Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Public 'Mea Culpa' to My Mother

It recently occurred to me that I've used this blog to talk about many of the most important people in my life. But, due to simple ignorance, I have yet to write about the most beautiful woman in my world. My mother.

The 'original' Susan Halliday.

Her birthday is less than two days away. I won't reveal her age for fear of being ostracized from our upcoming holiday celebrations. Age is but a number, and my Mom remains the passionate spitfire she has always been.

And, I want to apologize to her. I've done it countless times before and will certainly do so again.

Mom, I'm sorry I didn't treat you with the respect you deserved when I was a child. I'm sorry that I didn't listen to you. I'm sorry I talked back and attempted to humiliate you. I'm sorry for making life hell for you on the sad occasions where I chose to be arrogant and self-righteous. I'm sorry if, for even a single moment, you ever felt that I didn't regard you as a crucial and wonderful part of my life. If you ever felt that way, and I am certain you did, I pray you will forgive me. You will always be the most important woman in my world.

In case you hadn't figured it out, I wasn't particularly kind to Mom.

As a kid, I idolized my Dad. He was the embodiment of what a man should be. Father, friend, teacher, enforcer. I wrote about him just before his birthday this April. My Dad continues to have the greatest influence on my life.

Early on, my Mom saw that connection my father and I had. She knew how important it was...how a strong relationship between a father and his son can shape both men forever and effect generations. Mom recognized that power and never did anything to get in the way. Even when I turned my boyish angst against her. Yelling back. Refusing to obey or even make eye contact. Laughing at her orders. Purposely upsetting her as I tested my limits and her patience.

I made my Mom cry. A lot. She would get so upset she couldn't contain her emotions. It wasn't because she was overly protective or because she had a thin skin; it was because I was terrible to her. Terrible in every way. And when Dad came home, my sister and I would morph into more tolerable children. After all, Dad was the man of the house.

Mom often said, "You wait until Dad gets home." And we would. The moment he stepped through the door we showered him with 'Hellos' and love. Superman was home. Meanwhile, my sister and I had likely just spent the last three hours frustrating our mother...for no reason. Dad got the love; Mom got the laughs.

For the majority of my childhood, Mom was a 'stay at home' woman. No one looked down on housewives during my Mom's generation. But suddenly during the 80s and 90s, more and more women were active in the workplace and my Mom's role was somewhat abnormal to us. Most of my friends' Moms worked. I think my sister and I internalized that and showed our mother less reverence because of it.

Now, as a father of two, I recognize all that she did. I know our house is never as clean as my Mom kept hers; she is a gourmet chef and her meals are legendary. She poured her life into her children and her home. All while dealing with children who didn't show her the proper amount of respect.

This isn't to say that I didn't love her. I did. I told her I loved her all the time.

But I didn't act like it. I would denounce her ideas and ignore her requests to dedicate myself to my studies. She would drive me to algebra tutoring and I would complain the whole time. I refused to see what she was trying to do for me. It was easier to show her disdain.

In middle school, she saw I was struggling in a science course. She recognized my general apathy and worked with me to improve my dedication. She also saw that my teacher (a truly broken man who took pleasure in ignoring others) didn't care about how his students performed. He was punching the clock, learning be damned. My Mom acted. She fought for my test scores to see my shortcomings and to get me help. When the administrators and the teacher's union laughed in her face, she protested the school. She was arrested for trespassing. My Mom was on the front page of our local paper, being shoved into a police cruiser. She was damn proud of her efforts. She made a difference.

But, her only son mocked her. I was ashamed. Mortified. A middle-school boy whose Mom made the paper for being, as classmates told me, "a nutjob." Five years later, in my senior yearbook, one of my friends wrote in the margin next to his picture, "Hope your Mom gets out of jail soon." Kids can be cruel. They taunted me endlessly and I took it out on her.

I was such a fool.

And when I came home from college and blew off any suggested curfew and ignored my parents' requests to 'do something constructive,' my Mom took the brunt of my rude retorts. When I graduated from college and prepared to leave for a teaching expedition to China, she tried to tell me how concerned she was and how she didn't want me to go. I cursed at her...I cursed her up and down.

I still remember the look on her face. She was so offended and hurt. She wailed and moaned...crying for a long time. She refused to look me in the eye. And, of course, I left the house before my Dad came home for dinner.

I was such a coward.

And, when giving a commencement speech at Syracuse University at the age of 24, I talked at length about my father. I acknowledged my Mom and told her I loved her, but I placed my father on a pedestal yet again. I didn't mean to upset her, but I know it bothered her...even if it was a fleeting thought. She deserved to share more of that moment than what I allowed.

I was such an imbecile.

For all of these reasons, I owe my Mom infinite apologies. I've apologized to her before, many times. I always say I am sorry for all of the terrible things I said and did. Each time I apologize she laughs lightly, kisses my cheek and says, "Oh honey, I love you. It is over. Thank you but it's okay. I love you."

I keep apologizing because I keep remembering the way I treated her. I'm often reminded of those moments thanks to my brilliantly wonderful and equally defiant daughter Isabelle. She calls me 'Jeff' instead of Daddy and likes to ignore/refuse my demands. She gets a kick out of upsetting me. After the way I treated my Mom, I deserve it.

Mom, I promise to never undervalue the impact that you've made in my life. And, perhaps more importantly, I also pledge to honor my wife's role in our family. I will always respect her opinion, as Dad did yours. Though we were mean to you, Dad always told me how much he respected you and how we were to listen to you. When we talked back to you, and Dad was there to hear it, we were instantly punished. He constantly berated me for not being more respectful to you. And while it didn't work all the time back then, it has worked.

Though I was rude to you, you always encouraged me. You always pushed me to explore my writing skill and my passion for serving others. Now look at me. Teaching college students how to serve the public as responsible and ethical journalists. You have a lot to do with my success.

Please know that I remain indebted to you and apologize for the way I treated you. I know you have already forgiven me, but that doesn't absolve me of my wrongdoing. Thank you for loving me enough to look beyond my faults.

Perhaps it's not just coincidence that I married a woman named Susan. A passionate and exceptional woman that is not afraid to speak her mind and has a steel backbone. A spitfire.

Just like you Mom.

When Susan and I were just starting to date, I told my now wife that she was not the most beautiful woman in the world. And she still isn't.

You are Mom.

I love you so very much.

Happy Birthday to the woman who helped make me a man and never got the proper credit she deserved.

Until now.



Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Our Second Child: Kenneth Edward IV

I've used this blog for several purposes. From extending those 'intrapersonal' discussions I carry within me during the day, to discussing the media industry and finally as a form of catharsis. This entry is of the cathartic persuasion.

This entry is for our son, Kenneth Edward Halliday IV.

We named Kenny after my father, Kenneth Edward Halliday III. Naming my firstborn son after my Dad is something I set my sights on as a child. When I was a boy, my sister and I took your typical sibling rivalry to unenviable levels. We coveted everything the other owned. And that included Matchbox cars, baseball cards and even Cabbage Patch dolls. You read correctly, I had a Cabbage Patch doll. If my sister was going to own one, I wasn't going to be left out.

My Mom bought me a boy doll (of course) that matched my brown hair and brown eyes. Without hesitation, I named him Ken. I held my father in such high regard even then. While I'm certain he wasn't particularly excited about having his son's plastic doll as a namesake, my father was quite honored on October 3, 2007.

That is the day our son was born. We had been calling him Kenny for months, but he was finally with us. However, his journey was not without struggle. Some of the most difficult moments Susan and I have or will ever face.

I was standing on a baseline at the Charleston Civic Center, filming a high school basketball game, when my wife called to tell me she was pregnant with our second child. Because I worked late shifts, I had to learn I was a father anew over the phone. She couldn't contain her excitement and I couldn't get home soon enough. I'll never forgive myself.

A few weeks later, standard blood screenings showed that our son could have Down Syndrome. A nurse told us, "Most of the time these screenings end up in negative results...so don't worry too much." Susan didn't worry; I was beside myself. I did research, sought advice and prepared.

On May 23, 2007, we saw specialists at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, West Virginia. Our son had a clean bill of health. I felt ashamed for being so selfishly fearful and, honestly, I was quite relieved. I texted my father with the news and he replied, "Keep holding Sue's hand. You have a lot to be thankful for this day. Love Always, Dad" I still have that message saved in my phone.

It now serves as a reminder on just how thankful I truly should be.

