Notes of a Reporter at Large • 06-21-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 21 June 2012 15:22

Romney on the Defensive

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

I got up early Sunday morning because I wanted to hear what Mitt Romney would say about the president’s order to stop deporting some young immigrants, an estimated 800,000, who came to the U.S. as children.

A lot of people, myself included, don’t think Obama has suddenly gone soft on illegals. In the more than three years that he has been in the White House, he has deported more than 1.1 million immigrants, the most by any president since the 1950s, according to the New York Times. But with less than five months before an election believed to be close, the president must have felt that his immigration policies risked chilling Latino enthusiasm. So he acted to keep this growing bloc of voters solidly on his side.

In courting the far right of his  party during the Republican primary debates, Romney declared that, if elected,  he would veto the so-called Dream Act, a path to citizenship for young immigrants who go to college or serve in the military. Romney sounded then as flinty as the most reactionary of his rivals. But, as they say that was then. On “Face the Nation,” when Bob Shaeffer reminded him of  his promise,  the former Massachusetts governor hedged:

“With regards to these kids who were brought in by their parents through no fault of their own, there needs to be a long-term solution so they know what their status is.”

He also said, ”What the president  did – he should have worked on this years ago. If he felt seriously about this, he should have taken action when he had a Democratic House and Senate, but he didn’t. He saves these sort of things until four and a half months before the general election”

Not quite true. As the Times noted, the president supported passage of the Dream Act in 2010, but it was blocked by Senate Republicans.

His advisers have said that Romney is likely to make his position on immigration known when he speaks  to a conference of elected and appointed Latino officials in Florida on Thursday. For the moment, Obama – who speaks to the same group after Romney – seems to have the upper hand in this debate, with Romney on the defensive.

Even so, on “Face the Nation,” Romney had the chutzpah to decry the president’s move on immigration as pure politics.

In the endless season of Republican debates the former Massachusetts governor vilified the Dream Act time and again, asserting that if he got to be president, it would be history. But Romney was not challenged in the interview, and I think an opportunity was missed. This was the first time that Romney had agreed to an interview on network television with a broadcasting company other than Fox News.

As it turned out, the most arresting moment of the show may have been when Schieffer mentioned the success of a dressage horse that Romney’s wife, Ann,  co-owns – that is a horse trained in obedience and precision movement. It won a place on the U.S. Olympic team.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Notes of a Reporter at Large • 06-14-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 14 June 2012 14:54

Is the Supreme Court Necessary?

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

The Supreme Court is not very popular with Americans, according to a recent New York Times and CBS News poll. Just 44 per cent say the court is doing a good job. Three-quarters say the decisions the justices make are “influenced by their personal or political views.” In the late 1980s approval was as high as 66 percent. (Warren Berger and William Rehnquist were the chief justices in that period). By 2000 approval had dropped to nearly 50 percent.

The Times speculates that the decline in the court’s standing may reflect in part the public’s growing skepticism with regard to big business and government. The fall in favor may be due as well to a sense that the court has been notably political since ruling 5-4 in the 2000 presidential election in favor of George W. Bush over Al Gore. The 2010 decision in Citizens United ruled 5-4 that the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting political expenditures by corporations and unions.

The Citizen United decision  changed the rules.

Thanks to that grotesque decision a rising flood of money was uncapped to outside political groups, changing politics as we have known it. Campaigning is longer now and more intense for many races, not just for the presidency. The super PACs, a consequence of Citizens United, are free to mount attack ads that were once the responsibility of candidates. The people in the PACS making the decisions are consultants and wealthy donors with no obligation to report, explain or justify anything they do. In sum, the public interest be damned.

Think about it. Because of Citizens United an increasing number of those mapping campaign strategy –  Republican and Democrat — need not  be tied to the career or philosophy, of a candidate. They are only answerable to the tycoons who are answerable to no one.

As a Republican consultant put it, “If you’re a top consultant today, you’d much rather have a presidential super PAC than a presidential campaign.” Because of Citizens United super PACs can accept unlimited contributions which are off limits to political parties and candidates.

We expect to hear from the court again, as early as this month. It may move to overturn some or all of the 2010 health care law. The court may also decide the fate of an Arizona immigration law that in part requires police to check the status of immigrants they stop or arrest.

