Tuesday, September 24, 2013

My Wife and I were "Guest Stars" on Breaking Bad

Sunday night’s second-last episode of AMC’s acclaimed Breaking Bad featured a bit of UW-Madison hockey history, which attracted the attention of a lot of hockey fans.  Near the end of the episode, when Walt is in the bar in New Hampshire, dejected and demoralized, there’s a hockey game on the TV in the bar.


I tried to listen to both the soundtrack of the show, and the soundtrack-within-the-soundtrack of the hockey game on TV, because I suspected it might just be a Wisconsin hockey game.  But I couldn’t tell for sure.  A lot of hockey fans with ears more keen than mine figured out right away that it was a Badgers hockey game, and the backstory – as reported in the Cap Times this morning by Rob Thomas – is a fascinating tale.


Rob’s article points out that Wisconsin Public TV has a huge archive of old Badgers hockey games, and that there’s a clip of a UW vs. Minnesota hockey game fairly early in the great flic “Fargo” (which I noticed the first time I saw the movie, because I immediately recognized my friend Paul Braun’s voice doing play-by-play of the game), and more recently, there’s a UW hockey clip in Clint Eastwood’s baseball movie “Trouble With The Curve”, which I also picked out the first time I saw that flic.


But the hockey clip in the bar scene in Breaking Bad kept me wondering, and yesterday several stories about it appeared on social media, pointing out that it was indeed a UW hockey game.  Sports Illustrated writer Sam Page did the hard work and narrowed it down to a game between UW and Denver University on February 13th, 1998 at the Great Dane (Dane County Coliseum).


I remember that game very well, even though it was 15 years ago. The Badgers were trailing Denver 3-1 with about 7 minutes left in the 3rd period, but they came back to score SIX goals and win the game 7-4, which is one of the greatest comeback stories in UW athletic history. 


My wife and I were at that game.


We were Badger hockey season ticket holders, and back then we had “Friday night tickets”.  Most WCHA hockey matches are a two-game weekend series, with the first game Friday night and the second game Saturday night - and it’s the same this coming season with the new Big Ten Hockey League debut. The UW Athletic Department splits season tickets into Friday night season tickets and Saturday night season tickets. Toni and I had Friday night tickets, and we went to every home game.


I also remember the game because somewhere in my vast collection of VHS videotapes (just dying to be converted to digital files and burned to DVD) there’s a clip of Channel 3’s coverage of that game. Back in those days my friend Eric Franke was a sports reporter - not at all like the highly distinguished news anchor he’s become.  In his report on the amazing comeback, he used a bit of videotape (which the TV folks call a “cutaway” or “B-roll”) that showed Toni and me jumping up and down cheering one of the six comeback goals (yes, back then I could actually jump, even though my hip replacement was 3 years in the future at that time).  Eric said something like “and there’s News 3’s Assignments Manager, Toni Morrissey and her husband Tim, cheering on the Badgers”.


One of these days, I’ve gotta find that clip in my videotape collection.


Just as the size of the fish grows each time the fisherman tells the story about catching “the big one”, I’m pretty sure I can continue to morph the story of that tiny bit of videotape into a tale about how Toni and I were guest stars on Breaking Bad.


Of course, about 10,229 other UW hockey fans can make the claim, too…..but I’ve got the videotape!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Chuck Todd: FAIL

Like so many people who pass themselves off as political commentators, Chuck Todd (NBC’s “Political Director”) really isn’t so much a player as he is an actor.  Like the folks who anchor the “news” on the financial networks, Chuck is really a wannabe .  He’s on TV because he likes being on TV – just like the financial news folks like to be seen by the titans of industry they “report” on, and, in many cases, like the guys who anchor sports coverage (those who aren’t ex-jocks). They’re guys who love sports and the people who play sports.


Please understand there’s a difference between loving politics and reporting on it; between loving the financial industry and reporting on it; and between loving sports and reporting on it.  I think today, we’ve got a lot of lovers and not many reporters.


If ever there was any doubt that Chuck Todd is not a reporter, it went away last week Wednesday when, on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”, under blistering questioning from fellow guest Ed Rendell, Chuck said it wasn’t his job to correct misrepresentations about the Affordable Care Act, a/k/a ObamaCare.


Really?  Well, then, don’t call yourself a reporter or a journalist, Chuck, because people who fit that job description do their best to get to the TRUTH of any story they’re covering.  Todd said it was the job of the White House to correct the misinformation being spread about ObamaCare, not his.


I did my best to teach my two kids that under many circumstances, “no” actually means “I want more information”.  There are clear exceptions to this notion, particularly when a young lady says “no” to your romantic advances, but often a “no” means “we can get to yes from here, but I need to know more about what you’re saying”.  The popularity of ObamaCare is dropping, if you ask me, for two reasons: the White House really is mismanaging the message, and one of the political parties, which thinks it will benefit from people not liking ObamaCare, is telling some tall tales about ObamaCare. 


