Category Archives: Media

Whoopi Goldberg, Trevor Noah And “06880”: The Sequel

I’m usually pretty good at predicting which “06880” stories will draw the most attention.

Those honoring Westporters who die get forwarded often.

Pieces about zoning and land use — proposed teardowns of beloved landmarks, changes at the beach, etc. — get posted on social media (earning plenty of eyeballs).

And stories on dogs are catnip for readers.

But some reactions amaze me.

Whoopi Goldberg

Last Saturday morning, I posted a quick news flash. Trevor Noah — the headliner at the next day’s Anti-Defamation League of Connecticut “Voices: A Show of Unity” fundraiser — had just canceled, due to bruised vocal chords. His replacement was another huge name: Whoopi Goldberg.

It was the kind of story I do when can: getting the word out for a worthy cause, and hopefully selling a few tickets.

Page views were normal for a Saturday. But on Sunday morning, they spiked 10-fold. Well before noon, that ADL story had the most hits of anything I’ve published since I started “06880,” nearly a decade ago.

By Sunday evening, views were orders of magnitude higher still.

But people were not just reading the story. They were commenting too.

They were not from Westport. There were new, unfamiliar names.

And the comments were not typical “06880” ones. This was not a back-and-forth about the greed and short-sightedness of downtown landlords vs. the gauzy sentimentality of oldtimers.

It was not a debate about Connecticut’s fiscal health, or where to put a beach bathroom.

Trevor Noah

The comments about Whoopi Goldberg (and Trevor Noah) were nasty. They were vile. They were racist.

I don’t know how these people found the story. I assume it was posted on a website somewhere that draws readers who are unfamiliar with “06880” and Westport.

But they’re very familiar with spewing vitriol online. This is not, I’m sure, the first time these readers reacted to a news story about black entertainers.

I disabled commenting on the story. I took down some of the most odious ones.

I left others up. I wanted “06880” readers to see what’s out there, beyond the Westport bubble.

And to realize that the work of the ADL — and all the rest of us — combating hate, bigotry and ignorance must continue.

Here’s the good news. Avid “06880” reader/1987 Staples High School graduate Janette Kinnally writes:

I went to the ADL event. I thought Whoopi was intelligent, insightful and knew her history in this country (which, she noted, is really lacking in education today).

She recounted many events throughout the years. She said “let’s not make the same mistakes in the past” — especially when it comes to creating a dictator and encouraging white nationalism.

Whoopi was thoughtful in her responses, and funny when she responded to Westport’s own Alisyn Camerota. She and CNN (where Alisyn works) were targeted by the bomber 2 weeks ago.

Whoopi offered some great advice. We live in scary times, she said, but there is hope for the future.

We can make change, by taking action. We can’t just stand on the sideline and watch.

Whoopi said: We need more people to stand up, and have their voices heard. We the people should be in control of our country — not white nationalist men!

Ian Manheimer And Our “Dopesick Nation”

The last time “06880” checked in with Ian Manheimer, he was channeling Robert F. Kennedy.

Ian Manheimer

Manheimer — a 2001 Staples grad, communications and English major at Tulane who works at Charity Buzz, raising funds for dozens of non-profits — has long been committed to social justice.

He founded RFK Young Leaders, a program that inspires young people to work on issues like farm workers’ rights.

Recently, Manheimer turned his focus to the opioid epidemic. He calls it “some of the most important work I’ve ever done.”

Through relatives in Florida, the activist learned of the $1 billion “drug rehabilitation industry.” Centered in Palm Beach County, it seems to involve “just about everyone,” Manheimer says.

For example, dentists own and run rehabilitation clinics. But, Manheimer explains, that’s a euphemism for a “fraudulent funnel that cycles addicts in and out.” The goal is to keep patients addicted, so clinic owners can “bilk the insurance industry.”

These are “serial scammers, following a long South Florida tradition. The industry is filled with gangsters. There’s a real criminal element there.”

