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David Letterman is the bridge between Johnny Carson and the current late night crop

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Johnny Carson asked David Letterman on the “Tonight Show” in 1991, “Can you envision yourself 20 years from now doing your late night show?”

Letterman laughed, making it clear that he had no interest in lasting as long as Johnny Carson’s 30 years in late night.

The fact that Letterman lasted 33 years in late night speaks to two things about David Letterman. He would have been embarassed to say in front of Carson that he had that level of ambition. And Letterman wanted to outlast Carson in general and Jay Leno in the 11:30 pm Eastern time slot.

So if you are a Millennial and wonder if Letterman has gone past his prime, go back to that Johnny Carson episode in 1991. It’s not that Carson is bad, but that the talk show world was different from when Carson started.

David Letterman was that world for that generation. When “Late Night” started in 1982, the TV world centered around Baby Boomers. Late night TV had made a few pushes such as “Saturday Night Live” (thought the original cast had left), “Fridays” on ABC, and SCTV reruns on NBC. Monday-Thursday was the “Tomorrow” show territory but that show had an intellectual audience and had peaked a few years back.

In 1982, David Letterman was late night. Stupid Pet Tricks, The World’s Most Dangerous Band, Viewer Mail, velcro, legendary appearances (sometimes for the wrong reasons) from Andy Kaufman and Jerry Lawler as well as Crispin Glover.

Letterman would go outside the studio to dispute other NBC shows, national and WNBC-TV, New York. He would drop various items from a rooftop. This was not Carson by a long shot.

Letterman came up with a late night show that emulated Carson and also gave us something new. Letterman had a monologue and a band, but Carson had a longer monologue and a band that was more interested in old music than new music. Ironically, the shorter monologue and smaller band were demands from Carson to differentiate his show from Letterman’s. Turns out that helped Letterman greatly.

Then again, when Letterman had the opportunity to expand the monologue and band at CBS, he did both.

Letterman’s humor might have been too old for Millennials, but his music taste expanded instead of being held back. Carson would never have dreamed about having on what would have been the 1991 equivalent of First Aid Kit.

If Letterman is missing a beat these days, it’s that his style has lost some of its anger, its edge. Unlike the Incredible Hulk, we did like Dave when he was a little angry.

Letterman challenged his guests. Cher, Madonna, and Oprah had issues with that. Bill O’Reilly as well, but for different reasons.

Letterman might not voted for John McCain, but Dave had the presidential candidate on quite often, asking him better questions than his news counterparts. When John McCain blew Letterman off in 2008, and his people discovered the CBS News feed where McCain was on the Evening News, his feisty nature made for beautiful TV.

Letterman was sincerely hurt but recognized in the moment, and this happened while the show was going, that this was comedic gold. When Letterman shouts at the TV monitor, asking McCain if he needs a ride to the airport, the audience bursts into laughter and applause. The situation was legitimately awkward: pinch hit guest Keith Olbermann, in the height of his MSNBC run, looks shaken at what is going on.

In subsequent nights, Letterman went after the joke about being abandoned. Letterman’s efforts were rewarded as McCain went back on the show and admitted to a national audience that he had “screwed up.”

Jon Stewart had McCain on a lot, but after McCain turned the page, the presidential candidate never went on “The Daily Show” ever again. McCain did go back to Letterman.

That exchange with McCain was less than 7 years ago. Carson never had anywhere near that kind of moment in his last 15 years.

During the Jay Leno vs. Conan O’Brien battles, you wanted to watch for Letterman’s reaction. Watching Letterman’s take on Leno made you forget that they used to be friends and that Letterman helped Leno get famous during the Late Night era. But that anger made Letterman funny.

Letterman’s take on General Electric when the company bought NBC was amazing television. That is the major reason why Letterman didn’t get the Tonight Show. But the idea of taking on your bosses spoke to a generation that couldn’t do that in real life but could on TV through Dave.

Letterman’s comedy was about release. Throwing items off a roof to see what would happen when they hit the ground. Full disclosure: we did that in college though inside down the center stairwell in the process of emptying out our refrigerators at the end of the year. We felt the euphoria that Letterman and his audience did on TV.

