Category Archives: Media

Tyler Hicks: Finding The Truth

The New York Times‘ “Truth” ad campaign — launched during the Oscars — is unusual.

A variety of spots, in an array of mediums, hammer home one theme: “The truth is hard to find.”

One of the most compelling is a quick video series of photographs. Desperate immigrants, piled on rafts, seek safety and freedom.

A man’s voice says: “I see fear. I see desperation. But I also see hope.”

He continues: “I feel it’s important to take photographs that will make a difference.”

At the end, he says: “I’m Tyler Hicks. Photojournalist for the New York Times.

Hicks is a 1988 graduate of Staples High School. He’s won 3 Pulitzer Prizes. He’s documented wars, tragedies and a few triumphs all over the globe, from Afghanistan to Albania, Kosovo to Kenya.

He — and fellow Pulitzer-winning/Times photojournalist/Staples grad Lynsey Addario — were abducted in Libya, and spent 6 harrowing days in captivity.

In 2012 Hicks was in Syria, when Beirut bureau chief Anthony Shadid died of an asthma attack. Hicks helped carry his body across the border to Turkey.

The truth is indeed hard to find. Somehow, Tyler Hicks brings it closer to us all.

(Hat tip: Jim Honeycutt)

Tyler Hicks

Earth Day Plea: Fear “Digital Crack,” Not Coyotes

Today is Earth Day. Richard Wiese — host and executive producer of the Westport-based “Born to Explore” TV series — sends along a timely note. 

It’s co-signed by Jim Fowler — Wiese’s longtime friend, “Wild Kingdom” spokesman and Darien resident — as well as Dr. Marc Bekoff, a coyote expert at the University of Colorado who has worked with both Wiese and Jane Goodall. They say:

Nature and its wildlife are under siege. We also are witnessing a new generation of children who regard the outdoors as “a place that doesn’t get Wi-Fi.”

When Richard moved to Fairfield County almost a decade ago, he was told by neighbors not to leave his young children outside at dusk because coyotes might eat them. At the time this sounded amusing — who leaves their 2-year-olds alone anywhere, much less outdoors?

Richard Wiese and his family, enjoying the Westport outdoors.

Fast forward to the present. Not a day goes by where someone confesses that they are afraid to go outside because of the “coyote problem.” Worse yet, some are even arming themselves just in case.

There are many threats in our lives, but coyotes should rank far behind guns, alcohol, drugs, distracted drivers and even lawn mowers.

Yes, each year, 800 children are run over by riding mowers or small tractors, and more than 20,000 are injured.

The representation of animals — especially carnivores — in the media is based on bad science or no science, which is bad for the animals. What does the available data show? Coyotes very rarely attack. To put it in perspective, meteorites have hit more homes in Connecticut than people who have been harmed or killed by coyotes.

Research clearly shows that coyotes and other urban animals fear people. Most animals don’t associate good things happening to them around humans.  Whenever possible they avoid us at all costs.

What should we fear? Or rather, be outraged by? On any given beautiful day, we have legions of children sitting on a couch hypnotized by their electronic devices. Digital crack.

We fear that we are raising a generation of children who have “nature deficit disorder “ and are totally removed from the outdoors.

Psychologist Susan Linn notes, “Time in green space is essential to children’s mental and physical health … And the health of the planet depends on a generation of children who love and respect the natural world enough to protect it from abuse and degradation.”

We should appreciate the presence of coyotes and educate ourselves on how to coexist with them, rather than instilling fear of them.  Let’s encourage the media to provide a more balanced view of coyotes (and other animals) based on what we know about them rather than irresponsible sensationalism. And for goodness sake, get your kids outside, let them track mud into the house, have grass stains on their knees and be thoroughly exhausted from fresh air and sunshine.

We need to re-wild not only our children, but also ourselves — before it’s too late.

Staples Snags An Emmy

Over the years, Westport has been known for many things: Artists and writers. Advertising and marketing executives. Hedge fund titans.

