Florence Snyder: West Side Story turns 50 tonight, tonight

Tonight, tonight…
 
Moviegoers will have the chance to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the film version of the groundbreaking Broadway musical West Side Story with a one-night only screening in theaters nationwide
 
Socialist movers, Ayn Rand shakers, and every politico in between should do us a favor and see it.
 
Most performing arts fans know that West Side Story is a scene-for-scene retelling of the Romeo and Juliet story.  The 20th century makeover of Shakespeare’s tragic tale of star-crossed lovers separated by their warring clans is set in a 1950s Manhattan slum.  Read all »



Florence Snyder: Happy Father’s Day to all the honorary recipients of the Joseph Snyder Professorship in Generosity

This is my sixth Father’s Day without my father. I can’t say that I miss the heart-to-heart talks because we didn’t have very many.  Like most men of what Tom Brokaw christened “the greatest generation,” Daddy wasn’t an emo guy.

When I was away at school, my mother and grandmother and even my big brother would send me cards and letters filled with neighborhood gossip and newspaper clippings and “I can’t wait ‘til you’re home’
 
Daddy did not write letters. Instead, he’d cook up excuses for unannounced visits and it annoyed me no end to be “checked up on.” Read all »



Florence Snyder: Poisoning the Press

This post is our regular weekly Purple State of Mind feature. Why not hop on over to Purple and read it there instead?

"Poisoning the Press" is a favorite fantasy of politicians caught in the crosshairs of a dogged investigative reporter. It's also the title of a new book about Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson and the Rise of Washington's Scandal Culture.

The author is journalist turned media ethics professor Mark Feldstein. The storytelling skills Feldstein honed over years of Peabody and Emmy award winning reporting make Poisoning the Press a scholarly work wrapped in a rockin' good beach-read. For Village Squares trying to understand how our political culture got so ugly, Feldstein cracks the code.

Using previously classified documents and interviews with folks who were there, the author shows how Nixon and Anderson fed off each other in a twisted, mongoose-and-cobra kind of way. Nixon was obsessed with the press. He spent countless hours talking about journalists, but hardly any time with them.

Feldstein's forensic autopsy of Nixon and Anderson raises an intriguing possibility: What if Nixon had Liz Joyner and other advocates of civil discourse appealing to his better angels instead of a palace guard pandering to his paranoia? Might the two Navy veterans have come together over a burger and a baseball game? Would we have a healthier body politic today?

They would have had lots to talk about. Nixon and Anderson both grew up poor and worked like dogs for the success they craved.

The future president and the future Pulitzer Prize winner both arrived in Washington in 1947. Nixon was a newly-minted congressman and Anderson had landed a job as a legman for Drew Pearson, whose syndicated column, Washington-Merry-Go-Round, Anderson would eventually inherit.

Nixon became Bud Abbott to Anderson's Lou Costello. With no moral compass in his inner circle, straight-man Nixon would take bribes; suborn perjury and stage overseas military coups. Anderson would merrily report all of it, in close to real time.

Nixon's press paranoia grew as Anderson racked up scoop after scoop at his expense. He even toyed with the idea of having Anderson assassinated.

Feldstein concludes that Anderson's coverage of Nixon and Nixon's reaction to Anderson's coverage "has tainted governance and public discourse ever since."

The toxic legacy lives on in Florida. A recent Florida TaxWatch study found that the recession has yet to reach our state's multimillion dollar public relations payroll. TaxWatch documented that communications people out-earn police, prison guards, and social workers who risk their lives to serve and protect.

Real communications people—also known as schoolteachers—are being laid off en masse while Florida's public officials cling to their publicists like Linus to his security blanket.

Thanks to Mark Feldstein for reminding us why this worked badly for Nixon and to TaxWatch for shining a light on how his dark legacy still casts shadows in the Sunshine State.
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Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at lawyerflo@gmail.com. Find more posts by Florence HERE.

(Disclosures: Mark Feldstein interned for Jack Anderson in the 1970s. Florence Snyder represented Feldstein in what were his first libel suit and her first jury trial.)



