DITTO IN THE STATEHOUSE – Garry Armstrong

If you are a fan of John Ford’s movies, maybe you remember “Ditto” Boland (actor Edward Brophy), the funny character wearing a Hamburg hat in the “The Last Hurrah.” The real-life Ditto Boland, after the James Michael Curley years, became an elevator operator at the Massachusetts State House. He worked there during the 1970s, which is when I met him.

Our State House reporter had told me about him, “warning” me not to ask Ditto about his past because he’d launch into a long-winded conversation about his storied days with the legendary Boston Mayor James Michael Curley. Okay, I was warned.

The “movie” Ditto

One day, I was the only person on the elevator with Ditto. It was an old elevator that groaned as it slowly went from floor to floor. Ditto said nothing until letting me off.

He smiled and said, “Hi, Mr. Armstrong. I know you’re new to Boston. If ever I can give you any help, just let me know.” That was all he said. Not a single James Michael Curley story.

Ditto did help me. As the new reporter in Boston, he pointed out key political players in the stories I was assigned to cover. Boston is a complicated town — especially politically. If you didn’t know who was who, you could be lost trying to correctly cover political events.

I was nervous when assigned to the State House because I didn’t know the backstories of the various Boston politicos. I felt I couldn’t do adequate justice to these assignments. Ditto and a couple of other old-timers rescued me many times over the years. Eventually, I was able to rescue others, too. One good turn deserves many more.

A few years after our first meeting, I ran into Ditto at “The Capital Dome,” a popular bar on Beacon Hill frequented by politicians, lobbyists, political reporters, and hangers-on. I was sitting in a corner – alone – because I really didn’t know that crowd.

Ditto (movie character) second on the right

Ditto approached, asked if he could join me and I nodded. I found his politeness charming because “polite” didn’t usually work well around the State House. We sat, nursing our drinks for long minutes.

Finally, Ditto told me he liked me because I was “friendly and polite.” I nodded. Then he said, “And, you never asked me about James Michael Curley.”

I laughed, longer and harder than I intended. Ditto just sat there, beaming broadly.

TOM ELLIS: A TRIBUTE by George K. Regan, Jr.

Tom Ellis was a pillar in the media community. It’s hard to believe he’s gone. In celebration of his life, we are hosting “Tom Ellis, A Tribute,” tomorrow at The Seaport Hotel, Plaza Ballroom from 2-4 pm. I hope you can join us in memorializing the man, the legend, and our dear friend, Tom Ellis.

Tom Ellis, A Tribute

Tom Ellis, a member of the Massachusetts Broadcasting Hall of Fame, lived the great American life – from working as a young roughneck in the Texas oil fields in the early 1950’s to recording one of President John F. Kennedy’s final television interviews, to the decades spent as a leading television news anchor in both Boston and New York City. Thomas Caswell Ellis died on April 29, 2019, at his home in East Sandwich, Massachusetts. He was 86 years old.

Ellis was born on September 22, 1932, in the Big Thicket area of East Texas, where hard work was valued and money was hard to come by. Ellis was put to work at the age of 13 in the construction trades in Carthage, Texas. While he enjoyed physical labor, Ellis loved the spotlight of theater and entertainment and found side jobs as a professional actor and a carnival barker in his teens.

During the Korean War, Ellis served as a cryptographer in the U.S Navy’s Security Service in Washington, DC. He graduated with honors from Arlington State College in 1955 and from the University of Texas in 1958.

His handsome appearance and commanding voice soon caught the attention of a small radio station in Fort Worth, Texas, where he was hired as a staff announcer for 50 cents per hour. Ellis then moved to San Antonio, where he broke into television news in as an anchor-reporter where he earned several awards for his reporting from the Associated Press and UPI.

He was among the local Texas reporters dispatched to Dallas, where he landed a brief interview with President John F. Kennedy on the day before he was assassinated. In 1968, Ellis moved to Boston after he was hired as a lead anchor for WBZ-TV where he covered major stories, including student protests against the war in Vietnam and the Chappaquiddick tragedy involving Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Mary Jo Kopechne.

