William Safire moves on to another plane

I would hope Mr. Safire, who passed away Sunday at age 79, might appreciate the title of this piece I write in his memory (The New York Times for whom he wrote an op-ed column for 32 years preferred the word “article” for his columns, but he used the word “piece” at times himself), as he was a master punster – as well as a profound alliterator, just to name two of his laudable attributes.

As with other noted communicators, how he used language was of importance in its own right separate and apart from his subject matter, and it is how he used language, and how he attempted to advance the use of language that I praise irrespective of the topics he chose.

Language is a building material for communication, and William Safire must be considered an architect extraordinaire of and for language.

While the accomplishments of his career are certainly impressive in themselves – from the “kitchen debate” he has been associated with orchestrating between Nixon and Khrushchev in 1959 to the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1978 to the Presidential Medal for Freedom in 2006, with over 25 books including 4 novels, and as he calculated it some 6 million words to his credit, it is the New York Times Magazine column “On Language” , which must be considered synonymous with his name.

Safire suggests (apocryphally or not) that “On Language” got its start in 1979 because the Times executive editor,  A. M. Rosenthal, needed a topical column that would work in the Times Magazine which had back then a 10 day publishing lag. To borrow from the idiom, The press grinds slow but exceedingly fine. From that pragmatic beginning until his last “On Language” column just earlier this month, with several compendiums along the way, William Safire pointed out how language is used and should be used. He has enlightened and enlivened the debate. Some say he was “old school”, yet one of his most strongly held views was regarding the importance of openness to change, to new beginnings – “Never Retire” he urged in one of the last of his op-ed columns. In fact, his body of work will continue to be employed in the interest of language, and that’s as it should be, afterall, he was the self-described language maven – noun: an expert or connoisseur of language.

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/09/28/william-safire-moves-on-to-another-plane/

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Dominick Dunne leaves his mark

Vanity Fair, the publication with which he had a 25 year association beginning in  1984 until his death on Wednesday, referred to Dominick Dunne in memorializing him as “our dearly departed diarist”.  Noted communicators contribute in many  genres and Dunne was the past master at his, chronicling the rich and infamous.  In Letter from Los Angeles, L.A. in the Age of O.J.  published in Vanity Fair in February 1995 as Dunne covered the O.J. Simpson Trial he wrote: “The Simpson case is like a great trash novel come to life, a mammoth fireworks display of interracial marriage, love, lust, lies, hate, fame, wealth, beauty, obsession, spousal abuse, stalking, brokenhearted children, the bloodiest of bloody knife-slashing homicides, and all the justice that money can buy.” Dunne’s reportage was like a story that invariably was irresistible, not surprising for a writer who had five bestselling novels.

He started his career in New York City as stage  manager for The Howdy Doody Show and in 1957 moved to Hollywood where he produced both television and feature films, all experiences which one senses played a part in developing his approach to writing. When life in the fast lane (in the form of substance abuse) caught up with him he took himself in hand and into seclusion in Oregon and at the age of 50 began to reinvent himself as a writer.

His profiles of the likes of Imelda Marcos, Robert Mapplethorpe, Elizabeth Taylor, Adnan Khashoggi, and others are works of art in their own right.

To read some of Dunne’s best go to Vanity Fair’s Dominick Dunne Archive http://bit.ly/yMwu2

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/08/27/dominick-dunne-leaves-his-mark/

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Don Hewitt, father of modern TV news

What do Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Mike Wallace, and Andy Rooney, have in common?  The answer, Don Hewitt, who died on Wednesday, August 19,  after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He touched them all, with his brilliance as an innovator in broadcast journalism. His decades of excellence in the TV media he embraced and helped shape, were proceeded by his experience in print media both as a reporter and also as an editor for the photo division of United Press wire service, the early years serving him well as he translated in his own inimitable way the lessons he learned along the way to create something new, as he experimented and visualized the possibilities of  a nascent medium, television.

