Iowa Debacle Sparks This Kid’s Flashback to a Political Initiation

6thgradeI was exposed to politics at an early age–6 to be exact. My first foray was quick, decisive and an utter failure. It was time to choose a first grade class president in room 102 at P.S. 186 Queens. Since we didn’t have a class president in kindergarten, I was thoroughly unfamiliar with the process. I didn’t even know what a class president’s duties were, but it seemed better and more prestigious than class clown–an office I already held–unofficially, of course.

My parents always took me with them to the polls so I imagined electing a class president would be a similar process, you know, with votes. But our teacher, a severe spinster who was also the school’s music teacher and broke out in spontaneous operatic arias, was having none of that. In her mind first graders were not mature enough to choose their own leader so she discarded any sense of democracy, standing in front of the class and barked, “Who wants to be class president. Raise your hands!”

Well…we all raised our hands, with at least one kid named Steven vocalizing, “ooooh, oooooh, ME!” for emphasis. That was my first exposure to overt campaigning. But our operatic instructor ignored Steven and chose another boy…because he was tall. That was my first exposure to what I later came to know as “optics.”  Turns out the tall boy was a wuss. He was supposed to keep the class quiet when the teacher had to leave the room but he was deposed in a coup carried out when we launched a barrage of pencil erasers and the ceremonial dumping of a 64-pack of Crayolas. Teacher was nonplussed and simply asked the class, “well, who wants to be the NEXT president?”

This time none of us were stupid enough to raise our hands so she chose a girl in a pink dress who immediately began to cry. Since she was cute and apparently had no political aspirations we didn’t give her any crap when teacher left the room and vowed never to run for political office in the future, choosing instead to consider transferring to Catholic school where students had no say in anything. Ultimately she remained in our class when her family’s rabbi took issue.

Politics remained a part of my life when my mother became very active in the Eastern Queens Democratic Club. She rose to a leadership position, supporting Democratic candidates for New York City Council, NY State Governor and the Legislature. We helped her fold flyers while my father muttered, “why are you helping that asshole?” He considered all politicians as assholes and my father, a highly intelligent chemical engineer, was rarely wrong in his assessments.

My mother’s political connections did hit paydirt for me during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in college. She landed me a total political patronage job in the New York City Comptroller’s office. It was an awesome job in one of the majestic Municipal Building. It’s that flat building you see as you cross the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan. Everything about it was over done, including the men’s room. The urinals were about four feet high and about a foot wide, and you had to step up on a slab of marble to get to them. Every pee was like a performance on your own little stage.

Anyway, my job was to type, on an old Royal typewriter, checks to people who had successfully sued the city for pothole damage to their cars, or heath issues when they received slipshod treatment at a city hospital. I typed maybe five checks a day. I spent the rest of the time reading the papers and studying for the FCC license I would need to pursue my career in broadcasting. 

Once, out of boredom after lunch, I attempted to file some case folders but I was almost tackled by one of the regulars who said, “we don’t file in the afternoon in the summer. It’s just too hot!” She ordered me back to my desk which was in a long row like in a classroom. I sat in front of an old dude with a gray crewcut named Higgins. His entire job was rubber stamping the date on a stack of papers. He’d been doing it for 20 years and aspired to nothing. Yup…gotta love those political patronage jobs. By the way, I did study enough to earn my FCC license.

After that, I’ve attempted to avoid any sort of active involvement in politics although I follow it closely. I did watch the debacle in Iowa with great interest though, because who doesn’t love a trainwreck..especially if only politicians are casualties. After all, as my late, wonderful father always said, “why help those assholes?” 

Frank Conversations Between My PR and Journo Selves


My 47-year career has taken me to both sides of the street as both a flak and a hack. So I’ve seen things from each side of the scrimmage line. Right now, in my semi-retirement, I’m actually doing both simultaneously as a freelance journalist, mainly as a Senior Contributor at, and consultant for Detroit PR and marketing firm Franco.

