy, the future is ominous.

For decades local stations were cash cows providing owners with huge profit margins. News operations represent the biggest budget item at most stations in large part because of the growth of local news programming in most markets in the 80's and 90's. Not so anymore. The television audience has been dispersing over an array of alternative choices. One result is that local sales revenues have been declining and, for some time now, stations have been aggressively cutting costs. All the least painful and disruptive cuts were made long ago. Stations must find a new way to do business.

News production is labor and capital intensive, and even amortizing costs over additional news programs is problematic in the current sales environment. Stations have already been through several rounds of cost cuts. The result, putting aside the star personalities, graphics and a few special features, is that local newscasts are pretty much similar.

The Fox and NBC owned local station groups have announced they are beginning a local news service that will make it possible to share video and reduce costs. The service will officially start in Philadelphia early next year at WTXF (Fox) and WCAU (CBS), where these stations have been conducting a "proof of concept" since last summer. Subsequently the service will roll out to major cities where each network has an English language television station. The video will also be available to other local media organizations in each market.

John Wallace, president of NBC Local Media and an industry innovator, said, “By pooling resources to provide video coverage of general market events, we can ensure our stations are covering the news of the day, and at the same time, focus our efforts on the type of specialized reporting that defines our brands and differentiates our stations within their communities.” So some of the cost savings from newsgathering will be reinvested in enterprise stories, franchise pieces and special series that are unique. But headcount, capital and facility expenses will be reduced.

When I was a senior executive at CBS News twenty years ago, before the Berlin Wall had fallen, Tiananmen Square and the Internet boom, I met with one of my counterparts at a competitor who proffered this proposal: “let’s share news content.” He said, “News is a commodity, we are each spending too much money and it all looks the same.” He even provided a scenario, “You cover the front door of the Kremlin and we will cover the back door, that way we each don’t have to have two crews there.”

At the time The CBS Evening News was number one in the national ratings. This was no accident. We were very competitive in the field, fighting for every exclusive story, interview or picture. CBS News also offered an abundance of outstanding original reporting from its powerful team of correspondents. CBS News produced success.

Back then, complicated operational and anti-trust problems helped nix the proposal. More importantly, such a move would have sapped our competitive edge and distinctiveness, it would have discouraged original reporting, it would have accelerated homogeneity among the evening newscasts, it would have discouraged our journalists, it would have been disruptive and it would have resulted in a dramatic reduction of our resources.

Now, two decades later, a technological explosion has altered media landscape into hundreds of channels, satellites, Internet sites and mobile phone service providers. Get any content, anywhere, anytime. Content is acquired and repackaged from multiple sources, including embedded content, "user" supplied video and EPK's. Correspondents are more likely to be “packagers” who don’t even have to leave the studio. More and more they rely on the same news wires for information. But packaging is not original reporting. Loudly offering an opinion is not experienced analysis. Wikipedia and Google searches do not replace thorough research.

Original reporting, including investigative pieces, quality story telling and thoughtful analysis, helps a news organization build a bond with its audience on each of its platforms. It is how a responsible news organization serves the public. It is how our Democracy thrives and remains strong particularly in a crisis such as 9/11 or the collapsing economy.

These elements are at the heart of journalism and make up the identity and character of a news organization. Without them, to paraphrase the great Edward R. Murrow, it is nothing but ones and zeros in a box.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Dead Donkey

Sal sells his donkey to Sam for $100.

A couple days later the donkey dies.

The Sam goes to the Sal and says, "that donkey you sold me died. I want my $100 back."

The Sal says, "I already spent the money."

The Sam says, "Okay, I'll keep the donkey, don't worry about it."

A few months later the two cross paths.

"What did you ever do with that dead donkey?" Sal asked.

Sam responded, "I sold it and made a big profit."

"How did you do that?" asked Sal.

"Well," said Sam, "I raffled it off at $2 a ticket and I sold 100 tickets."

Stunned Sal asked, "But the donkey was dead!"

Sam smiled, "Yeah, but I only had to tell that to one person."

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Broadcast News Blues

The 2008 presidential election made history as for the first time America elected an African American to be president. It also made history as a cable news organization drew more viewers election night than any of its long established broadcast news competitors.

Nearly 80 million viewers tuned in to television election night, about 20 million more than election night 2004. In "extended coverage," from 8:00pm to 12:30am, CNN had 13.3 million viewers, about eighty thousand more than second place finisher ABC News, and about a million more viewers than NBC News. In fact, CNN nearly doubled CBS News in viewers. The three broadcast networks combined drew nearly 32 million viewers, just 4 million more that the top three cable news networks.

Because of their entertainment programming commitments, the broadcast networks provide much less news each day, and only interrupt regular programming for major breaking news. News viewers have been increasingly reliant on cable news as their first choice for news any time of day. Consequently, brand loyalties are shifting from the established broadcast news networks to cable news outlets.

The resurgence of CNN, the emergence of the Fox News Channel and the recent growth of MSNBC, have all increased viewer awareness and sampling for these cable outlets. The 2008 elections have, so to speak, lifted all cable news boats, giving CNN a big boost while conservative news junkies flocked to Fox and liberals turned to MSNBC. The Fox News Channel and CNN each drew the largest audience for one of the three presidential debates. No doubt post election news viewing will recede, but combined cable news audiences are certain to settle in at a new higher level.

Ted Turner's old mantra was that the "news is the star." No more. Today cable news is driven largely by brash personalities unabashedly expressing their views and opinions. Of course, there are exceptions. Nonetheless, many cable news anchors are viewed as super stars and mentioned on a par with their broadcast news counterparts.

Cable news organizations derive revenues from commercials and "sub fees," a dual stream, so even a couple million viewers are lucrative. While the evening newscasts each typically draw six to eight million viewers, they only get revenues from one source of revenue, commercials. Advertising rates have decreased because there is so much news programming and inventory available for the audience. Also news audiences are made up of older viewers, which are less desirable for advertisers to reach. Finally, given the economic climate, companies are sharply reducing their advertising budgets. Cost pressures are likely to fall disproportionately hard on broadcasters.

Morning news programs are lucrative. NBC's Today Show makes an enormous amount of money which helps to underwrite general news division costs. ABC's Good Morning America and CBS's Early Show each are very profitable, but to a lesser extent. Morning television has been the only time period to show viewer growth. Nonetheless, the advertising contraction will impact even these programs, and the cable news networks are aggressively going after market share in the morning.

Viewership of the evening newscasts on the broadcast networks continues to decline. NBC has the benefit of both a broadcast and a cable news network, MSNBC. They have worked aggressively to integrate operations to be more efficient and effective and have focused a lot on the Internet. The ABC and CBS news divisions do not have a cable news operation to share costs with so they are in a much more difficult position. And their Internet efforts have not been very profitable so far.

Next year a new president will be sworn in and he has pledged to take us in a new direction. Change is coming. But today, broadcast news organizations are already re-examining their strategy, vision and business models. Change is coming.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Only in America

The results of America’s presidential election are being acclaimed and celebrated around the world. Only in America is such a story possible.

The world’s greatest democracy has decided to change course at a time when it is sinking into a recession and engaged in two difficult wars. And it has selected as its president a relative newcomer with a most unusual name: Barack Hussein Obama. As a consequence, it has also addressed its single greatest failing in American history: slavery and its painful legacy. While not erasing this great scar, this election brings to a close a most important chapter in the struggle for equal rights.