Florence Snyder: Pot, kettle, Ed Schultz

Radio and cable talk show host Ed Schultz calls himself “The Nation’s Number 1 Progressive Voice.”

This week, he progressed to the Misogynist Hall of Fame with his radio reference to fellow opinionator Laura Ingraham as a "slut." Schultz managed to use the word twice in one sentence, which is one time more than would have gotten past the Village Square Civility Bell.

Impulse control is not one of Schultz's strengths. Last summer, the New York Post reported his meltdown in the [MSNBC] 30 Rock newsroom. Schultz was enraged that the marketing folks ran commercials that he wasn't in. When his huffing and puffing failed to win hearts and minds, he slammed down the telephone and shouted, “I’m going to torch this [bleep]ing place.”

White men with microphones have likewise been on the receiving end of Schultz verbal violence.  According to The Post, Schultz œonce told White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, ‘You’re full of [bleep].’ And after Fox News Channel’s Glenn Beck revealed a condition that may make him go blind, Schultz said, “It’s a travesty he’s not going to see the country he’s trying to destroy.”

The working people Schultz claims to champion would be fired from their factories, fast food restaurants and offices if they acted nuts and uncorked about "sluts."  But Schultz seems to have a license to behave like a bad-tempered seventh grader. Following his Monday dump on Ingraham, MSNBC brass huddled for two days and emerged with this statement:

MSNBC management met with Ed Schultz [Wednesday] afternoon and accepted his offer to take one week of unpaid leave for the remarks he made yesterday on his radio program. Ed will address these remarks on his show tonight, and immediately following begin his leave. Remarks of this nature are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

Accepted Schultz’ offer?  Really?

Call it zero tolerance, Orwell-style.

Schultz won't miss a week's pay, and it sounds like he could use a few days to chill out, but it will be a long time before anyone takes his “civility” lectures seriously.

MSNBC’s slogan is “Lean forward.”  It did….and spit straight into our eyes.

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Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at lawyerflo@gmail.com

(Photo credit, Schultz pictured with Ingraham: Dan Patterson)



Florence Snyder: Shoeleather in the Age of Twitter

BY FLORENCE SNYDER

The year is 2020, and all that remains of print journalism is the New York Times, USATODAY….and the National Enquirer. Google has been broken up into twelve competing companies. 97.9% of all news websites have installed pay walls. All state and local public records are available on-line…..for a fee. Vice President Marco Rubio has inherited the Oval Office from President Sarah Palin, who resigned to resume her career….as a journalist.

That’s the way it was in a world conceived by Miami First Amendment lawyer Tom Julin for The Florida Bar’s annual Media Law Conference. The Conference dates back to the 1970s when Wall Street was beginning to see journalism as a cash cow, rather than the watchdog the Founding Fathers intended.  In the 1980s, as media companies’ profit margins climbed past 30%,  hundreds of lawyers, judges and journalists crowded into hotel ballrooms to hear media A-listers opine on the future of journalism. Times and travel budgets being what they are, the 2010 Conference was a far less lavish affair.  At times, the speakers outnumbered the paying audience.

One can only wonder how  20th century Conference speakers like Katharine Graham, Abe Rosenthal and Fred Friendly would have responded as Julin prodded veteran reporters, academics and fellow media lawyers to answer questions which have, for decades,  vexed journalism think-tanks….in 140 characters or less. Julin lightened the mood with James Cameron-level audio visual references to narcissistic presidential hopefuls and their tango-dancing soulmates.  Still, it was a sobering picture he painted of a not-too-distant future where the body politic has the attention span of a goldfish.

Some think that day has already arrived, but Conference-goers found reason to be hopeful that real news and well-reasoned commentary will adapt to the new and much leaner environment.

Some of the 21st century’s best explanatory journalism is happening on Comedy Central; Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone have the Peabody awards to prove it. These modern-day Mark Twains provide a national audience the kind of fact-based, impossible-to-ignore editorial voices that Florida used to take for granted.

Howard Troxler and Carl Hiaasen are, thank God, still with us.  But Florida’s increasingly anemic editorial pages are no match for state government’s standing army of flacks and flunkies who pay lip-service to transparency while actively obstructing reporters in pursuit of stories their bosses don’t want told.