The cool part of playing both roles is it sensitizes you the challenges, frustrations, wins and losses you encounter in each position. So I decided it might be fun, and useful, to have a couple of internal conversations with both sides of me. It’s OK to eavesdrop. That’s why I’ve posted them here. You can even contribute to the conversation in the comments. Here we go.

Key: JE=Journalist Ed

        PRE=PR Ed

PRE: I’ve got a client that wants me to get national coverage on the fact they opened a new office in East Dumpy. Would you bite?

JE: Don’t know. What business are they in?

PRE: They sell printer paper in packs of 400 instead of 500-sheet reams. The CEO insists this will help solve what he believes is a massive office supply storage space crisis at firms around the country. He says 100 fewer sheets saves 7/8-inch for each pack.

JE: Sorry, I’ll pass. I think it’s a made up crisis.

PRE: Wait! What would it take for you to do this story? I’m under a ton of pressure. New client and the agency is busting my ass to make them happy.

JE: First of all, office issues, paper or otherwise, are not what I write about. You have to think of that before pitching a reporter. Second, even if I was your guy, you can’t just say something’s a crisis. You have to be prepared to back it up with some research–proof. A CEO just trying to get some publicity with an unproven scheme isn’t a news story. Finally, I feel for ya, but my masters are my editors and audience.

PRE: (trying to pull out a win) But you’re a business writer. Aren’t office storage issues a business story? What if I came back with some stats that back up the client’s claims. Would you reconsider?

JE: Possibly. I’d have to look at the info then decide if it’s BS or not. I’m swamped right now. On deadline, so I gotta run, but get me that stuff ASAP and I’ll let ya know.

PRE: OK, cool. I’ll have it for you by the end of the day.


(PRE is sweating. He knows there really isn’t much, or any, research on the subject, but smells pulling this one out of his butt…sends email to JE)

PRE: OK, did you get that stuff I sent you? Pretty convincing, I’d say.

JE: What’s the Institute of Office Ergonomics and when did they do this study? I never heard of them and Googling it comes up with nothing. Plus, I’m calling BS on the conclusion that over 3-million square feet of storage space could be saved each year in the U.S. by using smaller packs of paper. Did your client pay for this study?

PRE: OH, they’re a, um, boutique outfit. Don’t even have a website, and, well, the client did subscribe to the study but the IOE is totally impartial.

JE: Nice try. Not buying it. Very sorry

PRE: Well, you’ll be sorry when your competitor runs it.

JE: I’ll take that chance.


PRE: Hi. Thanks a lot for doing that story with my client, but he’s kinda pissed.

JE: What’s the problem?

PRE: He says you took his position on “solar powered pencil technology” out of context and actually misquoted him.

JE: Really? What part of “I believe solar powered pencil technology will render ink an archaic form of inscription” was wrong? I recorded the entire interview, as agreed to, and that’s exactly what he said.

PRE: Check your recording. He claims he actually said, “I believe solar powered pencil technology will render ink a second tier form of inscription.” Plus, the way your framed it was inaccurate. Going into the quote you wrote, “Solar Pencil CEO Al Bum makes an unproved claim regarding his product’s rising role in imaging, declaring…….”

JE: So what’s the issue? He can’t prove his declaration and there isn’t one industry expert who will back it up. I know. I tried finding one.

PRE: I get it, but couldn’t you have gone into that quote a little softer? I’m taking a lot of heat for this.

JE: I understand your situation but I’m writing news stories, not ads.

PRE: Yeah, sure, of course I know that but at least resist the use of judgmental adjectives and just state the facts.

JE: It’s not judgmental to state the fact that there’s no documentation whatsoever your client’s claims are viable.

PRE: Why did you even accept the story if you weren’t convinced it had merit?

JE: Fair enough. Why did you agree to sell a story you knew wasn’t true?

