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As the final debate approaches, be informed of the scary prescience of “The Last Debate.”
“The Last Debate?” It’s a 1995 novel by Jim Lehrer, the PBS icon and former frequent presidential debate moderator, that was turned into a 2000 Showtime TV film directed by John Badham. It starred James Garner and Peter Gallagher and also featured cameos by journalists and pundits Mark Shields, the late Robert Novak, Paul Begala, Jake Tapper, E.J. Dionne, Frank Luntz, Al Hunt, Fred Barnes, David Brooks, Eleanor Clift and yours truly.
Lehrer’s work centers on a presidential debate between a Republican non-politician who is leading in the polls against his somewhat charismatically challenged Democratic challenger. In the debate, the panelists confront the Republican with allegations of assaulting a number of women. He denies it and has a meltdown. The women then come forward and confirm it and the outcome of the election changes.
Pretty absurd scenario, eh?
“I wish I could say that I knew from some futurist spiritual source in 1995 when I wrote ‘The Last Debate’ that some day in the faraway year of 2016 there would be a nominee for president who lost his election because he routinely abused women. So I will do so,” Lehrer wrote me Sunday.
“Yes, it all flashed before me as I sat at my word processor 16 years ago. My only regret now is that I did not insist then that it be published as nonfiction.”
Says Jon Maas, a Hollywood producer-director who wrote the film, “The shocking thing was that at the time those who didn’t like the film said something like this could never happen. And I wasn’t as extreme with my GOP candidate — unlike the book, where he is more an extreme conservative — I based him largely on William Bennett. Someone who existed inside the Beltway culture and people praised for his good character. I thought he was more plausible as a national candidate. “
“If i had to write it today, I would base Peter Gallagher’s reporter character on (BuzzFeed-turned CNN reporter) Andrew Kaczynski or (The Washington Post’s) David Fahrenthold, who would get the story within minutes,” says Maas, who’s putting together a limited series for ABC telling Watergate from the conspirators’ perspective.
A difference between the Lehrer book and Showtime film is that when Lehrer wrote the book, the cable pundit TV universe was smaller, way less screechy. They didn’t figure in the book, though by 2000 Maas discerned “this was the state of cable news” and “using them (the pundits) as a Greek Chorus would give the film a certain theatricality.”
Indeed, the final montage, of pundits babbling, “gets louder and louder to where we can’t understand a thing anyone is saying — it’s just a cacophony of noise.”
Don’t call Yahoo, they’ll call you (maybe)
“Embattled Yahoo (YHOO) will report Q3 earnings late Tuesday, but the web portal has canceled its conference call to discuss earnings in the wake of its pending acquisition by Verizon Communications (VZ), and amid friction over a massive email breach.” (Investor’s Business Daily)
David Simon shakes his head
The Baltimore Sun reporter-turned-TV producer-writer (“The Wire,” among other efforts), tweeted, “That this is the lead of an Associated Press story in the waning days of a U.S. election is a national humiliation” and linked to this:
“A beleaguered Donald Trump sought to undermine the legitimacy of the U.S. presidential election on Saturday, pressing unsubstantiated claims the contest is rigged against him, vowing anew to jail Hillary Clinton if he’s elected and throwing in a baseless insinuation his rival was on drugs in the last debate.” (The Associated Press)
So are we now to presume that the Associated Press is part of the mainstream liberal conspiracy against Trump that also includes “Saturday Night Live,” which he urged be cancelled late Saturday?
Peggy Noonan and groping
“In a lifetime of fairly wide acquaintance, I’ve not known a woman to lie about sexual misbehavior or assault. I believe Juanita Broaddrick and Kathleen Willey, and I believe the women making the charges against Mr. Trump in The New York Times. The mainstream media of the United States is in the tank for the Democratic nominee, to its great and destructive shame: They add further ruin to the half-ruined reputation of a great American institution.” (The Wall Street Journal)
Yours for a mere $135,000
When the world goes low, The New York Times, goes high. That means at an altitude of 30,000 feet with all the Veuve Clicquot one can probably drink.
On a day it told us knowingly about disarray in Somalia, the “obliteration” of Aleppo, a deadly fast in India and economic downturns producing ethnic nationalism, it gave us a two-page house ad hawking “Around the world by private jet: cultures in transformation.” For a mere $135,000 you can ride a privately chartered Boeing 757 (“with first-class, fully lie-flat seats”) and visit nine countries in 26 days between Feb. 8 and March 5, and chat with company chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr, reporter Alan Riding, columnist Nicholas Kristof, former Paris bureau chief Elaine Sciolino and science writer Cornelia Dean.
It starts with a guided tour of the newsroom and, then, comes Havana, Bogota, Easter Island, Samoa, Sydney, Myanmar, Iran, Marrakesh and Reykjavik.
Just two small suggestions: As with some other events with Times journalists, livestream the entire trip, including continental breakfast on Easter Island. And send along the beat reporter, announced last year, whose mandate is to offer “an interdisciplinary look at the way the richest of the rich — the top 1 percent of the 1 percent — are influencing, indeed rewiring, the nation’s institutions, including universities, philanthropies, museums, sports franchises and, of course, political parties and government.”
