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After Decades of Reporting, Jim Avila is Enjoying Giving His Opinion

Throughout his amazingly diverse and essentially unparalleled career, Avila covered the White House during Obama’s second administration beginning in 2012.

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Jim Avila is a man who thinks before he speaks. He measures his answers before responding. 

Throughout his amazingly diverse and essentially unparalleled career, Avila covered the White House during Obama’s second administration beginning in 2012. Before that, he covered agencies in Washington D.C. for the ABC bureau, mostly assigned to international issues. 

Working for WBBM television in Chicago, Avila got to know Barack Obama when he was a community organizer on the South Side. 

“I did an investigative story about asbestos in a housing project for WBBM television,” Avila said. “Obama was part of the community organization that was going to change things. He had an ongoing professional relationship with Martha Allen, a reporter for the Chicago Reporter. I got to know him through her.”

That investigation stemmed from Allen and Obama peeling up a tile from a kitchen floor and sending it to a lab, which found it contained between 30 and 50 percent chrysotile asbestos. Allen’s muckraking exposé was picked up by the Tribune and Channel 2’s Walter Jacobson, creating a PR ruckus that eventually forced the Chicago Housing Authority to remove asbestos from five projects.

Avila won an Edward R. Murrow award for that investigation. In Chicago, he also covered the mayoral administrations of Harold Washington, Jane Byrne, and Richard Daley. 

During his coverage of Obama, he grew to know David Axelrod, and they played basketball together. Axelrod had a long relationship with Obama, going back to his organizing days and was an advisor on his presidential campaigns. 

“I knew David well,” Avila said. “He was very influential in Obama’s career and had been with him since Obama was a state senator. Ax was an advisor to some of the biggest political names in Chicago. Over the years I kept in touch with him. I was out of day-to-day news when Obama ran for president. But I kept in touch.”

After Avila returned to day-to-day news, he reconnected with Axelrod, oftentimes at White House press conferences. When asked if he thought the Obama he knew as an organizer and state senator in Illinois could be President of the United States, Avila wasn’t quite sure.

“I always knew Obama was charismatic,” Avila said. “I think the first time I really knew he was going somewhere was when he gave the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. I was 35, Obama was about 28 years old. You never know for sure, but I always knew he had the charisma.” 

Avila said he wasn’t surprised when President Obama became the first Black elected president, he said he is still surprised a woman hasn’t been elected. 

There was a huge hatred for Hilary Clinton by so many people. Avila said she would have made a solid president, but was lacking in the charisma department that both her husband and Obama possessed.

“The Republicans made Hilary a huge target, just like Nancy Pelosi,” Avila explained. “These were powerful and marked people who were targeted over and over. When people do it for a long time that enters the psyche of the American public.”

He said there is always a danger to a democracy when 30 percent of the country has gone off the deep end. “They’ll respond to that kind of rhetoric, legitimizing a hatred that was already out there,” Avila said. 

Covering the White House was on Avila’s bucket list. After his family, for Avila, covering the White House during the Obama administration was the highlight of his career. The icing on the proverbial career cake. He said he still vividly remembers walking up the driveway to the White House.

“Not just the first time I did it. I felt chills every single time I went there,” Avila said. “You walk up to the secret service shack, show them what is called a hard pass. They put your stuff through the magnetometer. After that you walk up the driveway toward the press room. It was the White House, with the Marine standing outside the door. There is no experience like it. I was always aware that I was one of the lucky few. I was the first Latino correspondent to sit in the front row of the White House press room, and it has brought me to tears several times. It was one of the most gratifying and patriotic feelings I’ve ever had.”

While covering President Obama, Avila said he didn’t take it easy on him, even though he’d known him years before. 

“He knew our job was to ask him the tough questions,” Avila said. “I never experienced any pushback personally. I did a one-on-one interview with him when I first became a White House correspondent. When I asked the first question, he’d say, ‘There’s Jim Avila, someone I’ve known for a long time.’