Yesterday America resolutely declared its intentions for its future. Domestically it will address its economic problems through investment and innovation, it will ease the burden on middle class families by offering tax breaks, better health care and a quality education. America will work to end the Iraq war responsibly, go after Bin Laden wherever he may be, and it will work to elevate America’s standing in the world. The election of Obama has already re-opened many doors overseas.

In the afterglow of this election, hope, optimism and pride shine brightly throughout this land. There is little doubt that President-elect Obama is ready to lead the country. His election campaign was a masterful display of managerial, strategic and operational skills. Obama’s experience as a community organizer in Chicago gave him a major advantage as he linked a vast social network together around his proposals using twenty-first century technology. His supporters were immensely devoted to him, and they delivered record campaign donations and votes.

At this moment Obama has a righteous wind at his back. But expectations are already unrealistically soaring, both here and abroad. This election is not the end of our problems it is only the beginning of a long steep road. And impatience, instant reward, self-interests, personal agendas all will add to the onerous challenges facing our new president. Americans must show resolve, courage, selflessness, and be willing to endure sacrifice to stay on course.

I fear that gloating Democrats may present more of an obstacle in the months ahead than bitter Republicans. Democratic leaders in both houses must subordinate their own interests and egos to the greater good of the country. They must make a good faith effort to follow the direction set for them by President-elect Obama.

It already appears that President-elect Obama and his team will maximize their transition period before entering the White House. But I urge them to hit the ground running with some easy wins when they take office. The Democratic majority in Congress should do all it can to expedite these initiatives and build positive momentum. Democrats have formed a new coalition around Obama, they should do their part to preserve it.

I remind President-elect Obama that the nation and the world will judge him by the appointments he makes to his cabinet and key White House positions. President Lincoln had his “Team of Rivals.” In that spirit, I hope that Obama selects the best qualified candidates from both parties to serve in his cabinet. This is a new America, free of the tired old way of politics, to paraphrase the President-elect.

And speaking of President Abraham Lincoln, it was only seven generations ago Lincoln was elected to maintain the Union and end slavery. Then, in the midst of the great Civil War, in 1864 he issued the Emancipation Proclamation. One hundred years later, in the 1960’s, Blacks and whites clashed over the rights of minorities. I saw the Reverend Martin Luther King speak, I saw “colored only” fountains and bathrooms, I witnessed the horror of segregation as it manifest itself in both the North and the South.

And now, in my lifetime, I have seen an African American do what was impossible only a few years ago. Only in America can such a story be possible.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Ignorance and Impunity

The 2008 presidential elections will be historic no matter the outcome. America will soon have its first African American president or woman vice president. Yet today America is immersed in a serious economic crisis, mired down in two wars and our global leadership is teetering. In short, this will be one of the most critical elections in this nation’s glorious history.

Our founding fathers pointed to an enlightened citizenry as the best guarantee for a proper functioning republic. President Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “Convinced that the people are the only safe depositories of their own liberty, and that they are not safe unless enlightened to a certain degree, I have looked at our present state of liberty as a short-lived possession unless the mass of the people could be informed to a certain degree.”

With so much at stake you would think that “the mass” of our electorate would be well informed about the candidates. Americans have vast sources of information available to them in an instant, anywhere and anytime. Yet it is still amazing how many still accept as gospel pernicious gossip they receive in the form of emails or leaflets. Worse, even after hearing the truth, some refuse to alter their views, probably because they have entrenched biases and profound ignorance.

Recently I found myself in a political conversation with support staff at a prominent financial institution. One of them, an immigrant from Easter Europe who is a naturalized citizen, declared, “I won’t vote for Obama because he is not a U.S citizen.”

“Where did you hear that?” I asked.

“I got an email, I get all these kind of emails,” she said.

"He was born in Hawaii," I replied, "and if your charge was true McCain would have jumped on it long ago."

Earlier this week on “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart presented a brilliantly unsettling report by correspondent John Oliver entitled "Labels," as in liberal and conservative. Oliver talked to people at both McCain and Obama rallies.

“He is a Muslim,” said one McCain admirer of Obama, “it’s part of his history.”

Another offered this warning, “He’s going to put a turban on and he’s going to go in the White House and we're all going to be shocked.” A recent poll of Texas Republicans conducted by Texas A&M University found that 25% of the respondents believe Obama is a Muslim. Well, the truth is that Obama is a Christian. And so what if he was a Muslim, which he is not?

A few days ago, I ran into some folks in the construction trades where talk of politics has become more prominent lately. “If Obama is elected president,” one opined, “we are going to have terrorists in our country and America as we know it will be gone.” This guy is am immigrant who has only known America for a few years.

Of course, with charges and counter-charges being thrown by both campaigns, some dirt may stick. And some people just want to believe what they want to believe. But many potential voters are simply not doing their part to make an informed decision based on relevant facts. You would think that, after the economy collapsed, health care and education are threatened and our military is stretched thin, voters would make some effort to learn the truth about the candidates.

To paraphrase Santayana, those who don’t take time to learn history are condemned to repeat it. Better yet, President Thomas Jefferson warned, “No nation is permitted to live in ignorance with impunity."

Thank God It's Over

The Philadelphia Phillies beat the Tampa Bay Rays in four games to become Major League Baseball's 2008 worlds champion. Big deal. It only took four games and at least three rain delays, which were unfortunately more exciting than the actual games.

I have a few suggestions for MLB:

--Every World Series must include a team from one of the following cities: New York, Boston, Chicago or Los Angeles. For instance, "the Red Sox and Colorado," "St. Louis and the Yankees."

--Teams with a total annual home attendance of less than two million for the regular season cannot partake in the World Series. Tampa Bay's average attendance per game was 22,259, or 52.8% their stadium's capacity,in spite of the fact that they were in first place for a considerable time this season. Under this rule Tampa Bay, Texas, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Florida and Oakland would not have qualified in 2008.

--Teams whose stadiums have ceiling rafters "in-play" are automatically out. Teams with a "green monster," ivy covered outfield walls, or a memorial park beyond the left field wall are automatically contenders for a slot in the series.

I have been a baseball fan all my life, more than six decades. This season the World Series was devoid of powerful stars and phenomenal plays. It was the most disrupted, delayed and suspended series ever. Neither team was inspiring on the national stage. It was boring.

To paraphrase New York Yankee great Yogi Berra, "this one was over before it was over."

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Miracle?

Today's mass at St. Thomas More Catholic Church was said by Monsignor Thomas J. Shelley, who is also an author and professor at Fordham University in New York City. I like him a lot because his homilies are often timely and relevant. Take today's, for example.

I have an old story for you today. A man came to the rectory door one day where he was greeted by a priest. The priest asked the man, "How can I help you?"

The man said, "I am going broke, my business is failing and my wife is about to leave me."

The priest pondered this for a moment and then responded, "I am a priest, I really don't know anything about finances." But, being a priest, he offered some hope. "Open your Bible to any page, at random. Read that page and you will find an answer."

With that suggestion the man thanked the priest and departed.

A couple years later the man returned to the rectory and knocked on the door.

The priest answered the door, "How can I help you."

The man said, "I just came to thank you for the advice you gave me two years ago, it turned my life around."

The priest smiled and responded, "I am very happy for you, but could you remind me what my advice was?"

The man replied, "I told you I was broke, my business was failing and my wife was about to leave me."

The priest nodded.

