Columns
Magical Realism and Rubin (Hurricane) Carter PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 24 April 2014 14:35

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

One of the world’s most famous writers, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, died last Friday in Mexico City at 87. His 1967 novel, “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” established him as the master of a form in fiction known as magical realism, in which, it’s said,  “the miraculous and the real converge.”

The method thrived in the second half of the 20th century in Latin America, the U.S,  and elsewhere. As Michiko Kakutani, the New York Times critic, wrote,  Garcia Marquez “recognized the extraordinary in the mundane, the familiar in the fantastic.” His books were translated into dozens of languages. In 1982 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The story of Rubin (Hurricane) Cater, the prizefighter, who died this week at 76, strikes me as an example of a tale of magical realism where “the miraculous and the real converge.” Carter’s obit in the New York Times, written by Selwyn Raab, tells the story of an up and coming black prizefighter, twice wrongly convicted of murder. Before the charges against him were dismissed he had spent 19 years in prison. Carter was convicted twice on the same charges of fatally shooting two men and a woman, all white, allegedly in a case of racial revenge, in a New Jersey tavern in 1966. A campaign  to clear his name attracted great international attention. 

The actor, Denzel Washington, starred in a 1999 movie, “the Hurricane,” based on Carter’s life. The movie “was widely criticized as simplistic and rife with historical inaccuracies,” according to Raab.

“A more complex picture was provided in accounts by Mr. Carter’s relatives and supporters, and by Mr. Carter himself in his autobiography, ‘The 16th Round,’ published in 1974 when he was in prison,” Raab wrote.

Carter’s formal education ended early in a reform school, but he “survived imprisonment and frequent solitary confinement by becoming a voracious reader of law books and volumes of philosophy, history, metaphysics and religion. During his bleakest moments he expressed confidence that he would one day be proved innocent.” Right After his second conviction in 1977 he told the Times, “They  can incarcerate my body but never my mind.”

Many appeals failed. But when the issues were heard for the first time in a federal court in 1985, a judge “overturned the convictions on constitutional grounds. He ruled that prosecutors had ‘fatally infected the trial’ by resorting, without evidence, to the racial revenge theory and that they had withheld evidence.” Carter was freed. An alleged accomplice had been placed on parole a few years earlier.

In Toronto where he was living when he died of prostate cancer, Carter founded Innocence International and lectured about inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. In  2011 he published an autobiography, “Eye of the Hurricane: My Path From Darkness to Freedom,” with a foreword by Nelson Mandela.

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


 
When Doctors Made House Calls PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 17 April 2014 15:04

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

For the past couple of months I’ve been recovering from pneumonia. During my convalescence, I remembered a young doctor from Germany I’d met when walking in the Sierra. He worked for the government and made house calls as part of his practice, including making the rounds of the elderly. He did not see the sense of the hassle falling on ailing older people.

“Why should an older patient who’s been ill have to make the effort to see the doctor?” he said. A doctor, he added, learns a lot about a patient when he sees him in his own home.

I remember doctors making house calls in the mid-1930s when I was a boy of eight. I was feverish with a streptococcus infection. When Dr. Harris, a cheerless man, came up the steps to my house in a suburb of Boston, smelling of formaldehyde, I recoiled. He must have thought I was asleep for I remember his telling my father, “I don’t give this boy a plug nickel’s chance.”

Under my breath, I swore to myself, I’d show him. I’d make him eat his words.” Of course, it was the doctor and the new sulfa drugs that saved me.

In those days when doctors made house calls you heard less about hospitals. The Lady Friend recalls that when she was a child in North Dakota, Dr. Gaebe came to the house and helped her mother put her in a bath tub. “I must have been  really sick,” she said. “Today I’d be in the hospital.” The nearest hospital then and now is 30 miles away in Bismarck.

During my hospital stay, my room was divided by a curtain. A fellow whom I could not see because of the partition was in terrible pain, pleading for morphine. I don’t know if he was ever helped but his cries kept me awake. I begged to be moved. However, the nurses said all the beds were occupied. I slept poorly.

