Saturday, July 11, 2009


Open Thread

In Atlanta visiting with family this weekend, hoping I might become an uncle by the time I head home on Monday. Anyway, chat amongst yourselves in the meantime.

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Friday, July 10, 2009


When The Levi Breaks

Except for a short post last weekend, I've tried to keep the Sarah Palin drama at arm's length.

Regular readers of this blog know that, from the announcement last summer of Palin as McCain's running mate, I've been rather skeptical of the soon-to-be-former governor of Alaska. My initial doubts had more to do with what I saw as a disconnect between the GOP's "family values" brand and the seeming acceptance of familial dysfunction represented by the welcoming of pregnant teen Bristol and "baby daddy" Levi Johnston at the GOP convention.

Since the end of the campaign, my doubts on Palin have intensified, even as the broader family soap-opera has expanded. The end of the Bristol-Levi relationship was about as surprising as the idea of snow in Alaska -- "engagement of convenience," if ever there was one.

What bothered me even more was that Palin constantly gave mixed signals. On the one hand, she indicated frustration over her family coming in for unfair scrutiny from the media. On the other, she seemed to have no problem with letting Bristol become a celebrity herself: She stood by as her 18-year old daughter first became a national spokeswoman against teen pregnancy (which included a trip to a national convention in New York City -- 2,900 miles away) and then sat for a People magazine cover-shoot. Sorry, but this girl has a six-month baby that she's supposedly taking care of!

What sort of "role model" is being created here? If Sarah Palin wants her family out of the media spotlight, don't toss them into it! Let Bristol work within the parameters of being a "normal" teen mother: Help her with college if necessary or help get her a "normal" job in Alaska. As obnoxious as David Letterman's initial comments were, if Palin lets her daughter become a more prominent teen mom, the family becomes fair game for "knocked up" jokes.

However, if Sarah Palin actually has presidential plans for 2012, the smartest thing that she can do is get rid of her spokeswoman. Meg Stapleton doesn't seem to know the first rule of dealing with the press or political incoming fire: You never engage an attack from below. By that I mean, a chief executive doesn't get into a personal fight with someone of unequal stature. During a campaign, a presidential candidate doesn't get into a political fight with a staffer from the other campaign: The candidate just engages the other candidate.

While the dynamic is slightly different when family is involved, the principle isn't completely thrown out the window. Stapleton doesn't understand this. On Thursday, Johnston reappeared to give his opinion that Palin decided to quit the governorship because of monetary reasons:
Levi Johnston, 19, whose wedding to Bristol Palin was called off earlier this year, said Thursday he lived with the Palin family from early December to the second week in January. He claimed he heard the governor several times say how nice it would be to take advantage of the lucrative deals that were being offered, including a reality show and a book.

"She had talked about how nice it would be to take some of this money people had been offering us and you know just run with it, say 'forget everything else,'" he said.

He said he thinks book deals were really what appealed to Palin.

"I think the big deal was the book. That was millions of dollars," said Johnston, who has had a strained relationship with the family but now says things have improved.

Johnston is a 19-year-old kid. The only way he's a threat to the Palins is if they let him become one. The smart response to this is to either (preferably) just ignore the comments or, alternately, just play them down. She can say, "The governor has made the reasons for her decision known. It's been more than six months since Levi lived with the Palins. He's not in a position to know what's transpired since then." Palin and Co. remain above the fray.

Instead, Stapleton can't resist personalizing exchanges with Johnston:
"It is interesting to learn Levi is working on a piece of fiction while honing his acting skills." By engaging him, Stapleton elevates Johnston (and diminishes her supposed bosses, the Palin family).

And it's not the first time she's lashed out at him. After Levi's appearance on the Tyra Banks show in April (when he surmised that Sarah Palin probably knew that he and Bristol were having sex before the pregnancy became known), Stapleton said:
"Bristol did not even know Levi was going on the show. We're disappointed that Levi and his family, in a quest for fame, attention, and fortune, are engaging in flat-out lies, gross exaggeration, and even distortion of their relationship," says the statement from the Palin family rep, Meghan Stapleton.

"Bristol's focus will remain on raising Tripp, completing her education, and advocating abstinence," the statement continues. "It is unfortunate that Levi finds it more appealing to exploit his previous relationship with Bristol than to contribute to the well being of the child."

The statement ends, saying, "Bristol realizes now that she made a mistake in her relationship and is the one taking responsibility for their actions."
Even though Bristol and Levi are no longer romantically involved, they still have a child together. Having the spokeswoman trade barbs with the father of Gov. Palin's grandson isn't just dumb politically, it's stupid personally.

Furthermore, Johnston (or his attorney) seem to have better political instincts than Stapleton (or Palin herself, considering she keeps her spokeswoman around): His explanation for Palin's quitting seems to be more honest and straight-forward than hers. In short, he's sounding more "plain-talking common-sense" than Sarah Palin herself.

But, again, Stapleton is failing the basics of PR: A story only gets bigger when a statement is returned with major fire. Forget about political press secretaries, spokespersons for celebrity clients know this.

Stapleton doesn't. Which creates a big question: Who is Sarah Palin's worst enemy: Her non-son-in-law, her spokeswoman -- or herself?