The man continued, "You said to open the Bible and I would find an answer. I went home and opened my Bible. The first thing I saw was Chapter 11. So I filed for Chapter 11 and now I am once again wealthy, my business is a success and my wife and I have reconciled!"

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Shooting Star

Ambition alone does not make a candidate worthy of this nation's second highest office, but it can sure get you far, especially when a campaign is desperate. However, Governor Sarah Palin would be well advised not to try to turn on her running mate, Senator John McCain.

This election Governor Palin employed smart tactics to get herself invited to the dance. Retaining a smart public relations adviser paid off for the Governor. Her name began appearing in just the right places, and she cultivated the right people within the Republican Party. She worked all the angles and, as a result, got the chance of a lifetime.

As revealed in the New York Times magazine this week, the process of selecting Palin short-circuited the normally rigorous scrutiny one would expect for such an important decision. Prior to her selection, senior McCain advisers spent two hours with her asking "questions based on vetting material." They had reviewed a tape of her appearance on "The Charlie Rose Show," where even they conceded she seemed out of her depth on some issues. She overwhelmed them with her consistency and confidence. She so impressed them that alarm bells didn't even go off when they asked her about the "Troopergate" matter and her daughter's pregnancy. In the end, they overlooked her lack of experience on national and international issues because she wowed them.

Senator McCain spent one hour with Palin on his ranch beside a sycamore tree and a local creek. What was he thinking? What was he asking her? Then, after a short meeting with McCain's wife Cindy, the Senator soon was going over the pros and cons with his top advisers. McCain, who prides himself on doing what his gut tells him, said "I'm going to offer it to her."

For the next few days she dazzled America with her presence, swagger and self-confidence. Conservative supporters were excited and engaged and the Republican convention was electrified. McCain/Palin seemed like a powerful antidote for a dispirited party. But soon it became clear that the Governor was limited, and not even $150,000 in designer clothes could hide her shortcomings. She couldn't answer questions on many important issues, reverting instead to talking points like reform and maverick. She became live bait for comedians and programs like Saturday Night Live. Many Americans gave her the benefit of a doubt, but the doubts were growing.

Palin has now gone from a big asset for the campaign to a major negative. Leading Republicans have publicly criticized her selection. All efforts by the McCain campaign to divert attention from her, including attacking the "main stream media," have not worked. Even a series of interviews with Republican commentator Sean Hannity, who tossed her softballs, confirmed her to be lacking in depth. If it looks too good, well, you know.

Now there is reason to believe Palin is turning on her benefactors. She is eager to consolidate the right and deflect blame for her predicament. No, Governor, don't do that! You are the architect of this mess. If you truly want to be admired, do something admirable. Be a good soldier and fight this battle to the end. Retain what good will remains in the hearts of your supporters. Then, after the election, work hard to prepare yourself for whatever national office you may aspire to. Otherwise, you are certain to be just another shooting star lighting the skies over Alaska.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Plumber vs. The General

I watched Senator John McCain on television speaking Sunday afternoon to an auditorium filled with supporters in Toledo, Ohio. At first I thought to myself what a nice moment. The fact is it seems there have been too few really nice moments at McCain and Palin rallies lately because they seem desperate.

Before long Senator McCain launched into an attack on his opponent, Senator Barack Obama, with great energy but little veracity. "Joe the Plumber is the only person to get Obama to answer a question," he flailed, "and he didn't ask him to come to his door." His door? "He didn't ask Obama to come to his house," he went on, "and he didn't ask for those political attacks from the Obama campaign." There were attacks by the Obama campaign against Joe? "No American should be attacked for asking a question of a presidential candidate," he steamed, "attacks on him are attacks small businesses across the country."

I rushed to YouTube to screen the more than five minute meeting between Obama and Joe. It was very cordial and Obama seemed genuinely engaged in the conversation. It took place on a campaign stop, not at Joe's house. And what of Joe? He has a lien on his house for not paying his taxes. I guess Joe just doesn't like taxes. And it is well known now that Joe is not a licensed plumber, he is not trying to buy a plumbing business and he does not make very much income.

Governor Sarah Palin used much the same thrust during her campaign stops Sunday. Praising Joe the plumber for asking Obama tough questions, Palin said Obama sounded like a socialist. Then she charged that Joe is being investigated for asking a question. Don't these candidates understand that they undermine their own campaign with these shoddy attempts to fire up their own base? Why can't they just offer some straight talk about their positions on the critical issues? Hyperbole is fine, but using this Joe the plumber seems misguided.

General Colin Powell, a true American hero, announced earlier in the day he would vote for Senator Obama. His thoughtful and articulate explanation on Meet The Press was filled with praise for both candidates. And Powell described McCain as a long time friend. An important factor in that support of Obama was all the negative campaigning he has witnessed from the McCain campaign. He also expressed his doubts about Palin's readiness for the presidency. On the other hand, he spoke of Obama in glowing terms. He had seen how the Illinois Senator has recently handled his campaign, citing his intelligence and steadiness through the recent economic crisis. "He is ready," pronounced Powell, "he has the potential to be an exceptional president."

Joe the plumber is the centerpiece of the McCain campaign. General Colin Powell's endorsement will now be an important factor in the Obama campaign. This pretty much sums up the state of this race with two weeks to go before the election.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Home Stretch

Senator Barack Obama reassured his supporters and converted a few independents with his measured and composed performance in last night's debate. On the other hand, Senator John McCain came out swinging, in an effort to appease his base, but overall he seemed exasperated and frustrated.

For sure, McCain had some good moments. For instance, "Senator Obama, I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago." No doubt a planned response, as was the introduction of "Joe the Plumber," now the most famous plumber since E. Howard Hunt of Watergate fame. McCain's point was that if you raise taxes on small business owners, like Joe, the businesses would not be able to create jobs. But Obama reached right for the middle class in his response saying, "I want to provide a tax cut for 95% of working Americans."

Obama clearly had a plan going into the debate. While his performance was a bit slow out of the gate, Obama seemed thoughtful, steady and comfortable. He stared right into the camera when addressing the audience. He fortified his growing grasp on the middle class, especially with his position on health care. He established that the average health policy costs more than $12,000 a year, and then got McCain to admit he would tax corporate health care benefits. That admission no doubt sent alarm bells off in living rooms across the country.

McCain tried to paint Obama as the negative campaigner and himself as the victim. But Obama pushed back, "100% of your ads, John, 100% have been negative." Then McCain finally raised the specter of Obama's associations with Bill Ayers and ACORN, a controversial voter registration group, in a debate forum. Obama calmly offered his explanation and then pointedly said, "I think the fact that this has become such an important part of your campaign, Senator McCain says more about your campaign than it says about me."

After three debates with Senator McCain it is clear that Obama is a pretty cool customer. His performances have been consistent, steady and confident. He displayed a command of the facts and a thorough understanding of his positions on the issues. On the other hand, McCain's performance has been inconsistent, at times sarcastic and snide. Last night he failed to capitalize on opportunities and he failed to connect with "Joe Six Pack." Although Joe the Plumber and the Republican base may feel good about last night's debate, even Fox News analysts found little to praise in McCain's performance.

As the campaign heads into the home stretch, chances are voters will remain preoccupied with the struggling American economy, rising unemployment, falling wages, loss of wealth, escalating mortgage rates and record foreclosures. The earthquake on Wall Street has already had a tsunami like effect across the country. Everyone has pretty much lost confidence and the road to recovery is uncertain. This is their October surprise!

