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By Jeremy Schiffres, Daily and Sunday Freeman, Kingston, N.Y.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Save the exaggeration, please

Reporting today on the 500th save thrown by New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera, ESPN called the rightie reliever "the best closer of all time."


Rivera doesn't hold the record for most career saves. (That distinction belongs to Trevor Hoffman, who has 571 and is still playing.)

Rivera doesn't hold the record for most saves in a single season. (His best season was 2004, when he had 53 saves. Four pitchers have done better, with Francisco Rodriguez topping the list at 62, accomplished last year with the Angels.)

And Rivera is one of the few pitchers, if not the only one, in the history of Major League Baseball to blow a save - and cost his team the championship - in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series (in 2001 vs. the Diamondbacks).

Is Rivera a great pitcher? Of course.

Will he be enshrined in Cooperstown one day? You can count on it.

But is he the "best closer of all time"? No. Not even if ESPN says he is.


Saturday, June 27, 2009

The way it makes me feel

I’ve tried to be sad about Michael Jackson’s death. Really I have. But it just isn’t happening.

Perhaps it’s because I never much cared for his music. Perhaps it’s because his passing at age 50 came as no surprise, given all his self-destructive behavior over the last 15 years. Or perhaps it’s because we, as a society, have become so desensitized to tragedies like this one as TV news outlets increasingly treat them like run-of-the-mill tabloid scandals rather than the moments of profound sadness that they are. (I mean, seriously, Jackson’s body wasn’t even cold yet when all the self-important squawkers on the tube started guessing who might get custody of the singer’s three children.)

In a media environment where all the celebrity trash aired by “The Insider,” “Entertainment Tonight” and HLN is treated as real news, regardless of its significance, it’s become hard to differentiate between who-gives-a-crap hokum like the divorce of Jon and Kate Gosselin and a truly shocking event like a heart attack cutting down one of pop music’s most influential figures.

It’s all just a blur and a lot of white noise.

Previous untimely deaths among giants in the music industry — Elvis Presley and John Lennon are the best examples — felt more like body blows because the news media of the time (read: three responsible TV networks, newspapers and no Internet gossip sites) properly conveyed the gravity of the losses. They reported the news, and the reaction to the news; they focused on the influence of the fallen stars; and they steered clear of silly speculations, rumors, third-hand accounts and paparazzi photos.

Perhaps today’s TV reporters and bloggers could learn from that history. And then perhaps we, the people affected by the news, could properly grasp the enormity of a story like Michael Jackson dying.

Perhaps. But I doubt it.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson

For the last 20 years or so, a man who died on Thursday in Los Angeles has been in the news for sharing his bed with young boys, allegedly molesting at least two of them, dangling his baby son off a hotel balcony, having so much plastic surgery that he looked almost inhuman, marrying and divorcing two women, nearly going bankrupt, having a chimpanzee as a best friend and sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber.

Sometimes it's easy to forget the same man had a brilliant music career in the 1970s and '80s that included the best-selling album of all time, 13 chart-topping singles, more than a dozen Grammy Awards, electrifying live performances and the adoration of millions (perhaps billions) of fans worldwide.

Indeed, after witnessing Michael Jackson evolve from child singing sensation to pop music megastar, it was both sad and painful to watch his life deteriorate into the bizarre freak show that it ultimately became. And it was sad, too, of course, to learn on Thursday that that life had come to an end after a mere 50 years.

Sad, but sadly not surprising.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Ads gone wild

I've always been an open-minded guy, and I'm rarely offended by things of a sexual nature, but this latest Burger King ad (pictured at left) - which, for now, is being used only in Singapore - is just a bit much, don't ya think?

I mean, suggestiveness is one thing, and it's long been a part of the advertising game. But this one doesn't leave much to the imagination.

(Click on the image to see a larger version of it.)


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Last word on Letterman

I'm not sure why David Letterman felt the need to apologize Monday night (again) for his jokes last week about Sarah Palin and her daughters - can you imagine comedians apologizing every time they offend a public figure? - but he said what he felt had to say (or, perhaps, what CBS told him to say), Palin accepted the apology (though in her typical snarky manner), and that's that.

Now can cable TV news, especially Fox, please moved on to more pressing matters?


Monday, June 15, 2009

The sham of Iran

What was the point of even holding an "election" in Iran last week? To pretend the country is democratic?

When the sitting president has the power to declare himself the winner - regardless of the actual vote count - and then threatens to have his opponent arrested for questioning the announced result, there's no chance that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's dictatorship will be mistaken for anything remotely democratic.

Ahmadinejad is a tyrant, a liar, a crook and the worst kind of leader. The world has known this for years, and the Iranian people finally have started to figure it out. Now, perhaps, Ahmadinejad himself will see the handwriting on the wall and realize it's time for a change.

Perhaps. But not likely.


Saturday, June 13, 2009


Note to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: If you're gonna rig an election result, at least make the numbers seem plausible. No one believes you even won Iran's presidential race this week, let alone by a 2-to-1 margin.

Note to Sarah Palin: The faux outrage you're spewing over David Letterman's poor-taste jokes last week is nothing but political opportunism, and you know it. If you truly were offended by his jabs at you and your daughter, you simply would have written a letter of discontent to Letterman or his bosses at CBS or placed a phone call to the network. As soon as you started doing the rounds on the various TV news shows, it became clear you were just trying to score points with the Republican base and with voters who may see your name on a national ballot in 2012.