PRE: I didn’t know and I long ago vowed I would never knowingly lie to a reporter

JE: You’re in a tough spot when your clients lie to you. So how will you explain things to him?

PRE: Yes, I’m in a very tough spot. I’ll just blame everything on you 🙂

JE: Heh…OK…Good talk!

EVENT NOTE: I’ll be on a PRSA panel Feb. 19th in Royal Oak, Mich. with several other journalists who have gone to the “dark side.” Details at this link. Should be pretty lively…and..there’s breakfast! Hope you can come if you’re in the area. 


MLK Day-From Covering the First One to An Unexpected Day Off


I’ve got boxes of press badges, but this one is one of my most cherished. Hard to believe it’s been 34 years since I covered that very first Martin Luther King Jr. birthday observance, what we’ve shortened to MLK Day.  More on my coverage in a moment, but I wanted to re-tell a story I’ve told before, about a personal episode regarding the holiday and how it’s indicative of how it’s sometimes perceived.

One Monday in January, 2002 I showed up for work at the Associated Press at my regular time, not completely sure why I was able to find a better parking space than usual but grateful. Before I could reach my desk the shift supervisor intercepted me and with amusement in her eyes asked what I was doing in the office.

“Uh…Monday,” was all I could muster.

“Uh, MLK Day,” she replied. “You get a choice of off days. MLK Day or your birthday. So who’s birthday you going to celebrate?”

No one likes Mondays so I scooted out of the bureau hightailed back to my car, giving up my awesome parking space.

During the 30 minute drive home, I was a bit ashamed that MLK Day just wasn’t on my radar…that it was an optional holiday per the union agreement. His birthday or yours. Didn’t matter. You get a day off.  Never crossed my mind. It should have. Not only because I grew up in the 60’s, was 100 percent aware of, and in awe of, his courage and accomplishments, recall with great clarity hearing the bulletin announcing his assassination, but because 16 years earlier, I was assigned to cover the very first MLK Day in his hometown of Atlanta for CNN.

But as I reported in the story attached here, MLK Day faced a volume of struggles in direct proportion to the challenges Dr. King faced in life. Bigotry, small-mindedness, ignorance. Indeed, there seems to be a take it or leave it attitude. Your birthday or his…which day do you want off? Doesn’t matter. Pick one.

Don’t get me wrong. There are many wonderful events commemorating Dr. King’s birthday including the annual “United We Walk” march in my community in suburban Detroit, and many, many others across the country.

I remember covering those first MLK Day activities from Dr. King’s church, on the street where the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change sits, where Dr. King is buried. On a map it’s called Auburn Avenue. In the hearts of those who respect Dr. King’s work, it’s called Sweet Auburn.

I interviewed all sorts of people including Rev. Joseph Lowery, head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Dr. King’s widow, Coretta. She exuded peacefulness, forgiveness and strength. Side note: Mrs. King kept her eyes closed during the entire interview. Maybe she was in deep reflection. After we were done, she opened her eyes and thanked us. Her assistant explained her eyes were closed because the TV lights were so bright.

Jesse Jackson and Rev. Robert Schuller were there. Perhaps caught up in the moment I breathlessly reported to the CNN assignment desk “the civil rights movement has been revived! I can’t wait to turn this package!”

All the air out of my balloon was expelled when the editor told me to just do a VO/SOT. That’s TV language for some video for the anchor to voice over and a soundbite. Don’t even write a full-length piece.  Being in the Deep South, I took what’s known down there as a hissy fit. The editor thought I was just a reporter having a tantrum. I was beyond frustrated, but had no recourse but to carry out my assignment.

So there it was. From the first MLK Day to today, 34 years later, the annual remembrance of the birth of this giant of the civil rights movement, who risked his life, and lost it, fighting for common human decency and fairness, still seems to be an afterthought. A welcome three-day weekend. Three at last.

