Thursday, July 23, 2009

Cronkite Farewell

Family, friends and former colleagues gathered to pay their last respects to Walter Cronkite, the legendary CBS News anchorman, journalist and noted sailor. New York's St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church was the Cronkite family church and it provided a beautiful backdrop for the service entitled, "In Thanksgiving for the Life of Walter Leland Cronkite, Jr."

Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, Katie Couric, Morley Safer, Steve Kroft, Diane Sawyer, Charlie Gibson, Barbara Walters, Brian Williams, Matt Lauer, Meredith Vieira, Harry Smith, Maggie Rodriguez, Connie Chung and John Roberts were among the many broadcast journalists in attendance. The crowd also included the legendary creator of 60 Minutes, Don Hewitt, and news executives and producers from throughout the industry.

Grandson Walter Leland Cronkite, IV, gave the first reading, Romans 12:9-21. "Let love be genuine; hate what is evil; hold fast to what is good," it begins. Then there are lines that are reminders of Cronkite, "Do not lag in zeal; be ardent in not be not claim to be wiser than you are...but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all." Daughter Kathleen Cronkite then led everyone in Psalm 23, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." She was followed by grandson William Maxwell Cronkite Ikard, who read Mark 4:35-41, which concludes, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" Cronkite loved sailing.

Andy Rooney climbed the stairs to the engraved wooded lectern to deliver some remarks. But from the very outset he was upset. He recounted how he had met Cronkite during World War II, when the U.S. Air Force would arrange to take them on bombing missions. The Air Force made it possible for them to file their reports on their return. Then suddenly Rooney said, "Walter was such a good friend. I can't get over it... I just feel so terrible about Walter's death I can hardly say anything. Please excuse me. Thank you." With that he stepped down.

Cronkite's long time producer and friend, Sandford "Sandy" Socolow, then told several little known stories about him. It turns out that Cronkite could not accurately pronounce the second month of the year (February) and CBS News received a lot of complaints. So for many years Cronkite would spend the last two weeks of January rehearsing. When February rolled around Cronkite was fine for a couple days but then his pronunciation would slip for the remainder of the month.

Socolow told of the time Cronkite decided, to the horror of his staff, that he was going to ad lib the Evening News instead of read the news from a script. In those days film was the source of video, and directors would need a seven second cue to roll the film. Cronkite told the directors he would touch his nose when it was time to roll the film. Of course, it didn't work well at all as several times Cronkite's voice stepped on the film story. The experiment was abandoned after two days to the relief of the production crew.

At one point, when his contract was up, long after he was established as the number one anchorman, he decided to tell his bosses that they didn't want a raise. He proposed, instead, that they give him three months off a year. Upon hearing this request one Evening News writer suggested they call Cronkite's boat "Assignment." That way CBS News could then announce to the audience, "Walter Cronkite is away on Assignment."

Sailing friend Mike Ashford spoke for several minutes about Cronkite's love and daring on the sea. Chip Cronkite spoke very personally about his father and some of the experiences they shared together. The Reverend William McD. Tully gave the homily. Near the end of the service the St. Bartholomew Choir sang "Finlandia," a family favorite. Then, as Cronkite's casket was led out of the church, the New York Jazz Academy Classic Jazz All-Stars played "When the Saints go marching in."

Walter Cronkite was once the most powerful person in broadcast journalism, and his career spanned much of the twentieth century. He not only covered history, he was history. Cronkite was always a decent, kind and caring person. He never forgot where he came from. He will be buried in Kansas City next to the love of his life, his wife Betsy Cronkite.

Now Walter Cronkite's spirit will live on in newsrooms across the nation.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Full Lasorda

I have been to a lot of baseball games in my life, but none compares to my experience in 1982 at Dodger Stadium. I got "The Full Lasorda!"

President Ronald Reagan was spending his summer vacation on his ranch near Santa Barbara, California. I had been assigned by CBS News to cover the vacation as a producer. The press operation was housed at the Santa Barbara Sheraton Hotel located right across the street from the Pacific Ocean.