So as Letterman does his last show tonight on CBS, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers, James Corden, Conan O’Brien, and in September, Stephen Colbert will be some of the many choices the current young generation will have to mourn their retirement years down the road.

David Letterman is the bridge between the old time talk shows and the current crop. In Letterman’s NBC show, he would often give credit to Steve Allen — the first “Tonight” show host — for borrowing some of his old bits. Every single major late night talk show host has Letterman to thank and credit for their success.

video credit: YouTube/Johnny Carson


President Obama needs to stay strong on ideas of community and infrastructure

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President Obama finally gave the speech on infrastructure that the United States needed to hear in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011. Since the speech came in the heat of the presidential race, and thanks to the “unbiased” take from Fox News, the president’s words were taken out of context and severely distorted.

What has been missing from the context of the heated back-and-forth is why the distortion worries conservatives and teabaggers, and how the idea of infrastructure has slipped into an exclusively Democratic talking point.

Back when I covered politics for a living, I noted that the president-elect had a great opportunity to convince Republicans that infrastructure was a great way to spend needed government stimulus.

Obama had the ideal mix of individualism and community that Americans are supposed to have, and had when building what was a great country.

Liberals and Democratic people like individualism, but wrapped in a community. E.J. Dionne keeps pointing out that William F. Buckley believed in community, but the modern teabaggers thrive on individualism without that lack of community.

When you hear conservatives claim that a single private citizen could have thwarted the Aurora mass shooting, you know that they have no trust in a community function. We may have settled the West with individualism, but people couldn’t have survived out there without community.

The media’s coverage of Fox News’ distortion and Mitt Romney’s hypocrisy was along the lines of “these things happen.” Attention, MSM: Fox “News” is not in the same business you are. Never has been. Never will be. If you did what they did, you would be fired. At Fox “News,” you get a raise.

Since the MSM needs a lesson in covering lies and distortion, they should learn a lesson from The Daily Show and its resident crank, Lewis Black. You find more truth in Black’s rant than in the MSM coverage, and more balanced, too.

You shouldn’t get your news from The Daily Show or the sister show, Colbert Report. On occasion, you should listen to what they have to say, when the MSM (once again) drops the ball.

Katie Couric never got fired for making similar ‘mistake’ to NBC producer fired for editing George Zimmerman phone call

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NBC News fired a producer who edited a call from George Zimmerman to police. The network also mentioned that “several people” involved were disciplined. While the infraction was a serious journalism offense, punishment was dealt and the incident was explained as “a mistake and not a deliberate act to misrepresent the phone call.”

Of course, the intense media scrutiny of the Trayvon Martin case led to people being more interested in the journalism infraction.

Still, this makes what happened to Katie Couric, or rather what didn’t happen to Katie Couric, rather remarkable. Couric made a similar edit in an interview to make presidential candidate John McCain look better. Couric nor anyone else was disciplined much less fired. And this was after Couric’s producer was fired for plagiarism for a first-person story that Couric said was her own, but it wasn’t.

So why wasn’t Couric fired? Disciplined? Fined? Sadly, we don’t know since while CBS News admitted that what Couric did was a violation of its practices, no action was taken.

When Katie Couric worked on the “Today” show and when she pinch-hit on “Good Morning America,” she was on shows that while a part of the news department, they aren’t treated as real news shows. Viewers see “Today” and “Good Morning America” as news. Even though Couric was the managing editor of a Big 3 nightly newscast, her news skills weren’t the reason why she was hired by CBS News.

Sarah Palin was guest-hosting on Katie’s old show “Today” sneaking in her attacks on the lamestream media. Not that Palin wants to be in the same room as Couric ever again, but it would be fun to get Palin’s reaction to Couric helping her running mate at a key point in a presidential contest.

That conversation would be more interesting than anything we got out of Palin and Couric being on the morning shows. But then again, those shows aren’t interested in hard-hitting news.

“Of course, Gupta can’t interview the high-fructose corn syrup people because they need to be protected. Mike Wallace wouldn’t have done it this way.”