Avila said that doesn’t mean it was always a feel-good interaction. “One time I referred to him as the Deporter in Chief, and he wasn’t happy with that. He didn’t attack me. He didn’t call my bosses or anything like that.”

In 2012 while the President was in Malaysia, he warned if Syria used chemical weapons against their own people, that would be a ‘red line’ and the United States would require a U.S. military response. Syria did cross the ‘red line’ and used chemical weapons on their own people. 

“We didn’t do anything about it,” Avila said. “I was the first reporter to ask the President a question on this topic. I reminded him that he said he would respond and he didn’t. I asked him how he could explain that.”

Immediately afterward, Avila said three other reporters from different networks asked the President the exact same question. President Obama was clearly frustrated, he didn’t get angry. He didn’t call them enemies of the state.

While President Obama didn’t call the press corps out on that repetitive question, someone else did. 

“One of the White House traditions, when you’re overseas, is you have dinner with the White House staff,” Avila explained. “Susan Rice, who was Obama’s foreign policy advisor, was not so understanding. She told us we overdid it that day with that particular question. She said we dragged the issue to the ground, and the president had answered it. Why was it asked five times? I had no problem asking tough questions. I had no problems asking press secretary Jay Carney tough questions. Same thing with John Earnest.’ 

Now years later, Avila said he does think the question was asked too many times.

“Here’s the dynamic in that,” he explained. “Especially when the president is in the room the reporters want to be seen asking a tough question for their broadcast. Even if it was the same as the previous question. Susan Rice had the right to say what she did.”

Since he ended his coverage of the White House, things have changed. When the Trump administration suspended CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s press credentials, Avila said if he’d still been there, he would have stood up for Acosta’s questions. 

“Jim Acosta is a friend of mine,” Avila said. “He would have had an ally. I would have held Trump’s feet to the fire. I would have objected to every lie, and corrected him after every lie he told.”

Now retired, Avila can be an average citizen, taking a position on anything he chooses and voicing it. He’s personal friends with Mark Thompson, a longtime host on KGO in San Francisco, and now the host of his YouTub show. 

“He’s got lots of energy. He’s a smart guy,” Avila said of Thompson. “I mostly go on his show because I get to say what I want to. As a reporter, I never had the luxury of revealing my own thoughts. Now I have the freedom to do that.’

The life of a network correspondent is demanding, at times it can push you to a breaking point. It certainly has costs and demands you make tough choices. 

“There was so much traveling and everything else, it was tough on the family,” Avila said. The pressures and the demands of the job took its toll on his marriage. He and his wife divorced. 

“We continue to raise the kids together,” he said. “We go on vacation together once a year with the kids. We did our best to keep it together, but the life of a correspondent is difficult for a family. I think I’m forgiven for that. It certainly was difficult for them to not have their dad around all the time. I did most of the traveling when they were kids, one was very young. I made sure after the divorce I only lived a block away from the family house in Oak Park, Illinois.”

Avila keeps up with former colleagues and their work. This past weekend he watched Chuck Todd’s interview with former Vice President Mike Pence.

“While I’m not a big fan of Chuck Todd, and am usually critical, I felt sorry for him during the Pence interview,” Avila said. “Pence lied, made overstatements and exaggerations. I felt bad for Chuck. How often could he be expected to continue to interrupt Pence to correct him. It’s a no-win situation for an interviewer.”

Avila believes Pence could be equally as dangerous to the country as Trump. 

“He made one good call by helping save our country, and he deserves some respect for that,” Avila explained.  It may have pissed off Trump’s base, but he said Pence did the right thing. 

“If Pence decides to run for president, I don’t think he’ll win,” Avila said. “He was complicit in so many things. His stance on abortion will end his run with 70 percent of the population who are pro-choice.”

Regarding the midterms, Avila said the youth in America, many voting for the first time, were critical in the outcome. 