In all this I am reminded of what Theodore Roosevelt once said: Important public questions should not be left up to the Supreme Court but debated by the people and decided in a plebiscite. If we had had such a vote in 2000, we wouldn’t have had 8 years of George W. Bush who, we later learned, had lost the election by a majority.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Notes of a Reporter at Large • 06-07-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 07 June 2012 14:35

The News from Wisconsin

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

Many watched Tuesday (a) to see whether labor was able to muster enough support to recall a governor in Wisconsin who cut collective bargaining rights for most of the state’s public workers and (b) as a sign of how the presidential race will turn out in the fall. President Obama easily won this so-called Midwestern battleground in 2008 – but Republicans bounced back  in the 2010 midterm elections.

Although Obama made known his support for  Tom Barrett, the Democratic mayor of  Milwaukee, who opposed Governor Scott Walker in the recall election, he kept his distance. He did not make an appearance when union members and their supporters demonstrated for days at the state capitol, to the disappointment of some Democrats. Nor did he dispatch top figures in the administration to represent him.

Wisconsin signaled a problem for Obama. In a piece just before the election, The New York Times pointed out that Wisconsin voted for Democrats in every presidential election since 1988, “but the margins have sometimes been remarkably slim, and the recall election has led independents and Republicans who voted for Mr. Obama four years ago to take sides.” He needs their votes in November and may not have wanted “to alienate them by stepping conspicuously into the fight,” the paper said.

But prominent out-state Democrats came into the state and campaigned for the Milwaukee mayor, most recently former president Bill Clinton on Friday. A former U.S. senator from Wisconsin, Russ Feingold who was defeated two years ago in the resurgent Republican sweep, characterized the election as a referendum as well “for the rights of workers across this country and frankly for the Democratic party, for President Obama – they all have a stake in this.”

As unions have dwindled in size, so has the income gap widened between the 1% and rest of  the country. In the 1950s nearly 40 percent of workers were covered by union contracts. In the past 40 or more years advances in technology, globalization and off-shoring have contributed to the decline and fall of labor unions.

Ronald Reagan did his part in 1981 when he fired the striking air controllers. That sent a message to business that the government had changed the rules – government no longer protected unions – for industry it was open season, which, it has been, ever since, as Joe Nocera wrote in his Times column on Monday.

Today unions represent 12 percent of the work force.

Now that Walker won the Battle for Wisconsin, we can wonder if president Obama now regrets his decision to stay away? We wonder, too, if he’ll ever cite Ronald Reagan as a role model as he has in the past.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Notes of a Reporter at Large • 05-31-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 31 May 2012 14:58

Time to Give ’em Hell

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

Sprinting across the country for money and votes, the president is working around the clock to win back the hope he inspired  four years ago. Recently when Obama came on stage to deliver his stump speech at the Fox Theater in Redwood City he was in the 18th hour of a 19-hour day, according to the New York Times.

“He is running against himself as much as Mitt Romney, or rather two versions of himself – one the radical ruining the country conservatives see, and the other the savior of the country he promoted last time around and has struggled  to live up to,” the paper said

The Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne Jr. wants Obama to stick to the hustings but change the strategy as in “Give ’em hell, Barack!” Dionne says Obama should take a page from Harry Truman’s 1948 campaign book by running against the  “do nothing” Republican Congress of our own day.

Truman had it tough, maybe tougher than our first black president who has exceeded 50 percent only once in two years in New York Times/CBS News polls. Sixty-four years ago the Democratic party was torn apart - southerners bolted and formed a Dixiecrat party with a presidential candidate of their own. Lefties, taking the name Progressive, departed as well and nominated a former vice president as their champion.

The polls said New York’s Republican governor Thomas E. Dewey would be an easy winner. But Truman didn’t let up, traveling the country by train, making whistle stops and lambasting the “Republican do-nothing 80th congress” along the way. In November he scored an historic upset, defeating Dewey by a 114-electoral vote margin.

As Truman was setting out on his journey he said, “It will be the greatest campaign any president ever made. Win, lose, or draw, people will know where I strand.”

“What Truman taught,” wrote Dionne “is that Americans would rather see a president with the strength to fight than a politician with such sensitive sensibilities that he leaves all the tough stuff to others.”

In his biography of our 33rd president, David McCullough wrote, “No president in history had ever gone so far in quest of support from the people, or with less cause for the effort, to judge by informed opinion. Nor would any presidential candidate ever again attempt such a campaign by railroad.”

The train is not the way to go in 2012, but the issue’s the same and as timely as when Harry Truman rode the rails and, as McCullough put it, “would reveal the kind of man he was.”

