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Detailing The Downfall of The New York Times

The combined realities of the business model and staff that value mission over independence dictate how the Times will report news and opinion.

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Last week I wrote about my surprise and dismay when I found an Op-Ed on the front page of USA Today (“Deshaun Watson gets laughable suspension,” USA Today – August 2, 2022).

A spokesperson for Gannett (owner of USA Today) told me via email, “USA Today clearly labels opinion columns as such, and it is not uncommon to appear on the front page.”  Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised in this era that a newspaper often tagged “McPaper” would commit such a journalistic faux pax.

While nobody ever accused USA Today of setting standards for journalism, The New York Times has long set the standards followed by nearly every legitimate news organization in the country, if not the world. Over the past decade, however, it has become increasingly difficult to differentiate between news and opinion in “The Grey Lady.”

The New York Times was founded in 1851 and bought by Adolph Ochs in 1896. It has been controlled by his family ever since. The current chairman and publisher, A.G. Sulzberger, is the fifth generation of the family to lead the paper.

After buying The Times, Ochs crafted the paper’s famous slogan, “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” Ochs also published an announcement in the paper promising that The Times would “give the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect, or interests involved.”

The New York Times editorial pages have long leaned left. The Times hasn’t endorsed a Republican presidential candidate since Dwight Eisenhower in 1956. However, The Times’s news section was also considered impartial for many years.

The Times published the Pentagon Papers, a set of leaked Defense Department documents detailing the United States’ political and military role in Southeast Asia that showed the government had been dishonest about expanding its role in Vietnam. Still, The Times’s news coverage was, by and large, still considered impartial.

Less than a year after the Supreme Court denied the government an injunction preventing The New York Times from publishing the Pentagon Papers, William F. Buckley, the leading conservative voice of the time, conducted an audit of the newspaper’s fairness in his magazine, National Review. In 1972, the magazine reviewed five stories with a “distinct left-right line.” National Review concluded: “The Times news administration was so evenhanded that it must have been deeply dismaying to the liberal opposition.”

The New York Times established the executive editor position in 1964. The Times perhaps reached its zenith under Executive Editor Abe Rosenthal (1977–1986). Rosenthal was committed to unbiased, impartial reporting. Joseph Lelyveld, executive editor from 1994 to 2001, said, “Abe would always say, with some justice, that you have to keep your hand on the tiller and steer to the right or it’ll drift off to the left.”

Many believe The Times began to drift significantly under Howell Raines (2001–2003). My friend Dick Morris, political consultant (and one-time WPHT-AM, Philadelphia, afternoon host), stated that Raines had turned the paper into a “political consulting firm for the Democratic Party. For decades, The Times was the one newspaper so respected for its integrity and so widely read that it had influence well beyond its circulation. Now it has stooped to the role of partisan cheerleader.”

A 2002 Newsweek story reveals that there was considerable dissension under Raines. The article documents Raines’ “almost religious belief in ‘flooding the zone’—using all the paper’s formidable resources to pound away at a story,” continuing, “The Times is criticized for ginning up controversies as much as reporting them.” Newsweek quotes Slate’s (then) press critic Jack Shafer, saying, “The Times has assumed the journalistic role as the party of opposition.”

If there is a seminal moment that changed the course of The New York Times, aside from technology, it is the Jayson Blair affair. Blair came to The Times in 1999 from the University of Maryland, where he was editor of its student newspaper, The Diamondback. Initially hired as an intermediate reporter, Blair moved up rapidly to a full reporter and then editor.

In 2003, similarities between a front-page Blair story in The Times and one that had appeared two days earlier in a San Antonio, Texas, newspaper came to an editor’s attention. Further investigation revealed that Blair had plagiarized or fabricated more than half a dozen stories.

The internal investigation led to Blair’s dismissal and the resignation of Raines and Managing Editor Gerald Boyd. The matter created strife and factions within The Times, as well as the creation of an ombudsman position called the public editor.

Over 14 years, six people held the public editor title. The first was Daniel Okrent (2003– 2005), who wrote an opinion piece titled “Is The New York Times a Liberal Newspaper?” and answered the title’s question succinctly in his first sentence: “Of course, it is.”

Okrent explained the philosophy of then-publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr.: It isn’t so much that The Times is liberal as that it has an “urban” viewpoint. Okrent believed that “living in New York City makes people think that way and that many people who think that way find their way to New York.”

Byron Calame held the position next (2005–2007), followed by Clark Hoyt (2007–2010).

The fourth public editor for The Times was Arthur Brisbane (2010–2012). At the end of his tenure, The New York Times was a troubled company. It was shedding its early digital assets (About.com was about to be jettisoned) and focusing on its core newspaper business. The company showed an $88M loss in the preceding quarter.

In his final column as the public editor for The Times, Brisbane wrote: “When The Times covers a national presidential campaign, I have found that the lead editors and reporters are disciplined about enforcing fairness and balance, and usually succeed in doing so. Across the paper’s many departments, though, so many share a political and cultural progressivism—for lack of a better term—that this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times.”

“As a result, developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects.”

