The Found Novel

 While working on my non-fiction book today, I came across this file.  It’s chapter one of a novel I started writing a few years ago….

….who knows?  It might be worth doing a bit more work on.  Enjoy! 

 

MISDEMEANOR HOMICIDE

 

 

The adjective, not the month, Alex Gosnold told himself, with the emphasis on the second syllable. 

 

Au-GUST.

 

That’s the only way to describe this place, the reporter thought as he (in between furtive glances at his watch) looked around Courtroom B in the Federal Courthouse in Mobile, Alabama.  Wood so polished you could see your reflection in it, burnished walls with marble accents, crimson and dark navy blue carpeting so thick it felt like the fibers were trying to pull your shoes off as you walked.  He impatiently looked at his watch one more time, jotted down “august chamber” on his slim reporter’s notepad (and just as quickly recognizing he’d never use that phrase in a local television story), and thought of the sanctity -there really was no other word- of this courtroom.

 

In an instant, that sanctity was broken. 

 

“Hey, how you doin, Cher!”

 

It was a statement, not a question, and Alex immediately regretted his use of the word sanctity to describe anything having to do with Pierre Beauragard.  Beauragard (“Everyone just calls me Pee Bee, that’s P-E-E B-E-E, got it?”) was a coon-ass.

 

Gosnold’s attempt to explain the entymology of the phrase coon-ass was met by skepticism by his Massachusetts family.  Apparently General Andrew Jackson, during a battle in the War of 1812, directed a group of coon-skin wearing, northern Louisiana Cajun militiamen to a specific part of the battlefield with a concise, “Get those Coon-Asses over there!” The early nineteenth century nickname stuck, and is still used to describe rural Cajuns from the region.  The racial overtones are a more recent development.  Gosnold’s efforts to explain the distinction to his liberal family was met only with cynical nods and the comment, “It must be a Southern thing.”  

 

One more look at the watch gave Gosnold time to ponder yet again Pee Bee’s enduring legacy.  He was a liberal sociologist’s dream: a four time loser, twice sent to juvenile hall before two different stints at the Louisiana State Prison in Angola for drug possession charges.  Beauragard was a walking, talking example of all that was wrong in the corrections field. 

 

“Recidivism, thy name is Pee Bee,” a judge said before sentencing Pee Bee to his most recent stint at Angola three years ago.

 

“Huh?” Pee Bee asked, rendered as close to speechless as he’d ever get, before he was escorted to the lock-up to await transport to prison.  In prison Pee Bee, for all intents and purposes, thrived.  He didn’t have to worry about a bed, a meal, or bills (not that the latter especially concerned him outside of prison).  He was glib, popular, and –with his ability to embellish- considered somewhat intelligent.  He was not, however, physically strong, and bore the torment of prison with a degree of resignation. 

 

That is, until he met Francis Andrews.  Andrews was another recidivist criminal who just couldn’t deal with “the outside”.  Andrews had seen his share of juvey halls, halfway houses, county lock-ups and state prisons (both medium and maximum security).  If anyone had the experience to write a Michelin Guide to Prisons it was Andrews.  And  he’d save his top reviews for the federal penitentiary in which he’d once done time. 

 

“The fags stay away from you, the guards aren’t assholes, the food is pretty good, and it’s air-conditioned” he’d once told a rapt audience of prisoners in Angola. 

 

Pee Bee, in the group of prisoners listening to Andrews, began to hatch a plan. 

 

“Why’d you get to go to the Federal Pen?” he asked as the group walked from the one-hundred two degree exercise yard to the relative cool of their ninety-eight degree cells.

 

Andrews looked at him, surprised that someone as familiar with the law as Pee Bee didn’t understand the difference between federal and state offenses.  My God, I’m serving with a bunch of idiots, he thought.

 

“Cuz I committed a federal crime,” he told Pee Bee. 

 

“What’d you do?” (and how can I do it? wondered Pee Bee, who finally realized that life in prison –without the physical struggles- was far better than life outside).

 

“I beat up a guy.”

 

“-I- beat up a guy,” Pee Bee replied, “and I was sent to a county lock-up.”

 

“Yea, but my guy was a mailman.”

 

“So?  My guy was a doorman at a bar.  They’re tougher than mailmen.”  Pee Bee, proud of the distinction, cackled and fist bumped another prisoner listening to the conversation.  