This is to me a classic case of “no means I need more information”.


If we are to have good information about ObamaCare – or any other government program at any level, from Washington DC to your own municipality– we must rely on reporters and journalists to try and ferret out some TRUTH.  It’s no wonder so many have reservations about ObamaCare – will there be death panels? Will I get to keep my doctor? Will I still be able to go to my clinic? Will my health insurance cost go up or down?


Truth is an elusive thing, sometimes, but when you’ve got one party saying one thing and the other party saying another, it’s hard to tell where the truth is.  Commentators, like Todd, can say whatever they want.  Reporters have to dig to try and find the truth.


Many people are saying “no” to ObamaCare because they want more information.  They want answers for their questions.  And guys like Todd – and there are a lot of them on TV – really do more harm than good, because they love the politics but don’t try to get at the truth.


If you’re a parent, you’ve lived the “more information” scenario many times.  Your child asks for something and you say no. If the child takes the time to explain more about what they want, or why it’s important to them, your initial “no” could easily become a “yes”.  In sales training, we were taught many ways to overcome objections and get to “yes”.  And I learned, years ago, peddling radio advertising to local merchants, that if I did a good enough job answering their questions, I could get a signed order.


Bottom line: NBC’s job should be to get factual information to its viewers during its news programs, and that involves fact-checking and research, and that’s often what separates the reporters from the wannabees. NBC should let Chuck Todd have all the fun he wants as a commentator, but should not put him on its evening newscasts unless he decides it IS his responsibility to try and get at the truth of statements made by politicians.


And NBC shouldn’t have to tell that to Todd.  It should understand its responsibility to the public and keep wannabees off the news without being told.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

It's Not Journalism, It's Info-Tainment

If there’s anything the national media should have experience in covering, it’s mass shootings.  They’ve had several chances to hone their skills in the past couple years, and yet when put to the test again in the Washington Navy Yard massacre, they came up woefully short.


I have concluded that these national outlets are aware of all the misinformation they’re spreading, and that they don’t care.  It’s now a game to see who can get the latest tweet on the air.  I believe there are enough seasoned news veterans on the staff of these national news-gathering organizations that they’re aware of one of the fundamentals of journalism, namely, that first reports are almost always wrong – and they simply don’t care about accuracy.


They care about delivering the most compelling live coverage they can muster.  This is info-tainment, not journalism, and it’s all about getting eyeballs on the screen.


There’s also an element of stupidity, which exists because of the lack of content supervision.  Take a look at the photo at the top of this post.  It’s a screen-shot of CNN declaring that one of the weapons the shooter used was an “AR-15 shotgun”.  Of course, there is no such thing.  An AR-15 is a semi-automatic assault weapon.  And, for those who need further depth of information, a gun is generally something with a smooth bore barrel, and a rifle is something which has “rifling” in the barrel which makes the projectile (bullet) spin. That increases accuracy, for the same reason that an accomplished quarterback puts a “spiral” on the ball when he throws it.


It’s hard for me to believe, as a ‘sconnie boy raised in the Fox Valley who went deer hunting with his dad, a decorated WW2 vet who rigorously inculcated his son with firearm safety training, that there is no one at CNN who didn’t catch that “AR-15 shotgun” error and pull it down within a few seconds.  You can blame some 22-year-old kid who grew up in an urban area and has never actually held (much less fired) a rifle or shotgun for creating that graphic, but is there no one at any level of authority at CNN who didn’t take a look at that graphic and correct it within seconds of it going on the air?


I guess not.


Any veteran newsie can tell you how they learned first-hand that the earliest reports at the scene of a breaking news story are almost always wrong, and that eyewitnesses are often the least reliable, but now it’s a game of following Twitter feeds. 


Here’s a screen capture of a CNN reporter’s tweet regarding that non-existent AR-15 – note the time-stamp and consider that it was more than an hour after she sent out that tweet that CNN (and all the others) finally corrected themselves.

What’s even more troubling to me is that some of print media play the same game.


Above is the cover of the New York Daily News, a publication which has a well-earned reputation for sensationalizing everything, trying to grab eyeballs (and lure purchasers) with a typically sensational cover story.  Oooh, AR-15, bad, bad! Read all about it!  Maniac! Newtown all over again!


A lot of people think this sort of stuff is part of the vast left-wing conspiracy (with apologies to Hillary Clinton) to do away with all firearms, and to empower Barack Obama’s Secret Muslim Army to come into your home and take your guns away.  It’s not.  It’s just that what used to be journalism is now, in many cases, no more than info-tainment.


One more thing: do you think Wolf Blitzer will ever learn to stop asking astonishingly stupid questions during coverage of these breaking-news-massacres?

