Monday, December 29, 2014

Hugh Hefner Is Dead, And Other Nooz

My bride, who was watching a local TV newscast as she was doing her early-morning prep in our master suite, came to the landing above our media room (where I was sipping coffee and scanning the TV news channels) and said “they just said Hugh Hefner is dead, went to a commercial break, (at this point I already knew what the punchline was going to be) and then came back and said he’s not dead – it’s just an internet rumor.”

We had a laugh at their expense.

The “Hugh Hefner is dead” rumor, which was started by an online “news” site yesterday, was swiftly debunked by Hef himself, on his Twitter account, a couple hours after the rumor was started. No, the Playboy founder and world’s oldest adolescent was very much alive, by his own assertion, and doing the sort of things that Hef does.


I’m not going to single out the local TV station that reported Hef’s death as news…and then, no doubt, during the commercial break, fielded calls from viewers saying something like “hey, folks – you’re reporting an internet rumor – Hefner’s not dead”. Nor will I criticize or scold the on-air folks who read the item off a teleprompter from a script prepared by a (presumably) 20-something “producer” who has never been taught or mentored to do something called “fact-checking”.


There will be no finger-wagging and no acerbic chiding because this sort of thing happens with frightening regularity on local and national TV nooz broadcasts. Stuff that’s just plain not true – and, in so many cases, easily proven so – gets on the air. Social media is full of false death reports, often rendered in such a convincing fashion that it’s hard to tell if the report is truth or fiction.


The thing is, so many 20-somethings, working long hours at low pay as TV nooz “producers” learning the biz, haven’t been trained by skeptical veteran broadcast journalists who may have actually known a newsroom boss who said “if your mother says she loves you, check it out and get a second source”.


Had the “nooz producer” simply typed “hugh hefner dead” into Google, it would have (any time after about 9AM Sunday) returned dozens of results leading to stories – real, actual, fact-checked news stories – debunking the “hef is dead” rumor.


A far more interesting development, as far as consumers of TV news should be concerned, is NBC News Chief Political Correspondent Chuck Todd recently fessing up that the reason he (and scores of other nooz units) don’t challenge politicians when they deliberately lie on Meet The Press (or any of scores of other nooz programs) is because if they call them on the lie, they won’t get “access” to that politician any more.


Apparently, it’s important to “get access” to politicians who deliberately lie.


This is far, far more scary than reporting a (false) rumor that Hugh Hefner is dead.


Radio has just as much fake news (or outright lying) as TV, particularly since the fellow above began calling himself “America’s Anchorman”, implying that what he does for three hours every day on his radio show is nooz, not entertainment. As I’ve pointed out many times, in Rush’s early days, his program was actually far more entertaining than it is now, because he didn’t pretend to be doing news. He ran a very original radio show, timely and topical, full of sarcasm (which so few people understand) and biting wit.

But it seems to me that still about half of his listeners today– give or take – actually think what Rush is doing is “news” and not entertainment, and he does nothing to dispel that misconception.


At least Paul Harvey would bill his broadcasts as “news and commentary”.


Hugh Hefner is still alive – at least, as of noon Monday 12/29/14 – but news is apparently on life support, being replaced by nooz. There are still a bunch of us old-schoolers around, though – who learned by making mistakes and getting a story wrong, and being called to account by a newsroom superior who cared more about being accurate than being first.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Good Neighbors

I took the photo above on a February morning in 2011, standing in my garage, realizing that the drift on the right side of the photo was just under four feet deep. And thanking my lucky stars that “work” for me was a home office, just a few feet away, with a fully-equipped studio and a broadband internet connection.
Snow days are comin' again, my friends. Maybe sooner, maybe later, but they're comin'.

A few years prior to when the picture was taken, I’d have had to make the slog through my drifted-shut driveway at 2:45 AM, out of our huge unplowed cul-de-sac, up a steeply inclined road to get out of our neighborhood, connect via snow-covered streets to the Beltline, then slip and slide six miles west on the Belt - BEFORE the plows started work around 3 AM, get off, and battle another mile of snow-covered city streets to get to the broadcasting station. 

That’s why for many years I've had an all-wheel-drive SUV with good ground clearance and the best set of snow and ice tires Tom and Linda Holmes could provide.  When you’re a news anchor, you can’t call in. You have to get to work.