Larry Speakes, Reagan's press secretary, had been invited to attend the Dodgers' night game 90 minutes away in Los Angeles. Larry asked CBS News reporter Gary Schuster, deputy press secretary Rusty Brashear and me to join him. "We're going to get 'The Full Lasorda,'" he said.

We arrived at the stadium relatively early for the game. We wanted to catch some "BP" (batting practice). Stadium security escorted us right into manager Tommy Lasorda's office. Several things struck me immediately. First of all, Lasorda was sitting behind his desk wearing a blue Dodger T-shirt dotted with food stains, a blue cap with the letters LA, and a pair of white boxer shorts. Secondly, his desk was a standard cheap steel and faux wood variety found in many offices. It was littered with papers and remnants of food (I couldn't identify the type, though). The walls were off white and barren.

"Larry, how the F*** are you doing?" Losorda bellowed.

Larry then introduced us to Lasorda. "Come on and sit down," he said, "you F***in' guys want some food?" Before we could answer, Lasorda barked out an order, "Get these F***in" guys some Chinese food!"

Lasorda was animated, hands flailing, a whirlwind of activity and bombast even when just sitting at his desk. He commanded attention. He knew how to control his team. "See this phone," he said pointing at the black push button device on his desk, "it's the only one in the club house." He explained that no one could make a call without his permission. A rookie player popped his head in and asked to use the phone. "Not now," Lasorda responded, "come back later."

With a devilish grin on his face, Lasorda turned his head our way and said, "see that F***in" rookie, I got him good." He could barely contain himself as he explained, "that F***in" kid was doing terrible, couldn't hit." With a smile he said, "so I was in the bathroom stall taking a s*** and I told one of the coaches to send the rookie in." Lasorda points to the door, "so the F***in' rookie comes in the John, stands in front of the stall and says, 'you wanna see me coach?" Lasorda's hands are now waving in the air, "I said, when I say I want to see you, I mean right here in front of me!" He laughs, "so the F***in" rookie is standing right in front of me in the stall and I am taking a s*** and farting like crazy, and I am giving him hell." Lasorda then shakes his head, "can you believe it, stupid F***in" rookies!"

The Chinese food arrived and was placed on his desk. A full mouth of food does not keep Tommy Lasorda from speaking his mind, although we had to listen carefully as some words were swallowed with the dumplings. Just then Dodger broadcaster and former major leaguer Rick Monday walked in. "How the F*** you doing Rick," Lasorda spurted, "want some Chinese?" It was a special thrill for me to meet Monday because he once was my favorite when he played center field for the Chicago Cubs.

Lasorda put his pants on and took us for a tour of the stadium. Our first stop was a batting cage under the stands where Dodger second baseman Steve Sax was taking some batting practice. As we approached, Lasorda stopped us short to quietly tell us a story. "My brother owns a restaurant in Phiily, and we were in town to play the Phillies," he begins. "You see this F***in* guy," pointing at Sax, "he couldn't hit a F***in" thing." That devilish grin reappears, "So my brother put a real pig's head in his hotel bed, right on the pillow, with a sign that read, 'you better start hitting or your dead!'" It was a scene stolen from the movie "The Godfather." We then walked over to the batting cage and Lasorda asked Sax how he was doing. Then, without missing a beat, "Hey Saxie, did you ever find out who put that F***in" pig's head in your hotel bed in Philly?" "No skip," Sax said, and he continued taking BP. As an aside, Lasorda said, "can you believe that guy hasn't figured it out yet!"

Lasorda led us out on the field in time for some Dodger infield practice. We stood along the third base line as he shouted out insults to his players. "You throw like a F***in' girl," is a typical example. I wasn't quite sure whether the players were really laughing at his lines; they must have heard them every day. But it was thrilling to be standing on the infield grass of Dodger Stadium.