 

Andrews regretted talking to this moron whose good nature and quick wittedness had made him into something of a prison celebrity.  The sooner I finish with this guy, the better, he thought.  He didn’t realize any attention he gave to Pee Bee would be reciprocated.  Intensely. 

 

“Pee Bee, it’s like this:  they don’t determine who tries you because of toughness, they do it based on jurisdiction.”

 

“Yea, I know.”

 

“No, Pee Bee, you don’t know, you fucking moron.  If you knew, you wouldn’t have asked.  The trial for a crime committed against the feds takes place in a federal court.  And if the suspect is found guilty, he’s sentenced tooooo…”  Andrews gave the “tooooo?” an interrogative tone, expecting Pee Bee to finish his sentence.  He did.

 

“Less time in here?”

 

Patiently now, as if talking to a child.

 

“No, Pee Bee, the suspect is sentenced to federal prison.  Not less time….a better jail.  Three hots, air-conditioning in summer, and,” he paused, with a dramatic flair, “conjugal visits.”

 

Pee Bee knew all about conjugal visits – from stories, not from firsthand experience. 

 

And it was at this point that Pee Bee’s plan began to take shape.  Pee Bee had a vague childhood recollection of a summer visit spent at the Fort Barancas National Seashore – a national park just off the Pensacola coast.  Nothing too fancy: a guard house (staffed by National Park employees –who would play a vital role in his plan-) where visitors paid the two dollar beach entry fee, and miles of white sandy shoreline running into the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  It’s federal property, he thought, and the Park employees are unarmed.  

 

Pee Bee, immediately upon his release from Angola, traveled to a cousin’s apartment in Pensacola.  While there Pee Bee, who didn’t like guns, bought a starter’s pistol from a sports supply store and drove the fifteen or so miles through Gulf Breeze, onto Pensacola beach and down to the Seashore.  The crime would have been perfect, except for one thing: the Park employee manning the guard shack that day was fifty-nine years old with a history of heart trouble.  Pee Bee, in an effort to scare the official, fired off the starter’s pistol as he entered the guard shack.

 

The Park employee died of an immediate heart-attack.

 

Pee Bee, all his life, had decried his lack of good luck.  The attempted robbery proved yet again that Pierre Beauragard’s request to God for a break, any break at all, fell on deaf ears. 

 

And at that point, Pee Bee realized his bad luck only became worse.

 

Unfortunately for him, he had chosen to commit his robbery on the very same day a multi-jurisdictional mock rescue exercise (scheduled months in advance) was taking place just over the dunes of the guard shack. 

 

Alerted by the gunshot, other Park workers, less than one hundred yards away from the shooting, immediately took off for the guard shack.  They were joined by local police and fire employees, county sheriff’s deputies, coast guard officials and even a contingent of marine aviators from the nearby Naval Air station participating in the exercise.  Also overhead were two news helicopters videotaping the “rescue” (it had been a slow news day along the Gulf Coast).  Pee Bee, scared out of his wits by the immediate demise of his robbery victim, turned at the sound of the helicopters, military humvees, and fire trucks headed his way.  Expecting only five or so National Guard employees, Pee Bee saw framed through the guard shack window thirteen green suited National Park employees, seventeen sheriff’s deputies from both Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties, twenty-two firefighters, thirteen EMTs and a platoon of marines, all running to the shack. 

 

So he did the only thing he could.

 

He jumped through the window on the opposite side of the guard shack, directly toward to the beach and in perfect view of the news helicopters hovering nearby.  Both helicopters captured the diminutive Pee Bee crashing through the glass, landing on the ground, gathering up his gun and running headlong for the Santa Rosa Sound. 

 

If I can only make it to the water, he thought –forgetting for a moment that he had actually made this plan in the hopes of getting captured– I’ll make it across the Sound and I’ll be home free. 

 

Forget Los Angeles car chases – THIS was compelling video.  A hardened criminal, waving a gun (yes, it was just a starter’s pistol, but who could tell from five hundred feet away?), trailed by dozens of law enforcement and military personnel running through the dunes, as he made his way across a strip of asphault and into Santa Rosa Sound. 

 

Pee Bee, scared out of his wits, seemed to kick into a gear that surprised even him.  Unfortunately for him, the extra burst of speed simply put off the inevitable and gave the reporters in the two local news copters covering his run time to persuade their supervisors that this chase deserved a live cut-in.  (“I don’t know what the fuck is happening down there,” one of the reporters told his executive producer over the cell phone, “but we have some dude in the water being chased by, what, fifty cops? A hundred cops?   I don’t need facts, man, we’ve got great video! Get me on!”).