After a hospital stay of five days, and a week at home I got ready to see my doctor. The most ordinary preparations were a climb – shaving, showering, getting into fresh clothes, then making my way with the aid of a walker to the car and getting in, with the Lady Friend at the wheel. We were fifteen minutes early for the appointment. Not unexpectedly we sat in the doctor’s waiting room, crowded with sick people, for  two hours before we were called.

My doctor is a fine physician, and much admired, but like so many in his profession he is caught up in the madness that characterizes much of health care in the America of today. I worry about him.

As for the German doctor who made house calls, I’ve not seen him since but he’s given me a lot to think about.

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


 
The Typewriter PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 27 March 2014 15:05

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

My trials with the computer are no secret among people who know me.

I am a displaced person from the age of typewriters who came kicking and screaming into cyberspace.

I have missed typewriters ever since computers took over the world. I am not, for example, like one old friend who ditched his typewriter the day he bought his first computer. In fact, I’ve kept an antiquated Olympia, a weighty table model, not as a writing machine but as a reminder of a simpler age.

The insecurity of the electronic miracle drives me nuts. The other day my printer was on the fritz. But if it’s not the printer, it’s the ink cartridge, or the screen, or the modem, or a short, or the wires, or a finger strays and presto! I’ve lost a document, weeks of work down the rabbit hole.

Saving on the hard disk is not security enough. Think power outages. So think CDs, or  SanDisk’s Cruzer Micro. The friend who made a gift of the latter says it’s a cinch to connect to the computer. And probably it is, but the Lady Friend and I are still figuring it out.

I’m telling you all this because after the printer failed I dropped in at an office equipment store that sells typewriters, old typewriters, to be sure.

“I just want to look at your typewriters. I don’t know if I’ll buy anything.”

“Take your time,” said a burly fellow who didn’t stir from a desk in a large room with all sorts of devices for business. “Take all the time you like.”

I liked the Smith Corona for $180 but I really liked the Olivetti for $250. But then I asked myself, why am I doing this? I’ll never use the typewriter. I’ll never give up the computer.

“I like the Olivetti,” I said. “But I need to sleep on it.” I hesitated, then wrote him a check on account for $50.

That night the printer was running again, and to my relief functioned flawlessly. In the morning I went back to the store lugging my old Olympia. The burly fellow fiddled with it a moment, then we bargained. In the end I wound up paying a few dollars off the listed price and left happy with the Olivetti.

When I got home I showed the typewriter to the Lady Friend. “It’s very nice,” she said. “But you’ll never use it.”

This column originally appeared on March 10, 2011.

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 .


 
2010: A Quake to Remember PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 13 March 2014 15:08

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

The Lady Friend and I had been in a cold war over retrofitting the house. A January 9, 2010 earthquake up in Eureka brought matters to a boil.

Pointing to a picture in the San Francisco Chronicle of a distraught woman in front of  a house that collapsed off its foundation, she said, “That could be us. That could be our house. Then where would we be? Out in the street!”

The Eureka temblor, with a magnitude of 6.5, didn’t kill anyone but people were tossed around, some were hurt, and the fire chief figured damage at 12.5 million in this city of 26,000. The earthquake hit off shore about 23 miles and raised fears of a tsunami. Although no tsunami ever happened, many people headed for higher ground, according to the Chronicle.

The Eureka Times-Standard  put out a paper even though the staff had to work without electricity. Journalists who weren’t out in the field made do on a single laptop computer. The headlights from a car provided the light. The paper’s printer was down as well but a nearby firm came to the rescue with the know-how. In the end, the paper published an eight-page “emergency section” Sunday morning.