Ellis was lured away from Boston to New York City in 1975 to anchor the prime time news on WABC-TV where he earned New York Newscaster of the Year honors as well as the top ratings in the market. Also during this time, Ellis made a return to acting and landed a role in the big screen thriller Marathon Man with Dustin Hoffman and Sir Lawrence Olivier. He played, of all things, an anchorman. Other movie roles would follow.

Ellis returned to Boston three years later to join the anchor team at Channel 5 that included Chet Curtis and Natalie Jacobson. During his tenure there, Ellis hosted a Peabody Award-winning documentary called Fed up. He then moved to WNEV-TV (now WHDH) where he co-anchored newscasts from 1982 to 1987.

Ellis’ career is distinguished also by the fact that he is the only journalist to have anchored top-rated newscasts at each of Boston’s network affiliates in the 1960s, 1970’s and 1980s. In the early 1990s, Tom Ellis became one of the first television anchors for NECN (New England Cable News) where he continued to cover major world events close to home, such as 9/11 and the plane crash that took the lives of John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife, and sister-in-law. Tom Ellis anchored his last newscast in 2008.

Longtime friend George K. Regan, Jr remembered Ellis this way: “Tom Ellis was not just a great journalist, he was a great human being. I got to know Tom while working as the press secretary for Mayor Kevin White. My respect for him as a newsman grew from day one and we later became the closest of friends. Tom Ellis was family to me. There wasn’t a holiday or special event we didn’t spend time together or simply reach out to talk. My thoughts are with Tom’s lovely wife Arlene. I will miss my dear friend, ” Regan said.

He loved living on Cape Cod, surrounded by nature and also giving back to his community. He was also deeply involved with various charities, including the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the Boy Scouts of America, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and Big Brothers and Big Sisters. He had also served as Chairman of the United Way of Cape Cod. He predeceased by his mother, Mary Eunice Ellis, father Herbert Caswell Ellis, and sister Mary Grimes Ellis.

Tom Ellis is survived by his wife Arlene (Rubin) Ellis of East Sandwich, Massachusetts, Arlene’s sister Debbie Berger and her husband Michael of Newton, Ma., daughter Terri Susan Ellis of Freedom, CA., daughter Kathy Denise Cornett and husband Randy Cornett of Hamilton, OH, and son Thomas Christopher Ellis and wife Beverly Ellis of Cincinnati, Ohio. Ellis also leaves behind five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

All the best,
George

George K. Regan Jr., Chairman
Regan Communications Group

Meet William Barr, The Man You Never Got To Know

Read and learn!

THE SHINBONE STAR

William Barr during his 1991 confirmation hearing before the Senate

Editor’s Note:First of two parts on U.S. Attorney General William Barr and his secret life with the CIA leading up to his first time in the position under President George H. W. Bush, with Part Two coming soon. Stay tuned.

To tell the complete story of William Barr’s intrigues requires a book. This two-part story merely reveals a few monumental examples.

Barr is the spawn of the last Cold Warriors, an infinitely powerful group of affluent white men who dominated the U.S. intelligence apparatus for four decades. He was assigned to the China Desk, a rookie working for America’s greatest spooks who were busy running numerous “black” Southeast Asian operations.

The China Desk’s biggest job in the early 1970s was the Vietnam War’s “Phoenix” program, an effort to murder South Vietnamese who ran afoul of the U.S.-installed regime. Another…

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THE ” WAR OF THE WORLDS ” MYTH – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I went to a presentation celebrating the 80th anniversary of Orson Welles’ 1938 radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds”. The reason this particular broadcast has lived on in history and is still remembered and talked about today is really quite interesting.

Orson Welles broadcasting “The War of the Worlds”

The radio play starts with a typical program playing music from a live band. This fictional program is then interrupted by a realistic sounding “newscaster” reporting an increasingly destructive invasion by Martians. The Martians wipe out New Jersey and proceed to annihilate Manhattan. They are reported to be landing all over the east coast of the United States. The U.S. army is reported to be vanquished and the audience is told that we have no defenses left.

Rehearsal of War of the Worlds

Newspapers the next day, including the New York Times, headlined a nationwide panic that made this incident the most notorious event in broadcast history. The unprecedented mass hysteria was talked about in newspapers, books, articles and radio and TV shows for the past 80 years.

