Hugh McCracken, Ace Ombudsman

With
this sentence and the next, allow me to greet you, the readers of this column.
Hello, readers! Together we shall take it upon ourselves to watch the media watchdogs. Let us hope that our bite proves worse than their bark, or something like that.

In
recent years, NBC’s Today show
co-host Matt Lauer has gone on trips around the world without telling his viewers in advance just where he will be on a given day. They call the resultant segments “Where in the World is Matt Lauer?” In my estimation, Lauer represents the media at large, which plays an aggressive game of hide-and-seek with media consumers. “Where in the World is Matt Lauer?” is not a bad question. A better one is: Why is he hiding? But when we find the answer, will we like it? I think not.

As
I write this, many life-and-death issues face us. Here and abroad, infants cry.
The deficit is out of control. On one side of the political aisle, someone shouts, “I’m here, I’m queer, get used to it,” while on the other side, a Senator fires a paint-ball pellet at his neighbor. In Texas, a Bible was found with the ancient pamphlet of sexual positions known as the Kama Sutra stitched into its binding. Parents were outraged, and I don’t blame them. Language, in general, has become so debased that a man at a dinner party cannot innocently say, “Get the butter,” without another man, considering the phrase to be a reference to Marlon Brando’s crude remark in Last Tango in Paris, taking serious offense. Punches are exchanged. Wives cry. The party ends suddenly. I grab the keys to the Hyundai. The wife tells me I’m in no shape to drive. We have words.
The police are brought in. A night in jail follows. One gets into a 3 a.m.
shouting match with a recidivist named Miguel that is broken up only by the sound of a nightstick thwacking the iron bars. In the hours leading up to daylight, Miguel continues to hog the blanket.

Some
years ago, a nimble-minded and imaginative reporter, one Jayson Blair, fooled the editors and readers of The New York Times with a lot of phony-baloney garbage. The details are fuzzy, but I’
m
pretty certain that stories printed under his byline reported that the Washington sniper and his young assistant (remember those two bozos?) were close to producing weapons of mass destruction. A search was conducted by a fellow from up north named Hans Blix (along with, for all I know, his trusty assistants, Donner, Dasher and Rudolph). The search turned up nothing. So the sniper and his charge were tossed into prison, along with their Korans. Then a guard took a whiz and you know the rest.

How
am I, Hugh McCracken, qualified to write this column? As a teenager, I worked closely with famed World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle. If you come across a gent who’d been around in those days, and if he claims that I was Pyle’s “butt boy,” I would ask you to take it with a grain of salt. Men were hard in those days. They spoke roughly and cared little if they made a homesick youth cry, even as bullets whizzed all around. But I say there’s no shame in keeping a reporter’s canteen full and his cigarettes lit. Not that Pyle appreciated it.
The most I got out of him was “Move aside.” Upon my return stateside, I plied the journalist’s trade at a number of publications all across this country and others. I came upon many interesting tidbits that did not make print. Did you know that Barbara Stanwyck liked dames? The very thought of it makes me as jumpy as a Mexican racehorse.

In
the wake of the Blair scandal, a miffed Times wiped the proverbial egg off its collective face and sent its editor, Foghorn Leghorn, packing, and then appointed a “public editor,” one Daniel Okrent, who had previously invented the parlor game known as rotisserie baseball, not to mention, for all I know, cheese fondue. In his final column, Okrent raised holy hell in response to a Times television critic’s having made mincemeat of Today hostess in chief Katie Couric. It turned out that Couric and Okrent had been high-school sweethearts. He was vilified for not disclosing this and later sent to prison.

Somewhat
concurrently, NBC anchorman Mushmouth Brokaw hightailed it back to his South Dakota home after having had the idiocy to apply the phrase “Greatest Generation” to a bunch of louts who mercilessly hazed a certain teenager just because he felt like helping out an ungrateful Ernie Pyle. Next, while covering a hurricane, CBS cuckoo bird Dan Rather was caught by cameras in the act of holding on for dear life as a wildly swinging screen door slapped him silly; later, tropical hoodlums demanded his wallet, or so he alleged. He was fired.
Over on ABC, Diane Sawyer did a Prime Time Live interview in Africa with pie-faced matinee idol Brad Pitt.
During
the vile spectacle, her teeth and his teeth were so blindingly white, and the camera lenses were so smeared with Vaseline, that millions rioted in the streets to express their longing for the days of Mike Wallace sucking down Camels on Night Beat. In a similar display, syndicated queen Oprah Winfrey sat idly by as highly unusual action star Tom Cruise leaped upon her couches, crying to the heavens that the end times were nigh. He was sent to a loony bin and released only when later events proved him correct.

In
response to its own recent woes, The
Times
has appointed a brand-new public editor, one Byron Calame, who happens to be an old acquaintance of mine. And when I say old, I mean old:
This
guy thinks primordial ooze is “newfangled.” Ba-doom! Anyway, Byron’s job is to keep The Times as honest and as dull as a nun on Tylenol PM. He must also, somehow, make sure that no more “howlers,” as they’re known in our trade, make it into print. (Good luck, Byron
baby.) It will be my lot to keep tabs on pal Byron, as well as the others of his ilk—that is, ancient, out-of-touch fellows looking for that last paycheck.

Together,
my friends, in conclusion, we’re going to whip this media beast like a rented Grand Canyon mule and bring it to heel, no matter how much it bleats and brays and even bleeds. Until the next time, McCracken out.

Hugh McCracken, Ace Ombudsman