Americans are looking for a steady and confident leader who has a good plan and the ability to effectively implement it. I think most Americans have now decided who they want that leader to be come next January, and it's not Joe the Plumber.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Day Late, A Few Billion Short

Senator John McCain today proposed a $52.5 billion dollar economic plan that is a day late and billions of dollars short of his opponent's proposal. McCain did so while campaigning in the battleground state of Pennsylvania. His proposal would cut the capital gains tax, eliminate taxes on unemployment benefits and lower the tax rates on Individual Retirement Accounts. McCain also warned his audience to be wary of Senator Barack Obama because he has voted for tax increases "his entire career."

Yet McCain's proposal is smaller and less sweeping than Obama's, which he unveiled yesterday. "The one word that is on everyone's mind is J-O-B-S," Obama said in his announcement in hotly contested Ohio, which has been economically hard hit. Targeting the middle class, Obama's plan includes a $3,000 tax cut for businesses who hire additional employees, tax cuts for households making less that $250,000 a year, reduced penalties for borrowing from a 401K retirement account, and a 90 day moratorium on most home foreclosures. It appears that Obama has again trumped McCain on the economy.

As with throughout the recent economic crisis, Obama has shown strength, leadership and calm. McCain has appeared out of sync and flappable. He suspended his campaign yet campaigned. He tried to get credit for a bailout plan that he at the same time discredited. He even cancelled an appearance on David Letterman only to be caught in a little white lie. The McCain campaign has misused Governor Sarah Palin almost from the start. She has become a charming and charismatic pit bull with lipstick. Handlers crammed the former sportscaster with more stats than she has ever seen in her entire life both as a mayor and Governor. And, until recently, both McCain and Palin have stirred up the most hateful rhetoric directed to Senator Obama.

Senator McCain has lost his already precarious footing within his own party, especially those on the far right, whose frustration is growing loud and vocal. No wonder, McCain has ping-ponged from one strategy to another--experience, maverick, bipartisan, POW, American hero, reformer, tax cutter, "Surge" supporter, foreign policy expert and veteran. So Senator McCain finds himself falling way behind in the national polls as well as in thosefrom the many states President George Bush carried last election. And McCain's negatives are at an all time high across the board reflecting the tone of his campaign. Yet now McCain has Obama right where he wants him!

The truth is Senator McCain still has a real chance. If the stock market can drop 18% in one week, anything can happen. Some in the electorate remain uncertain about Senator Barack Obama. And, while more and more undecided voters are getting used to the idea of an Obama presidency, a major international incident, or an Obama gaffe, could change the current trajectory of the campaign.

Moderator Bob Schieffer: "Senator McCain, you have two minutes for your opening remarks"

Senator John McCain: " Thank you, Bob. Friends, I open with a question for Senator Obama. What's the deal with your pal, terrorist Bill Ayers? And can you go over that Reverend Wright thing one more time for the folks out there--this time in detail?"

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

"That One" wins Round 2

Senator John McCain had to clearly win Tuesday’s debate in order to change the momentum of the presidential campaign. Senator Barack Obama had to look presidential and trustworthy in order to maintain his momentum. In the end, Senator Obama did what he had to do to reassure most voters.

“I think everybody knows we are in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression,” Obama zinged, “ and I believe this is a final verdict on the failed economic policies of the last eight years, promoted by President Bush and supported by Senator McCain.” Obama seemed confident, presidential and smart throughout the debate.

Senator John McCain came out on the offensive. “Senator Obama, it’s good to be with you at a town hall meeting,” he sarcastically observed. His proposal for weekly town hall meetings had been turned down by the Obama team early on in the campaign.

McCain seemed, at times, to be condescending and arrogant. His body language indicated he did not believe Senator Obama deserved to be on the same stage with him. McCain often impatiently paced while Obama spoke. And, as in the first debate, McCain did not look at his opponent very much, especially when he was attacking him. “Senator Obama was the second highest recipient of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac money in history,” he charged while looking directly at the audience.

Obama kept his eye on McCain most of the time and he appeared to be engaged in his opponent’s every word. “I never promoted Fannie Mae,” Obama briskly retorted, “In fact, Senator McCain’s campaign chairman’s firm was a lobbyist on behalf of Fannie Mae, not me.”

The economic crisis facing this nation took up most of the debate. There were dueling health plans, tax plans and economic stimulus packages. Of note, McCain mentioned Senator Joe Lieberman’s name but failed to mention his running mate. For her part, Governor Sarah Palin has become the campaign mascot, a pit bull with lipstick. This past week she has aggressively attacked Obama for his relationship with radical anti-war terrorist William Ayers. But, interestingly, Bill Ayers’ name did not come up in this debate. Maybe it’s not important after all (except to Sean Hannity).

Senator McCain overused the term “my friends;" after a while it sounded disingenuous. For instance, “my friends, I know you grow a little weary with this back and forth.” Or, in an historical reference, “my friends, the last president to raise taxes during tough economic times was Herbert Hoover.” That’s the same Herbert Hoover who, just before the Great Depression, once said, “no one can rightly deny the fundamental correctness of our economic system.” Does that sound familiar?

Senator McCain’s debate strategy came down to a couple basic ideas. “We’ve got to give some trust and confidence back to America, I know how to get America working again my friends.” And, of course, “I have a clear record of bipartisanship my friends.”

Obama’s demeanor during the debate was calm, smart and warmer than it had been in previous appearances. He appeared strong but never in an emotional way. McCain jabbed and parried. He often resorted to snarky comments that play well with the Republican base. “You know who voted for it,” McCain scorned about an energy bill recently before Congress, “That one.”

There is only one more debate and less than a month remaining before the presidential election. The economy is not a good issue for McCain and Republicans. The Iraq war and foreign policy are not good issues for McCain. Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright are a useless diversion for the majority of Americans.

McCain has come back from near death experiences before. But unless there is a political earthquake in the next couple of weeks, “That one” will become Mr. President!

And Republicans will begin preparing Sarah Palin for her 2012 presidential run.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

60 Minutes at 40!

60 MINUTES officially celebrated its 40th birthday last night at the Central Park Boat House. Jeff Fager, who is its current "brilliant" executive producer, hosted more than two hundred present and past staff members and friends.

Most striking was the presence of the creator and founding executive producer, the brilliant Don Hewitt, who recently underwent heart surgery. He was physically weak, ashen faced and crooked over at the hip. His usual energetic and booming voice was weak and strained. This is a man who once walked with great swagger, confidence and gravitas. This is the man who directed the 1960 presidential debates between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, and SEE IT NOW with Edward R. Murrow.

Hewitt had to be helped to the podium and he had difficulty reading the three pages of remarks he had prepared. With humor and great pride he spoke of his team of correspondents beginning with his co-conspirator, Mike Wallace. There probably would have been no 60 MINUTES had Mike Wallace not been involved.

In the mid-sixties, Don Hewitt served as executive producer of the CBS EVENING NEWS with Walter Cronkite. Hewitt had expanded the program from fifteen minutes to a half hour. But Cronkite did not like Hewitt because he did not think of him as a serious journalist. He called him a "showman," which was the worst denunciation for a serious journalist. Cronkite wanted Hewitt removed, and in time he got his wish.