“. . . [A]s the digital transformation proceeds, as The Times disaggregates and as an empowered staff finds new ways to express itself, a kind of Times Nation has formed around the paper’s political-cultural worldview, an audience unbound by geography (as distinct from the old days of print) and one that self-selects in digital space.”

From Okrent through Brisbane, the public editors’ themes are consistent. They agree that progressive values and a progressive culture run through The Times. Through 2012, the paper’s ombudsmen maintained that these beliefs primarily impacted reporting on social issues, citing gay marriage as the best example, not political coverage. Brisbane prophetically warned that an empowered staff and an audience that “self-selects” in the coming digital transformation will wreak havoc.

By the time of the final two Times public editors (Margaret Sullivan [2012–2016] and Liz Spayd [2016–2017]), much had changed at the “paper of record.” It had become increasingly common for reporters to insert their “voice” into news stories.

Reader complaints about reporters’ opinions popping up in news stories became a frequent topic for Sullivan, including in a January 2015 column that included quotes from several Times editors.

Sullivan quoted Andrew Rosenthal, The Times opinion editor, who felt there should be a “much more careful separation of news and opinion.”

“I believe that an important line is crossed when first-person, clear opinion or advocacy make their way into the news pages, whether in print or online,” he said. “That sometimes happens.”

Sullivan added, “Top editors at The Times have told me that there is indeed a place for voice, personality, and, yes, sometimes opinion within the news pages.”

Sullivan identifies the origin of inserting voice into news content: “The world of online journalism, which is how more and more readers encounter Times articles, presents new challenges, especially in the way opinion stories are labeled or presented.”

If adding a reporter’s voice wasn’t new, accepting opinion in New York Times news stories, seemingly was. (This is MY voice, not Sullivan’s or that of a New York Times editor).

In her final column as public editor, Sullivan summarized her four-year tenure: “Journalism at The Times, and everywhere, continued to change radically. The corporate way to describe it is to say the business is being ‘reinvented.’ Down in the trenches, it’s seen more plainly: as turmoil, a struggle for survival.”

Sullivan offered advice. Her recommendations included:

—“Maintain editorial control. As partnerships, especially with Facebook, the social media behemoth, become nearly impossible to resist, The Times shouldn’t let business-driven approaches determine what readers get to see.”

—“Keep clickbait at bay. In the push for digital traffic, The Times is now publishing articles it never would have touched before in order to stay a part of a conversation that’s taking place on social media and read on smartphones.”

Liz Spayd became the sixth and final public editor of The New York Times in May 2016. She often criticized The Times, holding it to non-partisan news standards. In return, she faced harsher criticism than prior public editors. Some complaints about her found their way into other liberal publications, especially The Atlantic, which took particular delight in undermining her. The magazine said she was “inclined to write what she doesn’t know” and was “squandering the most important watchdog job in journalism.”

Some believe that the exceptionally severe reaction to Spayd was because she had previously been an editor at The Washington Post, The Times’s competitor. Others think it reflected the evolution that The Times and other news outlets were undergoing.

Times publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. ended the public editor position in May 2017, one year before Spayd’s contract expired. Like public editors before her, Spayd referenced “digital disruption and collapsing business models” in her last column.

Spayd also issued warnings to The Times in that column: “Whether journalists realize it or not, with impartiality comes authority—and right now it’s in short supply. In their effort to hold Trump accountable, will they play their hands wisely and fairly? Or will they make reckless decisions and draw premature conclusions?”

Sulzberger Jr. announced the end of the public editor position in a memo to the staff. He wrote that the responsibility of the public editor as the readers’ representative had outgrown one office. Now, everybody would be a public editor via the internet and the new “Reader’s Center.”

Things were getting weird.

Like most newspaper companies, during the first dozen or more years of the 21st century, The New York Times struggled with the decline of the printed newspaper and expanding digital media options. People who grew up in the 1980s were the last generation of newspaper readers. They saw their parents reading newspapers and magazines, and they did too, for the most part.

The number of daily newspapers in the U.S. remained stable throughout the 1970s at just under 1,750. By 1990 there were just over 1,600. Ten years later, as the new millennium began, there were under 1,500. By 2012, fewer than 1,400 remained. Four years later, in 2016, another 100 were gone, and only 1,286 daily newspapers survived.

Circulation dropped more precipitously. In 1988, U.S. daily newspaper circulation peaked at 63 million. By 2000, daily circulation had declined to just over 55 million. The number continues to drop: 43 million in 2012, under 35 million in 2016, and just over 24 million in 2020.

Millennials, born with the internet, learned to consume news on screens. Smartphones and apps became common before the 2016 election got into full swing. Newsrooms adjusted to smaller screens and shorter attention spans by writing shorter copy. Consuming audio and video became practical with the arrival of 3G and 4G. Finally, social media allowed everyone to share every thought. It was survival of the fittest. The Times was looking for answers on how to compete in a post-print world.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, The Times found an answer, but it would test the foundation Adolph Ochs had promised in 1896.