Less than five months later on October 3rd, Kenny was born. And as Kenny entered the world, I sat teetering between joy and terror. I couldn't properly celebrate his arrival because I was scared I would lose him.

Kenny was born with a cancerous tumor that was slowly killing him.

Nearly a week before his birth, Susan and I went to a 'routine' ultrasound. As the radiologist went through her checklist, she came across a large and curious oval-shaped mass. It was so big on the screen, I asked if that was my son's head. She shook her head and excused herself from the room. Susan and I shrugged our shoulders. Shortly thereafter, we were taken into one of the exam rooms.

"There is no way to say this other than to come right out and say it. Your son has a tumor. A very large tumor on his kidney."

I was dumbfounded. A tumor meant cancer. I blurted out with, "How does an unborn child get cancer?" Susan was rock solid. Her mind was racing towards the future, what needed to be done, where do we go, etc. My mind was mush. I repeated, "Our son has cancer? How?" Susan turned to me and said, "That doesn't matter. The question is what do we do about it?" She was right. We don't question why we are challenged, we simply meet those challenges as best we can. Susan is always there to remind me of that.

Six days later, Kenny came into the world. After Susan urged him to fight, Kenny wailed to the heavens. I kept taking pictures of him in the operating room and would not take my eyes off of him. The staff told us the tumor had engulfed his entire right kidney and was roughly the size of a baseball...they estimated that the tumor weighed a pound. He weighed just over four pounds all together.

The tumor was so big, it was easily visible from a distance. The mass heaved in his abdomen with each breath like an ever-present nightmare. I was so fearful my time with him would be fleeting, I never wanted to leave him. I didn't want him to carry that nightmare alone.

But, we couldn't be with him. Our son, hampered by needles, IVs, monitors and wires was bound to the Henrico Doctors Hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). We could sit with him, but only two at a time. To give our family members a chance to know him, I gave them my seat. I couldn't bear to be with him and I couldn't bear to be away from him.

I have never in my life felt more helpless.

Six days after his birth, Kenny went under the knife. The surgeon, Dr. Charles Bagwell, told us that Kenny's prognosis was 'pretty good.' Susan looked him in the eyes as the prepared Kenny for surgery and said, "Take care of our son, help him live. Bring him back to us." To Dr. Bagwell's credit, he looked my aching wife in the eyes and replied, "I promise I will." I wanted to believe him. I couldn't keep the tears at bay.

Then, they wheeled our son off to surgery.

It was the single worst moment I have ever experienced. I can not capture it in words. So many times I called out to God and begged him to allow me to suffer in my son's place. At that moment, I felt as if I had failed to protect that which I loved the most. That initial sense of helplessness spiraled downward towards hopelessness. Susan and I clung to each other and wept. The NICU staff stood by quietly. They had witnessed this scene so many times. That thought sent chills down my spine and straight into my soul.

Dr. Bagwell said the surgery could last anywhere from 90 minutes to 6 hours depending on the extent of the tumor. As a family, we went down to the hospital's cafeteria. I literally couldn't taste the food. My father sat to my right and kept a careful eye on me. He knew I wouldn't buckle, but I wasn't so sure. All I remember was silently staring at the wall and wondering if I would ever see my son alive again.

After lunch we came back up to the waiting room and I tried to prepare to wait. I was pacing the room. My father told me to relax. My mother read a magazine. Our pastors, Reverends Bob and Ruth Partlow, made small talk and sat with us. Their presence was so calming.

Just days before, they had held a private baptism for Kenny right there in the NICU at our request. Bob told me, "We aren't going to close the baptism because the second part of the service calls for the congregation to acknowledge and accept him. We'll do that part when this is all over and you bring Kenny to church. He's going to make it."

I will always cherish that.

Just as I was getting used to the pain of waiting, the phone rang. It was Kenny's nurse from surgery. They were done after 90 minutes and our son was alive and well. She told me the tumor weighed a little over a pound and had grown to the size of a softball. I cried and shook with emotion. We gathered for prayer and Bob couldn't get through it. Ruth finished his prayer. I was so touched by their emotional connection to our family. They were overjoyed for our son and for us.

Susan and I rushed to see him. His scar stretched from hip-to-hip and the sutures were intimidating. Looking at the pictures is still difficult for me.

Kenneth Edward Halliday IV was already stronger and tougher than his father would ever be. A cancer survivor at six days old.

He stayed in the hospital until we took him home on November 1st. His big sister Isabelle greeted him with love and curiosity. She kissed him and laughed as she stroked his head. She loved him instantly, just as we did. A sibling relationship born instinctively and instantaneously.

Last Friday, Kenny turned a year old. During a quiet family celebration, we sang to him and enjoyed his company. He laughed and babbled, playing games of Peek-A-Boo and smiling at everyone who met his glance.

He is the son I have always wanted. Sitting across from Isabelle, I watched as the two of them played together. It is the sort of moment you dream of when you picture what being a father is like. The love they share for each other and for us is based on the love we have for them.

Our love inspires them and their love inspires us.

When they removed the cancerous tumor, leaving him with only his left kidney, the doctors concurred that the Wilms tumor appeared to be benign, but that only time would tell. Every three months for the first three years of his life, Kenny will undergo either an MRI or an ultrasound to make sure the cancer doesn't return to attack his remaining kidney.

His life it seems will always hang in the balance. The threat of cancer is like a sword of Damocles over our heads when we discuss his health. We are at the beginning of a long journey, and possibly a long battle. But we are ready.

We are ready because we are motivated by our son.

His grip leaves my fingers sore and purple. He is impossible to tame. He is stronger than Isabelle was at his age and twice as adventurous. He will soon surpass his sister in height and already weighs more than she does. But he is gentle and sweet. His laugh is brilliant, his smile tender.

It is as if he knows that we only get one shot at life. Ken has taught me so much. About God, about the power of prayer, about the importance of family and friends, about love and about loss.

Thank you Kenny. Thank you for showing me how wonderful and precious life is and how powerful love can be.

Thank you son. Thank you for fighting and for inspiring me to fight. I am indebted to you.

Your mother and I will spend every moment of our lives working to improve yours. Just as my father and mother did for me.

When my father writes to me, he always ends his messages the same way. I carry that on now as I write to Kenneth Edward Halliday IV, our son and my inspiration.

"Love Always,

Dad"

Monday, July 28, 2008

Is Media Favoring or Following Obama?

Last Monday, Republican Presidential candidate John McCain touched down in Manchester, New Hampshire for a typical campaign stop.

Waiting for him on the tarmac...a single print reporter with a photographer in tow. Senator McCain probably thought he landed at the wrong airport or that a PR-staffer left a few dozen people off of a fax list.

One of two presumptive Presidential nominees comes to your state, and only one reporter shows up? That's the equivalent of the Boston Red Sox playing the New York Yankees in front of an elementary school class.

Meanwhile, when Barack Obama arrived in Iraq that same week, the reception was quite different. The Democratic Presidential candidate was enveloped by reporters with flashbulbs popping constantly. News networks from across not only the U.S. but the world made the trek to track the Senator. Each step was satellite-beamed back to viewers and represented much more of a media circus than McCain's understated visit to Iraq this March.

Grant you, this is an extreme example. The Granite State isn't nearly as important to the current world climate as Baghdad. But it shows just how far down John McCain has slipped on the media radar.

And McCain and his staff have not been blind to this ongoing trend. A recent article in the Christian Science Monitor quoted a Rasmussen Report which showed that a near majority of likely voters perceive a "pro-Obama" bias within media coverage.

While McCain is the latest victim of the media's desire to chase the Obama campaign, this shouldn't be news to those tuned to politics. Senator Clinton made several similar complaints during her bitter battle for the Democratic nomination. When Hillary wasn't grabbing a mic to gripe about the "pro-Obama" media, her husband was more than willing to step in.

Clinton learned that blaming the media won't help your cause and McCain should mind that message. A candidate can only go after what they perceive (albeit the truth or not) as media bias through...the media. And the egos in the journalism world are large and vindictive.

The mentality is simple: "Call me biased and I'll show you just how biased I can be." This has never been more true than it is today due to the overwhelming popularity of commentary as opposed to reporting.

By utilizing this "Woe Are We" strategy, McCain's staff hopes to get a few helping hands via kinder columns or at least more exposure. But they got an even greater lift from CBS the night after he landed in New Hampshire.

