Screenwriting & Storytelling In The Age Of Coronavirus

The Age of Trump made fiction-writing redundant. No one could write characters or a story half as batshit bonkers as what we were living through before coronavirus and get away with it. Now, we’re just out in the stratosphere of “Whatever!” Twists might surprise us as they happen but nothing really surprises us any more.

Stories will now exist “pre-coronavirus” and “post-coronavirus” — exactly like with a war. If you were writing a love story on December 6, 1941, you had to revise it the next day — after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor — because a war started and the world all your characters lived in were going to war too — whether you knew it or not. Any visual storyteller who shoots a video where people are dressed like they used to — without masks or other protective accessories — without social distancing — is telling a period piece. Everyone might as well be wearing petticoats.

Shows like Fox’s Empire — as of now — gave up on the idea of finishing. In Empire’s case, the show’s creators are bailing on shooting the series finale for that very reason. Their show takes place in the present. In the here & now. That is, Empire took place in the present that was — in the there & then. Having to choose between suddenly (but inexplicably) wrenching their story and characters fully into coronavirus world or building coronavirus world into their story (very inconvenient when you’re wrapping your story up and lots of what you planned relied on the characters living how we used to), Empire’s producers (I think wisely though my heart breaks for them) chose to just “walk away”. To allow their creation to end where it did when the virus struck.

Like the show itself was a victim of covid-19. Which it absolutely was.

Simple conventions that storytellers have relied on forever now have to be rethought. Bars and restaurants might open again but they won’t look like they did pre-coronavirus. There won’t be “packed restaurants” or “pulsating night clubs” or “crowded bars” here in reality for a while. That means it’ll be tricky to write about them. It’s pointless to write a scene in movie script that no one would ever shoot because it’s not how people act anymore. It’d be like our love story writer insisting on his love story taking place in a world where Japan never attacked Pearl Harbor or Corregidor or Nanking or anywhere else. It’d be like writing Casablanca — except everyone just “shows up” in North Africa for no reason — the second world war no longer being a “thing” for them to worry about. No need for exit visas or Nazis or Vichy French.

For reference — I’ve spent my career in the entertainment business. I’ve been a writer & producer in film & TV for over 35 years. I’ve run TV shows (HBO’s Tales From The Crypt & Showtime’s The Outer Limits), sold pilots to Fox, ABC, HBO and the old UPN. I’ve written and produced feature films (Children Of The Corn II fer pete’s sake, Demon Knight and Bordello Of Blood!) I’ve written stories that take place in the past, present and the future. I’ve had to imagine how humans might problem-solve in a future beyond my imagining.

That’s one of the challenges for all of us who’ve been cooped up in our homes, imagining new TV shows to fill the void now that everyone in the whole world has watched everything on Netflix and Hulu and Amazon for the thousandth time. What world will our new creations take place in? What are the rules? If we get them wrong, the “here and now” we’re describing will turn off our audiences.

It’s like getting a character wrong. Writers have to know people better than even their therapists do. We all have experienced the great story idea ruined by characters who don’t act like anyone we know. The moment a storyteller loses her audience, it’s over. The audience is gone for good — hoping the next story they decide to invest in pays them back a little more generously.

On the one hand, one can see the coming waves of infection-and-death, shut-down-and-re-opening as an obstacle. Or, one could see them as an opportunity to tell a story that’s never been told before — putting modern, tech-savvy humans up against a primordial foe who sees their bodies (and cells) as a cheap sex hotel where they can slum for a while and reproduce.

The very good news for the world’s TV audiences is that when storytellers are allowed to get together in the same place again to practice their art, the stories they tell will be amazing. On the one hand, they’ll be familiar because we’ve all just endured the same wrenching experience together. On the other hand, we hope, they’ll be eye-opening for what’s new in them: new insights into human beings and how we react to stress; that’s pretty much the basis for all storytelling.