One day, Hewitt was summoned to the front office. He was informed he was getting a "promotion" and would take over CBS News specials and development. He was told this was a newly created position. When Hewitt enthusiastically informed his wife of his "promotion" she said, without hesitation, "Don, you just got fired." At that point, Hewitt realized that Cronkite had pushed him off the evening news.

Hewitt cannot sit still, ever. In his new position he produced a couple news specials and came up with a new idea for a program. He thought to himself if there can be a Life magazine on the newsstands, why can't there be a news magazine on television. He came up with a concept, three long form pieces in a one-hour format. The anchors would be the reporters. And he talked Mike Wallace into helping him do a pilot along with the late Harry Reasoner.

Upon completion of the pilot, he had difficulty getting an audience with executives. Stories have it that when executives would see Hewitt coming down the hall carrying a big blue videotape container, they would duck into the bathroom. But finally he wore executives down and they decided, beginning September 24, 1968, to give 60 Minutes a Tuesday nighttime slot, biweekly, competing against the number one show in television. It was a rocky start.

There were only three powerful commercial television networks back then and the FCC was concerned about how the networks served the community. The "Vast Wasteland" were words that echoed through the American consciousness throughout the sixties; the 1961 words of then FCC chairman Newton Minow. In 1971, the Prime Time Access Rules were enacted, and in January 1972 60 MINUTES would occupy the Sunday "family viewing hour" set aside for informative programming. Within a couple years, fueled by oustanding coverage of the Viet Nam War and Watergate, correspondents Mike Wallace and Morley Safer helped lead 60 MINUTES into the top ten of all television programs. Since its launch 60 MINUTES has finished the television season as the top ranked program in household ratings a half-dozen times.

I was the CBS News executive in charge of 60 MINUTES from 1988 to 1995. The job consisted of screening their pieces for final approval before airing, and serving as marriage counselor for all of the powerful, competitive and talented correspondents and producers who worked on the broadcast. Correspondents such as, Mike Wallace, Morley Safer, Harry Reasoner, Diane Sawyer, Ed Bradley, Steve Kroft, Meredith Vieira, Lesley Stahl, Bob Simon, Scott Pelley, Andy Rooney and later Christiane Amanpour, Lara Logan, Katie Couric, Charlie Rose and Anderson Cooper.

As Don Hewitt wrapped up his remarks last night to warm applause, Morley Safer stepped to the microphone and acknowledged Ed Bradley and Harry Reasoner, who even in death were still a powerful presence in the room. I looked carefully at Safer. I then looked over at Mike Wallace, seated at a table in front. Despite being ninety years old and weak, he had only recently retired. I then looked at Andy Rooney, seated nearby, and realized he is still working full time even though he will be ninety next January. These people have been my heroes, my icons for my entire adult life. And they created and served on the longest running television program in history, and the best television news program ever. Thankfully, because a great tradition of story telling has been preserved and re-energized by Jeff Fager, 60 MINUTES will provide outstanding content for at least another generation.

I am truly proud and grateful to have had a small role in the meaningful and important life of 60 MINUTES.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The 2008 Cubs

I didn't watch. Not even one pitch. The outcome was all too familiar to me. Cubs lose.

I almost got excited, but I contained myself. I knew if I became too involved, followed too closely, cared too much, I would feel pain.

I have had enough of this kind of pain in my life. No it is not about family, friends, or life or death issues like the economy.

Besides, I have kind of gotten used to it. Like that back pain I have had for forty years.

I won't point fingers or play the blame game.

Thanks for an exciting year Cubbies.

Wait til' next year!

Friday, October 3, 2008

O'Biden vs. McPalin

Senator Joe Biden was the experienced statesman and Governor Sarah Palin showed she is a very capable performer in their debate. Biden renewed the confidence of Democrats, many of whom were concerned he would make a gaffe. Palin redeemed herself among her supporters, many of whom were shaken by a recent series of disastrous television interviews.

Governor Palin seems to seldom lack confidence, especially when she is well prepared with campaign talking points. Her folksy demeanor is very appealing. Speaking to "Joe Six Pack" and "hockey moms across the nation," she tried to connect with Middle America using lines like, "it's so obvious I am a Washington outsider." She even winked into the camera a couple times and scolded her opponent like a local PTA mom, "Say it ain't so, Joe, there you go again pointing backwards again."

But Palin found herself pointing back to her record as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, and her time as governor. "I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear," she said to Senator Biden, "but I am going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also." Of course, a month ago most Americans had never heard of Sarah Palin. She even admitted to the moderator, "And how long have I been at this, like five weeks." Long enough, though, to land a tough punch on Obama and Biden, "Your plan is a white flag of surrender in Iraq and that is not what our troops need to hear today."

For his part, Senator Biden seemed a bit stiff at first. No doubt, he was very sensitive about making a mistake or coming off as condescending. But Biden successfully countered Palin's attacks on Obama, which accused him of wanting tax increases, failing to support the surge in Iraq and voting against funding U.S. troops. "John McCain voted to cut off funding for the troops," Biden retorted, "let me say that again, John McCain voted against (it)." And on Palin's praise of McCain as a reformer and "real maverick," Biden pounced, "he's not been a maverick on virtually anything that genuinely affects the things that people really talk about around the kitchen table."

Governor Sarah Palin is smart, fresh and energetic. She is clearly ambitious and driven. Senator Joe Biden has tremendous experience on foreign affairs as well as on domestic issues. He has a long record of accomplishment in the U.S. Senate. Both come from small town America at very different times and from two very different regions of the country.

It is now pretty clear that the vice presidential candidates will not be a deciding factor in this election, even though they both exceeded their low expectations for the debate. Nonetheless, give careful consideration to which of these candidates is best prepared to step in for the president in the event of a terrorist attack against this nation or a major international crisis. God forbid that it should ever be necessary, but think about it.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman

I am deeply saddened to hear of Paul Newman's death. He was an extraordinary actor, race car enthusiast, humanitarian and philanthropist.

He had an apartment near our home on New York's Upper East Side. I would see him in the magazine shop, walking the streets of Carnegie Hill--with no entourage--and in local restaurants. On a couple of occasions I said hello to him and he warmly responded. I last saw him about a year ago at the local Italian restaurant. He was having dinner with his wife, the brilliant actress Joanne Woodward. I was with my daughter and I pointed him out to her. As she looked over to him, he acknowledged us with a nod and smile. "Zoe," I said, "he is one of the greatest actors of my lifetime."

Paul Newman made a positive difference for many children suffering from cancer. As magnetic a presence as he was on the screen, his life was a powerful example of "giving back" that everyone should emulate. God bless you Paul Newman.

Game Saver

Senator John McCain edged out Obama in tonight's debate. Neither candidate landed a fatal punch and neither candidate made a major gaffe. But with the McCain campaign struggling over the nation's financial crisis and growing doubts about Governor Sarah Palin, McCain's supporters no doubt were pleased with his performance tonight.

Senator McCain was on the offensive most of the night while Senator Obama appeared at times to be stressed and back on his heals. Remarkably, Obama failed to repeatedly tie McCain to the unpopular economic policies of President George Bush.

Neither candidate was willing to clearly state their position on Secretary Hank Paulsen’s controversial bail out proposal, though both agreed on the need for oversight and limits on executive pay. Obama did not bring up McCain’s campaign suspension or his possible role in derailing bipartisan negotiations. Obama scored points on his plan to cut taxes for the middle class while accusing McCain of proposing tax cuts only for the wealthy.