We don’t know if Wallace watched last week’s “60 Minutes” but it was his final episode of the program where Wallace made his reputation as a newsman.

Though Wallace got his start in more frivolous forms of TV entertainment, he showed about three generations of TV viewers how to get answers from people who weren’t happy to share them with millions of people.

Gupta’s story on “60 Minutes” was something that would not have passed the muster of Wallace or Don Hewitt. They both would have been horrified at what the NBC producer and Katie Couric did.

American TV Journalism is lesser after Wallace retired, but greater for having had him on the national stage for as long as we have him, RIP. You deserve it.

Keith Olbermann a necessary force in journalism, but needs to find a good home

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You can tell when Keith Olbermann is about to be fired when he stops doing “World’s Worst.”

Coincidence, perhaps. But the fact that he stopped doing the segment just before being fired by MSNBC and now Current TV.

Long-time fans of my political coverage know I do like Keith Olbermann, but for those who might not have been reading me for long, well, you should know that. That being said, Olbermann is much better when he gets rolling on “Worst Person in the World.”

I’ve watched Keith on ESPN, ESPN2, Fox Sports Net, Fox, NBC, MSNBC, and now Current TV. Maybe I watched him on CNN, hard to remember. So you would think I would have loved what he was doing on Current. But his program never got the same kind of traction that it did at MSNBC.

Sometimes, too much freedom is the problem.

Yes, Current TV was amateur hour right from the first episode. Problems with graphics led to other problems, such as basic lighting. My local 24-hour cable news channel had a better setup.

Olbermann made the best of it, doing the show in the dark. That made for fun TV, but after all, it reminded you how cheap the operation was at the cable channel.

He spent his time on CBS’ “Late Show with David Letterman” blaming himself for taking the job. He didn’t speak much specifically on what happened (a number of issues are still pending), but you got a better sense of what made him miserable.

What also didn’t help was Olbermann using the anchoring of primary coverage as a way to try and get those improvements to be made. Olbermann was sick on some of the time he was gone, but there appeared to be too many awkward times where someone else was at the desk. Rachel Maddow, Olbermann’s former MSNBC colleague, pointed out that recently that she had missed 3 days in a recent span, but one of those was reporting on what became a special episode. I couldn’t keep track of how many days Keith missed.

I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt to Olbermann on why those days were missed (outside of being sick). But from the standpoint of the TV viewer, the situation looked bad. And if you are one of those people who can’t stand Olbermann, consider that he never did anything like this elsewhere, not even at ESPN.

Even on primary nights where Olbermann did anchor, the Current TV coverage wasn’t as good as MSNBC. Perhaps the GOP dominance of the agenda made the events less intriguing, but I often flipped back to MSNBC way more often than Current TV.

Yes, MSNBC was in HD and that doesn’t hurt in 2012. But the channel covered the speeches in their entirety, the analysis was layered and reasonably balanced, and Rachel Maddow is growing quite comfortable as an anchor. Olbermann would switch away from speeches, and even if you think that is a good thing, well, his replacement coverage didn’t stack up to what was being offered at his former home.

Olbermann put together an amazing list of contributors, and certainly had an influence in developing shows around him, such as The Young Turks (who started out at MSNBC) and former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm. Given that he has built up two left-leaning news outlets, Olbermann should receive some kind of liberal medal.

The Olbermann at Current TV became almost a caricature of what Olbermann made fun of when he and Bill O’Reilly had their Fox-MSNBC rivalry. The Olbermann at Current TV didn’t feel like he needed to care as much about balance. Preaching to the converted is boring; this is why Olbermann was so good at MSNBC by poking fun at O’Reilly, Hannity, and Beck.

Olbermann became obsessed with the now late Andrew Breitbart over his yelling at Occupy protesters. Breitbart deserved one, two, maybe 3 “World’s Worst,” but the mashup videos weren’t funny or entertaining. And they made Olbermann look bad, even though he was in the right.

Countdown on Current TV was Keith Olbermann getting to do what he wanted to do, and it just wasn’t as entertaining as Olbermann fighting back against the system at MSNBC.