During an interview with Katie Couric on CBS Evening News last Tuesday night, network editors mistakenly cut a potentially controversial answer by McCain, completely removing it from the aired footage. While that news only received major run on programs such as Countdown with Keith Olbermann, McCain's campaign continues to claim their candidate is a victim of media bias.

And, according to NBC's Brian Williams, the McCain campaign has good reason to raise their voice. In an article in last Friday's edition of the famous London broadsheet the Telegraph, reporter Lucy Cockcroft details an interview Williams did with a British TV reporter. In that interview, Williams said that Obama is receiving more airtime than McCain because of the "historical significance of his campaign." Cockcroft also mentions McCain's "Obama Love" movie about that bias claim, which admittedly is revealing and quite funny.

Williams goes on to call McCain's griping "sour grapes" and says Obama is "using the media better." And therein lies an important issue and perhaps the great secret behind the mass media.

The media can be used and abused...with ease.

Candidates do use the media. Just as much, if not more than, the media uses them. The use of the word 'use' is also important. Not 'utilize' or 'access,' but 'use.' The connotative meaning is evident and essential.

When you're seemingly an underdog like McCain is currently, you use the media as a platform for your complaints. When you're ahead of the game, you use the media by inviting them into every single aspect of your campaign. Before Obama even landed in Iraq, his staff had already coordinated 'exclusive' sit-down interviews with each of the major networks' evening news hosts.

As McCain complains his way through the end of July, the perceived underdog is merely six percentage points behind Obama in the latest general election poll. What's also intriguing is that while McCain "dropped" two points from last Thursday, the percentage of unsure voters continues to climb. McCain's strategy may in fact be bringing voters onto the fence, which could serve to help him in November. Or, it could destroy his chances.

Still, the quintessential question remains: "Are reporters and media networks favoring or following the Obama campaign?"

They certainly are following it. According to a report from The Project for Excellence in Journalism on July 20th, Obama has had a "significant presence" in 83% of the coverage during the general election campaign. McCain checked in at 52%. Obama's trip to Iraq represented nearly a quarter of all of the campaign coverage between July 14th and July 20th.

The Senator from Illinois has been dominating the news. But, wasn't it McCain who until recently was asking why Obama hadn't visited Iraq?

Be careful what you wish for.

As Christian Science Monitor reporter Linda Feldmann noted, that media spotlight burns brightest during both high and low points. If scandal arises in the Obama camp as it previously did after Reverend Wright's comments received significant airtime, he will see his image temporarily skewered. But, for the moment, Obama is king.

However, all of this increased media exposure does not lend to the fallacy that media members are favoring Obama. The commentators may disagree, but McCain will again take his turn in the spotlight, likely when he chooses a Vice Presidential running mate. His staff will attempt to time that decision to receive as much of the media hype as possible. It remains to be seen how well he will use that time, and how long he can hold the spotlight.

Perhaps Obama is riding the coattails of a long fight with Clinton, which led to a significant triumph and increased public interest. As Brian Williams said, Obama is "unique" while McCain has "run before."

Lest we forget, reporters are human. And these election campaigns are brutal. They wear on both the candidates and the media equally. And when a generally untested newcomer makes waves and takes center stage, curiosity and intrigue take over.

If you believe the media reflects public interest, then the latest election polls show that more citizens are interested in or favor Obama. Therefore, the media are shining their cameras towards the Democratic candidate.

If you believe the public interest reflects what media supply, then a clear bias is present.

In the election polls, McCain trails Obama by six points. But, when it comes to media coverage, McCain trails by 31 percent. But, is that disparity due to a significant and calculated liberal bias among the media? Or is it because Barack Obama has become a political force, much the way Bill Clinton was in 1992.

Common sense would say the latter. Obama has been able to garner nearly $300 million in campaign fundraising, while McCain checks in at $119 million. Obama's campaign needed those funds to hold off a much stronger opponent; but in this case those numbers don't lie. His personality and charisma have drawn more monetary and voter support than most critics would have imagined.

It's safe to say that Obama has galvanized many young voters and made a significant impact on the Democractic party. And because our nation's voting history tends to switch the favored political party every 4-8 years, Obama's rise merely follows a pattern.

It seems it is simply his turn. And his campaign staff has used the media extremely well.

Following? Absolutely.

Favoring? Not quite...

...yet.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Apologies for the Hiatus

Dear Friends,

It's been quite an unexpectedly busy summer as my Public Speaking course winds down this week. After that it's traveling to see my 3rd nephew after he enters into our world sometime around the middle of the month. When that all winds down, I'll truly get back to active blogging! Promise.

The goal is for a weekly post rooted in the study/omniscient-overlook of the ongoings in the mass media realm. There's quite a bit to talk about. From major cuts across the country to several J-schools retooling their curriculum for the Not-So-New Media wave, we've got a bit to cover. And...on occasion, I'll throw in a sports-related post or two.

My hypocrisy knows no bounds. For now, enjoy these two pics of our kids enjoying the summer. Isabelle is over 2 years and 4 months old now...Kenny is 9 months old and is a beast. They are fun to keep up with.

-Jeff a.k.a. "The Professor"

Monday, June 23, 2008

A New Dynasty: Celtics Win Title #17

For the past few years, I'd all but given up on actively watching the NBA. During the very early years of my youth my hometown team, the Celtics, were a dominant force. With the man Bostonians call Basketball Jesus a.k.a. Larry Bird guiding them, the green & white took three league titles and finished runner-up twice.

I was born into and bred on winning Celtics basketball. I was spoiled. It was the only way I appreciated pro basketball. And I wasn't unlike other Boston fans. We fully expected a winner.

Losers need not apply.

Then, that all came to a crashing halt. Len Bias' death sent the organization into a frightful stretch of mismanagement. That was followed a few short years later by the sudden death of Reggie Lewis. I remember watching Lewis through middle school and into high school. He went to my father's alma mater Northeastern University, so we loved him in our house.

He died of a heart defect during practice in Waltham, Massachusetts...the same town my grandparents lived in. Close to home. Reggie was the one thing the Celtics had going for them in the early '90s, then he was gone.

Following Reggie's passing, the Celtics tanked. And I mean tanked. They wouldn't make another legitimate run at the title until reaching the Eastern Conference Semifinals in '01-'02. And even that seemed to be an aberration. 'The Truth' Paul Pierce had a phenomenal year, willing Boston as he went. Antoine Walker played second fiddle and hated every second of it. I have no idea how that team made it through two rounds with that roster. As a fan, I can remember thinking, "This team can't get there...after all the greats we've seen, this team can't sustain championship-level success." And they didn't.

Around that time, my life was picking up. Off to graduate school and then the television business. While my days and years flew by, there were the Celtics. Perpetually underachieving losers. When they actually made national television appearances it was embarrassing to watch. And at no time was that more true than the 2006-2007 season. An 18-game losing streak and a total of 24 wins. The team was in the gutter. But attendance in Boston was still high. From the previous season, the number of tickets sold only dropped by 47 per game. Remarkable considering the team's utter destruction.

Fans wondered if it could get worse. No one wanted to see another version of the 15-win '96-'97 Celtics team. The thought was altogether frightening. It was time for the team's management to draw a line in the sand.

And they did.

On June 29th of '07, the Celtics traded for Ray Allen. And they traded a lot. Hoops fans in New England thought, "That will help Pierce, but it's not enough."

Then Kevin McHale handed Boston a ticket to the NBA Finals. The Big Ticket. Kevin Garnett, in the definition of a blockbuster deal, was headed East and out of Minnesota mediocrity. The moment he became a Celtic, all of the NBA shuddered.

The greatest franchise in the history of professional basketball was back.

Five months ago I declared that there was no reason for debate. Without a doubt, Boston would win it's 17th NBA title. At the time, I promised that stating the obvious would allow me to avoid further commentary on the matter. However, my ego wouldn't allow it to stay checked and I returned to the topic in early April. I implored Boston city officials to do advance work on the ticker tape parade...it was a lock. But somewhere along the line, the 'experts' in the pro hoops media circuit forgot what a winning team looked like.

Check out the Worldwide Leader's pre-Finals prediction board. 10 experts voted. 1 chose the Celtics over the Lakers. It's true that Boston hardly showed up versus Atlanta in the first round and barely ducked the Cleveland LeBrons in the second. However, the Cs truly owned Detroit in the Conference Semifinals and were running full steam into the championship series.

66 regular season wins.

Three Hall of Famers in the starting lineup.