Your birthday or his. Pick one. Do yourself a favor. Choose both. Your life is better because he was born.

Support For Harry and Meghan’s Sussex-it photo

I’ll lay my quid on the table forthwith. I’m on team Sussex. For one, you can’t go wrong rooting for a ginger man. Case in point, the late, great, irascible Cream drummer Ginger Baker. Wild, impatient and foul-mouthed, but a brilliant talent. He pissed off almost everyone with whom he came in contact, but you couldn’t dispute his skills.

Now, Harry is neither brilliant nor skilled, but apparently irascible in that he managed to piss off his granny, who just happens to be the Queen of England. That takes a pair of brass kippers.

suits.jpgThen there’s Meghan. She went from “Suits” to fruits–meaning being sucked into family so inbred its genome has only one step. If you sent their DNA to “23andMe” the result would be “23ofYou.” Her dissatisfaction with the royal life was a no-brainer since most of the family is a no-brainer. Young, beautiful and talented, the Duchess of Sussex was destined to ditch the dreariness of royal duties that mostly involve a lot of shaking, hugging, bowing and birthing.

And now the Sussex’s have decided to make their Sussex-it, high-tailing it to North America, presumably, Canada, where Meghan lived while shooting “Suits,” and trademarking their own Sussex Royal brand.

I can see it now where Duchess Meghan appears on Home Shopping Network hawking Sussex Royal brand pacifiers, tea sets, jewelry and crop tops.  Perhaps Harry would join her to promote his own “special collection” of polo mallets, jodhpurs and Ginger Prince Ale.

Personally, I’d be in for a couple of Sussex Royal bobbleheads. You see, they’d be special. In the spirit of defying the Queen’s express order not to make their escape announcement, the bobbleheads would only shake their heads “no.”

I also envision a Sussex Royal production company. Duchess Meghan could resume her showbiz career producing, perhaps, royal-themed programming such as “Paparazzi Death Wish,” “A  Curtsy Too Low,” and a twist on the the groundbreaking musical,  “Corgi and Bess.”

princecopter.jpgAs a former helicopter pilot, Harry would take on the important role of remaining in the sky and out of the way, occasionally making airborne Starbucks and pho runs for the cast and crew.

So it seems obvious, this was a well thought-out decision and I wish them the best of luck. Indeed, if they are, they may actually re-write the rules of royalty. I believe it will be titled the “Meghan Carta.” I want those bobbleheads autographed.

20 Years After Y2K…Adventures in Covering ….Nothing


Welcome to 2020! It was just 20 years ago the world woke up with a big “WTF” on their minds and lips because the Earth was still spinning, Armageddon didn’t occur, and, most importantly, the clocks our computers told the correct time thereby avoiding a cataclysmic crash that would irrevocably destroy our lives, or at least the programming of our DVRs. was the cute little thing called Y2K, meaning year 2000, when, we were warned in the most dire terms, computers would not be able to handle the change from years that began in “19” to those in “20” and life as we know it would end.

As a CNN reporter back then, I was compelled to come up with stories bolstering this global paranoia leading up to the time when time was supposed to end. I was also given one assignment, which I refused, because it was idiotic.

y2k1.jpgFirst, the lead-up stories. The owner of a large produce market in a Detroit suburb contacted our CNN Detroit bureau desk and suggested we come out there to see how Y2K was already paralyzing his operation, weeks before the new year. The angle was, if they ran a person’s credit card that expired in the year 2000 or beyond, their entire point of sale system would shut down.

“Come out, we’ll demonstrate it. Great TV!” he told our assignment manager. So we schlepped out there, set up our gear, rolled the camera and told him to show us this horrible manifestation of Y2K. Smiling for the camera he dramatically swiped a credit card with a year 2001 expiration date. Nothing happened. Now, not smiling as much, he did it again. Same result. We’re silently calling bullshit, but OK, we’ll be patient. The guy insists this really happened, so he gets an employee to cough up his card with a post 20th century expiration date. Swipes it. Nope. It IS bullshit!