Add another: Sports broadcasters.

From the 1950s through today, this town has been home to national names like Win Elliot, Jim McKay, Jim Nantz, Sal Marchiano, Mike Greenberg, Chris McKendry and Rebecca Lowe.

Staples’ WWPT-FM has produced its share of stars too, like David Lloyd, Jon Stashower, Evan Makovsky, DJ Sixsmith and Eric Gallanty.

Add in Kyle Martino and Jeremy Schaap — Staples grads who did not work for the school’s radio or TV station, but are now doing great things on NBC and ESPN, respectively — and we’ve got enough folks here for our own 24/7 network.

The list gets longer. Cooper Boardman and Jack Caldwell have just led a Staples Television Network crew that won a National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences regional award for Best Student Production.

In other words: An Emmy.

Cooper Boardman (left) and Jack Caldwell, with trophies won earlier at the IBS National Broadcast Awards ceremony.

The honor — presented by the Boston/New England chapter for best high school TV sportscast — was for a live Staples boys basketball broadcast this winter.

In addition to Boardman and Caldwell — a senior and junior, who serve as co-directors of sports for the TV and radio stations and have won multiple awards previously — other contributors included Ben Klau, Buster Scher, Jackson Valente, Alex Massoud and Aaron Leopold.

Remember those names. A few years from now, you can say you knew — and heard — them when.

(Hat tip: Mark Lassoff)

Drew Angus Does SNL

If you saw “Saturday Night Live” this past weekend, you (hopefully) roared at Melissa McCarthy’s spot-on skewering of Sean Spicer. (“I know they’re not ‘holocaust centers.’ I clearly meant to say ‘concentration clubs.'”)

Drew Angus had a front-row seat to the show.

In fact, even better: The 2007 Staples High School graduate — a talented musician and “American Idol” golden ticket winner — was on stage.

Let him tell the story:

———————————–

I got a call from my voice coach at 2:09 last Thursday afternoon. He asked, “are you in town right now? SNL gig. They need 2 white guys who can sing. Giving your phone number to them right now.”

Two minutes later the drummer from the band Shawn called, and asked how quickly I could get to 30 Rock.

I got there fast. How often does an opportunity like this come around?!

At guest check in they said, “Oh, Mr. Angus, right this way!” I went up the elevator, down the hall and through the doors to the Studio 8H set. I was living a childhood dream.

Immediately I saw the iconic Grand Central Station facade/bandstand behind all the hanging lights, moving scenery pieces, cameras, cables and crew.

They put me right on the scene.  My friend Ian, who also got called, taught me the song we were to sing. (We were hired to reinforce the melody with the cast.)

A kid named Harry introduced himself. I looked at the script, and realized he was Harry Styles.

Jimmy Fallon sat in front of me. Bobby Moynihan stood next to me. It seemed unreal. I’d gone from Head Mouse in “The Wiz” to Union soldier on SNL.

We rehearsed the sketch 5 or 6 times, then got sent to wardrobe. We were measured up, and on our way in an hour and a half.

Later that night, I was playing the Bon Jovi after-party with my band that’s on tour supporting my new record “Hold onto Something” (available on Spotify and iTunes!).

Shawn called again, asking if I could come in at 8:30 the next night to do another thing for the opening monologue. I canceled my Friday gig

Of course, there’s another Westport connection.

I showed up Friday night to sing background vocals in the booth on Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” during the opening monologue. My friend Ian got the same call, along with a guy named Frank Simms.

Frank has done SNL hundreds of times. He knows the ropes, and everyone knows him. He was our shepherd for the night.

Nile Rodgers

Frank and his brother sang the backing vocals on the original “Let’s Dance” record, produced by Nile Rogers — who has lived in Westport for years.

Frank said he, his wife and daughter lived for many years as caretakers of the Westport Woman’s Club house on Imperial Avenue.

