The Clinton Doc On PBS

Clinton was a flawed president. However, what seemed important while he was president seems less important now. Maybe that’s the unfortunate takeaway of politics.

I watched the first half of the PBS Clinton documentary last night. It wasn’t long before I tweeted,

“PBS portrayal of Clinton akin to Republicans talking about Reagan. Interesting.”

Later I read Lanny Davis’ (Clinton’s special counsel) comment in The Hill.

To watch four hours of the so-called documentary on the eight years of the Clinton presidency gave me the sensation of a report about a glass of water that is 75 percent full and 25 percent empty. The PBS presentation, I am guessing, spent 75 percent of the four hours reporting on 25 percent of the story, i.e., the issue of “scandal” in the Clinton presidency, omitting the substance and policy achievements of the Clinton presidency, i.e., issues that affected the lives of most Americans and that they care about most.

I guess it depends on whose ox is being gored. My mind was changed by the time it was over. I hadn’t moved my opinion to Davises, but certainly in that direction. The longer I watched the fairer the documentary seemed.

It originally felt biased because Clinton was a better president than could be appreciated at the time.

The doc presented a lot of history I hadn’t seen including a still and film of a young Bill Clinton meeting President John Kennedy at the White House. How had that remained hidden so long?

Clinton was a flawed president. However, what seemed important while he was president seems less important now. Maybe that’s the unfortunate takeaway of politics.

When someone’s in office the opposition, with the tacit encouragement of the media, looks for weakness or failing. Those traits get amplified through reptition. However, with the luxury of perspective Clinton seems much more effective as a president–still fallible as a man.

I’ve got two hours down with another two to watch. Originally I wasn’t sure I’d have the motivation to sit through the show. Now I can’t wait to see the second half.

The Woody Allen Doc

In my fantasy Woody was me though nothing could be farther from the truth. I saw him woo Diane Keaton in Annie Hall and Mariel Hemmingway in Manhattan and thought he was pre-living my life.

First things first. I am surprised there is a documentary about Woody Allen on TV. I am surprised he agreed. I am glad I watched.

I probably first saw Woody when he was on TV in the sixties. He was one of many comics on TV. I knew him a little. It wasn’t until Sleeper that I was hooked!

Awkward Jew from New York City. Intellectual. We are both the former. I foolishly thought I was the latter too.

In my fantasies Woody was playing me. Nothing could be farther from the truth!

I saw him woo Diane Keaton in Annie Hall and Mariel Hemmingway in Manhattan and thought he was pre-living my life. These two movies are among the most romantic ever made.

When she was in her early teens I convinced Stef to watch Annie Hall with me. She really enjoyed it. We were both surprised by that.

I was scared to mention Manhattan to her because of the content.

Allen is not without flaws and controversy. On the PBS site for the documentary one commenter wrote:

I love the American Masters Series. However I am seriously disappointed that Woody Allen is a choice. He is a pedophile. I don’t know what makes him any different than Roman Polanski. Talented yes, but a creepy man.

This documentary filled in a lot of holes in understanding where he came from. It doesn’t give instructions to become him.

Part two airs tonight on PBS. Because it’s the 21st Century both parts will be repeated forever and streamed online.

Watch Interview with Robert Weide on PBS. See more from AMERICAN MASTERS.

Ken Burns’ Prohibition

Where Prohibition benefits is in its use of film. I have no idea where Burns found all this footage, but it’s amazing in its portrayal of American life in the 1910s.

I am sitting down to watch Part II of Ken Burns PBS series, Prohibition. I watched Part I last night.

Like all of Burns work it is thorough, fact packed and very slowly paced. Really slow.

I know. I’m supposed to love Ken Burns unconditionally as if he were my child or anything bought at the Apple Store. He needs less time!

The documentary is the story of the 18th Amendment, prohibition in America. As told by Burns (through the voice of Peter Coyote) it was an unpopular movement that lucked out while no one was looking. As soon as America came to its senses it was repealed.

It’s a fascinating story full of fascinating characters. It is extremely well researched.

Where Prohibition benefits is in its use of film. I have no idea where Burns found all this footage, but it’s amazing because there’s so much real American life from the 1910s and 20s. I’m seeing nearly all of it for the first time. This alone would be worth watching for.

If it were only faster, or shorter.

Two Stops On A Busy Day In New York City

I’ve been writing for’s websites since May. My only contact has been through email and phone calls. They know I’m alive because I cash their checks!

I am not from the morning people! Unfortunately, the only way to spend the day in New York City is to wake up and leave early. I was up by eight–don’t laugh that’s early for me. I was on the 9:30 AM quasi-express (local to Stamford then express 125 Street) from New Haven’s Union Station.

nh-train-station-underground-tube.jpgAround 20 years ago the underground passageway to the New Haven platforms was turned into a tube of aluminum foil. I took two photos before someone from the New Haven Parking Authority told me to stop. “Homeland Security,” he said. Right.

Just last week the National Press Photographers Association wrote Amtrak (Union Station is theirs) about this very same problem saying, “As far as we can determine, there are no pertinent laws, rules, or regulations specifically prohibiting photography nor any Amtrak rules or regulations establishing a permit scheme.”

metro-north-trains.jpgI stopped taking pictures, though the inner Geoff was screaming at me to press the point.

It is nearly two hours from New Haven to GCT. I reverted to my 12-year old self and stood at the front window looking down the tracks. There’s a lot of rail traffic on this line and a lot of maintenance work being performed.

