Larry King, Piers Morgan, and Keith Olbermann

larry kingPiers MorganKeith Olbermann

Despite the fact that his ratings were in decline, I always liked Larry King.

In fact, back in the day, when he did the radio show, I called twice.

Once, I asked Bud Collins a question about Björn Borg.

I wanted to know why Collins thought Borg never won the U.S. Open, and if he thought the problem was the cold reception he got from American spectators in New York.

Collins told me that my interpretation was off the mark.  They liked Borg fine in New York, he said.  But they adored John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors.

Looking back, the answer to my question is obvious.  Why didn’t Borg ever win the U.S. Open?  Because he got beat.

Another time, I called Larry’s radio show and asked Scott Meredith, the literary agent, a question about publishing.  This was a long time ago and I can’t remember the silly question I probably asked.

Both times, when Larry said “Salisbury, North Carolina, hello!” I hesitated for a split second and got reprimanded for it.

“Go ahead!” he said impatiently.  “What’s your question!”

I remember one time somebody asked Larry King (on radio), who in all of history he would most like to interview.

“Jesus Christ,” he said.

“What would you ask?” the person said (I don’t remember who this person was; it’s been many years).

King said that he did not prepare a list of questions.  He just started with one and then went from there.

“The obvious question to start with would be ‘Are you the son of God?'” he said.

I wasn’t an addict who watched the show every night — by no means.  Like many of us, I spend more time on the computer these days than watching TV.  It’s more productive.

But I was a fan, for sure.  I spent many evenings watching Larry King Live.  When both of my parents were alive and well and in their home (three blocks from mine), I often checked in on them and visited around that time.  We watched together.

When my father’s health was in decline, with my mother working many nights, I often showed up at 9pm.  The last night of my father’s life, I was at Port City Java, right at closing time.  He called and told me that Jon Stewart was to be the guest on Larry King.  He knew I was a Jon Stewart fan.  I drove right over and we watched the show. Then we switched to basketball.  Then my mom arrived from work and we all visited for awhile.

I’ve been a little disappointed with Larry King’s replacement.  I don’t dislike Piers Morgan.  (I don’t dislike anybody on TV; I don’t know them).  But I watched the show for a few minutes and did not find his interviewing style to be…highly captivating.

And now Keith Olbermann is gone from MSNBC.

If CNN could do a redo, would Keith Olbermann be the perfect replacement for Larry King?

Olbermann and King are almost opposite in style.

  • King is neutral.  He his there to learn, not judge.
  • Olbermann is not neutral.  He’s there to judge.
  • King never inserts his own views.  Olbermann always inserts his own views.
  • King asks a lot of questions.  Olbermann doesn’t ask many.  He basically  reports the liberal perspective.

But I was a big fan of Keith Olbermann and will miss the opportunity to check in, on occasion, and see what he’s ranting about.

While the solution to 9pm on CNN is obvious to me, there’s no chance that will happen.  Olbermann will probably end up on Oprah’s network, or somewhere else on cable.

Lost my hat. Broke my glasses. Who cares?

I’ve been watching CNN a good bit since the earthquake in Haiti.

It’s been fascinating to watch the coverage evolve.  At first, there weren’t even pictures.  Anderson Cooper arrived on day 2, and now more and more reporters seem to be filing reports each day.

The despair, and loss of life, the destruction, is beyond words.  As depressing as it is, we need these pictures — even though they offer only glimpse of the tragedy.

It puts cable news in perspective.

CNN has hardly cut away from Haiti since it happened.  Fox News reports it, but they have little coverage on the ground.  And, they report it along with other news stories — mostly political controversies that are basically news events being fabricated on the fly.

I have little respect for Fox News, not only because of their bias, but also because the emphasis they put on certain stories distorts the importance of those stories (or, non-stories).

CNN does the same thing.  They sometimes have online polls with weird questions and then report the entirely predictable results as news.

But Fox is the biggest distorter, and it’s most evident when there’s a catastrophe in another part of the world and they don’t send a team of reporters.  It makes it obvious that most of the drama they report 24/7 is being drummed up there in the studio.

It puts news in perspective — and it also puts my petty worries in perspective.

While the people of Haiti have lost everything, I’ve lost a few things myself.

Last Thursday, I lost my Tyrollean hat.  It came from Austria and has been my companion for 25 years.

I delivered Coffee News all day Thursday.  It was cold, but at one point my head got a little warm and I put the hat on the dashboard.  After a while, it was in the way and I threw it on the back seat.

