Mike Wallace Signs Off

Mike Wallace died over the weekend.  He was 93 years old, and he left behind a true broadcast journalism legacy.

Wallace was synonymous with the CBS show 60 Minutes, where he was a regular contributor for more than 30 years.  His hard-hitting stories helped to make the broadcast the most popular show in the land, because watching Mike Wallace relentlessly drill down on a sweating interview subject was great television.  I’m confident that every sleazy politician, corporate executive, or head of a charity who got a phone call that Mike Wallace was doing a story and wanted an interview felt a cold chill and inward pucker, knowing the jig was up, the awful truth would be exposed, and there was nothing they could do about it.

Although people associate Wallace with his tough on-air persona, he also was a very capable journalist.  Unlike most modern broadcasters, he wasn’t all about theatrics.  His interviews and stories were usually thoroughly researched and carefully presented.  His approach followed that of radio and early TV newsmen who sourced their pieces just like print reporters did; they were simply using different technology to present the story.  At some point, broadcast “news” veered off into the land of preening personalities, titanic egos, empty suits, ambush interviews, and advocacy stories that never would have made it past an old-line editor.  Does anyone think that Katie Couric, Bill O’Reilly, Diane Sawyer, or Brian Williams — or any other modern newscaster — is comparable to Mike Wallace?

Wallace’s death not only marks the passing of a broadcast icon, it also marks the final and unfortunate end of an era.

The President’s Curious, Overcooked Metaphors

Although he has a reputation as a fine public speaker, President Obama often struggles to make his point and move on.  At times, he seems to get trapped within expanding metaphors, fighting without success to make his way out.

I first noticed this after he was elected, when he sought to explain why he wouldn’t follow Republican economic advice.  His simple point was:  they’ve just driven the car into the ditch, and now they want the keys back.  By the time he was done, however, the Republicans were sipping on Slurpees, the President and Democrats were mud-splattered and down in the ditch, and the illustration had become so weird and leaden you were rolling your eyes.

The same problem arose during the interview of the President on 60 Minutes.  When asked about unemployment, he gave a long response that included this statement:

“And, you know, sometimes when I’m talking to my team, I describe us as, you know, I’m the captain and they’re the crew on a ship, going through really bad storms. And no matter how well we’re steering the ship, if the boat’s rocking back and forth and people are getting sick and, you know, they’re being buffeted by the winds and the rain and, you know, at a certain point, if you’re asking, “Are you enjoying the ride right now?” Folks are gonna say, “No.” And [if you] say, “Do you think the captain’s doing a good job?” People are gonna say, “You know what? A good captain would have had us in some smooth waters and sunny skies, at this point.” And I don’t control the weather. What I can control are the policies we’re putting in place to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Odd  to hear the President depict Americans as seasick passengers on a ship, isn’t it?  And his simple point, that passengers won’t enjoy a ride through rough waters, even when the captain is doing the best job possible, also morphs into the whiny refrain that the President doesn’t control the economic “weather”– even though Presidents happily take credit when skies are sunny.

Ship metaphors are hackneyed and dangerous, because lots of bad things can happen on sea voyages — things like mutinies, shark attacks, being shanghaied, forcing people to walk the plank, and having to deal with evil, crazed, or obsessed captains like Captain Bligh, Captain Queeg, and Captain Ahab.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the President’s ill-considered sea captain answer makes its way into a Republican commercial when the general election finally arrives in 2012.

Swimming Pool Scuttlebutt

This morning while I was swimming my laps at my condo a few of us started talking about the segment on “60 Minutes” last night about super computers that are now doing as much as 70% of the trading on the stock exchange.

All of us agreed that this is scary stuff especially when a large portion of our retirement savings is wrapped up in stock funds susceptible to this type of activity.

We also came to the conclusion that there will be many more events like the Flash Crash that occurred on May 6, 2010 when the Dow lost 1000 points because of an algorithm gone wrong.

These types of events will be reminders of the “bad” part of too much technology and unfortunately the individual investor will probably be the one who is most hurt when this type of thing happens.