Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Freedom of the Press and Freedom From Fake News

The founders were wise enough that they made freedom of the press first among equals, as a constitutional guarantee. They also even understood fake news in the form of the pamphleteers of the day. But they never could have imagined bots and trolls and social media, as a way for that fake news to be disseminated at light speed. We’ve seen how lies beak from the gate quickly, and the truth can seldom seem to catch up.

For those that aren’t monitoring the news 24/7, and for the vast majority of the country that has neither the time nor resources to fact check every story, or each new online site, how are we to determine, as Stephen Colbert would say, the truthiness of stories.

We’ve seen lately that algorithms alone simply don’t work. So how can the human element be brought in, in a way that is informative and yet not intrusive? In a process that allows for advocacy, opinion and human bias, but still respects facts, expertise and professionalism? The answer might be Newsguard.

Steven Brill is the founder of American Lawyer, Court TV, Brill's Content and the Yale Journalism initiative. He’s recently confounded NewsGuard.

My conversation with Steven Brill:

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Can Something That's Popular, Still Be Creative and Good?

There's an old axiom with respect to quality and culture that says if something is popular, it can't be very good. Certainly that's true for fast-food, overhyped action movies and maybe even some crummy literature. However, there's a way that creativity can be combined with commercial success that brings out the best of both. What's more, creativity in this regard, is not something that's limited to those that are born geniuses.

To examine this, I talked to Allen Gannett, the author of The Creative Curve: How to Develop the Right Idea, at the Right Time.

My conversation with Allen Gannett:

Thursday, June 21, 2018

A Dinner in Camelot: How Far We Have Fallen

A few weeks ago , the press reported aggressively on the fact that Kim Kardashian had visited the White House. Just as it had the visits of Kid Rock and Ted Nugent before her. With homage toDr. Seuss, Oh, how far we have fallen.

On April 29, 1962, John F. Kennedy welcomed a group of Nobel Prize winners to the White House. Other guests included William Styron, James Baldwin, Mary Welsh Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway’s widow, who sat next to the President and grilled him on Cuba policy. Also there were John Glenn, historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Researcher Linus Pauling, and Pablo Casals. Actor Fredric March gave a public recitation after the meal,

Held at the height of the Cold War, the dinner celebrated American achievement, and symbolized a time when ideas and facts were esteemed, divergent viewpoints could be respectfully discussed and the great minds of an age might all dine together in the glamour of “the people’s house.”

It was about this event that Kennedy said, “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House — with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

To revel for twenty minutes on what used to be, you’ll want to listen to Joesph Esposito, the author of Dinner in Camelot: The Night America's Greatest Scientists, Writers, and Scholars Partied at the Kennedy White House. 

My conversation with Joseph Esposito:

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Ultimate Silicon Valley Scam

By now we are all familiar with crimes and criminals on Wall Street. Bernie Madoff, Enron, Ivan Boesky, Barry Minkow and many others that have become household names. On the West Coast, the startup world of Silicon Valley had been somewhat spared from this taint. The world of “insanely great products,” “do no evil,” and “bringing friends together,” has, at least until recently, kept it’s patina.

Yet in a world where people want to see the future and want to be a part of it, it certainly was a fertile ground for fraud. And no one perpetrated a greater fraud than Elizabeth Holes and her company Theranos.

The story of a company whose mission was to tell you everything about your blood, with a simple finger prick, seemed too good to be true. And like most thing that seem too good to be true, it was.

John Carreyrou is a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter at The Wall Street Journal.  He has, from the beginning, been the leader in telling the story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. His book, soon to be a major motion picture, is Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

My conversation with John Carreyrou:

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Things Can Always Get Worse in America...And They Often Have

I assume that most of you believe that the state of America has seldom been worse. Racial progress, America as a melting pot, the global alliance that has seen us through the past 75 years, character, civility, and liberal democracy itself, all seem to be under siege. While this is all true, it's also true is that we’ve been here before.

There have been many dark moment in American history. Maybe there is something in our very DNA that sets us up for it. But certainly from the Alien and Sedition acts though the Civil War, the industrial revolution, America First, the great depression, Jim Crow, the cold war and the tyranny of Joe McCarthy, we’ve seen that bad things happen to good countries.

Each time though we have emerged stronger. We have understood that the fault was not in our stars, but in ourselves and so we have reached deeply within ourselves for our better angels. But as the pundits of Wall Street ask all the time, is it different this time?  This is the heart of Pulitzer Prize winning historian and best selling author Jon Meacham's latest work The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels

My conversation with Jon Meacham:

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Country's Collapsing...and the Ratings are Great

Everyday we get another glimpse of just how divided America is. The racial training at Starbucks, the horrendous tweets from Roseanne Barr, and the ongoing collection of psychotic hate filled lies from the president, are just some recent manifestations.

To try and understand it all, Charlie LeDuff takes the journalistic admonition to “go here,” and puts it on steroids. Charlie is part of the great tradition of participatory journalists, people like George Plimpton, and David Foster Wallace. In his latest work Sh*tshow!: The Country's Collapsing . . . and the Ratings Are Great, what he participates in is America as it is today. And for him, it is splintering, collapsing and headed down the drain and in his view, no one is really talking about it.

My conversation with Charlie LeDuff:

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Conversations with Anthony Bourdain

Since last weeks tragic news, many have spoken of the multiple talents of Anthony Bourdain.  Over the years I had the privilege of learning about Bourdain, in his own words. 

