October 23, 2009

My Forty-Five Seconds of Fame

Category: News — Ira @ 6:51 pm


“One may smile and smile, and be a villain.”

William Shakespeare: Hamlet

Well, it’s been a wild week. Probably unlike any I’ve ever experienced before, or ever will again. My fleeting seconds of fame on CNN came and went like a speck of dust in the wind. Here briefly, then whoosh, gone forever. Old musty details in today’s wildly accelerating 24-hour news cycle. (For those out of the loop, the link to the CNN piece is here.)

It was wild, to see myself on film. My grand debut. Broadcast to the world. A bit anti-climactic, and strange. Overall, I probably shouldn’t complain too much. They did an OK job. These people are drive-by media, professionals who without any qualms whatsoever routinely destroy the lives of ordinary citizens. So I consider myself lucky. I got through relatively unscathed.

It was strange too, to see what they chose to run. It’s a bit like writing a story, I suppose. Often when I write, I’m not sure exactly which details will emerge. The story grows organically. I think the CNN people did the same thing.

When Carol Costello interviewed me, 80% of the conversation was focused on Rush. What did I think of him? Does he influence my beliefs? Do I think he influences elections? And so on. I also strongly stated my political beliefs. Libertarian. A huge fan of Ron Paul. Pull our troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Stop policing the world. And so forth.

I thought my answers were OK. Fairly articulate. Reasoned. Calm. But now no one will ever know. Because on the film I never mentioned Rush at all in any way. Or Ron Paul. Or my libertarian views. Others discussed Rush. But not me.

What did I think of the video? Well, it seemed like from the locals, talk show host Bob Durgin, who was interviewed solely because I mentioned him, got the most air time. And he was good. Entertaining. Very outspoken. Second most air time went to Big Blue, I think. My truck was a gleaming star. Glad I washed him the night before, and dusted the dashboard. I came in third, for all of about forty-five seconds. Fading out at the end, walking from Big Blue. Then back to Carol Costello and her condescending smile, to close it out.

I grade it a C or C minus. There is no question in my mind the three-segment series was designed and produced as a hit job on conservatives in particular and talk radio in general. They smiled and smiled while filming me, but villainy lurked in their hearts.

I don’t think they succeeded. And two things especially irritated me.

It was all so dramatic. First, Carol Costello breathlessly proclaimed that by 3 PM, I’d already listened to conservative talk radio for EIGHT hours. Strongly implying that I’m either a wacko or a slacker, or both. Which I didn’t exactly appreciate.

Two days later, however, columnist Denis Keohane on American Thinker knocked that little implication right out of the ball park. And he linked to my blog. Great guy.

The second irritation was by far the most egregious. And that was my final brief on- camera comment. Where Carol Costello dramatically intoned that I know all about anger. Which was silly. I wasn’t angry during the interview. I didn’t look angry while making the comment. But there I was, stating that I trust no politician in this world, Republican or Democrat. Well, I don’t. Except Ron Paul. Which I stated clearly at the end of that sentence, as PART OF the sentence. And Jim Clymer, the Constitutional Party chairman. I said that too. But they sliced out my tribute to both of these fine men. Thereby making me say something I had not said.

I’ve long been suspicious of what I saw and heard on TV news shows. Sound bites are sound bites. Isolated, lacking context. They can make you say anything they want you to say. That’s what I’d heard, and what I believed. Now I know.

But I’m glad they played it the way they did, rather than the opposite. Better to be known as virulently distrustful of all politicians than trusting them more than I do. In my opinion, only a fool trusts politicians in general.

The Monday morning segment unleashed tremendous turbulent waves out there on the internet and talk radio. I’m sure Rush didn’t see me, but his people did. He raged at length about it on his show that very afternoon, thereby garnering about two million more viewers to watch the program who otherwise would never have known it even existed, which was probably exactly what CNN was secretly hoping for. He was particularly irate at the frizzy-haired psychiatrist who piously opined that Rush is a bully. That was a new one. Strange. I never felt bullied. But then, what do I know? I gaped at her onscreen. Tried to imagine briefly what it would be like to come home from work every night to someone like her. It was impossible to visualize, too terrible to grasp. I’d rather be divorced.

Rush also went after my friend-for-an-hour, Carol Costello. Called her a stalker. As I’ve said before, 80% of her interview with me focused exclusively on him. She seemed locked in. Maybe she is a stalker. The interview was actually over, and Bob the producer had to yell for her to ask me about Bob Durgin, the local talk show host. So she did. My answer to that question was one of the few things you heard from me on the segment. After my vocal cords were strained and tired. Strange. Talk about Rush and my political views for twenty-five minutes, ask one question about Bob Durgin, then go with the answer to that one question.

