Posts by: "Bill Steigerwald"

 

The 1980s was the Golden Age of newspapers.

In that greedy decade the Los Angeles Times, where I thoroughly enjoyed working as a copy editor and freelance writer/reviewer, was a major national media power.

Its profits were obscene. It still had about 1.1 million readers and more international bureaus than the CIA.

It could afford to pay top writers $50k a year to write three mega-stories per annum that were too long to read, or assign two investigative reporters to the Scientology beat for years without them ever printing a word. It had about 1,100 editorial employees then, more than twice what it has now.

Today the Times is like most dinosauric daily newspapers in the post-Digital Age. It’s shriveled and sickly and still unable and/or unwilling to adapt to the Internet and its culture of openness.

It’s too late. Culturally and politically, the L.A. Times is nationally irrelevant and cloutless. Worse than Time or Newsweek.

The Times and its bankrupt corporate daddy the Tribune Company are up for sale for about $600 million — a fire-sale price.

As a libertarian, and as the only open libertarian I knew working at the Times in the 1980s, I hope the fabulously rich libertarian Koch brothers buy the paper with their pocket change and give some of my few surviving liberal friends there a taste of their own medicine.

It’ll be interesting to see how my fellow journalists react to having bosses — i.e., devout libertarian/conservative publishers and the non-liberal editors they will certainly hire — who don’t have the same political biases they have (and don’t know they have).

The Times, as any non-Obama-loving reader or non-liberal journalist knows, desperately needs some more ideological diversity (ID) — on its editorial pages but primarily among its subeditors and reporters. It needed ID in the 1980s. I’m sure it still does. All big-city papers always did and still do.

Meanwhile, rooting through my Los Angeles Times archives the other day I found shocking evidence of just how far the mighty L.A. Times, aka the Daily Titanic, has sunk in terms of what it once spent on the gathering and spinning of news and opinion.

Two nicely typed pages detail the Times’ enormous 1982 editorial budget (which included my paltry $30,000 a year salary as a part-time copy editor in Calendar, the arts & entertainment section).

 

la times budget 1982la times budget page 2

A lousy $45 million isn’t much in an age of $3.5 trillion federal budgets. But it’s about $105 million in 2012 dollars, which is almost enough to buy what’s left of the L.A. Times itself and about a sixth of the price the whole Tribune Company and its eight papers is expected to go for.

The 1982 budget report looks like just a bunch of big boring numbers to civilians.

But it’s a real shocker for the survivors of the Great Daily Newspaper Crash. They will scream and cry and remember the good old days before blogs and tweets democratized journalism and made everyone with a thumb an amateur George Will.

Almost $15 million spent for the Metro desk (local news) is impressive, even in 2013 dollars, but not as impressive as almost half a million for a stand-alone Sunday book section. Today there’s hardly a book section still alive in a North American newspaper.

A cool $1.1 million for the Times in-house library. A million bucks worth of editorial writers.  More than $700,000 for copy messengers, transcribers and the Times newswire.

Email, the Internet and PCs put many of those people out of their jobs and should have saved the Times a ton of money,  if only the paper had been managed well. But by the beginning of the reign of Bush II, the Times had upwards of 1,300 well-paid editorial employees and was about to hit the iceberg.

In the 1980s, the Times  was known as “The Velvet Coffin,” and for good reason. No one ever left it until they died, landed a job at the New York Times or got themselves hired by big Hollywood producers, which movie reporters Michael London, Dale Pollock and David Friendly did during my time there.

The L.A. Times paid everyone New York Times/Washington Post salaries and nobody ever had a heart attack from overwork. A lot of money was spent on good journalism, but a lot of money also was wasted. I remember Picasso prints in the mid-level editors’ glass offices.

I don’t remember where or how I acquired my copy of the 1982 budget report, and even if I did I’d go to jail to protect my sources.

But truth be told, I probably swiped it off the desk of the Times’ late, great and under-appreciated Sunday Calendar editor, Irv Letofsky. Or I fished it out of his trash basket when I was emptying it for him.

All I know for sure about the budget is that it’s authentic. And it’s a sad document from a happy newspaper era we will never see again.