McCain first landed a punch on earmarks, special budget items approved at the request of a member of Congress. He tagged Obama with requesting several hundred million dollars worth as senator. McCain pledged to cut government spending, saying that the federal budget had grown excessively over the past eight years. And he accused Obama of proposing several hundred billion dollars of programs in his campaign that would increase the budget. Obama rebutted these charges indicating he had a way to pay for them.

McCain’s hardest punches were on Iraq. He criticized Obama’s failure to support the surge and his lack of recognition that it had succeeded. McCain mocked an answer Obama had given a few weeks ago to Fox News that the surge had “succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.” Obama focused on his judgment as demonstrated by his very early opposition to the Iraq war and his oft-stated position that it took our eye and resources away from fighting the terrorists in Afghanistan.

Senator McCain seemed more at ease and he seemed to connect with the viewing audience. Obama seemed uncomfortable at times, too frequently squinting and raising a finger to be recognized. Obama was very deferential, often stating “I agree with Senator McCain on that point.” McCain did not return the favor. In fact, at times McCain’s posture and expression seemed to indicate disdain for the Illinois senator.

Senator McCain talked plainly and was able to effectively use several campaign taking points. Obama seemed flatter (bad makeup), more thoughtful and, for the most part, he showed little passion. McCain showed himself as worldly, wily and a deeply experienced veteran, while Obama appeared to be the serious, knowledgeable and smart.

Two presidential debates remain, and one between the two vice presidential candidates. In the end, tonight's presidential debate was not the game changer that the Obama campaign was hoping for. McCain, despite all the turmoil of the past 48 hours, proved once again he is a formidable opponent. For him this debate may have been a game saver.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Debate the Economy

Senator John McCain's campaign is melting down. And sadly this great American hero continues to use desperate tactics, deception and distortion which is increasingly damaging his campaign.

McCain's latest tactic is to "suspend" his campaign and to request that Friday's presidential debate from the University of Mississippi be delayed. Certainly, the historic financial crisis facing our country today is potentially catastrophic. But wouldn't it be a better idea to change the topic of the debate to the financial crisis and the domestic economy? The debate can be moved to Washington DC, near the Capitol Building.

Americans need what has been lacking for the past eight years, strong leadership. Wall Street needs to see that someone with a clear vision and firm hand will take control of the economy. What better way to inform Americans than an economic debate between the two presidential candidates.

Or Senator McCain, is this delay a tactic? Did you notice that your poll numbers are beginning slip? Are you having difficulty in coming up with a clear position on the Paulsen plan? Are you embarrassed that Freddie Mac paid your campaign manager's company through last month? Are you rethinking your position on deregulating healthcare, the same position you have advocated for years for banking? Are you worried that First Lady Laura Bush says Governor Sarah Palin lacks foreign policy experience?

More than 40 million television viewers would tune in for this first in a series of four debates, including one between the two vice presidential candidates. These debates will be a major factor in how millions of people cast their ballots this November 4. The debate's experienced moderator, PBS's Jim Lehrer, can ask economic questions, and give both you and Senator Obama ample time to spell out your views.

Today we are faced with financial crisis of historic proportions. Its affects are being felt around the world. This is the time for answers, ideas and leadership. Do not delay Friday's presidential debate. Move it to Washington and change the topic to the economy.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Friendly Confines

Farewell to Yankee Stadium, the house that Ruth built. Some of baseball's most historic moments have been played out on this venerable old stage. Thanks for the memories! However, my link to America's great pastime was formed at Wrigley Field on the north side of Chicago, at the corner of Addison and Sheffield.

Wrigley Field is where I first saw baseball more than 50 years ago. My father took me to see the Cubs on one glorious and sunny summer afternoon in August. The outfield walls were covered with ivy, the grass was a vibrant green and the infield was a reddish brown. As we sat in the first row between home plate and the Cubs dugout, I looked out on the gigantic hand operated scoreboard in centerfield with its big clock and array on national league pennants streaming above in the breeze.

Even then Wrigley Field was like an old baseball glove, well broken in and very comfortable from any position. Built as Weegham Park in 1914, the project cost a staggering $250,000 and took an amazing seven weeks to complete. It was constructed to house the Chicago Whales, part of the Chicago Federal League, and had a capacity of 14,000. The Cubs began playing at Weegham Park in 1916, and the park was renamed Cubs Field in 1920. Six years later the field was named after chewing gum magnate William Wrigley.

On that first visit I remember how small Wrigley Field seemed. From my seat I could hear the players talking with each other. I could hear the infielders chatter, "hey batter batter, swing!" I could hear the umpire's emphatic calls, "steeeee-rike!" The on deck batting circle was right in front of me. There the now legendary Ernie Banks would warm up while waiting to bat. He looked over and smiled at me, was that a wink? Banks was not only a feared home run hitter, he also was a wonderful role model for all young boys. He called Wrigley Field "the friendly confines," and would often say "let's play two!" Until 1984 all Cubs games in Wrigley were only played only during the day. Then local ordinances were loosened to allow some night games, and lights were installed.

During subsequent visits I would see such greats as Henry Aaron, Lou Brock, Roberto Clemente, Sandy Kofax, Don Drysdale and Casey Stengel, to name a few. I would frequently try to arrive at the park in time for BP, batting practice. My friends and I would chase down foul balls hit into the stands. We pretty much had the run of the park before the game started. I remember arriving with a friend early one summer's day and encountering a bunch of players getting off a bus. I had many of them sign my scorecard. The signatures included Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Roy Campenella, Johnny Podres, and Pee Wee Reese. These were the Brooklyn Dodgers!

From 1920 to 1971 Wrigley Field was also the home of the Chicago Bears. I attended a few of their games over the years. I saw the remarkable Gayle Sayers run for more than 100 yards against the powerful Green Bay Packers. Bears founder and coach George Hallas would stand on the sidelines while Dick Butkus, Mike Ditka, Willy Galimore and Billy Wade fought in the trenches. Great Bears like Sid Luckman and Red Grange, the galloping ghost, played here on cold winter Sundays. In 1963 the Bears were World Champions.

I understand how special Yankee Stadium is to New Yorkers. For me, Wrigley Field will always be my home. And this year I hope that the Cubs will bring Wrigley Field its first World Series championship. In fact, let's play two!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Maconomics 101

During the primary campaign Senator John McCain once admitted to the Wall Street Journal editorial board that he "really doesn't understand economics." When I first read his remarks I assumed the Republican presidential candidate was just being modest.

Since then, and on several occasions, candidate McCain has stated that this country's "fundamentals" are sound. Of course, I thought he was speaking of the economy. Or maybe he was paraphrasing Republican President Herbert Hoover, who said, "no one can rightly deny the fundamental correctness of our economic system."

When I hear the term "fundamentals" in the context of bank failures, increasing unemployment and rising prices, I think of financial measurements. The business publication Forbes actually provides a definition on its web site: "The qualitative and quantitative information that contributes to the economic well-being and the subsequent financial valuation of a company, security or currency." For businesses, information such as revenue, earnings, assets, liabilities and growth are some of the fundamentals. Analysts and investors analyze these to estimate the value of an asset.

Of course, McCain is a maverick. McCain often sees things differently than the Washington establishment. He even eschews the Internet. So it was no surprise when yesterday, at an evening campaign stop, Senator McCain provided a whole new definition for the word fundamentals: "the American workers." Therefore, when McCain says the "fundamentals are sound," he means that the American workers are skilled, hard working and resourceful. Conversely, when Democrats say the fundamentals are not sound, they are unfairly and foolishly attacking American workers.

