Posts Tagged ‘CNN’

Larry King signs off

January 24, 2021

When I attended grad school at Stanford, Larry King became a big part of my life. Then we became colleagues, sort of.

During the baseball season, one of Bay Areas teams was usually at home and the other was usually playing in a different time zone. With luck, from 4.30 in the afternoon to 11pm there’d be baseball on the radio. Then there’d be Larry King’s overnight show on the Mutual Broadcasting System for as long as I stayed up.

King was my nighttime companion, as he was for millions. My second year of grad school, my pal Ken joined the party – he was already a King fan; I never dared ask why – and the show was part of the soundtrack that began our four decades of friendship. King wasn’t brilliant, but for his interview subjects and his listeners, he was a comfortable fit.

As a kid in Brooklyn, King grew up with baseball legend Sand Koufax. King told a riotous story about driving with Koufax and couple of other friends as high schoolers on a cold night to find a cheap ice cream at a New Haven outlet of the Carvel chain. The story was on tape and King would replay it every couple of months. A few years later, as a baseball writer I was at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida, and ran into Koufax, then a spring training instructor for the Dodgers. I asked him if King’s Carvel story was true. Koufax shrugged and replied, “What do you think?’ with just the hint of a smile.

When I worked as a news writer and producer in CNN’s Washington bureau, in the hour ahead of shooting Larry King Live, King and his suspenders would regularly drift into the newsroom and try to act like one of the guys. For King it seemed easier talking to movie stars and word leaders than to us working stiffs, even though he was doing double shifts those days, the TV show followed by the radio overnights. I saw him dozens of times but I never asked King about the Carvel story.

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a contributor to Forbes and Inside Asian Gaming, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Fareeding between the lines in Zakaria flap

August 23, 2012

CNN host and Time columnist Fareed Zakaria’s admitted plagiarism is sadly unsurprising. Zakaria’s apology and wrist slaps notwithstanding, the incident is unlikely to spur the formerly interesting celebrity journalist to change his ways.

Initially, I was a big fan of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS, but this incident is not the first time the host has disappointed nor even the second time Zakaria fell short in his work on the show.

Underlying those failures are some key facts about Zakaria and the league where he plays that make further disappointments likely. The cult of the celebrity journalist/public intellectual makes shortcuts inevitable and militates against serious work. Hence, writing about guns in the US – that week’s hot topic and thus required for the hot columnist – even though it ranged far from Zakaria’s foreign affairs expertise.

The shoddy Newsweek cover story Hit the Road, Barrack by Zakaria cohort and frequent guest Niall Ferguson making waves this week illustrates the level of pap players at this level deliver that serve as advertising for their speaking gigs that pay huge multiples of what they make for writing. Editors are complicit in this game, suspending standards to suit celebrities and cut jobs for the likes of fact checkers.

Zakaria’s other sin is that he’s become a shill for the establishment. His CNN show is a safe haven for Robert Rubin and his ilk, the way Fox News is for John Bolton. Perhaps it’s a coincidence that the GPS wet kiss for Singapore that was my first disappointment came while Yale University, where Zakaria earned his BA and served until this week on its governing board, was laying groundwork for its Singapore branch campus, offering liberal arts in an illiberal place.

Zakaria is an inspired choice to promote, defend and extend the establishment. He’s earned his bones in the group, but given his outsider origins, he at once broadens the tent and is a reliable bet to slavishly toe the line. Zakaria has been lightly tapped for his plagiarism; he wouldn’t have gotten off so lightly if he’d asked Rubin during their interview, “Why was it okay for you to leave the government for a $15 million a year job at a bank that directly benefited from decisions you made as Treasury Secretary and policies you advocated in that position?”

Zakaria’s CNN show is also a platform for establishment celebrity journalists/public intellectuals to promote themselves and reinforce their perceived importance. Without such vehicles for mutual back scratching, people like Ferguson or Thomas Friedman might be forced to continue the more rigorous work that earned them their places at the table instead of drafting on each others’ Sunday morning hot air.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Paul Wolfowitz shouldn’t be seen or heard

March 6, 2011

In the late 1980s, automaker Isuzu began a series of commercials featuring Joe Isuzu, a pitchman congenitally incapable of telling the truth. “I used my new Isuzu pickup truck to carry a 2,000 pound cheeseburger,” Joe Isuzu, played by actor David Leisure, declared. He claimed one Isuzu had “more seats than the Astrodome,” and that another was faster than a speeding bullet that he caught – in mid-sentence – between his teeth.

