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JFK-50: Ask Not What Calbuzz Can Do For You….

Friday, November 15th, 2013

jfkOn Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, a Dallas pedestrian, upon learning that President John F. Kennedy had been murdered in his town, whooped and threw his Stetson in the air. In a nearby wealthy suburb, students in a fourth-grade class cheered at hearing the news.

At Walnut Hills High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, principal Philip McDevitt made the announcement over the P.A. system, stunning students, some of whom burst into tears. Nobody knew what it meant or what would happen next.

Thousands of miles away, a U.S. military officer and future newshound on a 72-hour pass was hunkered down in a swank hotel with a couple fifths of booze and a hooker. He wouldn’t emerge until Monday, perhaps the last person in America to find out about the assassination.

November 22, like September 11 four decades later and December 7 a quarter-century before,  is an iconic signifier in America history, one of those dates when everyone old enough to remember recalls where they were, whom they were with and how they reacted.

As the nation prepares to mark the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination next Friday, those memories will surface yet again, representing a moment of cultural inflection in the country whose facts, impact and meaning have been disputed and debated ever since.

In honor of the event, Calbuzz invites our readers to share your personal recollections of the astonishing events of that day and those that followed – from Kennedy, Jackie and the Trade Mart to Oswald, Ruby and Parkland Hospital. Email up to one hundred crisply composed words, no more – no speechifying please – to calbuzzer@gmail.com.  Sign with your name and your hometown and we’ll post from them next week. Thanks for the memories.

IMF Head-Perp WalkDeath of a President: Not surprisingly, TV networks and every cable channel in creation will air countless hours of programming about the assassination in coming days, with many certain to feature commentary and speculation about alleged conspiracies, both imaginary and well-researched, about who was responsible for Kennedy’s killing.

A History Channel documentary, for example, reports there are at least 311 separate conspiracy theories abroad in the land, which collectively implicate 42 groups, 81 assassins and 214 people (and, let’s face it, who’s going to check their stats?) Approximately 2,000 books about the assassination have been published since 1963, so it’s not unexpected that large majorities of Americans reject the Warren Commission’s central finding about the murder:

Polls find that between 60 and 80 percent of Americans reject the idea that Lee Harvey Oswald acting alone killed Kennedy.  In fact, more Americans believe that a shadowy conspiracy was behind a president’s death 50 years ago than know who Joe Biden is.

Why are Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories so popular?  The distinguishing feature of a successful conspiracy theory is power, and the Kennedy assassination has that in spades.

 The victim was an American president and the potential villains include actors of immense reach and influence. There are so many accused conspirators that anyone, regardless of political affiliation, can find a detested powerful actor to blame.  For those on the right there is Lyndon Johnson, Fidel Castro and the Soviet Union; for the left there is Lyndon Johnson, defense contractors  and the military.  And this is only a partial list.

Dealey_Plaza_2003No paranoids allowed: Given all this, we were bemused to learn that the city fathers and mothers of Dallas are making a special effort to cut conspiracy theorists and assassination researchers out of the action when Big D commemorates the 50th anniversary. Civic leaders are hoping for a bright and glistening, see-hear-speak-no-evil whitewash of the city’s role in the horror of Nov. 22, according to a must-read National Journal piece by Marin Cogan:

They don’t intend to use the word assassination. The event “is all about acknowledging the life, legacy, and leadership of the 35th president, not the moment 50 years ago,” says one of the press handlers helping with the ceremony. Historian David McCullough will read from Kennedy speeches, the U.S. Naval Academy Men’s Glee Club will sing, religious leaders will offer prayers. A ceremonial flyover will take place, and church bells will ring throughout the city. Around 12:30 p.m., participants will observe a moment of silence.

JFK-MotorcadeeThe only thing that will be missing are some of the people [conspiracy theorists] who have been coming to Dealey Plaza for decades. The city offered only 5,000 tickets, to be distributed through a lottery, and asked applicants to submit to a background check—meaning that most of the assassination researchers will be shut out. “We’ve been doing this for 49 years, and there’s no reason to usurp it,” (assassination aficionado John) Judge says. “We could have been accommodated, but we weren’t—we think, on the basis of our message.”

 The stakes go beyond granting the conspiracists some measure of credibility. For the city, the anniversary may be its best chance to finally put one of the most painful periods in modern American history behind it, an opportunity to show that Dallas has moved beyond the image it cultivated in the assassination era as a polestar of political extremism. To understand the fight between the researchers and the city is to understand how Dealey Plaza became a symbolic battleground for a much larger war over the legacy of Dallas and of how history remembers what happened to JFK.

Seriously Dallas? Isn’t keeping conspiracy theorists out of Dealey Plaza sort of like shooing swallows out of Capistrano?

brussellLone nuts and long books: Back in the day, we confess, at least half of us developed a mad crush via KPFA on Conspiracy Queen Mae Brussell, who led us into spending way too much time obsessed, not only with the grassy knoll, umbrella man and Special Agent James P. Hosty, but also with the Carousel Club, Little Lynn and the capacity and specifications of the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle.

These days, we’re more willing to accept that nut job Oswald probably took it upon himself to off the president, an evolution of belief due in large part to sheer exhaustion from endlessly wading through “Reclaiming History,” the 1.5 million word (sic) examination of assassination evidence by former L.A. Deputy D.A. Vincent Bugliosi, famed for prosecuting Charlie Manson, who spent many of his peak earning years laboring to knock down any and all conspiracy theories burbling anywhere in America.

sorrelsIn service to the national campaign against eye strain, Bugliosi’s publisher recently came out with Parkland, a revised repackaging of  Four Days in November, which is excerpted from the great man’s magnum opus. Parkland is a straight hour-by-hour chronology of everything that happened involving the key characters between the early hours of Nov. 22 and the president’s funeral; it’s a long but pretty easy read, at least if you’re deeply interested, like certain whack jobs (we name no names), in things like what Oswald actually said during the cops’ four interrogations with him; on second thought, just go see the movie version of Parkland, and enjoy Billy Bob Thornton’s fedora-fitted portrayal of  Secret Service honcho Forrest Sorrels instead.

Chronicle Watch: Another day, another soap opera episode at the Hearst Chron. Seems that Joanne Bradford, the online marketing specialist whom corporate brought in just five months ago to apply her brilliance to the task of Saving the Paper, has already jumped ship.

Bradford is leaving for one of those crafting-strategies-for-multi-platform partnerships type jobs we don’t understand at Pinterest, the social scrap booking start-up content sharing service that we also don’t understand. We dare to speculate, however, that her abrupt departure was hastened by one whiff of the New York-based Hearst Corp.’s bureaucracy.

Among other things, her sudden leave-taking left plucky but embattled managing editor Audrey Cooper holding the bag when the New York Times on Wednesday broke the news that the Chron is planning to do away with its superb, beloved and nationally recognized stand-alone Food section, and to fold its content into a new lifestyle section with the tentative (let us pray) catchy title of “Artisan” (Hold the phone Maude – did you see the story in Artisan about making papier mache Christmas ornaments out of recycled newspapers?).

premium_author_bioLike the L.A. Times coverage of the movie industry or the San Jose Mercury News on Silicon Valley, the style, substance and expertise of the Chronicle’s Food section in America’s greatest foodie town has helped define the paper. Under the leadership of indefatigable editor Michael Bauer, it has long entertained and informed readers, while winning a boatload of national awards, not only for its first-rate restaurant and wine reviews, recipes and columns by culinary professionals, but also for news reporting, such as a way-way-ahead-of-the-curve series on childhood obesity in 2002.

Shortly after the Times posted its Chronicle scooplet online, we hear, Cooper and publisher Jeff Johnson, Bradford’s erstwhile executive partner, marched over to the Food department and barked at staffers, who’d been told of the pending change a few days before, for allegedly leaking the news.

Soon after, SF Gate published an odd post by Mad Dog Cooper,  headlined “Managing Editor’s Response to New York Times.” Possibly, it made sense to the newsroom, but any out-of-the-loop Actual Readers who stumbled upon it surely felt as if they’d walked in in the middle of the movie.

Bristling with non sequiturs and management-speak, the 250-word dictat was a murky non-denial denial that read like it was translated from the Swedish:

cooper_audreyWe are reinvesting in this coverage, exploring ways to have it more deeply permeate the entire newspaper while making all newspaper sections even more modern and relevant. We are undergoing a newspaper-wide section-by-section review with the idea that we need to reimagine sections to more intuitive cultural topics that are more aligned with how Northern Californians think and live.

We are exploring several opportunities, testing them with readers and conducting independent research to make sure we’re delivering what our customers need and want. Once we decide on a path, we will make sure to celebrate it — just as we celebrate the amazing Northern California food culture.

I’d love to tell everyone right now what we’re going to do. The truth is that we haven’t decided it yet. But I can tell everyone unequivocally that our top priority is to continue doing the nation’s best coverage of Northern California food and wine.

Thank goodness we cleared that up.

Coming Monday: We’ll publish a special op-ed by San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed about his ballot initiative on public employee pensions. Reed’s piece follows an opposing view we posted this week from Steve Maviglio, spokeshuman for the labor-backed Californians for Retirement Security.

Press Clips: Lara Logan Gets Her Just Desserts

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

laraloganThose who love to wallow in schadenfreude when Mean Girls get their comeuppance (we name no names) surely are amused by the karmic predicament of “60 Minutes” breathy star diva correspondent Lara Logan.

The Lois Lane of CBS’s iconic news magazine, Logan no doubt has suffered a sudden and sharp decline in her Q Score, amid a network apology tour in which she’s skinned back on an erstwhile blockbuster story concerning the 2012 terrorist attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.

Logan and her CBS cohort foisted said story on viewers and Everyone Who Matters in Washington as a global exclusive that all but shouted j’accuse! at the White House and State Department for bungling the military response to the attack and then covering up its own ineptitude, for crassly partisan reasons.

Alas, the piece turned out to have been exclusive for a very good reason: it wasn’t true.

Logan’s smear job: Those who’ve been drunk or passed out for the last week may find remedial reading in the day-by-day reporting ably done by Michael Calderone and the lefty Media Matters (or just watch Colbert’s re-enactment); we are gathered together here today simply to praise and witness the mighty power of divine retribution in clobbering Logan for her past bad behavior, when for no good reason she very publicly personally attacked and professionally smeared the since-deceased freelance investigative reporter Michael Hastings*.

hastingsIn June 2010, Hastings’s Rolling Stone piece “The Runaway General,” caused a major kerfuffle in Washington when it exposed the top military commander in Afghanistan and his brain trust, under the influence of 13 or 14 alcoholic beverages, bad-mouthing U.S. policy in the region and trash-talking top Administration officials responsible for it. Whereupon Logan and fellow media scumbag Howard Kurtz (who’s since been canned both by CNN and Daily Beast, his former employers) took it upon themselves to portray Hastings as a liar, challenging his otherwise undisputed reporting – without a shred of evidence:

(Kurtz’s) show began with a long distance interview with Hastings, who was then still in Afghanistan, in which Kurtz tried to channel Mike Wallace, asking the writer a series of confrontational questions, and consistently interrupting when Hastings tried to answer.

He followed with a segment featuring Lara Logan, chief foreign correspondent for CBS News, whom he noticeably did not interrupt, instead letting her spout off freely and proceed to basically call Hastings a two-faced liar and challenge his otherwise undisputed reporting:

“Michael Hastings, if you believe him, says that there no ground rules laid out. And, I mean, that just doesn’t really make a lot of sense to me….I mean, I know these people. They never let their guard down like that. To me, something doesn’t add up here. I just – I just don’t believe it.

Well, all righty then. If Lara Logan doesn’t believe it, notwithstanding that she has no, you know, facts to sustain her very strong feelings, hell that’s good enough for us.

lara_logan_dylan_daviesAnd another thing (or three): Logan’s 90-second “apology,” shoe horned at the end of Sunday night’s “60 Minutes” broadcast, was nearly as misleading as the original report, making it seem that the show simply erred by making room for a couple of quotes from Dylan Davies — aka Morgan Jones — a shady security contractor and apparent pathological liar: “We realized we had been misled,” by Davies, Logan said, “and it was a mistake to include him in our report.”

“It was a mistake”? A mistake? Really?

No. A mistake is when you misidentify John Johnson as “Jon Jonson,” say, or confuse Central Standard Time with PST in an NBA tipoff box, or perhaps misstate the atomic weight of cobalt (58.933195 ± 0.000005 u, for those keeping at score at home).

Claiming that inclusion of Davies in the story was “a mistake” is a canard;  the whole story was a mistake because Davies and his wild, untrue tale in essence was the whole story.

dan ratherIt’s also interesting that CBS’s rush job effort to  put this behind them, (as every football player ever charged with a felony has been wont to say) stands in sharp contrast to how the network handled serious reporting flaws in Dan Rather’s “60 Minutes” report on George Bush’s national guard record in 2004. That journalistic flap resulted in an independent commission investigation, convened with trumpets and flourishes, that got four producers fired and effectively cost Rather his job. (And that story was almost certainly true, even if the documentary evidence CBS relied on was fake.)

This time out, CBS has made no apparent effort to uncover fully what went wrong  with Logan’s smelly dead rat of a story. Three possible reasons:

1-“It’s a lot safer pissing off the left than it is pissing off the right.”

LaraLogan2-Simon and Schuster, a subsidiary of CBS, published a memoir by Davies, under its Threshold Editions imprint, two days after the “60 Minutes” report; the book was quickly recalled by S&S once the Logan mess began oozing across the media sphere.

3-Logan’s husband, who wooed and won her in in the Iraq war zone under circumstances that make us blush, has worked as a U.S.-paid security contractor and propagandist in the Mideast; did he know or vouch for Davies to Logan? Surely a rock CBS isn’t eager to kick over.

Update: McClatchy D.C. bureau does a line-by-line deconstruction of the Logan report and finds many more problems than previously disclosed.

*Michael Hastings died in a horrible car crash in L.A. early on the morning of June 18. Given the nature of the crash and what he was working on at the time, a number of conspiracy theories have surfaced about his death. These are addressed and, for our money, put to rest by Benjamin Wallace, whose byline appears on “Who Killed Michael Hastings?” in New York magazine this week.

Op Ed: Reed’s Anti-Pension Drive Enrages Labor

Monday, November 11th, 2013

chuckreedBy Steve Maviglio
Special to Calbuzz

Nearly three weeks ago, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed announced he was taking steps to put a measure on the November 2014 ballot to give local politicians the power to break their promises to teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public employees to provide them with a secure retirement.

Reed, a Democrat, chose a telling venue for the launch of his initiative: Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, whose mission, notes RightWingWatch.com, is “Forging strong ties between right-wing ideologues, right-wing think tanks and right-wing policy makers.”

Reed spent the next 35 minutes union-bashing from a TelePrompter, outlying his plans for a statewide ballot measure. So it was no surprise that at the conclusion of his remarks, an audience member piped up and bluntly told Reed: “I’d like to offer you the opportunity to become a Republican.”

Two weeks later, when Reed officially filed his request for a title and summary with the Attorney General, rolling out “The Pension Reform Act,” it was all about being a progressive.  He framed the measure as a quest to save social services at the local level. Three Democratic mayors joined him in the rollout, along with one Republican.

greenhut_t940_1_r640x375Conservative San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Steven Greenhut could hardly contain himself. “Progressives for Pension Reform” and “Democratic Mayors Lead Pension Reform Effort” were the headlines on two of his pieces. The state’s leading conservative papers chimed in as well with fawning editorials noting a rift in Democratic ranks.

Actual Democrats are Opposed: But alas, there is no rift. Right out of the gate, the state’s leading Democrats blasted the proposal. And aside from Reed himself, not a single big city mayor – Democrat or Republican — joined Reed’s effort. In fact, one of the Democratic mayors that Reed initially had on board is expected to renounce his support this week.

One of the reasons – and perhaps Reed’s biggest dilemma – is that the only money behind the measure is likely to come from right-wing ideologues.  The state’s business community has little interest in changing the pensions of public employees (after all, they  don’t affect the private sector). And the smart money in the state sees it as a sure loser.

Reed won’t say where he’ll get his money from. But the fingerprints of right-wing and Wall Street money already have stained the measure.

Last week, Inside San Jose exposed a $200,000 payment made at the behest of Reed to lay the groundwork for the ballot measure from a Texas-based group. “I’m not going to reveal names, because they’ll end up in your newspaper and people might cause trouble for them,” Reed told the website’s reporter.

taibbiDark and Stormy Money: Shedding light on Reed’s dark money, the reporter tracked it to John Arnold. Described by Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi as “a dickishly ubiquitous young right-wing kingmaker with clear designs on becoming the next generation’s Koch brothers,” Arnold is a Texas billionaire who made his money at Enron.

Needless to say, the thought of Reed’s pension measure being funded by an Enron trader who screwed California during the energy crisis – and who robbed Enron’s employees and tens of thousands of stockholders of their retirement savings – gives Reed’s opponents a Big. Fat. Target.

Reed’s only other reported behests also will give opponents ammunition: $50,000 from former LA Mayor Richard Riordan (who recently abandoned a pension measure in his city after union pressure)

Reed hasn’t decided whether he’ll try to put the measure on the ballot. “Whether it’s 2014 or 2016 is really a political call.”

Privately, leading Republicans are having heartache about putting it on the 2014 ballot.  With what’s shaping up as a lackluster gubernatorial race, they’re counting on a low, targeted turnout to pick up seats in the Legislature and deny Democrats their supermajority.

The thought of unions launching a full-scale organizing war around this ballot measure – where the maviglio-election-talent-web-photospensions of nearly three million public employees stand to be slashed – is probably making GOP Chairman Jim Brulte lose sleep at night. He knows that labor will throw the kitchen sink – and everything else in the house – into this battle, just as they did in their successful Prop 32 fight in 2012.

Steve Maviglio, former press secretary for Gov. Gray Davis and principal at Forza Communications, is spokesperson for Californians for Retirement Security.