Still, nobody was better on the Murdoch scandals than Olbermann. This was a story that needed to be pounded night after night, and nobody on this side of the pond was better. When Occupy got barely any notice or coverage from the MSM, Olbermann was on that side and brought needed attention to this story.

Keith’s personality can annoy people (not me). But that drive with a little bit of anger on some stories makes for amazing television and is vital to a thriving democracy.

At a crucial time in a presidential campaign, Olbermann doesn’t have a TV home. Olbermann made light jokes to Letterman on the subject of his future, but didn’t expand any serious thoughts. Even though he recruited and has inspired many on the air who do similar type shows, they can’t hold a candle to Olbermann when he is on his A game. But where will Keith get a chance to do that?

Option #1: Olbermann can find a cable channel that would convert to what he has envisioned. However, finding a currently (pun intended) available channel will be even more difficult, and getting a new cable channel is virtually impossible these days.

Option #2: CNN could use his star power, but as strange as this might sound, Olbermann has a better chance of getting hired on at Fox than CNN. Still, CNN might be able to find a place for him, even on election coverage.

Option #3: A weekend show at MSNBC along with being at the desk for election coverage. Going back to MSNBC might seem more impossible, but of the three major cable news channels, this is still the best home for him. The channel is beefing up its weekend news programming. Doing a weekend show might deflate Olbermann’s ego, but he is more likely to stick around. Ending a show with a special commentary would be a lot easier if he is doing 2 shows a week instead of 5. Being a weekend host would allow him to appear on other MSNBC shows AND occasionally pinch-hit as host. Plus, if he sits at the election coverage desk, Olbermann would get a chance to shine in a desperately needed area for the channel and the viewing public.

Option #4: Olbermann’s talents are many, especially his writing ability. A syndicated political column is certainly viable. While he would be great on radio, doing a audio version of Countdown wouldn’t be that interesting or viable in the marketplace. Of course, having a column or radio show could propel him to be a guest on some of the same shows he helped nuture.

Florida notebook: Romney’s $ makes a difference over Gingrich

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Florida may be a Southern state, even a neighbor of Georgia, but as Newt Gingrich is finding out, Florida is part Jewish, part Latino, and part “protect Social Security and Medicare.”

Money is also king in the Sunshine State and Mitt Romney is severely outspending Gingrich, and Florida is a state where you need a lot of money. Even as Romney was losing South Carolina, the campaign and the Super PAC were running ads against Gingrich in Florida before the votes were counted in South Carolina.

While liberals may enjoy what Romney is doing against Gingrich, Romney will still have plenty of money to go after President Barack Obama.

Since Florida is a winner take all state and will lose some delegates, Gingrich will win as many delegates as Ron Paul and Stephen Colbert: zero.

Florida has 50 delegates, down from 99 because the state moved up in the primary process. Remember the MI and FL fiascoes in 2008? The noise came from the Democratic side, because they generally care more about lost votes. Republicans didn’t scream about it in 2008 or aren’t screaming now.

Does this mean Gingrich is done after Florida? The road for Gingrich doesn’t look good, especially in February, but he doesn’t seem to care. February brings more caucuses (not Gingrich’s strength) and the former House speaker isn’t even on the ballot in Virginia. While that doesn’t give Gingrich any more delegates, his desire to keep going no matter what will make Romney squirm a bit.

If Newt Gingrich doesn’t win Florida, he can blame his lack of success with women. Gingrich didn’t help himself by giving a vague answer on which of the potential first ladies would make the best first lady. “Stand by your woman” would be a logical choice, even if the question is a little odd.

If the 2012 election came down to the female vote, Obama would destroy Gingrich. Obama would still beat Romney in the female vote, but the contrast would be larger if Gingrich gets the nomination.

Intense headlines are seen as a way to draw more traffic on the Web to a story, but the truth is that crazy headlines are a part of the journalism landscape for as long as journalism has been around. Though it helps if the headline is true or could be proven.

The Washington Post — you know, that liberal bastion — went with this actual headline: “Obama: The most polarizing president. Ever.”

