Friday Brain Fire

Click Here to Subscribe to Brain Fire


Friday Brain Fire will offer insights into the media, how it works, and how it can be worked. There will, of course, be politics, and other topics that simply do not get addressed by journalism or government. Nothing will be out of bounds. And if you read this and don’t learn something valuable, then I need to quit.


The series of reports on the Texas Tribune, “The Trouble with the Trib,” “No Country for Old Reporters,” “The Lance Armstrong of Journalism,” and “The Times it is a Changin’: The New York Times Inherits the Sins of its Little Brother the Texas Tribune,” have all prompted one question: Why has the Tribune not responded? I actually don’t care if they say anything because the information is out there and readers and donors and advertisers can make their judgments based on those facts.

But I’m pretty sure I understand their silence. Allow me to quote John Adams, the second president of our fair land when he was defending British soldiers charged in the Boston Massacre. “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” (Adams did not originate the first part of that quote.)

What can the Tribune and its executives say?

The other recurring question has to do with why other media have not reported on this story. This is easy to understand. If the Austin American Statesman were to write a report following on this information, they risk appearing petty, as if they are piling on a competitor. Every mainstream legacy outlet in the state confronts the same problem. The information was there all along for them to discover but why bother wasting a resource to track and gather data on a competitor when there is actual news to cover?

In part, this also accounts for the silence of the Texas Tribune. If the Trib formally makes a statement, it has acknowledged what has transpired. This puts the entire topic into the public domain in a manner that makes it news and allows legacy media to begin reporting on the Trib’s failings without looking mean-spirited and overly competitive. Eventually, though, the Tribune will need to make a formal statement. One major Texas newspaper has already issued an edict that it will not again carry Trib stories, and, if the New York Times drops the Trib because it can’t stomach the stampeding hypocrisy, there will be no way for Evan Smith to stay silent.

Smith is notorious for defending his turf. If you read the series of stories on Don’t Grow Texas, you know he calls and emails bloggers to try to intimidate them, and I know of one senior reporter in the capitol who got a nearly vile note from Smith after daring to question how they disclose their funding. But he has said nothing yet to the Trib’s readers or givers or advertisers, and he damned sure owes them an explanation. Not to give them one is just flat-assed stupid.

But stupid is a disease in Texas right now.

Greg Abbott could teach courses in media dumbass, if he doesn’t get elected governor. Why did his people bring Ted Nugent into the state, an admitted pedophile and draft dodger, and gave him a microphone to call the president of the United States a “sub-human mongrel?” Nugent tries to portray himself as a gun-slinging bad ass American but he’s mostly just a scared little boy.

Getting drafted and serving in Vietnam apparently scared Teddy so much he shat himself. Wait, it wasn’t an accident; it was by design. He chose to crap his pants to get out of the draft. Gawker published what Nugent told the magazine “High Times” back in 1977 when he described how he got ready for his draft physical.

“Then two weeks before, I stopped eating any food with nutritional value,” Nugent said. “I just had chips, Pepsi, beer-stuff I never touched-buttered popcorn, little jars of Polish sausages, and I’d drink the syrup, I was this side of death, Then a week before, I stopped going to the bathroom. I did it in my pants. poop, piss the whole shot. My pants got crusted up.”

Ted Nugent walking around with crusted feces on his jeans and urine dripping down his leg is about the only imagery that can make the guy more disgusting than his present persona. But he is an artist so he turns a pretty phrase when he offers details.

“Then they had a urine test and I couldn’t piss, but my poop was just like ooze, man, so I poop in the cup and put it on the counter. I had poop on my hand and my arm. The guy almost puked. I was so proud. I knew I had these chumps beat.”

Poop like ooze. Those are song lyrics, man. Poop in the cup. And some day poop on Greg Abbott’s campaign.

Not even the mouth-breathers on the right edge of the cracker can believe that it was smart of the Republican Abbott to bring Teddy to town. And if that wasn’t sufficiently ignorant, Abbott and his team bungled the media response. They held a news conference in East Texas and, of course, the first question was about pants crapper Ted. The correspondent leading the way was CNN’s Ed Lavendera, who I had the privilege of mentoring a bit as he learned his craft at the Texas Capitol. I expect I will use the video of what unfolded as an example of precisely what not to do the next time I conduct media training.

Not only did Abbott act like Lavendera didn’t even exist, he had his media men place themselves between him and the reporter. They were trying to intimidate him to keep him from asking further Ted Nugent questions. Abbott looked stupid, and evasive, and his people were bullying, all of this to wrap up a day where he paraded around with a self-shitting draft dodging pedophile who called the president of the United States a sub-human mongrel.

Yeah, that’s the guy I want running Texas.

(Nugent, it should be added, performed at Rick Perry’s inauguration. Perry, Nugent, Abbott, could be a new band. I’d give them the name Grand Fukk Railroad.)

There’s only one bigger dumbass walking the planet right now and that’s the dictator who calls himself president of the West African country The Gambia. Yayah Jammeh went on state TV and called homosexuals “vermin” that are comparable to “malaria-causing mosquitoes.”