Note to New York State Assembly Republican Leader Brian Kolb: Your letter on Friday to CBS President Les Moonves, demanding that Letterman be fired, would have had more credibility if you also had demanded that NBC fire "Saturday Night Live" cast member Fred Armisen after the comedian performed controversial spoofs of Gov. David Paterson several months ago. I guess, in your mind, it's OK to joke about a Democrat's blindness but not a Republican's unwed teenage daughter becoming pregnant.

Note to Luis Castillo: Two hands! (Didn't they teach you anything in Little League?)

And, lastly, note to the New York State Senate: Resolve your differences and get back to work. If you don't, you can be pretty sure the voters will give your jobs to someone else in 2010.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Holocaust Museum shooting

In March 2008, upon returning from a trip to Washington, D.C., I noted in this blog that I was surprised about how security seemed either lax or non-existent at some of the busiest and most popular sites in the nation's capital. I surmised that a person with cruel intentions could, with relative ease, pull off a deadly attack at the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the National Cathedral or any Metro subway station.

I didn't mention the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum because, unlike many other tourist attractions in Washington, security at the building's two main entrances - and even at the separate building that houses little more than the museum's cafeteria - is both visible and voluminous. Put simply, you can't get into the place without passing through a metal detector, having your bags searched and being given the once-over by an armed guard. It's a bit intrusive, to be sure, but it provides a feeling of safety.

But yesterday's shooting at the museum's 14th Street entrance - in which a security guard was killed and the 88-year-old white supremacist gunman was wounded by return fire - proves there's no such thing as complete safety. The world remains a dangerous place, and terrible people who want to harm others for no understandable reason will usually find a way to achieve their goal.

Knowing that, I guess the best we can do is keep our eyes open for suspicious behavior and hope for the best.


Monday, June 8, 2009


On her Facebook page, Freeman staff writer Bonnie Langston referred to our late colleague Blaise Schweitzer as a “gentle warrior.”

A more accurate description of Blaise, who died this past Friday at age 44 after a brief but brave battle with cancer, I can’t imagine.

Though occasionally gruff, especially in his fierce defense of union workers’ rights, Blaise was, indeed, a gentle man, and a gentleman. His role as Newspaper Guild president at the Freeman, meanwhile, earned him the “warrior” moniker, but never was he was more valiant of a warrior than during the battle against the disease that ultimately took his life.

Knowing, I assume, that he was losing his cancer fight, Blaise still came to work nearly every day after his diagnosis last Oct. 1, regardless of how both the disease and its treatment were ravaging his body. And he continued to bring to his job, until his body finally forbade it, the same dedication and passion that had been at the heart of his work ethic throughout his nearly 22 years at the Freeman.

With Blaise on the union side of the Freeman family throughout his tenure at the paper and me on the management side since late 1990, our professional relationship was, by nature, adversarial at times. But I hope he knew – and I want all readers of this blog to know – that I liked him as a person, and there never was a day when I didn’t respect his unwaveing commitments to his beliefs and to his craft.

Blaise was a man of many words, both written and spoken, but the two words Bonnie used to describe him on her Facebook page the night of his passing really said it all.

Rest in peace, gentle warrior.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

On the tube

A few thoughts about what's on TV these days:

* Why all the breathless fascination with Jon and Kate Gosselin? They're uninteresting people on an uninteresting "reality" show on a cable network that almost nobody watches. And don't people understand that all the alleged scandals involving the couple and splashed on the cover of magazines like Us, People and Star are just manufactured publicity stunts to drum up ratings? The gullibility of today's TV audiences never ceases to amaze me.

* Jimmy Fallon - Saugerties native, "Saturday Night Live" alum and generally likable guy - is a decent stand-up comic and a funny sketch performer, but he's just dreadful as an interviewer on NBC's "Late Night," which he now hosts. Never was this more evident than when he had Steve Martin and Paul Simon on last night. He gushed over them like a groupie, asked the most infantile questions and made his viewers (and his guests) suffer through awkward silences when he couldn't come up with decent follow-ups. The silence became so deafening at one point that Martin, keenly aware of how bad things were going, started conversing with Simon to fill the dead space. It was just painful to watch. Here's hoping Fallon either gets much better at what he does or yields his chair to someone who's up to the job.

* Do the honchos at CNBC really think there's strong viewer interest in live coverage of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke testifying before congressional committees? They must, because every time Big Ben shows up on Capitol Hill, the financial network covers his comments virtually gavel to gavel.

* Think Rachael Ray is the best - and best looking? - cooking show host on TV? Not by a longshot. Check out Giada Delaurentis' "Everyday Italian" on The Food Network - especially if you're a guy. No denying it: This woman makes cooking sexy, and it's hard not to get hooked on her (and the food she prepares).


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

No pictures, no story

Here's a perfect example of what's wrong with television news:

When a commuter jet carrying 49 people crashed into a house in suburban Buffalo in February - killing everyone on board and one person in the house - the major cable news outlets (CNN, MSNBC and Fox) covered the story nearly non-stop for 24 hours.

When an Air France jet carrying more than 220 people disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean early Monday, cable's Big Three mentioned the story about once every half hour but then moved on to other things.

The difference? Video.

The February crash happened in a populated area, near a big city, and there was a virtually endless supply of video footage to accompany the story: the burning wreckage, emergency workers at the scene, stunned neighbors, government and emergency officials mugging for the camera, and so on.

Monday's presumed crash, on the other hand, happened hundreds of miles out to sea, providing no video opportunities whatsoever - save for a couple of press conferences in Brazil, where the plane departed, and France, where it was headed.

In other words:
Good video = continuous coverage.
No video = almost no coverage.

This is how the importance of a news story is decided? Yikes.

And its makes me wonder: If TV news had existed in 1912, would the sinking of the Titanic have merited more than a passing mention?