Russian media futurist Andrey Mir coined the term “post-journalistic” in his book “Postjournalism and the Death of Newspapers.” His thesis is that news revenue switched from ads to readers (or eyeballs and clicks) because of the internet. Ad-driven media manufactured consent. And reader-driven media manufactures anger, which increases polarization. In fact, the goal of post-journalism, according to Mir, is to “produce angry citizens.”

In a front-page analysis, Jim Rutenberg, a writer at large and previously a White House reporter, political correspondent, and media columnist for The Times, noted the conundrum the paper faced in covering Trump.

Rutenberg asks, If you’re a journalist who believes that Donald J. Trump is a demagogue and that he would be dangerous as commander in chief, how the heck are you supposed to cover him?

His answer is that your reporting will reflect your views. If your reporting reveals that you think a Trump presidency would be dangerous, it will move you “closer than you’ve ever been to being oppositional. That’s uncomfortable and uncharted territory for every mainstream, non-opinion journalist. . . .” Covering Trump as a dangerous candidate, Rutenberg continues, upsets the balance that journalists are trained to always strive for.

Rutenberg acknowledges the coverage Trump receives: “But let’s face it: Balance has been on vacation since Mr. Trump stepped onto his golden Trump Tower escalator last year to announce his candidacy.”

Surely, there are pre-Trump campaign examples of bias in The New York Times, but the demarcation line, the point where it’s in the open, loud, and proud, takes place during the 2016 presidential campaign.

And then it gets weirder.

When Donald J. Trump won the presidency on November 8, 2016, it didn’t merely upend the world for most Times employees. It was apocalyptic. They had believed there was a greater probability that the sun wouldn’t rise than that The New York Times headline would pronounce Donald Trump the next president of the United States.

On that morning, everything they believed had been proven wrong.

Liz Spayd, still the public editor, wrote in her November 9 column that The Times would begin “a period of self-reflection.” She hoped the editors would “think hard about the half of America the paper too seldom covers.”

Stupefied, The Times looked for an answer. An online-only piece titled “Why Trump Won: Working Class Whites” identified where to direct the blame.

The Times dug further. How could women have voted for Trump? A week before his inauguration, The Times ran a story in its news section asking a dozen women to explain their votes for Trump. A full-color photo of each woman was part of each profile. But Times reporters still couldn’t comprehend that Trump had won.

News coverage of Trump as president-elect remained slightly combative. For example, on January 13, 2017, a page one headline reported, “Latest to Disagree with Donald Trump: His Cabinet.” The article details disagreements between Trump and those he nominated for cabinet roles.

If that sounds like fair news coverage, consider The Times’s reporting of Kamala Harris as Joe Biden’s running mate. “Joseph R. Biden Jr. selected  Senator Kamala Harris of California as his vice-presidential running mate on Tuesday, embracing a former rival who sharply criticized him in the Democratic primaries.” Most of The Times coverage focuses on her sex, race, and ethnic heritage. The Times repeatedly refers to her as a “pragmatic moderate.”

In another article about her selection, The Times reports, “She had an electric moment in the first debate last June when she forcefully challenged Mr. Biden over his record on race. The way that exchange began was also notable: The moderators had not called on Ms. Harris, but she asserted herself by saying, ‘As the only Black person on this stage, I would like to speak on the issue of race.’”

But that was not the way the exchange began. It was what she said directly to Biden, and if they included it in any coverage at the time of her selection as Biden’s running mate, I didn’t find it.

Here’s what was left out: “It was personal. It was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations on the segregation of race in this country. It was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose bussing.”

She pushed him further. “Do you agree that you were wrong to oppose bussing in America, then? Do you agree?”

She continued when Biden tried to explain that he was not actually opposing integration. “There was a failure of states to integrate public schools in America. I was part of the second class to integrate Berkley, California public schools almost two decades after Brown v Board of Education,” she said, hammering away like the former prosecutor she was.

While differences between Biden and Harris are gingerly touched upon, when Trump and his cabinet picks disagree, it is in The Times’s headlines.

Before Inauguration Day, The Times and The Washington Post started pushing a story that there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Colluding with Russia fit perfectly with The Times’s worldview. So now it wasn’t white working-class voters who’d elected Trump. Ignorant women didn’t explain it. It had to be illegal activity between Trump and Russia. How else could he have won?

On January 12, 2017, The Times ran the front-page headline, “How a Sensational, Unverified Dossier Became a Crisis for Donald Trump.” It was pretty clear by then that this wasn’t reliable information.

Literally every day, The New York Times promised that the end of the Trump presidency was near. The Times ran over 3,000 stories on the Mueller investigation.

In a town–hall-style meeting whose transcript was leaked to Slate, executive editor Dean Baquet told the staff, “The day Bob Mueller walked off that witness stand, two things happened. Our readers who want Donald Trump to go away suddenly thought Bob Mueller is not going to do it. And Donald Trump got a little emboldened politically. We went from being a story about whether the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia and obstruction of justice to being a more head-on story about the president’s character. We built our newsroom to cover one story, and we did it truly well.”

If The Times’s new “post-journalism” didn’t succeed in removing Trump from office at that moment, it did improve the company’s business outlook. Jill Abramson, New York Times executive editor (2011–2014), confirms that The Times was slanting its coverage and what the impact of that was on its business in her book “Merchants of Truth.”