I tell him, “sorry” but his imagined Y2K nightmare was just that. A dream. Desperate for some CNN screen time, he begged us to come back tomorrow when he was sure he could get his new computerized cash registers to crash..just for us!

Urged to find still more Y2K angles, just to keep the hype up, and to provide the network with stuff to tease, we found a guy in Michigan who claimed he actually DISCOVERED the Y2K glitch and wanted proper credit for it. So, sure, we do the interview, and he’s pretty convincing,has all sorts of documentation and we feed the story. Gets pretty good play and we get happy words from the poobahs in Atlanta. Of course, the year 2000 happens, but Y2K disaster doesn’t. We contact the guy to do a follow-up. Suddenly he’s unreachable. Maybe he was the only one to vaporize…based on his convincing research, or course.

Finally, I get a call from our national desk asking me to take on a “super special, really important” assignment for the New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day period. Here’s the deal. The network chartered a plane that would sit, ready, at Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport. I was to sit, ready, at a hotel near DFW. If some horrible Y2K event occurred anywhere in the country, I was to run over to that plane, hop aboard and have it take me to that place and I was to file an instant story. It was a stupid idea and I begged off, in the most diplomatic way, saying I’m sorry, but I don’t speak Texan. I already had a long reputation of being a wiseass and so they sent a business news reporter based in NYC to babysit a baby that would never be born.

But here we are, 20 years later and I have to admit, I think about that time and how the world got sucked into such silliness.  I guess if we were living in today’s social media world we might have seen a meme of derision…like “Y2K, Doomer!”

Happy New Year all. Check your computer clock. It’s probably on time.

A Few Words About Don Imus Including “Thanks”

imusvarietyI was back home in Queens on a break from college in the early 1970’s. My father arrives home from work and he’s got a wicked smile as he informs us, “you won’t believe this new morning guy on WNBC. We were listening to him on the way to work. He’s says the most inappropriate things and he’s hysterical.”  That was my introduction to Don Imus, the pioneering and controversial radio personality who died earlier this week.

I took a special interest in anyone on the radio who was breaking new ground because I  was a radio and TV major at SUNY Oswego, what would turn out to be a breeding ground for broadcasters. Little known fact, I was the program director at campus station WOCR when a natural behind the mic arrived as a freshman and took an air shift. His name is Al Roker.

It just so happened we received a free, promotional copy of “1,200 Hamburgers to Go,” an LP with highlights of Imus’s on-air hijinks. The title cut was his famous bit where he posed as an Air National Guard officer on the phone who called a McDonalds ordering 1,200 burgers to go…each one dressed differently, which, to say the least, stressed out the poor kid taking the order.” I still have that record. See pic.

1200hamburgersFor us up and coming DJ’s Imus was a bit of an idol. He was the first guy we knew who identified as a “shock jock,” saying and doing things on the air no one else, until Howard Stern, could get away with. So, we all tried, miserably, copying his style and failed quite decisively.

Oswego is about 30 miles from Syracuse and in that town there was an Imus knock-off morning guy on WHEN radio who went by “Sweet Dick in the Morning.” Pretty risque’, huh? We used to catch his show, while he lasted…which wasn’t very long.

Once I graduated and began my professional radio career, the whole shock jock thing that Imus started was spreading so of course, I gave it a shot on my morning show on WMBO in Auburn, N.Y. One day my fastidious and conservative boss, named Floyd, came into the studio, looked at me and said, “you do a dirty show.” Just trying to keep up. I didn’t. I discovered what Imus and his ilk were doing successfully was much more difficult than it looked.

After moving out to Tucson, Ariz. and winning the morning slot on KCEE while going to grad school, I toned it down a bit, honed my act and doubled their morning show ratings in six months. Too bad. Jealous program director bumped me back to afternoon drive and replaced me with…himself. That was my last radio job. Spun my last record, Eric Clapton’s “Promises,” in September, 1979 and moved to TV news.

