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The American System Is Broken

“I’ve often suggested a bulldozer will be required to remove Trump from the White House. I’ve amended that today to an army of M117 Guardian tanks, Stryker Combat vehicles, LVSR Wreckers and maybe a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, all coordinated by Dana White.”

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The only sure loser is America. Or, I should say, the two Americas, as this presidential slog of two tomato cans only widened an ideological gulf that leaves us red in exasperation and blue in the face. All the election did was re-confirm a toxic reality: We are a bipolar country that will continue to wage a civil war despite Joe Biden’s vow “to unite, heal and come together as a nation’’ — and if you doubt the social divide, wait until Donald Trump launches a 24-hour TV channel programmed for half the U.S. population.     

It wouldn’t be America, 2020, without a stupefying slugfest ending in coast-to-coast stench. The Democrats think the stink comes from Trump, who, in a remarkable last-stand media session, called himself a victim of election fraud and vowed to send packs of legal bulldogs to the Supreme Court. Trump thinks the stink is grounded in a wide-ranging conspiracy, and while he’s going to do need actual evidence before any judge considers the election was “stolen,’’ I will say this: Trump’s claims aren’t completely inane when an archaic, reckless process invites corruption and inefficacy.     

“If you count the legal votes, I easily win,’’ he said. “If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us.’’     

Sour grapes? More lies? It’s difficult to trust a president who still thinks the coronavirus is fading into the wind — and a man who likely won a stolen election in 2016. Still, every wee-hours TV shot of a scene out of yesteryear — workers opening mail-in ballots, then placing them in piles on collapsible tables beside trash cans in dimly-lit warehouses — left me with the same haunting conclusion: We can trust neither Big Tech nor human beings to elect a president in the 21st century. It’s a broken system that should be condemned and overhauled, disposed into the same Washington dumpster as the irresponsible mainstream media — who never have looked worse in their failed bias-brainwashing — and the pollsters, who showed once and for all that they’re either nerds on the take or just inept.     

There is no transparency — from Trump, from the Democrats, from the media, from the prognosticators, from the electoral process. There is no integrity. There is no faith.     

Therefore, there is no America.     

The clumsiness of it all only fed Trump’s suspicions that the vote was rigged via dishonest counting practices and phony media slanting. Rather than let him finish his speech Thursday evening, the three major networks that have contributed to dubious election reporting — ABC, NBC and CBS — suddenly dumped Trump and returned to regular coverage. “We have to cut away here because the president has made a number of false allegations,” NBC’s Lester Holt said. Was it their role to cancel the President of the United States? When, after all, he still extended the election into triple-overtime, still showed enough clout to remain a disruptive force into the future and still had enough supporters — a projected 70 million-plus votes — who wanted to hear him. At a critical juncture of an astounding moment in time, the networks wanted to control the narrative of a desperate and defeated Trump, bleeding in the 15th and final round, losing his mind once and for all. Sorry, it is not their place to do so. If he’s lying, let the American people see him lie. They have a right to decide for themselves.     

I’ve often suggested a bulldozer will be required to remove Trump from the White House. I’ve amended that today to an army of M117 Guardian tanks, Stryker Combat vehicles, LVSR Wreckers and maybe a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, all coordinated by Dana White. It’s useless to plead for dignity from a man who has little (hell, Kanye West conceded quickly after landing only a few votes, probably because he missed filing deadlines). Instead, a thick, gobsmacked anxiety will continue to hang over America, with ugly protests reflecting the premise of voter fraud. As Trump was tweeting, “STOP THE COUNT’’ and “ANY VOTE THAT CAME IN AFTER ELECTION DAY WILL NOT BE COUNTED,’’ people in the city streets were chanting, “Count Every Vote!’’ This is America now.    

If only our future could be as optimistic as Biden thinks. “Democracy is sometimes messy. It sometimes requires a little patience as well,’’ he said. “But that patience has been rewarded now for more than 240 years with a system of governance that’s been the envy of the world.” Envy of the world? Say it ain’t so, Joe. The world is laughing at us, and likely soon to be laughing at you.     