The frenzied, raucous home crowd that saw the Celtics lose only ONE home playoff game.

How did anyone pick against them? And, worse of all (or perhaps best of all) the experts sided with the Los Angeles Kobes. A ragtag bunch who knocked off a game Jazz team in the second round before cruising past a dilapidating Spurs squad in the Western Semis. Lamar Odom was unproven; Pau Gasol needed to be buoyed by teammates just to be a factor. But there were the Lakers as clear-cut favorites everywhere.

Everywhere except for Celtics Nation.

Six memorable and truly amazing games later, Boston wins another world championship. And they did it on guts & heart, two things the Lakers could not measure and certainly did not have the fortitude to match. 'The Comeback Game' in LA said it all. Down 24 in Cali, Boston rallies to win Game 4. After that it was only a matter of time. And to make it all the sweeter, the Celtics finally won the trophy in front of their faithful.

It was truly perfect. The hated/loathed/despised/evil Lakers in the "New Garden" with a chance to seal a title. Really, it wasn't even fair. Celtics 131 - Lakers 92.

Watching Boston obliterate LA, tearing Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant asunder at will, was as magical as sports moments can be. The right team won. No 'me' guys on the floor for Boston; no Kobe-esque prima donnas that went to ESPN reporters publicly demanding a trade last year; just a bunch of guys that wanted to win above all else.

Good triumphing over evil.

Troops finding Saddam in an underground shack. The Berlin Wall coming down. The Rebel Alliance toppling The Empire. Frodo climbing Mount Doom. Neo besting The Matrix.

Celtics beating the Lakers.

Good guys are supposed to win. Aren't they? Maybe it doesn't happen as often as it should anymore. But that's all the more reason to celebrate when it does happen.

And it happened a week ago. Kevin Garnett, the over-the-top emotional driving force... Ray Allen, the calculating assassin who survived the worst slump of his career to save the season... And Pierce, the long-suffering Captain. Paul Pierce, who year-after-year tossed his frame recklessly across the court for a franchise seemingly unable and unwilling to help make him a winner.

Finally, they are all champions.

And we can all share in it.

This is the new Celtics dynasty. The second coming of the 'Big Three' has arrived. It's official. And they don't want to talk about their expectations being met. They are already talking 'repeat.' Watch here as Pierce and Garnett giddily call themselves "Champ."

This Celtics team has returned the NBA title to Boston. Now they want to return Beantown to both consistent glory and established dominance. They have the opportunity to once again make NBA basketball relevant for the millions of fans that want to watch hard-fought, team basketball.

They won it all their first year together. Next season holds even more promise.

Celtics Nation: Embrace newcomers. There's no reason to be selfish. The sport of basketball needs this team to be in the headlines.

Still want to join the bandwagon? Hop aboard.

But the Lakers faithful can stay right where they are. They're not invited.

Remember, losers need not apply.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Murrow. Cronkite. Stewart? Colbert?!?

Comedy Central Continues to Replace Network Evening News

A recent content analysis by the Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) revisited a year-old study by The Pew Research Center (PRC). Each helps to uncover an amazing and troubling trend in the television news world.

It seems the American TV news audience sees 'The Daily Show's' Jon Stewart as an inspiring and trusted... JOURNALIST.

Looking at the PRC's study shows Stewart is either on par with or more trusted than Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, Anderson Cooper, BOB WOODRUFF, Walter Cronkite, Diane Sawyer and Ted Koppel...among many others. It's absolutely necessary to note this very limited study featured interviews with a small sampling size of 104, but, the numbers don't lie.

More people are turning to satire for their news content. The fact that it isn't unbiased or factually accurate doesn't matter. The trend of 'infotainment' continues...most people would rather be entertained than traditionally informed.

We'll break this all down in three parts. I)A Peak At The Satire Shows, II)National Evening News Trends, III)Why Americans No Longer Care To Draw the Line.

I) 'AMERICA'S ANCHORS'... Why Comedy Central?

The fact these satirical shows are taking over the prime-time news planet isn't 'new' by any stretch of the imagination. Stewart and colleague Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central's 'The Colbert Report' made the above cover of Rolling Stone in October of 2006 and discussed their impact. Maureen Dowd's six-webpage article/Q&A about 'America's Anchors' is a remarkable feature. Be warned, it is raucous and occasionally offensive. While you get to know both men through and through, they both ensure you get the point in the end. They are out to get laughs. One portion of the article particularly dealt with this very issue.
______________________

DOWD'S QUESTION/LEAD-IN: I don't understand why you always say, "I'm just a comedian," because from Shakespeare to Jonathan Swift, humor is the best way to get through to people.

COLBERT: Peter Cook was once asked if he thought that satire had a political effect. He said, "Absolutely. The greatest satire of the twentieth century was the Weimar cabaret, and they stopped Hitler in his tracks." It doesn't mean that what we do is worthless. It's hard to do, and people like it, and it's great. But it doesn't mean that it has an effect politically.

STEWART: Or that it has an agenda of social change. We are not warriors in anyone's army. And that is not trying to be self-deprecating. I'm proud of what we do. I really like these two shows. I like making 'em. I like watching them. I'm really proud of them. But I understand their place. I don't view us as people who lead social movements.

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And that is the true beauty of these shows, which are frequently aired in the Halliday house. They are irreverent and crass. But, they attack relevant news items and figures in domestic and foreign politics. Stewart and his staff skewer governments across the globe, regardless of party affiliation. One moment they will insult President Bush's ability to relate/communicate, then briskly ask the question, "What the hell are the Democrats doing?" No one is outside of their rhetorical sphere. How could you call this show liberally biased when they openly call Republican presidential candidate John McCain a "friend of the show"? This is not to say the guests that frequent the show most often aren't of a more 'Democrat-esque' nature. They are. And the quips are clearly laced with a more liberal tone. But, when the Democrats make news (which isn't very often) they are sharp and quick to go after them.

While Stewart plays the coy pseudo-liberal with his hands always outstretched in disgust, dismay or confusion, Colbert and his staff are the other side of the coin. His character is that of the arrogant uber-conservative with his index finger wagging/pointing at the country's populace. When in doubt, blame the nation.

They are equally engaging and funny. Often times they spend significant portions of their programs dealing with media-related issues. Which, for anyone connected to that industry, is what drives the network's popularity to that very specific demographic. Professionals in the news business watch these shows. They love them. They love them because people in the media/news world have very, very thick skins. And who doesn't like a good laugh at their own expense every now and again? The problem is these pros return to work the next morning and go right back to their same 'dead horse-beating' style of news.

And, in the never-ending ratings war, Comedy Central is essentially defeating the 24-hour networks and other analysts/pundits the likes of Bill O'Reilly. A separate PRC study conducted last year had a unique news IQ quiz that showed the American public's continuing lack of awareness in regards to significant current affairs issues and notable figures. This was from a sample of over 1,500 adults and was done in comparison to a similar project from 1989. In that more recent PRC study, 16% of the respondents noted 'The Daily Show' or 'The Colbert Report' as their source for news; that compares quite well to the 17% that claimed 'The O'Reilly Factor' and the 14% that claimed 'The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.' It needs to be noted that 46% said they regularly viewed/watched/listened to network evening news. And, as detailed in Section II, that is clearly inaccurate.

While many would shake their heads at this study's discussion of the abundance of satire watchers, it was those Comedy Central-viewing respondents that scored among the highest on the IQ quiz. (Which is linked on the website for you to take...if you so dare.) But, identifying something or someone because you can recall a good joke doesn't mean you've been properly informed.

[*Writer's Note: This study is from April of 2007. The questions/answers are geared for that timeframe. This blog author took the quiz, and received a 69%. Better than the national average, but decidedly disappointing.]

No one at Comedy Central would confuse Stewart or Colbert as a journalist. They spew opinion and editorialize about pertinent issues without removing bias and physically doing the work. They mock and monitor the government and the media, but they don't actively cover the news themselves. So why are Americans seeking them out as a news source?

II) Evening News: A Sinking Ship

In the PRC's "Today's Journalists Less Prominent" Summary of Findings, they refer to the concept of journalists/journalism being diminished by the "increasingly fragmented media landscape." That about sums it up. The major networks have watched their evening news ratings plummet for years. Recently, Katie Couric's slide at CBS has received much of the focus and criticism, but numbers are down across the board. A look at national season-to-date TV ratings from last week shows only one news-related program, CBS' 60 minutes, even cracked the Top 20. It's share and rating were just over half of the #1-rated American Idol Tuesday night shows.

