Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Marvin Kitman Show, Featuring Bill O'Reilly

So, last night we had the third Havdallah talk I've organized for Congregation Adas Emuno (for the first two, see Sports Spiel and The Plotz to Save Socrates), and the speaker was Marvin Kitman. I've known Marvin since 1998, when he was one of the participants in the McLuhan Symposium I organized at Fordham. His talk, which had the place in stitches, is included in my Legacy of McLuhan anthology. I also arranged for Marvin to be a featured speaker at the Fourth Annual Convention of the Media Ecology Association, which was held at Hofstra University in 2003. This was an especially good fit, because Hofstra is in Hempstead, Long Island, and Marvin was until recently the television critic for Newsday, which is the major newspaper for New York's Long Island suburbs (and doesn't do badly in the city, either).

For those of you not familiar with Marvin, you can learn more about him from his website, but for your convenience, I'll provide some background. There's a bio on The Huffington Post, where Marvin is now doing his thing in blog form

Marvin Kitman was the media critic at Newsday. His column, "The Marvin Kitman Show," began on Dec. 7, 1969, a day that still lives infamy, according to network executives. On April 1, 2005, he stepped down from his position of power. As he explained, "Newsday gave me a tryout, and after 35 years we decided it wasn't working out." He is the author of nine books. They include George Washington's Expense Account, written by Gen. George Washington and Marvin Kitman (Pfc. Ret.). As the only living co-author of Washington's, he also wrote The Making of the Prefident 1789. His newest book is about that other great American icon: The Man Who Would Not Shut Up: The Rise of Bill O'Reilly, published by St. Martin's Press in January. Available on and at all fine book stores.
And here's some additional information taken from his website:

Mr. Kitman is also the author of I Am A VCR (Random House, 1988), the story of his first 20 years as a TV critic and the impact TV has had on one of the greatest minds in Western civilization.

He is the author of Kitman's Law: "On the TV screen pure drivel tends to drive off ordinary drivel."

His five other books include:

  • The Number One Best Seller (1966), Dial Press

  • You Can't Judge a Book By Its Cover (1970), Weybright &Talley

  • The RCAF (Red Chinese Air Force) Diet, Exercise & Sex Manual,
    written under the pseudonym William Randolph Hirsch
    (with Richard Lingeman and Victor Navasky) (1968), Stein &Day

  • The Marvin Kitman TV Show: An Encyclopedia Televisiana (1973), Outerbridge & Diensfrey

  • The Coward's Almanac (1975), Doubleday

For six years (1981-7) he was the commentator about TV on a local news show, "The Ten O' Clock News" on WNYW (formerly WNEW) in New York. His commentaries were also heard on the RKO Radio Network, now defunct.

He is a founding father of Monocle, a member of the Leonia Public Library, AFTRA, PEN and a member of F.D.I.C.

He is a resident of New Jersey. Some day he hopes to win the state's highest honor: having a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike named after him.

So anyway, it was a great pleasure to have Marvin join us, along with his delightful wife Carol, who is a professional photographer. And Marvin did not disappoint, as he gave a very funny, but also insightful talk that focused on his experience writing his most recent book, about Bill O'Reilly of The O'Reilly Factor, the highest rated show on the highest rated cable news network, Fox News.

But he started off by talking about his background, including showing us a giant blow-up of a photograph that was taken of him from his bar mitzvah, and another showing a Lubavitcher making him lay tefillin through his car window. He also noted that, while he had been living in Leonia since 1961, he was still considered a newcomer, as his mother was not a Daughter of the American Revolution, she was a Daughter of the Russian Revolution. He reminisced about living near writer Robert Ludlum, who would wake Marvin up at 4:30 every morning with the scratching noises made by his pen writing on a yellow legal pad. He also mentioned former Leonia resident Alan Alda. Actually, the Wikipedia entry on Leonia has an impressive listing of Notable Leonians, including none other than Marvin Kitman, natch.