“Though [Dean] Baquet [executive editor 2014–2022] said publicly he didn’t want the Times to be the opposition party, his news pages were unmistakably anti-Trump. Some headlines contained raw opinion, as did some of the stories that were labeled as news analysis.”

“Given its mostly liberal audience, there was an implicit financial reward for the Times in running lots of Trump stories, almost all of them negative: they drove big traffic numbers and, despite the blip of cancellations after the election, inflated subscription orders to levels no one anticipated,” Abramson wrote.

CNBC reported that between the election on November 8 and November 26 (18 days) The Times saw an increase of about 132,000 paid subscriptions. The growth rate was ten times what it was during the same period the previous year. In the first six months after Trump took office, the paper added more than 600,000 subscribers. Trump and The Times’s new philosophy were good for business.

Then there’s the Op-Ed department. In 2016, James Bennet was hired from The Atlantic. The Sulzbergers wanted a more digital-friendly opinion section. Bennet was credited with modernizing The Atlantic.

The editorial board and columnists continued to hammer on Trump. Paul Krugman predicted “a global recession with no end in sight.” However, the people Bennet would bring on board would lead to the most upheaval and, ultimately, to his demise.

The Times editorial board changed in the two years between 2018 and 2019. Seven of the 15 members were new, and several more hadn’t been there much longer. The group was younger and more diverse. The department grew from around 70 to approximately 115 by early 2020.

There were occasional headaches when a conservative viewpoint created a brief Twitter tantrum, but nothing prepared management for Tom Cotton in June 2020.

Protests were spreading across the country over a police officer killing George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis, MN. The officer planted his knee into Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes as witnesses pleaded with him to stop and recorded the life going out of the man.

The protesters’ goals were to end police brutality and racism. In many cities, however, the protests became violent. The Times and other media outlets downplayed the violence in their reporting, calling the protests “mostly peaceful,” even as pictures and videos showed burning buildings, broken glass, and looting.

Information about the destructive side of the demonstrations could be found in the opinion pages, at least for a time.

Tom Cotton, a conservative Alabama senator, wrote an opinion column for The Times, “Time to Send in the Troops.” His essay proposed using the Insurrection Act of 1807 to restore order in areas where the protests had gotten violent. Cotton probably didn’t think he was suggesting anything radical. Eight presidents (mostly Democrats) have used the Insurrection Act 11 times over the past 100 years.

John F. Kennedy used the Insurrection Act twice, sending federal troops to Mississippi and Alabama to enforce civil rights laws. In circumstances akin to the summer of 2020, Lyndon Johnson called troops into Detroit to quell riots in 1967 and 1968 after Martin Luther King’s assassination.

The Times posted Cotton’s column in its online Op-Ed section. That action practically caused an atom to split. Although a nuclear catastrophe was averted, a revolt began among Times staffers. Many of the Op-Ed staff viewed the Cotton piece as hate speech. Leading the revolution were the newer group members that Bennet had brought in.

Cotton, a lone U.S. Senator, didn’t move any troops or even order any to move. He didn’t have the authority to do either. Nonetheless, Times employees found his opinion so odious that it required immediate action.

The whole point of having opinion pages is to present a wide range of ideas. The Times is, after all, the newspaper that once printed an opinion piece from Vladimir Putin. It is the paper that published an anonymous Op-Ed titled “I Am the Resistance,” detailing what some call a “deep state” effort to derail the Trump presidency. While anonymous news sources are common, this Op-Ed had no precedent to the best of my recollection. (About a year later, the author revealed himself as Miles Taylor when he left his position as chief of staff in the Department of Homeland Security—and wrote a book, naturally).

The revolutionaries mobilized. They took to Twitter, whipping up followers by condemning their own organization. Twitter and the blogosphere went crazy. The rebellion was in full swing.

Next was management’s turn. They wrote a letter expressing “deep concern” to Bennet, A.G. Sulzberger (who had taken over as publisher from his father), and several other New York Times Company executives.

For the staffers, what’s happening in cities across the nation is a struggle between good and evil. There is no room for opposing views, not even in the opinion pages. Jim Rutenberg had predicted four years earlier that this was how the news would be reported. Now it was impacting even the opinion pages.

Their letter demanded that the column never appears in the print edition—it didn’t.

It demanded that the online version receive an editor’s note—it did. It was more an apology than a note, and it challenged some of Cotton’s statements—something I’m sure the senator would like to do to their columns daily. The editor’s comment also claimed that the process was rushed, which the senator’s office disputes.

Cotton’s office maintains that there was a negotiation process to refine the nature of the article. It took a day for The Times and Cotton to agree on its scope. Afterward, Cotton submitted a draft to The Times. Then there were “at least three rounds of back and forth. The first two rounds focused on clarity and style, the last round on factual accuracy.”

The letter’s authors claim that Cotton’s opinions are dangerous and that his opinions put people, especially Times reporters, in danger. This claim is ridiculous. People who decided to break the curfews imposed by most cities and remain where violence was occurring (including reporters) weren’t in danger until a senator suggested doing what eight presidents had done 11 times before over the past 100 years. That idea endangered people? Huh?

