Diane Sawyer is 70

After a couple years, I found the show totally unwatchable.

sawyer.nixon2When Diane Sawyer was up for a job at CBS News in the late 1970s, I was wary. She had worked for years in the press office at the Nixon White House and then helping the resigned-before-he-was-impeached former president with his memoirs in San Clemente, California. She was even suspected of being Deep Throat, the source of leaks of classified information during the Watergate scandal. A character playing Sawyer shows up in the movie Frost/Nixon, but that was a cinematic contrivance.

Diane Sawyer turned out to be not bad, first as a reporter, then fairly quickly as the first female correspondent on 60 Minutes, the long-running investigative newsmagazine.

After five years with 60 Minutes (1984-1989), she moved to ABC News to co-anchor various news magazines (Primetime Live, 20/20). “In 1999, Sawyer returned to the morning news as the co-anchor of Good Morning America with Charles Gibson. The assignment was putatively temporary, but her success in the position, measured by a close in the gap with front-runner Today, NBC News’s morning program, sustained her in the position for far longer than anticipated.”

I had been watching ABC World News, going back to the days of Peter Jennings, who I thought was a consummate newsman, until he was diagnosed with lung cancer in early 2005, and died a few months later. I stayed with the network through the brief Bob Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas period, and the version with Charles Gibson.
“Sawyer was announced as the successor to Gibson, who retired as the anchor of ABC World News, on Friday, December 18, 2009. Sawyer left GMA on December 11, 2009, and [moved] to ABC World News on December 21, 2009, three days after Gibson’s departure.”

But the show evolved into having more “news you can use” features, the type of programming appropriate for GMA but what probably would have Jennings rolling over in his grave. ABC News had a glitzy “what’s trending” on social media segment and the periodic, mildly jingoistic “Made in America” pieces; I helped find a couple of the entrepreneurs.

After a couple of years, I found the show totally unwatchable, especially after the first commercial, and started watching other programs, almost anything. Sawyer left in the anchor desk in 2014 and concentrated on specials. Her piece on Julie Andrews I found irritating, seemingly more about how strenuous the hills in The Sound of Music were for the interviewer than new information about the subject.

Still, I think that Barbara Walters-like celebrity journalism does have its place. Who else had the soft news cred to have interviewed Bruce Jenner just before the transition to Caitlyn? And I appreciated how she gave her GMA colleagues the scoop the death of her husband, Mike Nichols, in November 2014.

I recognize that media will make more of the competition between two women, no matter the field, such as Sawyer’s rivalry with Barbara Walters or Katie Couric.

So I can appreciate her accomplishments, even her style is not always my cuppa.

March on Washington, a half century later

When Jackie Robinson joined major league baseball in 1947, that did not mark the end of racism and segregation.

It’s likely you’ll see a LOT of stories about the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Every single one will marvel at how much progress has been made in America in the area of race, since 1963. Almost all will point to a black President, the current Attorney General, and two recent Secretaries of State as examples. The divergence in opinions come on this point: some will claim that we have “reached the promised land,” making sure to paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr. from that day a half-century ago – as though he were the only speaker there – while others will suggest that we haven’t quite gotten there yet.

When President Obama suggested that we look at race again in light of the Trayvon Martin case, that Obama could have been Trayvon 35 years ago, some, such as Touré at TIME, thought it was a brave personal observation. He wrote: “The assertion that blacks are hallucinating or excuse-making or lying when we talk about the many very real ways white privilege and racial bias and the lingering impact of history impact our lives is painful. It adds insult to injury to attack all assertions of racism and deny its continued impact or existence.”

Others labeled Obama “racist-in-chief”, playing the “race card” and worse. When Former Florida GOP Congressman Joe Scarborough lit into Fox News talk-show host Sean Hannity last month for suggesting that Martin was a messed up teenager who “had it coming” when he was killed by George Zimmerman in their February 2012 confrontation, the bile cast on the Morning Joe host, Martin, his parents, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, among others, by a website I follow was toxic. The always dreadful Ted Nugent said that Martin had been ‘Emboldened’ By Obama, “the first black president as a ‘Black Panther’ running a ‘gangster’ government.”