Bill Steigerwald, whose columns and commentaries are archived at CagleCartoons.com, worked at the Los Angeles Times in the 1980s, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in the 1990s and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in the ’00s. He is the proud author of the Amazon ebook “Dogging Steinbeck,” which exposes the truth about john Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charley” and celebrates Flyover America and its people. Many book details at TruthAboutCharley.com  or go to C-SPAN for his “Q&A” appearance with Brian Lamb.

route66 cover - 2 - final

 

 

The 27th review of my book on Amazon.com — by a woman named Judy who grew up in Montana — is perfect. Nicely written, smart and sensible, it’s a fair and balanced assessment by a Steinbeck fan who wasn’t blinded by her love of “Travels With Charley.”

 

4.0 out of 5 stars Valuable Addition to American Road Trip Literature, April 8, 2013
Amazon Verified Purchase(What’s this?)

I read just about every American travelogue and “Travels with Charley” was my first and favorite. I was a believer through the first couple of readings, but after decades of long road trips I began to be suspicious. Dogging Steinbeck confirmed my doubts. I never learned much during days spent just rocketing over highways except that this is a vast country sparsely populated with mostly kind, helpful people. The best conversations, comparable to the ones Steinbeck apparently enjoyed daily, generally occur only in hostels or while soaking nude in remote hot springs.

I believe Steinbeck did not set out to perpetrate a fraud. He could not have known that he couldn’t learn much in his mode of travel over just 11 weeks. Finding knowledge, adventure, and joy in a road trip takes skill and a propensity to dawdle.

Just as Steinbeck’s fraudulent account was not premeditated, Bill Steigerwald’s book was not motivated by the desire to unmask Steinbeck. No experienced road-tripper could miss the fictional aspects, especially armed with Steinbeck documents detailing the actual trip as was Steigerwald. One critical reviewer who obviously has not read Dogging Steinbeck called it a hatchet job. It is most certainly not. The author’s respect for both the truth and Steinbeck is obvious.

I wish John Steinbeck had been healthy and free enough to apply his wonderful literary skill to the kind of trip he needed to take to write the book that he initially envisioned. But if the book we got was the only one he could write, I forgive him. Because of Travels with Charley my life has been richer, happier, and, while travelling, I have attended Sunday services from cathedrals to adobe missions to inner-city converted store fronts. Still, Charley is the only fictionalized travelogue I will forgive. A travel book is only one perspective of one journey, and Steigerwald is right to insist that readers are owed a true account.

I felt that Steigerwald’s account of his trip and his research was as honest as he could make it. His political opinions do not detract from the book: although he did not make his book about himself, he did tell us who he is and that can only help readers to understand his perspective. I recommend this book to all who enjoy American road trip literature.

Ah, the great power of C-SPAN.

After my hour-long interview with Brian Lamb on his March 3 “Q&A” program, sales of “Dogging Steinbeck” surged nicely.

I’m not ready to retire yet.  But before my C-SPAN appearance, my ranking on Amazon’s various Journalism and Travel categories was never higher than No. 4 (which it hit briefly after a rave Weekly Standard review by Sean Macomber).

Brian Lamb and C-SPAN took me to these dizzy heights Monday morning. Staying up there will be tough without help from the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and Charlie Rose, but being No. 1 in something for even just a little while is kind of fun.

Dogging Steinbeck, March 4, 2013

Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,672 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
#1 in Books > Education & Reference > Writing, Research & Publishing Guides > Writing > Journalism & Nonfiction
#1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Reference > Writing, Research & Publishing Guides > Journalism
#3 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Travel > Essays & Travelogues

photoMy journalism career is complete.

Brian Lamb, founding father of CSPAN, American hero and fellow journalist, has interviewed me.

Not that I can remember anything he asked me about my book “Dogging Steinbeck” or what I answered when we met in CSPAN’s beautiful DC studios three weeks ago.

My interview with the man I like to call “St. Brian” will be displayed for the whole world to see on Lamb’s Sunday night “Q&A” program on CSPAN March 3 at 8 and 11 p.m. ET.

I dread watching my “performance” almost as much as I dreaded doing the one-on-one interview. I’m a radio Steigerwald Brother, not a TV Steigerwald Brother, as should be obvious Sunday night. But my pain and dread were worth the thrill.

Brian Lamb and CSPAN and I go way back together — or at least I do.