It’s always cause for celebration when front-page news slips past the government’s spinmeisters and makes it to the front page, and Conference-goers were spellbound as Gina Smith of the State newspaper in Columbia, S.C. described the combination of luck, instinct and shoeleather involved in her pursuit of Gov. Mark Sanford down the “Appalachian Trail” to the Atlanta airport.

To a roomful of reporters who are expected to do impactful investigations while blogging at 20 minute intervals, it was a cheering reminder that one reporter can change the course of history.

A reminder of another kind was delivered by the Miami Herald’s former general counsel Richard Ovelmen. In a moving tribute to his friend and mentor, legendary First Amendment lawyer Dan Paul, who died this year at age 85, Ovelmen recalled how Paul leveraged his bulging Rolodex in the service of all of Florida’s journalists—not just the ones who worked for Knight Newspapers and the New York Times Company in the decades when they could afford Paul’s eye-popping hourly rates.

Under Paul’s direction, Ovelmen recalled, Florida’s media lawyers took up the cause of reporters in places they could barely pronounce.

If a city clerk in Opa Locka withheld public records, or a judge in Palatka threw a reporter out of a courtroom, publishers of mom-and-pop newspapers could count on Paul to declare a constitutional crisis and dispatch an army of lawyers bearing briefs that argued, “News delayed is news denied.”

With 20th century media on life support, displaced journalists are bringing their craft to cyberspace.  The lonely pamphleteer is on-line at places like Broward Bulldog, Health News Florida, and FloridaThinks, looking for a business model that will support the never-ending mission of “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.”

There’s a lot at stake, and The Florida Bar deserves thanks for reminding us that failure is not an option.

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Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at lawyerflo@gmail.com.

Parody photo courtesy of Random Pixels. Tom Julin’s “Journalism and Other Financial Disasters” was presented at The Florida Bar’s Media Law Conference, March 26, 2010.



According to Luke: County Fairs, Town Halls, Tailgates, and Tea Parties

Somewhere on the path to the Tea Parties and Town Halls of today where
civility is left at the door, we forgot about… well, civility.

America was founded on the idea of the community. The first tea party was a bunch of our ancestors dressing up like Indians and showing King George just what we thought about his taxes. Americans were united, for a cause. From that famous tea party in Boston, to town halls all across the Northeast, we learned to listen to each other, and began to realize that maybe the people who thought differently than us weren’t all that evil. (If the Greeks could do it in robes and sandals, surely we could!)

In the south, county fairs served as the main social event of the year. Once
a year the fair would roll into town and people got together to ride rides,
eat some good southern cookin’, and check out the show on Friday night. They baked pies to sell and put on their best pair of jeans with the hopes that maybe some southern belle would catch their eye. County fairs turned into political platforms. Candidates for local and national office would stump on the stage in between acts. People from all across the county came out to listen to what they had to say.

We used to read newspapers; we used to join bowling leagues and the PTA. We used to have bake sales and lemonade stands. But then something happened. This brand new thing called the television came out, and all of sudden we could find out everything we needed to from the comfort of our own home. We could watch the shows we wanted to and listen to the people we agreed with, and we could even ignore the people we disagreed with.

Then we started demonizing the people on all those “other” channels. We the People, became Us vs. Them. We assigned red or blue colors to friends,
families, and neighbors. We gave 30 second blurbs to each side then let them argue for the next 20 minutes. All of sudden the great American Democracy looked like an elementary school playground.

Today, at Tea Parties and Town Halls we’d just rather yell louder than
someone with a different view than actually listen to what they have to say.
County Fairs are no longer the great social gatherings they once were.

Tailgates are the last great American neighborhood. That’s right, tailgates. On Saturdays in the fall, tailgating means having a party with thousands of your friends. It means seeing old buddies and making new ones. College campuses are full of makeshift tent communities, where there are no privacy fences separating neighbors. It’s just a bunch of folks having some drinks, grilling out and actually talking to each other. If a fan from the other team walks by, you may trade the occasional barb, but it’s all in good fun. Come game time you leave your tent and chair unattended, hoping nobody bothers them, and for the most part they don’t.