 

So, in a matter of minutes, Pierre Beuragard’s asinine attempt to quietly rob a federal park, all in the hopes of getting him time in a federal prison, was broadcast to tens of thousands of people along the gulf coast from Destin, Florida to Biloxi, Mississippi.  Those thousands who tuned in were treated to the site of Pee Bee slowly swimming through the Sound between a Coast Guard patrol boat and a Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s boat.  The crews of each decided to let him tire out before they attempted to retrieve him from the water.       

 

Gosnold, hired at the local CBS affiliate a week after the incident, recalled laughing with his new colleagues in the newsroom as they watched the unedited video of Pee Bee’s capture.  Pee Bee, by now naked (hoping, by shedding his clothes and losing the starter’s pistol he’d swim faster), crying and hugging the heavyset deputy who cuffed him. 

 

“I din’t wanna die out there, Big.  I din’t wanna die in dat water.”

 

“You idjit,” the deputy told him, “the water was only five feet deep.  Jesus.”

 

Three years after that capture, Pee Bee’s trial was about to come to an end.  The United States had presented its case, and rested, as had Pee Bee’s court appointed lawyer.  Now, the judge was about to instruct the jury members and send them off to deliberate.  Gosnold and his colleagues from the four competing stations in Mobile and Pensacola had fielded calls from their respective desks, all with the same two questions, “When is the jury coming back?  Will you be ready for the five?” 

 

Gosnold didn’t know the answer to the former, and the answer to the latter didn’t matter; he’d be fronting a live shot for the five pm show regardless of the jury’s status.  What the jury didn’t know, however, was the decision the presiding judge presiding had already made on this Friday afternoon: the jury was going to work through the weekend to come up with a verdict. 

 

And if the jury was going to work through the weekend, so, too, would the reporters covering the story.      

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Getting Burned In The TV Biz

Forget Vladimir Putin, forget Canada’s Gold Medal winning hockey team, forget the controversy surrounding the use of Sochi as a venue for a Winter Olympics.  The biggest issue to come from last month’s Olympics? A horribly timed inflammation of the cunjunctiva.

Conjunctivitis.

Pink eye.

It’s a painless – and otherwise benign – condition that affected not one of the top athletes or judges or coaches.  No, this case of pink eye brought down the face of NBC’s Olympic Coverage, Bob Costas.  The longtime host of the Olympics was forced to step aside for a week as he battled the viral infection that –most of the time- causes slight discomfort and clears up after a few weeks.  For most workers, pink eye means a day or two off from work, antiviral medicine to reduce the risk of passing it along to co-workers…

…and that’s it.

In television?

Not so much.

It’s unseemly to have the talent hosting the program with eyes as red as Lucifer’s.

bob-costas-pink-eye-1

So, NBC did the only thing it could – network execs decided to bench Costas for a week during the network’s signature event.  Can you blame them?

It’s one of the drawbacks to working in an appearance-based medium.

Costas, for whom the only long term effects of the virus may be to his reputation (there are allegations, shot down by NBC, that the conjunctivitis came as a result of botox treatments received before the Olympics) will be just fine.

A colleague of his at NBC suffered another appearance-based injury that was a bit more serious, and reminded me of the dangers posed by….

…television lights.

Kerry Sanders, an NBC correspondent based in the southeast, spent all day in the Jacksonville sun last month delivering live shots for NBC’s various shows during the Michael Dunn trial. Starting with his early morning appearance for the Today Show, Sanders then provided periodic hits for MSNBC, which led to the NBC Nightly News hours later.  All the while, Sanders was being bombarded by an invisible assailant. UV rays from a malfunctioning HMI light scorched Sanders skin –and corneas- so severely, he was blinded and burned for 36 hours.  Sanders described the incident on Twitter

and the response has been interesting.  Most interesting? Other TV reporters who dealt with the same issues.

I’m one of them.

Although – I have to admit – I’ve long used my story as cocktail party fodder to describe just how foolish the biz can be.

On June 5th, 2004, Ronald Reagan died at his home in California.  Over the next few days, millions watched as he was honored with a state funeral in Washington.  A DC based correspondent, it was my responsibility to anchor coverage of his funeral for our dozen or so stations across the country.  The DC bureau was in an ideal location – situated just steps from the Capitol, our live spot was the rooftop of our office.  NBC, FOX, C-Span were all located in the same building – their shots with the Capitol Dome in the background were almost as good as ours.  We, however, toughed the elements and provided live shots from the roof; they enjoyed the comforts of an enclosed studio.