There was another town-hall meeting, this time with Bennet, that reportedly didn’t go well. Bennet didn’t read the Cotton Op-Ed before publication. One of his deputy editors went through the piece. Two days later, Bennet resigned. The rebels had won.

Back at the very start of this long history, I said The New York Times sets the standards for every other legitimate news organization. Don’t think throwing Bennet under the bus didn’t send shock waves reverberating throughout the media. Within days, Stan Wischnowski, the top editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer and a 20-year veteran of the paper, resigned after his staff walked out to protest an Op-Ed on the effects of civil unrest on the city’s buildings, titled “Buildings Matter Too.”

Those working in the later stages of their careers in newsrooms know what happened to Bennet, Wischnowski, and others. The elders understand the new rules and where the power lies. They are going to keep their mouths shut and their heads down.

The evolution is complete now. Jim Rutenberg’s 2016 column and the words of past public editor warnings have come full circle. The combined realities of the business model and staff that value mission over traditional journalism dictate how The Times will report news and opinion.

Not only is a reporter’s voice permitted in a news story, but their point of view is also important.

From the business perspective, it appears that The Times is on to something. Revenues that declined through the first decade of the century have steadily grown since 2016. Trump and post-journalism have been steroids for The Times’s digital subscription growth.

For The New York Times staff, it’s about saving the world from what they view as an existential threat.

For A.G. Sulzberger, it’s about saving the family business for the sixth generation.

For the readers, it’s about time to change the box that says, “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” More aptly, it should now read, “Saving the World For Like-Minded People.”

BNM Writers

Andrea Kaye Learned Tough As Nails Attitude From Her Marine Corp Parents

“My fantasies didn’t involve radio as a kid, but they did involve my voice. And they did involve using that voice in some way to influence.”

Jim Cryns

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Her mother called her ‘dynamite in a dress.’ Andrea Kaye had an explosive energy and temperament. Her mother may have been right about her daughter’s intensity, but she was wrong about the dress.

“She thought I was going to be like my older sister, in a dress, playing with dolls. I was a tom-boy as a kid,” Kaye continued. “I was riding a bike with no shoes, riding like a crazy kid, and scraped off all my toenails. Our neighbors, ‘the Reen sisters’, comforted me while Mama wrapped my feet in bandages.

“We called them the Reen sisters because all four of them had ‘Reen’ at the end of their names; Doreen, Maureen, etc. Another time I jumped off an air conditioning unit and almost bit my tongue in half. To this day, my family still laughs about that stuff.” 

Her tomboy ways kept her a regular fixture at the Camp LeJeune emergency room. But even when she wasn’t getting into scrapes while playing, she got into scrapes and arguments over politics.

Also as a kid, Kaye would have intense conversations with her Uncle Jake, a Colonel at Fort Benning. “All the adults in the room would ask why he was arguing with a child,” Kaye explained. “My Uncle said, ‘Because she’s making a darn good point.’ He made me feel respected. He never treated me like a child.”

Both parents were in the Marine Corps. Kaye never seemed to shy away from being called a ‘military-brat.’ The kid was tough as nails. She brings some of that toughness to The Andrea Kaye Show, which broadcasts on Monday-Friday from 6:00-8:00 PM on The Answer San Diego.

Her mother grew up on a dairy farm in a little town near the Mississippi and Louisiana border. Not far from where Kaye went to high school, Slidell High. “Mama knew what hard work was,” Kaye explained.

Her mother worked extremely hard each day, especially after her mother Mary Lee got burned in a house fire. She had to help raise her younger sister while running the farm. “Compared to what she had to do on the farm, the Marine Corps was a vacation,” Kaye explained. “Mama has a tee-shirt that reads, ‘Not as Mean, not as Lean, but still a Marine’. Could be why she beat four cancers in three years. Not what you would call a ‘fluffy’ life.”

Kaye’s grandmother on her father’s side, worked in a textile mill in Opelika, Alabama. This was the same mill in which they filmed Norma Rae, starring Sally Field.

“With nothing but sixth grade education there weren’t many options,” Kaye said.

The work took a toll. Her grandmother lost most of her hearing and got black lung. Her dad grew up on a dirt floor and dreamed of a better life with travels to foreign lands and was thrilled to join the military as a way out. He believed in the American Dream and instilled that inspiration in Kaye.  

“We’d drive around and he would show us the neighborhoods we could live in if we got an education and worked hard.”

They had a lot of love while growing up in the family, but Kaye wouldn’t call it an emotionally nurturing childhood. Marines who were battle weary and from tough and impoverished childhoods aren’t necessarily the types to coddle. 

But they were the types to play lots of board games and cards, like gin rummy. Rides at amusement parks across the country were a family staple.

“We’d watch lots of movies and TV, especially musicals,” Kaye said. “Who knew two Marines could love The Sound of Music and Fiddler on the Roof so much?”

One time her mother bribed Kaye’s brother and his friends with cookies and cake if they would watch her perform songs from The Sound of Music.

“Mary Lee was my mother’s mom. She had to be tough because her husband died while my mom was in the womb,” Kaye said. “She didn’t have time to be nurturing with four kids and a dairy farm to run.”