And that's the very best national TV news can expect to do. CBS' evening news program is garnering it's lowest audience in over twenty years.

Cleveland Plain Dealer TV critic Mark Dawidziak noted the 'newsdrop' last month in an article entitled, "CBS News ratings woes aren't all about Katie Couric." Dawidziak points out that since 1980, network evening news programs have lost nearly half of their total audience.

Those networks have failed to reinvent themselves. And the cable networks have eagerly jumped on these remote-clicking viewers. Foremost among them have been CNN and Comedy Central. The networks are floundering with no end in sight. But why don't the networks do more about their struggles to maintain ratings over the 'upstart' cable networks that are killing them in the books and on sets?

(Drumroll)

Because they OWN them.

Viacom owns both CBS and, since 2003, also has full ownership of the Comedy Central network.

Disney owns ABC and ESPN (THE major player in cable programming). Mickey & the Gang also have their hands on countless other cable networks such as Lifetime, E! Entertainment, A&E and The History Channel.

NewsCorp owns FOX as well as dozens of local small/medium/major market television stations. Then there is FOX Sports, FOX Business, etc.

General Electric owns NBC, CNBC, MSNBC and several other networks such as Sci-Fi, USA & Bravo.

While evening news is getting slaughtered up front, many of these same networks eat the cable profit in the back. Their only desire to bring these news programs up from the gutters would be solely based on a noble but necessary need to assist the public.

Good luck finding that sense of 'communal-chivalry' among the corporate media giants.

III) Networks Created Their Own Downfall

What the most recent content analysis by the PEJ brought to light was most interesting. They clearly broke down exactly what it is 'The Daily Show' discusses and how it reflects the national media.

According to the PEJ Study, as far as story topic, 'The Daily Show' runs roughly the same amount of US Foreign Affairs stories, but spends much more time on politics and elections and governmental issues than the national media/mainstream press. 'The Daily Show' replaces the mainstream media's time on crime and global/foreign news with stories about lifestyle and about the press.

So, in essence, 'The Daily Show' itself indirectly mirrors the news it is mocking. That's simply good satire. But, it's NOT journalism. It seems that people don't care about that anymore. That, polls and surveys show, falls on the media's shoulders.

And these satirical shows picked up on that.

An entire section of the PEJ study is focused on 'The Daily Show' and its love/hate (mostly hate) relationship with the media. When Stewart and the rest of 'The Daily Show' writers attack the press, it's generally dead-on and simply reiterates the feelings of a frustrated, over-stimulated news audience.

The brilliance of 'The Daily Show' and 'The Colbert Report' is they are simply poking a stick in the eye of the media...at every turn, every second. From their purposely overdone graphics and bumpers to their calculated vitriol. The writers and researchers sift through thousands of hours of television footage. But while the rest of us spent our TV news media time half in a state of vegetation, these poor souls have to log/transcribe/monitor every moment. No wonder they get so fed up with seeing the same junk on every channel. Who could honestly blame them?

The American TV viewing audience used to draw the line between their comedy programming and their news programming. Citizens took pride in being knowledgeable of global, national and local current affairs. But, that was a different time. A time when society (and its lack of personal luxury) weren't so focused on the individual. Because information is so abundant and readily available, people have the choice to entertain rather than educate themselves. It's easy to see why they choose the former over the latter. It may not be ethically right, but it's understandable.

This is not just a 'TV thing.' Young men and women aren't volunteering for military service; they aren't volunteering for community service programs, i.e. food pantries, Scouting, PTAs, etc. Go to a typical county government meeting and you can take attendance on one hand. Religious organization membership and participation is down across the board. It takes students more and more time to graduate with a college degree...4 years has become 5. Accountability, at the personal, communal and national level has suffered.

All of these organizations/corporations that are struggling from this uniform apathy have a choice to make. Aggressively attack their audience and properly reinvigorate social participation and debate or suffer the consequences.

For national network news, that consequence is the loss of viewers. The media are constantly shocked when they see a funny cable show with clever writers and great promoters demolish the work of dozens of reporters, editors, photographers and sales/managerial staff. They do studies on how the Jon Stewarts and Stephen Colberts of the world have passed them by.

It's because they are holding up the mirror for the networks and the reflected image is ugly.

The networks don't need more makeup or plastic surgery to fix the problem. They need a creative overhaul. Embrace the criticism and fix the process. Before you lose the viewers forever. That is, if you haven't already.

Jon Stewart is considered a trusted/inspiring 'journalist' because the American public no longer actively sees a working representation of that term on a nightly basis. The Jim Axelrods of the world lose their air time to the Geraldo Riveras. In a rush for ratings, networks have weeded out journalists and replaced them with faces.

This isn't just on the national level, but on the local market level as well.

KMOV in St. Louis just hired a former Colts cheerleader with less than two years of reporting experience to be a main anchor. She may have 'it' but the message this sends to true reporters is a difficult pill to swallow. And, if more experienced and credible reporters are being turned aside, a negative public response will follow. You give them no option.

But cable television gives them lots of options. There is no more three network domination of content.

Why should anyone trust network news? What has network news recently done to earn it?

Sometimes, at least according to the numbers, a good joke is better than a bad story.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Perfect Father

That's what I called my Dad back on May 10, 2003. I was elected to serve as the Graduate Student speaker for the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications' commencement ceremony at Syracuse University.

I knew right from the start what absolutely had to be said. I figured it might be my one chance to tell such a distinguished and large audience about my hero.

My father.

Next Tuesday, he'll turn 62 years old. His body is aging, but his soul and mind remain spry.

I easily recall that speech. I practiced it over and over. I wanted to get it right. I rambled for a while, telling 'Cuse-related jokes. I told the crowd the television world didn't need another overweight white guy. I was right.

After introducing my family and speaking about each one, I ended with my old man. Dad was sitting to my mother's left, their arms intertwined.

He gently smiled at me.

I told him that he was my Ted Williams, my Martin Luther King Junior and my J.F.K. all rolled into one. I told the masses at the Carrier Dome that not many people ever had the chance to meet their hero, let alone be related to them...but I did.

"Dad, you were never afraid to admit when you made a mistake. That you weren't a perfect man. But that's what makes you the perfect father. And I love you."

As I tried to gather myself at that podium, one which Bill Clinton would use the next day, my classmates laughed with innocent glee among a sea of robes, seated in lined rows far away to my right. They had all bet I would cry. I didn't. But I don't know how.

Anyone that has known me for anything more than a handshake and a hello knows just what my family, and most significantly my Dad, means to me. He's the person I've wanted to be my entire life. I always wanted to be by his side.

I remember living in Medford, Massachusetts as a boy. One day the snowflakes fell pretty hard. I must have been four or five-years old. We had breakfast together and Dad was running a bit late (which he never does) for work. He said goodbye, but I begged him to stay. He kissed my forehead and gently smiled. I watched him walk down our wooden porch steps and head for his car. I watched as he waved, then drove slowly down the road. I prayed to God that Dad would come right back.

Ten minutes later, Dad pulled back into the driveway. The snow had made the roads too perilous. Dad came home. And honestly, as odd as it may sound, my firm belief in God probably began with a moment as simple as that. I prayed, God answered. My Dad's presence was all that I wanted. As he walked through the door, he saw me standing by the window, looking both shocked and elated.

He gently smiled.

Growing up, Dad was always a tangible but incredibly awesome figure. At six-feet tall, he has a barrel chest and big muscular arms. He walks with his own gait and grin. He's been called a 'Holy Hell's Angel.'

You know what you are getting with Ken Halliday. Over his life, he first peered through thick frames, then bifocals, now trifocals. But his muttonchops and thick red suspenders were ever-present throughout. As was his laugh, his wit and his generosity.

When we were out camping my fellow Scouts called him "OI," an homage to the way he got your attention when it was necessary. I still remember him in the woods, helping us build fires. We would work in teams of six or more to move these monstrous logs; then Dad would stride over and effortlessly lift them with one hand, or snap them with one stomp. No one messed with OI. He was a real live Paul Bunyan.

Ever since I can remember, I've had perfect strangers accost me after hearing my last name. They've grabbed my hand and said, "You're Ken's son! It's nice to finally meet you. Your Dad is a great man, and he talks about you and your sister all the time."

"What a guy your Dad. Hell of a guy."

