Category Archives: Media

Mark Friedman Fights For Freedom Of The Press

Mark Friedman is not a journalist. He’s not married to a reporter, and there are none in his family.

But the Westport investment advisor is one of our town’s staunchest defenders of freedom of the press.

And — if his side business catches fire — he might become one of the nation’s strongest too.

Friedman runs a website: It’s not fancy, but neither is its mission.

Mark Friedman, at Westport’s Memorial Day parade.

Freedom of the press is “the only effectual guardian of every other right,” said James Madison — it’s right there, on Friedman’s home page — and the site is devoted to recent stories about assaults on the First Amendment.

There are links to organizations like the Committee to Protect Journalists, Newseum and the National Constitution Center.

And “I ♥ Freedom of the Press” merchandise, like t-shirts and car magnets.

Friedman’s respect for the Constitution and Bill of Rights was sparked when he practiced law. Then — “called to teaching” — he spent a decade at the Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, where as an English and history instructor he gave serious thought to those foundations of democracy.

Now, in Westport, he spends time as an RTM member, PTA and sports volunteer. Starting this fall, he’ll teach Sunday school.

Over the last couple of years, as attacks on the press mounted, Friedman grew concerned. “‘Enemy of the people’ is a Stalinist phrase. It was used to persecute,” he says.

Friedman believes that freedom of the press is important to all citizens, of any political party. He wanted to find a “non-partisan, unifying and positive” way to reinforce the notion.

During World War II, his uncle — past the age of enlistment — nonetheless joined the military. He wanted to help save democracy.

“I’m not putting my life in danger,” Friedman notes. “But the spirit is the same: fighting and honoring those who fought before us, so we could be here now.”

He worked with his wife to refine the website concept. His middle school son helped with the design.

Mark Friedman’s merchandise.

People are noticing. Last week, at a baseball game, an usher noticed Friedman’s shirt. Her son works in media, and she wanted to know how to get one.

Some people scream “fake news!,” Friedman says. But positive comments far outweigh negative ones.

His goal is to get Americans to think about the concept of freedom of the press — and the patriotism and courage of reporters.

The Newseum has a memorial to journalists killed in the line of duty. Most are in far-off places. Now, Friedman says, “it’s chilling that reporters face hostile crowds here. Things could turn violent.”

He hopes not. But if they do, he’ll fully support the journalists who cover that breaking news.

Jeff Scher’s Amazing, Graceful Video

In 2015, a man killed 9 men and women at a Charleston church.

In the midst of his powerful eulogy, President Obama sang “Amazing Grace.” Zoe Mulford wrote a song about that moment. Joan Baez recorded it.

Now Jeff Scher has brought that inspiring song about death and hope to life.

The 1972 Staples High School graduate is a filmmaker and animator. He’s now back in Westport, working in a Cross Highway studio a few steps from his house.

Scher has carved out a compelling niche. His hundreds of drawings in “The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm” helped earn the HBO documentary about a Holocaust survivor a place in the permanent display of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York.

Jeff Scher

He created the official video for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Teach Your Children.” Bob Dylan and Paul Simon hired him to make holiday videos. A short film about summer and water — “L’eau Life” — features many Westport scenes.

But right now, his Obama/Baez is creating the biggest buzz.

Scher’s hundreds of hand-drawn watercolor and pastel images draw viewers in to a story they already know.

The challenge, the artist says, was to convey the intense emotion of the president’s eulogy — but in the end, Baez’s song was about someone else singing a different song. It’s also about murder.

Fortunately, Scher says, the tune is “beautifully written, with a clear narrative. It opens slowly, pulls you in, and has an incredible emotional arc.”

And, he notes, “Somehow Obama, with his humble singing voice, turned grief into grace. With humility, compassion, and a 200-year-old hymn, he made us feel that the evil deeds of a sick individual could not shake the bonds of our common humanity.”

He saw his job as “framing” Mulford’s song, rather than “illustrating” it. “I did not want to get in the way of the lyrics,” he explains.

He told the Atlantic, which premiered the video: “I wanted the scenes to feel like they were blooming from the white of the paper, like a photograph in a developer or a memory emerging from a cloud.”

