It’s All Right To Cry

As soon as a teary Kolten Wong was spotted being interviewed in the Cardinals’ clubhouse following his Game 4-ending pick off on first base, you knew what was coming next: endless references to Tom Hanks’ incredulous, near-whiny moment in A League of Their Own:

But I much prefer the sage advice of Rosey Grier, the Los Angles Ram who tackled Robert F. Kennedy’s assassin, when he sang Carol Hall’s lyrics for Marlo Thomas in the groundbreaking Free to Be You and Me …:  

When Grier, who became a minister, sings to the little boys, “I know some big boys who cry, too,” it’s a permit slip.  Hearing — and seeing -- Grier sing It’s All Right To Cry was a gender game changer, meant to help boys feel better about emotions and to make girls more comfortable with their own.  Even so, when I played softball on an otherwise all-boy team, it was a matter of pride not to even wince when I was hit by the ball (sometimes intentionally) catching batting practice. (The coach instituted a “laps if  you swear” rule since a girl was on the team; I finally swore, did my lap and the rule disappeared.)

Later as a young reporter at The Atlanta Journal covering my first murder trial, I got teary after a conversation with an editor after a series of long days. I wanted to write another story about it that seemed vitally important at the time; he wanted me to realize the case was over.  A male reporter saw me trying to choke back the tears, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I cried after  my first one, too.”

His message was in sharp contrast to the senior female editor in another department who’d had to fight and scrape for every bit of respect; for her, crying was anathema — a raised flag that women couldn’t be taken seriously. I learned from both.

We continue to send mixed messages about tears. It’s still noteworthy when a man cries or, as in the case of Hilary Clinton on the campaign trail,  when some women do.  We look down on people who don’t cry at the “right” time and askance at those who cry when we think it’s not  appropriate. Imagine if the U.S. Speaker of the House known for crying was Nancy Pelosi, not her successor John Boehner.

Above all, though, it’s human and when tears come at the height of emotion, it can be cathartic.

How To Hack Google: The Wikipedia World Series Edition

Look up “St. Louis Cardinals” or :”Cardinals” on Google right now and this is what you’ll see:

Wikipedia hack on Google

The description of the “gay butt sex”* Cardinals is an indirect hack of Google display space, made possible by reliance on Wikipedia. Change the Wikipedia entry and you can change the way something is perceived on Google and other sites piping in Wikipedia info.

The vandalized Wikipedia entry is back to “professional baseball team” now but the Google box on the Cardinals, playing the Boston Red Sox in Game 5 of the World Series tonight, has yet to catch/cache up.

* Yes, it is pathetic that this is still used as an insult.

Updated: The vandalized version was still showing on Google 90 minutes after this posted. Now it’s missing — literally. The box on the right has been removed, leaving this view at 6 pm CDT:


For comparison, here’s the Red Sox search result:


10/30/13 Update: Google told Gary Price at Search Engine Land that the problem in the Google Knowledge Graph box was “a technical issue on our end that let outdated information through.” Price is intrigued by how Google’s crawler managed to catch the vandalized Wikipedia entry, which was up only briefly. I’m  still interested in why it was wrong for hours on Google and why it had to go the band aid route by removing the box temporarily. 

Google Click-to-call Ad For Is A Fake

It’s a real trust-but-verify Thursday. During a mobile Google search for this afternoon, the lead ad caught my attention. Hmmm, is buying click-to-call ads? Interesting outreach idea to drive phone applications while the website is having highly visible  problems. An 888 number? Let’s click.

photo 1 (2)

No identifying info when the automated woman’s voice answers with 4 options: 1 to reach customer service, 2 to get quotes, 3 for medical questions, 4 for other questions. The medical option is a big clue that it’s not the real call center.  I try 3, doesn’t connect. I call back in, same truncated recorded answer sans ID. I try 1. Doesn’t connect. I look down at the phone and realize the number I’m calling doesn’t match the number on the ad. Instead of 1-888-981-7912, which is what shows as the click-to-call number in the ad, it’s actually dialing 1-855-709-8045.