We found our way back into the clubhouse and Lasorda's office. "Get us some F***in pasta," he exclaimed. Within minutes the food arrived and we were eating again. Tomato sauce splattered on his T-shirt; thank God he wasn't wearing his uniform. We all talked baseball; his wise observations were peppered with rich invectives. We heard a few off-color jokes and other pithy comments. "Well guys, I'll have you taken to your F***in' seats now," he said. We found ourselves in the sixth row, to the left of the foul screen on the third base side.

The game was great. But the Dodgers lost a close one on a miscue. What do you say to the manager after a close loss like this? We went back to the clubhouse but soon discovered there was no need for us to say anything. Lasorda had just the right words, "F***in' son of a bitch, we blew it." He bled Dodger blue.

Lasorda took us to the private club atop Dodger Stadium. There we met his wife, family members and friends. We drank wine and ate, of course. He regaled us with funny baseball stories (none of them was PG). Everyone laughed as if it was the first time they had ever heard these stories. A photographer took a group photo, which Lasorda later autographed. Soon he passed out copies of his latest book and signed each book with a personal message. "To Joe, you and the Dodgers are great!" "To Larry, you and the Dodgers are great!" Etc. We all then said our thank yous and good byes to Lasorda, and then headed back to Santa Barbara laughing all the way.

Tommy Lasorda retired as manager in 1996. The current Dodger manager is the venerable Joe Torre. I bet things have changed dramatically in the Dodger locker room. There will never be another manager like Tommy Lasorda. I will never forget this once in a lifetime experience. So thank you Tommy Lasorda.

And thank you Larry Speakes.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Walter Cronkite

He was "the most trusted man in America." In an era when there were only three television networks, Walter Cronkite dominated American television sets for more than a decade. His amazing career spanned from World War II to the Reagan Presidency and beyond. He not only covered historical events, he made history. He was the reason I became a journalist. He was the reason I went to work for CBS.

I was a teenager when Cronkite announced President John Kennedy's death on November 22, 1963. "From Dallas Texas, a flash, apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1 pm central standard time." In a rare show of emotion, a shaken Cronkite paused briefly, removed his glasses, then pulled himself together and continued reporting the story. President Kennedy had died, but the power of television had been realized. Cronkite anchored the dramatic events of the next three days for a nation gathered in front of their television sets watching history unfold live before their eyes.

Cronkite had dropped out of college to pursue his passion for journalism. The legendary Edward R. Murrow had recruited him for CBS News in 1950; he had been so impressed with Cronkite’s reporting during World War II. Like many other kids growing up in the fifties, I watched You Are There and the Twentieth Century, two programs about historical events anchored by Cronkite. In 1962 Cronkite took over as anchor of the CBS Evening News and the program was expanded to a half-hour. This newscast became part of my family's daily routine.

The sixties were a turbulent time in American history. The surging civil rights movement and the controversial Viet Nam War unleashed a tsunami of protests across America against authority and the establishment. Young men were being drafted and sent to fight and die in what was clearly an unwinable war. Yet forces were being increased while the Pentagon touted misleading military assessments. I watched coverage of the war on The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, and the painful images of death and destruction would take their toll on public opinion.

The Viet Cong and North Viet Nam launched the Tet Offensive in early 1968 against South Vietnamese and American targets. Although the offensive was a military disaster for the Viet Cong, it had a profound affect on the American public. Cronkite had gone to Viet Nam to cover the offensive. When he returned I watched as Cronkite took the unprecedented step of editorializing on The CBS Evening News. "For it seems now more certain than ever," Cronkite said, "that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate." After watching Cronkite's broadcast, President Lyndon Johnson was quoted as saying. "That's it. If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America."