“The kids showed up for the midterms,” Avila said. “I talked to Mark Thompson about this on his show a couple of weeks prior to the election. He’s a pessimist and I tend to be more of an optimist. Mark said there would be the predicted ‘red wave’ in the elections. I was convinced the American people would make the right choices. I told him I thought the ‘red wave’ talk was B.S. Women were registering to vote in record numbers. I don’t know about you, but I know the women in my life don’t easily forget things. If you do something to hurt them, they’re not going to forgive that in a few months. I also think Biden made a shrewd move in forgiving some of the student debt. That brought a lot of younger voters to the Democratic side.”

Avila thinks Republicans were out of touch when it came to abortion. 

“They kidded themselves and figured things would break even,” Avila said. “Especially with women, it was a big mistake. I think that and the disregard for democracy cost them the midterms.”

In regards to gun control, Avila thinks as a country we’ll come to terms with some regulations, but not immediately.

“The biggest problem is money in politics,” he said. “The money given to politicians from groups like the NRA is staggering. I’m a little more pessimistic about gun issues. As long as the Republicans control the house we won’t see much change. I do think in a couple of years we may see background checks. 

I hate to sound like the old guy who tells kids to get off his lawn, but I’m not optimistic about the future of either television or radio. I only see people watching local television for news and sports. They have too many options. They can get everything streamed to them.” 

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Kraig Kitchin Knows and Values the Importance of the Radio Hall of Fame

“I am first and foremost somebody who likes to shine a spotlight on the … brilliance of others. I don’t stop to think about if there’s a place for me in the Radio Hall of Fame.”

Garrett Searight

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A photo of Kraig T. Kitchin
(Photo: Kraig T. Kitchin)

When the 2024 Radio Hall of Fame class was announced earlier this month, Kraig Kitchin was surprised by one name on the list: his own.

Kitchin — the co-founder of Premiere Networks — is the co-chair of the Radio Hall of Fame and said he was surprised to receive the honor.

“I was pleasantly shocked,” Kitchin said. “Incredibly humbled by the gesture. Very grateful to be recognized. I am first and foremost somebody who likes to shine the spotlight on the talent, and hard work, and creativity, and brilliance of others.

“I don’t stop to think about ‘Is there a place for me in the Radio Hall of Fame?’ as much as I think about ‘How do we best showcase and reward people who have really, truly made a forever impact on our industry?” I really didn’t put myself into that consideration set, but I’m humbled that others might have felt that was appropriate.”

Usually on the other side of the phone call informing someone they’ll be inducted into the next Hall of Fame class, Kitchin called finding out he would join the list of this year’s inductees surreal.

“I have spent the better part of the last 10 years doing everything I can to make sure that the Radio Hall of Fame is truly a destination for everybody in our industry, regardless of whether or not they’re in front of the microphone or behind the microphone,” he shared. “So, to have the opportunity to experience the sensation that I am really working hard to provide for so many others, it’s a sensation that actually immediately captures you in such a way that you are without words.”

Obviously, as the co-chair of the Hall, Kraig Kitchin holds it in high esteem. But there’s a deeper connection with the history of the medium and chronicling that history for future generations for the longtime radio executive.

“I think it is most important for our industry to have a vibrant Radio Hall of Fame and meaningful one that is just full of integrity in it’s decision-making process and the way in which they recognize and choose inductees,” he said. “We’re blessed to work in such an industry to begin with. You and I both know how special it is to be in a medium that you can connect with individuals on an everyday basis that you can develop a relationship that is so deeply interpersonal and does so much for different communities. And an industry that has sustained more than 100 years those kinds of relationships.

“So to me I’m really committed to making sure that our industry has a forever history of recognizing individuals who are just really making a difference and listeners minds and hearts, whether or not it’s one person at a time or decades and decades or service, whatever that might be, depending on the inductees that’s chosen.”