Jammeh has previously claimed he had found a cure for AIDS, even though he has long said that gays are the “biggest threat to human existence” and if a homosexual were to be caught in The Gambia, he said, “They will regret why they were born.”

Secretary of State John Kerry denounced Jammeh’s speech but, hell, there are 37 countries, about half of Africa, that outlaw homosexuality, and, yet, many of them are still receiving money from the U.S.

A lot of media noise was also created around Christin Cooper’s interview of Bode Miller on NBC for the Olympics. She suggested the skier, who had won the bronze medal, had been looking off to the sky, which was a calculated attempt to make him emotional and think about his deceased brother. Just as her producers hoped, Cooper got Miller to cry.

Reporters won’t admit such a thing but they like to elicit emotion from people. I used to get sick of hearing the question, “How does that make you feel?” And you could hear that being asked of a parent who had lost a child. How in the hell do you think it makes me feel? Interviews should be used for gathering information and not eliciting emotion.

Miller’s response was genuine and he graciously defended Cooper when a tweet storm billowed up in the wake of the interview. Critics hammered NBC but I see no difference between getting emotion in that interview and CBS getting interview subjects to cry during 48 Hours or 60 Minutes recordings. (And what’s the deal with the numbers for program names?) Yeah, it’s only the Winter Olympics and there tends to be emotion but there’s a very danged skinny line that gets crossed when you begin to mess with how people feel in front of TV cameras.

A Canadian hockey player was interviewed after a game in one of the winter contests at the Olympics several years ago and was asked an even more absurd question than the NBC reporter’s inquiry as to what the sky made the skier Miller ponder.

“It was your father’s dying wish that you win gold,” the reporter said. “You got silver. How does that make you feel?”

Makes me feel a lot smarter than you because I’d know better than to ask such an ignorant-assed question, should have been the response.

In the late 70s, I was working as a TV reporter in Laredo and we were just getting the hang of the new thing called videotape. I was assigned to interview a disabled man whose wife had gotten into a car wreck on the Pan American Highway in Mexico. Because she was uninsured and had caused damage to another vehicle and had no money to pay for its repairs, she was placed in the notorious La Loma Prison. (Aren’t all international prisons “notorious” to Americans?) Her husband, a paraplegic, sat at home in a wheelchair with four children to attend.

I taped an interview with him in which he got exceedingly emotional and cried about his situation. We raced back to edit the story into my six p.m. report and discovered that we had not recorded a second of the interview. I called him back and asked if we could return and re-tape. He agreed. I remembered the right questions and, damn, if he didn’t start crying right on cue. Excitedly, we raced to the shop to start editing and discovered we had gotten the pictures but no audio. I called him again and explained and he agreed to a third taping. And he asked, “But you don’t need me to cry again, do you?”

I thought, “TV always needs you to cry, mister. Tears are ratings. And that’s money. Which becomes my $13,200 a year anchoring the news in 1978 Laredo.

There are an increasing number of families shedding tears over inexplicable suicides by executives in the financial industry. Conspiracy theorists are going crazy with a string of suicides and the disappearance of a reporter. You can make of it what you will but if you look at this list of deaths and who the dead were in life, you have to wonder what in the hell is happening. This defies any statistical possibility.

January 11, 2014, Wall Street Journal reporter David Bird, 55, disappeared near his home in New Jersey. He wrote about oil and commodity markets and that industry is presently under investigation by the U.S. Senate for price manipulation.

January 26, 58 year-old William Broeksmit at Deutsche Bank, a risk manager, was found dead by hanging in his home outside London.

January 28, Gabriel Magee, 39, a JP Morgan investment bank technology executive jumped from the roof of the 33 story tower in London where the firm is located.

January 31, an economist for Russell Investments and also the Federal Reserve Bank, Mike Dueker, 50, was discovered dead along a roadside near Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington.

February 3, 2014, 37 year-old Henry Crane, the Executive Director of JP Morgan’s Global Equities Group, who worked closely with Gabriel Magee, is also found dead. A cause is not determined pending a toxicology report but it’s a tad creepy that oversaw all of the trading platforms.

Is it simply coincidental that Deutsche Bank and JP Morgan are under investigation for possibly rigging international exchange rates? And Mike Dueker’s employer, Russell Investments is reportedly being looked at by the feds for a pay to play pension investment scheme. There’s a chance that five people connected through their profession have committed suicide in less than a month. But there’s also a chance you will win the next Powerball drawing.

What in the hell is going on? I’ve got some ideas but I think I’ll save them for a screenplay.

And I’ll leave you on a happy note as the world unravels. Ukraine and Venezuela are burning and the rest of the planet feels politically squishy. Late reports from Venezuela say there are gangs of armed motorcyclists riding around and shooting anyone who looks like a protestor. And, as seen in the video below, there are simply soldiers gunning down their fellow citizens in the streets.

Surely all of this is not without meaning?
Click Here to Subscribe to Brain Fire