UPDATE: Peggy Noonan unleashes a can of whup-ass on Sarah Palin and her party defenders. Heather Mac Donald goes after what's left.

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009


Never Can Stop Saying Goodbye

Perhaps the Jewish people have it right: When a person dies, they are dead -- and gone. Above ground is for the living. Thus, burial is within 24 hours if possible. The dead are returned to earth. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes.

The alternative seems better, considering that it took 12 days to finally lay Michael Jackson to rest. While Jackson is something of a unique case, he does prove a point: The longer the dead remain among us, the easier it is for unseemly debate to break out on the "truth" the deceased represented. Mark Anthony's assertion that, "The evil men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones," can barely sustain the scrutiny of the modern-day spin cycle.

Had Jackson been buried a week ago, perhaps Rep. Peter King's weekend rant on Jackson being a "pervert, child molester and pedophile" wouldn't have been quite so off-putting. For that matter, perhaps King wouldn't have even said it, as it seemed to have come from a place of frustration over the the amount of time that Jackson was consuming the news cycles. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty had a point in saying that it had gone on too long. And this is hardly a partisan issue: Many congressional Democrats are squirming with the idea of overly praising Jackson's lifestyle.)

Conversely, with the dead still "with" us, the temptation exists also for the living admirers to find still more superlatives with which to praise them.

It wasn't enough that Michael Jackson managed to bring black and white musical styles together. No, in his eulogy, Rev. Al Sharpton had to declare him the racial barrier-breaking precursor to Barack Obama. And let's not forget that, as good as Jackson's "Thriller" videos were, if it wasn't for the corporate power of CBS threatening to pull all their videos off MTV, that racial barrier might not have fallen either.

(The president's carefully worded statements about the King of Pop suggests that the father of two in the White House also instinctively recognizes Jackson's problematic dual nature.)

For Sharpton, it wasn't enough for "We Are The World" to be a good song and ultra-successful charity single. No, Michael had to be responsible for discovering famine in Africa"before Live-Aid," Sharpton gushed.

In fact, Jackson and Lionel Richie were inspired by Bob Geldof's Band-Aid single, "Do They Know It's Christmas?" which was a huge worldwide hit over the holidays in 1984. The duo wrote WATW in time for the '84 American Music Awards, gathered the talent -- and the rest is history.

Did WATW's success enable Geldof to put on a Live-Aid far greater than he could have ever imagined (in Philadelphia. AND London, for example)? Absolutely. But the fact remains Jackson followed Geldof's example, just as he and the Jacksons built upon the music of earlier cross-racial trailblazers -- many of whom recorded for Motown.

Point is: Michael Jackson was an amazing talent -- with more than a few emotional "issues," as the saying goes. But why the need to pump him up even higher than his own prodigious efforts already did? If anything helped contribute to Jackson's fall in later life, it was his own perfectionism that made it impossible for him to live up to the monstrous talent that he had created.

Like all people, Jackson wasn't a saint. Like all of us, he was a sinner. But to the extent that Pete King states? That's still a question that will linger for many a year. But, he's not quite the demon King wants to make him.

But amazing as he was, he wasn't the deity Sharpton wants to portray either. Superbly talented, yes, but stunningly haunted and tortured as well, with afflictions which led him to certainly harm himself -- and possibly others as well.

But again, that is for historians to decide. Perhaps the one thing that was truly worth waiting for in Tuesday's memorial was Jackson's 11-year old daughter Paris speaking in public for the first time, "Ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine. And I just wanted to say I love him — so much."

That was, the appropriate poignant coda to a too-long public mourning. At a certain point, grief must become personal, owned by those who knew the deceased best. That moment has at last been reached.

For now, finally, it can be said: Michael Jackson, R.I.P.

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Monday, July 06, 2009


Fall of A Titan

Over a holiday weekend that produced the Sarah Palin shocker, sports and reality intruded in an awful way with news about the murder of former NFL quarterback Steve McNair. All the cliches about McNair's playing days were mentioned during the coverage on sports outlets -- "toughest guy that ever played quarterback," "created new paradigm for black QBs," "role model," etc.

Alas, dancing around these statements (all true, in their own way) was the fact that this 36 year old supposedly married father of four was discovered dead with a woman (a rather young one at that) not his wife. Early evidence suggests a murder-suicide. The two were pulled over a few days ago in the Cadillac Escalade that McNair evidently bought for her.

Over at Booker Rising, the black moderate/conservative site, owner-editor Shay makes this a parable about a black man straying with a white woman (the dead woman found with McNair is Iranian-born) -- with predictable tragic results.

Alas, as the Mark Sanford psycho-drama shows, there is no racial monopoly on guys needing to get a little on the side.

McNair's wife evidently hadn't seen him for "two days." Sound familiar?

Many men -- especially men in powerful, public, positions -- are dogs, without respect to race.

In the classic words of Chris Rock, "Men are only as faithful as their options." Men of certain status -- whether athletes, politicians or entertainers -- have more options.
In both cases, four children have to face the consequences of a father's betrayal. Sanford has destroyed his career -- and probably his marriage. McNair's poor judgment caused him the loss of his life. I think what this says about the human condition is more interesting than the race of the people involved.

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