"We sure love your Dad."

"There aren't a lot of guys like your Dad left anymore."

And from some of my fellow Scouts and friends, words that have always stuck with me. "I wish my Dad was more like yours."

He is an important figure in so many people's lives, and I got to eat dinner with him every night. And watch Steelers, Penguins, Bruins, Red Sox, Pirates and Celtics games with him. And go to Scout meetings and camping trips. And talk. Just talk. I learned so much from him...but he learned from me as well. He always let his kids know how important they were...he listened.

He always told us he loved us. All the time. Constantly. No amount of false machismo was going to hold him back from hugging his son or daughter. His willingness to display his love made him a real man.

Dad was a four-sport athlete in high school, and he was a near-perfect student. He played football and baseball at Northeastern University before signing up to fight in Vietnam. No one was going to draft my Dad; he made the rules.

He was awarded four Purple Hearts. He's a legitimate war hero. He saved lives when he wasn't protecting his own. But all war veterans are heroes. My Dad knows that. He's never attempted to meaninglessly glorify his time in the Army because he respects his fellow veterans. Dad knows his tale is no different from theirs; so he takes no satisfaction from telling his stories. And he's hardly shared them, good or bad, with his children. As a kid, I desperately wanted to inwardly build my father's legend by asking him about his time as a soldier. As I grew older, I learned the lesson he was trying to teach. A man is judged by his daily actions. War stories were fine, but his constant effort to better himself was more important.

We moved from Medford to Pittsburgh when I was six. Dad actually moved to Pennsylvania six months ahead of us to make sure the job was worth it. Those six months were hard on us all, especially my Mom. Two kids under the age of six, all alone in our big house on Touro Avenue near the Mystic River. A dilapidating neighborhood at the time. We were all happy to be reunited when we moved west, even if it meant leaving our beloved and extended family in Massachusetts.

The original goal was to live in Pittsburgh for about six months or so. Dad bought a house so that we'd feel at home. It's the same one my parents live in today, 24 years later. I'm glad we didn't leave, if simply for the reason that Dad was able to help so many people there.

Just before I finished Cub Scouts, Dad took over as Scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 198 in Moon Township. From the day he turned 18 in 1964, he has been an active Scoutmaster or Assistant Scoutmaster on the troop level. He stayed on at Troop 198 until last year; that's 43 straight years of voluntary service to the Boy Scouting program. He still works for the council as Camping Committee Chairman.

On the 5th of this month, our new troop leadership honored my Dad's service with a surprise party. During his time at 198, he oversaw 37 young men earn the rank of Eagle Scout. Since roughly 1 out of every 100 scouts earn that rank, that's a significant number. Eighteen of those young men were on hand to personally thank him just two Saturdays ago. I knew so many of them as boys, now men. All of them carry a piece of my Dad with them...and they came back to show their gratitude.

After the awards were handed out, Dad said thanks and spoke of my mother's influence. A true man recognizing the sacrifice of a wonderful woman. He spoke eloquently without pause, but the emotion was in his eyes.

I stood to thank the crowd. Despite all of the professional training and experience I've gathered, I couldn't get through two sentences. Seeing my Dad look back at his only son was too much. I quickly sat down and stared at the floor, trying to keep my tearful joy inside.

All the while, Dad gently smiled at me.

Last October, our son was born with cancer. Huge tumor. Life-threatening. Mom and Dad dropped everything to be with us in Farmville. The boy was born, and it became a waiting game. We had to sit and wait six days before his surgery. No one spent more time with my son than my father, not even me. Only two were allowed to stay with him in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at any time, so Dad would enter with me. Then I would leave and Dad would stay with my wife...he wanted to help us.

He sat in the rocking chair, gently smiling and kissing his grandson.

Those days were not easy for any of us. Dad prayed with me. He put his hands on my shoulders as I stood over my son's crib, looking at the tubes and needles criss-crossing my boy's face, arms and legs. I needed my Dad to stand with me...and whenever I've needed him, he's been there. We took a lot of pictures that week. I wondered how many more opportunities we would have with my son, so I took some more. Hour after hour holding him, reading to him...hoping for good news.

And we got it. Our son survived the surgery and the cancer has not returned to date. But the boy is without a right kidney. He spent the first month of life staring at blinking lights, stuffed with breathing tubes and circled by kind, but strange faces. You would think that sort of experience would traumatize an infant. However, my son spends his days in joy.

Gently smiling at those who meet his beautiful, blue-eyed gaze.

He looks like his Grandad.

For nearly 30 years, I've been guided through life by such amazing and powerful people. My mother is truly fantastic, a strong and independent woman who continues to impress me. My sister and now her husband, along with their soon-to-be three sons, have always made me think fondly of family. And my friends. People that have seen me through rough patches and brilliant moments. And now my super wife Susan and our own little family...daughter and son in tow. My perfect circle.

And Dad has always been there, leading us all.

He once told me I had the gift of being able to surround myself with good people, no matter the circumstances. But that gift comes from those who provided me with a place to grow and develop.

For a boy, the first place to look in times of trouble or concern is in his father's eyes. Fathers represent strength and values. Fathers represent honor and work ethic. Fathers represent love.

I am still a boy looking to my father. I'll always be. Just as my son will hopefully always look to me.

Our son, Kenneth Edward Halliday IV. Named for the greatest man I have ever known. The greatest man I will ever know.

And these simple words are for him.

I love my hero, my friend, my father.

Happy Birthday Dad. May God continue to bless your presence in, and influence on, the lives of those around you. You will forever be appreciated. And may those who read this never underestimate the importance of fatherhood.

My father and daughter, gently smiling...

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Return of the Blog... Part Two: Finally Forgiven -Buckner Returns

Imagine having to face a contingent, nay a hovering swarm, of people you inwardly and completely despised.

This is not an individual hatred of one person but rather a piercing vitriol for a collective mass. A group of ever-changing, ever-criticizing, ever-present people. A faceless bunch that has collectively dragged your name in the mud for 22 years.

And now suddenly, they wish to embrace you. To pardon you of a punishment you did not earn. A simple mistake that, while important, was not deserving of such treatment.

That's what Bill Buckner faced last night at Fenway Park.

After infamously playing the role of scapegoat for the national media since the Red Sox's crushing loss to the Mets in the 1986 World Series, he sat in front of a cadre of microphones and reporters and struggled to maintain his emotions.

Bill Buckner was back in Boston.

For the younger generations of baseball fans across the United States and the world, this moment meant relatively nothing. But for anyone remotely associated with Red Sox Nation, or avid fans of that era, yesterday's ceremony honoring Buckner was long, long overdue.

When Buckner emerged from the Green Monster and slowly strode to the mound, all of Boston quivered. As did those living vicariously around the globe. You have to know the background of the story to understand the significance of this moment. You have to go back to October of '86.

The Boston Red Sox, led by young righty Roger Clemens and an incredible lineup featuring Wade Boggs, Jim Rice, Don Baylor, Dwight Evans, and Buckner, were 95-game winners and took the American League Pennant. Buckner was second on the team in runs batted in (RBI) and fourth in hits. He was one of the guys that "got them there." And 'there' was the World Series against the other baseball team from New York.

After taking games one and two, the Sox seemed poised to roll to a title. But they dropped games three and four in Boston. However, game five went to Beantown and the Red Sox were on the verge of their first World Series championship since 1918. All they had to do was win one of two at Shea Stadium and 68 years of waiting would be over. But in game six, Buckner's life changed forever.

Up 3-2 in the 8th inning, Mets catcher Gary Carter hit a sacrifice fly to tie it up and eventually send the game into extra innings. Boston scored two in the top of the 10th to go up 5-3 and, after getting two straight outs to start the bottom half of the inning, Mets fans began filing out. It should have been over.

But Sox reliever Calvin Schiraldi imploded. Three straight singles made it 5-4. Schiraldi's day was done, relieved by Bob Stanley. On his seventh toss to the plate, a wild pitch brought the tying run home. And three pitches later, Mookie Wilson hit a dribbler to first base.

Buckner was there, as always. He was an incredible fielder. Despite injuries to both of his knees, Buckner played 1,191.7 innings over the course of 138 games at first base that season and fielded a total of 1,067 plays. Out of those, he had made just 14 errors. A fielding percentage of .989. He simply didn't make that many mistakes. He was solid. If you were going to pick one guy to field that ball, Bill Buckner was the guy.