When asked what qualities currently define the radio industry, it didn’t take Kraig Kitchin long to rattle off his viewpoints.

“Resilience is one. Innovation is a second. Optimism in the face of a very tough economic circumstance is a third. Creativity amongst all else is a fourth,” Kitchin shared in rapid-fire succession.

“An innate commitment from an on-air personality to make a relationship — to set a date at the exact same time, day-in and day-out for five or six days a week for a forever period of time, knowing full well that if they make a date with a listener, there’s a very good likelihood that a listener is going to make a similar date with that on-air personality and maintain that relationship. I can’t think of another place in all of media where that implicit trust — without saying as much — lives on today.”

Joining Kraig Kitchin in the 2024 Radio Hall of Fame class are:

  • Lorianne Crook and Charlie Chase (The Crook & Chase Countdown)
  • Lee Harris (Former 1010 WINS anchor)
  • Phil Hendrie (former comedy talk show host)
  • Jaime Jarrin (former Spanish radio play-by-play voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers)
  • Kraig Kitchin (Co-founder of Premiere Networks and Co-Chair of Radio Hall of Fame)
  • Barry Mayo (former GM of 98.7 WRKS in New York)
  • Mary McCoy (longest female radio career, began in 1951)
  • Matt Siegel (former Matty in the Morning host in Boston)

Kitchin was incredibly complimentary of his fellow inductees, each by name and listing off their accomplishments off the cuff.

“It’s gonna shape up to be a great induction class,” said Kitchin. “I’m thrilled to see those individuals receive their induction this year, regardless of whether or not I’m fortunate enough to be in their class. I’m proud and very much looking forward to spending time in person with this fellow inductee class.”

The Radio Hall of Fame class of 2024 will be inducted in a ceremony on Thursday, September 19th at the Omni Nashville.

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The Real Reson Why the CNN Debate is Coveted By Every Network

“This debate will answer more than enough questions as to where the candidates really are in this race.”

Bill Zito

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A photo of the CNN logo on a tablet

Everybody wants in. It doesn’t really matter who is actually hosting Thursday’s Presidential Debate, (It’s CNN, if you care) you won’t have to look very hard to find it on TV, radio, live stream, social media, or perhaps even on the stage, performed artistically in real-time by interpretive dance troupes across the nation.

Some platforms will do it better than others, of course. TV and livestream coverage will fare most triumphantly, I expect as who wants to miss the facial expressions, the visible acrimony, and the overall frustration of two old men whose belligerent commentary and interruptions of each other will be mostly lost on an audience without visual reference. I still say radio should be permitted to utilize play-by-play and color commentary for their listeners.

“A crimson-faced former President Trump is repeatedly parroting the words, ‘Crooked Joe, Crooked Joe’0 over a muted microphone as a stoic, almost undemonstrative President Biden enters minute four of his rambling claims that Abraham Lincoln created the NASA program.”

I would listen to that and just watch the TV broadcast with the sound off.

There are differing opinions across the political arenas and perhaps a few pockets of voters, but I am comfortable holding the idea that this debate will answer more than enough questions as to where the candidates really are in this race.

The first face-off is likely to be the only one that matters and the smart news outlets know it and they are not going to let competition stand in their way.

News coverage, no matter where you find it offers carefully crafted, artfully edited, and strategically presented soundbites, video segments, and bits of sit-down interviews with the current and former presidents so this will be the first and most important chance for voters of all kinds to look, analyze and decide for themselves if one, or either of these men have enough left to do the job.

The parties and their lemmings already know who they want so they won’t care what they see, the undecided voter, who is often inaccurately pegged as the uninformed voter, will be scrutinized intently as really, this is their only opportunity to make the decision solely by themselves, without the buzzing of chronic zealots or intense political marketing.

Yes, there is a second debate scheduled (hosted by ABC, if you care) on September 10, but really, if you think about it, it could all be a moot point by then.