The Lady Friend’s response to the Eureka quake was one of alarm,  and a call to action. Mine was different. The news brought me back to a time when I was a young reporter on the Humboldt Times in Eureka. in early 1952. A New England native, I’d never been through an earthquake before. That day when it struck – about noon – my apartment rocked, the coffee pot in the kitchen sailed into the front room and crashed. A moment later I watched in disbelief  when the brick chimney on the house across the street crumbled.

As I remember, one person, a logger, died in that quake. He was sitting on the edge of a log pond eating lunch when the earthquake struck, knocking him into the water where he drowned.

I spent the day news-gathering. When I stepped into the office the publisher, Don O’Kane, was on the line with the New York Times. Handing me the phone, he said they asked to talk to a reporter who could give them the scoop. I told the Lady Friend, “This was a kick. A second kick was to see the story on page one, above the fold, in the newspaper of record, with some of what I told them in quotes.”

Of course I was evading the issue. The Lady Friend had heard the story before. Retrofitting is costly, very costly. But, she asked, can we afford not to do it and risk losing everything?

“That’s the Jack Benny question,” I said. “Your money or your life? In this case your money or your house?”

“Well?” said she.

“I’m thinking. I’m thinking.”

This column originally appeared on January 14, 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 .


 
Consequences of Age Discrimination PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 06 March 2014 15:00

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

It’s usually easier to identify race and sex discrimination in the work place than age discrimination. This is the gist of a new study by Princeton researchers in measuring age discrimination on the job. In sum, a professor and co-author of the study told a  New York Times reporter, “If you want to be an aging panther, and speak your mind to your manager, that’s fine. But expect consequences.”

It isn’t just in the work place. And you don’t have to speak uppity to feel discriminated against.  Most of the time you don’t have to open your mouth. Ask the Lady Friend.

At the checkout counter, she’s asked how many bags she wants for her groceries. If she wants everything in one bag, they’ll say, “Oh, you’re so strong,” as if she were a five-year-old.”

But at 80 she knows she has to slow down. Last week she hiked for eight miles on a narrow, hilly, rocky trail in the Trinity Alps with three women friends – ten to 15 years her junior. The pace had to be slower because of her. It made her feel guilty. She used to be able to keep up, if not lead the pack, and that was not so long ago.

The results of the Princeton survey don’t surprise either of us (I’m the senior by five years). It found that young and middle-aged workers can speak their minds more freely to their employers than 75-year-olds.

“Old people,” says the Lady Friend, “have always been a joke in this country. It’s just that we’re old and there’s nothing to be done about it. Younger people would like us to be cute and pliable and not assertive. At least that’s what I get from the story about the study, and from my own experience. If you’re assertive you are going to pay the consequences if you’re an older person, and those are the ones who generally speak up on the job.”

According to the Times article, when an older man or woman is laid off, it typically took two to six months longer to find a new job than it took younger workers. And the new job is likely to pay less.

A similar story was told by many unemployed older people during the recent recession. “They sent in their resume and got called for an interview, but when they walked in, potential employers saw their white hair and that was it,” the paper said.

As the Lady Friend put it, “The employers didn’t see the experience they saw on the application.”

This column originally appeared on July 25, 2013.

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 .


 
People Forget PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 27 February 2014 12:08

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

“For of all sad words of tongue or pen,

The saddest are these: “it might have been!”

– John  Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)

So can it be said of Lyndon Johnson who, on the one hand, is revered for the domestic legislation enacted in the five years he was president (1963-68); on the other, reviled for engulfing the country in Vietnam, a failed war that cost the lives of 60,000 Americans, and of Asians estimated in the hundreds of thousands.

In an effort to save Johnson’s domestic legacy from becoming a casualty of Vietnam the L.B.J. Presidential Library and Museum in Austin will hold a Civil Rights Summit in April to remember – 50 years later – the signing of the Civil Rights Act, a “landmark piece of legislation” outlawing “discrimination  based on race, color, religion, sex or natural origins,” according to Wikipedia.

Former presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, and President Obama, are all expected to attend the ceremony.