I’d have given anything for an enclosed studio that June.

The live shots started early: pre-dawn hits for our stations on the east coast, sunrise with our midwest stations, midday Q and A for our west coast station morning shows.  All was going just fine: we’d produced enough video for the stations to run as I offered live commentary on the funeral.  An apt metaphor for the always optimistic Reagan, the sun shone brightly on DC as millions offered their good-byes.

The sun.

Yes, that was a problem.

In order to provide the beautiful shot of the Capitol, we had to position ourselves with the sun behind me….which meant I was going to be in shadow.  This wasn’t a film noire production, I couldn’t appear in shadow.  So, my photographer turned on our HMI light, placed it about fifteen feet away from my face, and hoped for the best.

We got the best: the live shots looked fantastic…

…at least until late in the day.

First, a word about those HMI lights: they’re designed to provide the same light as the sun.  They’re also firing off UV rays which are supposed to be blocked by a filter on the light’s lens.  In the case of Kerry Sanders –and the reporters who suffered the same fate- the lens apparently malfunctioned.

It happened to me, as well.

Remember your first sunburn? You didn’t realize it was happening until you arrived home from the beach late in the day, right?

That’s exactly what happened with me.

By late afternoon that day, I noticed a slight warming sensation on my face – nothing major, just a bit of a flush.

Or so I thought.

One of my final live shots came just after six o’clock for our Connecticut station.  As I introduced my story, the producer in Hartford left his mic open, which allowed me to hear everything in the Hartford control room.

“What the hell’s wrong with Andy?”  I heard the unmistakable voice of Hartford’s news director ask.

I felt fine.

I thought the story was fine.

The live toss to the package was fine.

What, I thought, is she talking about?

I listened in: “He looks awful,” she continued.

My thoughts? How nice of her – she realizes I’ve been out here for thirteen hours and she’s concerned for my well-being.

Not exactly.

“Andy!” She had now taken over the producer’s mic and was talking directly to me.

I held up my hand and nodded, letting her know I could hear her.

“Did you put any sunscreen on today?”

I nodded no.

“You look like a lobster.”

I smiled, shrugged, and gave her a sheepish “what-can-you-do?” look. By now I was a bit worried that my story was coming to an end and I had to come back to my live tag out.  I couldn’t hear the story because she was talking, and her producer couldn’t cue me because…

…she was now shouting.

“You look like shit! What the hell were you thinking?! We’re done with you tonight!”

At that, my story ended.

“Cue him,” her producer said, nonplussed at the intrusion in his show.

I tagged out, produced one final live shot (I think it was for Nashville) and headed home an hour later.

Thankfully, it was a Friday.  The burned skin and corneas I dealt with (and assumed came from the sun, and not the HMI lights) cleared up by the following Monday.

…and my relationship with the news director in Hartford never improved.

So, you want to be a talk-show host….

“There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

-PT Barnum

 

The truth of the matter is that there is no real definitive proof of 19th century circus owner and showman P.T. Barnum ever uttering that oft-quoted phrase attributed to him.  That’s too bad, because it’s brilliant.  It’s also a perfect descriptive phrase for a 21st century industry that can only be described as a circus: talk radio.     

 

It takes a different kind of person to be a talk radio host.  Intelligent, witty and insightful; thick skinned enough to handle criticism, thin-skinned enough to internalize such criticism and use it to self-motivate; disciplined, outrageous, charismatic….

…and just a little bit insane.

 

By now you know the story of John DePetro’s latest brush with publicity.  The talk-show host characterized female union protesters at a late September Gina Raimondo fundraising rally as parasites, union hags and whores.  Union members, who have frequently been at odds with DePetro’s anti-union diatribes sensed an opportunity and pounced.  They created an online campaign (at http://www.forourdaughtersri.org) geared at shaming Alex and Ani, a sponsor of DePetro’s show, saying the successful Rhode Island based jewelry manufacturer’s support of the program violates the jeweler’s mission statement of “…a positive message.”  Very quickly, thousands of people signed the online petition against the program.  Just as quickly, pols –including United States Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse along with Governor Lincoln Chafee – announced they’d not go on any WPRO talk show as a declaration of support for the petition. 