Cronkite covered America’s space program with enthusiasm and exuberance. In 1961, President John Kennedy had made landing a man on the moon within a decade a goal for America. The Soviet Union had embarrassed the United States by being the first to launch a satellite into space. In an amazing display of American know-how, on July 20, 1969 American astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. I watched Cronkite’s historic broadcast with several friends. As the manned lunar module landed on the moon Cronkite exclaimed, "Man on the moon!" "Oh, boy!" and then, "Whew, boy!" He was speechless.

As a new a producer for CBS News a couple years later I soon learned that a “WW” story was a “Walter Wants.” He set a high standard for journalism. He wanted to inform, not entertain. He was a reporter first. Facts and accuracy won out over style. He was incredibly competitive and engaged. He asserted his authority as managing editor, and came to be known as the first “800 Pound Gorilla.” As the leader of CBS News’s worldwide news organization, Cronkite drove the news organization’s outstanding Watergate coverage, which helped lead to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Three years later he helped bring Egypt's Anwar Sadat and Israel's Menachem Begin together using what was dubbed as "Cronkite diplomacy."

Walter Cronkite not only covered history, he was himself a historical figure in American history. It is unlikely, with the Internet, Twitter, Facebook and cable, that one journalist will ever command the attention that Cronkite did. He succeeded because he demanded excellence. He surrounded himself with talented producers, writers and reporters, because he attracted the best people. I am deeply grateful to "Uncle Walter" and incredibly fortunate to have worked for him.

Three months after President Ronald Reagan was sworn in for his first term, Walter Cronkite was signing off as anchor of The CBS Evening News. "It's a moment for which I long have planned, but which, nevertheless, comes with some sadness." he would say. "Old anchormen, you see, don't fade away; they just keep coming back for more. And that's the way it is: Friday, March 6, 1981. I'll be away on assignment, and Dan Rather will be sitting in here for the next few years. Good night."

That is the way it was.

White House Intervention

I was saddened to read today that former White House Press Secretary Larry Speakes is suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. Larry is 69 years old and he is in an assisted living facility in his home state of Mississippi.

I have many memories of Larry, who served President Ronald Reagan and had the longest tenure of any presidential press secretary. I was a CBS News producer based in Washington and I was frequently assigned to cover the White House. We got to know each other very well over the course of the Reagan administration. While he could be wary and cautious when dealing with the press, he was a great friend to have.

In April 1982, I was the CBS News White House producer at the Economic Summit in Versailles, France. Without warning the Israeli's invaded Lebanon in an effort to put an end to terrorist attacks on their country. The Israeli's crushed the Syrian army and overran the Lebanese defenses. They would be in Beirut within hours.

I was contacted by the CBS News foreign editor and told I was to proceed immediately to Lebanon to coordinate CBS News coverage. I protested saying I was the "White House Producer" and, besides, I was scheduled to go on vacation with my wife in France in four days.

"No problem," said the foreign editor, "we'll get you back in time for your vacation."

"You have got to be kidding," I retorted, "That's is impossible."

The foreign editor revised his remarks slightly to, "we'll do our best." Nonetheless, I was to leave almost immediately.

Frustrated, I ran into the deputy press secretary, Mark Weinberg, and told him I would be leaving and someone else from CBS News would replace me. I mentioned my vacation conflict. He said he would tell Larry Speakes.

Not even an hour later Weinberg informed me that Larry had solved my problem. I asked, "How did you do that?"

"We told your boss that we like working with you," Weinberg said, "and that if you were to leave we could not promise that CBS News would get important information." I was horrified, but it was true!

Sure enough, a few moments later the lead CBS News producer called me to say I was staying in France. "Don't worry about Beirut," he said, "they have someone else."

Two weeks later, while staying in a beautiful villa in the south of France, I was awakened at four in the morning. We were scheduled to leave Nice airport for home in a matter of hours from our wonderful vacation. CBS Evening News senior producers Mark Harrington and Lane Venardos, in unison, shook me out of my slumber with the following greeting: "Guess who's going to Beirut in six hours?"