I first spoke to him in 1980 not long after the cable channel was born and began providing American TV watchers with their first taste of real ideological diversity.

I called CSPAN from my apartment in Hollywood USA to ask a question of  the guest, Ed Clark, the 1980 Libertarian Party presidential candidate. Clark couldn’t even buy some decent network TV-news time in those bad old oligopolistic days when the lefty liberals at CBS, ABC, NBC called the shots and set the national political agenda.

A year or two later I met Lamb for about two seconds at a party in L.A. thrown the L.A. Times’ cable TV reporter.

In 2004 I turned the tables on Lamb and interviewed him for my weekly Q&A at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.  A year later, on New Year’s Eve, if I recall, I called him on the air during CSPAN’s 25th anniversary show.

Lamb, who’s known for his laconic interviewing style and kindly, unflappable demeanor, was one of the nicest celebrity guys I ever interviewed, and I’ve interviewed hundreds of famous/important people over the years.

Here’s how I set up my Q&A with Lamb, which occurred in December of 2004 and shed light on his motives for starting CSPAN and his deliberate effort to open up America’s cablewaves to more diverse and strident political voices:

God Bless, Brian Lamb

Talk about your fair-and-balanced TV.

Thanks to saintly cable pioneer Brian Lamb, C-SPAN has been providing the country with a serious, unbiased and unfiltered look at the widest possible spectrum of political ideas and information for 25 years.

Operating on a puny $45 million annual budget provided by the cable industry, the multimedia empire that Lamb founded and has carefully fathered covers government, the political process, party conventions, debates, seminars and author appearances across the country and now includes three C-SPAN cable-satellite channels, a C-SPAN radio channel and the Web site c-span.org.

After 15 years and reading 801 books, Lamb recently disappointed many faithful C-SPAN viewers by recently ending “Booknotes,” his popular hour-long Sunday program which featured his gentle, quirky interviews with top nonfiction writers. I talked to him from his offices in Washington, D.C.

Q: Any regrets yet about deciding to end “Booknotes”?

A: Sure. The regrets that you have are tied to the fact that so many people seemed to value the information. You hate to give something like that up, because it meant so much to enough people that it kept me going over the years. But, I’m 63, and I want to have some more free time to do exactly what I want to do. I was really tied to reading a book all the time, so from that perspective, no, I’m ready to change my habits.

Q: Why did you start C-SPAN?

A: It’s not what most people think it was. My interest in starting C-SPAN (in 1979) was that I thought that three commercial television networks controlling what we saw was unfortunate. I was angry about it, as a matter of fact. I kept saying to myself, “Why are we watching only three television networks? And the same newscast every night? And the same lead story and the same breaks for commercials?” When I first got in it, I said, “We need more information.” It was that simple. I didn’t feel strongly about covering the House of Representatives. That just turned out to be the vehicle with which we were able to start this place.

Q: What’s C-SPAN’s greatest value to the country?

A: There are several levels there. First, its greatest value, I think, is that you can see your elected officials spending your money. Secondly, officials can talk back to their constituents, which they never were able to do before. They had to talk back through the filter. And third, it’s a national conversation, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, about the big issues that confront the country. And it’s not controlled by entertainment values. It’s not controlled by the ratings you can get by talking about Scott Peterson ad infinitum. I find that story to be of no journalistic value, and we don’t have to worry about that. It’s an unusual place, and there’s no place like it. It was luck that got us there, because if you tried to start something like this today, you couldn’t.

Q: Do you consider yourself a journalist?

A: Absolutely. I’m a journalist first and foremost, and I believe strongly in the profession.

Q: How do you define your politics?

A: I don’t. I’ve never been a member of a party. I’ve worked for both Republicans and Democrats in the first nine years of my adult life as I was in the service and worked around this town for both Nixon and Johnson. The thing on my political side that I worry about the most and think about the most that needs the most correction is the way we spend our money. It’s not very accountable right now. We don’t know how our money is being spent.