 

It’s not the first time DePetro has engaged in what some consider misogynistic behavior.  The Forourdaughters website describes a litany of such actions, beginning with his 2006 suggestion that a woman was to blame for her rape and murder in New York.  Also in 2006 he was fired from a Boston talk station after describing a female gubernatorial candidate in Massachusetts as a “fat lesbian”; in 2008 ratings agency Arbitron downgraded DePetro’s ratings numbers after it was determined six ratings diaries were submitted from his house…he blamed his wife for the mistake (WPRO station manager blamed her as well and went so far as to send a press release out saying as much); in 2012 he faced allegations that he sexually harassed a coworker at WPRO.  The Boston Herald, in the 2008 ratings contretemps, described him as a “controversy-dogged talkmeister.”

 

He’s not alone.  Talk show hosts (see “insane” above) have long walked the line between good taste, intelligent discourse…

…and puerile name-calling. 

 

Glen Beck claimed Barack Obama had a “deep-seated hatred for white people…”; according to Michael Savage Hillary Clinton hates white people, too; liberal talk show host Mike Malloy apparently wants Tea Party members beheaded; Rush Limbaugh called a birth control activist a slut; Don Imus lost his gig at MSNBC for calling the female basketball team at Rutgers a bunch of “nappy headed hos.”

 

And I used to work in this industry? 

 

I need to take a shower.

 

Full disclosure here: I was a broadcast journalist with –what I considered- an impressive background.  I was more than a mere local anchor – I was a national correspondent who reported live from the White House and the Capitol for a television station group.  When I was approached by WPRO in 2011 to co-host a new morning show (and replace DePetro) I told executives that I wasn’t a shock-host and would love to act as a journalist along with my co-host.  The show didn’t work out and two years later the station went, as they say, in a different direction. 

 

DePetro, who survived the litany of events listed above, looks as if he’ll survive this one, too.  A station source I spoke with said he is expected to return very soon.  Via text, DePetro declined comment today (Sunday, December 15th) but in an email this afternoon, suggested I “…swing by the Trail this week.” 

 

“You’ll be back on?” I asked him.

 

“You know the drill.” He responded, “All questions to Craig.”

 

Craig Schwalb is WPRO’s program director.  A text from him about the issue today said simply, “Decline to comment.” 

 

Talk radio in Providence, and across New England for that matter, has seen better days. Years ago, local ownership groups did their best to present a local presence on air; today, it’s far different.  Nationally syndicated programs like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and a host of others are less expensive to air in local markets than, say, a former local politician or personality trying to bring attention to local issues.  Boston, Providence and Worcester, considered larger markets, still work to produce local programs, but ownership groups looking to the bottom line are hard pressed to hire staff to fill a three hour daily show, when they need only flip a switch for a national program that potential clients are familiar with.   

 

Holland Cooke, a national talk radio consultant based in Rhode Island, says talk show hosts have become, “a caricature, a punchline….it’s monologue without dialogue.”  He says he works mainly with stations in smaller markets but was recently hired to consult for former powerhouse WRKO in Boston.  “It’s too soon for me to take the blame or credit for anything going on there,” he points out, but says the station should look to engage its listeners far more than they have in the past.  “Engagement,” he says speaking like a true consultant, “is the buzzword you keep hearing.” 

 

It’s difficult to be engaged with local listeners when hosts broadcast from New York or Washington or, heck, Florida (which is where Limbaugh hosts his shows).  WPRO, to its credit, continues to produce local talk shows through the day; WHJJ has just one local program; WTAG in Worcester has two such programs.  Boston talk –actually most of New England talk- is now dominated by sportstalk, and why wouldn’t it be with the success of the Sox, Pats, Bruins and Celtics?  WBZ in Boston does a superlative job in producing news updates through the day and presents a middle-of the road talk show in the early evening.  NPR affiliates across New England pick up the national programs from NPR but, even though a few of them are produced in Boston, they tend not to touch on local issues. 

 

Which brings us back to DePetro. 

 

If, as expected, he returns to work this week, what is to become of those 71 pols who signed the petition saying they’d never appear on WPRO again?  “He doesn’t do a lot of radio interviews,” says Amy Kempe, the spokesperson for Rhode Island’s Attorney General.  Peter Kilmartin, she points out, has long refused to go on DePetro’s shows.  “It was a decision he made because of John’s attacks and efforts to get a rise out of guests without a public discussion.”  That, likely, won’t change.  Other pols have said they’d speak on ‘PRO’s other programs, which I am sure thrills station management and those other hosts.    

