Cronkite’s 15 Minutes of Fame for our Infamies


By Jack Engelhard


Walter Cronkite’s TV presence was so powerful that when he made some off-hand remark critical of our war in Vietnam, Lyndon Johnson knew that losing the support of Cronkite was the same as losing the support of the American people. LBJ had met his match; journalism that provokes.


Back then (going here strictly from memory) we were still reading newspapers and TV News was nothing more than a daily 15 minute roundup and recap – but such was the authority of these men, Cronkite, Huntley/Brinkley, Edward R. Murrow, Eric Sevareid, that we began to trust broadcasting nearly as much as print. (“Murrow’s Boys” dominated CBS for some time.)


Today’s obits on Cronkite show him momentarily forgetting his journalistic stoicism in favor of a touch of emotion at the announcement of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. This may be a proper highlight but we should remember that 15 minutes at a time, TV News grew into the monster that it is today.


Ogling The News (Blondes Invade TV)

By Jack Engelhard

[News Flash! A few days after I wrote this commentary and was still polishing it, the UK Telegraph, coincidentally, reported that “Blondes Dull Men’s Brains.” (I’m not making this up.) The article goes on to say, “Researchers concluded that men performed worse after they were shown pictures of fair-haired women.” So, it’s scientifically proven that blondes are coming to take over the world and turn the rest of us into mutants. Terrifying! We, men, may have to hide in caves to hide from the glare. I’ve already begun wearing sunglasses.]

How did the news get to be so blonde? This is not a complaint. In fact, this is a tribute, I think.

Back in the old days, when we thought only men can handle the truth, TV news was delivered by Serious White Males, like Walter Cronkite, which is not to say that the blondes who’ve taken over are not serious. I’m sure they’ve got the requisite gravitas, but they make the going so much sweeter. Wars, earthquakes, forest fires come and go. The blondes endure.

If you’re thinking Katie Couric, fine, but I’m not. I’m thinking mostly cable, CNN, MSNBC and Fox – mostly Fox. That’s where blondes have more fun. By this I mean nearly everyone, from the anchors to the guests, are blonde! The political commentators, the psychologists, the historians who arrive for sound bites- they’re all babes, but babes with brains.


Sotomayor, Fox News and GOP Malaise

By Jack Engelhard


Those of us who tuned in for a slugfest were disappointed and went back to cutting the lawn. This was no Ali versus Frazier. There were no thrills. Even Fox News abruptly turned off, literally, and returned to regular programming so that Shepard Smith could get himself excited about the Murder of the Day. Only one person gave it some spice, on Fox, and it wasn’t a senator; it was anchorwoman Megyn Kelly. I’m nuts about this lady.


Yes, I know the howls at the mention of Fox News, but come on, Roger Ailes knows how to pick the right people (except for Geraldo) and how to keep stories moving.


Obviously, ratings were taking a dive. CNN took the hint from Fox and began easing off those hearings as well. News – especially on television – needs a plot, needs a narrative, needs good guys and bad guys, needs to entertain, needs drama and this simply wasn’t good television, never mind good theater.


There’s nothing to say about Democrat questioning since those guys are already sold on Sonia Sotomayor. (Amazingly, Al Franken was best of the rest.)


But just for the fun of it, we wanted some action from the Republicans.


When a hockey game gets dull, there is always someone from the stands who yells – “Hit somebody!”


Inventing J. D. Salinger

By Jack Engelhard


The upstairs literary crowd, Eustace Tilley types, are already sharpening their pencils for Dan Brown’s next book, “The Lost Symbol,” even though it won’t be birthed until September. I’m not here to defend Dan Brown except to say that he delivered as promised. His big book, “The Da Vinci Code” was exactly about that, the Da Vinci code.


Dan Brown is not adored by the literati and the sniping has already begun as meanwhile Haruki Murakami, one of their favorites, keeps getting embraced.


Murakami’s latest gem is titled “Kafka on the Shore” and I happen to be a huge fan of Kafka and nearly went ahead to buy the book until, doing the usual online searches, I found that this book about Kafka is not about Kafka. It’s about a character Murakami has named Kafka with no connection to the great writer Franz Kafka.


Won’t Have Palin To Kick Around Anymore

By Jack Engelhard


Sarah Palin resigned as governor of Alaska pretty much taking the cue from Richard Nixon that we won’t have her to kick around anymore. So she’s out, though we don’t know where she’s going. My guess? This moment starts her run for the presidency – and this is the one and only candidate that has a real chance of upsetting the incumbent. If so many people hate her, it must be because they fear her.


What has she done wrong – really, what has this woman done wrong except run for the number two spot as a Republican, if you’ll pardon the expression. Other than that, how many commandments did she trespass? Did she rob, steal, kill? You’d think she’d done all that from all the nasty coverage that has dogged her from the moment her name was announced.


Her farewell speech was a mixed bag of political oratory together with restrained anger at all those who’ve mocked her and she sure did attract the worst of what this country has to offer. Think Letterman. Think Vanity Fair. Think of McCain insiders who blamed her for his defeat, never mind that Republicans picked a heroic soldier but the lamest of all candidates. McCain never had a shot, with or without Palin. He had no ideas. He was dull. He ran against his own Party. No shot at all.