Everything is likely to be thrown into this week’s debate, by the candidates, the news outlets, the voters, everyone. A second outing three months later is unlikely to offer the same impact, no matter how close to election day it may be.

It rarely is lucrative to be number two. Apollo 12 landed on the moon just four months after Armstrong and Aldrin did in Apollo 11. Yes, poor Mike Collins was stuck up in the command module but without Googling it, name one astronaut on the Apollo 12 mission.

If you think about it, the networks and the cable channels are in a constant battle not only for ratings points but also for respect and relevancy. Their market is forever shrinking, being nibbled away by every other possible platform in existence. USA Today, a print and digital outlet, has hooked on by offering the debate on YouTube.

That’s just one option, by Thursday there will be others to join Fox News, NBC, and ABC piggybacking on CNN’s broadcast for what’s becoming NFL Sunday in regard to coverage plans, some outlets starting hours before and ending hours after the debate’s puck drop.

Let’s be realistic, if you’re watching Fox News, ABC’s or NBC’s platforms ahead of or following the debate broadcast, you’re a political geek. And that’s okay, own it.

The only way to differentiate between broadcasts is to flip around, and dip into everyone. Turn on the radio for a bit, sit on the couch with your phone, your laptop or your iPad, and take in a bit of everyone’s coverage.

Before and after, you’re only going to listen to what you want to see and hear but during the actual debate, you’ll choose whoever broadcasts the best picture. Let’s be sharp and crisp, folks.

And that’s what matters at the end of the day, who paints the best picture and who tells you something closet to the truth,

Choose wisely, my friends.

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Has Donald Trump Caused the News Media to Change Its Tune?

Rick Schultz

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A photo of Donald Trump
(Photo: CNN)

It seems increasingly inevitable that in slightly more than four months, America will once again choose Donald Trump to be their President. Apparently, skyrocketing inflation, high prices, economic pain, open borders flooded with illegals, crime-ridden streets, and other Democrat party priorities and schemes don’t seem to be selling across the nation.  

Perhaps the biggest sign yet of what’s to come, along with swelling Trump support across inner-city America, is the drastic change of opinion across left-leaning Silicon Valley.  

Clearly, and to their chagrin, the mainstream media’s deceptive narrative-shaping efforts no longer seem to be working.

A few days ago, the widely-popular All-In Podcast hosted an exclusive interview with Donald Trump, to discuss his priorities for his next term in office. The interview made headlines not only for what the political frontrunner said, but also for the reaction of the program’s hosts.

“Thanks so much for sitting down with us, Mr. President,” co-host David Sacks began. “The All-In Pod’s basically the four of us having conversations. It’s kind of a spectrum of different views. We got, sort of like, a little bit of some Fox News, and then some MSDNC at the same time.”

“Well that’s ok,” Trump quipped. “Keeps it interesting.”

Two weeks ago, Sacks hosted a fundraiser for Trump, where many Silicon Valley leaders attended and made contributions to help the former President win another term. Many tech billionaires also stepped up to support President Trump on the heels of the event, including the famed Winklevoss twins.

“One of the things I think we heard a lot at that dinner was the difficulty that people in business were having under this Biden administration,” Sacks said. “You got the crypto guys who just want a framework. They just want the government to tell them how to operate and they can’t get that. You’ve got no M&A happening right now in tech. The real estate guys, they can’t get loans because interest rates are through the roof and there’s a credit crunch. So I think one of the common themes we just heard across that dinner was that it was just so hard to do business right now.

“And I guess maybe a good place to start would just be, what’s the number one thing or maybe the top three things you would do to get things moving again if you’re re-elected?”

“So I’d say regulation, regulation and taxes, ok. You know, I gave the biggest tax cut in the history of our country, and a lot to businesses,” President Trump said. “As you know, they were paying, people and companies were paying 40 percent, 45 percent, including state and city taxes in many cases. And we got it down to 21 percent. We’d like to get it down lower, actually. But we got it down and the revenues were better than ever. Even with the lower rate we had record revenues, which tells you a little about that.”