If the writers get it all wrong and don’t come up with a single binge-able idea coming out of the coronavirus quarantine, there’ll always be reality. When all else fails, we’ll know, if we want real entertainment that can’t be beat for compellingness, all we have to do is turn off the TV and walk outside.

The Reason So Many American Journalists Suck At Journalism Is Cos They Suck At STORYTELLING

Ever hear someone massacre a joke? They trip all over the set-up and blow the punch line then wonder why no one’s laughing. That’s America’s news media — except it’s not a joke they massacred, it’s the truth.

While everyone has a story, not every can tell a story — or tell their story. What most of America’s journalists don’t seem to get (it’s not evident in their reporting) is that Trump-Russia IS their story. They’re not just neutral observers in this dumpster fire, they’re both witnesses and active participants. Their very neutrality, in fact, has been turned against America.

Russia is attacking us as we speak. We are living through World War Three — a Cyber War, an Information War, an Intelligence War — no less threatening to our security and future as a bombs n bullets war. Instead of ammo, the Russians fire lies, propaganda & misinformation at us — and they use our own news media to do it. And our news media — unaware to see that THEY are indeed PART of the story — continue to go along with it. They continue to repeat Russia’s misinformation & disinformation.

Lies mingle with Truth to create a new-fangled concoction of half-truths — like a poisonous slurry that’s about to swamp us all.

Good storytelling demands that the storyteller have PERSPECTIVE. To gain perspective, you have to continually add to your story’s foundation. As you learn new info, you make it part of the story. When you learn that Trump lies more than he tells the truth, you make “Trump’s a liar” part of the story. You don’t start every day’s reporting by assuming he’s telling the Truth. That would take the story backwards.

By the same token — when you report breathlessly about all the ways Trump is betraying the country and then turn to the subject of election 2020? Trump doesn’t suddenly STOP being that traitor. He’s the TRAITOR who’s “running for office” again — by using Russia to guarantee his win — just as he did in 2016. Our MSM keeps saying “Russia meddled in 2016” as if “meddled” is some vague abstraction with results no one could possibly identify.

That’s our MSM normalizing what should never be normalized.

When Fusion GPS first got hired by the Washington Free Beacon to do oppo research on Trump, they did their “due diligence”. They got ahold of every bit of publicly available material on Trump: video, newspaper stories, magazine articles, radio interviews — everything. What they found there — in publicly available material — so concerned them about Trump’s obvious criminality (at the very least he laundered Russian mob money through his Atlantic City casinos) that they contracted with former MI6 intel pro Chris Steele whose contacts inside Russia were unequaled.

Fusion saw the story — and incorporated it into their narrative.

Our MSM, on the other hand, keeps (even now when so much of Steele’s raw intel has been proven correct) referring to Steele’s output as “unverified”. That might have been so two years ago. It’s not true today. To say it is to distort the story significantly.

The whole basis for storytelling is “add information”. Learn something new about the story? You add it to the story — and make it part of the storyTELLING.

And yet — on MSNBC & CNN, we still get reporters who refuse to add information to the story — or do so grudgingly then wonder why everyone else always scoops them.

Maybe our reporter class should go back to basics. Learn how to tell a joke. Get good at it THEN return to reporting. Otherwise they’ll continue turning our Democracy into a joke — and ain’t no one gonna laugh at that.

Dear TV Pundits: Donald Trump Doesn’t Stop Being A TRAITOR Just Cos He Takes In A Ballgame

So, you’re watching the cable TV news. The on-air team smell blood in the water. Hard evidence keeps mounting that whatever drawer you put the Mueller Report into, Trump’s behavior toward Ukraine is impeachable on steroids. The really astute talking heads — the Malcolm Nances, the Natasha Bertrands, the Nancy Wheeler’s, the Lawrence Tribes, the Glenn Kirschners — they have no qualms about letting their moral outrage rage. Donald Trump isn’t some ordinary republican potus playing the executive over-reach card, he’s their end product brought horrifyingly to life.

Trump is republican corruption on steroids and too many taco bowls. He’s old, Christian white-guy-racism projected onto electronic billboards that reach across whole zip codes.