Why can we come together around something like football, but can’t seem to agree about how to take care of the sick in our society? How come we feel no worry to leave our tailgate unattended but lock our doors and windows at night?

Bill Clinton once said that there is nothing wrong with America that can’t
be fixed with what is right with America. We didn’t forget how to be civil. We learn how to share and respect our elders growing up. We didn’t forget how to live in a community or the emotional rewards of having a unique bond with a complete stranger.

Sometimes we forget how to be grown-ups. I’m sure our founders weren’t
perfect either, but they were smart enough to remember that we are all in
this together. Win or lose, just like a tailgate.

So bake a pie, throw on your best pair of jeans. Sip some tea and put on that jersey, let’s go spread some civility!

–Village Square intern Luke Inhen is a Political Science graduate student at Florida State.

(Photo credit.)



Liz Joyner: Marry Your Enemy

mom & dadApparently there are tribes in Africa on to something that has eluded the people of the greatest nation on planet earth in the 21st century (so far, anyway).

These clans of African tribesmen, managing the sometimes tenuous relationships between clans, solved their civility problem by marrying into the other clan. This sociological pattern stabilized their society so that the normal conflicts involved in life – whether it’s life in Philly or in sub-Saharan Africa – didn’t escalate to unmanageable levels. With these marriages, people were then connected to each other in multiple ways. You might have a bone to pick with “them” because of tribal identity (maybe literally “a bone,” in tribal Africa) but since “they” were also your in-laws, there was only so far you were ever going to push the disagreement.

This edifying story comes to us via Bill Bishop in his book “The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart” that describes the need for us to have “cross-cutting” relationships with each other. (This book is required reading and John Marks is most notably NOT exempt.) A healthy society has relationships where you change who is your “friend” and who is your “enemy” inside of different contexts. My husband might be my friend in most every way, but he is also my enemy when we root against each other’s alma mater in football or, in my parents’ case, when they reported dutifully every election day to cancel each others vote out.

Back in the day, mom and dad would nearly always joke about it as they both wheeled out of the driveway in the midst of their crazy-busy lives to cast their precious vote that meant exactly ZERO given their difference of opinion. (You’ve got to love this concept of democracy that makes otherwise sane people do such an insane thing in service of high principle when they could have just sat back in marital-collusion and had a glass of wine instead.)

Crosscutting connection is the same wisdom practiced by feuding European nations looking to make peace by offering up a son or daughter to an arranged marriage. Of course we know in hindsight it didn’t always work, but that’s a story for another day (and The Village Square gives them an “A” for effort).

Problem is, crosscutting relationships are so – well – yesterday. As we discussed last week, everything is trending in the direction that we find ourselves in groups of increasingly like-minded people. When the same “enemy” is always on the “other side,” the relationship is no longer crosscutting and doesn’t stabilize anything. Fact is, when relationships don’t cross- cut, given the distinctly imperfect nature of human beings, relationships can be pretty much incendiary. You get consistently and increasingly angry with the same people (ergo, fistfights and swastikas at town halls).

We live in a time when we look at Mary Matalin and James Carville and think that there is simply no explanation but that it is a loveless business-relationship-slash-publicity-stunt to get them booked on Meet the Press. (While I’m using them as a rhetorical tool here, you still can’t convince me they like each other in the slightest and the stunt has certainly worked on the MTP front.)

Bishop writes: “One of the tenets of democratic faith has been that direct, face-to-face contact between groups on different sides of an issue defines a self-governing people.” Perhaps if we agree on nothing else, we agree that we’re not doing so well on self-governing by this measure – unless “face-to-face” includes flinging Hitler posters to and fro.

So what can we make of this entrenched overwhelming division currently on America’s plate? Despite the complexity of the problem, the solution – potentially – is as simple as a few dinners out (at the “potato salad school of diplomacy”).