Assuming Biden survives Trump — and his legal weaponry — and takes over the most unforgiving political hotseat in the history of humankind, he’ll be treated with kid gloves by media who have no shame. There is no doubt about this: They did try to fix the race with deceptive, one-sided coverage. What happened to the so-called “Blue Wave,’’ an assumption the Democrats would control the White House and Congress? As seen all week, four years of Trump-bashing backfired on organizations that allowed wishful-thinking agendas to slant coverage — and projections. The pollsters must go away, starting with the now-miserably-unreliable Nate Silver, who once called 50 states correct for Barack Obama but since has crashed twice on Trump forecasts (he gave Biden an 89 percent chance of winning). The amateurs at MSNBC, meanwhile, literally looked ready to cry as Trump was making it a long race, with Nicolle Wallace abandoning hopes for a Biden landslide and saying, “You can see the hopes and dreams of our viewers falling down and liquor cabinets opening.’’ Later, host Brian Williams stayed with the booze angle when, referring to a Democrat guest, he said, “Wondering how much closer he is to the liquor cabinet.”     

They excoriate Trump for four years, then want to get drunk when they are embarrassingly wrong about a predicted landslide defeat. Just what they teach in journalism school. “What’s journalism?’’ you ask. I think it died, too, this week.     

With nearly every major news outlet needing major chiropractic surgery — leaning in yoga-like contortions to project a winner according to naked in-house schemes — we wanted to believe in an equilibrium-based news source when we can’t believe in the New York Times, the Washington Post and other hysterically anti-Trump organs. They didn’t learn lessons from four years ago, when Trump’s supporters — many blue-collar, many rural, few reading elitist websites — helped him win and shocked editors who pretended those sectors didn’t exist. Nothing changed this time, with the ivory towers assuming 2016 was an aberration and that Biden would win big. The Post, in a purported poll with ABC, said before the election that Biden was up 17 percent in Wisconsin. They were shot full of holes like a piece of Dairyland cheese.     

It was shocking to see Fox News, long considered Trump’s unapologetic rooting section, incur his wrath by calling Arizona for Biden early and becoming the first network to credit Biden with as many as 264 electoral votes. Trump was so enraged, he reportedly called Fox patriarch Rupert Murdoch and ranted. “Many Americans will never again accept the results of a presidential election,’’ said the network’s popular host, Tucker Carlson, who lashed out at mainstream media for pro-Biden bias. As for CNN, I’m amazed at how John King breaks down every new blip from some distant Georgia county with a barrage of data; but eventually, I was ready to strangle him, too.     

The traditional news networks weren’t immune from stumbling. Before the election, NBC projected a “slight lead’’ for Biden in Florida, while CBS was trumpeting Texas as an “unlikely battleground.’’ Wrong. And wrong. Those networks plead for our trust, but they blow it because they are influenced by the same corporate directives that taint Fox News and CNN and, well, most American media.     

How refreshing to see one sturdy, tried-and-true organization show how am election should be reported. The Associated Press never has plunged into the we-broke-it-first cesspool, refusing to predict or name a winner until finality is certain. Nothing was different this year in the most volatile election in modern U.S. history, when only a fool trusted what was reported on a cable network or a traditional legacy site. Even Jack Dorsey got it behind his Amish farmer-meets-ZZ Top beard, listing the AP among only seven outlets that Twitter trusted for results. So I believed the AP when it called Arizona early for Biden. The news service uses 4,000 freelance local reporters who carefully wait for vote counts from every county in the 50 states, then report results to hundreds of AP entry clerks who grill the freelancers and verify the information for publication.     

“There’s no winner in the presidential race. That’s OK,’’ an AP headline said in mid-week, above a story explaining that “the closer the margin in a state is, the more votes are needed for The Associated Press to declare a winner.’’ Professionalism and patience. What a concept.     

Which is in direct contrast to race-baiting that often sounds like an act for attention and traffic. Case in point: The Atlantic’s Jemele Hill, who wrote, “If Trump wins re-election, it’s on white people.’’ She might want to ask Hispanic voters in Miami-Dade County and Texas who embraced Trump at the polls.  

The credibility is gone and not retrievable. If the media entered the election with a low trust quotient, they’ve completely lost the American people. And this comes from a guy — me — who has been in the industry since I was 18, has made a comfortable living from it for decades and has been alarmed to see a rapid deterioration of transparency starting with the Internet boom. When we need reality in this country, we get self-styled b.s. EVERY DAMNED DAY.     

If nothing else, Trump would leave Washington knowing that his derisive term for the media — fake news — is a permanent staple of the national lexicon. I just didn’t feel like seeing it drop into my in-box at 6:43 p.m. Pacific time. “DEFEND THE RESULTS! THE DEMOCRATS WILL TRY TO STEAL THIS ELECTION!’’ said the e-mail, signed by Donald J. Trump himself. He also wanted me to help bankroll his lawyers, asking for $2,750. Or more. “Donald Trump is going to court to stop votes from being counted,’’ Biden tweeted. “We have assembled the largest election protection effort in history to fight back.”     

I was going to pass along the e-mail to a Trumper I know. But in a week when the U.S. — in other news — recorded a single-day record for COVID-19 infections, I am exhausted and ready for someone else in the top office, even if that someone else soon will have me wanting someone else. If this crazed American episode was, as Biden said, a “battle for the soul of the nation,’’ that soul is bludgeoned.

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Soledad O’Brien Has Public Service at Heart in Her Reporting

O’Brien admits she didn’t fully grasp what public service reporting looked like until her coverage of Hurricane Katrina.

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A photo of Soledad O'Brien
(Photo: Hearst Media Production Group)

“Fearless,” “determined,” and “kind,” is how many former colleagues would describe Soledad O’Brien. Awarded the Library of American Broadcasting Foundation Insight Award this year at the NAB Show, the veteran journalist spoke with Barrett News Media about her career and what makes her work so impactful. 


Her love of people and figuring things out initially had O’Brien headed to Medical school. Realizing she wanted something else in life, the broadcaster found her passion translated nicely from medicine to journalism.

“I started working in a group called Centro, which was a Spanish language program at WBZ-TV. I just loved going into the newsroom because I loved the energy and the action,” O’Brien recalled. Another appeal was, “No matter if you had a great show or a terrible show, it was over and you started again.”

From WBZ-TV, she moved on to NBC News, KRON in San Fransisco, MSNBC, and back to NBC before joining CNN. For the last 11 years, the native Long Islander has been running a production company along with her own show Matter of Fact, a podcast (Who Killed JFK), and several documentaries.

This year she was honored with the LAFB Insight award for her outstanding journalistic body of work. The award comes after winning several honors in 2023, including a Peabody Award for her documentary on Rosa Parks, plus an Independent Spirit Award for a series mostly centered on Black women who are missing. Also in 2023, O’Brien was inducted into the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame.

Soledad O’Brien was humble about her accolades, saying “It’s always a really amazing thing when your colleagues give you an honor. When people who actually understand the business and know what it takes to do the work that you do say ‘We want to celebrate the work that you’re doing.’”

She noted how beautiful the ceremony was. “It just made me feel, outside of the 10 million hairstyles I’ve had over the years, the range of stories I had the opportunity to tell and be a part of. And, hopefully, I brought some insight and some perspective which was maybe different than what other people brought.”

She noted her most meaningful story was her time in New Orleans.

“I think as a reporter, it was a big turning point. I sort of figured out that reporting was about serving the public, and I’m not sure I 100% understood that before,” Soledad O’Brien admitted. “And it was an opportunity in a story to help people understand not just the storm and the damage, which was massive.

“If you thought Hurricane Katrina was about a storm, it really wasn’t. It was about the have and the have-not in America, right? It was about access, and it was about whose voices get heard, who gets elevated, and what does it mean to be in a relatively large city in America that doesn’t seem to be getting any help pretty fast. And it was about race in America, too, and all those things which made it a very dynamic and complex and complicated story.

“I got a lot of awards for covering that story, but I really enjoyed interviewing people and helping people understand. One question we get, ‘Why don’t people just leave?’ Well, if your parents and your grandparents all live on the same block, where are you going? Can you just pick up and move into a hotel for a month? Well, no, it just doesn’t really work like that. So, I think we were able to bring a lot of insight in that story, and also help people see the lives of people who honestly we don’t really spend a lot of time covering in daily news.”

Swapping out with her co-anchor every month, O’Brien recalled leaving the area.

“We were walking through the Baton Rouge airport, and I remember I had my CNN baseball cap on and there were no showers. I remember packing baby wipes. My kids were little. And I took those big bags of baby wipes, and that’s how we cleaned ourselves up. There were no showers, obviously. We lived in an RV on Canal Street. And I remember we got a standing ovation walking through the airport. I felt like it just was a sign that what we were doing was really valuable and important, and people needed us to help them understand what was happening.

“It was really remarkable. It was very it was very emotional. We felt like, ‘Oh, this job is about serving your viewers and also serving the people whose story is unfolding in their backyards. And they need help to get assistance to understand what’s happening and to get their own perspective out.’”

Today, Soledad O’Brien said she serves the public in several different ways, including on her show Matter of Fact.