He’s a mash up of greed and cynicism and ignorance that every republican must have envied because they’ve all worked so hard to mimic it.

And then there’s his undying devotion to Vladimir Putin.

In the storytelling trade, that’s a set-up you can’t go away from. There’s no satisfying twist that will suddenly make a hero out of Trump. In our menu of choices — A) Trump’s completely innocent, B) Trump’s kinda innocent-kinda guilty, or C) Trump’s completely guilty, “Trump’s completely guilty” is absolutely one of the possibilities.

And yet — as the MSM and its pundits “pick through the bones of last week’s news” — that’s the one possibility they refuse to entertain.

It’s true. They’ll concede the middle easily (cos who knows until all the facts are out). But the middle isn’t as fuzzy as they wish it was. When the only ongoing defense against truly perilous charges is “it’s a hoax!”, you don’t have a defense. We all agree (even Trump’s supporeters FFS!) — Trump’s not innocent. So — let’s remove that empty pot from the table please.

That means Trump must be KINDA guilty at least.

But therein lies the problem — KINDA guilty? That sounds like things we used to call guilty are being normalized.

I keep going back to this fact: Fusion GPS was hired — famously now — to do oppo research on Donald Trump (hired originally by the Washington Free Beacon — Jeb Bush supporters). As Fusion’s co-founder Glenn Simpson testified before Congress, when they did their due diligence before formally commencing their oppo work, they found so much evidence that Trump had laundered Russian mob money through his failed Atlantic City casinos (a red flag itself since who goes broke running a casino?) that they hired Christopher Steele whose Russian contacts were the best in the West.

There should be no question that Trump is a criminal many times over. He was a criminal before he ran for president and his whole campaign — and presidency — have been literal crimes, too. Trump violated his oath of office even as he spoke it; he was knowingly and aggressively violating the emoluments clause.

The Rule Of Law doesn’t have grey areas. It either is or isn’t. Same as Integrity. Once one steps into a traitor’s shoes, those shoes become permanent fixtures on your feet.

I cannot count the hours I have spent either half-listening to or half-watching TV cable news pundits describe actions that — were they to remove them from a president doing them — they’d call ‘TREASONOUS” at the top of their voices. But their normalcy bias blinders are bolted so tightly to their heads — perhaps it’s cut off all the circulation.

They’re like the character in a joke we liked a lot on the bus going to grade school. Guy sees dog shit on the ground. But he’s not sure so he picks it up. Sniffs it. Tastes it even. Yup. It’s dog shit. He puts it back down — glad as hell he didn’t step in it.

How many times and in how many ways does one have to describe treason, traitors and treachery before one is willing to say “Yeah — there might be treason afoot here”?

How many notes from a meeting with Putin does Trump have to destroy before we allow there might be something a wee bit “unkosher” going on?

Technically, “treason” requires a state of war to “be”. We’re in a State of War — make no mistake. There aren’t any bombs or bullets (not here in America but ask Ukraine if that’s true; ask the Kurds — our abandoning our ally benefited one person above all others: Vlad Putin) but then, New Wars will be fought with Information across Cyber networks. Exactly like the war we’re engaged in now.

We will come to see in time that we’ve been living through World War Three. It ain’t just Russia after all that’s firing upon us.

And we aren’t Russia’s only target. And the war Putin’s waging goes back to how the Cold War ended — and his desire to undo the dismantling of the Soviet Union. For reference — the people who took part in the 14th century’s Hundred Years War (it actually lasted 116 years) had no idea that’s what they were involved in. Even as that war rolled through their lives, destroying them, they had no idea they were part of anything historical.

Donald Trump is a traitor. It’s a stone cold fact. He’s done everything except confess it himself. To go back to my earlier metaphor — he put on those shoes. When TV cable news shows turn from reporting a story about just how much of a traitor Trump is to a story about Trump’s re-election plans, they forget Trump’s even wearing shoes. Never mind Treason Shoes.