When I was doing the news anchor job up in the Fox Valley 30 years ago, on “blizzard mornings” the County Sheriff’s Office would call me at 2:30 AM and say “we’re going to have a plow and a cruiser at your home in 15 minutes to take you to work – no way you’re going to make it in on your own today”. They wanted experienced news anchors on the air, mainly to tell people to stay the hell off the roads until the plows had a chance to make a few passes.

I titled this post “Good Neighbors” because I have some of the best, in our little tight-knit neighborhood of 8 homes that all have driveways that let out onto a huge, round cul-de-sac.  It’s been pretty much the same group of families for many years.  We all know each other, we all get along with each other, and we all watch out for each other.

During those blizzard days before November of 2008, when I’d be battling the snowmeggadon at 2:45 AM to get to work, my wife would be left to fend for herself to get out of the driveway (which would likely have drifted shut again, about a half-hour after I departed) and get to work.

But I never had to worry. Either my good neighbor Anthony, next door to the west, or my good neighbor Sam, next door to the east, would trundle their snowblower over to our house and clear out the driveway so my wife could get to work.  Or my good neighbor Dean, two houses to the west, would come over with his ATV and plow out our driveway.


Here’s a shot from a blizzard morning in December of ’09. That’s good neighbor Dean’s big red Dodge Ram truck behind Anthony's tree, half of which was blown down in that windstorm this spring - split the tree right in half! Dean's busy clearing out his driveway; and across the way Tim (there are two of us named Tim in this small neighborhood of 8 homes) and his wife are shoveling out their driveway. Tim is, among other things, a volunteer firefighter for our Township. He also manages a downtown entertainment venue. His wife is a teacher.


Here’s another shot from that morning, before I dug out our driveway. Because of the way our lot is landscaped, that’s one huge mountain of snow-covered decorative limestone on the right.

One of the things that inspired me to pen this post was a column written by my friend George Hesselberg for the State Journal a few years back, in which he talked about the partnership he and his neighbor established as joint owners of a snowblower. George put the column up on his Facebook page the other day, and after reading it, it reminded me of my own situation last winter. Or maybe it was the winter before – time flies, and all – when my good neighbor Anthony’s snowblower went out of commission right at the beginning of the snow season.

The first big snowfall, Anthony came over and asked me if he could borrow my machine – that he planned to buy another one to replace it, but that wouldn’t happen before he had to get his fancy long, low, black Lexus out of the driveway and off to work. I said “why buy a new one?  I’ve got two – this new big-ass two-stage Power Max Toro, and my little two-cycle single-stage machine for those annoying little 2-3 inch snowfalls. Just come into the garage (I gave him the code for the external garage-door-opener thingy you can see on the vertical wall in the picture below) and take it whenever you want.”


Here’s a shot of my fleet of snowblowers and shovels.
Well, good neighbor Anthony said the only way he could accept that deal would be if he could use it to plow out his driveway and then do mine. I said that was absolutely unacceptable, and that if I was any kind of decent neighbor, I’d just blow out his driveway until he got around to buying a replacement.

We talked a bit more, but I could not dissuade Anthony from wanting to snowblow my driveway as compensation for use of the machine. Long story shortened, several weeks later Anthony had somebody look at his busted machine, and all it needed was a small, inexpensive part to fix it.

In my younger days, I moved around a lot, to a lot of different cities in a lot of different states, never living in one place for more than a few years; so I never really got a feel for what the phrase “good neighbor” means. We bought our house – which we refer to as The Morrissey Compound – in 1998. It’s the longest time – 16 years, going on 17- that I’ve lived in one place since growing up in my folks’ home in the Fox Valley.

Now, I have a clear understanding about “good neighbors”. The kind I have. The kind I’m thankful for.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Long Past Time For Change

Michael Brown is dead and Eric Garner is dead, and the cops who caused their death will just have to live with whatever really happened, just as former Madison cop Steven Heimsness will have to live with whatever really happened in November of 2012 when he shot and killed Paul Heenan.  The common thread among these three cases is that an officer of the law killed an unarmed person.

 The difference is, in Madison, Steven Heimsness is no longer a cop, because the community reacted with outrage, and the powers that be did something. Although the “investigation” into the incident concluded that Heimsness did nothing wrong, the community knew the “investigation” was unadulterated horse manure and forced the cops to change their policies and forced Heimsness to resign from the force.