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Notes of a Reporter at Large • 05-24-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 24 May 2012 13:39

Living History

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

In the waiting room at the doctor’s the other day I struck up a conversation with a gentleman who took note of my sweat shirt which said Maine and wondered if I was from back there? 

In some respects I said I was. I’d spent a lot of time there, relatives and friends still lived there, though I grew up near Boston. It turned out he was a retired professor of history, which was my favorite subject in school, as it is to this day. The doctor was behind schedule and we got to talk awhile. When we parted we exchanged e-mails and promised to stay in touch.

At supper that night I told the Lady Friend of meeting the professor and said, “I think I’ve found a friend, someone I can talk to.”

“Why was he so interested in your Maine jersey?” the Lady Friend asked.

“Every summer he and his wife fly out there and live on a small island, not far from Bar Harbor. They get around by boat, shop on the mainland for groceries. They love the peace and quiet.”

In a quiet voice, she asked, “Where do they live in the Bay Area?”

I dug out the professor’s card from my wallet and gave it to her.

She glanced at the card, then looked up. “But we know this man. We met him and his wife at a dinner party.”

“Is that possible?”

It’s better than possible. There can’t be two different couples living in the same town who spend summers on an island in Maine.” In fact, she said, we’d met the professor and his wife about two years ago at the home of one of the Lady Friend’s oldest friends. The evening was not memorable except for a brief clash between the Lady Fried and the professor. The subject was politics, a topic, like religion, usually avoided between strangers in such circumstances. The Lady Friend and the professor saw the world pretty much through the same liberal lens but when the focus shifted to the Tea Party it didn’t seem so.

They’re just plain stupid, declared the Lady Friend.

“No, they’re not,” the professor fired back. “They know exactly what they’re doing.”

An awkward moment passed before cheerful talk picked up again. But there was no further dialogue between those two the rest of the night.

Looking back, the Lady Friend said she was not saying Tea Party members didn’t know what they were doing, but that they were working against their own self-interest.

Looking ahead, I was wondering if the professor and his wife were having the same conversation at their house, and wondering if I’ll ever see my “new friend” again.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Notes of a Reporter at Large • 05-17-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
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Thursday, 17 May 2012 14:02

The White House Lays an Egg

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

I didn’t buy the explanation promoted by the White House and spread last week by the New York Times that vice president Biden “forced” the president to announce that his position  on same-sex marriage had finally “evolved.”

In what the paper described as a “hastily scheduled television interview thrust on the White House” by Biden’s loose tongue on “Meet the Press,”  the president ended  days of “frenzied will-he-or-won’t-he expectations” by “taking a stand” on the issue. No longer can there be any doubt. Obama is four-square for same-sex marriages.

But rather than a spontaneous move by Obama to assert presidential leadership, and excite the young, the gay and  the liberal base, the week played out in the end as political theatre. As Variety might have said, the administration laid an egg.

It was improbable theatre casting this president and this vice president  at odds over gay unions this close to a national election.

So how did the show play? A New York Times and CBS News poll published Tuesday found voters “dubious of Obama’s step on gay marriage.” Voters rejected the view that the president was motivated by principle, not politics, when he declared his support for same-sex marriage. A wide margin – 67 percent of those surveyed – believed Obama made the move “mostly for political reasons.” Twenty-four percent said he made it because “he thinks it is right.” Independents said it was politics. Nearly half of Democrats thought the same.

“If Biden hadn’t said something, I don’t think he (the president) would have said anything, either,” remarked an independent. Another independent believed the president decided more Americans approve of same-sex marriage. “In other words, say what the majority of people want to hear,” she said.

Same-sex marriage was not a big issue with most voters (only 7 percent said it was most important to them) while the economy and jobs were most important to the majority (62 percent). However, the sampling kindled anxiety in the White House. Voters were skeptical of the reported sequence of events leading to the president’s announcement. More calculated than principled was not an image any administration would wish to take into an election.

A month ago a Times/CBS News survey showed Obama and Mitt Romney tied at 46 percent each. The latest poll gave the lead to Romney, 46  to the president’s 43. The presumptive Republican nominee was yesterday’s moderate, today’s radical conservative and tomorrow’s who-knows-what?