In addition to commemorating Johnson’s signing of the Civil Rights Act, the library will also mark the 50th anniversary of other Johnson milestones including Medicare, Head Start, the Clean Air Act, public broadcasting, the National Endowment of the Humanities, the warnings on cigarettes packs, and the requirements for seatbelts. The country hadn’t seen anything like it since, and rarely if ever, with the exception of the New Deal. No surprise, really. F.D.R. was Johnson’s idol.

In an announcement that took people by surprise, Johnson went on television on March 31, 1968 to say that he would not seek nor accept the Democratic nomination  for another term as president. To some of us watching, the words seemed unrehearsed, ad-libbed, coming at the end of a speech on some matter of the day erased by the shocking announcement.

People were startled, confused. I remember a friend turning to me and saying, “Did he say what I think he said? He’s stepping down? Not going to run?”

Because of the unpopularity of the war, Senator Eugene McCarthy, an anti-war candidate, had challenged Johnson in the New Hampshire primary that winter. McCarthy didn’t upset the president, but he ran a strong second – strong enough to cause Johnson to take himself out of contention at the risk of being denied the nomination.

Years later, when I was working at CBS News, one of the most senior correspondents, in recalling that time, said Johnson never gave up hoping the party would come to him in the end. It didn’t happen. He left the White House a broken man. He was 64 when he died in 1973, another casualty of Vietnam.

The need to widen the view of Johnson from the war was expressed by Doris Kearns Goodwin, a historian who wrote a fine biography of Johnson.

“I absolutely  think the time has come,” she told the New York Times. “When he left office the trial and tribulations of the war were so emotional that it was hard to see everything else he had done beyond Vietnam. The country fundamentally changes as a result of L.B.J.”s presidency.”

That may be a hard case to sell to the public at large. Nonetheless the Johnson family and friends want Americans to take a second look at L.B.J.’s accomplishments. People forget.

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 .


 
Lincoln: Alive and Well PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 20 February 2014 15:25

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

Another February 12 has come and gone to remember Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president who was born on that date in Hodgenville, Ky., in 1809.

As Richard Brookhiser, a journalist and historian,  pointed out in an essay last week in the Wall Street Journal, Lincoln is still rated by historians as the greatest of our forty-four presidents, and yet he had almost no leadership experience when he was elected.

He’d never been a general, ran a big business, served as a governor, managed people. The most one could say was that he was a former state legislator, a one-term congressman and the senior partner in a two-man law office. Sound familiar?

It helped that Lincoln was a gifted writer, probably the most gifted ever to hold the office, though Jefferson has his fans. The Brookhiser piece is entitled, “What Would Lincoln Do?”

Our 44th president is never mentioned, but the implication is clear. Lincoln is an example, the measure by which presidents are judged. In Obama’s case it is much too early to say. Some presidents grow in stature after they are gone  – Harry Truman comes to mind; others, say George W. Bush, shrink.

What flickers in my mind about Lincoln is his self-deprecating humor. (Obama reminds me of Lincoln in this regard.) This is not to take anything away from the Great Emancipator’s  prose in such speeches as the Gettysburgh Address  and the Second Inaugural – words as moving as great music. But it’s his everyday common sense, lit by humor, that has done much to keep Lincoln alive for us.

When the results of an election disappointed him, he was asked how he felt. He replied, “Somewhat like the boy in Kentucky, who stubbed his toe while running to see his sweetheart. The boy said he was too big to cry, and too badly hurt to laugh.”

One night he dreamed that he was in a crowd when someone recognized him as the president and exclaimed in surprise, “He is a very common-looking man.” Whereupon he answered, “Friend, the Lord prefers common-looking people. That is the reason he makes so many of them.

“Politicians {are} a set of men, who have interests from the interests of the people, and who, to say the most of them, taken as a mass, are at least one long step removed from honest men. I say this with the greatest freedom because, being a politician myself, none can regard it as personal.”

“It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination.”