 Let me refresh your memory on the Madison case from 2012, which is the one that prompted change.


Pictured above is the late Paul Heenan, known in Madison music circles as Pauly, who’d finished a late-night gig at a club in Madison, got very drunk, and wandered mistakenly into his neighbor’s home on Baldwin Street.

Here are Kevin and his wife Megan O’Malley, Heenan’s neighbors, who were roused from their sleep in the wee hours of the morning when they heard someone rummaging around downstairs and called 9-1-1.

Above is former Madison cop Steven Heimsness. He and his partner were dispatched to the O’Malley’s home. They got there quickly, but by the time they arrived Heenan was out of the O’Malley’s house and stumbling around in their front yard. Heenan staggered toward Officer Heimsness and Kevin O’Malley, who was at that time standing on his front porch, yelled out something like “it’s OK, he’s my neighbor”. What happened next we’ll never really know for sure, because “eyewitness testimony” is notoriously inaccurate, but we do know that Heimsness put three rounds from his service weapon into Paulie Heenan’s chest and killed him on the spot. Heenan was unarmed.


Former Madison Police Chief Noble Wray, pictured above, a good man who was a good fit for the job of running the police department here in the bluest city in the bluest county in our purple state, had no idea the shitstorm that was about to hit when the community heard the story of what happened that early November morning on Baldwin Street.

 If you’re not familiar with the story, WMTV-Madison has a nice chronological summary of the Heenan shooting here on its website. It chronicles the case starting with the still-ongoing developments all the way to the very beginning and the first reports two years ago.

 My take on it is this: the people of Madison said, pretty clearly, that if a police officer cannot subdue and control an unarmed drunk without the use of deadly force, then that police officer should not be given a badge nor allowed to carry a weapon.

The system in place for reviewing cases like these stinks. It’s long past time to stop letting police organizations investigate their own incidents when one of their officers takes the life of an unarmed person. In all three of the cases here….in Ferguson, MO, Staten Island, NY, and Madison, WI…a significant portion of the public was grossly unsatisfied with the conclusion of the “investigation”.
As I've said so many times, here in America, we make our own laws. We don't think they came down from some God on a steaming tablet or were revealed to some prophet; we make up our laws, and if we don't like them, or don't think they're working, we CHANGE them.  Just like what's going on in Madison right now in the aftermath of the Paul Heenan shooting.
I don’t hate cops.  I respect the hell out of them.  My grandpa was a cop – a Wisconsin State Patrol officer. I have close friends and other family members and acquaintances who are cops, and I do not have the courage to do what they do every day. I know quite a few of the cops who patrol our township and respect them, thank them with contributions to their causes, and know that they deal with highly dangerous circumstances right here in our township nearly every day of the year.

 I also know that a lot of what two grand juries and one Madison investigative committee heard was boilerplate bullshit that would fall apart under cross examination in a court of law. Officer Darren Wilson said he feared for his life.  That’s the get-out-of-jail-free card. Wilson did all right, though – half a million bucks from NBC to sit down with Matt Lauer for half an hour and untold cash contributions from his “supporters” around the country. He's doing just fine. We'll never know what actually happened.

Officer Daniel Pantoleo said he wasn’t using a choke-hold on Eric Garner; rather, he was using a technique he learned at the police academy to subdue noncompliant people.  We’ll see if that particular bullshit statement stands up over time. You didn't have to be a grand jury member hearing testimony from some "expert" to determine if Officer Pantoleo was using a chokehold; you saw it with your own eyes from the cell phone video at the scene.

 Officer Steven Heimsness told the Madison “investigating committee” that Paul Heenan was going for his gun. Another get-out-of-jail-free code phrase. The people of Mad-town were smart enough to see through the BS and say if a cop can't stop a drunk from "going for his gun" without killing him with a triple-tap to center mass, then we aren't training our cops very well and we ought to look into that.

 It’s long past time for change.  A change for the better- for the city and the state – came out of the Heenan shooting. We’re still in the process of revising and updating and changing policies, procedures, and laws that allow police and related organizations (like the D.A.’s office) investigate such cases.

The national conversation about this is beginning. I have little faith that it will bear fruit; we’re far too divided as a nation to really listen to anyone’s differing point of view and move forward with change.

 But there’s hope.