At ten o'clock that morning my wife boarded a plane for New York, and I boarded a plane for Tel Aviv. From there I would be driven north to Beirut where I would spend six unforgettable weeks coordinating CBS News coverage of the war between the Palestinians and Israel's formidable army.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Washington Post

Financial pressures are slowly squeezing the life out of news organizations, whether world-wide or local. Regretfully hundreds of quality journalists are losing their jobs and actual news coverage is being reduced. Now even ethical boundaries are being challenged.

Print, web, television and radio organizations are all feeling revenue pressure. The "Great Recession" has had a devastating impact on bottom lines across the board as advertising budgets have been sharply reduced. Already news consumers had been increasingly divided among an ever-growing number of news content providers. Mass media outlets have massively increased to include Yahoo and Google news, news aggregation sites and bloggers.

Traditional media has taken a real thumping. While the venerable news program 60 Minutes finishes among the top ten rated programs each week, its total audience is about half what it was a quarter century ago. Meanwhile the revenue from a commercial spot on the program has also decreased because there is so much news inventory available for advertisers on all platforms. 60 Minutes has just wrapped up what may have been its best season ever editorially, yet it is struggling to stay out of the red.

The Gannett Company, owner of newspapers and television outlets, announced this week that about 1,400 positions would be cut from its community publishing division. The Arizona Republic in Phoenix is cutting 100 positions, The Des Moines Register is laying off 36 and more than 120 positions will be cut at its newspapers in New Jersey. The New York Times has cut staff, and it is having difficulty off-loading the Boston Globe. The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune are fighting for their lives. Sure, all of these companies have focused more on expanding their web presence, but Internet revenues are still very small.

So it is no wonder that those guiding major news organizations would search for alternative sources of income. And it has always been a regular practice for some news organizations to have editorial meetings with newsmakers. For instance, the former Washington Post publisher, Katharine Graham, frequently hosted and personally paid for "salon" dinners at her home for key Washington figures.

So the idea of "Washington Post" salon dinners, held at the publisher's home with the executive editor and key reporters in attendance, seemed like a logical extension of past practice. Except the dinners would be sponsored. In fact, solicitations went out seeking $25,000 from up to two sponsors per event. And the sessions would be "off the record," meaning that information from the dinners could not be used in the newspaper. Kaiser Permanente, a leading health care organization, had verbally agreed to sponsor an off-the-record dinner scheduled for July 21 and co-hosted by the Post's health care reporter.

Most major news organizations have standards and policies to guide their daily practices. One major policy is "conflict of interest." If a reporter or news organization receives money or other valuables from another person, company or organization, it may influence, or appear to influence, their coverage. Credibility and trust are the inviolable bonds that link a news organization with its readers.

The Washington Post's policy reads, "This newspaper is pledged to avoid conflict of interest or the appearance of conflict of interest, wherever and whenever possible." Clearly these dinners were a violation of the newspaper's own standards, as well as common sense. Even if there had been 10 dinners over the course of a year they would have netted well less than $500,000 in total. Publisher Katharine Weymouth, Graham's granddaughter, and Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli are very smart and accomplished journalists. The Washington Post has done a remarkable job covering President Barack Obama's transition, the financial crisis, Capitol Hill and recent world news.

"This episode has left a scar that will be visible for years," wrote Andrew Alexander, the Post's ombudsman, this past Sunday, "and it has badly shaken the newsroom." I believe the Washington Post is still an outstanding newspaper. And while this incident is most unfortunate, it serves notice to journalists everywhere that they must always remain vigilant.

West Coast Notes

Many thanks to Larry Baer, President of the San Francisco Giants, for taking such good care of my daughter and me last Monday night. Not only did we have fabulous seats right next to the home dugout, but the game was thrilling. Third baseman Pablo "Pancho" Sandoval is a local favorite and up and coming star. The Giants were trying to get him a place on the MLB All-Star team because he is hitting about .330 and has nearly 20 home runs.