Manheimer showed up at one rehabilitation center with a camera. The manager pulled out a gun, and chased him off the property.

Ian Manheimer prepares for a shot.

Manheimer’s brother Jaime worked in unscripted TV. One of his high school classmates explained more about the industry to them.

“Junkie hunters” — also known as “body brokers” — form the marketing arm. They look for “down and out people,” Manheimer says. The hunters offer Xboxes and other goods, to get drug users to enroll in a rehab program.

“They actually auction these guys off to the highest bidder,” Manheimer notes.

Manheimer and his brother developed a television show, exploring and explaining what was happening. They optioned it to a production company.

News media began focusing on the drug rehabilitation industry. Florida officials clamped down a bit.

So Manheimer shifted focus. His new show — “Dope Sick Nation” — looked at how recovering addicts could receive quality care.

Viceland — Vice’s cable network — bought 10 episodes. They air Wednesdays at 10 p.m. Rather than serving an expose, the show is human interest.

Recovering addicts Frankie Holmes and Allie Severino offer crisis intervention services to drug addicts, as they move into treatment.  They are featured in “Dopesick Nation.”

Each episode features 2 people — without insurance — in crisis. As they seek quality care, “Dopesick Nation” tells their stories.

Manheimer is passionate about the opioid crisis. The mortality rate is far higher than AIDS or breast cancer, he says. It’s bankrupting communities.

And — with the rising popularity of synthetic drugs like fentanyl — it’s getting worse.

“It’s the biggest public health crisis since the Spanish flu” exactly 100 years ago, he notes.

Like his hero RFK, Manheimer is drawn to big questions about humanity.

“This is a spiritual issue,” he says of the opioid epidemic.

“Why is it happening here? Why now? Why are millions of people attracted to a drug with such a high risk of overdosing and dying? Why are users clustered, and why are they predominantly where they are?”

He does not know the answer.

No one does.

But thanks to Ian Manheimer’s “Dopesick Nation,” viewers around the country are now motivated to think about them.

(Click here for all Viceland episodes.)

Trevor Noah Is Out Tomorrow. But Whoopi Goldberg In In!

Trevor Noah was the highly anticipated featured star at tomorrow’s Anti-Defamation League “Voices: A Show of Unity” fund-raiser and community celebration. (Sunday, November 11, 5 p.m., Klein Auditorium, Bridgeport; click here for more details.)

But the “Daily Show” host bruised his vocal chords. He canceled all performances until Monday.

The ADL is used to dealing swiftly with crises. True to form, they scoured the country and found a fantastic replacement: Whoopi Goldberg.

The actress/comedian/author/television host will fill in.

The show will go on. And it will be a great one.

(A few tickets remain. Click here to purchase.)

Whoopi Goldberg

Honoring Our Vets: Y’s Men Who Were There

In 2002, Bruce Allen and Jack Schwartz contacted Jim Honeycutt.

Members of the very active, wide-ranging Y’s Men retirees’ group, they asked the Staples High School media instructor for help with a project.

Both had served in the military during World War II. They wanted to produce a video, filled with memories and reflections of 18 WWII combat veterans. Already, the ranks of service members from that war were thinnning.

His father was in the navy. Honeycutt was happy to help.

Plaques, memorials and a statue fill Westport’s Veterans Green, across from Town Hall.

As he interviewed the nearly 2 dozen veterans, Honeycutt was stunned. One man had waved at a low-flying airplane. The pilot waved back. Then he torpedoed a battleship in Pearl Harbor.

Schwartz himself bombed Japan, at the same time an atomic bomb was dropped to the north. He saw the sky filled with colors.

“The stories are so important to remember,” Honeycutt says.

So earlier this year — now retired from teaching — he took the DVD, re-edited it, and uploaded the finished product to his personal YouTube channel.

There’s almost 3 hours of content. As Veterans Day approaches, Honeycutt invites “06880” readers to honor all who served America by hearing their stories. Just click below.