Here are four charts suggesting Obama’s right about being black in America. Being profiled is, more than anything, disheartening, I can tell you. After George Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering Trayvon, Lavar Burton, the original Kunte Kinte of Roots fame, noted how he had taught his sons to keep their hands open and out of the car. Meanwhile, a white guy on the same show noted that he had once locked his keys in the car, so he tried to break in; a New Orleans police officer stopped him, saying, “No, you’re not doing it right.”

There’s this show on ABC called What Would You Do? It’s a hidden camera show that looks at human psychology. I don’t watch it, but I find it interesting that several of their experiments involve race. A most powerful one involved actors pretending to be bicycle thieves. From this story: When a white young man appeared to be taking a bike, most people didn’t question it. Yet when the African-American actor took his place, “the reactions were more pronounced. At one point, a crowd assembled around the purported thief and confronted him directly. One man pulled out a cellphone and said he was calling the police, which he was about to do until the cameramen filming the event stepped forward.”

When Jackie Robinson joined major league baseball in 1947, that did not mark the end of racism and segregation. It took over a decade before every team had at least one black player. It was 1987, when Al Campanis, general manager of the DODGERS, which was Jackie’s team, rationalized on national TV why there weren’t more blacks in baseball management; I watched it live, stunned. As a direct result, the sport was far more aggressive in making sure minority candidates at least got interviewed for a management position. They took an AFFIRMATIVE ACTION to rectify a system, not of overt racism, but merely cronyism, hiring the guys one already knows.

And speaking of which, the US Supreme Court seems destined to gut the Voting Rights Act and affirmative action, under the mistaken belief that everything is all better now. The economic inequities would otherwise. Almost 400 years have passed since blacks came to America, and that there is still work to be done does not negate the progress. Nor does the progress suggest that Martin, if he were still alive, and his colleagues, some of whom still alive, and their successors, would be resting on their laurels, satisfied that the work is done.
Leonard Pitts: Living in a time of moral cowardice.

If you could somehow magically bring [Martin Luther King, Jr.] here, that tomorrow would likely seem miraculous to him, faced as he was with a time when segregation, police brutality, employment discrimination, and voter suppression were widely and openly practiced.

Here is tomorrow, after all, the president is black. The business mogul is black. The movie star is black. The sports icon is black. The reporter, the scholar, the lawyer, the teacher, the doctor, all of them are black. And King might think for a moment that he was wrong about tomorrow and its troubles.

It would not take long for him to see the grimy truth beneath the shiny surface, to learn that the perpetual suspect is also black. As are the indigent woman, the dropout, the fatherless child, the suppressed voter, and the boy lying dead in the grass with candy and iced tea in his pocket.

Getting rid of ABC News’ Brian Ross, for starters

In a three-minute span last week, anchor Diane Sawyer made two errors.

I’m forever fascinated by the news media, and how often they get it wrong. Anyone who has appeared in the newspaper will tell you that; “that’s not what I meant.” Often it’s breaking news they botch, such as CNN and FOX News reporting of when it was declaring that the Supreme Court had killed “Obamacare”

But it was some hours after the Aurora, Colorado shootings when ABC News’ Brian Ross, interrupting the news anchor, speculated that the shooter may have been a member of a local tea party chapter. Ah, his investigation seems to be that he Googled James Holmes and Aurora and found A James Holmes in Aurora, who is unrelated. The network issued a public apology. This was hardly the first of Ross’ premature reporting.

Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart totally lambasted Ross (at 5:00 in), and rightly so. Regret the Error explains the network’s mealy apology, while at the same time, making me suspicious of another detail of the story. “The network had reported that Holmes’ mother said ‘you have the right person’ when it contacted her to ask if her son was the shooter. She has since said she was referring to herself to let the reporter know she was Holmes’ mother.” I tend to believe Holmes’ mother’s version.