I wish Metro-North washed their train windows more often.

NYCTA-subway-car.jpgI snapped a few shots in the terminal than headed down into the subway for the trip to PC Magazine. I know many out-of-towners dismiss the the subway but it’s the best way to get around by far! The trip to 28th Street took around ten minutes. My destination was a block away.

I’ve been writing for’s websites since May. My only contact has been through email and phone calls. They know I’m alive because I cash their checks!

I cleared security and headed to the 11th floor. Carol Mangis, my editor, was waiting there. I like referring to her as “my editor.” It makes me feel like a real writer.

She’s very nice. Of course I’d already figured that out. This was just on-the-ground confirmation.

We walked around the office and I got to put faces on the names I’ve been reading–some for years. And again, as with Carol, they seemed very nice.

pc-magazine-lab.jpgOK–an admission. I have a weakness for writers. They are my rock stars. The writer’s skill set is one I value greatly. That they allow me into their fraternity scares me. If they’re letting me in, maybe it’s not as cool as I thought?

There’s a lot to be said for the PC Magazine offices. As you enter the first thing you see is the lab. There is row after row of test benches. One line had laptops. Another row had desktops. There were techie toys all over the place.

pj.jpgI finally got to see an OLPC in the flesh. Small. Toylike. Disappointing. It’s probably why we are seeing so many netbooks today. Like the first generation of PCs the OLPCs real purpose seems to be to spur innovation from others.

I visited PJ Jacobowitz in the photo lab. The new Canon 5D Mark II was sitting on a table with a 28-70mm f4 IS lens affixed. I looked for something weighty to knock PJ unconscious so I could make off with the camera. Too much security… though it was tempting.

carol-mangis.jpgCarol and I headed to lunch at an Indian restaurant. She said the neighborhood is now known for its huge Indian contingent. A line of taxis stood parked on the street. Probably Indian ex-pat drivers getting their lunch.

I could describe what I had, but I have no idea. There was some sort of chicken and some variety of bread and cauliflower in a spicy sauce. It was good. Isn’t that enough detail?

I spent a little more time at the PC Magazine offices before heading downtown. Again it was a very easy subway trip taking the local to Union Square then the express to Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange.

I didn’t realize until yesterday how secure and isolated the NYSE has become. Wall Street is no longer a vehicular thoroughfare–just foot traffic. The NYSE’s building itself is cordoned off from the street. They’d probably build a moat if they could.

wendie-and-geoff.jpgNightly Business Report, the daily business show on PBS, was celebrating its thirtieth anniversary. They were at the NYSE to ring the closing bell then broadcast the show from the trading floor.

My friend Wendie is the executive producer. That’s why I was there. I was also the semi-official behind-the-scenes photographer.

Getting into the Stock Exchange is no small task. If you’re on the list you enter from a canopied area at Broad and Wall. Inside you pass through a metal detector then get shuttled to the sixth floor.

I can’t remember the last time I rode in an elevator with an elevator operator!

Wendie and the others were working on the show. It sounds glamorous to be broadcasting from this storied location, but any time you’re away from home base there are a variety of obstacles to overcome. It’s never as easy as being in the studio.

nyse-board-room.jpgToday the problem was Internet access. There were three laptops on a large table, but I never saw more than one working at the same time! And the particular one that did work would change from time-to-time.

After a while we headed into the boardroom for a presentation. It is exactly what you’d expect–a huge table with embedded microphones. The walls had large portraits of past NYSE chairmen. There was intricate gold work on the the walls with more elaborate trim where they met the ceiling.

It didn’t just reek of money. It reeked of old money–very old money.

nyse-trading-floor.jpgOne of the exchange’s PR people caught sight of me. I was wearing an untucked shirt and jeans. Maybe, I could wear the jeans on the floor, but I’d need a coat. Luckily there was a closet full of them! They’d had this problem before.

As the Nightly Business crew moved up to the balcony from which they’d sound the closing bell I headed to the floor. IMG_6094.jpgOMFG! I’d had an experience like this before when I walked into Mission Control in Houston. Here was a place I’d seen a million times on TV and it was larger than life.

There wasn’t the frantic yelling and gesturing you’ve seen in movies, but there was plenty of noise and plenty going on.

The stock exchange floor is a room within a room. If you look up you can see the old high ceiling. Beneath that is a metal superstructure which makes the de facto ceiling today. There are clusters of computer monitors flanking the trading stations.

nyse-no-photo-sign.jpgI saw the little workspace reserved for Fox Business Network. It’s the size of a New York apartment’s half bathroom. That gives you an idea of the value of space in this place.

Considering all the times you’ve seen this place on the tube it was funny to see signs warning about photography! I wasn’t alone with a camera. There were crews from the various financial channels roaming the aisles and a house photographer who hung with us.

I photograph all signs that say no photography.

nbr-on-air.jpgWe headed back to the sixth floor to finish working on the show then back down around six. Now the elevator was without an operator. The trading floor was quiet. It was still very impressive.

The Nightly Business News crew had already moved in two cameras, lights, TelePrompters and everything else you need for a show. There were glitches with audio and some glare to be taken care of, but nothing more than any other night on any other show. There was no reason to panic.

paul-and-susie.jpgFrom 6:30 until 7:00 the show aired flawlessly. If there were problems they certainly weren’t noticed at home.

I gave Wendie a hug and a kiss and headed home.

The long trip from Connecticut to New York City seems even longer when going home. I easily made the 7:37 from Grand Central and was home before 10:00 PM.