As Sandoval stepped to the plate in the fourth inning, the bases were juiced. From my third row seat I yelled, "Hey Pablo, if you want to be an All-Star, hit a home run!" With a crack of the bat Sandoval drilled the next pitch into the left field stands for a grand slam home run. The crowd went crazy as Sandoval circled the bases an went into the dugout. Giant Manager Bruce Bochy straddled the first step of the dugout and patted Sandoval on the back as he went by. At that point I yelled into the dugout, "Curtain call, curtain call!" Bochy looked at me, then signaled to his hero to come out and take a bow. Sandoval modestly stepped out of the dugout and tipped his hat to the adoring crowd. The Giants went on the beat the Florida Marlins 5-3.

A few days later we headed south to Carmel-on-the-Sea. What a beautiful, picturesque jewel of a town. Here we stayed at L'Auberge, which is more of an in than a hotel. It is located in town just around the corner from the shops and next door to City Hall, where Clint Eastwood ruled as mayor twenty years earlier. We could see the ocean from our delightfully European style room.

We took a day trip to Google's main campus in Mountain View, about ninety minutes north. Andrew Pederson, a Google spokesmen, took us for a tour of the sun drenched facilities.

Originally built by SGI, a dozen buildings of glass and steel sit on several acres of beautifully groomed property. Company issue blue and white bikes are parked near entrances for easy commuting around the grounds. I spotted a volleyball court and at least two small powered swimming pools. The denizens mostly appeared to be in the twenties and thirties. Blue jeans, T-shirts and running shoes were the attire of choice.

On the tour we frequently came upon cafeterias filled with free food and drinks. "It is better to keep everyone close to their work and well fed," observed our tour guide. There was only one vending machine on the lot and here purchases were priced according to the amount of calories they had. White boards hung on walls throughout the facility. Lots of white and yellow permeated the walls and windows, very pleasant work environment. In fact there were several tents like structures for employees to work in.

Google does more than $20 billion in annual revenues, which is great for a company barely a decade old. It's three main businesses are search, ads and aps. Google has more than 60% of the global search business, though they are keeping a close eye on Microsoft's launch of its new search engine "Bing." Ads generate most of the company's revenue. And aps are a small but rapidly growing market. Google is always reviewing their strategy including "mobile" delivery of content.

We saw a live global representation of search demand in every language. Selective queries were shown on the screen. At another point we came across a rack of servers that had been constructed by Sergei Brin and Larry Page to begin Google. They started as students at their Stanford University dorm and moved to a friends garage. Now their creation is part of the English language. To learn more about their fascinating story, just Google them.

As a foot note, we ran across some seals and surfers on the beach at Carmel. And we watched a magnificent sunset over the Pacific. I never tire of mother nature's creations.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Michael Jackson was a brilliant singer, song-writer and dancer. He was a leading entertainer and musician for more than three decades. The world was his stage. So it is only proper that we celebrate his exceptional musical accomplishments. But let us not celebrate this life.

There are so many questions about Michael's life. There was his childhood in Gary, Indiana, apparently filled with abuse. This we should not celebrate. There were many accusations of pedophilia, including some very explicit news accounts, and reports of substantial out of court settlements. This we should not celebrate. There was a lengthy addiction to drugs, including Valium, Ativan to help him cope with chronic pain and Xanax for panic attacks. This we should not celebrate. There was his whitened skin and his clef chin. This we should not celebrate. There was a child who became a man only to do everything possible to remain a child. This we should not celebrate. There were his children who were frequently shrouded in veils and always denied a normal life. This we should not celebrate.

Yes, there were many generous acts. Jackson supported about forty charities. He did do many good things. But these cannot answer the questions. There was the unprecedented We are the World campaign. But this cannot answer the questions. Yes there were many shrewd business decisions. Yet there were so many terrible personal decisions.