She said Mary Lee would babysit often.

“She didn’t believe in sugar-coating for kids,” Kaye said. “One of my sisters asked her what a dead person looked like?”

Mary Lee packed the kids into the car and took them to a viewing with a dead man in a coffin and said, ‘This is what a dead person looks like.’

“You asked her a question and you got an answer,” Kaye said. “Mama was the same.”

That didn’t mean her parents didn’t love them, Kaye explained.

“They didn’t believe like today’s parents that everyone should get a trophy and everyone had to be happy every day. We were raised with the pragmatic truths of life. They were all about supporting what we wanted to do. There were no barriers to those dreams. That was instilled in my sister, brother and me.”

Kaye was born at Camp LeJeune Marine Corps base, living in the base housing Tarawa Terrace, also known as “Terrible Terrace”. They moved around a bit but settled in the New Orleans area.

“I loved everything about the military,” Kaye said. “I loved the bases, uniforms, marching, the regiment, the chain of command. I loved the military bearing and authoritative presence they had at all ranks. I was mesmerized by it all. Daddy was a Vietnam vet and when he was deployed, multiple times.

“Me and my siblings and Mama went back to the dairy farm with grandma,” Kayes said. “My father never talked about his time in the service. We had no idea what he did. My sister, Donna, who we just called Sister, asked Daddy once what he did for a living. He said, I shoot the bull all day. So when she was asked once what her dad did, she told them, “He shoots bulls.”

The mystery of the military was part of the allure. Kaye was so enamored with the military, she gave some thought to how great it would be if she could attend West Point after the family had visited. Her mother and father brought the military with them when they took a break from the base.

“Even though I love the military, I had a love and hate relationship with regiment when Dad and Mom took us on a vacation,” Kaye said. “We had to get up at 4:00am. It wasn’t like my father was harsh like the pilot Bull Meecham in The Great Santini. Still, we had a very specific way of doing things. I learned to fold clothes according to regulation”

Kaye was always interested in going to college, imagining where she might enroll. She ended up choosing Louisiana State University to study political science.

 “LSU was an amazing experience,” she said. “Louisiana is like being in another country. The language, food, culture. LSU is the perfect educational community of the unique culture. I embraced every aspect possible. I joined a sorority and lived in the house. Spent Saturday nights in the famous Tiger Stadium called Death Valley, and ate my weight in crawfish. I wanted the big university experience, and I got it.”

She’d thought about becoming a lawyer, perhaps a Supreme Court justice.

“I became obsessed with politics during my teen years,” Kaye explained. “I studied political science at LSU, admitted as a 17 year-old. I also gave some thought to becoming an attorney. In my family there was a constant theme of justice, of right and wrong. I have always been fascinated by true-crime.”

Kaye said her parents were always concerned about justice, committed to their beliefs of right and wrong. Always looking to improve her circumstances, instead of working her normal summer job at Fasulo Drugs in Slidell, she got a job in the French Quarter selling timeshares.

“I was able to make more money in six or eight weeks over the summer than I’d make all year working at the drugstore,” Kaye explained.

It was then Kay recognized she had an aptitude for sales. During her third year at LSU, she decided to switch her major to business. “I’m glad I did. There’s such an intersection between politics and business. I already loved politics and needed to learn more about business.”

She visited La Jolla, California after she graduated from LSU. It was a quick vacation but she fell in love with the area, and state. After graduation she started her first corporate job with No Nonsense panty hose.

“I was going around to K-Marts and other retail stores around Louisiana,” Kaye said. “I traveled around the state. It was a great first out of college job, but not a life choice. I earned my bones at No Nonsense. It was a grind.”

She couldn’t shake her love for La Jolla and San Diego, so she quit her job at No Nonsense and moved to San Diego, where she was hired by Xerox.

“Xerox sent me to Las Vegas, a branch of the San Diego office,” she said. “You have no idea how hot it is to be in a suit in Las Vegas when the temperature is 115-degrees. Still, I’d take it over the Florida heat and the mosquitos in New Orleans.”

After a year in Vegas, Xerox relocated her to San Diego.  Xerox is where she made her bones, working in one of the toughest industries, and for a legendarily tough company.

Kaye said she may live in California, but her soul is on the New Orleans Bayou.

“I love, love, love Louisiana,” she said. “Down to the core of my being. One of the reasons I left was because after the oil industry crashed, so did the economy. There was a not so funny billboard outside Lafayette that said, ‘Last one to leave, turn out the lights’. The economy had completely tanked.”

At the time she left for California, Kaye said she didn’t understand her soul connection with New Orleans. “I didn’t know how much I’d miss it. I try to get back at least once or twice a year and still have family and friends there.”

The transition from sales to media wasn’t all that difficult for Kaye. She said every company she worked for required her to do some kind of media work.

“When I was with No Nonsense, I would join radio stations on the air when they were doing promotions from a parking lot. They’d talk to anyone. I would say, ‘I’m Andrea from No Nonsense. Come and check us out.’ It wasn’t difficult for me. I just wormed my way in and identified myself and the product on the air.”