But he IS wearing them. That same presidential candidate they now glibly discuss — how much money he’s raised, where his base is strongest — is the exact same traitor they were apoplectic about two minutes ago. He didn’t stop being that guy just because THEY changed the subject.

When Donald Trump & his entourage of co-conspirators showed up to take in Game Five of the World Series the other night, he got booed BECAUSE HE’S A TRAITOR.

Everyone chanting “Lock Him Up” is chanting that because they’ve seen enough, heard enough to know — Donald Trump should not be potus for another second longer. BECAUSE HE’S A TRAITOR.

The internet went justifiably bonkers after Morning Joe’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski disapprovingly lectured America on not wanting traitors showing up & ruining their entertainment. Escapism is hard enough to come by in Donald Trump’s America. It’s infuriating to think he feels compelled to take over that space too.

Our TV punditry needs to get it through their heads: it’s dog shit. DON’T pick it up. DON’T sniff it — and whatever you do, DON’T EAT IT.

Trump is a traitor. It’s the only fact that really matters.

Dear American News Media: Never Mind What The Democrats Are Doing To Prep For Trump In 2020, What Are YOU Doing?

I’ll answer my own question (it’s why I asked): NADA.

The overwhelming bulk (the perfect word) of the American News Media is happily zooming down the same idiotic, Democracy-destroying path THIS election as they did in 2016. Despite whole mountain ranges of evidence, most of our MSM still refuses to accept an ounce of responsibility for their piss poor 2016 performance.

They still think Donald Trump is just a “different” kind of president.

On their talking head panels, the MSM Talking Heads worry themselves sick about how the Democratic nominee will handle Trump’s bully-in-the-schoolyard tactics. If I remember correctly, Hillary Clinton stood up to it. The MSM, on the other hand, not so much.

Trump’s campaign should have been over the instant “Mexicans are rapists” tumbled from his bloated, orange lie hole. How in hell’s name did Trump’s campaign survive that? It wasn’t because Mexicans accepted it — or Democrats. It was because the MSM accepted it. Donald Trump moved past it — and so did they. They stopped asking Trump about it which, to him, meant they’d accepted it as part of “the deal”. That was just who Trump was — a, you know, “different” sort of presidential candidate.

The correct answer remains: “No, he’s not a ‘different’ sort of presidential candidate (there’s no such thing), he’s a RACIST, BIGOTED kind of candidate”.

Since 2016, has the American press gotten better? No — they still ask out loud if Donald Trump is a racist. Like it’s a question.

It isn’t, of course. Which bring me to my next giant bone in need of picking — because it’s another way the press is repeating its past mistakes to our collective detriment. The nature of storytelling is simple. Every scene should add information. Each following scene then builds on the new information — and adds new information of its own. Voila! Storytelling!

The whole mechanism breaks down however when you don’t add the new information to the mix — you kinda toss it aside — and keep returning to Square One as if the new information never existed. It’s a bit like a flat earther seeing irrefutable proof that the world is round — and agreeing with it — then going back to the flat earth way of seeing things as if the proof never existed.

In point of fact, our Main Stream Media has been so damnably lazy about covering Trump, it’s enough to make one a conspiracy theorist. The Truth about who Donald Trump really is is not a mystery. When Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS testified before Congress (one of the earlier hearings where the Republicans were trying to undermine the integrity of ‘The Steele Dossier’), he described Fusions process. Fusion had been hired first b6y the Washington Free Beacon to do oppo research on Trump. The Beacon’s owners liked them some Jeb Bush.

Step one, Simpson testified, due diligence. Fusion got its hands on every book, magazine article, radio interview, TV show — everything they could — finding it online, in book and video stores — even at the public library. All publicly available material. What Fusion found in that publicly available material that ANYONE (any member of the press could have found themselves) convinced them that Trump had been part of numerous criminal enterprises involving his Atlantic City casinos and the Russian mob.

That was why Fusion GPS hired Chris Steele, former head of the MI6’s Russia Desk. His deep background on Russia and Russians was unmatched.