The song and video are called “The President Sang Amazing Grace.”

Thanks to Zoe Mulford, Joan Baez — and Jeff Scher — the result is both amazing and graceful.

Only Good For Victoria Gouletas

The tree limb that fell on Victoria Gouletas last winter broke her back, paralyzed her from the chest down, and upended her and her family’s life.

The road back has been long and hard. But Victoria — a real estate attorney and Zoning Board of Appeals member — has been buoyed by the kindnesses of family members, friends, neighbors, and total strangers.

Two of those strangers are twins. Judy Vig and Joy Paoletti deliver home-cooked meals to people going through hard times. Victoria was high on their list.

She was nominated by Westport Moms, the resource-rich platform run by Megan Rutstein and Melissa Post.

Judy and Joy’s good work now inspires others on Only Good TV, which — as its name implies — is a much-needed addition to today’s media landscape.

It’s a pay site — but you can watch Victoria, Judy and Joy’s episode as part of a free trial.  Click here to be uplifted.

Victoria Gouletas (far right), her kids, and Judy Vig and Joy Paoletti on Only Good TV.

Take A Selfie With Sam And Betsy

For years, Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty were packed away inside.

Now, the pair of Einsel kinetic sculptures — Walter’s tips his hat, and his eyes light up; his wife Naiad’s torch shines, and her heart pulsates — have been moved from the Westport Historical Society’s cobblestone barn, onto the Avery Place lawn.

The public is invited to take selfies with “Sam” and “Betsy.” (No, I don’t know why the Statue of Liberty bears Betsy Ross’ name — maybe it’s her flag dress?).

Photos can be posted to the statues’ Instagram account: Betsy_and_Sam. Each week, the WHS will give a prize from its gift shop for the funniest, most creative selfie.

Please respect Sam and Betsy. Don’t climb on them. After all, they were born in the 1800s.

Buy Nothing: The Sequel

In May, “06880” posted a story on “Buy Nothing.” That’s a world-wide Facebook group, with a simple premise: You can offer anything to your neighbors — and ask for anything. The sky — and your imagination — is the limit.

The Westport page was hopping.

One group member gifted key lime pies. Another gifted a pizza making lesson. A third wished for hand-written get well cards to deliver to a local resident injured in a recent storm.

The “asks” went beyond simple requests. A post by a first time grandmother requesting a crib received a number of congratulations.

Want bikinis? They were on the Buy Nothing site. (The giver says they were worn.)

A true community developed. Friendships formed; gratitude flowed. One person thanked a group member for the gift of a shower cap. It reminds her of Paris, where she fell in love with a similar one.

Another thanked a local couple for offering their home and washing machine during a power outage.

It sounded too good to last.

It was.

In June, the international organization behind the “Buy Nothing” movement decided that the all-Westport Facebook group had gotten too big for its hyper-local britches.

Plans were announced to break Westport into 3 sections. Members were allowed access only to the neighborhood in which they live.

People responded — well, not with gratitude.

After seeing the negative reactions, most of the admin team — all local residents — vowed to find a way to keep the community united, and take back the townwide group.

They researched other Facebook gift economies, and incorporated the best aspects of the prior group.

Last week they launched the result: Westport Gift Economy—Neighbors Sharing with Neighbors.

“Our goal is to facilitate a united Westport group to give and share free of monetary exchange, so we can reestablish the townwide love, gratitude and generosity we helped foster in our last group,” says Vanessa Weinbach, an original — and new — group founder.

By the end of the first day, there were over 600 members. Just a week later, members have given and received items like a hot tub, moving boxes and personalized flower arrangements.

They also take care of their own. The daughter of a former group administrator was recently in a bad car accident. A “wish” went out for adaptive equipment to help with rehab. Members quickly found an array of medical devices.

If you live in Westport, or within half a mile of its borders, and are at least 18, you can join Westport Gift Economy — Neighbors Sharing with Neighbors (click here!).

You might find something organic blossoming dill. You might ask if someone is making an Ikea run, and can pick an item up for you.

The caring and sharing has begun — again.

Want organic dill? You can find it on the Westport Gift Economy page.

