January 2008

January 31, 2008

Rock Stars at the Kodak


HOLLYWOOD – The Kodak Theater, home of the Oscars, was packed to the gills with stars tonight. But for once, the likes of Steven Spielberg, Rob Reiner, Stevie Wonder, Fran Drescher and Brad Whitford showed up to worship someone else. Two someone elses. The debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the final showdown before next Tuesday’s 22 primaries, had the aura of a rock concert. People cheered, they whooped, they booed and, at the end, they leaped to their feet. What a change from the Republican debate the night before, which had double the candidates, a fraction of the audience and none of the giddy atmospherics. Both Clinton and Obama were on their game, and seemed flush with the excitement of the historic nature of the night, held in the very heart of liberal Hollywood. For once, Hillary Clinton seemed to find warm, engaging notes to strike, and even reached for inspiration. She responded to one question about being the nation’s CEO, “The U.S. government is much more than a business. It is a trust. It’s not out to make a profit….” Obama found an early moment to place one of his deeper thoughts: “I don’t think the choice is about black and white or gender or religion. The stakes are, are we looking to the past, or going forward? Is it about the past, or about the future?” Still, the bottom line was that there seemed precious little substance to divide the candidates; both gave the impression of utter competence and basic decency, and the crowd gave them love, love, love. After the debate, Clinton and Obama stood at the edge of the stage, signing one autograph after another.  And the candidates? They actually hugged.

And Then There Were Four. 3 1/2?

Debate The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library sits nestled at the edge of a breathtaking ridge of verdant mountains in Simi Valley. You can see them through the main hall of the building, where an actual Air Force One Jet occupies the center of the room, on display before a wall of panelled glass. At last night's debate, the four remaining Republican candidates were perched on a stage with the glass behind them on one side, and the airplane behind them on the other. (You can count them generously as three and a half, since neither Mike Huckabee nor Ron Paul seem to count as an actual whole.) Rudy Giuliani came by to throw his support to John McCain after having withdrawn from the race, and Ron Paul supporters practically stopped traffic at the entrance to the library. Nancy Reagan wore red, o' course. It was a staid affair, in all, until it got to Iraq. Then McCain went straight for Mitt Romney's kidneys, contrasting Romney's lack of experience in national security with his own career. They got in an acrimonious back and forth over whether Romney had called for a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, but McCain really ended the conversation when he said: "I am raising the question of whether you have the experience and judgement to lead this country in a time of war, and I'll continue to raise it. I've raised it many times." Ouch. On the other hand, the questioners - Janet Hook of the L.A. Times and Anderson Cooper of CNN - got McCain to admit that he wouldn't vote for his own immigration bill, were it to come to the floor today. Well done.

January 24, 2008

A Stunning Raid

Lacma_raid Quick breaking news: a stunning raid by federal agents on four museums -- including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art -- and one art gallery in California this morning, seeking evidence on suspicion of trafficking in looted art, mainly from Asia. Here is the carefully prepared piece by the L.A. Times that has just gone up on its web-site, which notes this major development: "The 120 pages of search warrants filed publicly today paint a picture of rampant fraud and theft. The documents suggest that the involvement of American museums in the purchase of looted art is far more extensive than even recent high-profile scandals have indicated." Here's the full story, and I will update later. (Tune in to Patt Morrison on KPCC today at 2 pm, where I will be discussing the issue in her segment on this news break.) Update: Here is the New York Times version of the story, finally.

January 17, 2008

Obama Was Here

Obama11608 In Van Nuys, yesterday. Just a quick image because that's why I went - to lay eyes on the guy. Obama sat and talked to four entirely non-random citizens of Los Angeles, all of whom were in hock to credit card companies up to their ears. They asked for relief from predatory lending. Obama listened, and condemned the practice. Still, even if he's president it is hard to see how he can stop Visa from calling you at home to offer 0% APR for four months. "I'm cautious about making promises I can't keep," he told them. "I can't implement the proposals I've made unless we get more (Democratic) people elected to Congress, reduce lobbying and until the American people start paying more attention."

January 11, 2008

There I Go Again

Globe I wrote an op-ed article in today's Los Angeles Times revisiting one of my favorite causes: cleaning up the Golden Globes. It's titled, "Hollywood's Con Job." This year's cancellation of the show gives NBC what I call "a golden opportunity" to make the Hollywood Foreign Press Association finally open its ranks to the quantity and quality of journalists that would make the awards worthy of being aired on a broadcast network. I write, "The Globes have long been the entertainment industry's dirty little secret. At the heart of the con is the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., the tiny, cliquish group of foreign entertainment journalists -- and I use each of those terms liberally -- whose votes determine the winners." To be clear: my beef is with NBC, and far less with the 82-member HFPA. The group  can hold all the awards it wants, but the telecast has them swimming in cash -- $6 million a year -- and this has created an absurd situation, a charade propped up by all of Hollywood. I write, "The fact is, the financial weight of the awards show creates intolerable pressure for members. There is constant worry that some misstep will put their prize in jeopardy -- the money that pays for trips to film festivals for members, and the status that this year got them invited to drinks with George Clooney and tea with Keira Knightley. The group needs, finally, to open its membership to a far broader pool, to encourage membership of bona fide journalists and critics -- maybe even domestic ones. With the timeout provided by the strike, NBC Universal President and Chief Executive Jeff Zucker can make this happen. He should fix the Golden Globes or take them off the air for good." Read the rest

January 10, 2008

Making Changes

A quick announcement to friends and readers:

As many of you know, I have spent the last six months on book leave, with the intent of returning to a new position at the Times, based in New York. During that time I have also being thinking hard about the future, and as of this week have left The Times to pursue a different path.

Journalism is going through tectonic changes. To some, this is a very scary time for our profession. Like many colleagues, I have observed the shrinking of American newsrooms with concern, and watched closely the continuing decline in print readership along with the price of newspaper stocks. With that has come a caution and paranoia in American newsrooms that is not healthy for the vibrant debate crucial to a democratic society.

To me, this is a very exciting time. The shifting winds are bringing with them new opportunities to reshape the form our journalism takes, and to reignite the enthusiasm of readers. The web provides us with endlessly rich tools to pursue our craft, and to create communities who engage in dialogue with writers, readers and with the people we cover. I have been busy gathering a team of top people to pursue that very goal, and hope to be able to announce a concrete project in the next few months.

In the meantime, thanks for keeping the faith.