Wrong number

By now, I’m pretty sure this has nothing to do with the federal government but I try backing it out. Sure enough, I find similar ads on Google desktop — one without any number and that shows the 855 number with address — along with the Google+ followers. (Automated linking at work.)

faux-healthcaregov-google-ad is encouraging people to apply by phone, highlighted here on the mobile site. The real call-in number: 1-800-318-2596.

photo 3 (2)

So who’s behind the faux ad? I call the 855 number again and press 2 for sales. Not shocked to get an actual person this time. When I ask, the very polite sales rep tells me I’ve reached American Health Agency,  an insurance agency based in Scottsdale. I tell him I found him via an ad that says I’m calling That’s ok, he tells me, because the call is about health insurance exchange options. No matter what I say, he doesn’t see a problem. I let him off the hook. He’s not any more responsible for this than the call center reps at are for that site’s woes.

I’m not feeling so kind about Google Ads, which allowed a click-to-call set up that doesn’t having matching numbers. Or about the person or persons at American Health Agency deliberately misrepresenting the company to consumers.

Atlantic Media Loses Its ‘Mary Poppins’ To Bloomberg Media

Justin B. Smith didn’t spend his whole career at Atlantic Media but there were times in recent years where it looked as though he might stay there for the rest of it as long he could keep growing, innovating and pushing out new brands. In the end, it really wasn’t big enough for someone who hits just about every tick on the list for a major media company in need of a top executive in the digital age — and who deserves a chance to see what he can do on a bigger playing field. Smith has that bigger field now: Bloomberg Media Group, where he will be the new CEO. David Carr broke the story Sunday evening. [I rarely quibble with David's writing choices but the kicker quote from Google's Eric Schmidt is unnecessary; Smith doesn't need Schmidt to establish his digital cred.]

So what does this have to do with Mary Poppins? The comparison never occurred to me but it did to Atlantic Media Chairman David Bradley — and it works, although whether it will turn out literally to work in practice is a different issue.

Bradley wrote an extraordinary staff memo, provided by the company and included below in full, about Smith’s role in dragging Atlantic Media into a profitable modern age and what his departure means. The mix of details and genuine emotion illustrate much about what makes  Atlantic Media different; imagine Politico owner Robert Albritton writing anything like it.  

At the end of Mary Poppins, the Banks family has learned it can live quite happily without a nanny as long as everyone pulls his or her weight, lessons that couldn’t have been learned without the outside influence who quickly became integral yet not irreplacable. In this case, the staff Smith built and leaves behind will report directly to Bradley.

Compare that to Bloomberg Media, which will now be run by someone from the outside. That doesn’t mean Dan Doctoroff is hiring Mary Poppins or that Bloomberg Media needs a spoonful of sugar, but he has opted for an outsider who knows both how to launch and how to change from within without wrecking the foundation or leaning on it too much. His hands-on involvement in the 2012 launch of Quartz, a digital global finance publisher, adds another layer of expertise that should help at Bloomberg and may have made him more attractive.

Unlike Mary Poppins, which leaves us with the feeling that Mr. Banks can make a go of his new life and that the family will be just fine flying their own kites, we’ll get to keep watching what happens with Bradley and Atlantic Media — and Smith at Bloomberg Media.


July 28, 2013

Letter of Appreciation

My Atlantic Media Colleagues,

As I settle into this writing, I think some will have heard by now of Bloomberg Media Group’s recruitment of Justin Smith as chief executive officer. In truth, Justin did hesitate before accepting the offer; he has loved his work with Atlantic Media. But, it’s hard to see how he reasons to “no”: global CEO, global brand and reach, television, radio, conferences, three magazines and burgeoning digital traffic.

 Though this will tax your time, I decided I would rather write a letter of appreciation for Justin than the traditional corporate press release. I want you to know what I hope Justin knows already—what a gift he has been to this enterprise.

Our First Meeting

 On reflection, I suppose our first meeting was a bit staged: dinner in Manhattan’s Carlyle Hotel dining room, seated beside the fireplace, talking for three hours. An aging owner, in an old-world setting, pitching a mid–19th century long-form literary magazine to a next-generation leader. I decided on Justin in one meeting.

