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Open All Night | The Nation

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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

Well-chosen words on music, movies and politics, with the occasional special guest.

Open All Night

My new Think Again column is called “It’s All Connected (and That’s the Problem)” and it’s here. It’s about a lot of things including Jon Corzine, Grover Norquist and Jennifer Rubin.

My Nation column is apparently called “The Agony and Ecstasy—and 'Disgrace'—of Steve Jobs” and it’s here.  

Alter-reviews:
Petey and I were lucky enough to go see Bruce with Max’s band, and Jon Stewart, Ricky Gervais and this other pretty funny guy, at the Stand Up for Heroes benefit at Beacon the other night thanks to the New York Comedy Festival and its Salute to benefit the Bob Woodruff Foundation for traumatic brain injuries, which was founded to benefit wounded soldiers after Woodruff’s injury.

Caroline Hirsch told me that the foundation had already raised $12 million for wounded soldiers since its founding in 2004 (whether physically, emotionally or mentally) and they certainly added a bunch to that Wednesday night. (Bruce’s guitar went for $160,000.)

Backed by Max Weinberg's Big Band, Bruce again opened his set with a rearranged, big-bandish version of "Open All Night" which went on forever. Next came a lovely surprise, of “Spirit in the Night," also-big bandish, but with Bruce sashaying down into the seats to hang with some of the ladies, who all were fainting as if this were Phoenix, 1978. Next came a long, moving, solo version of "Land of Hope and Dreams" dedicated to "all the men and woman, guys and gals in uniform.... Your service and your sacrifices humble us tonight." They closed with a real short "Long Tall Sally" that looked like it was a surprise to the band. Bruce was in great shape, but he is really bad at telling jokes. Jon Stewart was quite good, though it was less funny when I saw the same lines on the show the next morning. Jim Gaffigan (the other guy) was pretty good. Bill Clinton was there, and he wasn’t so funny, but he was much funnier than the video of George Bush. Absolutely awful, I gotta say, was Ricky Gervais, who not only did warmed over material from his HBO special, but it was the part where, for about twenty minutes, he makes fun of fat people. What a jerk. He seems to know for sure that obesity has no basis in genetics, which is of course false.  The dude went on and on insisting that fat people should just stop eating and stop whining. I was embarrassed to be part of the audience, so cruel and unfunny it was to people who struggle with obesity for reasons about which Gervais has no clue or couldn’t care less. The rest of his routine was about gay sex. It really ruined me for Ricky Gervais.  Brian Williams and Seth whatshisname came on at the end too and were not terribly offensive. Here is the lineup for the Comedy Festival and here is more information about the foundation with some Bruce video built in.

It was a big week all around for music. I got to see Crosby Stills & Nash again at the Beacon on Monday night. As my friend Danny observed, they are way better at 70 then they were at 40. The show was the same, almost uniformly excellent show they did in late August at the same venue—with beautiful covers of “Girl from the North Country” and “Ruby Tuesday” but with the substitution of “Chicago” for “Long May You Run.” It was dedicated to OWS, of course, and Crosby and Nash moseyed on down there the next day. (I was teaching or I would have gone with them. They are fun guys.) LMYR is one of my favorite songs, so well, anyway, go see them if you can.

I saw Furthur last night at the Garden. Pretty nice set but I got there after “Scarlet Begonias” so I was kinda sad and I had to get up early and so I don’t even know if they did the Help/Slip/Frank part of the show I love so much, and I was way up high so I don’t even know who the blonde woman was that sang a little bit in the beginning.  Last time it was Diana Krall, but that was at Radio City and Elvis was there, so I doubt it this time. Also, Tuesday, I got to see Martha Wainwright do some wonderful Edith Piaf songs at a party thrown for her by Vanity Fair, and that’s a cd I’ll have to search out.

Now here’s Reed:

Earned Media
By Reed Richardson
First off, something new: a handy chart from the Pew Research Center detailing your not-so liberal media in action over the past six months.

Now if I were intellectually dishonest, I’d use this chart as Exhibit A in my argument that the press has an obvious bias toward most Republican presidential candidates and sure has it out for this Obama guy (more negative stories than even Newt Gingrich?—Ouch!), but that would be a rather superficial reading of the data. The president’s overwhelmingly critical media coverage is unquestionably related to the dire circumstances currently plaguing the nation’s economy, which his administration, it is now clear, didn’t do go far enough in addressing two-and-a-half years ago. (There’s also his troubling penchant for politically needless self-inflicted wounds). Of course, I’d argue that a not insignificant amount of this upside-down press coverage is due to a typical Beltway bias that shies away from calling out the opposition party’s intransigent governing style and downright economic sabotage, but in many respects, Obama’s unflattering portrayals in the press are of his own making.

Which brings me to Herman Cain, who one would think would have little to complain about based on the above chart, which, it should be noted, includes more than a week’s worth of news coverage after Politico first broke its story about his alleged sexual harassment. In fact, until recently, Cain was riding high atop a surge of positive news coverage that coincided with his unexpected run up the polls. But once his facile explanations and baseless conspiracy theories regarding the sexual harassment claims unraveled in the face of actual facts, the tenor of his news coverage changed dramatically.

And just like another prominent Republican who can’t abide being held accountable for her past words or deeds without lurching into persecution complex mode, Cain chose to respond to these serious allegations by first dismissing their very existence and then blaming the messenger. Like Palin, he suddenly fashioned himself a media ethics expert, decrying the press’s salacious appetite for scandal and willingness to cite anonymous sources in their reporting. (Sources, others have rightly pointed out, that were not anonymous to him, just to the public. And, really, whatsoever should these accusers have to fear by coming forward?) And when he wasn’t constantly walking back his latest excuse or hinting at dark, Democratic conspiracies, he was busy caviling about how the media should instead focus on the important problems confronting this country and his fantastic solutions to ending them.

What Cain conveniently overlooks, of course, is that all his heretofore good press was in spite of, not because of policy prescriptions like his regressive and unworkable 9-9-9 tax plan, which he was forced to clumsily modify in the face of constant criticism and thorough debunking of its claims. His unexpected rise to campaign trail prominence was in many ways a kind of media bubble, one in a series of such bubbles to have occurred in the Republican presidential campaign this year, where a brief bump in the polls ignites a flurry of positive coverage, which, in turn, leads to more favorable public opinion, which begets more media buzz, etc.

But the reality is that up until two weeks ago, news coverage of Cain, when it wasn’t obsessing over his improbably improved status in the horserace, was mostly dwelling on his biography and personal character. So it’s no surprise really that when a steady drip of news reports (and his bungling, dishonest response to them) undermined his campaign’s primary attribute, the positive press coverage collapsed as well.

Looking back, one will probably be able to argue that Cain never was a serious candidate for the Republican nomination, that his campaign was nothing more than a glorified book tour that just so happened to be the last (or next to last) gasp of the anti-Romney crowd. And his aggrieved tone, snide insults, and pedantic, one-tax-plan-fits-all answers at Wednesday’s debate in Michigan simply underscore this fact. (In re Cain’s “Princess Nancy” comment, someone will have to remind me of how many times any Democratic presidential candidate referred to “King George” on the 2004 campaign trail?)

But the real danger is that Cain’s eventual downfall somehow gets pinned on the media and not on his own self-destructive ego and ridiculously ephemeral ideas. I’m no fan of how the Washington press corps and Politico, in particular, operates, but in this case they shouldn’t bear any of the burden for how his sordid saga unfolds. In other words, Cain might not like the suddenly skeptical media environment he’s found himself in, but he sure has earned it. 

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