Lynsey Addario: Power Player Of The Week — Again

Last December, Lynsey Addario  was named Fox News’ “Power Player of the Week.”

This week, she did it again.

It may have been a slow news week. Or maybe Chris Wallace really likes the Staples High School graduate, who has gone on to earn both a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur genius grant.

The “Fox News Sunday” host says that Lynsey Addario takes “riveting photographs that bring the savagery of the front lines into your home.”

Addario claims she is “not brave — just committed.”

Wallace listed the places Addario has worked: Afghanistan. Iraq. Libya. Darfur. South Sudan. Somalia.

She goes there, she says, because it is “fundamental to document” what occurs in those war-torn places.

After photographing skeletons and devastated villages, Addario goes home. There, she tries to explain war — and her work — to her 6-year-old son.

For the full feature, click here.

(Hat tip: Neil Brickley)

Jeff Pegues’ “Kompromat”

Timing is everything.

In 2016, Jeff Pegues published Black and Blue: Inside the Divide Between the Police and Black America.

The author — a 1988 Staples High School graduate who rose through the broadcast ranks to WABC-TV News, and now is CBS News justice/homeland security correspondent — spoke with hundreds of officers, police chiefs, community activists, even then-FBI director (and Westporter) James Comey. Pegues’ unbiased view of both sides of the cop/community divide came out in the midst of a national debate over police/citizen relations.

Earlier this month he published Kompromat: How Russia Undermined American Democracy. It too is the right book, at the exact right time.

Jeff Pegues

Russia’s influence on our elections was a hot topic during the 8 months Pegues researched and wrote it.

But even he had no idea his book would hit the shelves just days before President Trump’s Helsinki Summit moved the title — “kompromat” means “compromising material” — out of obscurity, and into our national dialogue.

Pegues’ interest in the subject was piqued during the summer of 2016. In his CBS News role, he was one of the first people to hear — from reliable intelligence sources — about Russia’s interference in our election.

“Intelligence and law enforcement people who do not usually panic were really worried,” Pegues recalls.

He watched as American media focused on the presidential campaign — not on “the story behind the campaign, which was Russia’s hacking and influence.”

His own network was part of that surface coverage, Pegues notes. “I was stomping around the newsroom, saying we should be covering the Russian story every night.”

He spent 24 hours traveling with then-CIA director John Brennan, who told the CBS correspondent, “Unusual stuff is happening.” Pegues says, “It felt like we were living in a movie script.”

Pegues pitched a book idea to publishers. Some did not think it was a story. Prometheus — which published Black and Blue — trusted the author’s judgment. “I told them this would be a story for the ages,” he says.

During the day, Pegues talked to sources for his “Evening News” or “CBS This Morning” reports. On weekends and during vacations, he wrote Kompromat.

The more he dove into his research, the more it surprised him. “This is really remarkable,” Pegues says. “We haven’t gotten all of it yet. This is a new kind of warfare.”

But Kompromat is not just a frightening tale of ongoing Russian influence in our elections. Pegues confronts a related question: What will it take to protect American democracy?

“The intelligence community says this is ongoing,” the journalist says. “I’m worried about 2018 — and 2020.”

And he worries about kompromat — not the book title, but the actual activity.

“If in 2016 you’d told people we’d be where we are this week — with national talk about the president possibly being compromised — everyone would say ‘impossible,'” Pegues says.

“But officials are behind bars. They’re on trial. They’re cooperating with prosecutors. It’s amazing. And what’s happening now has serious repercussions for our entire democracy.”

Russians do not have to actually change votes in order to have an impact, Pegues emphasizes. “They just have to to change how we think. What we see and read has an impact on how we vote.”

The ultimate goal of the Russians, Pegues says, is not about Donald  Trump. “It’s about weakening our democracy, so Putin can point to us, and our fragile democracy, and use our example to build up the Russian Federation. That’s really what he wants.”

So is Pegues hopeless about our future?

“Reporters are doing incredible work,” he says. “The New York Times, Washington Post, CBS, NBC, ABC — these are not easy stories to do.

“Intelligence people don’t give out information like candy. It’s hard to get. But we’ve seen very good, collective reporting. Like Watergate, it’s important for democracy to dig, so we can move forward.”