She has ‘acted’ in corporate industrial videos and some infomercials. Again, this came naturally. She ended up getting an agent.

“It’s different in New York and L.A.,” Kaye said. “In those cities you can get an agent for particular things. An agent for acting, and agent for modeling. In San Diego, they only had agents that were a one-stop-shop. You were required to do any medium the agent put you up for. You’d be called upon to audition for commercials on TV, or a model in print ads, even some acting gigs.”

Kaye appeared in one movie, Lore Deadly Obsession. The film was about real-life serial killer and cannibal Richard Chase, who killed six women and drank their blood in the late 70s. He was dubbed ‘The Vampire Killer.’

“That was the first time they used the term ‘serial killer,” she explained.

Kaye is married but never had children. “It just wasn’t my dream,” she said. “I never had the fantasy of staying home and starting a family. That was Sister’s dream, and she fulfilled it. So did my brother. My fantasies were about living a life that was different. Bigger and brighter than my folks and their folks before them. Just as each generation behind me lived a bigger and brighter life than those before.

“My fantasies didn’t involve radio as a kid, but they did involve my voice. And they did involve using that voice in some way to influence.”

 Fantasy achieved.

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BNM Writers

Should the Media Support Police?

BNM’s Rick Schultz writes Never has the danger to police officers been greater, and never has the thin blue line been under such attack, so where is the media?

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Creator: Ringo H.W. Chiu | Credit: AP

Never has the danger to police officers been greater, and never has the thin blue line been under such attack. 

So where is the media?

This past weekend, Fox News @Night hosted a discussion about public support for the police and, in doing so, highlighted a group dedicated to wounded officers and their families.

Retired Las Vegas Police Detective Lt. Randy Sutton of TheWoundedBlue.com joined host Trace Gallagher to discuss the current state of affairs from law enforcement’s perspective.

“Well, when it comes to America’s crime crisis, something appears to be missing in society and in mainstream media, covering and honoring law enforcement officers who are wounded or killed in the line of duty,” Gallagher began. “I want to know why it is that mainstream media, and that society, feels like, you know what, the war on police is not worth covering?”

“This news network is pretty much the only one that’s giving the truth out about the war on cops. Last year, 207 police officers lost their lives in the line of duty. Almost sixty thousand were physically assaulted in the line of duty, Trace,” Sutton responded. “They’ve been shot, they’ve been stabbed, they’ve been beaten. And yet, you don’t even see it in the newspapers. It’s barely covered because it’s not politically expedient for the political Left and for the mainstream media to even cover.”

Gallagher then drew attention to a graphic showing a mid-October statement from the National Fraternal Order of Police, @GLFOP, which read…

The spewing of anti-police rhetoric by some political and media figures as well as the failed policies of rogue prosecutors and judges, are placing our officers in greater danger. This culture of lawlessness must stop!

“A lot of people don’t know when officers get injured, not only is the officer affected. But the family and a lot of things change,” said Marcus Mason, San Bernardino Sheriff’s Deputy, who was injured in the line of duty. “I spent about a month in the hospital, so my family had to drive to and from home, daycare, dropping off children, and doing different things to get people to work to get people to come see me and things like that. A lot of financial things are a burden put on your family. And so, The Wounded Blue was there to help my family in making those things easier. Whether it’s paying for gas or the increase in groceries and things like that, and making things easier for my family to be able to come and spend time with me.”

TheWoundedBlue.com’s mission, as stated on the website, is to improve the lives of injured and disabled law enforcement officers. They place a strong focus on de-stigmatizing mental health within the law enforcement community, in addition to providing peer support and community outreach. Their emergency phone number – (702) 290-5611 – provides “immediate trust, validation, and confidentiality, which breaks down barriers when a person is in a vulnerable state.”

Vickie Speed, whose brother-in-law was “executed in the line of duty,” joined the panel to share part of her sister’s recovery story after the violent episode.

“We got involved with Randy because he actually stepped in to help her with PTSD and trauma and I saw what he did,” she said, noting that she also lost her husband to cancer. “Just losing my husband alone, I just had a real passion to give back and not just help widows, but I’ve actually run into law enforcement that’s now retired, that’s reaching out.”

Gallagher pointed out that while the group’s mission is crucial to families recovering from such tragedies, the real shame is that Wounded Blue is needed in the first place.

“My peer team, amazing people,” Sutton said. “All of my peer team are officers who have been shot, stabbed, beaten, run over. And you know what, but I fully believe this, that the American people believe in their police and want to help. They want to have an avenue to help. And now we’re giving them that avenue by supporting these wounded officers, by going to TheWoundedBlue.org and giving what they can, can make a difference. In fact, they might even save a life.”

The question posed by Gallagher, although never definitively answered, is whether the mainstream corporate media will ever reflect the widely-held sentiment of most Americans. The feeling is that law enforcement should be applauded and supported, especially on the heels of a violent attack.

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BNM Writers

The Power of Events and the Electronic Campfire

The past couple of months reminded me of some of the best events over a long radio career.

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Of all the people who have ever played music on the radio, Jim Ladd (currently heard on SiriusXM’s Deep Trax Channel) may be the most gifted communicator. I had the opportunity to work with and get to know Ladd when I programmed KLSX-FM/Los Angeles.