Beginning all the way back in 2002, I had the opportunity to speak with him several times. We talked about foods around the world, the lure of the restaurant business, the depressing state of food culture in America, how he got his start, and what it meant to be chef today.  He told me that what he did was "like running away with the circus."  

What follows are some clips from those conversations.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Suicide Among The Best And The Brightest: Portraits of Resilience

The great songwriter Johnny Mandel wrote, in the theme song for MASH, that “suicide is painless.” It’s not. The emotional pain and depression that often leads to it, is anything but. Moreover the pain for the survivors is unfathomable.

Yet we are witnessing an epidemic of suicide among some of best and brightest young people today. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among college students.

Back in 2014 and 2015, even such an esteemed institution as MIT experienced a suicide cluster, resulting in the death of 6 students and 1 faculty member.

Because of its deeply personal nature, the search for symptoms and causes needs to be more personal than clinical. After the MIT suicides, an MIT computer science professor, Daniel Jackson, set out to do something to begin to understand what had happened and to help others.

What he did, reached not into the pharmacy, but into the soul of his students. These end result is Portraits of Resilience.

My conversation with Professor Daniel Jackson:

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

An Important Day In The Life of Robert F. Kennedy

In 1964 Lyndon Johnson enacted his war on poverty. Three years later Robert Kennedy knelt in a crumbling shack in Mississippi, watching a toddler pick rice and beans off of a dirt floor. What Robert Kennedy saw on that trip would impact him personally and in part, drive is run for the Presidency one year later.

While Vietnam was the seminal issue of the day, poverty and its nexus with the civil rights movement, were very much on Kennedy’s mind.

Ellen Meacham takes us back to this transformative moment for RFK in Delta Epiphany: Robert F. Kennedy in Mississippi.

My conversation with Ellen Meacham: 

Monday, June 4, 2018

Chris Matthews on Bobby Kennedy

Forty nine years ago, on June 5th 1968, the world shifted on its axis. The assassination of Bobby Kennedy, after his victory in the California primary, changed politics forever. It’s might not be too far fetched to say th
at had Bobby survived, our politics and our country might look very different today.

Sydney Schanberg, the great reporter, once told me in an interview that he thought Vietnam and the 60’s represented the end of consensus politics in America.

Since that time we have been searching for the politician or the leader that could bridge that divide. The irony has been that in a time of polarity, it’s been impossible for that leader to emerge. So we look back to what might have been. And when we do, the image, the mythology and the reality of Bobby Kennedy rises as an apparition from the body politic.

Why? What was it about Bobby that made us think he was different?

This is where Chris Matthews takes us in Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit.

My conversation with Chris Matthews:

Bobby Kennedy May Have Been The Last Genuine Progressive

There are many that believe that solution of our fractured politics is simply for individuals to take power from the grassroots. That bottom up organizing is the antidote to the wave of authoritarianism that is sweeping the world.

The counter to that argument is that even with committed grass roots efforts, charismatic and effective leadership is essential.

The 60’s represented the end of consensus politics in America. Since that time we have been searching for the politician or leader that could restore that. The irony has been that in this time of hyper polarity, it’s been impossible for that leader to emerge. So we look back to what might have been. And when we do, the image, the mythology and the reality of Bobby Kennedy rises as an apparition from the body politic.

He had a unique ability to to match an empathetic and compassionate agenda with the instincts of a street fighter. Something the left has not been very good at. As we mark the death of Bobby Kennedy today, I’ve joined by Richard Allen, the author of RFK: His Words for Our Times

My conversation with Richard Allen:

We Think It's Stormy Now.....1968 Was Far Worse....And We Survived

Historians have long written about inflection points in history. In American history, events surrounding the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War & Reconstruction, the Industrial Revolution, the Great Depression, and WWII, are all such points.

It’s arguable that we may very well be living though another one right now. But clearly the last great historical inflection point came exactly fifty years ago, and reached its apogee in the year of 1968. Lyndon Johnson was President, and a series of events led us to believe like Yeats, “that the center cannot hold, and that mere anarchy was loose upon the land.”

The Tet Offensive, MLK and RFK assassinations, the Praque Spring, racial conflicts, the Democratic Convention in Chicago, Lyndon Johnson's decision not to seek reelection and the election of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, made 1968 quite a year.

Lyndon Johnson presided over it all and that's the story that historian Kyle Longley tells in LBJ's 1968: Power, Politics, and the Presidency in America's Year of Upheaval

My WhoWhatWhy conversation with Kyle Longley:

Saturday, June 2, 2018

The American Tailspin: Can We Ever Pull Up?

How did our culture, politics and economy get where we are today? Just how bad is it and is it fixable? By comparison, 50 years ago, the country was truly coming apart. War, assassination and riots undermined the very fabric of America.

All of this came just twenty years after the Greatest Generation won the the war, and five years after Camelot. Out of this cauldron came of age a new generation. One, as Kennedy said, was “born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage.”

So what happened and how does it explains today’s disfunction, chaos, distrust and tribalism? The tailspin we seem to be in, finds it origins and in turn maybe its solutions, in the the molten core of something that happened in the 1960’s

To try and find and pull these threads together, Steven Brill gives us Tailspin: The People and Forces Behind America's Fifty-Year Fall--and Those Fighting to Reverse It

My conversation with Steven Brill: