Sunday, February 23, 2014

De Blasio and the Press

            New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio had better get used to the media heat—or he will undermine the ambitious—and important—things he is trying to do.

            Storming out of a press conference last week when pressed on his caravan going through stop signs and speeding, documented by a TV crew, was not smart. After de Blasio refused to answer reporters’ questions and rushed for the door, journalists called out challenges about the new mayor’s promised “transparency.”

            Thus the New York Daily News story began: “Mayor de Blasio blew off tough questions Friday about as fast as he blew past the speed limit.” The caption on the accompanying photo: “Mayor de Blasio didn’t answer questions at a press conference regarding speeding revelations.”
            A week before, de Blasio was refusing to talk about a call he made to a high-ranking New York Police Department official after a political ally was arrested on outstanding warrants after an alleged traffic infraction. “Mayor Won’t Discuss Call,” was the Newsday’s headline.
            De Blasio has called himself a “very progressive guy with very progressive goals;” indeed commentators have been comparing him to Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. The central theme of the de Blasio campaign was the “tale of two cities”—how New York City has increasingly become a town where only the wealthy can afford to live. He has committed to change that.
            As a result, like the reform-minded LaGuardia, he will be condemned by conservative forces, including those in the press. That has already begun. The Economist magazine last week attacked how “New York’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, a union-backed Democrat, wants to hobble charters,” referring to charter schools. A caption on a photo accompanying this story: “Down with good schools, says New York’s mayor.” The article’s headline: “Killing the golden goose.”
            De Blasio’s planned efforts to build back public education in New York City, greatly expand affordable housing and similar initiatives will meet resistance—and press criticism. (LaGuardia ran into a lot of this.)
How should de Blasio best handle this?
The best model would be another former New York City Mayor, Ed Koch.
”He was the most open-to-the-press mayor that New York City has ever had,” Arthur Browne, a reporter for the New York Daily News stated on the death of Koch at 88 last year. Browne recalled how Koch conducted no-holds-barred question and answer sessions with the press daily.
And Koch could be feisty—in fact most of the time he was, to great advantage.
I recall when Koch was running for New York State governor in 1982. I was co-anchoring the nightly news on WSNL-TV on Long Island and he came to be interviewed. I pressed him on his being on what was then largely Republican turf seeking votes. “I’m here to rescue you!” he shot back instantly, with a big smile.
Whether about traffic or police matters or substantive political issues involving his visions for changing the city, that’s how de Blasio needs to deal with the press.  He should engage with the media constantly, answering every question thrown at him, coming back with honesty, strength and, when the occasion provides, humor.
Being thin-skinned, a progressive press-hostile Nixonian, will not help de Blasio’s cause.
De Blasio knows how to shovel snow from in front of his house in Brooklyn and making it into a media event. That’s easy. Keeping his cool, using humor, keeping his eyes on the prize of a better city when caught in inevitable conflicts with media, that’s harder—and most necessary if the new mayor is to succeed.                                                    

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

"Fukushima: Lessons for the World"

With the third anniversary of the start of the continuing Fukushima nuclear catastrophe soon here, Part 1 of "Fukushima: Lessons for the World" is now up at

An EnviroVIdeo Special, it is the first of five EnviroVideo programs on the important conference held last year on the disaster. Hudson Riverkeeper Paul Gallay moderates, and Part 1 includes a special message from Jean-Michel Cousteau, president of Ocean Futures Society, and then former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan speaks -- explaining how he has turned "180-degrees" away from a technology he once supported.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Chris Christie: The Decline and fall of "Corporate America's Candidate" for President

            I have wondered why much of the U.S. mainstream media had been promoting Chris Christie. Television stresses “likability” in on-air personalities and guests, a high “Q-score.” But there was the governor of our neighboring state of New Jersey—mean-spirited, given to vicious attacks on people—a fixture as a guest on TV, especially on NBC’s Today show. Why were big corporate media boosting, cheerleading for this neo-Nixon?
The U.S. business press can be revealing sometimes and the current issue of Fortune is about Christie with an article headed: “Chris Christie: Can Corporate America’s Candidate Get Out of This Jam?”

            The “Chamber of Commerce wing of the GOP had singled out Christie—a pro-business, pro-Wall Street, tough-on-unions blue-stater—as its best hope for a friend in the White House after eight years in the wilderness,” reports the piece written by Tory Newmyer.
“Until this crucible” known as “Bridgegate,” Christie “had been the beneficiary of a national press corps that celebrated his straight talk shtick...That treatment helped inflate his profile well beyond his home state...”
Will the scandal sink Christie’s pursuit of becoming president of the U.S.? Not for one Christie backer cited in the piece, Dan Lufkin, “co-founder of storied Wall Street firm Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette,” who praises “Christie’s response to the bridge mess.” Lufkin is quoted as saying: “He took quick drastic action...It’s another demonstration of his straightforwardness.” The piece also acknowledges: “When the fuller story of the traffic troubles is revealed, however, that Christie image could wobble badly enough to collapse; his advantage is that he may have time to repair the damage. If he can’t, conversations with party wise men and Wall Street donors suggest a troubling fact for the Garden Stater: Establishment esteem for him runs wide but not particularly deep.”
The Christie explosion isn’t unexpected. “He was a ticking time bomb as a politician. It was only a matter of time before he blew up,” wrote Michael Cohen in the British newspaper The Guardian after Bridgegate began unfolding.  
In 2012 Mitt Romney realized the deep downsides of Christie when he searched for a vice presidential running mate and found Christie lacking, according to the book Double Down.  Among negative things found by the Romney camp in vetting Christie, says the book, were his free-spending habits as a U.S. attorney, problematic clients when he was a lobbyist and a lawsuit for defamation he settled with an apology. These and other matters constituted “a host of potential red flags pertaining to his record,” reported The Washington Post in an article in November headlined: “What Mitt Romney learned about Chris Christie in 2012 and why it matters for 2016.”
Of Bridgegate, “What’s so damaging to Christie about these revelations is that they expose him and his brain trust as breathtakingly venal and vindictive,” stated Joshua Green on Bloomberg Businessweek.
New Jersey native, writer and humorist Marvin Kitman, in his  online “The Christie Chronicles,” has been writing about “The Decline and Fall of the Christie Empire.”  In the installment “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Christie?” Kitman tells how his “progressive friends” have been watching excerpts from the marathon 108-minute Christie press conference “expecting that every time the governor denied knowing anything about the GWB [George Washington Bridge] lane closures, his nose would grow longer, the so-called Pinocchio Effect in jurisprudence.”  Those claims of no knowledge are now unraveling. Kitman predicts that: “Is the governor guilty will be a regular feature on TV news, like the weather and sports, until 2016.” Earlier, in 2011, the sage Kitman declared: “I want Governor Chris Christie to run for president. It’s the best way to get him out of the state.”
Chris Christie will hopefully go down as a hot-tempered, hyper-ambitious politician inflated in importance by a good chunk of U.S. media delighted to promote “Corporate America’s Candidate” for president.  Hopefully, the nasty, ethically-challenged Christie will fade—before doing some huge national, indeed international, damage.