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Liz Joyner is the Executive Director of the Village Square in Tallahassee. Reach her at liz@tothevillagesquare.org



Chris Timmons: Discourse or just noise?

lunch-120.jpg

The project The Village Square is working on, referred to in the article below, is finding more voices from both sides of the aisle for our blog, to engage in a real conversation (unlike the ranting on talk radio or TV opinion “news” shows). We’re particularly interested in auditioning blogging teams of friends from different political camps. If you’re interested, give us a yell at thecrier@tothevillagesquare.org. We tried this first offline in the “real world” in our invitation to have a lunch across the aisle. It’s our way, as historian Patricia Nelson Limerick writes, to “let friendship redeem the republic.”

Chris Timmons: Discourse or just noise?
From today’s Tallahassee Democrat.

Two weeks ago, I had coffee with Liz Joyner, executive director of the Village Square, about a project she’s working on, and I enjoyed her passion for politics and ideas.

Yet there was this tincture in the discussion. I noticed a small distress, a weariness about the close-mindedness, extremity and partisanship of politics these days.

She pinned it on Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Not in that liberal, nose-upheld NPR kind of way, but more earnestly and with profound regret. I felt her pain.

I’ve listened to Limbaugh only once or twice myself, much the same for Sean Hannity.

They have some function in this world, and for many people, I’d bet they have sparked an interest and, let’s hope, a passion enough to search out all views. Something in me is hoping but doubts it.

There’s demagoguery, obtuseness and silliness in some of their views. I chuckled at Limbaugh’s bizarre plan to sabotage Obama’s primary campaign in Pennsylvania, dubbed with the military craft cliche: Operation Hillary. Yet Limbaugh and Hannity, in a circumscribed sense most certainly, are great entertainers working in a crowded field of political entertainment.

Anyone who listens to them with the intention of getting something intelligent out of it is simply lost. But they have little to do with what’s wrong in politics.

It’s those in the higher journalism attached to small magazines such as the New Republic, Atlantic Monthly, Nation, American Conservative, Weekly Standard, Reason, Commentary and the National Review that offer not a principled defense of ideas but the false exploitation of ideas and a misuse of language that have a stultifying effect on political discourse and disarm thoughtful people like Joyner and threaten to disengage them from the process.

At least, after reading some of Jonah Goldberg’s “Liberal Fascism,” I have come to feel this way.

Its title is cheeky, a reverse insult to those liberals forever calling conservatives fascists, which historically we have not been.

I felt redeemed once I read the title, and because Goldberg writes crisply and with humor, I was looking for a quirky intellectual history. I didn’t get that, because Goldberg decided to go for something much smaller.

He wanted to rebut every New York Times columnist, New Yorker staff writer or Ivy League academic who ever uttered the words “fascism” and “conservatives” together. Really, he wanted to sock Gore Vidal in the mouth, in a literary sense.

So, we get liberalism is fascism. No, it’s a cousin of fascism. No, really, it has a resemblance to fascism. Hey, look at Hillary’s devious phrase “It takes a village to raise a child,” or Barack Obama’s equally menacing “We are the change we’ve been waiting for.”

It’s obvious: Fascism is back!

As Richard Posner wrote about a popularizer of academic ideas: No serious reader could be persuaded by his books.

When words have no meaning, ideas lose their substance, since both require honesty and mutual agreement about their definitions. In Jane Austen’s “Northanger Abbey,” the know-it-all Henry Tilney lectures the heroine on her careless use of words and the word, in particular, “nice.” “Every time (you say), this is a very nice day, and we are taking a very nice walk, and you are two very nice young ladies. Oh it’s a very nice word, indeed — it does for everything.”

It may seem a conservative cliche, a backward way of arguing for small government, but part of this distortion of ideas and words, the meanness and small-mindedness of our political arguments, comes from our having too many ideas on the table. Create a concept, somebody once said, and reality exits pretty fast.

The pundits and politicians have forgotten the serious stakes that all of the ideas on the table carry. We’ve seen cap-and-trade rushed through the U.S. House, the call for a new stimulus bill (somehow the other didn’t do the job), and now a renewed call by the president for an expedited health care bill by October.