Paul Wolfowitz is the Joe Isuzu of US foreign policy. Whatever Wolfowitz says is untrue, simply wrong if not an outright lie. Therefore, it’s little short of astounding that CNN programs Fareed Zakaria GPS and Anderson Cooper 360 put Wolfowitz on the air as an expert on the situation in Libya. Perhaps CNN, a network I was proud to have worked for, no longer wants to be seen as a credible news organization.

In case you’ve forgotten, as Deputy Secretary of Defense, Wolfowitz wasn’t just a leading architect of the George W Bush administration’s ill-conceived invasion of Iraq. His mulish conviction, shared by his boss Donald Rumsfeld, that reality would conform to his beliefs, and utter dismissal of opinions differing from his own, transformed the Iraq misadventure into an unmitigated disaster. After failing to secure Afghanistan following the overthrow of its Taliban rulers because the Bush administration was stingy with reconstruction funding and troops, Wolfowitz helped ensure those errors were repeated in Iraq.

Wolfowitz forecast Iraqis would greet US troops with flowers as liberators; instead, more than 4,000 Americans have been killed by insurgents. He scoffed at suggestions it would require more than 100,000 troops to bring security to Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein; in reality, US troop strength in Iraq didn’t drop below 100,000 until 2009. Wolfowitz insisted that the war and the occupation would pay for itself; US direct costs for the war and its aftermath have so far exceeded $850 billion, and long term costs will surpass $2.5 trillion. The Center for Public Integrity flagged Wolfowitz for 85 Iraq-related lies through 2007, a higher total than his fellow Bush administration pillar of integrity Condoleezza Rice.

Like Rice, Wolfowitz adopts the air of an intellectual but he’s strictly a partisan hack, a shameless ideologue who’ll say anything to promote his side. After the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202, Wolfowitz blamed the fall for the Suharto regime that Wolfowitz coddled as US Ambassador to Indonesia from 1986 to 1989 for allowing terrorists to gain ground. But last week he decried the Obama administration for not doing more to topple Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, as if anti-government protesters – unlike US-dependent autocrats – in Egypt are ripe for US influence. Rest assured, though, should any future Egyptian government take a harder line on Israel, Wolfowitz will be the first to criticize the Obama administration for failing to prop up Mubarak.

Moreover, 202 deaths from outlaw terrorists in Bali made it a mistake for the US not to intervene against an organic, homegrown movement that ousted Suharto. But an official death count in excess of 100,000, estimated true casualties of more than 500,000, plus huge falls in Iraqi living standards and US global prestige, didn’t make it wrong for the US to invade Iraq on false pretenses.

By the way, let’s not forget that in addition to his errors in the foreign policy field, Wolfowitz added personal dishonesty after failing up to the World Bank presidency. He secured excessive pay hikes for his girlfriend at the bank, then lied about it.

Yet Zakaria and Cooper put Wolfowitz on the air, as if he’s not a congenital liar and hasn’t been wrong about every major foreign policy question he’s faced as a public official. Rather than question him about his catalogue of failures that have cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars, they listened to him as if he knows something. When he urged the US to take military action in Libya to oust Moammar Gaddafi, no one reminded Wolfowitz that the invasion of Iraq has made it impossible for the US to intervene in the Middle East without being suspected of the worst possible motives and breeding greater anti-Americanism worldwide, even if, unlike the Iraq fiasco, it’s undertaken with the best intentions.

Perhaps less surprisingly, Wolfowitz has the gall to appear on mainstream television rather than hiding out in rightwing sinecures. Cooper and Zakaria are, like Wolfowitz, card carrying members of the elite that transcends ideology and common decency among its own and runs on self-congratulatory fellowship.

When Wolfowitz talks to them, he has no reason to fear that anyone will note his colossal errors in judgment and make him pay some price, even if it’s merely a small measure of humiliation, for his mistakes. The next person who puts Wolfowitz on the air needs to accept that responsibility and make Wolfowitz start to do the same.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Singapore casino revenue remains a gamble

November 19, 2010

I’m a big fan of Fareed Zakaria, and Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN is must-see TV for me. That’s why I was so disappointed last week when he touted Singapore as the “top-ranked innovator on the globe” during his cyber-guided of a government-sponsored high tech research center. I told him so in an email with the subject line “Singa-puffery” that read:

Shame on you (and CNN, where I worked as a producer) for broadcasting this propaganda. I wish you’d instead used your considerable skill and clout to report on Singapore’s suppression of freedom, its nepotism, and its economic shenanigans at home and abroad. As a reporter attempting to cover Singapore, I know the kinds of obstacles you’d face. But, yes, the cyber-guides and the trains do indeed run on time.