In the process he gave us Edward R. Murrow’s See It Now and Person to Person; The Kennedy/Nixon Presidential Debates, the first of its kind; The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite,  and what he himself considered his crowning achievement, 60 Minutes, which has featured  among  many noted correspondents and commentators Mike Wallace and Andy Rooney to name just two.

The accolades and honors Don Hewitt has received are multitudinous from Emmys to Peabodys. Last year he most fittingly received the Edward R. Murrow Lifetime Achievement Award.

Charlie Rose, who was associated with 60 Minutes himself,  has said that what mattered most to Don Hewitt was “how to best tell a story”.  It may be added, how best to tell a story using the medium of television. Hewitt told the best stories on TV, which is one reason why he most certainly must be considered a father of modern television itself.

Marshall Mcluhan (see previous post – http://bit.ly/aRoQG) promulgated the concept that the medium is the message. Don Hewitt intuitively understood the meaning of this fundamental concept underlying all effective communication.

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/08/20/don-hewitt-father-of-modern-tv-news/

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Robert Novak, 1931-2009

I can’t remember ever agreeing with anything Robert Novak said or wrote about, but I thoroughly enjoyed his style of communicating his ideas. He took on a public persona which “earned” him the nickname the “Prince of Darkness” which he embraced to the extent of using the moniker in the title of his memoir: The Prince of Darkness, 50 Years  Reporting in Washington.

Novak held the distinction of having the longest running syndicated political column (edging out William F. Buckley Jr. due to Buckley’s own death in 2008).  His rich history in journalism and broadcasting included stints as a political correspondent with AP, chief congressional correspondent for the Wall St. Journal, and of course his involvement with “The Capital Gang”, “Crossfire”, and “Evans, Novak, Hunt, & Shields”. He even had a go at teaching as the Radford Visiting Professor of Journalism at Baylor University. For all of this and more in 2001 the National Press Club bestowed on Novak its Fourth Estate Award for lifetime achievement in journalism. His verve and personality will sorely be missed.

Maybe it was his penchant for digging deep (think – “deep throat” deep) to get a story, but Novak did “dig” up some controversy over the years, not the least of which involved the CIA leak case.

Nevertheless, whichever side of the aisle you may be on, Robert Novak deserves the epithet, “noted communicator” which this blog grants with great discretion to those persons who have made a name for themselves through their endeavors relating to the field of communications.  Robert Novak,  a.k.a. the “Prince of Darkness”, made such a name for himself.

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/08/19/robert-novak-1931-2009/

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Walter Cronkite – the icon dies

He reported the exact time of John F. Kennedy’s death – 1 p.m. central, 2 p.m. eastern time. He took off his dark rimmed glasses, looked up at the clock in the studio and reported “38 minutes ago”; then in one of the rare instances on record, he choked up a little for a second or so – then gathered his composure and continued with the fact that vice-president Lyndon Johnson had left the hospital, that it was not known where he was “proceeding”, and that he would presumably be taking the oath of office.

Later, in his administration, Johnson would react to Cronkite’s suggestion that the Vietnam war would end in a “stalemate” by saying “If we’ve lost Cronkite, we’ve lost Middle America.” Upon his return from a fact finding mission to Vietnam Cronkite felt compelled to voice his opinion on the war on the air; since he never rendered an opinion in his on-air role, considering it his journalistic obligation to be objective and report the facts, the weight of this statement influenced a nation.

 Last night Walter Cronkite, exact time unknown, died. His is the voice many of us still hear in our heads reporting most of the major events during  just about all of the 20th century.

With uncanny coincidence his death coincides with the 40th anniversary of the space mission that put men on the moon; a mission he famously reported. It was another of those few occasions when he was overwhelmed momentarily by the magnitude of the event he was reporting – rubbing his hands together, smiling with glee – and in this way, accurately representing the feeling of all America – and of much of the world – at that moment of human achievement.