“If you once forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their esteem. It is true that you may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all the time. “

“If you call a tail a leg, how many legs has a dog? Five? No, calling a tail a leg don’t make it a leg.”

“I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me.”

“Public opinion in this country is everything.”

In the Journal essay Brookhiser says Lincoln “never bonded with his hard-driving, un-bookish father {and} was always looking for paternal surrogates.” He “found both precedents and men he could look up to in America’s founding fathers.”

The Lincoln quotes are from Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.

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 .



 
What Makes Hillary Run? PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 13 February 2014 14:53

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

The word from the White House is that some employers, especially those with 50 to 99 workers, are given a delay for compliance on the health law until 2016. It is the latest of retreats on the scope of coverage; a retreat that began, under pressure from the insurance industry, after Obama became president. In 2008 he campaigned vigorously for a public health insurance option.

The delay is designed, at least in part, to help Democrats soothe business anxieties in this year’s midterm elections. Republicans, however, show no signs of their letting up on  attacks on the health law. It’s a central issue in many of this year’s midterm elections, hot enough, they hope, with moderates as well as conservatives, to help Republicans  wrest control of the Senate from the Democrats.

This may be a grand illusion. On the other hand you don’t have to be a Machiavelli to be aware of the disadvantage it would create for Democrats going into a presidential election with both houses of Congress dominated by the other party.

Speaking of 2016, I see the Clinton scandal of the 1990s is back in the news. While Bill Clinton has assumed the role of  global statesman, Hillary is casting a shadow on 2016 as an apparent presidential candidate. Thus, Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who is himself eyeing the White House, has brought up the Monica Lewinsky affair, most conspicuously on “Meet the Press,” and taking the former president to task for having taken advantage of the young intern. “That is predatory behavior,” he said.

Soon after the senator thundered, The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative website, so described by the New York Times,  unloaded a collection of papers from Clintons’ White House years.

The documents were from Diane D. Blair, an old friend of Hillary who died in 2000. The papers had been kept at the archives of the University of Arkansas where Blair was a political scientist. The correspondence reportedly describes how Mrs. Clinton coped with her husband’s infidelities, as well as other struggles, notably the attempt to overhaul the health care system.

In targeting Mrs. Clinton, a potential rival in 2016, Senator Paul asserted “the media seems to have given President Clinton a pass” on the Lewinsky affair. But, as the Times pointed out, Ms. Blair’s papers describe a White House that felt constantly under assault from the news media,” and  adding that for the most part  “the papers paint a bleak picture of the Clintons’ time in the White House.”

So the question: why would Hillary want to go back to the heartache of all that? If she really had enough as a former first lady, a former senator, a former secretary of state, a former candidate for president? It may be Rand Paul has the answer.

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 .



 
Art vs. Behavior PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 06 February 2014 13:05

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

In Sunday’s New York Times, the columnist Nicholas Kristof reminded readers that Woody Allen had recently received a Golden Globe award for lifetime achievement. The award, Kristof said, has touched off  “a lively debate about whether it was appropriate to honor a man who is an artistic giant but also was accused years ago of child molestation.”

Kristoff makes clear Allen has denied the charges and “has never been convicted and should be presumed innocent.” But Allen’s adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow, 28, married and living in Florida under another name, asserts in a letter to the columnist that Allen’s behavior has caused her severe psychological damage since she was a child of 7 years old. (“The abuse claims go back to 1993, when Ms. Farrow’s mother, Mia Farrow, fought with Allen over custody of three children, including Dylan,” the newspaper reported on Monday.)

Ethical concerns may play a role in the Oscar races, as they have in the past, when those eligible begin casting ballots on Friday for best picture, actor, director and so on, leading up to the Academy Awards on March 2.