Just wondering: Has anyone in the MSM done even the same due diligence since then?

Has the MSM fully embraced the idea that without Russia, Donald Trump wouldn’t be POTUS? If they haven’t they’re going to have a helluva time making sense of what Russia does in 2020.

To be honest, I don’t hold out much hope for the MSM. I’m not even sure their hearts are all in the right place. I know that with too many of them, their heads are right up their asses.

Why Our Main Stream News Media Sucks — “It’s The Framing, Stupid” Edition

It physically hurts watching most of our Main Stream News Media grapple with Donald Trump. He’s so much a creature of their making — his entertainer’s DNA is the same as theirs — that they fail to see their own fatal flaws in him.

It’s days/weeks/months/a presidency like this that make me think about Paddy Chayefsky’s brilliant screenplay Network.

If you haven’t seen it, see it! When you remember that Chayefsky wrote it eons before Fox News flared to life in Roger Ailes’ fetid mind (the feature came out in 1976) — a propaganda tool designed from the ground up to stop a Richard Nixon type president from ever getting caught again (that’s right — Roger Ailes believed that had Fox News been around during Nixon’s time, Nixon would never have had to quit) — Network becomes even more visionary.

Chayefsky anticipated the marriage of news and entertainment — and the birth of their Frankenstein Monster-like love child — a wildly out of control noise machine that gleefully blurs the lines between fact and fiction, reality and bullshit, ordered moral rectitude and total Machiavellian chaos. In one extra-brilliant scene, Ned Beatty — playing the Chairman Of The Board — explains “the rules” to renegade anchor man Howard Beale (Oscar winner Peter Finch). This is a wonderful example of “FRAMING”…””

…And YOU, Mr. Beale, have disturbed the Fundamental Forces Of NATURE!”

9A5% of our Main Stream News Media cannot “frame” a story to save their lives. To save OUR lives either. We need to remember — so does our Main Stream News Media — that journalists are storyteller first and foremost. News is just the story of what’s happening now and why. Journalists must follow the same rules fictional storytellers play by — if they’re going to be any good at storytelling.

All storytelling begins with framing. It’s storytelling’s “In the beginning…”. Do we frame Hitler (in a story about him) as a good guy or a bad guy? The overwhelming majority of us would probably frame Hitler as the villain regardless of the piece. But a few — white nationalists for instance — would probably frame Hitler as a hero. Framing equals point of view. Whose point of view does a story represent.

If you go and frame a story from Hitler’s point of view — or, say, Donald Trump’s — then things like Jew hatred to the point of causing a Holocaust or caging Latino babies at our southern border — then outright evil doesn’t seem so… “evil”. Evil gets normalized. Not all at once — but enough so that the next evil act plays to a collective psyche that accepts a certain amount of evil as “just how things are”. No, they’re NOT how things are.

Framing begins with what you know and what you can legitimately believe based on the preponderance of evidence. Donald Trump is a liar. Donald Trump is a money launderer. Donald Trump is a fraud. Donald Trump is a bully. Donald Trump is a racist. Donald Trump is a rapist. Donald Trump is a traitor. One could legitimately frame any story about Donald Trump from any one of these points of view — and successfully tell a NEWS story.

One could NOT (for comparison’s sake) frame a story from the point of view that Donald Trump is an honest actor who believes every word he reads off a teleprompter. That story would be demonstrably false even as you told it. And yet — our Main Stream News Media persists in framing the Donald Trump story from that very perspective: that Donald Trump is a normal person and a normal president. Sorry — I got that slightly wrong: they frame Trump as a “different kind of potus” who “expresses himself directly”.

Allow me to translate from the bullshit — “Trump’s a chaos agent and we have no idea how to report on him”. There’s no such thing as “different”. A journalist reporting that a politician is “different” because he ignores all rules and norms is a lazy journalist. “Why” are they different? “What do you mean exactly by ‘different’?” To call Donald Trump “different” is to frame Trump from the point of view of bullshit. It helps no one — except Donald Trump.