Saturday was long. Call time was 11:30 a.m. Rumors of Nile Rogers playing on the opening monologue came true when he showed up in the afternoon.

We went through rehearsals, they cut sketches, we got wardrobe. Jimmy told me to break a leg as we passed in the hallway.

The food was amazing. The crew was awesome.

At 8 p.m. we did dress rehearsal with a test audience. The producers then met for final changes.

We went live at 11:30 across the country — for the very first time in SNL history — with Jimmy Fallon as host.

Drew Angus (right), on “Saturday Night Live.”

The energy was truly electric. I think the cast really has as much fun as it looks like they do.

At some point between the dress and live shows, Frank took us up to Nile’s dressing room. We talked about Sally’s Place, Trader Joe’s, Achorn Pharmacy, Bobby Q’s, Bedford Square, Arnie’s Place, and how all the mom and pop shops are gone from Main Street.

Then they called Nile down to the stage and we left.

It was insane.  I still have no words.  Tina Fey smiled at me in the hall.

It will be hard to top that weekend.


Thanks, Drew, for that great inside look into SNL. But I disagree with your last sentence. 

One day soon, you’ll be a featured artist — or guest host!

Meanwhile, click below for the full video of Drew’s “SNL” appearance:

Westporter Moves One Step Closer To FDA Helm

As with so many things in Washington these days, today’s Senate committee hearing on the nomination of Westporter Scott Gottlieb as head of the Food and Drug Administration was either a spectacular success — or another stumble.

It all depends on whose news you believe.

NBC’s report — posted at 11:56 a.m. — was headlined “Opponents of FDA Nominee Scott Gottlieb Invoke Opioid Crisis.” High up in the story was this:

Gottlieb is a Washington fixture, with a medical degree, experience at the FDA and in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. He is a fellow at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute and a respected health policy analyst.

But his critics cite his ties to the drug industry and his role at New Enterprise Associates, which bills itself as the world’s largest venture capital firm. It invests heavily in medical technology and healthcare companies.

They seized on the opioid crisis as Gottlieb’s potential weak spot.

“Trump’s nominee to be the next FDA commissioner, Dr. Gottlieb, is entangled in an unprecedented web of close financial and business ties to the pharmaceutical industry and was no doubt chosen because he is well-suited to carry out the president’s reckless, ill-informed vision for deregulating the FDA’s review and approval process for prescription medications, including opioids,” Dr. Michael Carome, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, told reporters on a conference call.

“Dr. Gottlieb has had a cozy relationship with big drug companies for decades,” added Sherrod Brown, a Democratic senator from Ohio. “He has supported allowing those same companies to rush their drugs — including potentially addictive opioid painkillers — onto the market before we’re sure that they’re safe,” Brown added.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb

At 2:55 p.m., MarketWatch announced: “Scott Gottlieb sailed through his FDA commissioner hearing.” Its reprint of a Wall Street Journal story said:

Scott Gottlieb, President Donald Trump’s nominee to run the Food and Drug Administration, emphasized in his confirmation hearing Wednesday his belief “in the gold standard of safety and efficacy” at the agency and said he hopes to expand approvals of generic drugs to lower U.S. prices.

Dr. Gottlieb, who was nominated in March, said he sees the need for new laws and FDA regulatory action to get complex-formulation drugs—like those used topically or with inhalers—more quickly approved as lower-cost generics. While he also said there are ways to speed up some clinical trials, “I think there are ways to modernize clinical studies without sacrificing the gold standard.”

His comments appeared aimed at reassuring Democrats, who have been critical of the nomination because of Dr. Gottlieb’s extensive financial ties to drug makers and his prolific, often conservative writings in which he has been critical FDA regulation, often saying the agency should move faster.

The tension between speed and a focus on safety has been at the center of political debates over the FDA’s future. That has especially been the case under the Trump Administration, since the president has said the FDA takes too long in approving drugs and medical devices.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb has over 36,000 Twitter followers. His profile page proudly displays a photo of Westport.