Politics, it’s scary.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Notes of a Reporter at Large • 05-10-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Friday, 11 May 2012 15:19

The ‘Tchotchke’ Challenge

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

I have the intention of getting rid of six decades or more of  accumulated stuff around the house. But I procrastinate, find it hard to get going, and parting with old newspapers, letters, articles, books, files, clothing I haven’t worn for years, bric-a-brac and whatnot, stuff the Lady Friend intolerably calls junk.

My inspiration comes by way of Jane E. Brody, the indispensable personal health columnist, for the New York Times. My late wife was a Brody fan as is the Lady Friend. In a May 1 article, Brody reported “significant  progress” in her effort to rid her home and herself of “a half-century of everything from papers, books and files to packing material and shopping bags.”

Brody’s inspiration came by way of Robin Zasio, the author of “The Hoarder in You,” a book she describes as “very practical,” and  Barry Dennis,  a motivational speaker, and the author of a book about the challenge from “tchotchkes.”

“Tchotchke” is an Anglicized spelling and an expanded definition of the Yiddish word which refers to “trinket or knickknack” – stuff that piles up, a nuisance, gets out of hand, takes up space, gets in the way, bogs a person down physically and mentally.

Dennis cites as “tchotchkes” things many people might never have included like CDs and DVDs, equipment  that people no longer watch or listen to. Laptops, iPads and smart phones are not outside the pale. Brody muses, “I wonder what people did on vacation before we had this plethora of electronic equipment keeping us ‘in touch’ 24/7”?

E-mail has its advantages but, Brody asserts, “when it takes the place of talking with people face to face or on the phone, something essentially human about communication is lost – a tone of voice, a laugh, a sigh, a grimace or a smile.”

Brody maintains lightening one’s physical load can brighten the mind and lift the spirit.”

Dennis, the author, cautions people to give serious thought before they buy anything. “Everything we bring into our lives, we will eventually have to get rid of, and that is much, much harder to do than bringing it in.”

I make no promises but the moment does seem right for me to begin to rid the house of years of  my accumulated stuff.  For all their sound and fury, Obama and Romney are still shadowboxing. No solid punches. So I have time to attend  to matters closer to home – unless Obama and Romney get in the way.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Notes of a Reporter at Large • 05-03-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 03 May 2012 11:43

Everybody Poops

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

When I was an undergraduate at the University of Maine, a forestry professor – he was also a cousin – knowing of my interest in writing, wondered why people in the novels he’d ever read never went to the toilet. They maim, murder, mate and so on – but rarely if ever is there a word said about the one activity all humanity has in common, day in and day out.

The Lady Friend shook her head. There’s a popular children’s book, “Everybody Poops,” that’s been around for years, she said. It’s about animals and people and how they do their business. She’d read it with one of her grandchildren when he was small. “We both loved it and learned a lot,” she remembered.

But the Lady Friend, a relentless reader of fiction, cannot cite an instance in the procession of characters that has moved across her pages over the years where a character has ever paused to poop.

I would not have brought this up except for my own recent experience. Although I’ve been OK I am  piling up the years. It’s been four scores and four years ago since I joined the human comedy. My doctor thought it time to have a closer look, and ordered up a battery of lab tests, including one that would replace a colonoscopy, a sample deposit of poop.

Dutifully, I visited the lab where I was given a kit to take a sample collection.

At home I followed the directions, placed the supplied collection paper inside the toilet bowl on top of the water – sat down and waited. Nothing. Less than a minute passed – and the paper sank under the water.

“Do you suppose a newspaper would work better?” I asked the Lady Friend,

“You can try,” she said.

On second thought we decided the ink on the newspaper might ruin the test – to say nothing of clogging the toilet. The medics must know what they’re doing. I placed another collection paper inside the bowl hoping for a miracle. But my best efforts went for naught, again.

Humbled and ashamed, I returned to the lab the next day. Without a word of reproach, the techs handed me another kit. This time I was determined not to be intimidated. I’ve heard many people don’t go through with the exercise. They may not want to know what’s inside their colons or they may shrink from scooping poop.

Be that as it may, the following day I returned in triumph to the lab.

It’s true that everybody poops – novels notwithstanding – but not always on demand.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Notes of a Reporter at Large • 04-26-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 26 April 2012 16:09

Secret Service Scandal

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

The Secret Service is reeling from a scandal over suspected misconduct involving prostitutes on a presidential trip to Cartagena, Columbia. Such news heightens fears for the safety of the first black president. According to the New York Times, Obama started receiving Secret Service protection in the spring of 2007, nine months before the Democratic primaries began.