To be fair to Carol, she discussed the interview in much more depth on her blog. I don’t know who made the final decisions as to what was seen on TV. Maybe Bob the producer.

So there it was and that was it. A grand adventure for a country hick like me. You bet, I’d do it all over again. But I’d be just a bit wiser the next time.

And now, a few words on a most neglected subject. Sports. My Jets, after a stellar 3-0 start with their star rookie quarterback, have slackened lately. Lost three in a row. Including last week’s loss to lowly Buffalo. However, I didn’t have to endure much ribbing from the guys at work, who were pretty quiet and hanging their heads after the Eagles’ loss to the even lowlier Raiders.

The Jets, at least, have an excuse. Rookie quarterback. He’s learning. He’ll grow. And he will win. On the other hand, if the ageing McNabb doesn’t perform for the Eagles, they’re done. Andy Reid can mumble all he wants. The Eagles are one-dimensional.

And that brings us to the Phillies. Back again to the World Series this year. Their arrogant thuggish fans are popping out of their hovels like rabbits. Crooning and crowing and wearing silly red outfits and waving flags. The evil Yankees managed to blow it last night, but they will prevail. It’ll be them and the Phillies. Evil empire versus the thugs. For me, it’s like a choice between the Russians and the Chi-coms. I hate both teams.

Should the Angels happen to pull it out, I’ll definitely cheer for them. But if it’s the evil Yankees, I’ve decided to cheer against both teams. Cheer every error, every out. For both sides. Which is not exactly conducive to mental stability and calmness. What’s that continuous dull roar I hear in my head at all hours? Cognitive dissonance?

Maybe I need to schedule a session or two with that frizzy-haired shrink after all. Oops, scratch that thought. I’d rather go insane.

October 16, 2009

CNN and Me

Category: News — Ira @ 6:37 pm


I make my living off the evening news.
Just give me something, something I can use.
People love it when you lose, they love dirty laundry…

Kick ‘em when they’re up, kick ‘em when they’re down.
Kick ‘em when they’re up, kick ‘em when they’re down…

We can do the innuendo, we can dance and sing.
When it’s said and done, we haven’t told you a thing.
We all know that crap is king, give us dirty laundry.

—Don Henley, lyrics: Dirty Laundry

I really don’t know how this stuff happens. Generally I mind my own business pretty well. It’s not like I’m out there, beating the bushes for publicity. But once in awhile, it seems, strange events bombard me, events so far beyond the remotest realms of possibility that the aftermath leaves me shaking my head in disbelief. And a little shaken.

It all started a few weeks ago one morning at work. I stumbled in bleary eyed, sipping my coffee, with nothing more on my mind than the day’s work schedule. After firing up my computer and checking my email, I noticed a message from a strange source. CNN. Probably spam, I thought. That close, I deleted it. But then decided to check it out. The sender claimed to work for CNN in New York. She had noticed on my blog that I listen to talk radio. They were doing a program soon on conservative talk radio listeners. Would I perhaps be interested in an interview?

It seemed legit. So I returned a short message. You want to talk to me. When? How long? I’m available evenings. Within two minutes she replied. Could I call her right away? It wouldn’t take but a minute.

So I called, setting off a chain of events that will culminate next week. The nice lady’s name was Nailah and she hadn’t lied. She actually needed only about two minutes. Where was I located? Lancaster, PA. How long had I listened to talk radio, specifically Rush? Since 1992. Do I still listen every day? Yep. Which local station do I listen to? WHP 580 in Harrisburg, Bob Durgin’s afternoon show. And RJ Harris in the mornings.

And that was about it. Kinda wild. Nothing at all about being raised Amish. That’s my shtick, where most of my stories originate, and why my readership is what it is. But she didn’t go there at all. By George, they were on the subject of talk radio listeners, and that’s what they’d stick with.

She told me that the Lancaster area would be quite attractive to them, since the producer and other personnel could drive up, and get it done in one day. After giving her my contact numbers, I hung up. I didn’t think enough of the conversation to mention it to a single soul. The chances of CNN interviewing me, I figured, were about as remote as me winning the Mega lottery. Ain’t gonna happen. Not after they read some of the rants on my blog.

The following week, I left for my niece’s wedding in Indiana. The CNN thing was so far removed from my consciousness that I never even mentioned it to one person. I returned to the office on Monday, Oct. 5, again with nothing more on my mind than the work that had piled up in my absence.