Palin livened it up. She connected with ordinary Americans and for that reason alone she was disdained. Politicians, comedians, commentators, all ganged up on her and wouldn’t let up even when she left the spotlight. During the Letterman fiasco, readers at the New York Times blamed HER for imposing herself on the public when she did no such thing. It was Letterman who brought her out of hiding.


Helen Thomas, of All People, on Media Love-Ins

By Jack Engelhard


I’ve never been a fan of Helen Thomas (her rants against Israel, for starters) but this time she’s got me on her side. Good for her! While the rest of her colleagues in the press keep fawning over the Administration, Thomas literally stood up against all the media manipulation going on when, in a heated exchange with press secretary Robert Gibbs, she said that she’d never seen anything like this – this sort of “management” of the news.


Thomas, who’s been a White House correspondent since the days of JFK, came straight out with it in follow-up interviews, saying, “What the hell do they think we are, puppets?” Well, yes, judging from all the giggling that usually occurs at what are supposed to be press briefings but which sound more like press Love-Ins.


“It’s blatant,” said Thomas, speaking also about those town-hall set-ups that appear to be so rigged.


Speaking of blatant, as well as corruption, here comes the Washington Post. Yes, the Washington Post that we used to admire since the days of Woodward and Bernstein. Well forget that. The word is out that elements within that newspaper were selling access to White House power brokers at a price ranging from $25,000 to $250,000. Buy a cabinet member, a congressman?


Kremlin America

By Jack Engelhard


The news is never good, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, and I’m losing track of what’s going on so far as health care and a thousand other items that are spinning out of the control. Don’t know much about the economy either, except that this too is in the tank – reaching 10 percent unemployment.


So please don’t come asking me for details. That’s why we have experts who, by the way, are the ones who got us into this fine mess – but never mind.


What I do know is that we – Mr. and Mrs. America – well, we all got together and installed a government that speaks in one voice, along with a news media that whistles the same tune. What have we done? We have installed a system of government that has no checks and balances. Repeat, no checks and balances.


One party runs the whole shebang – the White House and the Congress, with, as I said, the news media tagging along.


Our Founding Fathers were hot on the Separation of Powers, which is why we have three branches of power, the Legislative, the Executive, the Judicial, and then a Fourth Power, the news media, sometimes known as the Fourth Estate. Dissent is expected and even encouraged to keep us safe from tyranny.


Liberals Sulking Over Me

By Jack Engelhard


The man said “I’ve been looking you up” and that sounded ominous and then he said “I’ve been reading you” and that sounded like a threat, which it was. “I’ll bet you’re a big fan of Ann Coulter,” he smirked, and when they smirk like that they remind me of Bill Maher – but hello indeed on Ann Coulter for the legs and the brains. I may be switching to Pamela Geller for her beauty and brains and also to maintain my letch credentials.


“I can see why you’ve been favorably compared to Hemingway,” the man said – but as we all know, no good deed or compliment goes unpunished.


This is Getting Ghoulish (Michael Jackson)

By Jack Engelhard


Jonas Salk was never mourned like this – and he cured the world of polio.


No disrespect to Michael Jackson the pop star, pay him whatever tributes you wish, but I wonder how many other Jacksons live and die good ordinary lives and yet we do not call out their names. I wonder how many Michael Jacksons there are in our military, in harms way right this minute in Iraq and Afghanistan, who serve without recognition.


This wall to wall coverage, these mobs grieving over an entertainer, all of it, in such excess, approaches ghoulishness. The last time this happened was when silent screen idol Valentino died young and, as H.L. Mencken tells it, Valentino was startled by his fame and uncomfortable in his skin as a sex symbol — so surely he would have been horrified by the multitudes who grieved his death.


Obviously many of us lead lives of “quiet desperation” (Thoreau), so we live vicariously, through the lives of others, mostly entertainers and athletes. Nathanael West covered this in his Hollywood novel “The Day of the Locust,” about those lonely people who have turned fetish in their adoration of celebrities, alive or dead. Their sorrow becomes dangerous when it marches as a mob. 


Obama’s “Jewish Experts”

By Jack Engelhard


This is getting uncomfortable.


A few days ago, George Mitchell once again expressed his position, and opposition, even to “natural growth” in Judea and Samaria. Both Mitchell and Hillary Clinton speak for themselves and for President Barack Obama who’s made this – Jewish life in the “settlements” — his priority above all other international disputes.


Even the language is disturbing. Mitchell – top Middle East envoy along with Clinton – explained that the controversy centered on “the number of Jewish births.” Where have we heard this before? To my mind, as someone who was born under similar conditions, in France under Vichy, where Jews were kept within “restricted zones,” this sounds too much like Verboten!


When I hear American diplomats, and Obama himself, count the number of children allotted per Jewish family, at the same time measuring Jewish growth by the inch, the images that come to mind, to my mind, are of an earlier time, though not so long ago, when the Third Reich confronted the “Jewish Problem” by way of the Nuremberg Laws and the Wannsee Conference.


I picture Reinhard Heydrich and Adolf Eichmann. They, too, were Jewish Experts.


I hear echoes of “none is too many.” That was the response from Canada’s Mackenzie King’s government on the question of how many Jews were to be allowed inside the country following the Holocaust. Those words still ring throughout Canada, especially among survivors, but how did “none is too many” become an American position so fast and furious.