December 16, 2016

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Bob Dylan just won the Nobel Prize for Literature, enough said. “Poet laureate of the rock era.”

But media critic, too?

Patti Smith gained deserved attention for a notable performance of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” at the Nobel ceremony in Stockholm conspicuously missed by Dylan. It led me to the archives of the Chicago History Museum and a May 1, 1963 one-hour radio interview of Dylan by the late author-radio host-actor-activist Studs Terkel.

Terkel got the obviously enigmatic and (at times confusingly) brilliant 22-year-old to play both “Boots of Spanish Leather” and, yes, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” the latter composed just eight months earlier around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. (YouTube)

There are, of course, these words near the end of the song that Smith reprised in Stockholm:

“I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters”

I always assumed, as did Terkel initially, that this was directly inspired by the crisis and the threat of nuclear catastrophe. But then I read that might not be the case.

Terkel asks about those lines and suggests they reflect Dylan’s worry about the crisis and the threat of nuclear catastrophe.

“No, it isn’t the atomic rain. It’s just a hard rain. It’s not the fallout rain. It isn’t that at all.”

“The hard rain’s gonna fall is in the last verse…That means all the lies, you know, that people get told on their radios and in newspapers. All you have to think for a minute, you know. Trying to take people’s brains away, you know. Which maybe has been done already. I hate to think it’s been done. All the lies, which I consider poison.”

So, alas, he was talking about the media and public discourse. That’s the hard rain.

Well, two things are for sure. First, Terkel quickly understood the greatness of Dylan’s song just months after its release. “I think it will be a classic,” he says.

Second, the subject of lies and deception hasn’t left us, as we well know.

“In the wake of the 2016 election, public figures from President Obama to Pope Francis have raised concerns about fake news and its potential impact on both political life and innocent individuals,” says the press release from Pew Research Center. “A new Pew Research Center survey finds about two-in-three U.S. adults (64 percent) say fabricated news stories cause a great deal of confusion about the basic facts of current events.”

The pellets of poison do flood the waters.

Yahoo’s unraveling (cont.)

“Verizon Communications Inc. is exploring a price cut or possible exit from its $4.83 billion pending acquisition of Yahoo! Inc., after the company reported a second major email hack affecting as many as 1 billion user accounts, according to a person familiar with the matter.” (Bloomberg)

And, as Bloomberg’s Shira Ovide underscores in a separate column, “Yahoo can’t help being Yahoo, the technology industry’s most hapless company. And now the market is betting the company’s incompetence might cost shareholders $1 billion or more.” (Bloomberg)

From CNBC to the White House?

Knowing and having sparred with him on TV, it’s no surprise that CNBC’s Larry Kudlow would crave an economic post with Trump. Rumors have him in line to perhaps head the Council of Economic Advisers, a job whose influence depends entirely on White House politics. (Politico)

He remains a largely unreconstructed Reaganite (he had a mid-level position in the Office of Management and Budget back then) with a belief that virtually every challenge faced by humankind — from inflation and recession to the tsunamis and ineptitude of the Cleveland Browns — can largely be solved via lower tax rates.

An interesting vehicle for anonymous sources

Asks The New York Times: “Do you have the next big story? Want to share it with The New York Times? We offer several ways to get in touch with and provide materials to our journalists. No communication system is completely secure, but these tools can help protect your anonymity.” (The New York Times)

This includes tips on sending reporters encrypted email and seems a worthy experiment in an era where the notion of privacy seems quaint. It’s also another sign of how the Times and Washington Post are lapping most of their newspaper counterparts by rolling the dice with investments of money and imagination.

Speaking of privacy

“The Best Password Managers of 2017” comes via PC Magazine. In sum, “A password like ‘123456’ or ‘monkey’ is easy to remember, but it’s also easy to crack. With the help of a password manager, you can have a unique and strong password for every secure website. We’ve evaluated two dozen to help you choose. (PCMag)

A tide continues to turn

The New York Times headline would have been unimaginable not too long ago. “Trump Falsely Says U.S. Claim of Russian Hacking Came After Election.” (The New York Times) It remains hard to fathom in most mainstream outlets even now.

It’s an intriguing challenge to editors everywhere, prompted by the president-elect’s year-long tussle with the truth. What about the mayor, city councilman or local CEO who flat-out fibs — and everybody in the newsroom knows it?

Yes, there’s been lots of talk about the limits of “false equivalency,” he said/she said journalism traditions. Yet, how many will now go down this route and be far more candid on page one, not just on the editorial page?

Playing footsy with Putin

The cable news anchor Thursday was quite straightforward in raising questions about Donald Trump’s reluctance to acknowledge the obvious Russian hacking. He set forth the U.S. intelligence consensus, the deep frictions between the U.S. and Vladimir Putin, the animus between Putin and Hillary Clinton and then interviewed Wall Street Journal associate editor John Bussey, who underscored, “This is not a friend of the United States.”