McCain plays if from the gut and he has proven, from time to time, to have good instincts. Certainly the selection of Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate shook up the campaign and has brought him into a virtual tie with Obama/Biden. But today the fun is over. The economy is in dire trouble. The ripple effects of today's financial crisis will be felt by all Americans for years to come.

Now is not the time to play word games. Now is the time for strong economic leadership.

President Herbert Hoover also said, "Blessed are the young for they shall inherit the national debt." I only hope that there will be something left for my child to inherit.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


The McCain campaign has launched a massive political surge which has stunned and disoriented the Obama campaign. But can Senator John McCain sustain his offensive, much of which is largely based on distortion and diversionary tactics?

The American economy is deeply distressed and many Americans are suffering. Home foreclosures are at an all time high, banks are failing, gas prices have skyrocketed, wages have lagged, unemployment has dramatically increased and millions of jobs have gone overseas. Health care and education demand solutions. America is conducting two very difficult wars, Iran and Pakistan are major concerns and the Russian bear has awakened. (No doubt Governor Palin can see that from Alaska.) Meanwhile, the American military is stretched to the breaking point while Congress is paralyzed by partisan bickering, self-interest and lobbyists.

Since the Republican convention, the McCain campaign has come out vociferously against lipstick on pigs, scrutiny of Governor Sarah Palin, community service and left wing bloggers, who they lump in with mainstream media and the Democratic Party. Over and over, McCain declares himself a maverick uniquely qualified to fix Washington, which he says is broken and has lost trust with Americans. McCain does not mention he has voted with President Bush 90% of the time and has served in the U.S. Senate for almost three decades. Nor that Governor Palin was for the bridge to nowhere before she was against it, that she did use lobbyists and she has received earmarks.

If elected President, McCain says he will reach across the aisle and work with Democrats. Yet his campaign commercials are inaccurate, misleading and nasty. Among other distortions, McCain ads falsely state that Obama will raise taxes on the middle class, and that he approved sex education for kindergarteners. McCain dismisses criticism by saying, "this is a tough business." He has repeatedly said that the tone would improve if Obama accepted his proposal for weekly town hall debates. Sure, believe that and I have a bridge to nowhere to sell you. Just how long will it be until Reverend Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers are again featured in GOP ads?

The Republican base is energized while some Democrats are growingly concerned that Obama will lose. Nonetheless, there are still millions of Americans who will look to the debates for answers to the many vital issues facing our nation before making their choice.

Meanwhile, will Senator McCain, a true America hero, lift his campaign out of the gutter and again inspire all Americans? Probably not, because negative tactics work. Irish poet and writer Oscar Wilde best summarized American politics when he said, "Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people."

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Righteous Kill

Two legendary movie stars pack a real wallop in Jon Avnet's police thriller, "Righteous Kill", which premiered last night in New York City.

Robert De Niro and Al Pacino team up for two marvelously powerful performances as long-time partners on the New York police force. Their characters are gritty, authentic and righteous. It is classic De Niro and classic Pacino and it is the first time they have joined forces for an entire movie. Jon Avnet masterfully balances these mega-watt stars while allowing a strong supporting cast to shine.

The movie centers on the hunt for a serial killer and the intensely competitive internal relationships at police headquarters. Carla Gugino is riveting as officer Karen Coreli, who is very professional but very sadistic. There are no soft and fuzzy characters in this stark, blunt and hard-hearted movie. Donnie Wahlberg and John Leguizamo put in strong performances as tough cops driven to crack the case first. And Curtis Jackson, a.k.a. "50 Cent", is very believable as a Harlem drug dealer and nightclub owner. He certainly knows first-hand about this role.

Viewers will find this movie most surprising!


The Zeigfield Theater is just off 54th and 6th avenue. A line of invited guests stretched from the theater for almost two blocks around the corner to 55th Street. Most guests picked up tickets for their assigned seats at "will call," but confusion and party crashes slowed the process to a snail's pace.

Susan Zirinsky and I were stationed near the entrance, at the head of the red carpet. On one side of the carpet, crowds of adoring fans crushed against security barriers trying to get a picture, a handshake or just a nod from one of the arriving stars. On the other side, throngs of press snatched brief interviews with cast members as they headed into the theater.

"50 Cent" looked as if he had dressed at the GAP. He is powerfully built at 5'11", and has a nice smile and pleasant demeanor. He looked more like a college football star than a guy who once dealt cocaine in the Bronx and who was shot nine times in 1990. But his large hip-hop security entourage was certainly true to their background.

Mickey Rourke's complexion looked very rough. His face was alternatively bloated and scratchy. I imagine his years boxing have taken their toll, although he has certainly enjoyed the good life. He seemed at ease walking the red carpet, smiling but clearly relieved to get to the end. He did not have a role in the movie.

John Leguizamo seemed a bit intense and very focused as he said his hellos. Daniel Wahlberg, wearing a slightly askew paperboy hat, seemed very relaxed as he waved to the crowd.

The crowd buzzed and then roared as Al Pacino and Robert De Niro made their way down the red carpet. They both exude the same magnetism off the screen as on it. Pacino stopped to sign some autographs, De Niro seemed more impatient to get inside.

Chevy Chase, Mayor Giuliani and his wife, Al Roker and wife Deborah Roberts were among those in attendance.

Mingling with the stars is interesting, but this whole scene is often so artificial. For the most part stars love the attention and energy around the red carpet. A few stars try to look unfazed or disinterested in the clamor, they attend only to show support for their film. The stars' extended retinues clog up traffic while trying to look important and cool. Everyone wants to get on Entertainment Tonight. A flood of publicists and event producers try to act important, this could, after all, be their 15 minutes.

The after party took place in a cavernous mid-town warehouse on New York's west side. The hip-hop music was so loud, bouncing off the walls and shaking the building, that conversations were carried out by leaning over and talking directly into someone's ear.

After digesting my stuffed pork and chicken sausage, I gave "Righteous Kill" further thought. Will a $60 million cop movie, with two aging super stars, and with little that is appealing to most women, do well in the box office?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Alas, there comes a time in every child's life when they will want their own dog. That time came a few years ago when our then eight year old daughter, Zoe, pleaded and even pledged to help care for a new dog. She had already selected a name: "Agony." I was not optimistic.

Days later Zoe and I bought a beautiful yellow Labrador puppy at the neighborhood pet store. We brought the feisty little dog home and tried our best to train her. But Agony was quite a handful. That night, shortly after she got home from work, Mom had a severe allergic reaction (or panic attack). After a night of personal agony, Mom's brother agreed to take Agony home with him and end our agony. He renamed her Daisy and she is now a beautiful ninety pounds.

Zoe and I tried again a few months later. This time we wanted a small hypoallergenic dog with a calm temperament. Working through a breeder, Zoe and I were introduced to a four-pound four-week old Maltese with sweet eyes and shy demeanor. Moments later Zoe was carrying her "Cleo" home.

Cleo immediately became the center of attention in our household, the Empress. She demanded body contact with a human at all times. First she would offer her butt and seem to say, "I like you, give me a scratch." She backs into your leg or sits on your foot if you are standing. She jumps up into your lap and offers you her back if you are seated. She will stalk you from room to room, even up and down the stairs. She never wants to be alone.