Allen’s “Blue Jasmine,” a box office hit, is one of the contenders. It’s a comedy-drama, about a Manhattan socialite falling into poverty and homelessness (featuring Cate Blanchette and Alec Baldwin). The movie reminded critics of Tennessee Williams’ classic play, “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

In his column, Kristof said he and Dylan’s mother, Mia Farrow, were personal friends, but he was not assessing blame. “People have weighed in on all sides,” he wrote, “but one person who hasn’t been heard out  (until now) is her adopted daughter Dylan Farrow, the writer and artist, whom Allen was accused of molesting.”

Kristof  said he “reached out” to Allen but the filmmaker declined to speak on the record. He also noted that during a period of charges and countercharges, “A panel of psychiatrists sided with Allen, a judge more with Dylan and her mother.”

A sexual issue involving a minor was in the spotlight in 2003 when Roman Polanski was named best director for “The Pianist.” Adrien Brody, who starred in the movie, got an Oscar, as did Ronald Harwood for the screenplay. Polanski was still wanted for sentencing on a rape charge in 1977 of a 13-year-old girl. The director, who has lived and worked in Europe for many years, reportedly regretted the episode and offered his apology to the woman.

In the case of Dylan Farrow, a spokeswoman for the Academy said in response to a  request for comment, “The Academy honors achievement in film, not the personal lives of filmmakers and artists.”

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 .


 
A Cheerless Super Bowl PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 30 January 2014 12:48

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

When the Patriots and 49ers were contenders my sentiments were mixed. The Patriots sprang from my native New England. On the other hand I have been in love with San Francisco ever since I set foot there to say nothing of my journeyman years up in Eureka when almost everyone looked to Herb Caen’s Baghdad-by-the-Bay.

I was torn when a match between those teams in East Rutherford, New Jersey seemed likely, or so I  maintained. In fact, as a friend in my exercise class remarked, “You can’t help yourself.” For richer or poorer I was wedded to the Patriots.

But for almost two weeks – to risk a trite expression – it’s a whole new ballgame, the choice being between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks, the first outdoor Super Bowl in a cold climate in East Rutherford, New Jersey, a mass transit ride from the heart of Manhattan.

Alas, I am bereft, with allegiance to neither Seattle or Denver. I last saw Denver three years ago when the lady Friend and I visited her sister who lives in the mile-high city. We drove some around the gray country. It was October;  the colors had fled. But we did share a moment of elation when we came across a place named Mom’s. It promised great home cooking. It was horrible. We’d forgotten the adage to which we’ve usually been bound: “Never eat in a place called Mom’s, never play cards with a guy named Doc...”

In my time producing for the CBS program, “Sunday Morning,” I spent a few days at the Brown Hotel in Denver. My boss told me I’d like it. It was a favorite hotel of Harry Truman’s. The bar was famous. All true, I guess, but not enough to replace the Patriots or the 49ers in my affections.

Seattle is another matter. I spent months at nearby Fort Lewis during my stint in the Army after World War II. The U.S. was at peace, Army life a lark, a summer camp. On bivouac, despite the damp climate, I could almost always count on catching sight of Mt. Rainier, a brooding colossus. Seattle was a playground on weekend passes, a hilly, seaside city with a gaze to Alaska and bustling traffic for the Far East. I dated a WAC, a member of the Women’s  Army Corps. She was a sergeant . I was a T/4 or technical corporal. Though we got along, rank still mattered to both of us.

To be sure I’ll be watching Sunday but without much to cheer about, however I admire Peyton Manning who will turn 38 in March, and is in his 16th season, and still performing at an elite level.

As Walter Cronkite used to say, “And that’s the way it is.”

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 .


 
Why No High-Level Prosecutions? PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 23 January 2014 15:40

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

Not nearly enough has been made of what Judge Jed S. Rakoff of the Federal District Court in Manhattan asked: Why have no high-level executives been prosecuted in the financial crisis? His article appeared earlier this month in the New York Review of Books.

“Five years have passed since the onset of what is sometimes called the Great Recession,” he wrote. “While the economy has slowly moved, there are still millions of Americans leading lives of quiet desperation: without jobs, without resources, without hope.”