Ladd referred to radio as the “electronic campfire.” Although he coined the phrase to describe FM progressive radio, it’s a terrific descriptor of radio at its best. When a radio station is firing on all cylinders, it becomes a communal experience.

I always enjoyed big station events. Surrounded by staff and listeners, in a shared communal experience that only a fantastic radio team could create, is when I truly understood Ladd’s term, “the electronic campfire.”

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SP Proclamation

The past couple of months reminded me of some of the best events over a long radio career.

The Philadelphia Phillies were baseball’s Cinderella story this year, even if they turned back into a pumpkin two games short of the championship. What a ride for my Philadelphia friends and former colleagues.

The Phillies won the World Series in 2008 and earned a return trip in 2009. We had station rallies before each game and lit the WPHT tower in red light. Because Philadelphians are so sensitive about comments made by national announcers (and there are no local television broadcasts), we synced the local radio broadcast to the national broadcast. The legendary Harry Kalas called the final out in a moment etched into many Philadelphians’ minds. Those broadcasts received some of the highest shares of the PPM era. 

For 25 years, Philadelphia had a unique city holiday: Wing Bowl. The genius of Angelo Cataldi and Al Morganti conceived this event for the Friday before the Super Bowl at a time when the Eagles were perennial losers. What started as a chicken wing eating contest in a hotel lobby became one of the WIP’s biggest annual ratings and revenue days. The morning show broadcast live from a packed Wells Fargo Center. Combine Mardi Gras with a chicken wing eating contest, and you have some idea of what Wing Bowl was. If you don’t know, look do a quick search.

I also was involved in three of Howard Stern’s victory parties, or as Howard called them at the time, the funeral for the competition. We did it in Philadelphia and Los Angeles – which was especially fun because we tapped into special effects available from show biz fans in Hollywood. The third time was in Cleveland, where I could enjoy the spectacle mainly as a listener.

When the Smashing Pumpkins came through the Twin Cities recently, it reminded me of the biggest radio event I’ve ever seen. In 1998 we had a struggling station in Minneapolis called Rock 100.3. We were trying to put the station on the map. Summers are short in Minneapolis, and the city celebrates with a week-long festival called the Aquatennial. Friday night is called the Block Party, with music on several different stages throughout downtown, sponsored by various radio stations.

Previously the biggest act the Block Party ever featured was The Black Crowes, drawing about 35,000. We promised to do better – even if we hadn’t figured out how. After a lot of hard work and even more good fortune, we found the Smashing Pumpkins were looking to do a free unticketed show. In 1998 there was no band bigger than The Smashing Pumpkins. 

We convinced then-Mayor Sharon Sayles-Belton that it would be good for the city and The Smashing Pumpkins played the Block Party in front of 125,000 fans on a 90-foot stage with a six-figure production budget on what was then a parking lot in downtown Minneapolis. If we had a two-share, every one of those listeners was at that show – and they brought a friend!

There were no significant incidents at the show, except for the inmate convicted of murder who escaped long enough to see the concert and was then taken back into custody without incident after the show. 

Nothing like the free Smashing Pumpkins concert will happen again in Minneapolis. The site is now home to Mayo Clinic Square, which includes the Mayo’s Sports Medicine Clinic, the offices and practice facilities of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves and WNBA Lynx, restaurants, office and retail space for Jack Links, and the 251-room Loews Hotel.

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Smashing Pumpkins

Not every event requires a six-figure budget, the most prominent band of the era, or booking the city’s NBA/NHL facility. It’s not even necessary to finish number one in morning drive and then engage in 1980s or 90s-style radio wars.

Stations that don’t have budgets must be more imaginative in creating events. It is not an option for stations to discontinue events – at least those that hope to continue to attract an audience. 

When I arrived at WIP, I found a station with a handful of morning shows. Each personality was an experienced entertainer and showperson. When we put them on the same stage together, it was magic. We did it in a public venue and held a debate about Philadelphia’s favorite topic: The Eagles. We dressed the stage like a presidential debate and followed a similar format (it was during the 2008 presidential election). It became an annual event. Over the years, everything from the podiums, timer, wardrobe, and challenge flags (yes, we even had challenge flags) became sponsored. Moments ranged from hilarious to tense. 

There were two total lunar eclipses this year. How fun would it be to get an expert from a local planetarium (or even an astronomy club) and invite listeners to share an experience in the middle of the night? Depending on the station’s format playing “Dark Side of the Moon” either at the event or on the air.

Events (and personalities) build equity and loyalty for radio brands. Find a great radio brand, and you’ll find a history of great personalities and big events. When Progressive Rock radio began, some, like my friend Jim Ladd, dubbed it the “electronic campfire.”

Despite never-ending budget cuts, radio brands must continue to create events. Radio will have more commercials and compete against more narrowly targeted competitors. Podcasters, streamers, and satellite radio can’t do local events. Few, if any, will ever create communal experiences the way radio has been for over 100 years. Fire up the campfire. The combination of personalities and events remains radio’s best bang for the buck. 

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