Cleo is the official greeter in our home. She barks and runs to the front door when the doorbell rings. She will enthusiastically greet whoever is at the door, wiggling her tail, jumping up and down and sniffing the person. If it is someone she knows she will insist on being picked up so she can lick their face. On the other hand, if you try to leave her alone at home she will hide under a bed in an effort to avoid being confined to quarters.

Cleo understands several words. For instance, she knows that "outside" means she's going outside. We have been forced to speak in code. The word "walk" is now the reverse: "klaw." But Cleo appears to be catching on so we are now considering switching languages. What's Chinese for walk?

Cleo will not go out in rain, snow, cold or heavy winds. In other words, in weather unsuitable for an empress. Assuming the weather is good enough to take Cleo for a klaw, she zigzags from smell to smell. She avoids walking on sewers or sidewalk grates. She plants her paws firmly when she wants to stop. If I don't want to stop I will continue to pull. This is called taking Cleo for a "drag."

When it is time to "do her business" Cleo will suddenly lunge for the curb, tugging her escort along. She then walks in progressively tighter circles, like an airplane landing on an aircraft carrier, until she drops her load. She immediately tries to flee the bombing scene, as if the load is about to explode.

Cleo will eat only certain foods. She eschews most dog foods, preferring some human dinner at the kitchen table. Over time she has developed a real knack for getting what she wants. At first she put on the sad pose of a real victim, "a few scraps for the poor?" After several months she began hitting me in the thigh with her front paws, "will you give me some food!” Then she started barking very loudly, "I demand food now or I will annoy you to death with my incessant barking." Now she has begun pushing her bowl across the room to the kitchen table, then she bangs the bowl with her paws, "put the food in here!" Maltese are definitely smart dogs.

By the way, the veterinarian says Cleo is too fat. She weighs in at 6.8 pounds, one pound more than is normal for a dog her size. That means she has to lose more than 20% of her current weight. If such a demand were made of me I would have to lose thirty pounds or more!

Cleo's weight may have something to do with her latest bad habit, snoring. Like a majority of dog owners, our dog sleeps with us at night. Maybe Cleo has sleep apnea? No matter, it would be hard for our family to impose and enforce a strict diet on Cleo. But we are cutting back on her snacks and increasing her exercise.

Which leads to this final point. You know how Zoe pledged to take care of Cleo as a condition for getting a dog in the first place? Feed, clean up and regularly play with the dog? Surprise, surprise, this responsibility has fallen to the adults.

But, your royal highness, we wouldn't want it any other way!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Mad Dog

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice traveled to Libya to meet with its mercurial leader, Muammar al-Gaddafi. Her visit illustrates how U.S-Libyan relations have evolved in the twenty years since President Ronald Reagan called Gaddafi "the mad dog of the Middle East."

Colonel Gaddafi became de facto leader of Libya in a 1969 coup. As part of his new "Islamic socialism," he took control of large companies and imposed Islamic morals, banning alcohol and gambling. Emulating Mao's Little Red Book, Gaddafi spelled out his socialist-Islamic philosophy in his Green Book. Published in three volumes in the late seventies, it was required reading for all Libyans.

In practice, Gaddafi ruthlessly and violently ruled his country. His government sent out hit squads to suppress opposition abroad. Nine Libyan dissidents were murdered during this period, five in Italy. In response to Gaddafi's growing terrorism, the U.S. Government invalidated all American passports for travel to Libya in December 1981.

Gaddafi, finding himself the center of international attention, sent out word he wanted to meet with the world's press. At that time, I had been assigned to temporary duty in the CBS News London bureau where I produced foreign stories for the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. Like a flash, I was dispatched with a correspondent and a crew to the scene.

It was a cold and snowy night when we boarded our chartered jet at London's Gatwick airport. The pilot informed us that we were not cleared to land at Tripoli International Airport. This news was a bit unsettling, to say the least. But our plane took off and flew to Nice to refuel. As we stepped off the plane in the mild Mediterranean night our crew checked to see if we had received clearance. When we reboarded the aircraft we were informed that clearance had not been given. After a brief discussion, we decided to continue on to Tripoli.

As we flew across the darkened Mediterranean Sea, under a crescent moon, I thought about whether we would encounter Libyan fighter jets. My anxiety increased when we saw the first glimmer of lights from the Libyan shoreline. Since it was three in the morning, I assumed their air defenses were on high alert. But, to my relief, as we approached the airport, our plane was cleared to land.

We were shuttled to a distant runway where we sat in our parked aircraft for nearly a half hour. Finally a couple of vehicles pulled up to our plane and we identified ourselves as members of the press. We were driven to the terminal where we turned over our passports and were offered pear juice in exchange. While I could have used a stiff gin and tonic, the juice was comforting and tasty. We spent three hours in the terminal, and, as the day's first light poured over Tripoli, we were driven to the Beach Hotel. The darkened lobby was quiet; the front desk was unmanned. It took another hour for someone to check us in and guide us to our rooms.

My room, which was in the basement of the hotel, had a single window looking out on the patio. I settled in and quickly fell asleep. When I awakened, I ventured outside onto the nearby beach wondering how the locals would react to an American. Indifference. A little later we were informed of an anti-American demonstration. Several dozen demonstrators waved Libyan flags, Arabic banners and spouted a lot of vitriol in what would become a daily event.

We spent several days waiting for an audience with Gaddafi. One night I listened in my room to my portable short wave radio as the San Francisco 49ers beat the Cincinnati Bengals in the Superbowl. On another night we were invited to dinner at the home of a foreign diplomat where we enjoyed Libyan food and beer. The Islamic moral code did not apply to the diplomatic community.

We talked every day with an impatient CBS News foreign desk looking for a story. "Nothing going on here other than a small demo," we would reply. Finally, and on short notice, members of the foreign press were driven to meet with Gaddafi. As we arrived at a building called the People's Jamahiriya (a word meaning state of the masses), our camera equipment was taken away from us by security. The press was herded into a large room where we waited for more than an hour.

Suddenly a number of vehicles loudly announced their presence as they pulled up outside. The worlds press stirred with anticipation. A couple of Libyan officials walked into our room and we all stood at attention. A moment later, Colonel Gadaffi walked slowly into the room, scanned his eyes over the press gathering, and continued on out a door on the other side of the room. He didn't even pause or wave.

A few minutes later one of Gaddafi's aides came back into our room and announced, "There will be no press conference, you go home now!" With that security led us back to our buses, returned our equipment to us, and had us driven back to our hotels. No one knew what "you go home now" meant at first. But subsequently we were told that it meant, "leave the country."

The "all knowing" CBS News foreign desk, nonetheless, still believed that Gaddafi would talk to the press. We were ordered to stay put. But the foreign desk was now occupied with a huge international story, Marshall law had been declared in Poland. This development was page one news everywhere in the world. And I would come to find out that Gaddafi did not want to face the press now for fear he would be relegated to the back pages of the world's newspapers. There would be no Time cover for the "mad dog of the Middle East." It was as simple as that. Finally, even the foreign desk relented, and we returned to London on our chartered jet.

A quarter of a century later I found myself smiling when I read that Condoleezza Rice and her party had been kept waiting for more than a hour at their hotel by Gaddafi prior to their meeting. Gaddafi had previously described Rice as "my darling black African woman." When at last she met him he did not offer his hand, rather he put it on his chest, a typical Arab greeting for women. The only real news was that there had been a meeting.

Gaddafi is one of a kind. Thank God.