By then I had lost track of Don Imus, concentrating on my new broadcast journalism career but then caught up with him many years later when I was transferred by CNN to take over its bureau in Detroit. One of the stations simulcasted  his show and I started listening again. Unfortunately, Imus didn’t age well. Still a sharp interviewer, at times, but, no long entertaining, even embarrassing.

Still, I listened while his show was available in our market. I liked what he was doing with the Imus Ranch for kids with cancer and he introduced me to two of my favorite CD’s–The I-10 Chronicles and The I-10 Chronicles 2.They’re a rich compilation of music representing the varied cultures along that long, east-west interstate that runs from Santa Monica, Calif, to Jacksonville, Fla. On those discs I discovered the marvelous Texas duo of Bill and Bonnie Hearne, then went out and bought all of their music I could find. There’s Adam Duritz of the Counting Crows moaning Warren Zevon’s “Carmelita” and Willie Nelson’s untouchable interpretation of “Everybody’s Talkin’.” Ever heard of Garrison Starr or Cherokee Rose? They’re both incredible and on there too. Also Steve Forbert, Bobby Bare Jr., Raul Malo, Joe Ely and others.

i10.jpgNo, I never became a successful shock jock but I had my chances. It’s OK. I’ll remember Don Imus as an early inspiration for pursuing what did end up to be a very successful career in broadcasting…and every time I pop in either volume of I-10 Chronicles, listen to Bill and Bonnie Hearne serenade me with “New Mexico Rain,” or John Hammond’s blistering “Fish in the Jailhouse,” I’ll thank Imus for that tip. Somewhere up in radio heaven, he might be shocked.

A Hemingway-Inspired Christmas Story

If Ernest Hemingway wrote down his Christmas thoughts:

hemingway-e1568254410986I write this at first light. Christmas morning. Damn Christmas. Oh, it’s not the festivity or ceaseless singing. It’s good. It’s fine.

Presents. Gifts. I’m compelled to shop but I prefer the term hunt. My prey is challenging. Staring at me. Mocking me. Daring me to exchange cash for whatever supposed joy it may impart the recipient. Damn joy. I release my debit card. The prey is captured. Later wrapped and lain in repose beneath the fir awaiting reception. Others have hunted too and expect appreciation from me, I suppose. Damn appreciation.

papaxmascardTime comes to release the captive items. Expected joy is expressed. I reciprocate sparking a smile. Maybe two. It doesn’t matter. I have participated. It’s good. It’s fine. One can’t complain when endowed with a new sweater’s warmth, or sustenance of a cheese log. Thanks is expressed and accepted. It’s a process and I submit. One may term it celebration. Some do. I submit, and drink. No, not that nasty nog. A zesty mojito or scotch and soda will do just fine. Several. Then, I celebrate.

hemingwaymojitoThere are children. Many. I observe their youthful mania while manipulating machines with batteries. It is not long before the batteries expire. I wish for children operating under the same power. Peace. Another mojito. More peace.

I am informed. In the days following the exchange of hunted items there are further expectations. Notes. Damn notes to express gratitude for procured items. I have already expressed such gratitude orally! It’s all overkill but I submit to allay matrimonial harangue. I sit and write. What is there to it? There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. If one could now find a typewriter I would gladly bleed rather than manipulate intangible characters that might disappear without warning.

Someone in my family. Perhaps a distant relative with little knowledge of my comportment reports the beginnings of a smile. I demur. It can’t be. Damn, I’m slipping. As if losing traction on Mt. Kilimanjaro, or being becalmed off the Cuban coast.

I retreat to examine the commodities bestowed on me and they were good. They were fine. I’m good. I’m fine. Very fine. Perhaps you are too. Damn season’s joy. Another mojito seals it. A new year awaits. The hunt renews.