Highlighting the sunny side of Singapore reinforces the government’s mythology that creativity can flourish under its particular brand of political, economic and social repression. Despite sky high white collar wages and living standards, housing subsidies, and international crossroads status, one of Singapore’s biggest challenges is keeping its best and brightest from migrating overseas.

Fallout from Singapore’s suppression and its “we’ll tell you what we want, when we want” approach spreads far and wide. Casinos, the latest big thing in Singapore, don’t escape.

Thanks to the government’s low priority on transparency, casino operators’ third quarter reports leave investors guessing about the size of Singapore’s gambling market. Analysts and investors also must guess about the split of the market between visitors and local residents. As I wrote in Asia Times, Singaporeans may face further restrictions on gambling if the government thinks they’re spending too much at the casinos, so the local market share number really matters. Singapore’s government has data that could shed light on this critical statistic, but it chooses not to reveal it. In fact, the government has not released any gambling statistics, except for a few random scraps mainly in response to questions in Parliament, since the first bet was placed in February.

Macau provides a full range of monthly and quarterly gambling statistics so that investors can make informed choices about its casino operators and build businesses to complement the gambling trade. Seeing Macau, no paragon of information freedom, beating it on a matter of transparency and openness should help Singapore realize it has a serious problem – and fix it.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Life imitates Hong Kong On Air

October 1, 2009

Franklin Global Network’s decision to broadcast China’s National Day parade live from Beijing, complete with effusive commentary on the Big Motherland’s progress under the wise rule of the Communist Party, is a turning point in my novel Hong Kong On Air.

Today, in the midst of multiple natural disasters across the Asia-Pacific region leaving hundreds dead, CNN dedicated two hours of its Asia programming to live coverage of China’s National Day parade from Beijing, preempting Anderson Cooper 360. Anchor Anna Coren in Hong Kong called the 60th anniversary celebration, “A grand spectacle on an enormous scale that only China can do.”

If Coren has read Hong Kong On Air, she knows not to sign any long term leases.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Prince of Darkness made his own coffin

August 19, 2009

Robert Novak complained that Valerie Plame would lead his obituary. As the self-styled Prince of Darkness would have reminded that sniveling twit, “Who the hell’s to blame for that? It’s his own damned fault.”

Like MarketWatch media critic Jon Friedman, I’ll shed no tears for Novak. It’s not just because of Novak’s reactionary, sanctimonious political pontificating, but his brand of journalism spanning the eras from dueling city dailies to cable television’s punditocracy.

In the days of ink, Novak’s approach – officials were either sources or targets – belies his admirers’ cliam that he was first and foremost a shoe leather reporter. His column with Rowland Evans wasn’t about policy or substance. The pair produced the Washington equivalent of a gossip column, bonding the establishment, regardless of views, as it created mystique and aura around politics and its players, including its chroniclers.

Being part of story was a constant for Novak, making him a natural for the talk TV trenches. I worked at CNN in Washington during the heyday of Crossfire, so occasionally ran into him around the newsroom. Novak was as full of himself off-camera as on. That’s because his stage was all of Washington and fanning its importance brightened his own star. The spread of his brand of uncompromising ideological self-righteousness has helped to poison the national debate and paralyze government, particularly because the Washington bubble of bonhomie insulates its pompous practitioners from the consequences of their own actions while the country suffers.

Many praise Novak for his reporting pedigree, noting how that set him apart from fellow pundits. While it is amusing to think of Ann Coulter hunting for facts, Novak, at least in recent decades, was hardly an honest reporter. Rather than diverging from his journalism career, the Plame story was the natural conclusion of it: self-important celebrity columnist gets used by high level sources for a hatchet job on a political enemy. Novak didn’t investigate the main point of the leak, that Plame lobbied for her husband, former ambassador James Wilson, to examine claims Saddam Hussein obtained uranium from Africa. Wilson found the claims groundless and said so publicly when the Bush administration publicly misrepresented his findings. When Vice President Dick Cheney fed Novak the Plame story to discredit Wilson, Novak just licked the plate clean. Despite breaking the law, Novak managed to protect himself while other journalists were subpoenaed and even jailed for his offense.