 

Finally, once DePetro takes his place behind a microphone in the studios along Wampanoag Trail, the publicity this petition gave the shock-host is sure to garner him more listeners.

 

Somewhere, PT Barnum is smiling at this ongoing circus.    

November 22

On May 29, 1917, John F. Kennedy was born in Brookline, Massachusetts.  More than fifty years later –to the day – I was born on Cape Cod.  Our shared birthdays led me to consume anything and everything Kennedy related as a child, and –like a child- I basked in the heroism and hagiography of his life story.  With age and with study of history and politics came the realization that –as are we all- Jack Kennedy was a human being: not quite perfect, and not completely flawed.   

The fiftieth anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination is being marked by remembrances from national leaders to journalists who covered the event to citizens who may have never met the thirty-fifth president….

….but still feel a connection to him. 

The reasons his assassination resonates so fully with people vary and have been well documented. Primary among them is this: television brought this young, charismatic politician into the homes of Americans on a daily basis; his death seemed like the death of a family member. 

A native Cape Codder born after his assassination, my connection to the Cape’s most well-known resident is obvious – we swam in the same waters, drove the same roads and walked the same greens and fairways at Hyannisport Golf Club.   That connection, however, goes far beyond the fact that my siblings and I were raised just a few miles away from the Kennedy Compound.  First, a note about the Cape: yes, it is an exclusive vacation spot for some – but not for all.  Like most of my friends and neighbors, we were middle class.  Dad was a teacher, Mom a secretary.  We struggled with finances like other families, but the efforts of –and the part time jobs obtained by- my parents taught us the value of hard work and discipline.  I may have walked the same fairways as JFK at the Hyannisport Club, but there was a great difference: he played, I caddied.  Proximity to the Kennedy Compound didn’t mean we were in the same economic neighborhood.  Far from it.

Image

The first tee at Hyannisport, twenty years before I was doing double loops there. 

That proximity did lead to other shared experiences.  Mom and Dad were married  -and I was baptized and had my first communion- at St. Francis Xavier Church in Hyannis.  It was also the same parish the Kennedys called home.  I can still recall tourists turning and taking photos of Ted Kennedy as the Senator attended mass.  There was pride in the fact that my parents prayed in the same pews as the nation’s first Catholic president, and that Jack’s –and later Bobby’s and Ted’s- efforts to improve the lot of the less fortunate among us came from our shared Catholic beliefs.

The church is located on South Street in Hyannis, directly in front of the old Barnstable High School and a half mile from where my mother grew up.  Mom loves telling the story of election-day in 1960: Jack’s defeat of Nixon wasn’t confirmed until early the following day.  A few hours later, the President-elect and his family drove down South Street to give his acceptance speech at the Hyannis Armory, a few blocks from the high school.  Mom describes running from the school, falling and scraping her knee in an effort to watch the caravan of cars pass.  She had seen him plenty of times before, but never as President-elect. The memory, she says, still resonates.

“They drove by,” she’s told us hundreds of times, “and as he passed he smiled and waved right at me.”

  Image 

The President-elect at the Hyannis armory. 

I grew up in the ‘80s, years after Kennedy was assassinated, and during the height of the Reagan revolution.  Despite the country’s turn to the Right politically, there was still a great deal of interest in all things Kennedy.  The summer months would see thousands of tourists descend upon Hyannis for a drive by the Compound.  I can’t begin to count the number of times I’d be biking through Hyannis and then be stopped by tourists asking for directions.

Inevitably, after giving directions, I’d hear the same question: “Are you a Kennedy?”

I always thought the question came as a result of my obvious good-looks, charisma and intelligence.*

Not so much. 

A high school friend of mine is in Hollywood shopping a script he’s written about similar experiences he went through growing up.  Thanks, Ted Collins for destroying the belief that I was something special.  Apparently ALL of my friends were asked the same question. 

Fifty years after his assassination Kennedy’s legacy lives on: you can read today of the elected officials who were inspired by him to pursue politics, or join the military….or the Peace Corps…or the fight for civil rights.     

A legacy of service?

For this journalist who shared a birthday, a church and the same hometown as the martyred president, I can think of nothing more impressive. 

——————————-

*Kidding. Swear to god. 

 

Dan Rather Made Me Do It

Friday marks the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy and as reporters chronicle the half-century since the event, something will be missing from CBS’s coverage.

Dan Rather.