During Obama’s time in office there has been at least one misadventure for which the Secret Service might be faulted. At a state dinner in 2009, a couple without an invitation crashed the party. They posed for photos with luminaries and even got to shake hands with the president and first lady.

So far there is nothing to suggest the prostitutes in Cartagena were connected to any plot to harm the president. It is a reasonable fear, however, given the relationship between the world’s oldest profession and the underworld. Consider the role underworld figures have been suspected of playing in the assassination of President Kennedy.

However the story pans out, it’s shocking to hear of an investigation of the conduct of Secret Service agents – officers charged with providing protection for the president and the president’s immediate family. Unless I missed something, the history of the Secret Service has been one of courage and self-sacrifice. For example:

In a recent excerpt in the New Yorker from Robert Caro’s biography of  President Johnson – “The Transition: Lyndon Johnson and the events in Dallas” on November 22, 1963, Rufus Youngblood, the Secret Service agent in the vice president’s car, wasn’t sure what he heard after the first “cracking sound” but when “President Kennedy in the car ahead seemed to be tilting toward his left,” and one of the agents in the car immediately ahead of Youngblood was on his feet gripping an automatic rifle, Youngblood shouted, ‘Get down! Get down!’ and threw his body over the Vice President, shouting again, ‘Get down! Get down!’”

By the time the next two shots were fired, only eight seconds had elapsed. “Lyndon Johnson was down on the floor of the back seat of the car, with the weight of a big man lying on top of him, pressing him down.” Caro quotes Johnson as saying he would never forget –Youngblood’s “knees in my back and his elbows in my back.”

On March 30, 1981 John Hinkley, described as a 25-year-old drifter from a wealthy family, fired six rounds from a revolver at President Ronald Reagan as he came out of a Washington hotel. Jerry Parr, senior Secret Service agent on the scene, “slammed Reagan into the presidential limousine and pounced on top of him as a shield.  Neither Parr nor Reagan realized that he had been hit.” But when the president began coughing up blood, Parr ordered the limousine to George Washington University Hospital. Doctors later said that Reagan’s “blood pressure had dropped so sharply that if treatment had been delayed just five minutes he probably would have died.” 

Other rounds from Hinckley’s pistol left press secretary James Brady severely paralyzed. A police officer and a Secret Service agent were also seriously wounded. (Source: “The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents,” editor William A. Degregorio.)

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Notes of a Reporter at Large • 04-19-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 19 April 2012 15:58

Såving the Post Office

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

The other day a friend clipped a cartoon for me. It shows a mother telling her kids that the newspaper is reporting the government may stop delivering letters on Saturday. One child, sitting at a laptop, asks, “What’s a letter?” The other, fiddling with an iPod, asks, “What’s a newspaper?”

As my friend suspected, the irony was likely to strike a chord, and it did. Even though I jumped ship many years ago to work in television, the newspaper remains  for me the heart and soul of the business

I also have a soft spot for the post office which, I see, may have to cut Saturday mail delivery and a good deal more to make ends meet. Years ago, when I was between jobs as a newspaperman, the post office was a place to come in from the cold.

In the early 1950s I found work as a mail handler in San Francisco before a reporter’s job came through. Some years later, down and out and married and trying my hand at free-lance writing, I found work as a clerk and letter-carrier in Santa Cruz. I stayed on for a couple of years before I realized my place was in a newsroom.

In more recent times, because of declining mail volume and reforms, the Postal Service was transformed from a taxpayer-supported institution into a “revenue neutral” agency that is expected to pay for itself, as the Nation magazine points out in its current issue. Last year the Postal Service recorded a $3.8 billion loss and some estimates project an ever-rising deficit climbing into the billions in multiples by 2020.

Because the post office is looking for places to cut in its budget, businesses, fearful of less service and rising costs, are coaxing customers to pay bills electronically, e-mail documents, and shop on the Web.

So, one hears people asking, is the post office really necessary in an age of ultra-speed Internet? I say yes. It is one of the few institutions – and the oldest of American major public services established by decree of the Continental Congress and, incidentally,  promoted by Benjamin Franklin – that retains a human face.  Hundreds of millions of Americans rely on the local post office. In neighborhoods and small towns it is the heart of the community.

The post office is a life line for half the country’s rural population. It delivers the mail to every corner of America, and goes to great lengths so that no one is left out, even  in wilderness areas where the mail, food and supplies are delivered by bush planes and by mule trains on the floor of the Grand Canyon for native Americans.