This headline appeared above a story from Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake based on Gallup tracking polls. The polls “prove” that President Barack Obama has the highest gap between the parties over whether they approved of the job he was doing. This mark surpasses George W. Bush in 2007.

Polls don’t prove a lot, especially if you don’t know what the questions are. If anything, the 80% mark that Democratic voters give the president seems a little high.

The Gallup polls go back to 1953. So the concept of “ever” isn’t even remotely close. “Most polarizing president”?

Rutherford B. Hayes wasn’t so much polarizing himself, but the circumstances in which he was elected would have scored higher. Grover Cleveland would be upset if he were alive, especially during his first term as president, that he didn’t win that title. John Adams, after signing the Alien and Sedition Acts into law, would have scored pretty high. Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, Richard M. Nixon in 1973, and James Buchanan in 1860 all want a recount on the most polarizing president. Ever. This doesn’t even count virtually every second of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency.

We overall like Chris Cillizza though we are frustrated that he literally limits himself to treating politics as if it were sports. Endearing but frustrating. To write a story such as this and not stretch beyond the self-imposed bubble to include one word on why Obama might be seen so harshly, so polarizing: race. Not one single word about the possibility, the consideration that perhaps maybe being the first black president is an element to being “polarizing.”

The MSM ignored the blatant racism coming from the teabaggers. This is not to say all teabaggers are racists; they did nothing to confront the racism. And they ignore that racism can account for being “polarizing.”

The other factor is that the MSM gave teabaggers undeserved credibility. The MSM will go out of its way to not broadcast or show any 9/11 inside job conspiracies, (and we’re not saying they’re true), but those conspiracies had more facts that the “birthers” had. The theory that Bristol Palin is the mother of Trig has more facts behind it than the “birthers.” And yet, the birthers got MSM cred.

Starting an unnecessary war is a polarizing act. Running a milquetoast centrist administration while the country and world crumbles around them is as polarizing as vanilla ice cream or ranch dressing.

Chris Cillizza runs a feature called Worst Week in Washington. Looks like we already have a winner this week.

Believing government shouldn’t help is one thing, but tell us where the help should come from

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“What I believe is obvious, okay. It’s obvious that government should be limited. If the government wasn’t helping us with the food stamps or unemployment, somebody out there would be. Government don’t need to be helping. They don’t need to be helping us, they don’t.”

As Congress closes up shop for another year of legislation, the “do-nothing” Congresses from history books would be envious of the first half of this Congressional session. Horrible economy? Not one single jobs bill. Not even a bad one. And no indication that 2012 will bring any better news.

President Barack Obama is trying what little he can do. Payroll tax cuts and extended unemployment benefits, simple obvious things, are traveling down a rocky road in bare feet. If those moves get passed, they are drops in thimbles in buckets. People need help.

John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and the GOP House leadership are satisfying their constituencies: corporate companies that are “people,” Grover Norquist, an economic philosophy that has been proven to fail, and people who genuinely believe government’s role isn’t to help people in need.

The quote above is from one of those people, Paul Starr featured in the Vanguard documentary “Two Americas.” The documentary shows us two families, one rich and one poor. In the poor family, Paul and his wife April are out of work, scrounging up money just to make sure they still have electricity for the next day.

These people don’t believe the government should help, but they take the help anyway. As the couple scrounge to get money to keep the electricity going, he calls his mother. She is on Social Security; at first, she says she can’t help him, but later offers $175 to help keep the lights on for the couple and their two young sons.

These American people — who believe government shouldn’t help — collect Social Security benefits, are on Medicare and Medicaid, take food stamps, and get unemployment benefits.

These are not uber-rich, they don’t have walk-in closets or domestic help. They are part of the 99%, yet they are tired of people beating up on the 1%. They are behind in their bills, deep in credit card debt, unemployed or certainly underemployed. They don’t raise much of a fuss, almost certainly go to church on Sunday, and want a safe world for their kids.

As part of the documentary, the Starr family watches a GOP presidential debate sponsored by Fox. One of the questions centers around a poll where 66% of Americans think a tax on the wealthy is a good idea to help pay down the deficit.

