Monday, March 15, 2004

Empty Suits and Empty Desks. News flash to NBC5NEWS
Your “City Desk” is broken.

Having criticized Chicago News 2’s [CBS] Mike Flannery and Chicago 7’s [ABC] Andy Shaw for their roles [See our discussion, below] in converting the senate race into a mini soap opera focusing on sex, drugs and divorce, we didn’t mean to ignore Chicago News 5 [NBC], whose veteran moderator, Dick Kay, seems to have neither the inclination nor the time to engage in a serious political discussion. His regular Sunday morning show gives him 10 minutes, or so, with a public policy person and he regularly squanders it, using less than half of that time for anything close to a serious public policy issue discussion. This last Sunday was a good example.

Kay attracted all seven Democratic Senate primary candidates to the NBC studio on Friday, March 12 for the last candidate forum and one would have hoped, with anyone else in the moderator’s chair, for a spirited discussion of the issues to close out the campaign season. But, consistent with his prior performances, Dick Kay managed to waste at least half the available “debate time.” [As an aside, the program aired on Sunday morning, with no indication by Kay or a graphic stating that the program had been taped two days earlier- Why the omission? Should we assign Carol Marin to investigate this bit of deception?].

Although billed as a 30-minute show, more than nine minutes [9:08 to be exact] is devoted to ads, many of which are devoted to Senate candidate ads, I might add. But, that left Kay with almost 21 minutes available for serious discussion, should he have chosen to do so. Instead, he chewed up 1:15 with his own intro of the show and the candidates, and at the end he asked the meaningless question of who the candidates would like to run against in the General Election, and then wasted more time with his chant of “vote Tuesday, vote Tuesday, vote Tuesday.” So, all together, he wasted another 1:07 at the end of the show. But, Dick still had 18:30 available for the main portion of the show.

Where does Dick Kay go with that 18:30? You got it, almost half of that time was devoted to Sex, Drugs and Divorce. However, unlike Flannery and Shaw, he wasn’t breaking any news or plowing any new ground. He was just asking, and asking and asking each candidate what they thought of the fact they were spending so much time discussing drugs, sex and divorce— an election campaign problem he compounded as the show proceeded. The candidates tried to break away from this mindless discussion, but it was as if Dick Kay was holding them in bondage. The show was almost like a parody of a parody. Why not just have NBC show color bars for 10 minutes, or better yet, play the audio “tone,” for 10 minutes. Does anybody from NBC’s management team watch this stuff?

Take a Look, below: The bracketed number references are to the time into the show, as of the question or statement:

Dick Kay: [1:45] what do you think about the tone of this race and direction it has taken? Is it disturbing to you, especially to some of you that haven’t been involved in a single issue—that you can’t get your issue out because of the tone, Barack?

Barack Obama: Probably people are much more concerned about how they are going to make sure that their jobs are secure? How are we going to make sure that their children get a decent education? How are we going to make sure they can get affordable health care?

Kay: We are going to discuss it, but I want all of your views.
Miss Washington, are you satisfied with the tone of this campaign?

Joyce Washington: I don’t have a problem with the tone. I love your, the way you have done it, you have everybody up here. All the candidates here…

Kay: We are all talking about it. I mean, not all of us. This is a different show, people have been talking about-- Barack, you said it-- about drugs and divorce- and not just on this side, on the Republican side, too. Mr. Hull, are you satisfied with it. And, did you believe it would get to this state?
Nancy Skinner: I’ll just say, Dick, at this point, I wish I had a messier divorce, or had been in drug rehab or had a DUI because I would get some coverage that way—there are substantive issues here and that’s what we should be focused on, all this stuff we are talking about doesn’t matter, it’s ancient history.

Dick Kay: But, that’s what the focus is on—Maria? [3:54]

Maria Pappas: Dick, I really believe …people are insulted by what’s going on because there are major issues that are affecting everyone’s pocketbooks… but this race has been about his sex life, her drug life…it will go down in history—the senate race/drugs and sex. If we call a Press conference on any major issue, like education or whatever, it is not as likely to get covered [But, I think Pappas is wrong on this; I challenged her campaign long ago to make Maria available to the press to discuss policy issues, and I said I would guarantee at least one major print outlet and one major television outlet would show up —and the Pappas campaign never accepted my challenge]

Kay: We’re going to hear about that. But, Dan Hynes and Gery Chico haven’t responded yet and I want to get their [sic], uh, of the tone of this campaign.

Dan Hynes: I don’t think tone is the right word. For the last four weeks, this campaign has been consumed by revelations about people’s personal problems.

Kay: But, what do you think of that?

Hynes: I think it is a shame…

Kay: I want to hear from Gery Chico.

Gery Chico: Well, first of all. It is not too late…I spent the day, yesterday…talking to people who need jobs… they don’t care about his divorce file or who smoked marijuana in college. They want to know about we are going to do for them, now.