The day after the broadcast

There were reports of thousands of panicked calls to police and radio stations across the country. There were stories of traffic accidents, near riots and hordes of panicked people in the streets and on the roads, fleeing the Martian invasion. There were even reports of suicides and deaths due to the hysteria caused by the broadcast. It was claimed that the stories continued in the newspapers for two weeks, with over 12,500 articles about the panic.

The day after the broadcast

Today, however, this version of history has now been debunked and fallen out of favor. The current belief is that whatever panic occurred, it was small and not widespread. Most listeners understood this was a dramatization. While some may have been scared by the story, few panicked. Evidence shows that at the time of the event, newspaper reports of the story actually stopped after a day or two, not weeks. The story was not the long-lasting, national headline grabber we believed it to be.

In addition, far fewer people heard the original broadcast than most people believed. This fact makes the magnitude of the reported panic much more implausible. A rating service the night of the broadcast reported only 2% of listeners were even tuned in to The “War of the Worlds.” This was true, in part because Welles was scheduled opposite one of the most popular shows on the air – Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.

In addition, several important CBS affiliates, including in Boston, didn’t even air Welles’ show. Instead, they aired local commercial programming, which further reduced Welles’ national audience.

History does show, however, that the story grew in magnitude and in detail as time went on. So the 1940 claim that one million people heard the broadcast is grossly exaggerated.

Just as the size of Welles’ audience has been inflated, so have the reports of mass hysteria. There is no documentation of any deaths or even hospital visits, as claimed, due to the shock of the broadcast. In reality, there were almost no contemporaneous news accounts of mobs in the streets or highways jammed with fleeing people. In fact, people later reported walking through the streets of major cities at the time of the broadcast and finding them as empty as usual at that time of night.

There is another piece of evidence used to counter the mass panic scenario. If the terror and chaos had been as bad and as widespread as reported, CBS and Welles would have been severely reprimanded or even punished. But no sanctions were levied and no official rulings or regulations were promulgated by the FCC.

Welles facing the press the day after the broadcast

So why was the mass panic story started and why did it survive for so long?

One credible theory is that newspapers were to blame for the origins of the story. Radio was still a relatively new medium in 1938 – only 18 years old. But already radio was taking advertising dollars and audiences away from the newspaper industry. So the newspapers seized upon this opportunity to trash the radio as an unreliable source of news. A newspaper trade journal at the time wrote: “The nation as a whole continues to face the danger of incomplete, misunderstood news over a medium which had yet to prove …that it is competent to perform the news job.”

You can’t trust the radio! Fake news!

People are now debating why this myth has persisted for so long. One answer is a man named Hadley Cantril. He wrote a scholarly book in 1940 that gave academic credence to the panic. He used numbers and statistics that made his story seem plausible, but which have subsequently come into question.

He had no hard facts to back up any of his assertions. And he is the only legitimate academic source that claims there was a sizeable panic. Yet his writing has kept this version of the story in textbooks, as it still is today.

There is a more philosophical explanation of the persistence of the mass hysteria myth. In 2000, Northwestern’s Jeffrey Sconce wrote an article called, “Haunted Media”. In it, he suggests that the “War of the Worlds” myth captures our unease with mass media and the internet’s power over us. We all fear, on some level, the media and the internet “…invading and colonizing our consciousness.” The myth is “…a cautionary tale about the power of the media.”

Jeffrey Sconce

Radio opened up a new means of mass communication and shared experiences. Now the internet is doing the same thing. Sconce states that “…today the internet provides us with both the promise of a dynamic communicative future and dystopian fears of a new form of mind control; lost privacy; and attacks from scary, mysterious forces.”

This is particularly true with today’s epidemic of fake news, foreign intervention, and manipulation of the internet and domestic political dirty tricks. We deal with political misinformation being spread to millions of people every day. A national panic may not have occurred because of a radio broadcast in 1938, but it is more likely to occur today because of the abuse of the internet.

A SURREAL DAY – Garry Armstrong

“This has to be one of the most surreal days in a surreal administration,”   CNN Anchor Jake Tapper offered this assessment, opening the late afternoon segment of his newscast.