“The question was, the wealthy. Are the wealthy paying enough?” Paul says. “I think they are,” April answers.

“I know they are,” Paul says emphatically. “I mean, we’re all paying the same thing, right?” asks April.

It would be easy to say they these people are blind, their ears dominated by Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing talk radio and the folks at Fox. The truth is that these media sources reinforce a basic belief these people sincerely believe, and reinforce their fears in the process.

Paul doesn’t have a college education, neither does April. He has worked in the construction industry. He lost his job and has struggled with finding another job. She is having a hard time finding a job. When they get interviews, they get excited, and say the interviews went well. Then the words on the screen tell us that they never got called back.

To get the $250 he needs to keep the electricity short-term, Paul gets $75 from a nearby church and $175 from his mother. There are plenty of other bills that are long past due. April is on the phone, repeating what the phone company is saying on the other side of the conversation that once the wife hangs up, she’ll have no more phone service.

It’s comforting to think that you don’t need the help from government; after all, you think, your neighbor will come through for you. But what if your neighbor is poor and lose his job? In the documentary, they stand outside and see the power company cutting off their neighbors’ electricity for non-payment. Did someone magically come along and help them?

This is the problem with having a 1% and a 99%. If you are on the poor side of the 99%, which is really saying something, chances are your neighbors are pretty poor, too. While the couple in the documentary got enough money to keep the lights on, they lost their phone and Internet service, things you need in a job search.

Even when people are finding work, the money offered is less than they were getting, and less than you would think a job such as that would be worth. Meanwhile, rent, food, electricity, etc. are all going up in cost. As we saw from a segment on NBC’s “Rock Center,” plenty of working people are eligible and taking advantage of food stamps.

The rich family, Javier and Lucinda Loya, in the documentary have three homes and their bills are paid on time. Like the Starrs, the Loyas have two children, both girls. This rich family raises money for charity, and remember when they had very little money. The Loya family is in the 1%, yet their attitude toward those that are less fortunate is more gracious than the Starr family.

When the Starrs watch their neighbors lose their electricity, their focus is on whether they will lose their own power.

Paul finally finds a job for slightly more than half of what he was making … with a catch. He has to travel several weeks at a time for the job. So the family is bringing in a lot less money, not to mention extra travel expenses. They don’t have to feed him at home while he’s gone, but you have to figure that he will have to eat out more on the road, reducing their income even further.

These are people who don’t question a whole lot. If they aren’t getting help from the banks, they don’t tie it into greed or TARP or bailouts. The economy around them is falling apart, but they don’t associate it to decisions made in Washington or Austin (they, like the rich family, live in Houston). They don’t wonder whether the politicians they supported when they lived in Alabama and the ones they support in Texas are voting on bills that have had a negative impact on the economy.

Long-time The Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten once said about a non political person that he “willed himself into a certain protective ignorance about the way life works.”

Paul and April Starr have a political philosophy, yet also have a “certain protective ignorance.” They aren’t alone. And these people don’t all live in the South, though a lot of them do. These are the people that Boehner and Cantor are fighting for when they don’t pass a jobs bill and they don’t help those in need. They don’t want government’s help, but they’ll take it. They still won’t like it, and they won’t vote for people who will help make their lives better. They just don’t get the connection.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford ‘wins’ Worst Person in the World

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Since we do cover politics at Democracy Soup, we had to cover the backlash of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s freakout from dealing with a comedic actress from CBC’s “This Hour Has 22 Minutes.”

Ford has a thick body yet a thin skin — how does that work — and sadly it was no surprise that he overreacted. Yelling at the police dispatcher, the alleged profanity and anti-female word — all of that and more earned Ford the honor of Keith Olbermann’s Worst Person in the World on Countdown on Current TV.

“This Hour Has 22 Minutes” has gone after U.S. politicians such as Sarah Palin and Christine O’Donnell.

Even if you agree with some of what Ford has done in office, he doesn’t earn too many style points, even before this incident.

For more details, check out the details from our sister blog,