The All-In interview covered many of the most pressing topics of the day, including inflation, immigration, abortion, and the federal debt. As of the weekend, the podcast episode already had approximately a half-a-million views.

On the rash of murders, rapes, and other crimes being committed by illegal aliens urged into the country by Democrats, Trump pointed out that his secure border would have kept those criminals out of the country.

On abortion, Donald Trump said he does not support a national ban. He also noted that the real extremists are the Democrats, with their frenzied zeal for killing babies right up to the moment of birth, or beyond.

On the oversized bureaucratic state, Trump mentioned some areas he could trim the waste, including at the Department of Education.

Donald Trump also said he would de-classify the JFK files in his overarching effort to be more transparent than the current administration.

But perhaps one of the biggest revelations of the nearly-hour-long interview was how and why typically left-leaning tech leaders have reversed their opinions of Trump, when given the chance to talk with him without the usually-biased media lens.

Following the discussion, co-host and billionaire Chamath Palihapitiya prodded co-host and angel investor Jason Calacanis to give his opinion of the interview.

“I’m undecided, as you know,” Calacanis said, playing coy. “We had a limited amount of time with him.”

Just four years ago, Calacanis told CNBC, “I hate Trump with every fiber of my being and he’s the worst human being on the planet.”

“J Cal, just say it. You like him. Just say it, because it’s written all over your face,” Palihapitiya urged. “Just say it. You like him. You’re confused. You asked great questions and he just dealt with them head on. Just admit it, you like him. You like him!”

Calacanis smiled and said, “I like the fact that he came on the pod, I will say that.”

“I told you you’d like him! This is my point!” Palihapitiya said. “Whether you come out of this wanting to vote for the President or not, everybody needs to, I think, just sit in a room and hear him out.”

“He was very respectful, actually,” co-host David Friedberg said, noting that Trump did not take the bait when asked to comment on some controversial figures. “I was very surprised to hear how he respected Fauci and how he framed his response to that question. And I think that says a lot.”

Palihapitiya himself has admitted he was anti-Trump in 2016 and 2020, and he explained his thoughts on his co-hosts admitting they were surprised by Trump’s calm, rational tone and thoughtful answers.

“But can I tell you why you’re surprised? Because I think we have been fed – this is what I’m saying – we have been fed a narrative of what President Trump looks like,” Palihapitiya said. “Now, in fairness, we’re also being fed a narrative of what President Biden is like. And this is why you have to see these men up close and personal for yourself.

“Because, David, the fact that you’re surprised is less about the fact that Donald Trump has changed. It’s more the fact that you’ve been told a narrative and you’ve believed it. And so now when you see the actual truth you have to re-underwrite. Hold on a second, he’s actually pretty thoughtful. He’s pretty presidential. He doesn’t go off on people. That’s not what you probably thought going in because that’s not what the mainstream media portrays about what you should be thinking.”

Perhaps many voters have also wisened up to the manufactured, media-driven conspiracies that were never true in the first place. That Trump was a Russian agent. Or that he said white supremacists were good people. That he told people to drink bleach. That he verbally disparaged our troops. The media reported these things, and many, many more for years, even though they were knowably false. As a result, the voting populous no longer believes the fake news media that cried wolf.

A recent poll from one of the most accurate outfits, Rasmussen Reports, shows Donald Trump with a ten-point popular vote lead over Joe Biden. As many experts have pointed out, this favorability across the country is much larger than the margin of fraud they believe occurred in 2020.

So it seems that – despite the mainstream, corporate media’s best efforts – the wide swath of America stands behind Donald Trump and his plans to help the nation regain peace, prosperity, and security. Never before have we seen Silicon Valley, rural America, and a groundswell from urban culture converge onto the same team. 

This should make for an earth-shattering November 5th, which the media will have to cover, whether they want to or not.

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