My fear is that like so much else that our government used to do for our taxes, and do quite well, the Postal Service may one day be privatized by a Washington in the coils of Wall Street. That would be a very sad day for our democracy. As the Nation magazine says, “the Postal Service should be re-imagined – not shrunk.”

This column originally appeared on April 22, 2010.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Notes of a Reporter at Large • 04-12-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 12 April 2012 14:35

Mike Wallace: 19182012

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

I was not surprised when I heard that Mike Wallace was dead at 93. The famous “60 Minutes” interrogator had been in failing health for some time at a care facility in New Canaan, Conn.

The end  came  Saturday. CBS announced the news on the Sunday Morning show. I thought Mike would have liked the timing – just hours before the weekly “60 Minutes” broadcast. The news could not have been more timely. There had been  years to prepare for this hour and do justice to one of the country’s best-known broadcast journalists.

But there was no real obituary. Morley Safer said a few deeply felt words, then told us the show would give the life and legacy of Mike, the full treatment, next Sunday – a week away!

I’m sure, like many others, I was baffled and disappointed. News organizations are supposed to be ready for such moments. You could bet a paper like the New York Times would not have been unprepared – and it wasn’t. The news broke too late for Sunday’s Northern California edition but there it was on Monday morning’s front page: “Mike Wallace, 1918-2012: Fierce ‘60 Minutes’ Interrogator Who Didn’t Blink.’”

Under a picture of Mike, the caption read: “Mike Wallace hurled fierce questions for more than 50 years.” Inside a full page of text and pictures rounded out the record. The San Francisco Chronicle also caught up with the story on Monday morning.

I wondered: Has “60 Minutes” suffered deep cuts in budget and staff as so many others in the media? Was the absence of a timely obit on the show’s marquee performer connected to downsizing?

Instead of the life and times of one of its own reporters, “60 Minutes” devoted the hour to a seminar on Europe’s debt crisis, an inconsequential piece on the sport of polo and a fine story on a symphony orchestra in the Congo.

All could have waited on the first Sunday after the death of its star journalist who, over a span of more than 40 years, helped make “Sixty Minutes” perhaps the most successful show in television history.

A week in the news game is a millennium. By then Mike’s story could be deader than a door nail.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Notes of a Reporter at Large • 04-05-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 05 April 2012 16:36

Strange Bedfellows

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

News Item: Newt Gingrich met secretly with Mitt Romney on March 24 on the eve of the Louisiana primary.

Was the former House speaker dropping out? Gingrich told the Washington Times he did not make a deal with Mitt to quit the race. He was in for the duration despite many primary losses. Meanwhile, we’ve learned that Sheldon Adelson, Newt’s benefactor, the casino magnet, is writing no more checks and that a third of the people on Newt’s payroll have been let go.

Although Gingrich insisted Romney did not offer to help him with campaign debts or a job in any administration in return for leaving the race, and vowed to fight on to Tampa, you have to wonder.

And although Rick Santorum was behind Romney by a wide margin in delegates before Tuesday’s primaries, 554 to 241, he kept the heat on. (The votes of 1,144 delegates are needed to lock up the presidential nomination.) Santorum had argued there were no policy differences between President Obama and Romney. He called Romney the “worst Republican” to run against the president.

And yet going into primaries in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia, where Romney was favored in all three contests, Santorum seemed to lower the temperature. “If Gov. Romney gets that required number (1,144 on the way to the convention), then without doubt, if he’s at that number, we’ll step aside,” he said Sunday on “Meet the Press.” But then added, ”Right now, he’s not there. He’s not even close to it.”

Given Santorum’s unpromising prospects to overtake Romney before Tampa and with a number of Republican leaders calling on him to end his primary bid so the party can focus on defeating Obama, you have to wonder.

I’ve been wondering, too. Santorum and Gingrich may need a job. And as many of us know this is a bad time to go looking for one. You can see where Mitt would be open to help. He needs a united party, moderates, Tea Party, the very conservative, Republicans all.

It’s no stretch to imagine Gingrich applying for secretary of state given the high opinion he has of himself. As for Santorum there may be a problem. So far as I know there’s no move afoot to establish a department of religion. But there’s no reason to suppose Mitt can’t rise up to the challenge.

As Charles Dudley Warner, the 19th century editor and essayist said, “True it is that politics makes strange bedfellows.”

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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