Mid-Strut: Eric Burns’ Novel Story

You may know Eric Burns from his television work, as an award-winning media analyst. You may know him as a noted author on topics like American journalism, the history of alcohol and tobacco, and the year 1920. You may know him as a longtime former neighbor (he now lives right over the border, in Norwalk).

Burns’ latest project is “Mid-Strut.” At 73, it’s his first novel. And the story has a back story. Eric tells “06880”:

I had written a dozen books, all non-fiction, all well-reviewed to one degree or another. But I wanted to do something different. Long ago, I had gotten the germ of an idea for a novel, my first work of fiction. But I hesitated. Could I do it? I was a historian. Could I also be a novelist?

I let some time pass to think things over. Actually, I let 50 years pass! No sense rushing into things. Then I wrote, and published, a tale set in 1965, Joe Namath’s first year as a professional quarterback.

The first appraisal of my book came from the prestigious publication Kirkus Reviews. It was a dagger to my heart, a switchblade to my ego. It was by far the worst review I had received in my 21 years of authorship.

At first I just skimmed it. But there were phrases that caught my eye.

My protagonist was a racist. No! No, he wasn’t. In fact, one of the two main plot lines of the book was Arnie “Stats” Castig’s refusal to be a bigot despite extreme provocation. It was obvious.

Arnie’s relationship with the majorette was degenerate. No! No, it wasn’t. That’s the other main plot line. “Statsy” didn’t really have a relationship with the majorette; she was simply — and complicatedly — a symbol of times gone by, when Arnie’s life was happier than it had been during the week when Mid-Strut took place. It was obvious.

But wait. There were more mistakes here, and of a different kind. The review said that Arnie is a steelworker. He isn’t; he’s a security guard. It said that he works in Arbridge, Ohio.  He doesn’t; he works in my hometown of Ambridge, Pennsylvania.

How could the critic have made 3 mistakes of so basic a nature, in 2 sentences?  In addition to the 2 major mistakes, and others. One paragraph, 7 errors. Not errors of judgment, errors of fact. How could that happen?

Eric Burns

My conclusion, which took me a while to arrive at and startled me when I got there, was that the person who reviewed my book hadn’t read it! I can’t prove this of course, but how else to account for so many gaffes?

Had the reviewer dipped into the book here and there? Probably. Had he or she looked at the notes on the inside flap of the dust jacket? Probably. But actually read the book …    sober? I was puzzled.

I wrote a letter to Kirkus, explaining my grievances, expecting to be ignored. But I wasn’t. Kirkus replied admirably. It was embarrassed, apologetic and sincere.  The review would be promptly pulled off the website, and a new one would take its place. Kirkus could not have been more nobly responsible.

Last week, its new, and official, review of “Mid-Strut” was emailed to me. “Burns’s . . . first foray into fiction,” this new assessment read,

tells the story of a man driven mad by the changing fortunes of his Pennsylvania steel town. . . .  Overall, it’s an idiosyncratic novel that follows an idiosyncratic protagonist, and Burns does not shy away from the parochial fixations of his and other characters; indeed, he leans into them.  Even so, he manages to capture not only their quirkiness, but their universal humanity.  Any readers who live in a place that feels overlooked—or who’ve seen the world of their youth slip away—will relate to the people who populate this tale.  An absorbing novel of aging and postindustrialization.

Apparently, I am a novelist after all.  At least once.

(Eric Burns will discuss “Mid-Strut” at the Saugatuck Congregational Church at 7 p.m., this Thursday, November 8.)

NY Times: Why We Publish Tyler Hicks’ “Brutal” Photos

Tyler Hicks’ photos of Yemeni children — skin and bones, listless, haunted — are “brutal,” the New York Times admits.

Yet, the paper said in a page 2 story in yesterday’s edition, editors felt they had to publish them.

Ahmed-Ibrahim al-Junid, a 5-month-old boy caught in the Yemeni tragedy. (Photo/Tyler Hicks for the New York Times)

Hicks — the 1988 Staples High School graduate, whose images from war zones, catastrophes and natural disasters around the globe have won him awards including the Pulitzer Prize — takes enormous risks.