A Republican senator says this is the president’s Waterloo. The president cynically says Republicans are playing politics. Speaker Nancy Pelosi causally dismisses citizen’s concerns about a real and unprecedented power grab by the federal government.

It should surprise no one that, once ideas and words are scrambled only for effect and no one thinks thoroughly and thoughtfully about them, it’s easy to have four different health care bills, major miscommunication or noncommunication, spin and political calculation, inflamed citizens — and all the rest.

At the president’s news conference, for example, his bill was defined as an extension of the free-market concept. It is anything but, yet the president indulges in this because he knows that explaining ideas honestly doesn’t work in this political season.

In a letter, Mrs. Humphrey Ward chastises Henry James about his boredom and cynicism about politics. For her, politics and ideas are the “salt and sauce” of life. I’m starting to reject her views and embrace James’s.

To me, this unreasoning, vulgar, groundless, deafening and sapping partisanship is the “very measure of insipidity” for those who love ideas, politics and the village square.



Liz Joyner: Unhinged partisanship gets schooled

school roomWhile your favorite explanation for the partisan divide might be that the folks who disagree with you are dumb-as-dirt, turns out our current political environment may be a nearly inevitable result of certain sociological and economic trends – stir in a helping of behavioral psychology and, tada, we’re attending town halls with fistfights and swastikas.

Rewind to the middle of last century (screen gets wavy, cue up appropriate piano riff and fade to black and white)… Generation Happy Days was pleasantly ensconced in the suburbs, becoming members of the PTA, joining bridge clubs and bowling leagues. We flipped on the evening news at night and turned the dial to a choice of three stations. (Yes, for the kiddos among us there was an actual dial and it was hard enough to turn that you needed a running start.) We grabbed our local paper off the door stoop every morning and on Sundays many of us trotted off to our neighborhood church, one of a handful of denominations that were close enough to be kissing cousins. (Forgive the absence of synagogues in my story; I’m painting with broad strokes.) While we were growing economically comfortable as a society, reverberations of the depression kept our basic gene pool constructively austere. In the lives we led, we spent plenty of time with people who didn’t see it our way politically – they were our friends, our neighbors, even our spouses. We were busy having a national conversation; very much in keeping with the founders’ vision of America – we had turned diversity into strength, a balance for excess and a creative force.

But soon enough, American prosperity brought into existence a highly mobile populace that had forgotten about the depression, was no longer primarily concerned with mere surviving and naturally turned their attention to the “pursuit of happiness” portion of the American dream. (Think Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs with basic needs mostly met.) So naturally, we moved to cities with a center of gravity we liked and joined groups plum filled with people like – well – us. Old-fashioned neighborhood, and the diversity it brought, wasn’t quite as fun as the newfound made-to-fit.

While we were busy custom ordering our lives, there was an information explosion befitting our increased desire to “Have It Your Way.” Now we had choose-your-news sources that we could tune into to bathe in the warm waters of agreement and oh did we ever love the warm waters of agreement (and we told them we liked it in the ratings so they gave us more and more). Our mainline churches began breaking clean in half as people left to worship with the people they most agreed with. New churches representing every stripe of individualism sprung up all over the map.

Unbeknownst to us, we were busy sorting ourselves into tribes. Think Shia and Sunni. 100 years of social psychology experiments are amazingly consistent about what happens next, and it is not pretty: Likeminded groups consistently grow more extreme in the direction of the majority view. In them, the fascinating phenomenon of the “risky shift” plays out: A group of homogeneous people will make riskier choices as a group than any one individual makes inside that very same group. Likeminded groups are veritable breeding grounds for extremism.

Now here we sit in the United States of “Those People.“ We watch TV opinion news to experience what Bill Bishop, author of “The Big Sort” (required reading), calls the “righteousness that is the special entitlement of homogeneous groups.” We serve it up with a beer and munchies and the smug knowledge that everyone who isn’t on “our side” isn’t just wrong, they’re stupid and evil (and ugly to boot). It’s the mental equivalent of being a couch potato and leads directly to town halls run amuck.

(Photo credit.)

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Liz Joyner is the Executive Director of the Village Square. You can reach her at liz@tothevillagesquare.org.