Ross, however, is hardly the only sloppy newsperson at ABC News. In a three-minute span last week, anchor Diane Sawyer made two errors. First, she noted that the British had 9,500 soldiers in Afghanistan, but 18,200 at the Olympics, which is “MORE than twice as many;” not when I went to school. Then she referred to late actor Sherman Hemsley as “Helmsley.” Forgivable mistake, perhaps, but when the reporter on the piece REPEATEDLY announces his name correctly, you’d think she’d fix it. Or, if she didn’t notice, that SOMEONE would whisper into her headphone about her miscue.

It wasn’t that long ago that the late Peter Jennings, who died in 2005, was anchoring ABC’s evening news. Those types of errors likely wouldn’t have taken place, and if they had, heads would have rolled. I’m reminded once again why I gave up my ABC News habit.

TV: from 90% to 50%

I had been viewing ABC News, more out of habit. I thought the late Peter Jennings was excellent, but through the reigns of Charles Gibson and now Diane Sawyer, the news has gotten softer and mushier.

I don’t write about TV much for one simple reason: the little I watch, I don’t usually see in real-time. Depending on the show, I could be a  week to a couple of months behind, though I tend to stay current with the news. By the time I see it, much of it is an old story. Which begs the question, how long should one wait until writing about “spoilers”? After all, many people timeshift their viewing with the TiVO or VCR or, in my case, DVR. As of this writing, I STILL haven’t seen the season finale of Grey’s Anatomy, which aired two weeks ago, but I read, in a passing message on a blog, a major plot point that I wish I didn’t know. Whereas my wife still doesn’t know who won Dancing with the Stars, at least until she sees her hairdresser Wednesday, though, in fact, I do. It’s not a show I watch, so I’m not upset about that.

When I came back from my trip at the beginning of May, our DVR was 90% full. But with seasons finally ending, first Parenthood, and the The Good Wife in April, then the rest of my shows in May, the list slowly but clearly is on a downward plane, running anywhere from 48-52% full. I’m hoping that by the fall preview season, it’ll be close to zero.

It helps that there are so many reality shows in the summer that I’m not interested in. The only thing on the recording list is the final season of The Closer. And at least so far, I’m not likely to add a show to record in the fall; in fact, I haven’t added a show in a couple of seasons.

And the shows everyone tells me I SHOULD be watching, such as Mad Men, I’ll have to get the DVDs of the previous seasons first. But I never do – I STILL haven’t watched The Wire, and it’s been off the air about half a decade. Instead, I’ll watch baseball or something I already own on DVD, such as an old Dick van Dyke Show.

I have to figure out which national news broadcast I should watch. I had been viewing ABC News, more out of habit. I thought the late Peter Jennings was excellent, but through the reigns of Charles Gibson and now Diane Sawyer, the news has gotten softer and mushier. The final straw was Friday when the SpaceX rocket docked on the International Space Station. The LA Times thought it warranted a special notice, which I Facebooked. The NBC News teased about it. But ABC News had not a word one about it. It’s become almost as bad as ABC’s Good Morning America and NBC’s the Today show, full of personal dramas and puff pieces; the CBS morning news is CLEARLY better, and on those rare occasions I view morning TV, I watch that.

You can’t get to heaven on a pair of skates

In my less holy days, my conclusion might have been, “well, if THINKING them is the same as DOING them, you might as well just DO them; same penalty, after all.”

“…’cause you’ll roll, right past those Pearly Gates.” Old song that popped into my head.

So Chris Honeycutt found my villainous thoughts totally inadequate; I’m unsurprisingly all right with that, and she came up with her own here and here and here. My, she’s thought about this a LOT, it would seem.