Tapper was referring to rapper Kanye West’s bro-mance visit to the Oval Office today. Rambling and profane, West’s rant apparently left Commander-In-Chief 45 speechless,  a formidable accomplishment in itself.  The West-Trump bro hug was the perfect photo-op in a scenario that ventured where even Mel Brooks would not go.

WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 11: (AFP OUT) U.S. President Donald Trump hugs rapper Kanye West during a meeting in the Oval office of the White House on October 11, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Oliver Contreras – Pool/Getty Images)

West, presumably speaking for some segment of the Nation’s African-American populace, had nothing but praise and atta-boys for the President who sat with a broad smirk on his face as West delivered rambling compliments.  On the surface,  it seemed like a  boost for a racially divisive administration with the midterm elections less than two weeks away. Kanye West, to be kind, is not generally held in high regard by people of color.   Music?  Yes.   Politics and all things concerning civil rights, NO.  It’s a given that Kanye West’s high-profile salute of Commander 45 will have “legs” and be on a continuous loop for GOP spinmeisters. It’ll be fodder for the late-night comics, but who’ll have the last laugh?

I wouldn’t be surprised to see clips of Kanye West, in his MAGA baseball cap, pop up frequently as GOP candidates shift into high gear for votes with the days dwindling down to a precious few.

It’s shrewd politics on a day when most of our attention is focused on Hurricane Michael’s devastating wrath.  Once the major newscasts wrap their hurricane coverage,  the Kanye West story will get lots of play.  It’s win-win for the administration trying to spin away from the residual anger and bitterness that surrounds Brett Kavanagh’s Supreme Court nomination.

All the Kanye jokes will play well in the Trump hinterlands where minorities are regarded as fools or tools whose collective cord isn’t long enough to reach the socket.

Here’s hoping the political reporters and commentators are shrewd enough to dissect the controversial rapper’s White House rapport for what it is.  A one-way love affair with between two mentally defective guys who will do anything for attention — with no real affection from the West Wing where they are probably snickering over their cheeseburgers and smoothies.

Yes, it’s a surreal day but it’s also a sad day.  Time for some encore plays of “Send In The Clowns”.

There’s a new demographic, and you better pick a side – REBLOG – SHINBONE STAR

What more is there to say? I wish it weren’t like this, but this really IS where we’ve gone … and I hope I live long enough to see us recover our senses.

THE SHINBONE STAR

Here in the United States of America, we’d grown accustomed to surveys and seeing our beliefs broken down demographically. We would eagerly pore over the results, which usually compared women vs. men; blacks vs. whites; college education vs. none; city vs. rural; and Catholic vs. Protestant.

Well, I’m here to tell you, that none of that matters anymore. Here’s what it comes down to in our modern Disunited States of America:

  • Support for the Mocking of Sexual Assault Victims vs. Those Opposed

Of course for those who have been paying attention, the president’s attack this week on Christine Blasey Ford isn’t our first ride in Donald Trump’s Demolition Derby, it’s just the latest in a series of crashes that have defined our nation’s free fall into hell.

Consider that since Trump’s arrival on the political landscape, you, your friends, your neighbors and your relatives can be divvied up like this:

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REAL REPORTERS – Garry Armstrong

Word Prompt: Credibility

It’s never been a one-man show.

I logged more than 40-years in TV and radio news,  including 31 years at one Boston TV Station.  I’m always flattered when people say they remember me and my work. The body of work is considerable. Usually 3 or 4 daily newscasts, 5 to 6 days a week,  48 or so weeks a year times 40.  That’s a lot of news, good, bad and ugly.

A reporter,  the face in front of the camera,  gets the credit for everything. The images of life, death and the furies of Mother Nature.  Wars and Peace. Happiness and sorrow. You see the reporter, center screen with a name graphic, proof that he or she saw everything in the visuals that tell the story.

It’s a false premise.  It’s impractical. The reporter couldn’t possibly be in all the places seen in the story that has you riveted to the screen.

We’re called “talent” in business lexicon.  That should be a dead giveaway. We’re the human, face connection, to all those images on your screen.

The real reporters are the people behind the cameras.  The men and women who frequently put their lives on the line to bring you the pictures, the video seared into your sense memory.

