There’s an old Jewish tradition that we don’t speak out loud of the living and the dead at the same time, lest the Angel of Death hear us and get the idea to smite those who are still breathing.
Traditions are lovely things but sometimes I just can’t help myself, so permit me to invoke a second, accompanying Jewish tradition: mumbling a disclaimer:
“Not that I wish to conflate those who are alive with those who are not. However…..”
Brian Williams has been suspended.
Jon Stewart is leaving The Daily Show.
And Bob Simon was killed.
It’s just too much bad news in one week. Not just because of the losses involved, but because each story is utterly, absolutely, unreservedly ridiculous.
I never met Stewart or Simon. I worked with Brian Williams for two years, decades ago, before he began his NBC career. Back then Brian was a young, earnest, ambitious, self-effacing, hysterically funny, hard working, highly talented guy. He was quick to praise you when he liked your writing, but he’d deflect compliments aimed in his direction: yeah, it was a nice suit – he bought it on sale; sure, his smile looked nice on the giant promotional poster in the lobby – the p.r. person reminded him to floss that morning. Waiting for a live shot he’d feed the squirrels on the lawn. After his shift he could be spotted chowing down on a slice of Original Ray’s, al fresco – sitting on the stoop of the Lincoln Square Synagogue across the street.
And he sparkled on camera, from the first moment station management sat him in the anchor chair to fill in on the Noon broadcast. We all knew we were watching a star being born, and nobody was surprised when he jumped to NBC and reached the top of his profession. He had the gift.
So what happened? People say different things. They say Brian got a big head along with the big contract. They say he got a little full of himself. That he started showing off, taking too much credit, embellishing, exaggerating, maybe even outright fibbing… to build himself up. They also say he stopped being so nice to folks, which may explain why you saw almost none of his staff rush to defend him.
But really. He makes a few self-aggrandizing remarks, gets caught, and everything comes crashing down? He’s “Lyin’ Brian” with a Pinocchio nose on the front page of the New York Post?? Suddenly he’s off the air, while a thousand talking heads who’ve never met him and don’t know him shed crocodile tears and thunder with self-righteous, disingenuous rhetoric about “lost credibility?”
Jon Stewart is the Will Rogers of our time. He makes us laugh by telling us the truth – about our politicians, our government, our world. He calls out the self-important blowhards, catches them in contradictions, and skewers them with a mix of sophisticated wit and “are-you-f***ing-KIDDING-me” astonishment. In doing so he’s managed to get millions of under-40 slackers interested in politics. Well, sort of. As long as the stuff is funny. These are the same folks who tell pollsters they get most of their news from watching The Daily Show. They trust a comedian to inform them. They don’t trust the news media, but they scream at an anchorman – whom they don’t watch – for not being perfect.
Don’t cry for Jon Stewart because he’s had enough, he’s restless and wants to be taken seriously.
Don’t cry for Brian Williams (he’s “shattered,” reports say) because he’ll have to manage on only 5 million dollars this year.
Cry for Bob Simon.
Not a flashy guy. Not a laugh-out-loud funny guy. Not a parachute-into-the-story-with-a-team-of-handlers-after-a-trip-to-Banana-Republic-to-look-the-part guy.
An old-school news guy. 47 years of hard work. Shot at in Vietnam. Kidnapped in Iraq. Made fierce friends and bitter enemies with his Middle East coverage. And a gifted writer/storyteller like few before him or since. The real deal.
And a lousy car crash takes him away. A traffic accident. They happen every single day. Traffic reporters gloss over them in seconds. They’re meaningless. They’re blips on the screen. Except when they’re not.
Utterly, absolutely, unreservedly ridiculous.
Way too much bad news in one week.