In addition to his work as a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Gottlieb is a clinical assistant professor at New York University School of Medicine, and an internist at Tisch Hospital.

Republican Senators Orrin Hatch and Lamar Alexander lavishly praised Gottlieb. A Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor, he also has the support of groups like the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, which he serves as an adviser.

A vote on Gottlieb’s nomination is expected later this month. If confirmed, he will be the 2nd-highest-ranking Westporter in Washington — or 1st, now that FBI director James Comey’s house is on the market. is the highest-ranking Westport in Washington, now that James Comey has left town.

FDA headquarters — Dr. Scott Gottlieb’s probable next home.

(Hat tip: Luke Hammerman)

Finding Hope, In Sugar & Olives: The Sequel

A month ago, “06880” described the amazing journey of Josh Kangere.

After 7 years in a Kenyan refugee camp, the refugee from Congo arrived in New York moments before President Trump’s suspension of America’s resettlement program.

Despite years of vetting, Josh endured many more hours of questioning before he could travel to his new apartment — and life — in Bridgeport.

The Wall Street Journal reported his story. Immediately, Jennifer Balin — the Westporter who owns Sugar & Olives — offered him a cleaning and dishwashing job at her restaurant/bar/cooking school/event space, just over the Norwalk line.

Josh — who in his native country worked as a hospital nurse, documenting rape cases for criminal prosecution — quickly said yes.

Josh Kangere, at work.

Now the WSJ has followed up. A video posted yesterday shows Josh working — with a smile — at his job. It also shows him taking the hour-long bus trip between work and home; eating simple foods at the restaurant, and talking about his new life here.

Jennifer is interviewed too. Describing her job offer as “a way to do something for someone that’s meaningful,” she notes the uncertainty of Josh’s future.

He might be at the restaurant “forever,” she says. “Or maybe he’ll open a clinic, with his medical training, and be a great asset to our country.”

Whatever happens, Jennifer has already been a great asset to Josh.

And to us all.

To see the full, inspiring video, click below:

 

TEAM Westport “White Privilege” Essay Winners Announced

When TEAM Westport announced this year’s essay contest topic — the personal impact of white privilege — a national uproar ensued.

Spurred by sensationalism and misunderstanding, news outlets wondered why a vastly white community would address the subject.

The winning responses — announced tonight at the Westport Library — prove the point.

Honest, powerful, insightful, sensitive and clear, the top 3 essays — as judged by a panel of writers — tackle the hot topic exactly as it should be: head on.

And, noted TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey, this year’s winners had the option to be anonymous — perhaps to avoid backlash like that which engulfed the announcement of the 4th annual contest’s prompt.

All 3 chose to stand up tonight, read their essays, and use their names.

TEAM Westport finalists (from left) Josiah Tarrant, Claire Dinshaw and Chet Ellis, before tonight’s announcement of the winners.

Out of a record number of entries, Chet Ellis won the $1,000 1st prize. The Staples High School sophomore describes the rare experience of being one of 3 African Americans in his US History class — and hearing a white student use the “n” word.

It took his breath away.

Chet Ellis

He writes about casual conversations with fellow track team members laced with stereotypes about black runners, and the assumptions he hears that it’s easier for African American students to get into college than white ones. He regrets not firing back: “Your parents are 3rd-generation Princeton and your father runs a hedge fund, and yet you think my ride is free?”

Chet says he never thought much about white privilege until he moved to Westport. Now, he realizes, “In our town it’s impossible to have 3 black students in every class. But maybe we should all imagine that they are there just the same, and that they will speak up.”

Josiah Tarrant, a Staples junior, took 2nd place. and a $750 prize. Though his younger brother is adopted from Ethiopia, Josiah grew up “surrounded by teachers, coaches, principals and doctors, all of whom looked like me.” The fact that he never even thought about that, Josiah says, epitomizes white privilege.