Before 9, my direct line rang. Unknown number. 212 area code. I answered. It was Bob Ruff, a CNN producer from New York City. Would I still be interested in doing an interview? Sure, I said. We talked a bit, and he told me he would arrive with the filming crew on Wednesday afternoon. The filming would be done for their morning show, American Morning. I would be interviewed by Carol Costello, from CNN’s Washington D.C. office.

He paused a bit after speaking her name, as if awaiting my startled exclamation. I said nothing. I wouldn’t know Carol Costello if I saw her. Never heard of her. I didn’t say that, just thought it. It also flashed through my mind that being interviewed by some wacko left wing feminist anchorette from DC was probably just about the last thing I needed. But I didn’t say that either.

Bob thanked me and hung up. He’d be in touch to finalize details, he claimed. I hung up. About then I started to freak out just a bit. I approached Pat, my boss, and filled him in. Sorry, I said. I should have told you before. After picking himself up off the floor, Pat allowed that he had no problems with the plan. Go for it, he said. After lunch, Bob called again. It was set. They would come on Wednesday.

I tried to grasp what had just happened. CNN had just called and they were coming out to interview me. CNN. That bastion of left wing, Obama-worshiping liberalism. CNN, which for years has been leaking viewers like a sieve. I’m no fan of CNN. And that’s being polite. I never watch any of their programming. Never. My head would explode. (I don’t watch Fox News either. I’m fair and balanced. I don’t watch any TV news.) But now CNN had somehow located me and wanted to interview me about conservative talk radio. It had to be a trap.

Tuesday arrived and I expected to hear from Bob the producer again. But the phone stayed quiet. He never called. Maybe they weren’t coming after all, I told Pat as we discussed the situation. Pat asked if I was preparing any comments. Nope. I didn’t know what they’re going to ask, and besides, if you know what you believe, you don’t need to prepare statements. Just state your beliefs. That’s what Rush always says.

Strangely, I slept well on Tuesday night. Slumbered. Wednesday dawned. I dressed and set out for the office, half thinking the CNN people wouldn’t show up. But as I drove along, listening to RJ Harris of the local WHP station in Harrisburg, he suddenly announced that CNN was coming by that day. To interview them and local listener Ira Wagler. Believe me, when you’re driving along half asleep early in the morning, sipping coffee, and you hear your own name booming over the radio, that jolts you awake. Big time. Big Blue almost dove for the ditch. And about that moment I realized without a doubt that CNN was indeed coming to interview me that day.

At the office, the day proceeded. No calls from Bob the producer. Noon came and went. Still nothing. Then about 1 o’clock, my cell phone rang. Bob the producer. They were just wrapping up at WHP in Harrisburg. They would be at the office by 2:30. They wanted to film me at my desk listening to Rush on the Internet before 3:00.

I tried to stay calm. But I was freaking again, just a bit. What in the world had I gotten myself into this time? Around 2:30, after fielding a few calls from Bob and the cameraman, who claimed to be lost, the main crew arrived. They wasted no time. The cameraman, whose name now escapes me, opened a large case and extracted a huge filming camera. He set up in my office and filmed for the next fifteen minutes. Just me sitting at my desk, working (or pretending to) while listening to Rush. Another cameraman was on the way, and Carol Costello should be here by 3:00, they said.

The second cameraman arrived, and moments later the door opened and she strolled in. A lovely, polished lady, perfectly coifed. Carol Costello. One of the “beautiful people.” She walked right up to the counter where I stood, half frozen, smiled graciously and extended her hand. We introduced ourselves. And stood there and chatted while the cameramen set up their equipment.

There was about a ton of it. They opened cases, set up bright lights, strung electrical cords, plugged in stuff. Everyone in the office pretty much shut down and stood at a safe distance, gaping. Carol and I chatted. She immediately put me at ease. No, she didn’t have a list of questions. She would let the conversation flow naturally, she said. And no trick questions.

“Are you really going to use this film on CNN, or is this just one of many?” I asked.

“It’s definitely running,” she answered. “I make those decisions. This filming should have an actual air time of around three minutes, which is a long time.”

“I’ll look forward to it.” I said. “But I’m withholding judgment until I see the final presentation. I don’t really trust you guys.” A huge understatement. She laughed.

“You better treat me right,” I said, half jokingly. “Or I’ll whack you on my blog.”

“Don’t worry,” she said. “We just want to do a piece on people who listen to talk radio.”

Getting wired.

I didn’t have a whole lot of time to get nervous. The cameramen approached and wired us both with tiny mics. A few practice runs, and we were off.