It is crucial, Pegues adds, that reporters “get this story right. We’ve been called ‘the enemy of the state,’ and Trump’s supporters believe we are.”

Pegues thinks special counsel Robert Mueller will deliver a report before the midterm elections. He also thinks “35% of the country probably won’t buy what he says.

“But I think at some point the public will realize this story is about the future of our country. Our adversary is trying to change who we are, and how we think. That’s not about partisan politics at all. It’s about our democracy.”

Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in Helsinki last week. Jeff Pegues played youth soccer in Westport, then earned a football scholarship to Miami University in Ohio.

Pegues expects “a couple of years of trials. Even so, it will be quite a while before we get the full story. And I don’t think 100% of the country will ever think we got all the answers.”

When Pegues began writing Kompromat, he knew it was an important story. He had no idea though that his book would be published the same month the American president met alone — for 2 hours — with his Russian counterpart.

In book publishing — as in politics — timing is everything.

“06880” Party In Pictures

If you couldn’t make last night’s “06880” blog party, I understand.

We competed with the Senior Center lobster dinner, and the Chamber of Commerce after-hours social.

Plenty of readers are on vacation. Others live far away.

But the 120 or so folks who made it to Compo Beach last night had a great time. Politicians, candidates and commission members (even the P&Z — thanks for canceling your meeting!) mingled with artists, bankers, retirees, stay-at-home moms and dads, teachers, lawyers and local merchants (thanks, Julie, for repping Savannah Bee Company!).

Special thanks go to Westport’s Parks & Rec beach crew, who went waaaay out of their way to be helpful, warm and welcoming.

We ate. We drank. We chatted about everything except politics.

We watched the sun set. We realized how grateful we are to live in Westport — or to have some ties to it.

See you at next year’s bash!

Nicole Klein and her son Carter came to their first “06880” party 5 years ago, just 3 weeks after moving to Westport. They’ve been regulars ever since.

Great minds think alike. They did not coordinate their outfits — but they sure looked great! (Photo/Susan Garment)

Sean Byrnes’ 1967 Corvette — a true 427, as the license plate notes — was a huge hit.

Author Prill Boyle and Homes with Hope CEO Jeff Wieser mixed and mingled.

Former Westporter Bonnie Bradley — whose family lived near Compo for many generations — came from Roxbury for the “06880” party. She brought a special gift: This painting of the Saugatuck River and National Hall.

It’s not an “06880” party without an 06880 hat. (Photo/Susan Garment)

“06880” Party On Tonight!

It’s all good for tonight’s 6th annual “06880” Compo Beach “blog party.”

We’re set for 6 p.m. at South Beach — the alcohol-is-fine-except-no-glass-bottles end, furthest from the cannons.

Please bring your own food and beverages. If you’d like to bring something extra to share, feel free!

We’ll provide the “06880” community — a chance to meet commenters and lurkers. Each year there are oldtimers, newcomers, politicians and normal human beings. It’s a chance to talk, laugh and trade stories about this wild, wacky and only slightly dysfunctional town we share and love.

Plus, the weather is supposed to be perfect.

See you tonight!

PS: If you’re coming over the William F. Cribari Bridge, allow extra time. You never know when it might be closed.

We’ll be just to the left of this jetty (near the boat and kayak launch). Without the car, though. (Photo/Linda Gramatky Smith)

Add To The List: 2 More Westporters Nominated For Emmys

Last week, “06880” reported that Kelli O’Hara and Justin Paul were nominated for Emmy Awards.

That’s only half the story.

Two other Westporters are also in the running for television’s highest honor.

Britt Baron (Brittany Uomoleale)

Britt Baron is part of the “GLOW” ensemble that’s up for Outstanding Comedy Series.

If her name is not familiar, try Brittany Uomoleale. That’s how she was known at Staples High School, where the 2009 graduate starred in Players productions like “Romeo and Juliet.”

Jeanie Bacharach-Burke, meanwhile, is nominated for her part in Outstanding Casting for a Comedy Series. The 1981 Staples alum works on Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

Congratulations to all 4 nominees. We’re rooting for you — and any other Westporters we may have missed!