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Fake News

David Berger


I woke up this morning to read of the passing of gossip columnist, Liz Smith. Full disclosure: I have never read her column. I never read gossip columns, watch those shows on TV, or read or watch that stuff on Facebook, but I felt sad when I heard of Ms. Smith’s death. Maybe it’s a sign of the times—we don’t need her kind anymore.


I’ll be honest; I’ve always liked her. I’ve seen her many times on TV, either on news shows or being interviewed. Unlike all her competitors, she liked and admired the people she reported on, and what’s more, they liked her. In a Kield Killed with columnists like Walter Winchell, Louella Parsons, and Hedda Hopper, who lived to expose and humiliate their subjects, and thus wield power over them, Ms. Smith treaded the Kine line between fan worship and news reporting.


She knew all these interesting people and let us into their lives in a way that we get to know people. When neighbors move in down the block, we chat with them on the front lawn and then over a cup of coffee. We don’t peek through their bedroom window.


Before Rupert Murdoch bought Fox, Channel 5 in New York had a morning news format show, Good Day New York, that I enjoyed watching. It’s been many years since I’ve watched any of those morning shows, and it seems odd that I watched one back then. Anchorman Jim Ryan and weatherman Dave Price were intelligent, informative, witty and entertaining. For about 10 years Liz Smith did a segment on the show. This is how I got to know her. I don’t like gossip, but I liked her.


I could tell that Jim Ryan liked her. When she left, she was replaced with a typical young gossipmonger who was treated with total disdain by Ryan. I understood immediately what was happening. We went from hearing amusing tidbits about celebrities to mean-spirited gossip. Naturally, Jim Ryan was given a retirement package. Hate sells.


So, maybe it’s just as well that Liz Smith is no longer alive to have to bear witness to a world that views kindness, fairness, and love as weakness. Amidst all the furor over sexual abuse in Hollywood (but curiously not in the White House—that’s old news), CBS Sunday Morning aired a segment on Tina Brown. Again, I never read any of her magazines, but I like her.


When I was growing up, magazines were all the rage—Time, Newsweek, Life, Look, Esquire, Playboy, Sports Illustrated, etc. In my house we read tons of them. If we didn’t have a subscription, one of us would pick up a copy at a newsstand and bring it home for the rest of the family. Who could have predicted that TV and the Internet would replace print journalism? By the 1970s, sales were already dropping, and one by one magazines were giving up the ghost.


But along came this British babe to the rescue to turn Vanity Fair, a publication with modest circulation and an identity problem, into a major player. Her policy was to be holistic and not shy away from controversy. The only Vanity Fair article that I remember reading was David Hajdu’s piece on Duke Ellington that, among other things, suggested that the Maestro may have had some homosexual experiences. This rankled the homophobes in the jazz world—how could our most notorious womanizer be interested in sex with men? Honestly, I heard rumors for decades about all that, and never knew what to do with them. If he did, so what? If he didn’t, so what, too.


There was a focus in this CBS piece about Ms. Brown’s relationship over the years with Donald Trump. She said that she initially found him to be charming, but as he gained notoriety, he became “impossible to deal with.” She once sent a reporter to his office to interview him, and the reporter noticed a copy of Hitler’s speeches in the office. Trump was furious when this was mentioned in print.


I’ve been comparing Trump’s strategies to Hitler since he announced his candidacy two years ago. I know that we are not supposed to compare anyone to Hitler, but oddly enough, Trump learned how to manipulate the public from Roy Cohn, the homosexual Jewish lawyer that also mentored Richard Nixon and Joseph McCarthy and brought us blacklisting in the late 1940s and ’50s. I naturally thought that since Trump doesn’t read, he learned Hitler’s techniques from Cohn. I didn’t care about Trump before he ran for office, so I didn’t remember that article. But, what does this tell us?


For those that think that Trump is a stupid, narcissistic asshole, I agree with you, but you have to admit that he is very adept at manipulating people. I say that because he did his homework in this area. He doesn’t know anything about policy, history, art, or even how to have human emotions, but he understands how to prey upon people’s fears, discredit his detractors, and ally himself with people who will help him through intimidation. Do you remember when the Republican Party was the bastion of conservatism? Now conservatives are fleeing the party, resigning or giving up their principles rather than let the majority of our citizens rule.


Last night, I watched the season finale of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on HBO. I found my self at once laughing and feeling sick to my stomach as Oliver spent the majority of the show explaining what Trump is up to and why our Republic is in serious danger. Weirdly, Oliver was very funny, but it’s no joke. It’s like Global Warming/Climate Change. You can ignore it, but it’s happening with or without you.


Coincidentally, I got a phone call Saturday morning from some organization doing a poll about New York City politics. The woman asked me my age and income. I don’t know if that affected the rest of the questions, but mostly they concerned old and poor people in the city. How did she get my number? After I rated the seriousness of a handful of issues, she asked if I would be willing to become active.


God, that made me feel guilty! Here I am shooting my mouth and computer off about all the injustice in the world, and I’m not willing to ladle soup in a homeless shelter or even make fundraising phone calls. I’ve always used the excuse that my talent is making music that raises people’s consciousness, so that we all become healthier and stop abusing drugs, beating our wives and starting wars. It’s a long process, but in 1000 years or so, maybe people will look back and say, “That Mozart, Beethoven, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and all of those great musicians, they really started the ball rolling, so now we finally live in a peaceful and prosperous world, where everyone is respected and treated fairly.”


So, that’s my long-range subversive plan—Left Wing snowflake that I am. But, what about today? If the music isn’t working quickly enough or reaching enough people, I’ll keep writing these little essays. For those of you that are pissed off that I didn’t speak directly about music today, I promise that I’ll hit it hard in my next installment. I just felt that I had to say something this morning about Liz Smith because she is no longer around to remind us to be nice to one another. I rarely have a drink at lunch, but today I’m going to lift a glass of Chardonnay in honor of our fallen heroine in the war for civility. Ever onward and upward.

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