And, the Times says, it is the paper’s duty to bring disturbing, horrific stories to light.

Here, in the paper’s “Inside the Times” column, is the back story:

This is our job as journalists: to bear witness, to give voice to those who are otherwise abandoned, victimized and forgotten. And our correspondents and photographers will go to great lengths, often putting themselves in harm’s way, to do so.

This report, “The Tragedy of Saudi Arabia’s War,” was written by Declan Walsh, and the photographs were taken by Tyler Hicks. To bring it to you, they not only had to navigate their way through a country devastated by war but also through their own emotional trauma.

Then, after they filed their report, came the time for the hard discussions in New York City.

Times editors don’t decide lightly to publish pictures of the dead or the dying. The folders of photo editors bulge with powerful images that did not make the cut because they were considered too horrific, too invasive or too gratuitous.

The images we have now published out of Yemen may be as unsettling as anything we have used before. But there is a reason we made this decision.

Bassam Mohammed Hassan suffers from severe malnutrition in Yemen. (Photo/Tyler Hicks for the New York Times)

The tragedy in Yemen did not grow out of a natural disaster. It is a slow-motion crisis brought on by leaders of other countries who are willing to tolerate extraordinary suffering by civilians to advance political agendas.

And yet somehow the vast catastrophe has failed to catch the world’s attention as much as the murder of a single man, the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

The story of Yemen and all its suffering is one that must be told, and as powerful as Declan’s writing is, it cannot be told in words only.

Yes, Tyler’s images are hard to look at. They are brutal. But they are also brutally honest. They reveal the horror that is Yemen today. You may choose not to look at them. But we thought you should be the ones to decide.

(Click here for the full New York Times story. Hat tip: John Karrel)

Where We Live

Earlier this month, the Sunday New York Times included a fascinating special section.

“Where We Live” was a 4-page feast. Drawn from an enormous Microsoft database, it showed every building in the United States.

Including Westport.

The Times explains:

We found fascinating patterns in the arrangements of buildings. Traditional road maps highlight streets and highways; here they show up as a linear absence. Where buildings are clustered together, in downtown, the image is darker, dense. As suburbs stretch out with their larger lawns and malls, the map grows lighter.

Your eye can follow the ways that development conforms to landscape features like water and slopes….You can detect signals of wealth and poverty, sometimes almost next door to each other….

These images don’t just reveal cityscapes; they reveal ourselves.

I find the size of our downtown especially intriguing. It looms so large in our mind. On the Times map, it looks so small. Meanwhile, the Staples High School/Bedford Middle School complex looks so big. (Click each image to enlarge it.)

Here’s a tighter view. That’s the Post Road near the bottom, with the two condo complexes (Harvest Farms and Regents Park) at the far right.

Now check out Compo Beach. Pretty dense — no wonder it’s prime trick-or-treating territory!

What catches your eye? What did you learn about Westport? How has your perception of this place we call home changed?

Click “Comments” below.

And — to see the Times map of the entire United States — click here.

(Hat tip: Jeff Mitchell)

Diane Lowman Masters Shakespeare

Diane Lowman always had a crush on Shakespeare.

For as long as she remembers, the Westporter loved the long-dead English author.

But when her sons Dustin and Devin graduated from Staples High School, Diane — who kept busy in her 20-plus years here by volunteering in school libraries, tutoring and substitute teaching Spanish, and doing nutrition consulting with groups like Homes with Hope and Project Return — found herself with empty-nesting time.

For “brain stimulation,” she read all 38 of her crush’s plays. She blogged about the experience in “The Shakespeare Diaries.”

When that was done, Diane says she had “post-partum depression.”

Then a friend mentioned a cousin was earning a master’s degree in English. A light bulb flashed.

“I’d been out of school hundreds of years. It was crazy,” Diane recalls. “But I applied to the Shakespeare Institute.”