“The whole entire ethos of our show is stories as diverse as America. So in an environment where the nation is quite divided and things are often tense and unpleasant, we’re actually, kind of cutting out the middleman.” She went on to say, “We don’t really focus on politicians. We really dig into how policy lands on people. So we’re much more interested in what people have to say about their experiences. And I think that’s been a very interesting perspective for us.”


With her and her team’s focus on voices that are often ignored in the media, she believes this niche is “Exactly an example of serving the public.” Her show is also able to avoid the typical talking heads saying her show is, “Helping people understand complicated issues and stories versus, the two people on TV, they’re diametrically opposed and let them yell at each other for four minutes. And then I’m going to say, ‘Oh my goodness, thank you so much for joining me. We got to go to break now.’ I’m not doing that. And I think because we’re focused on that service, it’s really made the show very successful and popular.”


Part two of Barrett’s conversation with Soledad O’Brien will be coming to a screen near you at a later date.

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Talk Radio Talent and Producer Coaching Tips From A Master — Part 2

“Mostly with the work that I do in spoken word, I think a producer is strongest when they help pull out your point or the best part of a topic.”

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David G. Hall is an international radio programming consultant who achieved fame in 1991 when he reinvented news and talk radio at KFI, Los Angeles.

I recently shared his insights into coaching talk radio talents.

In part two of our conversation, DGH talks about coaching producers and talent of shows
with multiple hosts.

DW: How do you coach producers? What do you need them to do for the talent?

DGH: Well, mostly with the work that I do in spoken word I think a producer is strongest when they help pull out your point or the best part of a topic. So you say, ‘Oh, we got to talk about this bridge collapse in Baltimore, man. I don’t really know what I want to say.’ And then the producer says, ‘Well, what pisses you off about it?’ Or, ‘What’s the thing that nobody gets?’ And you go, ‘Well, nobody understands X.’ Then the producer says, ‘That’s what you start with right there. There’s your way in and then you can explain it.’

So, (the producer’s job is) to kind of pull out from you what you really want to say, because sometimes it’s hard to find that on your own when you’re just doing everything in your head. So, your producer says, ‘Ok, that’s where you want to start right there,’ and then does whatever research is necessary to help you back that up or to come up with examples or come up with audio.

DW: What about two or three people shows? How do you get them on the same page consistently, learning to think like each other, and not make those hard left turns in conversations?

DGH: I have to deal with that a lot with shows where there’s more than one person. It’s important to help people in multiple-person shows understand you don’t have to say too much to get a lot of attention. A lot of people in that second chair want to keep talking because they feel like if they don’t talk, they’re going to be invisible. But it doesn’t work that way.

So I spent a lot of my time coaching people I would call the second chair people, but they’re really co-hosts, on how to be engaging in a certain way and how to not make a hard left where then all of a sudden you have the listeners, and worse, your co-host, going ‘What the hell? How do I respond to that?’ That comes up a lot. And in music morning shows, I try to keep them from talking over each other and stuff like that.

But the hard part comes with the payoff because when they’re doing a bit or they’re doing a benchmark, I want everybody laughing and smiling as the song starts, and as soon as everybody’s laughing and smiling, get the hell out and start the song. What happens is, especially if there’s more than two people, they one-up each other, right?

So somebody has the perfect out where they should hit the song and then the other person goes ‘Oh, no, no, no,’ and then they say something that causes the first person to try to beat that and before you know it you’ve got four punchlines, each one worse than the one before. Start the song, get the hell out, and prepare for your next bit.

DW: This is great stuff. What would you add or how would you summarize all of this for radio talents and the people who coach them?

DGH: I have three things. The first is you have to be consistent and regular. So if you’re gonna tell me to do this differently, you better show up in a week to remind me because all of us on the radio get stuck in habits and in a comfort zone, right?

So I’ll do what you say today and maybe tomorrow, and by the next day, maybe half. And then by the day after that, by Friday, I’m not doing it at all. So you better show up on Friday to say, ‘Hey, I heard you on Monday, man, you sounded great!’ Then help me break bad habits and set new ones, because we all are creatures of habit when we’re on the radio.

Second thing I would say is: be as specific as possible. It was never helpful to me when someone would say ‘Great show.’ Yeah. Ok, thanks, but that doesn’t mean anything to me.

But, when the market manager or PD says, ‘Yesterday when you interviewed that guy and you asked him this question, oh my god that was fantastic!’ As a talent with ego, I’m assuming he heard the entire show, even though he’s commenting on one thing. But that one thing is much more valuable than just ‘Hey, great show’. And then the third thing I would say is Joe Crummey. I don’t know if you know the name Joe Crummey.