Yes there was Thriller, Off the Wall, Bad, Dangerous and History. Yes there was Beat It, Billie Jean and Black and White. Yes there was the Jackson Five as well as an extraordinary solo career. Yes there was the moonwalk, the hat and the glove. Yes there were the break through music videos and magical dance routines. Michael Jackson was a break through talent, a one of a kind. But this does not answer the questions.

Michael's music is an exsceptional legacy. As an entertainer, he was the best. As a role model for our children, Michael was among the worst. Michael's music moved us, inspired us, lifted us from our sorrows and troubles. Yet so much in Michael's life disappointed us.

As millions around the world watch the endless television coverage of Michael's memorial, let us keep this brilliant life in proper perspective. Let us celebrate the King of Pop. Let us celebrate his music.

Vote Pablo!

Zoe and I attended the match up between the San Francisco Giants and the Florida Marlins at cool AT&T Park. We sat next to the Giant's dugout three rows from the field. In the fifth inning we moved down to the front row, which was a great vantage point to see the Giants hold on to their one run victory.

Mark Larkin, SVP of CBSNews.Com, joined us. Giant's President Larry Baer had arranged for our seats in the owner's box. Larry is an old friend of mine from CBS, where he worked in the late eighties and early nineties, and he showed up with his family in the second inning. In the fourth inning he had arranged "Happy Anniversary Joe and Susan Peyronnin" to appear on the giant jumbo-tron screen in centerfield. Regretfully Susan had been recalled to New York to produce a special on Michael Jackson's funeral.

Giant's third baseman Pablo Sandoval stepped up to the plate in the fourth with the bases loaded. There is an Internet campaign to get him on the All-Star team. I yelled out, "Pablo, if you want to be an All-Star, show it by hitting a grand slam!" Sure enough he did, over the left field wall. The crowd went crazy. After he circled the bases and entered the dugout, I yelled (from 20 feet away) "curtain call, curtain call!" His manager, Bruce Boche, waved for Pablo to take a bow. With that he stepped out of the dugout to thunderous applause. Vote for Pablo: SFGIANTS.COM.

Later Larry gave Zoe a game ball. Then the team mascot walked over and sat in her lap. The Marlins filled the bases in the ninth, but were only able to squeeze one across. Giants won in a nail-biter, 5 to 4. Vote Pablo!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Dateline: San Francisco

There is no city more charming and beautiful in the United States than San Francisco. As I stand on our balcony at the Fairmont Hotel, it is a clear day and the early morning sun can be seen rising from the east beyond San Francisco Bay. Already freighter ships and sail boats dot the horizon while the Trans America building an other skyscrapers stand as sentinels watching over the city.

But almost in a flash low lying fog and mist can envelope the city, hugging tightly to the rolling hills that undulate through the romantic metropolis. From our hotel room high above California Street, the clanging of trolley car bells call out to residents and tourists. Many people squeeze onto the slow moving relics as they slowly strain up and down city hills.

There is no hustle and bustle here. No wonder, walking up and down the steep inclines is physically challenging. Take Lombard Street, which esses its way downhill, and is always filled with shutter bugs and slow moving vehicles. It was built to accommodate Nineteenth century horse carriages, riding straight up the this hill would have been impossible.

On Saturday we attended the Fillmore Jazz Festival which runs some twenty blocks between Eddy and Jackson Streets. Each block is filled with shops, outdoor booths music. We then to a cab over to Fisherman's warf for a late lunch.

It was Haight Ashbury and Golden Gate Park on Sunday morning. Then we walked across the Golden Gate bridge with hundreds of tourists from all over the world. The winds gusted but the views were invigorating. To the left stood San Francisco's skyline and Oakland and Berkley just beyond. To the right lay the Pacific Ocean and China some 8,000 miles away. At night we celebrated our twenty-fifth anniversary at the fabulous Gary Danko's restaurant. We eloped at San Francisco City Hall in 1984, one day after the Democratic Convention. We also first met James L. Brooks, which is a whole other story.