The anchor cited a just-published new USA Today story that is succinct: “President-elect Donald Trump’s controversial soft spot for Russia is based on decades of courting wealthy Russians to buy condos in his luxury high-rises and invest in his other real estate ventures, a close look at his business dealings reveals.” (USA Today)

Might this be why Trump has been so accommodating?

Oh, the anchor wasn’t a usual suspect on CNN or MSNBC. It was Shepard Smith on Fox News, frequent home of Trump cheerleading. It was a good, no B.S. account of what’s going on — far from the slavish boosterism of, say, Sean Hannity.

And yet…

“But the refrain of Russian attribution has been repeated so regularly and so emphatically that it’s become easy to forget that no one has ever truly proven the claim.” (The Intercept)

“There is strong evidence indicating that Democratic email accounts were breached via phishing messages, and that specific malware was spread across DNC computers. There’s even evidence that the attackers are the same group that’s been spotted attacking other targets in the past.”

“But again: No one has actually proven that group is the Russian government (or works for it). This remains the enormous inductive leap that’s not been reckoned with, and Americans deserve better.”

Some fine work to check out

USA Today concluded a four-part series on the nation’s drinking water enforcement system. In particular, it zeroed in on how the “system doesn’t make small utilities play by the same safety rules as everyone else” and endangers millions with untested or lead-tainted water. (USA Today)

Meanwhile, a combo effort of the Indianapolis Star and what’s tagged the USA TODAY Network (all owned by Gannett) finds that “at least 368 gymnasts have alleged some form of sexual abuse at the hands of their coaches, gym owners and other adults working in gymnastics. That’s a rate of one every 20 days. And it’s likely an undercount.” (USA Today)

The Star had reported on inaction by USA Gymnastics, which oversees the sport, especially in failing to report allegation of abuse to law enforcement. “But the problem is far worse. A nine-month investigation found that predatory coaches were allowed to move from gym to gym, undetected by a lax system of oversight, or dangerously passed on by USA Gymnastics-certified gyms.”

Both of these are worth a look.

The evening news

NBC opened with actual reporting on Russian hacking and Putin’s involvement, CBS with “Murder Driven by Hate,” namely the Dylann Roof verdict, and ABC World Tabloid News Tonight with Roof, too (“Hatred was on trial and it lost”).

When it came to the predictable Roof verdict, NBC spent two minutes and eight seconds on it, CBS two minutes and 24 seconds and ABC predictably left them in the dust with ease, at two minutes and 45 seconds.

Oh, CBS had a David Martin scoop on Russian hackers seizing control of the unclassified email system at the Pentagon, forcing it to replace hardware and software. But ABC followed Dylann Roof with lots on whatever-understated anchor David Muir tagged “a major new storm and the brutal cold already turning deadly tonight.” Yes, a “deadly arctic blast.”

Heroically, we sent our kids to school this morning.

At Trump thank you tour in Hershey, Pennsylvania

Tweeted print pooler Anita Kumar, White House correspondent for McClatchy: “People who were booed at during @realDonaldTrump’s rally in no particular order: Obama, the media, flag burners, consultants, pollsters.” (Kumar)

A Thursday night admission

During last night’s Seattle-Los Angeles game, NBC announcers, including Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, did not avoid mentioning the serious questions about the NFL’s Thursday games. That includes harsh rebukes from Seattle star Richard Sherman, who’s among a growing number to find the short break between Sunday and Thursday games a danger to players’ health and safety. (Players Tribune)

Playboy on Roku

“This would probably stun you if it was not for the fact that Playboy no longer features nude pictorials.” (The Streaming Advisor) Well, given the election results, little will stun us these days. But go on:

“This channel which is officially called ‘Playboy Now’ is much more about the articles.” Hallelujah.

The morning babble

“Fox & Friends” went heavy, again, on the tour. “And there was no doubt about he was watching our show yesterday,” said Brian Kilmeade, surely putting themselves in an elite group of 13 different cable shows and magazines like Vanity Fair, which stirred his Twitter wrath yesterday. (Politico)

MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” went down the path of whether, as a new New York Times op-ed wonders, “Is Trump a threat to democracy?” (The New York Times) Joe Scarborough said the specter of the republic at risk is overblown, the media response a frequent overreach in bashing most presidents and, now, Trump. Worry more about a climate denier running the EPA, he said (fine, but who picked the guy?) Pundit John Heilemann smiled and wondered 22 minutes into the show, “What happened to the news in this block?”

And, then, over at CNN’s “New Day, there was former CIA counterintelligence expert Philip Mudd with these soothing breakfast-time words:

“As a loyal American, let me tell you I am disgusted by the White House and disgusted by the incoming president. This is nonpartisan. We’ve got to figure out what to do with the Russian in the digital world, in the Iran nuclear program, in Syria. We have two six-year-olds figuring out who can piss higher on a tree about what happened with the intel when the real question among professionals is how we deal with our main adversary after they’ve disrupted an election…it’s disgusting.”

Got it. I’ve also got a weekend of kids sports and covert Christmas shopping. I’m only disgusted by an 8 a.m. Saturday soccer game. Oh, well. Have a hacking-free few days.

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New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S.…
James Warren

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