Josiah Tarrant

But as he heard about Trayvon Martin and read Ta-Nehisi Coates, he realized silence about race is not acceptable. Then, seeing the reaction to the TEAM Westport essay contest, he knew he had to take a stand.

“So this teenager who still has much to learn sat down to write,” Josiah says.

He writes that he wants his younger brother to walk down Main Street as freely as he himself does, and be held by his teachers to the same high standards as white students.

Until Josiah has those assurances, he says, he will use his “advantaged status” to speak up. White privilege, he concludes, is “not a black issue, but an everyone issue.”

Staples senior Claire Dinshaw’s 3rd-place essay, which won her $500, notes that in elementary school, race was never discussed.

Claire Dinshaw

Partly because of this “prolonged, privileged innocence,” she writes, most Westport students — including her — believe that their own hard work is the sole reason for their success.

Wealth has much to do with it, she says. So does being white.

Even as she concludes her essay, Claire writes, “I know I have failed to describe the ways white privilege has impacted my life. I know there are sources of privilege I have failed to recognize. The truth is I still do not fully understand the extent of my privilege, and that is something I have to work tirelessly to rectify.

“After all, being ignorant of my privilege is a privilege itself.”

(To read all 3 essays in their entirety, click here.)

News12 Now “As Local As New Jersey Gets”

Cablevision has a funny way of “more effectively and consistently” delivering “high-quality hyper-local news” to Fairfield County viewers.

They’ve gotten rid of the guy who did it for more than 3 decades, and replaced him with someone 2 states away.

The familiar face of Tom Appleby.

Tom Appleby — the steady pro who guided area residents through hurricanes and blizzards; reported on murders, budget battles, zoning issues and lost pets, and since 1984 has been the face of News12 for countless local residents — is the most prominent victim of Cablevision’s new owner’s cost-cutting measures.

In addition to shutting a call center in Shelton and back-office operation in Stratford — affecting 600 jobs — new owner Altice has moved nearly all News12 production work from Norwalk to Edison, New Jersey. Only a skeleton staff of reporters and videographers remains on Norwalk’s Cross Street.

Appleby was more than a familiar news anchor. He served as Cablevision’s vice president, general manager and news director. He helped win many awards, including numerous Emmys.

Appleby is a true pro. A Dartmouth grad — with a master’s and Ph.D. in English language and literature from the University of Michigan — he also hosted a weekend public affairs show, “Focus on Connecticut.”

News12 has served as a valuable proving ground for countless reporters and anchors, just starting their careers. Many have moved on to bigger stations, far beyond Fairfield County.

But through 6 presidents since the Reagan Administration — or, more locally, throughout the terms of 1st selectmen Bill Seiden, Martha Hauhuth, Doug Wood, Joe Arcudi, Diane Farrell, Gordon Joseloff and Jim Marpe — Tom Appleby has been there for us.

He never left for a larger market. He reported stories, delivered news, mentored talent, and — most importantly — cared deeply about all of Fairfield County, and everyone in it.

Now Cablevision has left him.

And left the rest of us with an empty slogan: “As local as local news gets.”

Delivered from right around the corner, in Edison, New Jersey.

Ryan Milligan’s New York Times Success, Puzzlingly

Two years ago, Ryan Milligan had his 1st crossword puzzle published in the New York Times.

Today he’s got his 2nd.

Not bad for a 27-year-old.

Ryan Milligan

Long before he graduated from Staples High School in 2008, Ryan was solving Times crosswords with his dad.

In 11th grade he began creating his own. He’d print 150 copies, and leave them in the lobby. By lunchtime, they’d be gone.

His first puzzles, he admits, were “truly terrible.”

Today’s is a typical Tuesday one. It’s clever, but not unsolvable. Clues and answers range from pop culture and sports to Edgar Allen Poe and commercial names.

Ryan says that this puzzle required “significantly less editing” than his debut.

I won’t give away the theme. But if you want a “clue,” check the headline of this story.

(To read what the New York Times crossword community is saying about Ryan Milligan’s puzzle, click here.)