Still, I seem to have gotten a detail wrong. I just assumed we were welcoming Justin into our storied magazine and its storied past. Justin understood—or at least decided—that he would time-travel the whole lot of us to media’s future state. Looking around now, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

Correctly, Justin would give credit to Scott Havens, James Bennet, Scott Stossel, Bob Cohn, Jay Lauf, Elizabeth Baker Keffer, Zazie Lucke, Kevin Delaney and their many Atlantic colleagues. But, I also think it’s fair to name as “the Justin era” what Justin and those of you at The Atlantic and Quartz have accomplished: reversal of fortune for a magazine in a 60-year decline; doubling of revenues; return to profits; constant original creation including The Atlantic Cities, The AtlanticWire and Atlantic-initiated Quartz; growing events business; growing website; 25 million monthly Atlantic readers and visitors; and, just now, two more National Magazine Awards.  David Brooks once told me that, if I turned around The Atlantic, it would become the only thing for which I would be remembered.  Now, Justin has gone ahead and done it already.

An Intense Instruction

Justin led The Atlantic for two years and then Atlantic Media for an additional four. In one sense, my time with Justin reminds me of the time I spent with the Atlantic’s late editor, Michael Kelly—the everyday, dialed-up to intensity. After six years, and speechless, any of us might ask, “Wow, what was that about?”

In my frame, Atlantic Media was earning its doctoral degree in modern media from one of modern media’s master practitioners. What Justin believed, he taught, and, as with Michael again, Justin’s beliefs were fierce: That the revolution underway in media is more radical than we—the industry—appreciate. That the contest between legacy and insurgent players is mortal, with advantage to the insurgents. That surviving legacy properties will have had to learn the disciplines of the insurgents—and that they can. That velocity is first among the virtues. That the speed of change is unprecedented. That ideas have their season but not more. From search to social media to native advertising to the next advantage. And, that Atlantic Media could and would and has leapt to the frontier.

More personally, watching Justin taught me truths about media I’d failed to learn in my first decade in the sector: the centrality of brand; the importance of brand excitement; the very particular importance of New York and New York talent to creating excitement. Justin exhorted me to “go for my inner Don Draper;” as I didn’t have the least idea what Justin was talking about, this never really caught on.

As to Atlantic Media

Justin will leave us a changed—and much better—media company. That begins with his—and now my—Atlantic Media leadership team. Scott, Bruce, Tim, Jean Ellen, Kat, Zazie, Michael, Tom, Emily. As with Justin, I have complete confidence in this group. More generally, and as to “extreme talent” across the board, I think Atlantic Media is at its record high-water mark. After reflection, I’ve decided that, rather than appoint a Justin successor, we will let the current leadership continue independent of any reporting structure—save to me—and grow to fill the empty spaces Justin’s departure leaves behind. In fact, I found this an easy call.

As to Bloomberg

Here, I need to redouble my effort. I just can’t seem to find it in me to dislike the Bloomberg enterprise. I’ve always trusted and liked Justin’s new boss, Dan Doctoroff. Even now, I’m affecting a furious countenance. It just needs work.

As to Justin

Like Mary Poppins, if a little more euro, Justin came, changed the family and, when the work was done, moved on. I will miss him.

With my best wishes to all.


Double Homage to Saul Bass & Dave Brubeck

What started as a Google doodle homage to the unmistakable movie and poster work of artist Saul Bass by Matthew Cruickshank turned into a double homage including Dave Brubeck. Cruickshank explains that corresponding with Jennifer Bass “was inspirational and led to hearing that Saul Bass was a Dave Brubeck fan.” The result is as sublime as either man’s work (despite being a billboard for Google).

Dear Sidney aka Allan Arbus

[Ideally, this space would feature an embed of this Storify published Tuesday evening: "Dear Sidney aka Allan Arbus". Unfortunately, I got stuck between the modern equivalent of a rock and a hard place -- Storify and WordPress. I finally gave up.]

I met Mike Farrell as a young reporter when he came to St. Louis to help raise money for Harriett Woods’ successful race for Missouri lieutenant governor. The two quickly realized I spoke fluent M*A*S*H and Woods, a former reporter, even insisted I get Farrell’s autograph. (I was mortified.) Not long after, a manila envelope arrived at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch bureau. Inside, a blue-covered script and a handwritten note (with my name spelled right) from Farrell: “This is the one we talked about. Enjoy.”