Why is Cronkite a communications icon?  For many reasons and in particular, because his work represents one of the standards by which broadcast journalism should be judged. It is said of Cronkite that he was trusted by all America. That trust was earned. It was cultivated through insistence on digging for the facts, getting it right, reporting it plainly, and without bias – telling the people what they needed to know, not necessarily what they wanted to know: Integrity is the word that comes to mind, reporting with integrity.

Now we are plied with an orgy of celebrity “news” ad nauseam; we are committed to a 24/7 news cycle that brings us a repetition of news which can actually numb our sensitivity to what is happening in the world around us; we are bombarded with opinion journalism – take your choice, and indeed that is what we invariably do, instead of demanding the truth, we tune in our favorite news slant, to confirm our perspective and tune out all else.

The Anchorman has died.

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/07/18/walter-cronkite-the-icon-dies/

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John Madden quits the game

I cannot let the retirement announcement by John Madden yesterday pass without mention.

This blog has a category for “noted communicators” for a reason, and Madden is in that category. For those that may not consider the name a household word (and many would) John Madden has been the face of pro football in broadcasting for some thirty -wait numbers matter in sports, let’s make that “30” years, maybe even put it on a jersey.

Even non-sports fans recognize the guy from his shall we say dabbling in commercial endorsements such as for Ace Hardware – for those who can’t understand why Madden is a perfect spokesman for Ace, I’ll explain: for the same reason he was a perfect game analyst with all four networks, CBS(1979-94), Fox (1994-2002), ABC (2002-05), NBC (2005-09); he was as they say in sports “a natural”, down to earth everyman who just happened to know how to communicate about the game in such a way that it made sense, or in some cases nonsense. He did indeed have a unique way with words, and his enthusiasm for his sport was apparent and infectious. He knew the game started in the mud and dirt and that’s what he caught, the essence of it all.

Sports broadcasting will not be the same without him.

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/04/17/john-madden-quits-the-game/

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Aaron Brown is back

I am ecstatic. I have just realized that Aaron Brown will be back hosting the PBS “Wide Angle” series starting in July! Wait, let me calm myself, take a deep breath and then I’ll explain why I am so thrilled to be the bearer of this good news. (taking breath…).

OK, first of all here’s some important background. In a nutshell, Aaron Brown, for whom an argument can be made that he compares favorably with such master communicators in broadcasting (each in their respective specialties mind you) as Walter Winchell, Edward R. Murrow, and Walter Cronkite, anchored CNN’s primetime news show and will always be remembered for his 9/11 coverage.

There are a number of versions of the CNN story I grant. However, to make a long story short, my assessment was and remains that the format and the anchor were thought to be to un-hip for the audience CNN was going after (read younger). So he was summarily dismissed. Subsequently, Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism (named so in honor of Walter Cronkite) decided Brown was good enough to become the inaugural Walter Cronkite Professor of Journalism at the school. At the time Cronkite, who had gone after Brown for the position, stated that “His passion for our profession and his commitment to its highest standards of objectivity and fairness has been the hallmark of his work, and will be a source of great inspiration for our students.”

Enter PBS, with the foresight to recognize a professional when they see and hear one.  “Wide Angle” was started in 2001 and PBS considers it “the only program exclusively dedicated to international current affairs documentaries.” Anyway they tapped Brown for the hosting assignment last April, so this will be his second season with the program.

Aaron Brown is a model for what makes a noted communicator, which is why I call him to your attention. His background, his public demeanor, his presentation skills, all are exemplary in this regard. But you can see for yourself. Watch the series to air starting in July, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on most PBS stations. In the meantime, watch and listen to a brief Brown video promo for the series and I think you’ll be convinced as am I that this is no ordinary broadcast journalist. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/wideangle/about-the-series/introduction/31/wnet/wideangle/episodes/conversations-with-aaron-brown/introducing-wide-angle-host-aaron-brown/1808/

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/04/12/aaron-brown-is-back/

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