DW: Yes, we’ve never met but we’ve become online friends. I love his work.

DGH: When I was first PD (at KFI), Joe Crummey said something key that I think about all the time when I’m working with talent and from when I was on the radio. He said, ‘When you’re on the radio, you walk a plank every single day and you just hope to God that you don’t fall off.

‘Because, unlike television, unlike Jon Stewart or Jimmy Kimmel or Stephen Colbert, we don’t have a writer’s room of 22 people sitting behind us thinking of every brilliant word we’re gonna say. You have to mostly do it yourself and mostly do it right off the top of your head. And if you’re on the radio three hours a day, five days a week, you are coming up with 15 hours of original content every week, walking a plank, not making a fool of yourself, not humiliating yourself, and not losing your train of thought.

It’s tough to create that much original content and to keep your train of thought and not humiliate yourself.’

DW: And to do it with no real-time feedback from the audience.

DGH: Right, exactly. You have no idea how it’s landing. That was one of the most valuable things anybody has ever said to me in this business. And to this day, I think about that. When I work with talk show hosts who are on the hook for hours without anything to hide behind, no songs, maybe a newscast at the top of the hour, but not much else I always think, ‘Man, you are walking a plank and it’s all original content.’

I really respect that, I really respect the talent necessary to be able to do what we do without humiliating ourselves, without getting sued, without getting fired, and with our toes dangling off the end of that plank for hours a day, every single day.

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News/Talk Radio Hosts Need to Remember It’s Ok to Act Your Age

This same strategy can apply to a story that may pre-date your time in the market where you’re hosting your show. Study up, but lean on those who know.

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Professional microphone in radio studio

For many, we all can fall into a groove of trying to be something we’re not. And the audience is bound to sniff you out as inauthentic. The older radio guy wants to seem hip when discussing social media and refers to his account as “Face-Chat” and “You-Book.” Oops. The younger guy wants to pretend he knows everything about the 1980 election, including the myth that Ronald Reagan came from 10 points down in late October to beat Jimmy Carter. You can read about it here.

I bring this up in the wake of last week’s breaking news story surrounding the death of O.J. Simpson. Social media exploded with reactions and hysterical memes, while talk radio re-lived “The Trial of the Century.”

As someone who was six years old during the White Bronco chase and seven years old as the trial unfolded, I have little memory of the trial itself. I remember it, but the day-to-day details are meaningless. As someone interested in historical events, I’ve read plenty about it and watched documentaries, but I wasn’t there. My only memory of it is watching O.J. on the news in my parents’ kitchen.

So, the day after O.J.’s death was announced, I had minimal anecdotal stories to share. And if you’re a younger host, there’s no reason to be embarrassed by this. After all, it was 30 years ago at this point. Now, someone over 55 might think it was 20 years ago, but my dad, pushing 70, believes 1978 was 30 years ago. It was over 45. So, I rest my case. Time is a blur. You have nothing to be ashamed of. 

But at the same time, don’t pretend to be something you’re not.

I spent Friday morning discussing how infatuated I was diving deep into YouTube archives, finding old local TV clips in Los Angeles from the Rodney King riots, mentioning New York Times articles I stumbled upon during the trial in 1995, and weaving that into the content of the day. My approach was to be the authority on the topic since that’s the job, but not pretend that I lived through it in any meaningful way.

That’s when I tapped into guests. Gregg Jarrett from Fox News covered the trial for Court TV. His stories were outstanding. On a whim, I reached out to Randy Cross, a former 49ers player who spent two seasons as a teammate with O.J., and he shared insights that only he could share.

Then, we worked from our local angle, with a great story from former Kansas City sports anchor Frank Boal, who talked about the Bruno Magli shoes that were a centerpiece in the trial. Coincidentally, a photo was used from when O.J. Simpson was on Monday Night Football broadcasting a game at Arrowhead Stadium where he was wearing… you guessed it, Bruno Magli shoes.

So, let your experts be experts. And don’t try to trick your audience into being something you’re not. Let them share their stories as well. Several California transplants to the KC area shared incredible stories from their lives. Let them be the stars and have their moment, assuming it’s compelling content.

This same strategy can apply to a story that may pre-date your time in the market where you’re hosting your show. Study up, but lean on those who know, let your audience participate if and when appropriate, and don’t be the know-it-all, especially when it’s obvious you can’t be on the same level as some of those listening.

Your audience will thank you for it because you’re being authentic with them, and that’s what they want. If you lose your authenticity, you’re done. 

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