One of the best send-ups of Wolf’s on-air ineptitude was a lampoon piece done by Jon Stewart of Comedy Central.  The screen-capture above is part of a 7-minute parody The Daily Show did of Blitzer’s dunderheaded questions, including my favorite, where Wolf said to a CNN reporter on the scene something like “we are getting word that the suspect was dressed in a black pair of pants and wearing a black top….what, if anything, does this say, in a preliminary sense, about what may have been his psychological make-up?”  Stewart ran a split-screen with Wolf on one side, and a picture of CNN’s Anderson Cooper on the other….dressed in black slacks with a black top.


Just keep this in mind as you watch the next edition of live coverage of a breaking news event involving a shooter: it’s info-tainment, it’s not news. 


And certainly not journalism.

Friday, September 6, 2013

He Learned Me To Talk Good

Back in the 60’s and 70’s, you didn’t get a speech degree of any kind – including an MST (Master of Science in Teaching) – without taking Don Burdick’s famous VD class at UW-Oshkosh.


Yah, that’s what we called it.  VD class.


VD, in this case, stood for Voice and Diction, and no one taught it like Don Burdick, who, at age 80, passed away a couple weeks ago.  I found out about Don’s passing while perusing the latest UW-O alumni newsletter.  The second I saw the headline for the story about Don’s death a flood of vivid memories came over me.


Back when I took the VD class, 40-some years ago, UW-O was in the midst of a huge enrollment explosion, with a lot of young men trying to maintain their 2-S deferment status with their local draft board, and a lot of young men who’d already done their time in Viet Nam and had figured their lives out, had come to get an education with a little help from Uncle Sam, and start a career.


With the explosive growth of enrollment, UW-O was always short of facilities. They were throwing up classroom buildings, dorms, and service buildings left and right.  The brand new, huge Clow Social Science Center had just been built, but it was already over capacity.  So Don Burdick’s VD class was held in some God-forsaken glorified ramshackle shed on the southeast corner of campus.


No one could have made that funky old warehouse-converted-to-a-classroom come alive like Don Burdick did.  And nobody cut Don’s VD class. Not because Don had a policy about cutting class, and not because he took attendance.  The class was so cool, so good, so informative, so useful, so much fun, and taught so well that nobody wanted to miss anything that went on in Don’s VD class.


Don’s undergrad degree was in Broadcast Journalism from Northwestern, and his Master’s was in Theatre from UW-Madison.  He loved to act, and he put his substantial acting talent to use every time he stood in front of a class.  Don had an absolutely gorgeous bass-baritone voice, and he knew how to use as well as a virtuoso musician knows how to use his instrument. And he had "mad skills", as the kids today say, in helping each individual student make the most of whatever kind of voice the good Lord had given them.  In short, he made us BETTER. That's the kind of teacher you remember.


The class was packed with a yeasty mix of future actors, teachers, and broadcasters. Quite a few would-be broadcasters came into Don’s class pronouncing the 23rd letter of the alphabet like George Bush – dubya – but left his class pronouncing all three syllables of that letter.  He would thunder “half the broadcast stations in this nation have a name beginning with W, and you’ll learn to speak the name of that station (the call letters) properly before you leave this class!”  Actually, it only took any dubya-sayer one session with Don to cure the "dubya syndrome".


Another memorable part of VD class for me was that one of the most beautiful girls on campus chose to sit next to me.  She was a UW-O Titan cheerleader; her boyfriend was one of the toughest, strongest, and most athletic young men on campus, the tight end on the Titan football team; and she wanted to be a speech therapist.  When she sat next to me and introduced herself the first day of class, she said she knew who I was from Dr. Check’s TV show. I was the tuba player for UW-O Ed Psych Professor John Check’s Wisconsin Dutchmen band, and she said she loved to dance the polka! Sitting next to Goldie (her self-approved nickname) three days a week would be cause enough for distraction, but Don Burdick demanded – and earned – every ounce of every student’s attention.


We learned how to articulate, how to project, how to use the full dynamic range of our voice, and we did it out loud, in front of Don Burdick and all our classmates.  And he made what might well have been a terrifying and potentially embarrassing experience fun.  Try saying “toy boat” ten times, fast.  Now do it in front of 30 people. “Grip top socks” was another of Don’s famous vocal warm-up phrases.  Try saying that one five times fast.


The things I learned in Don Burdick’s VD class – and in his Voice Science class (another requirement for the MST degree) have stuck with me for over four decades, and I still use things I learned from Don to this day, voicing news stories in my part-time work for Public News Service.


Don and I became colleagues, when the late Dr. Bob Snyder – my chief academic broadcasting mentor – hired me as a faculty adjunct at UW-O to teach night classes in Broadcast Law and Broadcast Advertising. I saw Don at a faculty gathering, and told him again how much I’d learned in his classes and how much I enjoyed them.  I called him Mr. Burdick.  He looked me square in the eye and said “I’m not going to call you Mr. Morrissey and I won’t have you calling me Mr. Burdick, Tim”.


You’ve earned a good rest, Don.  Your work here is done.  You did it extremely well, and you will never be forgotten.