Then it happened. It got past him. Mets win 6-5 in 10 innings.

Two days later, New York won game seven and the World Series. The Sox faithful were crushed. The 'Curse' continued. And every time Boston's unique propensity for coming up short was brought up at dinner tables across the country, one man was to blame. Bill Buckner. His name was usually followed by expletives. Or laughs.

It was easy to blame him...especially for the national media. You could sum up all of Boston's woes in one twenty-two second video/audio clip. His name became recognizable with error, with the loss of hope, with failure.

After the following season, the Red Sox released Buckner. The stigma attached to that one play was enough to dump him a full year after the fact. He spent a season each with the Angels and Royals before coming back to Boston in 1990.

You read that right, he came back. He wanted to retire in a Boston uniform despite his longer MLB tenures with both the Dodgers and Cubs. It was because the Red Sox fans never blamed him. They never stopped appreciating all that he had done over his career.

He was the misunderstood friend at a party that everyone else in attendance was ignoring. But you went up and greeted that friend because you knew everyone else's perception of him was wrong. He was an alright guy. Right place, wrong time.

Yet for over two decades Buckner's name remained the golden standard for futility. But, when Boston finally won the World Series in 2004 and then again in 2007, the need to blame anyone for previous 'sin' became unnecessary. Bill Buckner was washed clean of his wrongdoing. Acquitted by his fickle judges from afar. He had served his sentence. It was time to be released back into the good graces of baseball fans.

But Bill Buckner was rightfully too proud to come running into their hypocritical open arms. Two years ago, the Red Sox held a reunion for the 1986 team to celebrate their accomplishments. It was saying, "See, we won one now. It's okay! You can come back; we won't hurt you anymore!" to all of those men. But Bill Buckner wouldn't come back. He sat far, far away, bitterly watching his old teammates return to glory. He was in real estate in Boise, Idaho. Far away from prying eyes and stabbing memories. An All-Star, a borderline Hall-Of-Famer hiding in obscurity. Not hiding from any one person...not a coward. Just a tired man looking for catharsis.

But he knew he had to come back to get that. To add closure. And he finally did yesterday on a beautiful Boston afternoon.

After watching Buckner walk to the pitcher's mound to throw out the ceremonial first pitch, the man that now plays the very same position reflected on the moment for ESPN. "I've probably never almost been in tears for somebody else on a baseball field," said Kevin Youkilis. "I wanted to shake his hand because that's a true man."

A true man faces both his friends and his foes the same way. Head on. It probably helped that his daughter Christen, ironically now a television reporter in Boise, was on hand covering the press conference. Buckner, dignified yet very human, fought through tears in admitting that he had to "forgive the media" in order to finally receive the credit he was due. A stark moment that hopefully causes today's 'shock them all' media to pause and consider the effects of their accusations and opinions.

As Buckner walked to the mound at Fenway, fans showered him with praise. Some of them were probably sending him death threats just a few years ago. But for many, he was a hero they were so often told they could not embrace. Now he was opening his arms to them.

Buckner rose above all of our human flaws and our collective inability to forgive him. Our fickle and meaningless errors. By doing so, he finally allowed us to bury his.

Bill Buckner is no longer 'E3.'

He's forever #6.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Return of The Blog... Part One: The 'I Told You So'

It's not often that I'm right. Just ask my wife.

That's why this moment, as ridiculously predictable and random that it is, will not go unnoticed. You may recall a previous "State of the Celtics Address" posted nearly three months ago. In it, I guaranteed the Celtics would reach the 61-win plateau and set a new NBA record for best single season team record turnaround.

I predicted they would do so before their April 9th rematch with the Washington Wizards. I predicted they would come absolutely nowhere near the incredible 72-10 season of the '95-'96 Bulls. I predicted they would rally through injury and occasional poor performance to continue their torrid level of domination. And, in order...they did, they didn't and they did.

I told you so.

This past Saturday's de-clawing/neutering of the abysmal Charlotte Bobcats earned Beantown a 61-15 overall record and a remarkable 37-game improvement from last season's win total. Here's what I had to say about the single season wins turnaround on January 15th...

"If Boston wins 61 games this season, they will break that record. They are on pace to do so. Hear me now and believe me later, that record will be theirs by the time they next face the Wizards in Game 78 on April 9th."

The Celtics cut it close, but they proved me right. They did it with a game to spare as they prepare to matchup with Milwaukee and gun for win #62 tonight. And they beat the Bobcats on Saturday without a single member of the Big Three. Paul Pierce missed the game to be with his family (his daughter was born just less than 24 hours earlier) and Doc Rivers chose to sit Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to give them a breather. And they won by 23 points.

Most of the media looked at the achievement of this turnaround record as a positive milestone for the Celtics. While that approach is certainly understandable, the non-Boston media missed out on the larger point. They were able to set that record, not just because this year's team is so good, but mainly because last year's team was so bad.

The fact that the Celtics front office let it get that bad should not go unnoticed. And it was bad. Though they did make the playoffs for four straight years from 2002-2005, they slipped into the postseason mainly due to a weakened Eastern Conference in at least two of those seasons. No losing team should be allowed to play in the postseason...out of principle. Why should any fan have to pay to watch a losing team in a playoff tournament?

Meanwhile, Doc Rivers continues to get a good amount of credit for the turnaround while the players outperform their peers. I can not recall a single game this season in which I felt, for more than one possession at a time, that Doc Rivers outperformed one of his coaching peers. However, his players take care of that by simply raising their own level of performance...and winning.

But I will say this for Rivers, he's gotten this team to buy-in. Defensively and offensively, it's an all-out effort to win when it matters. That is very refreshing to see in today's haphazard NBA. Watching teams like the Suns, Warriors and Nuggets is irritating to me. They treat possessions like inconveniences. They are more fast-paced than McDonald's at quitting time...but even less effective. Shot quality isn't valued, it's about taking more shots than the other team. If you take more, you generally make more. Run the floor, sub in and out when you get tired, and pray the other team isn't better that given day. It's enough to make me almost want to watch golf. Almost.

But the Celtics haven't wavered from their desire to win games on defense. They remain first in the entire league in opponents' points allowed, first in average scoring margin, and first in opponents' field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage. They also hit the glass, ranking third in the league in both defensive rebounds allowed and rebounding margin. They want to win. Watching them hustle when they're up double digits in a relatively meaningless game should make all hoops fans giddy. Especially Celtics faithful who suffered through the Antoine Walker show in recent years. Walker wouldn't sprint down the floor to play defense unless someone was dragging a deep-fried Twinkie across the court.

Some may argue this dedication to team basketball and downright toughness stems more from their two main offseason player acquisitions than it does from Rivers. That may be true, but Doc deserves some credit. They've worked day-in day-out for 76 games and it's paid off. They are on top of the East and clinched the conference title. Simply incredible.

And while I was right in most respects back in January, I was wrong in others. I discussed the team's player quality in three tiers back on 1/15/08:

"The second coming of the Big 3 in KG, Pierce and Allen...the 'I hope they positively contribute' group of Rondo, Perkins, Davis, House and Posey...and the 'If these guys are out there, I'm biting my nails and cursing under my breath' group of Tony Allen, Pollard, Scalabrine, Powe and Pruitt."

Here's where I made my major errors. Rondo has become one of the rising stars in the NBA. Unselfish, tough and hard-nosed, he scraps for rebounds and has become absolutely reliable. He's a stud but it took the Big Three to get his game on track. While Perkins has become more consistent, his 6'10'' frame still only brings down six boards a game. That needs work. While Rondo and Perkins have indeed raised their levels of play, two of the team's younger faces have had surprisingly strong seasons.

Glen 'Big Baby' Davis and Leon Powe, when called upon, have been impressive. Davis, the rookie out of LSU, established a fan following with a 20-point performance against hated Detroit ten days before my last Celtics-related post. Ever since, he's been a strong post presence in limited minutes. He spells a few breaths for the right guys and doesn't make as many critical rookie positioning/technique errors as he did near the start of the season.

As for Powe, whenever KG hasn't been in the lineup or wasn't quite playing up to 'Big Ticket' status, Powe has stepped up. He's led the team in rebounds in eight games this season and has twice gone over the 20-point plateau. He single-handedly decimated Charlotte on Saturday. When Garnett is out, Powe's game sends a message: "I may not be Kevin Garnett, but you will remember every possession that I defend you." He's making it personal.