I’m proud of all the awards I’ve received over the years. I’d be a liar if I said the hardware didn’t mean anything to me. They are reminders of the stories covered across four decades – on the local, state, national and international stages.  The awards have my name clearly etched, front and center. But I can see all the faces of those responsible for bringing the stories to life.

In the 60’s,  I was a green rookie, assigned to the national and international news,  landscapes that ranged from Vietnam, civilian dissent against the war, Civil Rights marches and violent opposition,  assassinations of national leaders,  a historic walk on the moon and a music-culture changer called Woodstock. I was a 20-something, agape at all these events I was covering for Network News.  It truly was baptism under fire.  I survived because of veterans whose careers began with the birth of radio and television news,  The great depression and World War Two.

The 20 something was handed the keys to the news kingdom.  Right place, right time. I may have often been driving the big car but those veterans always rode shotgun,  guiding me through some very difficult mazes of network news closed-door battles with the Pentagon,  the DOD and the White House.  I had a grizzled news manager who always counseled me, “Just tell the truth…make sure you’ve corroborated 2 or 3 times at least.

Don’t let the Pols or Generals faze you…make sure the stories are short, punchy…dump the adjectives”.

All that was behind me when I landed in Boston in 1970. If I thought I knew it all, I was dead wrong.  Boston was just edging its way into a golden era of TV Journalism.  The technology was rapidly changing and changing the way things were done.  TV news was still viewed with skepticism and contempt by many old-school journalists who believed the word was stronger than the picture.

Boston is a highly regarded news market. It can be tricky for a newcomer not versed in the proper pronunciation of towns and cities or the political landmines in seemingly benevolent Norman Rockwell like settings.

I was thrust into local celebrity by being a general assignment reporter covering blue-plate special stories of murders, fires, prison riots,  sexual predators, bad weather, and quirky politics.

I quickly learned to lean on the experience of the people shooting the stories.  They knew the players, the back stories,  the dos and the don’ts.

A news director (one of nearly 3 dozen I survived) told me to keep the camera crews under my thumb.  He said they were just ‘picture takers’, ‘lumpers’ and ‘complainers’.  That news director was history before I figured out how wrong he was.

Those picture takers really were reporters who saw everything around them. They knew when someone was just using his “face time” to dance around the truth and delay legal consequences. They warned me about the “frauds” and “fakers,” political and community leaders who could clean your pockets while shaking your hand.

I am especially thankful for the photojournalists who covered “the mean streets.”   They’re the ones I always saw at 3 o’clock in the morning at a devastating fire,  a triple homicide or drive-by shooting.  They always knew more than the eye-witnesses or law enforcement people just catching the case. I apologize to those whose names are omitted.  It’s impossible to do justice to all of you who were there for me and other reporters over all those years.

Boston is a unique TV news market because the competition is benevolent.  Everyone wants to be FIRST with the story, especially with the advent of electronic newsgathering.  Everything is “Now”.  It happens and,  in a few minutes,  you’re expected to be “live with breaking news”.  Truth and facts often become victims in the quest to be fast and first.

Reporters feel the pressure.  They often feel their jobs are on the line if they are not first.  The folks behind the cameras become a calming force.  They’ve observed the scene, the people, possible evidence.  Often, cameramen and women can figure out the story while fielding frantic and demanding calls from newsrooms.  Over the years,  I’ve leaned on camera and tech crews, not only from my station but also competitors.

I’ve been slipped pieces of paper with key information during live shots and looked like the best damn reporter in town.  In truth,  I was saved by a competing cameraman who saw me struggling and threw the lifeline.

I’ve been praised for memorable “standups” — those on-camera appearances where we look you in the eye and deliver riveting reports. The truth is those words often came from the people behind the camera.  Their words, repeated with sincere conviction by me.

The camera folks also correct information that we, seasoned reporters,  are sure is true.  I was often interrupted with,  “Garry, I don’t want to tell you what to say.  You always know what you’re doing…”   The bulb in my brain flashes — “Listen, know-it-all breath”.

So,  this is a thank you to Richie, Andy, Nat, Jack, Premack, Warren, Eddie,  Susan, Leslie, Noot,  Messrs. Richard Chase, “Fast Al”,  Stan The Man and all the other REAL — behind the camera reporters.

These were the journalists who enabled me to have such a long and satisfying career. Thank you!