In the job we do here at C-SPAN, I really don’t care who wins. We’ve set it up so we stay out of the contest. We don’t support anybody internally. We talk all the time about politics, but we don’t give anybody any impression as to how we are voting. It works very well for us. The attitude that we have inside here — that I find often is not present in some of the other organizations that I have been around over the years — is that we never have any interest in excluding a point of view. I’ve heard people say, “Oh, we don’t want to hear that point of view, that doesn’t need to be heard.” That’s what our whole mission is about here at C-SPAN. We put on everybody. We go from the socialists to the libertarians. From the Ralph Naders to the Green Party to the Christian right and communist left. It’s all over the lot. It doesn’t matter what it is. We just don’t ever say, “Oh, we don’t think our audience ought to hear that.”

Q: At your National Press Club talk the other night you said you thought the American people really sought more “choice and freedom” in their lives. Is there a secret Brian Lamb who is really politically opinionated?

A: Yes. I have strong opinions about openness. I’m a small “d” democrat. I basically said it at that press club speech that I feel very strongly in the First Amendment and that it’s absolute and it’s the only thing that really keeps us free, because I’ve watched politicians hoard information and control information, and control our access to information. It’s the only chance we have of being different than other places. There are democracies all over the world. Lots of countries have democracies. There are very few that have the strong First Amendment that we have. I guess I feel so strongly that people who don’t understand the First Amendment or the value of it would miss it if their side or their ox is being gored.

Q: Is C-SPAN an organization that can live on without you?

A: I can walk out of the door today, and you’ll never notice the difference. People who follow the details of networks like ours think that I matter. But most of the people in this country don’t know who I am, don’t care who I am, and do not watch C-SPAN for me. They watch it for the events.

Q: What have you learned about the American people by creating and working on C-SPAN all these years?

A: Well, I guess, first of all, I’ve learned that some of the people in the body politic — it’s probably 10 percent of the country — are very aware of what is going on and are very smart about politics and can ask as good a question as anybody in our profession.

Secondly, I’ve learned — and I suppose I should have known this — that the politician loves to control what we hear and see, loves to control his own image, which is human nature. But I didn’t realize to what degree they would go to do that.

Third, people in this country, more than anything else, want choice. They want choice in soaps and they want choice in television, and they’re going to get what they want eventually. That’s really what’s been going on for the last 30 years — in television the public has demanded more and more. And finally, after being protected for many, many years by the government, the television industry has had to offer choice. And that’s the best thing that’s happened.

 

 

I’ve gotten many thoughtful comments on and off the record about “Dogging Steinbeck” from readers in China and Minnesota and Belgium.

Travel master Paul Theroux sent me a nice note saying how much he liked “Dogging Steinbeck.” He’s publicly endorsed my expose of the fictions and lies that John Steinbeck and his truth-challenged editors/publishers passed off as a work of nonfiction in “Travels With Charley.”

Brian Lamb of CSPAN liked “Dogging Steinbeck” so much he invited me on his show to make a tongue-tied fool of myself (my global debut is Sunday, March 3, at 8 p.m. on CSPAN’s “Q&A”).

But then I also get nasty ad hominem attacks like this one from a disturbed person named Heidi:

“It would appear that you are bitter hack who is spending your retirement trying to justify your failures by breaking down the successes of those who came before you. Attempting to expose the fraudulence of other authors is a testament to the truth of your character. You are a man who is wasting the opportunity to write on far reaching criticism of books whose meaning are out of your reach. Even if your assertions are true, it matters not as Steinbeck and Capote were gifted writers. You, Sir, are a fraud and you spend your days running from that truth. I’ll take Steinbeck’s lies over your bullshit any day.”

If turnabout is fair play, I get to make some wild-assed assumptions about Heidi’s troubled psyche.

I’d guess that  Heidi, who clearly doesn’t understand the difference between journalism and fiction, apparently was so unhappy to learn that one of her favorite childhood books was full of shit that she decided to take out her unhappiness on little old me.

I’m sure she didn’t read my book or take the time to find out how I came to discover Steinbeck’s literary fraud.

But, as I like to do when I get these kinds of irrational attacks, I hereby offer Heidi a free ebook copy of “Dogging Steinbeck” so that she find out how wrong she is about me, my motives and why I spent  three years and a lot of my own money writing my book.

 

 

Wouldn’t dream of trying to spoil anyone’s religious observance of this holiest of  Hollywood nights.

But in dishonor of the Oscars, the most successful public relations event for an industry in history, here’s one of my favorite quotes about Tinseltown and its products, which I captured in Beverly Hills in 1980 when I interviewed a very straight, very lucid and very funny Timothy Leary, 60, on his front lawn.