Kay: I tell you what. We are going to ask about that, but I gotta ask, do you believe they care about it, Mr. Hull [6:21]. You were very candid on the cocaine and alcohol use. You finally opened your divorce files. Do you think people care? Isn’t that what dropped you in the polls?

Blair Hull: You know, as I spend time, like Gery has, downstate, I see that people are really hurting in this country. In Southern Illinois, especially. It is almost like there is a depression in Southern Illinois…I find that they are more interested in their health care and keeping their job than one’s personal life.

Dick Kay: We are going to have to take a break and I’ll come back to you. I don’t want to cut anybody short. We have some issues to talk about, real issues. We’ll be back after this [6:52].

Show resumes after some ads:

Dick Kay: [8:58] Mr. Hull, Let’s get the nasty stuff out of the way. I promise you. I won’t dwell on it. Do you think your admission to cocaine use, alcohol use…and the revelations in the divorce, is that fodder—should that be, should those be issues in this campaign?

Hull: Well, first, I have told everybody that I regret that…I believe in terms of my ability to perform in the U. S. Senate, it does not matter…

Dick Kay: Well, let me go to an issue.

Joyce Washington: Dick, let me just say, I do think that drug issue and I do think that issues should be dealt with. People need to decide how we are going to serve on each one of the issues that we talk about, the important issues that we talk about: health care, education, but it also drug issue [sic] that ‘s an illegal substance and I think people need to know our stand. We don’t need to spend a lot of time on it [10:19], but they do need to know whether or not we dealt with that. We had to make decisions when we were 18 or 20 years old. I wanted to be a—

Dick Kay: Did you?

Washington: public servant right then [But then Joyce Washington waited 30 years to run for an elected office? Oh, I forgot, Joyce must be using the new, broader definition of public servant that Blair Hull prefers—someone who coaches a Little League team or gives a contribution to a liberal advocacy group]

Dick Kay: [Kay just can’t let go] Have you ever dealt with it? Have you ever done drugs?

Joyce Washington: [too bad, Joyce didn’t respond, No, have you?] No, I have not done that. I made a decision that I wanted to be a public servant and that I wanted to make sure that illicit drugs were not going to be a part of my life. It was going on all around me in college, too.

Dick Kay: The gentleman sitting right next to you admits, in an autobiography, in fact, that he used cocaine. I want to hear from him. Is it an issue? Should it be an issue: Isn’t it a moral issue?

Barack Obama: You know, here is the thing. I think that it would be an issue if there were allegations that any of us currently, or in the recent future [sic] were somehow impaired by substance use. I don’t think anybody on this stage condones the use of illicit drugs or abusing alcohol.

Kay: But-

Obama: Let me finish, Dick. And, I don’t get a sense that anybody here is in any way unprepared to serve in the senate because of that.

Kay: But, but—

Obama: You suggested, Dick. Well, let me just make this point. You suggested we weren’t going to dwell on it, we only have got about 15 minutes left in this topic, we still haven’t talked about jobs, we still haven’t talked about education, and we still haven’t talked about health care.

Kay: [Kay just can’t let go] Mr. Obama, I was going to move on, but here is an issue… You are all – You are all going to be role models if you are elected to the Senate. In fact, you are now. You are going to be role models. You are going to write laws, and some of you have admitted that you broke laws. What do we say to people? [11:50].
Barack Obama: Well, what I would say to people is that when I was 16 and 17, I made all kinds of dumb mistakes. And, the fact of the matter is that I learned from those mistakes and pulled out of those mistakes. As a consequence, committing myself to community and public service. I think that is the issue. [12:12].

Dick Kay: Let me leave it there. Well, Maria was about to jump in [Kay still can’t let go]

Maria Pappas: …I personally haven’t done drugs…Can the people who didn’t use drugs get equal time?

Kay: You didn’t use drugs?

Pappas: That’s right.

Kay: Let’s move on. Let’s move on. [Are you sure, Dick? You don’t want to ask everyone to stop on his [and her] way out to give you a urine test?] [12:43].

Free at last, free at least, thank God Almighty, free at last—said the viewers. Well, not quite free of Dick, yet. Dick did do some issues with the remaining half of the show and perhaps we will bring you something on that later, today, but that part of the show was not very enlightening, either. Kay doesn’t seem to know how to test the candidates, to ask them, for example, how would they respond to the likely Republican candidate on various issues, and then challenge their answers to see how the candidates handle those challenges. That way, the viewers who were planning to vote in the Democratic Primary might have discovered who would be the best Democratic Candidate in the General Election. Instead, Dick Kay elicited mostly stomp speeches, albeit in condensed form.

As I said, NBC has a broken City Desk. Somebody ought to fix this. Perhaps they can do so soon, so we don’t have an encore performance in the General Election campaign. One of these was enough.

You can contact Jeff Berkowitz at 312-214-6122 or at