On the subject of television journalists, Marvin said that most of them were pretty vacant, and that they were the real cause of the depletion of the ozone layer, that is, all the hairspray they used--that reminded me of how Neil Postman used to refer to newscasters as talking hairdos. He was also not impressed with most political operatives turned journalists, such as Tim Russert and Chris Matthews. Basically, he said that anyone who exhibited brains and integrity as a journalist would be forced out, or move on rather than compromise his or her principles.

Bill O'Reilly, according to Kitman, was someone who moved on repeatedly rather than give in to the pressures of the television business, and that was the reason Marvin wanted to do a book about him. And it is for the most part a positive profile of O'Reilly as a television journalist, although in an effort to be fair and balanced Kitman did discuss the sexual harassment suit filed against O'Reilly in 2004, which was settled out of court. This apparently earned him O'Reilly's ire, as "The Factor" suddenly reneged on his promises to help Marvin promote his book, and more than that, blackballed the book so that not only was there no mention of the publication on O'Reilly's own program, or any program on Fox News, but he also pressured all of the other conservative media outlets to keep quiet about Kitman. Marvin said that when he spoke to Roger Ailes, who runs Fox News Network, about O'Reilly's reaction, Ailes said that O'Reilly has two sets of rules, one for himself, and one for everyone else.

In the end, it was the liberal media outlets, such as Air America , that embraced Marvin's book, not to mention the fact that he got a very favorable book review in the Sunday New York Times Book Review (and he brought a blow-up of the book review, too). The blurbs on the back of the book are by Mike Wallace of CBS, Victor Navasky (publisher emeritus of The Nation), and Keith Olbermann of MSNBC who, Marvin revealed, O'Reilly is especially antagonistic towards, even though he never mentions him on the air (as opposed to others he has on-air feuds with).

During the question and answer session, the talk shifted to Kitman's opinion of various television journalists, which was generally low. The few exceptions included Olbermann, Ted Koppel, and especially Bill Moyers. Additionally, he spoke well of Jon Stewart, and while he also appreciates Stephen Colbert, he didn't think Colbert was in the same league as Stewart, Colbert basically doing parody to Stewart's satire, and he predicted that the Colbert Report would not survive long after O'Reilly went off the air. Which, I might add, Marvin believes will occur sometime soon, as Kitman said that he thinks that O'Reilly has deteriorated mentally over the last few years and will sometime soon have a Don Imus-like moment. And that, of course, would be the end of him, as he has not exactly made a lot of friends in the industry, or elsewhere.

So, let me recommend Marvin Kitman's magnum opus (by which I mean a pretty decent read),
The Man Who Would Not Shut Up: The Rise of Bill O'Reilly, as insightful and entertaining a bit of writing about media personalities and television journalism as you'll find.

Oh, and I asked him what he thought of The Sopranos finale. He didn't care for Sopranos interruptus, and thought that David Chase had no idea how to end the series, having extended it for the last three seasons for the sole reason that he was being paid a lot of money to do so. You can read all about it on his blog. As I have discussed early in the history of this blog (see Blogism and Blogist), those of us who are serious about these here blogs, as alternatives to traditional journalism, consider what we're doing to be blogism and ourselves to be blogists. And Marvin Kitman is an outstanding, uncompromising, no spin-zoning blogist. Gai gezunterhait, Mr Kitman.


Anonymous said...

Roger Ailes also has 2 sets of rules. One for him and one for everyone else. Mr. Kittman, I'm sure you have known Roger long enough to know that! Do you really think Bill O'Reilly is the final word about who gets promoted by Fox News and who doesn't? If you think Bill O'Reilly has that much power, I'll sell you some swamp land in Florida!

Lance Strate said...

Now, you understand that I am writing about Marvin Kitman, so I'm not sure it makes sense to address him directly via this blog.

As for O'Reilly, as the big star at Fox News, I think he pretty much gets what he wants, assuming he doesn't suddenly take a sharp turn to the left.

Be that as it may, I suppose you could say that most of us play by two sets of rules, one for ourselves and one for others. And you could say that the quality of integrity has something to do with holding ourselves to the same set of rules as we hold others too--kind of equality before the law/no one above the law on a personal level.

With that in mind, the point here would be that O'Reilly has gained an image for integrity, whatever your feelings about his politics, and what Kitman discovered is that his image is only that, an image.