The script I've kept close at hand since it arrived as a gift from Mike Farrell & his note.

The script I’ve kept close at hand since it arrived as a gift from Mike Farrell & his note.

Dated September 3, 1976, it was the second revised final script of Dear Sigmund — the episode that I’d mentioned as my favorite. I can’t remember but my guess is I kvelled at least a little about Allan Arbus, whose recurring portrayal of Dr. Sidney Freedman was a constant thread of sanity — and a spotlight on the right kind of insanity — throughout the series.

He was a mensch who drank Swamp martinis, played poker and could pull off a practical joke. He knew how to listen and when to act. Written by Alan Alda, Dear Sigmund is constructed as a letter from a psychiatrist fighting depression under brutal circumstances to the deceased Dr. Sigmund Freud because “who better than he would understand?”

It is completely absurd and makes total sense.

Talking about the episode, perhaps his best script, in the clip below, Alda said he often forgot Arbus wasn’t a psychiatrist. More than any of the doctors on M*A*S*H, I often wished Sidney Freedman was real.

Reading the script for the first time in a long while, it’s hard not to think of the events of the past week and how we cope — or don’t cope — with horror and grief. How we can cry in the afternoon but desperately search for a laugh before trying to sleep.

From "Dear Sigmund" by Alan Alda, 9/3/76

From “Dear Sigmund” by Alan Alda, 9/3/76


Excerpt: 'Dear Sigmund' by Alan Alda

Excerpt: ‘Dear Sigmund’ by Alan Alda

I have no research to back this up but I’ve always believed Arbus and his alter ego paved the way for many of the psychiatrists we’ve seen in pop culture since then, just as M*A*S*H made China Beach possible, He was the white hat to One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Catch-22. Though I’ve never had the chance to ask Adam Arkin, I thought he channeled a little Arbus as Freedman when he was on West Wing.

I’m probably not alone in wishing Sidney Freedman was real. Here’s a Freedman mashup from YouTube that includes some of Dear Sigmund:

The reel illustrates what Daniel E. Slotnick wrote in The New York Times obit:

“He treated wounds of the psyche much as Capt. Hawkeye Pierce treated surgery patients: with a never-ending string of zingers.”

The genius of M*A*S*H was Hawkeye, Sidney and the others were more than a series of zingers or running gags. They were human. Even Frank. (I draw the line at Lt. Col. Flagg.)

While M*A*S*H is how so many of us know him, Arbus, who died today at 95, had a life outside of fictional Korea. He was a fashion photographer with ex-wife Diane Arbus and he saw war firsthand as a photographer for the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War II.

The scarily talented Diane Arbus committed suicide in 1971, after their long separation and divorce. She would have turned 90 in March.

The professional moment that sends Sidney Freedman to the #4077 for Dear Sigmund comes when he thinks he has helped a young soldier face his demons. Freedman tells Hawkeye and B.J.:

“Actually the straw that broke my back was this one kid who heard voices telling him to kill himself. I spent a lot of time with him. Then one day he was very calm, relaxed. That’s sometimes a signal that they’ve made a decision, only… somehow I missed it. And that night after I went to sleep that sweet, innocent, troubled kid… listened to the voices.”

Freedman is at the #4077 to wake himself up as a doctor, as a person. He leaves reminded that even though he can’t beat everyone’s demons, he has to be able to beat his own to help.

I put the script back in the envelope, this thoughtful gift from a busy actor with better things to do, and think of all the ways we touch lives. Thank you, Mike Farrell, for understanding what this would mean to me. Thank you, Allan Arbus for being Sidney Freedman — and Alan Alda and all the other artists who brought M*A*S*H to TV and to us.

Sidenote: Diane Arbus was the younger sister of poet Howard Nemerov, who lived in University City, Mo., a few blocks from where I am typing.

4/4/68: RFK, MLK & ‘The Awful Grace Of God’

It is impossible to watch this video of Robert Kennedy breaking the news of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination to an Indianapolis crowd without knowing that combination of grace, wisdom and pragmatism that spoke from the heart to the hearts of so many would be gone so soon. And yet … and yet, it is impossible not to watch without a glimmer of hope that the ineffably awful doesn’t have to mean the end of what is right. (via Upworthy)