The research group is part of the University of Birmingham (England, not Alabama). Based in Stratford-upon-Avon, it offers a 13-month master’s program in Shakespeare studies.

So a year ago, Diane says, “I ran away from home.”

Diane Lowman with her crush, at Stratford-upon-Avon.

The experience exceeded even her lofty expectations.

“I pinched myself every day,” she reports. She lived in the beautiful West Midlands, surrounded by farms, sheep and swans. The Cotswolds were close.

It was not Disneyland. It was “Shakespeareland.”

The Institute’s professors were “Shakespeare’s brain trust,” Diane notes. Yet they were exceptionally accessible, caring and helpful.

Her flat was 2 blocks from the Church of the Holy Trinity, where the writer is buried. Diane visited often. “I would just sit and chat with him,” she says.

The Royal Shakespeare Company was half a mile away. She saw every play they produced.

Diane also volunteered at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. She had access to the full archives — including rare, barely seen materials.

She flipped through a 1623 folio of the playwright’s works — the first time they were compiled together. “I actually cried,” she says of that experience.

Diane Lowman held this rare Shakespeare folio.

Now — 13 months later — Diane has her master’s degree in Shakespeare. What does that mean for her life?

“That’s my big quandary: What do I want to do when I grow up?” Diane admits.

She has met with the creative director of Shakespeare on the Sound, and contacted Norwalk Community College about teaching a lifetime learners’ course. She’d also like to do a “Kids’ Introduction to Shakespeare” through the Westport Library.

The renowned author’s works “are really not daunting,” she claims. “I read Shakespeare to both boys starting around 2. They knew ‘Hamlet’ better than ‘Goodnight Moon.'”

As Diane Lowman starts to figure out her next steps, there’s one literary certainty. Her memoir, “Nothing But Blue,” has just been published.

It’s a trip back to the summer of 1979. Diane — a 19-year-old Middlebury College student — spent 10 weeks working on a German container ship, with a nearly all male crew.

She traveled from New York to Australia and New Zealand and back, through the Panama Canal.

The voyage changed her perspective on the world, and her place in it. She left as  a “subservient, malleable girl,” and returned as a confident, independent, resilient young woman.

That long-ago journey was not much different from her recent one.

“I went far from home, on what seemed like a crazy idea,” Diane says of both. “But ultimately my time was so enriching.”

Her time in England was “wonderful.” Her shipboard experience was “scary, lonely and weird.”

Ultimately though, Diane learned and grew from both.

All’s well that ends well.


Great Gatsby: Great Neck Fires Back

Westport has laid out a strong case as the setting for “The Great Gastsby.”

Great Neck is firing back.

Westporters know the story: historian Deej Webb and filmmaker Robert Steven Williams say that F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgeralds’ 1920 sojourn here informed not only the author’s physical description of Jay Gatsby’s mansion, but also much of the novel’s emotional power.

They also believe that Westport influenced nearly all of Fitzgerald’s ouevre.

Not so fast, Long Island counters.

“Everyone knows that Great Neck was the setting for ‘The Great Gatsby,’ don’t they?” a flyer from that town’s historical society asks.

And then answers: “Apparently, not everyone!”

“There are those who believe that Fitzgerald was really talking about — of all places — Westport, Connecticut,” the Great Neck Historical Society explains.

After mentioning Webb and Williams’ PBS film and companion book — plus stories in the New York Times, Newsday and more — the GNHS announces that the duo will discuss their findings and answer audience questions at a “special presentation.”

It’s this Sunday (October 21), 1:30 p.m. at the Great Neck Public Library main branch. GNHS president Alice Kasten will “defend” — their word — Great Neck’s “historical and literary honor” (ditto).

She recently took Webb and Williams on a Great Neck tour, “pointing out details to substantiate the long-held belief that Fitzgerald was writing about Great Neck and Port Washington.”

“They even interviewed me for their film,” she says. “I showed them how Fitzgerald had to be writing about our hometown.”