But in between, she poses this question: Can you be a good Christian and fantasize about being a villain? In the main, I totally agree with her that “we should want to be Christlike, but in reality, we’re, well… not.
“Story is good, IMHO, for exploring those un-Christlike qualities that we possess. If we don’t face them as a reality, we can become repressed. And while suppression (holding back emotion and thought until an appropriate time and expressing them in appropriate ways) is good, repression (trying to hold back emotion forever until we blow like a tea kettle) is very bad.”

Yes, that’s why I read Tea Party blogs, to understand how the minds of people not like me think.

And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have any less-than-ideal thoughts of my own regarding others now and then. It was that I never really identified with a particular archetype or methodology. Moreover, I just find my own failing less reprehensible than sad. What can I say?

I’d long wondered about those quotes attributed to Jesus, that if you think evil thoughts, it’s the same as doing so. For instance, in Matthew 5:28 “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Now in my less holy days, my conclusion might have been, “well, if THINKING them is the same as DOING them, you might as well just DO them; the same penalty, after all.” My approach these days is more nuanced.

In any case, I was watching Easter Sunday’s This Week on ABC News. Jake Tapper interviewed Rick Warren of the huge Saddleback church. He shared the fact that dogs and even cats go to heaven. He managed to sound like a politician when he talked about J-O-B-S. But Warren also complained about how magazines exploit Christmas and Easter with religious covers:

JAKE TAPPER: This week’s “Newsweek” magazine, which has a very provocative cover, has a different perspective on what ails America’s religious communities, under the headline “Forget the Church, Follow Jesus,” Andrew Sullivan argues that American Christianity is in a crisis, it’s too focused on politics and policy, too little on spirituality… So what is your reaction to this line of criticism from people who like faith but don’t like religion?
WARREN: Sure. Well, first place, let me give a little personal gripe. I think it’s disingenuous that magazines like “Newsweek” know that their circulation goes up at Christmas and Easter if they put a spiritual issue on the cover, but it’s always bait-and-switch. They never tell the stories, never tell the stories of what the good — what good the church is doing. Never. It’s always some obscure scholar, who’s debating something that kind of supposedly disproves this or that, or Andrew Sullivan — I don’t consider Andrew Sullivan to be a religious authority, okay?
And so it is — they know they’re going to make money, every time you put Jesus on the cover of a magazine, it skyrockets. You go do the history. “Time” magazine, “Life” magazine, “U.S. News and World Report,” those are always the best issues. So they make money on it, but then it’s a bait and switch, and it’s always a disappointment. And I wish they would have a little bit more integrity than that, and tell the other side of the story, maybe just occasionally.

While his premise may be technically true, it’s not Time’s or Newsweek’s job to promote Christianity. On Easter Sunday in my church, we said, “Christ is risen indeed.” We said that last year and we’ll probably say that next year. The magazines’ job is to find a different spin. I didn’t see the Newsweek article, but I did read Heaven Can’t Wait By Jon Meacham, the cover story in TIME. And I found this interesting:

“Yet we don’t necessarily agree on what heaven is. There is, of course, the familiar image… But there is also the competing view of scholars… What if Christianity is not about enduring this sinful, fallen world in search of a reward of eternal rest? What if the authors of the New Testament were actually talking about a bodily resurrection in which God brings together the heavens and the earth in a wholly new, wholly redeemed creation? As more voices preach a view that’s at odds with the pearly gates (but supported, they note, by Scripture), faithful followers must decide which approach they believe in.

“It’s a distinction with some very worldly implications. If heaven is seen as life’s ultimate reward, then one’s vision of paradise shapes how one lives. It is an essential tenet of Christian faith, of course, to love one’s neighbor. But if you believe the world will be destroyed at the last day while the blessed look down from a disembodied heaven, then you are most likely going to view the things of this world in a different light than someone who believes there will be a bodily resurrection on an earth that is to be, in the words of a great hymn, ‘our eternal home.’ Accepting the latter can mean different priorities, conceivably putting issues like saving the environment up there with saving souls.”

So I hope the “secular” press keeps observing the sacred world with a journalist’s eye, rather than a believer’s.

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