“The Hollywood system is really a company town, where everyone’s afraid. It’s run by crooks. It’s run by people who deliberately make these movies that make you feel bad, that make you feel helpless. They never give you a movie about good-looking men and women getting together, and getting smarter and moving and doing and getting something better. Alcoholic, rum-dum, Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, you know, ‘Postman Rings Twice’ repeats and repeats and repeats… It’s a loser industry for losers.”

Ethan Casey, a friend, is a seasoned book writer/traveler/foreign correspondent from Seattle who’s lived in Pakistan, among many faraway corners of the world. He’s not a libertarian, but when it comes to the use of drones and America’s serial war-making overseas, he’s on the right page as far as I’m concerned.

IMG_0195-1024x768From his website EthanCasey.com is this quote from his essay Drones: What are we doing to ourselves?

“As someone who has been blessed for nearly two decades by the friendship of many Pakistanis and of Pakistan as a society, the word “sickened” is far too mild to describe how I feel about the damage drone attacks are doing in and to Pakistan. And as an American who loves my own country, I’m concerned with the question of whether America is a free country – which I was raised to believe was the point of America – or some sort of consensual military dictatorship.”

read more …

Steven Brill rolled out an 11-part epic in Time to break the news to us that the U.S. health care system sucks.

In just 20,000 words, Brill supplied repeated examples of hospital CEOs who make 7-figure salaries (that’s 1 million or more for us 5-figure proles). And he provided countless examples of  poor citizen schmoes who went broke beyond measuring because they had to pay the list prices of things like cancer cures or hospital blood work out of their own pockets, not the pockets of their fellow citizens (Medicare).

I read Brill’s tome, and so did Slate’s Matthew Yglesias, who discussed it — and came to the predictable conclusion that Brill’s “brilliant” work was ultimately a flop because he didn’t come to the predictable liberal conclusion: Which, as all brainwashed Slate readers know, is that we need still more government in government health care.

Yglesias, who impersonates an economist in his blog MoneyBox, complains that Brill didn’t explain why medical costs are so high. Then Yglesias proceeds not to explain why, either. Hilariously, studpidly, he says the solutions to high health care costs are either universal care (Medicare) or price controls.

I didn’t pick on Yglesias, because he’s a person who writes about economics without knowing anything about how economics works. But here’s what I wrote about Brill’s piece to Slate:

Brill’s Time piece was lousy journalism. He took 11 parts to redundantly/repetitively prove that the health care system is horrible. Consumers and taxpayers get screwed. Doctors and hospital czars have obscene salaries and drug companies make huge profits and buy off politicians to write laws that make health care the bloated, wasteful criminal enterprise it is. He proves that health care is not a free market. But he never talks about/explains why it’s not a real market: It’s because government regs and mandates and subsidies and distortions make a real market impossible. Prices are meaningless and impossible to determine or know by consumers who don’t pay them anyway. Could Brill or his editors have not found half a part of his epic to address the idiocy and damage done by third-party payment schemes? (Send my bill for my new knee to those nice taxpayers in Nebraska and Iowa, please, and make sure I get the most expensive new knee medicine can provide.) Plus, how about the effect on prices of our sacred-cow doctor cartel/union, which uses government laws and licensing to keep the number of doctors down and their fat salaries up (and often obscene). It also would have been nice if somewhere in those 11 parts Brill had found a few paragraphs to bring forth an economist (not Paul Krugman) or free-market health care wonks like John Goodman (not the corpulent actor) or Regina Herzlinger of Harvard to explain why and how government (and political) intervention makes a free market in health care impossible. Has anyone not noticed that when governments run things or design things they are always costly and irrational and backward, plus they suck? Our financial crisis. Our war in Afghanistan. Our Post Office? Our war on _____. If we had government Autocare, we’d have millionaire auto mechanics, $20,000 front-end alignments and no one could afford car insurance or repairs unless they were dirt poor or stinking rich. We’d also have the same idiots calling for universal Autocare because of “market failure.”

Read more: http://healthland.time.com/2013/02/20/sound-off-are-medical-bills-too-high-tell-us-why/#ixzz2LfgcdWRN