In 1963, Rather had recently been hired as the head of CBS’s southwest bureau and, as such, took on the mundane administrative duties required of a bureau chief during the President’s weekend trip to Dallas.  That changed the instant shots rang out in Dealey Plaza.

Rather, through hustle and institutional knowledge of the major players in Dallas, was among the leaders in coverage of the chaotic aftermath of the assassination.  Walter Cronkite’s emotional reaction to the wire service flash announcing the President’s death remains one of the more iconic moments in a weekend filled with such moments.  What many forget, however, was that Rather had reported the President’s death moments earlier.  CBS, which created the field of broadcast journalism through the work of the Murrow Boys and Cronkite and Rather, has decided to ignore its most well-known connection to that Friday afternoon in Dallas.

That’s fine.  Rather sat down for a compelling series of interviews with Tom Brokaw, a former competitor at NBC.  The 82-year-old journalist also hosted an hour-long special about the weekend on AXS TV, a cable outlet owned, in part, by Mark Cuban.

Why, you ask, is this topic brought up in my quest for funding in the Go To Black  ( http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/go-to-black )   project?

Because Dan Rather made me do it.

Not specifically, mind you.  Heck, I haven’t spoken to the broadcast pioneer in years.

But his support and encouragement from years ago led me to this effort.

In 2004, I was the head of Meredith Broadcasting’s Washington, DC bureau (we had a bureau chief, but he was saddled with so many other responsibilities in the company, he was hardly in DC).  In July, my photographer Rob Yingling and I packed up the bureau and moved everything to Boston to cover the Democratic National Convention; a month later we did the same for the Republican Convention in New York.  In Massachusetts, CBS gave us an opportunity to meet with and interview Rather from the network’s booth high above the convention floor.  His stories about past conventions and his opinions about the ’04 race were fascinating to listen to – I seem to recall his interest in a little-known Illinois state senator named Obama who was scheduled to deliver the keynote address in Boston.

Image

Speaking with Dan Rather in Boston in July, 2004. 

A month later we were in New York and CBS offered the same opportunity.

“Andy Gobeil,” Rather called out as I walked in to the booth at Madison Square Garden.

Taken aback and pleasantly surprised at his familiarity, I smiled and complimented him on a staff that prepped him well for the visit of one of the many reporters taking his time during the convention.

My staff is wonderful, he told me, but they didn’t remind him of my name.  He said he remembered me from the visit in Boston.

I was skeptical until he told me how his wife’s maiden name was nearly identical to mine.  His response remains one of the high points of my career:  “After you left, I asked around, heard some good things about you and looked forward to seeing you again.”

Rob and I produced another story with Rather, I thanked him for his kind words, and we left.

Four years later, I was in South Carolina and ran into Rather again.  He had since departed CBS and was hosting a discussion –to air on his online program Dan Rather Reports– on the presidential race, a race in which the Palmetto State played a major role.  I reintroduced myself, reminded him of our meeting in Boston and New York and, not wanted to intrude on his prep time, stepped away.  After a few moments, he called me over (we were waiting for the lighting to be set for my interview of him) and we started discussing –of all things- books.

Now, I’ve wanted to write for quite some time, but I’ve been pretty quiet about my hopes to do so.  Yet, for some reason, I told him about my idea of producing a book about local television coverage of the civil rights era.

What a great idea, he said.  You need to write that book.

I chuckled, thinking he was simply being polite.

We conducted our interview and, before leaving, he took my hand in his and urged me –again- to write the book.

Five years later, I’m trying to do just that….

….but I need your help: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/go-to-black

Raising funds and a pleasant surprise…

Well, this was a pleasant how-do-you-do this morning:

 http://www.golocalprov.com/politics/side-of-the-rhode-whos-hot-and-whos-not-in-ri-politics148/

GoLocalProv picked up on the Go To Black campaign and included it in this week’s edition of Who’s Hot and Who’s Not In Rhode Island Politics.  It was certainly not at all expected.  I’ll be honest: I am reaching out to various media outlets in an effort to garner some publicity (and, hopefully, some money) for the campaign…

…I just hadn’t reached out to GoLocal quite yet.  

One of the goals of the blog during this campaign is to document just what it is like to produce a crowdfunding effort.  I’ll write about the site itself, the challenges I face in raising funds, the outreach effort and the -hopefully- success.  I’ll also try to include some accounts of the personal side of this endeavor.  It’s very unlike me to ask for assistance and I was hesitant, very hesitant, to pull the trigger on the campaign.  After completing the campaign template on indiegogo.com, after researching, preparing and readying the campaign, I sat -literally- for ten with my hand on the mouse hovering over the “go live” icon before I clicked.  I had invested plenty of time in the planning of the campaign and recognized that -in order to get the book researched and written- I’d need financial backing.  