Still, you couldn’t say that the Prince of Darkness had an ethical lapse in the Plame affair. It had been years since he had any ethics at all.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

All Ahmadinejad, all the time

June 14, 2009

The most thoughtful and thought provoking show on CNN International in Asia these days is Fareed Zakaria GPS, airing Sunday night at 8pm Hong Kong time, a few hours before it’s shown in the US. This week, Zakaria’s program featured a segment on the Iranian election with a pair of Iran-born scholars and former top US Middle East diplomat Dennis Ross.

Rather than let us hear these smart people’s insights on Iran, CNN chose to continue its live feed of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s press conference complete with sycophantic questions and polemic replies – long after even Al Jazeera International dropped it. The network finally relented about 15 minutes into GPS’s scheduled broadcast time, so viewers enjoyed some of the panel’s intelligent analysis.

But after about 30 minutes, CNN decided we’d seen enough. It interrupted the program again, under the banner of “Breaking News,” not for more of the news conference or live pictures of protests by those disputing Ahmadinejad’s reported win. No, CNN interrupted GPS to bring us Christian Amanpour, who was at Ahmadinejad’s news conference, complete with snazzy red head scarf, to summarize what CNN International viewers had been forced to watch for most of the past two hours.

It wasn’t enough to see it once, we had to suffer through Amanpour blathering about this non-event. The insult to CNNI’s Asian viewers is multiplied because here, unlike other regions, GPS doesn’t have a reasonable rebroadcast time for us to see what we missed. Shame on CNN.

Former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen told America’s story to the world as a US diplomat and is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Holocaust Museum Gunman vs Miss California

June 11, 2009

As a former CNN producer, I pay attention to what my former colleagues churn out. Wednesday night’s edition of Anderson Cooper 360 showcased some of the best and worst that the medium can offer.

AC360 coverage of Holocaust Museum gunman James von Brunn began with predictable, unfortunate recitation of von Brunn’s ridiculous views. Sunlight may be the best disinfectant, but it’s equally true that there’s no such thing as bad publicity: every mention of his wacky beliefs or tease of his website gives comfort and opportunities to recruit similarly disturbed extremists.

The program took a far better turn when it interviewed an official of the Southern Poverty Law Center that actually tracks and fights hate groups. The best guests are doers, not writers. The guest, SPLC Intelligence Report director Mark Potok,  was able to put the museum attack in context, both in terms of von Brunn’s history and recent hate group activities. Potok made the connection between this incident and the shooting of abortion doctor George Tiller. A black president in the White House may drive some violent extremists to desperate acts, enabled by easily available firearms.

The other related guests – an FBI agent who once infiltrated the hate groups and von Brunn’s former housemate – offered the irresistible TV lure of having actually met the shooter, but neither had much to say. Tracking them down, particularly the housemate, who seemed to have been landed mid-show, wins big bragging rights for the show and for the assistant producer or booker who uncovered them. It’s a much bigger coup for the show and its personnel than for viewers.

From the heights of the SPLC guest, AC360 tumbled to the depths with its story of Miss California Carrie Prejean being stripped of her crown. Pointlessly reporting this non-story is one thing, but this iteration insulted viewers at several levels. From a strictly journalism point of view, it’s inexcusable that the story failed to show the new Miss California, Tami Farrell, opting for that familiar video of Prejean’s pageant bikini strut. Believe me, as a red-blooded male, I like that bikini strut as much as the next guy. But apparently Anderson Cooper doesn’t, since he complained about running story. That’s the real insult.

On one hand we’re supposed to believe that Anderson Cooper is a hands-on newsman and AC360 is his take on the news of the day. But when it comes to Miss California stories, then AC portrays himself as a typical empty suit anchorman who doesn’t know what’s in the show until he reads it in the teleprompter. The reality is likely between those extremes, but that doesn’t mean AC can have it both ways. If Cooper really didn’t want the Miss California story on his show, it wouldn’t be there and it certainly wouldn’t have been teased throughout the hour. So, AC, please save the crocodile journalism ethics and stand behind your whole show or none of it.

Former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen told America’s story to the world as a US diplomat and is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance and cheap lingerie.

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