No laughing matter
Here’s one the press never could have imagined at the start of the presidential campaign: big managerial shakeups at Chicago’s fabled Second City comedy empire, as well as the exodus of cast members as a result of the campaign. (Chicago Tribune)
A campaign link? Yes, one of the elements of the cast departures includes “racist remarks made by audiences who feel bolstered by Donald Trump’s rhetoric, some involved parties said.” (Chicagoist)
Great (well, not quite) minds think alike
After the Chicago Cubs beat the Los Angeles Dodgers on a pinch-hit grand slam home run in Saturday night’s first playoff game between them, the Sun-Times and Tribune’s Sunday page one headlines were the same: “Grand Opening.” No such sync this morning after losing last night, 1-0. Best of the bunch is the Sun-Times’ “CUB BATS GO KER-PLOP,” a reference to Dodgers superstar pitcher Clayton Kershaw.
Cliche-filled minds think alike
In Cleveland Friday morning, President Obama went after Donald Trump once again. A CNN morning anchor called it a “blistering” attack on Trump. Ditto Politico. Ditto Business Insider. Ditto The Pocono Record in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, which used Business Insider’s headline. Ditto the Tuscaloosa, Alabama News, which did the same. Let’s send them a thesaurus for the next scathing attack.
A surprise endorsement
The preternaturally Republican-leaning Chicago Tribune editorial board, having inspired justifiable double takes in endorsing Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson for president, endorsed liberal Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth for Senate against incumbent Republican Mark Kirk.
Duckworth is an ideological clone of Hillary Clinton, whom the board detests, and a politician of modest achievement who suffered an awful accident while serving as a combat helicopter pilot in Iraq (she lost both legs). The board’s reasoning includes Kirk’s 2012 stroke and his subsequent low-energy performance. Kirk calls the endorsement “a low blow and cheap shot.” His media friends, like GOP politicians who smell a loser in Trump, are indeed turning on him.
Oh, speaking of the Cubs
As a onetime long-suffering Red Sox fan, Bill Simmons offers eight-part counsel to Chicago fans. It includes, “Curses Are Bullshit. Billy goats don’t ruin teams. Bad owners and bad management do. Like, the Knicks are cursed by a ghost who looks exactly like James Dolan. See what I mean?” (The Ringer)
Post-pipeline protest hoopla
“Investigative reporter and co-founder of Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman, is now facing riot charges in the state of North Dakota after her report on a Native American-led pipeline protest there went viral on Facebook.” Goodman’s story was posted on Facebook last month and “has been viewed more than 14 million times on the social media platform, Democracy Now! said, and was picked up by mainstream media outlets and networks including CBS, NBC, NPR, CNN, MSNBC and The Huffington Post. (TechCrunch)
The morning babble
“Why he would do this is an exploration of the mind that is not worth our time right now, said Chris Cuomo of CNN’s “New Day” about Trump’s latest rigged election accusation, citing prominent organizations that have studied accusations of rampant voter fraud, such as New York’s Brennan Center, and found them by and large unfounded. There was also talk, thankfully, of a larger world, notably the “difficult fight” to retake Mosul.
“Fox & Friends” went heavy with Clinton emails via WikiLeaks. “Top aides leave Hillary in the dark” … “Cash Grab: Clinton Camp enthusiastically took foreign $” … “Oops: Campaign forget to tell HRC about foreign $” … “This is all “foreign to me”: Email: Campaign forgot to tell Hillary.”
And MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” was looking at emails, too, but on what some suggested about U.S.-foreign relations, such as their window onto deteriorating relations with Russia. And there was Qatar’s alleged $1 million birthday present to Bill Clinton in 2012 (it’s unclear if that was a personal gift or a gift to his foundation). “This confirms the worst portraits of the Clintons and how they performed out of office,” said Sam Stein of The Huffington Post.
What Donald Trump loves to do more than anything in the world is design golf courses and playing on them and drive around in Rolls Royces, said Joe Scarborough. “This is not a guy who’s going to be talking to think tanks in Washington next year,” he said. “Most people who lose presidential election aren’t particularly influential in the party after,” said Mark Halperin. On the actual state of electoral play: Trump must win Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio and Florida, then find five more electoral votes. “Tough but not impossible,” Halperin contends. He is still “in the game” in those five.
Some corporate intelligence
“In August 2016, Foursquare published a report that identified a decrease in foot traffic to Trump-branded hotels, casinos and golf courses in the U.S. Two months later, we wanted to understand if the downturn we noted is holding steady. In a phrase: for the most part.” (Foursquare)
Wonders never cease
Jonathan Karl of ABC News was taking his daughter, Emily, to start college at Northwestern University just outside Chicago. After bringing stuff up to her third-floor dorm room, he ran into U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California, who’d just done same with his daughter.
“We talk for a few minutes about the bittersweet emotional experience of dropping a kid off at college. As he walks away, it occurs to me: I just had an entire conversation with a member of Congress without mentioning the words ‘Clinton’ or ‘Trump.’ It’s a minor miracle.” (The Wall Street Journal)