And that — right there — is the problem. When you frame a story from the point of view of, say, a villain — you see the world through the villain’s eyes. You empathize with the villain and see their goals as our goals. You normalize evil and make it not only respectable but desirable.

The Poster Girl for this rancid brand of un-journalism is NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell.

Kelly O’Donnell – A nice person (I bet) with zero perspective (I’m positive).

I’m sure Kelly’s a lovely person. I’m sure she’s a wonderful friend — she seems very empathetic. But she lacks critical faculties. She’s no more discerning of the Truth than an open microphone. Kelly happily reports everything Trump says from her White House beat as if Donald Trump was a tower of integrity whose every word was his bond.

FFS, Kelly — when we look back at this period a few years from now (provided we’re not all living in a gulag or a mass grave), we’ll look squarely at the Fourth Estate and their many profound failings. Journalists are the only job mentioned specifically in the Constitution. They are obligated to be our final check on power.

But a check that frames stories from the point of view of the things it’s supposed to be checking cannot check shit. It surrenders the necessary perspective the moment it starts reporting. Any story about Trump that doesn’t immediately frame Trump as a liar is a lie itself — how can it not be? It’s telling the liar’s lie for him. carrying his lying water wherever he wants it carried.

This isn’t hard to fix. Gaining perspective is as easy as stepping back from a story and allowing yourself to see all the great details you’ve uncovered in the largest possible context — so that you can see, evaluate and appreciate how your small cogs work as part of the larger wheel. I think of NBC’s number cruncher Steve Kornacki.

I’m sure Steve’s a lovely person, fun to lunch with. And he’s bright, too. I’ll give him that. But bright without perspective is less bright than it could be. Than it SHOULD BE. Steve Kornacki can tell you everything you want to know about a grain of sand — so long as we’re only talking about that one grain. Does that grain of sand live on the beach at Malibu or smack in the center of the Sahara Desert? Steve can’t tell you that.

He can only frame the grain of sand’s story from the grain of sand’s point of view. That is only part of its story unfortunately.

We need our news media to report the WHOLE Trump story every time out of the gate. We need them to see Donald Trump the way Fusion GPS saw Trump. Fusion, you’ll recall, was the research entity hired by the Washington Free Beacon then (through intermediaries) the Hillary Clinton campaign to learn all the could about Trump — through legitimate means. Fusion (as principle Glenn Simpson testified to Congress), upon being hired, started the job by doing its due diligence. They got ahold of every bit of publicly available material concerning Trump. Books, magazines, video, radio, internet. They bought from Amazon, browsed book stores & magazine racks and even went to the public library. What they found in publicly available material so convinced them that Trump had used his Atlantic City casinos to launder Russian Mob money that they hired former MI6 Russia desk guru Christopher Steele. Steele had the best sources inside Russia.

Fusion, in its report to its clients, framed Trump from the widest possible perspective. That perspective saw Trump as a criminal.

There is nothing whatsoever — still, to this very day — stopping America’s Main Stream News Media from doing the exact same due diligence.

It’s a little late now, of course. CNN & MSNBC (and all the rest) could easily have done this back when Trump was insisting that Mexicans are rapists. Perhaps if our Main Stream News Media HAD done that, there wouldn’t be a pile of dead Mexican bodies right now in El Paso.

When our MSM mis-frames stories, it isn’t just bad storytelling, it’s toxic to our Democracy.

There’s A Difference Between Storytellers & “Storytellees”; That Difference Is Why American News Media SUCKS…

First things first. Journalists are storytellers. News is a story about what’s happening (theoretically out here in reality) right here, right now. As news anchors all over the world put it as they start yakking — “Here’s what’s happening now“.

Then they proceed to tell you the story.

Except way too many journalists are piss-poor at telling stories. Well… let me be fair — I don’t know how good or bad they are at telling stories in general; what I know is they’re piss poor at telling the “Donald Trump Is A Traitor” story. They don’t know how to approach it, let alone “tell” it.