The GNHS calls this a “bound-to-be-controversial program.” It’s free, and open to the public.

Which means Westporters — defending our own honor — can pack the house. Click here for directions!

(Hat tip: Marcia Falk)

Mt. Kisco Takes Our Tesla Taxes

The other day, David Pogue — the tech writer (Yahoo, New York Times, Scientific American), TV correspondent (“CBS News Sunday Morning,” PBS “Nova Science Now”) and author (“Missing Manual” series, “Pogue’s Basics”) — reported a Tesla story.

Pogue is also a devoted Westporter. He decided to localize his piece, exclusively for “06880.” After all, our town is (supposedly) the Tesla capital of Connecticut. He writes:

These days, we’re seeing a lot of Teslas on Westport streets. And no wonder: These electric cars are gorgeous, fast, and unbelievably smart. They’re far better for the environment than internal-combustion cars. You never need gas. There’s no engine and no transmission, so there are no oil changes, tuneups, or emissions checks. You get a total of $10,500 from the state and federal government, in cash and tax credits, to help you buy one.

And in Westport, there are free charging stations all over town — in the sweetest electric-car-only parking spots.

But every time you see a Tesla in Westport, remember that its owner drove to Mount Kisco, New York to get it.

That’s right: You’re not allowed to buy a Tesla in Connecticut.

Robin Tauck’s Tesla license plate sends a message.

Connecticut and 15 other states have an ancient law on the books. It bans a car maker from selling directly to the public, as Tesla stores do.

The law was designed 80 years ago to protect local franchises — the traditional car-dealership model — from having to compete with stores opened by the car makers themselves. Local Ford dealerships, for example, didn’t want Ford to open its own store across the street and run them out of business.

Of course, the law never envisioned a car company, like Tesla, that didn’t use the franchise system. (Why doesn’t Tesla use the normal local-franchise dealership model? It believes that electric cars require more explaining and patience than a traditional dealer would bother with.)

A number of states have recognized the anachronism and overturned the ban—but not Connecticut. Every time the ban comes up for a vote in our state legislature, our legislators continue keeping Tesla out of the state.

That’s a result of lobbying work by CARA (Connecticut Auto Retailers’ Association). “They’ll be the legislators’ best friends,” says Bruce Becker, president of the Electric Vehicle Club of Connecticut. “What some dealers do is, they’ll actually man the campaigns. They’ll have a campaign headquarters in their dealerships. There’s one dealer who’s actually running the campaign for someone who’s running for governor.”

He says that there’s a simple reason why car dealers want to keep Tesla out: because electric cars threaten their profits. Car dealerships make most of their money on service (3 times as much profit as they get from selling cars, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association). And as noted above, electric cars require almost no service.

“You’ve got these entrenched special interests that have really pushed hard, and they seem to be more entrenched every year, because they see the risks to them personally,” Westport state senator Toni Boucher told me. “There’s such an enormous amount of opposition.”

20 Saugatuck Avenue was considered recently as a site for a Tesla service center.

So what’s the result? Connecticut loses jobs, sales, and property tax to surrounding states.

This protectionism will make it difficult to reach Connecticut’s environmental goals (to lower emissions to 45 percent of 2001 levels by 2030).

“This is the unfortunate thing about CT politics: So much energy goes into creating these monopolies and protecting and limiting trade, as opposed to innovating and creating a more efficient economy,” says Becker.

I did a deep dive on this topic in my Yahoo Finance column this week. I interviewed not only Bruce Becker and Toni Boucher, but also Westport’s state representative Jonathan Steinberg; Tesla’s head counsel Todd Maron, and car-dealership lobbyist Jim Fleming, president of the CT Auto Retailers’ Association.

It’s a surprisingly fraught, sensitive, contentious issue, filled with back-room deals and arguments on both sides about what’s best for the consumer.

Meanwhile, next time you see a Tesla driving by, nod in acknowledgment to the trip its owner took to Mount Kisco.