That’s the last time I remember touching my hat.

When you’ve had — and worn — a hat that long, it’s a little like losing a pet.  The best thing to do when you lose a dog is to get a puppy, so I’ve ordered a new hat.  It’s a knock-off, made in America.  It’s not easy — and fairly expensive — to get them from Austria.  It should arrive next week and I hope it’s the same as the one I lost.

The other loss — possibly — is my glasses.

While wearing the 3-D glasses in order to watch Avatar, I took them off and placed them on my coat.

After the movie, I stood up and put on my coat.  My glasses landed on the floor.  I was apparently mesmerized by the movie credits and didn’t notice this.  Apparently, the movie was so powerful that I even forgot I wore real glasses — though they are bifocals and I need them all the time for everything.

So when I heard a crunch under my foot, I remembered my glasses.

I know there’s plenty of bad news in the world — all the time — and while it feels good to donate time and money to help alleviate suffering, it’s not a good idea, psychologically, to focus on human tragedy too much.

But it does put my own losses in perspective.  A hat?  A pair of glasses?  Who cares?

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Is Fox News really a news organization? Is MSNBC?

It’s interesting that while CNN is scrambling to cover the earthquake in Haiti, Fox news is talking about filibusters and stopping health care reform.

Is Fox News really a news organization?

MSNBC (my preference) is talking about Jay and Conan and late night comedy.

If they were “news organizations,” wouldn’t they be reporting the strongest earthquake in 200 years?

Both of them are basically talk radio.

Report Card for CNN: D-

The other night, CNN gave President Obama his 200 day report card. People voted online and CNN reported the results on TV.

The results were predictable.

When I was a technology facilitator in the school system (for 22 years), I taught lots of children how to use a spreadsheet.  One of my favorite intro lessons was showing them how to average grades — demonstrating how one zero can bring an excellent semester average way down.  One F can ruin a good GPA.  I tried to show the kids that skipping an assignment altogether is not “just one assignment,” but possibly a way to repeat a grade.

Obama got 54 percent of the popular vote in the election. His voters will give him an A. Those who voted for McCain will give him an F. Unless people have changed their minds — which would not have happened this soon — he would get a C, which he did. He also got a C on his first 100 day report card. Unless something big happens (ie. 9/11, stock market crash, budget surplus) it’s likely to stay that way. His report card simply reflects the country’s current political spectrum.

Letter grades, with the general public voting online, is a good way to make a funny calculation of Obama’s popularity, but it’s meaningless as a grade. Report cards should be an objective assessment of a person’s work.

I did not vote, nor did I watch it. I would have given Obama an A, but by the time I saw it, the voting was over.

They had their panel of mostly partisan commentators on all night — discussing the results of this poll. If they had been discussing his Presidency it would have made sense.  Instead, they were trying to go for the drama, like election night, and discussing the poll. I watched a few minutes. It wasn’t dramatic.

I like Larry King. I liked him on radio, before his show on CNN (and called in a couple of times). I watch the show sometimes, depending on the guest. When the guest is good, the show can be interesting and enlightening. Larry gives his guests time to answer questions.

This night, Larry King and everything else was preempted by the poll results.

They behaved as if this were breaking news. It wasn’t. It certainly wasn’t newsworthy enough to fill an evening on a news channel. It’s a good way to interact with viewers — but it’s all manufactured. What was going on in the world? What were their reporters doing?

I know it’s not my place to judge a news organization. They need to do what they need to do in order to make money and stay on the air. CNN can be an easy, entertaining way to get news, and I watch too much of it.

I know money is the bottom line. Controversy and close elections are better for ratings — and I think we’ve paid a price for this kind of journalism (especially in 2004). I’m guessing some of the programming makes some of their own journalists feel like barfing. Seen Lou Dobbs lately? Glenn Beck, who is a joke, started out Headline News (although he was probably somewhere before that).

They do their fair share of hype — but that is, as Cronkite would lament, “the way it is,” with the current state of commercial TV news these days.

They hyped both Iraq wars, and they reported the Swift boat ads as if both sides of the debate had equally valid factual arguments — even though one side did not. They don’t guard their language at all, when it comes to editorializing in a straight news report. That’s just “the way it is,” these days.

I still watch it.

The Obama report card would have made a nice segment — not an entire evening of news.

Too bad. MSNBC on the left, which I like, and FOX on the right, which I don’t like, are basically talk radio with little news.

CNN, with its resources, could be that solid, responsible, straight shooter in the middle. The other night, it got an F.