Susan left for New York Sunday to produce a special on Michael Jackson's funeral. So Monday night Zoe and I will attend a Giants game as guests of the COO, Larry Baer. We may drive up to Napa valley during the day. And on Wednesday Susan rejoins us, and we are off to Carmel-By-The-Sea.

But our visit centers around San Francisco. There will never be another city built like it. Today, engineers would simply bulldoze the hills and flatten out the streets. Charm, character and interesting architecture fill every nook and cranny. This city embraces the future while it cherishes the past. San Francisco is cool.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

King of Pop

Little more than a week ago the Americans watched in amazement as a nascent democratic movement surged through the streets of Tehran protesting the government’s rigged presidential election. The protests were followed by a brutal government crackdown that resulted in many deaths and thousands of arrests. Social networking sights became the frontlines in a propaganda battle that had moved beyond television and radio.

But when the man known as the “King of Pop” died last Thursday the world’s attention immediately shifted to Michael Jackson. He was the first global “crossover” super star because his music transcended all borders. His musical influence and tragic personal story extended from his hometown of Gary, Indiana, to Gabon and Egypt. Little Richard and James Brown inspired Jackson when he was a young boy. He was already a budding child prodigy who in his lifetime would become a prolific singer-songwriter, record producer, musical arranger, dancer, choreographer, actor, author, businessman, financier, philanthropist and inventor.

Media coverage of Jackson’s death has been non-stop. Cable news outlets are filled with coverage, network specials are drawing millions of viewers and websites have enormous traffic. Meanwhile album sales of his great hits are booming. While interest in Jackson’s death in the rest of the world has eased, many Americans can’t get enough coverage.

There has not been such a media-frenzy since the tragic death of Princess Diana in August 1997. Americans consumed hours of wall-to-wall coverage detailing the highlights and scandals surrounding her life. She was so beautiful and innocent, yet her life story was complicated. British pop star Elton John sang “Candle in the Wind” at her funeral in Westminster Abbey. It was an English tragedy playing out on a global media stage.

The first “King of Rock and Roll” died tragically in 1977. Elvis Aaron Presley was born of humble origins in Tupelo, Mississippi, but would go on to be the world’s first rock-and-roll super star and an American cultural icon. His music, a blend of rock, country, blues and gospel, was loud and passionate. He swiveled his hips (“Elvis the Pelvis”) in his patented dance move that drew screams and swoons from his fans and disdain from many parents during the Fifties. Presley is the only performer to have been inducted into four music halls of fame.

Word of Presley’s death reached the CBS Newsroom in New York about 5:30pm, August 16, 1977. The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite was number one in the ratings at a time when there were no cable outlets. Cronkite was on vacation when the executive producer decided not to lead the broadcast with Presley’s death. However, ABC News and NBC News did make the story their lead. It would be the lowest rated CBS Evening News in years as viewers immediately switched to the other two networks for Presley coverage. Remarkably, the CBS News producer who made that call later said, ‘If on my epitaph it reads, “The man who did not lead with Presley’s death,” I can live with that.’

Americans love their shooting stars. Stars who demand attention, win affection and adulation, and then prematurely burn out. They are often extremely talented and, at the same time, extremely flawed. They fill tabloid magazines, websites and conversations in Laundromats. Presley, Princess Diana and Jackson all died suddenly at a relatively young age. Yet they had become part of our lives; we grew older with them.

Because Jackson achieved so much and his music had such a phenomenal impact, today our collective bandwidth is bursting. And this coming Tuesday America’s attention will be focused on Michael Jackson’s funeral in Los Angeles. Untold thousands of adoring fans will be at the Staple Center in an event worthy of the King of Pop.

Meanwhile, many Iranians will continue their campaign for a fair election, U.S. troops will continue their attacks on Taliban terrorists in Afghanistan, North Korea will remain unstable, U.S. unemployment will remain at about 10%, more homes will be foreclosed and more children will die of disease, war or abuse.