…but the doing the thing differed from the thinking of the thing.  What would my friends and colleagues think?  Hell, what would my family think?  The support, so far, has been overwhelming.  Will it change?  We’ll see.   

I’ll keep you updated in the weeks ahead.  

Again, thanks to GoLocal for their coverage.  

The campaign:

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/go-to-black 

 

A deep breath and a new challenge….

I was desperate.

I’m not sure if it was the most recent article about the middle-aged, middle class, unemployed white-collar professional still looking for work…

…or the first ten such articles I read that led to my feelings of desperation.

Either way, I was desperate.

“This cannot be happening to me,” I thought day in and day out.  I’d been promoted in every job I’d had. At one point I was one of the youngest NPR affiliate news directors in the country. I broke into television news shortly after that and went from reporter to weekend anchor, to weathercaster/reporter/anchor (weathercaster?!) to main anchor, all in a few years.  The broadcast group that owned my station in South Carolina decided to create a Washington, DC bureau and asked me to run it; another promotion.  When a change in the company’s management sent all of those responsible for the DC bureau packing, the new managers liked me enough to offer me more money and an exciting new job.  It was -I thought, anyway- a promotion through non-termination.

A divorce and its resultant mess led to a mid-career hiccup, but who in this industry hasn’t faced such challenges?  You pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move ahead.

I did just that and found myself back in New England, anchoring a morning television program.  Another step led to another promotion: I was asked to co-host a morning news program on the most well-known radio station in Rhode Island.

For a variety of reasons best left unexplained here, the show wasn’t as successful as all had hoped.  Two years in and management decided to make a change….

…a change that didn’t include me.

No worries.  After all, it is said, you haven’t become a true journalist until you’ve been replaced (a sense of Schadenfreude allows me to point out that the station, with my replacement, hasn’t seen an increase in ratings and in some cases has even fallen in the ratings….but I digress.  Happily).

It’ll take a few weeks, but –I told myself- I’ll find a job.

Those weeks turned to months.

Those months turned into half a year.

The interviews went well: one such phone interview for a main anchor position, scheduled to last thirty minutes, stretched into an hour and a half, the News Director told me to expect a call scheduling a time for me to travel to her city in a matter of days.  An email from her shortly thereafter told me they’d decided to go in another direction.

“You’re too polished,” she told me.  “Too professional for us.”

A conversation with another station and I was given the impression that I wasn’t polished enough.

I had a request from one News Director to watch her morning show, write up a few comments, and send her the critique.

She told me she was impressed with what I had written: the ideas were pertinent and well thought-out.

“You’ll hear from me soon,” she said.

That was in April.

I’m still waiting for her call.

The journalism job applications were soon followed by public relations positions.  Marketing.  Communications.  Voice work.

No.

No.

No.

A 45 year-old journalist who –at one point- reported from the White House and Capitol Hill on a daily basis and who –at one point- had a comfortable salary, apparently didn’t fit in to the new journalism.  I’m sure the latter meant a great deal more than the former.

So now, rather than waiting for someone else to offer me a job, I’ll create one on my own.  For years, I’ve toyed with the idea of long-form writing.  There’s a novel to be written (actually, I’ve written bits and pieces of one) about the broadcast journalism industry.  It’s fun, exciting, interesting and amusing and will be completed very soon.

What I’m working on today, however, is far more important.

It’s a non-fiction look at local television coverage of the civil rights battles.

The Race Beat, which won the Pulitzer for history in 1997, documented print reporters’ efforts to cover the era.  Ignored have been the efforts of local television reporters, producers, photographers and anchors who tried to do the same.  Those broadcast journalists faced a difficult fight, as the owners of the stations they worked for were part of the power structure that wanted no part of integration.

It’s a compelling story.

It’s a story that needs to be told.

In order to tell that story, I need assistance.

Image

I’ve decided to create a crowd-funding site that will finance the research and writing of the book.  Over the next month, I’ll tell you more about the subjects and the challenges involved in writing.  I’ll also document the difficult fundraising task ahead.  Check back here every day for the latest in our efforts….

….and don’t forget to click on the link ( http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/go-to-black ) to offer your support.

After all, I may just be too polished –or not polished enough—to find a real job.