Today’s puzzle

 

The O’Kane Family’s “Life On Mar’s”

For the first 10 years after moving to Kings Highway North, Yvonne and Neil O’Kane did not do much in the way of renovations.

They were busy with their careers. They were raising 3 kids. Besides, they liked the 1908 house in one of Westport’s most historic neighborhoods.

The small rooms were cozy. The Mexican tile in the kitchen reminded them of their years in Arizona. The house was home.

But 4 years ago they put in a pool. They terraced their yard. That added a grade, which didn’t look right. They started thinking about other changes.

The year before, Yvonne had met Mar Jennings. Now, as she visited his home during the Westport Historical Society’s Holiday House Tour, she asked the designer/stager/lifestyle expert/author/TV host for the name of a project manager to help plan a few renovations to her exterior, kitchen and bathroom. Mar said he’d take a look himself.

He stayed for 6 hours.

Mar Jennings at the O’Kanes’ house.

Yvonne — who is trained as an architect — felt something click. When Mar suggested doing the renovation as a makeover TV show, she got even more excited.

Neil agreed. But, he said, we won’t use our names. And though the house could appear on air, the family wouldn’t.

The next 18 months were, Yvonne says, “a magical fit of parts and pieces.”

The O’Kanes lived in their house throughout the renovation project.

The outside, kitchen and one bathroom were done. Then came beams, new doors and windows, insulation, new clapboard and a cedar roof.

The family room needed work, so that was next.

They added a deck off the master bedroom, then redid the bedroom itself.

After that were the kids’ bathrooms, and their son Teddy’s bedroom.

Dormers and library work opened up more space.

Dormer work added space in the bedrooms.

They turned an unused downstairs room into Yvonne’s studio. They added a laundry room.

When they were done, the only part of the house that remained untouched was the dining room.

It was as long and involved a project as it sounds. The O’Kanes were without a kitchen for 6 months, and a bedroom for 9. For a while they all lived together downstairs.

They loved it.

Neil, Caroline, Alexandra, Teddy and Yvonne O’Kane. (Photo/Carolinei O’Kane/Mercilie Chiarelli)

“It was a great experience,” Yvonne says, sitting in the sun-splashed living room, surrounded by furniture she and Mar found everywhere from Lillian August to Goodwill. (They shopped locally for nearly every item, and repurposed much of what was already in the house.)

The family grew closer during the adventure. As part of the TV show they went on a trapeze and to Six Flags. (It did not take long for Neil’s desire for anonymity to go out the newly designed window.)

“Mar was amazing overseeing the project,” Yvonne says. “He kept it running brilliantly.”

She was no slouch herself. And during it she even got her real estate license.

The exterior, at the end of a long driveway on Kings Highway North.

You might expect that in a project like this, everything that could go wrong, would.

Nope. There were very few surprises. And expect for a bit of structural work, all the surprises they encountered were good ones.

For example, workers discovered a hidden staircase. Mar and Yvonne promptly included it in their plans.

“We were a great fit,” she says. They named themselves “MY Team.” For Mar and Yvonne — get it?!

“I love every inch of this home,” Yvonne says. “The space works really, really well. We live in every room. The insulation is great. The kitchen is fantastic. Everyone has space, but we’re still together.”

Yvonne O’Kane loves her new kitchen. The family congregates there, she says.

Teddy — a Staples freshman — is still at home. Caroline — who lived through the renovation — is now a Fordham University freshman. Alexandra is a senior at Georgetown.

The TV show — said to be the first complete home makeover series filmed in Connecticut — took place while the house was still being renovated. Crews filmed Mar and Yvonne collaborating, shopping, and laughing together.

The first episode aired on ABC’s WTNH in New Haven. Twelve more followed, through last June. Despite competition from football and baseball games, the show earned excellent ratings.

Now it’s ready for prime time — that is, Amazon Prime.

You won’t forget the name. It’s called “Life on Mar’s.”