It seems odd, doesn’t it, that professional storytellers would be so incapacitated by the greatest story they’ll ever get to tell? It starts with their forgetting that THEY’RE storytellers to begin with — albeit storytellers reliant on their sources. But how storytellers approach a source is different than how a storytellee approaches a source. Storytellees don’t have sources.

Let me go a little deeper. When I set out to write a story, I need as much control over as much of the story I can get — so I can FRAME IT the way I want to. I want to frame the story one way vs another because facts are not generic. In and of themselves, facts are independent things. String a bunch of facts together, connect the dots in other words, and those facts paint a picture. Or they present a mosaic-like image, if you prefer.

A storyteller — in composing that mosaic — needs to make choices. Some facts belong and others either don’t belong (they’re not relevant to THIS mosaic) or they aren’t facts. They’re bullshit or too unsubstantiated to have value — so, therefore, don’t make the cut. A storyteller needs to have this sorting process at work constantly in their minds — especially as they’re doing their research. They need to be hyper-critical.

Storytellees, by comparison, are there to soak it all in. Unless a fact or detail strays too far outside their own experiences of life and people, they’re happy to accept it as part of the storytelling. They’re there to listen (critically, one hopes), not story-tell.

Something bizarre happens however when Storytellers fail to act like storytellers and act like storytellees instead. Because they’ve turned their critical faculties off (aside from that last fail-safe one when a story’s details fail to pass any smell test whatsoever), they miss essential details any storyteller relies on. They lose perspective — and therefore any ability to successfully tell that story. You cannot accurately describe what you cannot actually see (one way or another).

The perfect example of the storyteller turned storytellee is NBC’s reporter Kelly O’Donnell. I’m sure Kelly’s a lovely person. That’s not the question. She’s far too credulous — like a storytellee. Watch virtually any Kelly O’Donnell stand-up and, aside from her professional demeanor, all she’s ever doing is repeating back what “her sources” told her.

I bet Kelly’s sources go to her as often as Kelly goes to them. That would mean (if I’m right) that Kelly’s sources are using her as much as Kelly’s “using them”. What Kelly doesn’t get though about this set-up: Kelly’s purpose is “information transmission”, her source’s purpose is “message control”. Without that context, Kelly’s information SOUNDS neutral (Kelly’s intent) while not actually being neutral at all — it’s one-sided. But Kelly has failed to report that fact.

WHY?

In Kelly’s defense (and — bending over backwards to be fair here — it applies to a whole bunch of other reporters across multiple news networks) Kelly has lost sight of how her sources are using her; she’s been too busy patting herself on the back for having sources to begin with. To get those sources, Kelly agreed to put whatever critical faculties she has on hold. She’s agreed to not question their veracity or motives. She’s agreed to not question their information — regardless of how true, false or politically motivated it is.

Kelly has followed the Judith Miller Paradigm to a “T”.

Quick digression — Judith Miller:

Judith Miller worked in The New York Times‘ Washington bureau before joining Fox News in 2008. While at the Times, she gained notoriety for her coverage of Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) program both before and after the 2003 invasion, which was later discovered to have been based on inaccurate information from the intelligence community. The New York Times determined that several stories she wrote about Iraq were inaccurate, and she was forced to resign from the paper in 2005.

Miller herself refused to accept any responsibility. Her defense: It wasn’t her responsibility to “critique” the information she was passing between her “inside sources” and the American public, it was her responsibility to just “pass it along” all steno pool like. Miller’s “lackadaisical” approach to journalistic integrity killed her reputation deader than dead. She’s now a fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute For Public Policy — carrying water for them full time. At least Judith finally is plying her trade on the up-and-up.

Miller’s willingness to trade access to Dick Cheney for her integrity had an even consequence. Miller actively took part in Dick Cheney & Scooter Libby’s deliberate outing of Valerie Plame as CIA. Miller spent 85 days in jail for refusing to reveal that her source in the Plame Affair was Scooter Libby.  The fact that Libby was doing something stunningly illegal — its political motivation crayoned all over its giant sleeve — was, apparently, irrelevant to Miller.