In so many words he asks why have bankers gotten a pass? It’s possible no fraud was committed, but it’s a hard explanation to swallow. “While officials of the Department of Justice have been more circumspect in describing the roots of the financial crisis than have the various commissions of inquiry and other government agent agencies,” Judge Rakoff said, “I have seen nothing to indicate their disagreement with the widespread conclusion that fraud at every level permeated the bubble in mortgage-backed securities.”

So, if the Great Recession was in large part “the product of intentional fraud, the failure to prosecute those responsible must be judged one of the more egregious failures of the criminal justice system in many years.”

Judge Rakoff  pointed out today’s  prosecutorial record “stand in striking contrast to the increased success that federal prosecutors have had over the past fifty years or so in bringing to justice even the highest-level figures who orchestrated mammoth frauds.” He cited the “junk bond” bubble in the 1970s when the progenitors of the fraud “were all successfully prosecuted right up to Michael Milken.”  And:

The savings-and-loan crisis in the 1980s which “resulted in “the successful criminal prosecution of more than eight hundred individuals right up to Charles Keating.”

And, in the 1990s, the accounting frauds by Enron and WorldCom, which “led directly to the successful prosecutions of such previously respected CEOs as Jeffrey Skilling and Bernie Ebbers.”

Judge Rakoff points out that in “striking contrast with these past prosecutions,” no prominent executive “has been successfully prosecuted in connection with the recent financial crisis, and given the fact that most of the relevant criminal provisions are governed by a five-year statute of limitations, it appears likely none will be. It may not be too soon to ask why.”

In the end he stresses that he does not claim that “the financial crisis that is still causing so many of us so much pain and despondency was the product...of fraudulent misconduct but if it was – as various governmental authorities have asserted it was – then the failure of the government to bring to justice those responsible for such colossal fraud bespeaks weaknesses in our prosecutorial system that need to be addressed.”

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 .


 
An Ad for Rye Bread PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 16 January 2014 16:20

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

When my wife and I lived in New York, we got to know some people in the advertising business. One of them was famous as the writer of the slogan for Levy’s Real Jewish Rye. The line has been around for more than half a century.

Even if you never spent any time in New York the phrase may have survived in memory. The advertising campaign began in 1961 and went on through the 1970s. The sound bite – “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s Real Jewish Rye” –  outlived the ad campaign.

The campaign for “Levy’s Real Jewish Rye” relied heavily on photographs of strikingly non-Jewish New Yorkers. As the New York Times put it in its obituary of the slogan’s creator Sunday  – the pictures featured  “a black boy, Asian and native American men and a robed choir boy among them – blissfully contemplating a slice of the company’s rye.”

The New York metropolitan area was the target of the ads, particularly the subways. The pictures drew national attention, and sold as posters as sales of Levy’s Real Jewish Rye grew by leaps. Among the campaign’s admirers, the Times said, was Malcolm X “who liked the poster featuring the black child so much that he had himself photographed alongside it.”

When I turned to the Times the other day, I was not prepared for a mild shock. The name of the writer who came up with the famous slogan was no one I’d ever heard of nor was her picture at all familiar. According to the obituary, the writer we knew, the agency’s chief copywriter,  is  often  credited  (as well as a  founder of the DDB agency) but “period newspaper accounts and contemporary archival sources make clear that the actual writing fell to Ms. (Judy) Protas, who, working quietly and out of the limelight, set down those dozen durable words.”

Judy Protas was also known for her copy for Ohrbach’s, a moderate-priced department store no longer in business, and the lyrics for Cracker Jack’s TV jingle. She was 91.

The copywriter and advertising executive who was sometimes mistakenly credited with writing the Levy’s ad, was Phyllis Robinson, a top talent in the industry. She died in 2010 at 89. Her husband, a psychologist, was someone with whom I sometimes played tennis. More often than not he lost, but, as I remember it, he was always a good sport.

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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