She was a class act. Gracious. Good, really good at what she did. Looked me in the eyes. Talked directly to me. I did the same to her. And strangely, even though my coworkers and some customers stood on the peripheral of things and watched, I was able to tune everyone out and focus almost entirely on Carol and her questions. She kept her promise. No trick questions. She didn’t try to trap me. She allowed the conversation to flow.

It was mostly about Rush. I mentioned Glenn Beck, but Rush was the focus. When did I start listening to him? 1992, I said. Do I agree with him? Not on everything. My political views? Ron Paul libertarian. And so on. At the very end, she asked a few questions about the local WHP station and the guys there.

And I stood there in front of the counter behind which I work every day, a hick country boy from hardscrabble roots, and talked for probably twenty-five minutes to this beautiful cosmopolitan jet-setting CNN correspondent from Washington, DC. Who had briefly left her world and inserted herself into mine. Unbelievably, time flew. I stammered and stuttered a few times, but overall, I spoke slowly, at least for me, and gave fairly articulate answers. At least I think so. Watch the film prove me wrong.

THE ACTUAL INTERVIEW. Thanks to Rosita Martin for her pics.



And then it was over. At least that part. Now, Bob the producer instructed, we needed to go for a ride on Big Blue, with both cameramen squashed in the back seat, as I drove “home” and listened to local firebrand Bob Durgin, whose show started immediately after Rush. So we walked out and piled in. Carol and I up front. Two men with large filming cameras in the back. By this time, Carol and I were chatting it up like old friends. I was completely at ease. She was just a person, doing her job.

She claimed to have met my hero, Ron Paul, numerous times in the CNN studios. I believe her. I startled her only once. She spoke glowingly of some of the bipartisan Republicans she knew in DC. Like Lindsay Graham, for instance, she said. I said nothing, just mumbled under my breath, “Lindsay Graham is a pansy.”

She heard me and gasped. Couldn’t stop herself. I hastily explained. “He’s moderate. Bipartisan. I don’t want bipartisan. I want someone who stands on principles.”

We then took another short drive in Big Blue, just me and her, as the cameraman filmed us from our yard. We sat in the truck, chatting like two old friends.

“Does anyone here at your office watch CNN?” She suddenly asked, almost wistfully. I wanted to tell her that we did. But I couldn’t.

“No,” I answered gently. “But we will watch this episode.” She nodded, looking mildly crestfallen.

And then her part was over and it was time for her to leave. “Before you go,” I said, “I want a picture of just me and you.” She agreed readily. So we stood and posed.

Carol Costello and me.

“Now I want an autograph,” I said. And she was genuinely flattered. She wrote me a nice little note and signed and dated it. “This is big stuff,” I told her. “Nothing much ever happens in this hick town.”

“I still have to pinch myself sometimes,” she replied. “That I actually work at CNN.” And then she smiled and waved and left us. Back to her home in Baltimore, and her office in DC. The intense savage world of broadcast journalism.

The cameraman still wanted footage of me walking to Big Blue with my briefcase, “going home.” Shot after shot, in scene after scene. He got it all.

And all that footage will be edited down to around three minutes of actual air time. Probably interspersed with opposing viewpoints. Who knows? It will show on CNN’s American Morning program on one of three dates, Oct. 19, 20 or 21. After airing, it will be available almost immediately on CNN’s website. After it’s posted, I will link to this site and also on Facebook. I’m curious indeed as to what will be shown and how it’s presented.

The next morning, Thursday, RJ Harris of the local WHP station called me at work to discuss the event. We spoke live on the air for about four minutes. And with that, the whirlwind twenty-four hours of abnormal activities ended. Only then did I stop, relax and try to absorb what had actually happened.

I’d been interviewed on CNN, for their American Morning program. Which is aired nationally from coast to coast. I’d been picked from among three hundred million fellow Americans. Randomly, it seemed.

Why, one might ask, would I even do such a thing? It’s risky. Even though I didn’t say anything stupid, they can still make me look stupid, with their editing and cutting. Cut short a sentence. Splice words together, to make me say something I hadn’t said. There’s any number of things that might happen.

It could be a hit job. I don’t know. And won’t until I see it.

If it is, it is. Either way, it was a grand adventure. The kind of adventure most people don’t get to experience in a lifetime. Besides, I figured I held a trump card. If it is a hit job, I can at least expose it for what it was to the people that know me. Right here, on this blog.

Unlike most people, at least I have somewhat of a public forum out there to defend myself. I hope Carol Costello and the folks at CNN treat me right. If they do, I’ll gladly credit them. If they don’t, well, they’ll stir the old writing juices again. Get me roiled and riled. And we’ve all walked together down that path before.



Link to Monday’s broadcast