It wasn’t her “responsibility”, I guess, to tell THE TRUTH. It was her “responsibility” to tell Dick Cheney & Scooter Libby’s “truth” regardless of how untruthful it was.

The process of Judith Miller-ing news gathering — of sacrificing integrity for access is the crux of the problem. It’s what causes storytellers to become storytellees instead. The moment they go critical-faculty-free for access, they put their storytelling into a near-permanent cocoon-like stasis.

If not for the fact that journalism is the only job mentioned in the Constitution — it’s obligated to be the final check on political power — none of this would matter. But journalism IS mentioned in the Constitution and it IS purposed with this very high mission. If you don’t want to do the mission, what the hell are you doing in journalism? If you don’t want to be an actual storyteller, please — let us know now. Our future depends on it.

American News Media’s Biggest Fail: They SUCK As Storytellers…

There’s an art to telling a story. It isn’t just knowing how to line up the beginning, middle and end in the right way so the story makes sense…

Anyone who’s ever listened to someone massacre a joke knows what I mean. A joke, after all, is just a story — sketched out in a handful of words. But it works by the same storytelling principle. A set up and a punchline are the beginning, middle & end of a story.

To correctly and successfully tell a joke or a story, you have to know all the pieces of the story — or suspect enough about where they’re going to at least tap dance through the ending. I just finished a book (looking for a publisher now — “How To Live Bullshit Free (and other Showbiz Tales)” — which basically tells my own story; I knew going in what the story was — but, even so, the ending took me by surprise — and I was the guy writing it. Stories can take on a life of their own.

But, in order to go where the story takes you, you have to be fully invested in it. More than that, you have to be the story’s teller — and not the person to whom the story is being told. There’s a huge difference. A huge philosophical difference.

In order to tell you a story, I have to gain your confidence — that is, I have to convince you to suspend your belief if only for a moment. If I tell you that a dog walks into a bar — and you stop me: “Wait — dogs can’t walk into bars!” — then I’ve failed at the start. You haven’t suspended your belief enough to allow the fantastical element at the heart of my story to take wing. But, if instead, you said: “Cool — so, a dog walks into a bar — tell me more!” then I’ve succeeded — at the start. You will let me take you wherever I want — so long as the story stays interesting and doesn’t violate its own rules.

To put a finer point on that — you become the passive listener while I become the active storyteller.

That’s how storytelling works. OUR problem is our Main Stream News Media doesn’t get that. Every time Donald Trump opens his mouth and lies — and the News Media repeats the lie as if it could be true — they stop being storytellers and start being the guy the story was told to instead — who’s simply repeating what he heard. That is not storytelling.

Yes, yes — part of storytelling is listening to others — so you can tell their stories — but storytellers are tasked with finding deeper Truths inside other peoples’ stories — and then telling them. That’s where storytelling ‘art’ kicks in.

It’s not a hard problem to fix. Actually, it’s shockingly easy. All any journalist ever has to do is remind themselves on which side of the storytelling equation they’re supposed to sit. And if they can’t remember themselves, it’s incumbent on US to remind them — as loudly and persistently as we must.

After all — journalists aren’t merely storytellers — they’re the only job mentioned by name in the Constitution. THEIR stories are the last check on power. If they “tell them wrong”, we’re screwed.

What NBC’s Savannah Guthrie did – interviewing young Nick Sandmann — was the exact opposite of storytelling. She became the person to whom Nick Sandmann told his story — as in SHE suspended all belief in order to accept what he said as truth. That she walked away — having allowed a clearly faulty version of the story to stand shouts at us: Nick Sandmann became the styoryteller & an American news outlet became the passive listener to that story.

Fail.

Fail, fail, fail, FAIL.

From one storyteller to another, NBC News – You SUCK at your job. Find other work more suitable to your skills such as they are.

Perhaps Walmart is looking for greeters. Give em a call. Please.