Tony Allen, James Posey and Eddie House have been serviceable. They've done their jobs. All three are pitching in as each is scoring over six points per game. The addition of Sam Cassell has also been good. Maybe this pickup wasn't totally necessary because of Rondo's emergence, but it seems to have paid off. He lights a fire under Garnett...and if KG ever asks the front office for anything over the next two to three seasons, he should get it.

Six games. That's all that's left in the regular season. Then we find out what this team is really made of. It will be fun to watch. And since I'm doing so well with predictions...

Barring severe injury to two members of the Big Three, total team implosion or natural disaster, the Celtics will win the NBA Championship. I said the same in January.

No team can beat this group in a seven-game series. None. Not Orlando. Not Cleveland. And certainly none of the run-and-gun teams in the West. Detroit, New Orleans, San Antonio and Houston have a chance in hell.

That's it...a CHANCE in hell.

Last month, my cousin Seth and I sat in a Irish pub in Manhattan and watched as Boston came from 22 down to beat San Antonio in Texas. It was a watershed moment. They weren't at their best, yet they won. They could have quit, yet they didn't. The Spurs looked as if they were going to uphold recent Western Conference dominance, but the Celtics rallied and triumphed.

The rest of the NBA got the picture. No one is getting in this team's way. It's just not happening this season. No team can match their hustle or skill. If only the NBA season and it's mind-boggling playoff structure (seven-game series...every round...really?!?) wasn't so frustratingly long... Otherwise, Beantown could begin the parade preparations.

You know what? Why wait? All of you get a hold of Mayor Menino and tell him to publicly begin the celebration. There's no reason to put it off any longer.

Boston will again be a 'City of Champions' with the Celtics and Red Sox both on top of the sports world. If not for the single-most incredible catch in NFL history combined with Randy Moss lolly-gagging on the Patriots' last drive, it would be a three-sport title town.

But enough is enough, this is about the Celtics. The result has been predetermined. 2008 NBA Champions.

And on that note, cue the music.

Back In The Saddle Again

A quick post simply to stand as an apology to those who occasionally stumble into one of my blog posts. The semester has heated up, as well as a myriad of responsibilities to our campus media outlets. There have been precious few opportunities to enjoyably waste any time. I appreciate your patience.

Thanks to those that do partake in these written musings. I thoroughly enjoy your feedback and consideration.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Buyer Beware: ESPN's Hiring Bobby Knight a Poor Decision


ESPN isn't called the 'Worldwide Leader' for nothing. They remain the definitive place to turn for any and all sports news. That's mainly because they have created an incredibly diverse and marketable product and have worked equally as hard to protect their brand.

They dominate sports broadcasting...no one even comes close. Which makes their recent move to hire the infamous Bobby Knight as a college basketball analyst that much more bizarre. Knight, the former media-bashing grizzled old coach, is suddenly the network's new poster boy for NCAA coverage. But why?

This is not to say that Knight can't pull it off. He can. Knight gets it. He knows exactly what the network is looking for and delivers good information. Albeit in his own slumped over, "I could care less" style. He's been interviewed more than any other coach imaginable. George Bush hasn't seen as many microphones and recorders as Knight has. And 'The General' knows the ins and outs of the television game. In his debut, he began well. It's about the soundbyte...making sharp witticisms quickly and succinctly. In all honesty, Knight (minus his vampire-like demeanor and elementary school gym coach attire) will be one of the network's better hoops analysts over the next few weeks.

But questions remain...why Bobby Knight? Why did ESPN feel they had to go and chase down 'The General' himself for this role? Their hoops analyst staff is already bloated...their contributing staff immense. Bilas, Forde, Katz, Brown, Vitale, Fraschilla, Phelps, Gottlieb, Glockner, Lunardi, Davis...the list goes on and on. What does Knight do that these people can't?

That answer is simple. He is such a polarizing personality that people, Knight-lovers or Knight-haters, will watch. As if ESPN needed to boost their already gargantuan ratings. But, how does ESPN use his expertise? They set him up in 'fluff' pseudo-analysis scenarios like Knight's Insights. A chance for fans to ask him questions about random basketball-related stories from working with the media, to career-reflection, etc. It's clear that ESPN isn't interested in bringing Knight to the network to address any real issues. They don't want the ugly side of the good General throwing chairs or choking players, they want the marketable side of Knight.

ESPN is giving Knight the broadcasting equivalent of an open-lane layup every time he goes on-air. No probing questions about his abrupt departure from Texas Tech and the fact that he all but forced that administration to retain his own son as new head coach. None of that. It's all fluff for Bobby Knight.

Case in point, last night Davis and Phelps dished out a nice PR-stunt assist. Knight was set-up for a two-minute discussion about his wife Karen's basketball I.Q. and her positive affect on his life. Now that is riveting analysis of the conference tournaments! Come on already! Also, as Leonard Shapiro of the Washington Post noted, Knight has also refused to address any potentially negative news regarding his old coaching buddies. Ask about Kelvin Sampson's exploits...his son's struggles at TT...recruiting violations at Harvard...Knight won't answer. So why hire him?

ESPN's coverage of Knight's retirement was fair, as it should have been. But while some of the network's analysts chose to suck-up to Knight, others took a more harsh stance. In Pat Forde's article, he lays it out on the line. Knight quit on his team. Plain and simple. A team that was 12-8 and 3-3 in the Big 12 conference...very much in the hunt. They finished 16-15 and 7-9 and had their bells rung by Texas A&M and Kansas. When he stepped down, Knight claimed he was tired and that he couldn't do it anymore. But just three weeks later Knight was back at work?!? Some vacation. This has truly become a theater of the absurd.

Besides his most egregious offenses, Knight has a history with ESPN. A history of attempting to embarrass and discredit reporters. Reporters like Jeremy Schaap. When Knight mocked Schaap on national television, Jeremy's father Dick (a broadcasting icon) appeared on Sports Reporters a few days later and derided 'The General' for attacking his family. It was a bold move and journalists everywhere applauded. Finally someone stood up to Knight. The schoolyard bully of coaches when it comes to media interaction.

If you think this is making a mountain out of a mole-hill, watch this. From cursing on-air, to cursing in front of a family-filled crowd, to insulting reporters, to verbally berating Indiana University officials, to cursing at an NCAA press official charged with trying to 'work' with Knight. Class act all the way.

And through it all, ESPN has been there to document it. To let us fans at home know just what Bobby Knight thinks of the media...thinks of us. In 1979, he assaulted a police officer in Puerto Rico. In 2000, a freshman at IU alleged that Knight attacked him because he didn't call him 'Coach.' Aren't coaches supposed to be teachers? What would have happened had an IU professor/staff member done the same? They would have been fired. And Knight promptly was.

Ever since then, some people have seen fit to coddle him for one reason or another. Texas Tech gave him a chance. They wanted to liven things up and awaken a dead program. While with the Red Raiders, Knight got his 800th and 900th wins on the way to becoming the winningest coach in NCAA D-1 men's hoops history. But how did he truly regard their program? By cutting out five months after signing a contract extension that would have kept him in Lubbock until 2012. He was supposed to be committed to his assistants, players, recruits and their parents. But he's not a 'committer,' he's become a quitter.

Knight has stated that being employed as a member of the media was "one or two steps above prostitution." He also once said of journalists, "All of us learn to write in the second grade. Most of us go on to greater things." This coming from a coach. Not a scientist, governor or doctor, but a BASKETBALL COACH.

When Knight was hired, ESPN's Executive Vice President for Production said Knight brought "sophistication" to the table. Really? And with that, 'The General' joined 'The Dark Side.' He's one of "them."

A step above prostitution? Not for ESPN...they are official broadcast hustlers. They are the pimps pushing Knight out onto the street corners of college basketball's landscape. He's turning tricks for them, grabbing cash and smiling on-screen. But Knight will ultimately have the last laugh. He'll do the song and dance until the 'Big Dance' is over. Then he'll go back to hunting and fishing.

You see, he's into killing. Just watch Texas Tech over the next few years. He just effectively killed that program. Now he's about to bag the credibility of the 'Worldwide Leader' for giving him a platform. Knight is working from the inside-out, just like a good hoops coach would. He's suckered ESPN, the same network that he's insulted and cursed for decades.

Congrats to ESPN for hiring the man who has spat in their collective face time and time again. All for a meaningless ratings boost.

And congrats to Robert Montgomery Knight. The ultimate hustler.

Damn he's good.