Tuesday, January 25, 2011

OK with Keith Olberman being KO'd

I was shocked — but not surprised — to hear Friday night that Keith Olbermann and MSNBC were parting ways.

That is to say that I couldn’t believe that MSNBC would let the most dynamic host they had slip through their fingers. But in all honesty, I had no trouble believing it at all.

I once had great respect for Keith Olbermann. His show, Countdown, was as informative as it was entertaining.

I don’t know if it was Olbermann that changed — or me. But his show got increasingly unwatchable for me. He had turned into a left-wing version of Hannity and Glenn Beck. And it certainly couldn’t really be called a news program any more.

Sure, Olbermann continued to put forth information and ideas, but he made no effort to hide his bias. And he wasn’t very friendly about it, either.

In the grand scheme of things, he had become just another talking head. Part of the problem. He signed off his show with “Good night and good luck,” but he was no Edward R. Murrow. He wasn’t fighting for journalism. Or freedom. I had gotten the impression he was fighting for Keith Olbermann.

In truth, I won't miss him any more than I’d miss Limbaugh or O’Reilly. The only disappointing thing is that with his departure, the media has slanted just a little further right.

Yes, I said further right. Meaning, I believe that media already slants right. Now, many of you will disagree with me and argue out loud that there is no right wing media. There’s the liberal elite media and then there’s Fox, right?

I suppose if you think that Fox News is middle-of-the-road, then, yes, everything else would appear to lean left. And if you stand on your head everything will look upside down.

I, of course, have my own biases. Anyone who’s been paying even cursory attention knows that my beliefs are strong, but difficult to pinpoint. I’m radically right on certain issues and crazy left on others. I like to tell people I’m a rabid centrist.

This mish-mosh of beliefs stems from not forming my opinions based on what the Keith Olbermanns and Sean Hannitys of the world tell me to think, but instead coming to my own conclusions of what makes sense in my own happy little head.

Because of this (apparently unusual) mix of right and left-leaning ideals, there’s no talk show host out there that I concur with more than 60 percent of the time. And there’s no cable “news” network that I feel speaks for me.

As a result, I’ll stick to the real news. As spoken from the likes of Brian Williams. In truth, he’s the only national media icon I have any real respect for — at least as a news man. Sure, Limbaugh is entertaining. As is Stephanie Miller. But they don’t do news. Just like Olbermann didn’t do news.

I know some of you will miss Olbermann’s show. And some of you are glad to be rid of him, I’m sure. Just don’t think we’ve lost some great reporter. He was a rodeo clown. Just like the rest of them. Distracting us from the real solutions to the real problems.

Scott Leffler, night/city editor for the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, has been in the local print and broadcast media for the past decade. His column appears every Tuesday. Contact him at scott.leffler@lockportjournal.com.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Sorting through the vitriol

I like to comment on politics. It’s what I went to school for. Politics is the art of persuasion, decision-making and compromise. It’s ugly. And it certainly isn’t for everyone. It can be exciting. It can even be fun. But it can certainly be frustrating and can ruin people from the inside out.

Sometimes things should not be political.

I had planned on writing this week’s column on the panel chosen last week by the county legislature to draw the 15 new legislative districts. We had been told that it would be a citizen panel comprised of non-politicians. I wanted to get into it, in depth, talking about each panelist and noting their political connections. Let’s suffice it to say I was not pleased with the list of names.

And I’m going to leave it at that. Truth is, I don’t feel like getting into politics this week. There’s enough politicking going on right now. And frankly, we need less of it.

I was disheartened (a massive understatement) to hear the news Saturday of the shooting in Arizona.

It was a story broken by Facebook for me. I checked in to see what my friends were up to, only to see post after post about Arizona, tragedy and prayer. I got the gist of what was going on, but quickly turned on the television in hopes of getting all the details.

I went back and forth between the TV, which lacked details, and the Internet, which suffered from no lack of speculation or opinions.

The television frustrated me. And the Internet angered me.

And then I caught a tidbit of news that just saddened me. And my frustration and anger melted away, supplanted with an overwhelming desire to hug my children.

One of the victims of Saturday’s insane brutality was a 9-year-old girl.

Christina Taylor Green was born on Sept. 11, 2001 — one of our nation’s darkest days. She died Saturday, the most recent of our darkest days.

And she left behind a mother, a father and a brother.

Suddenly, for me, the political rhetoric being displayed on Facebook and Twitter became annoying. Meanwhile, the concern being displayed on the television news for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was secondary.

All I could think about was that somewhere in Arizona was a guy — probably about my age — who had a daughter — just about my youngest daughter’s age — earlier that morning. And now he doesn’t.

Who cares about Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck and Rush and blah, blah, blah? Somebody shut up and give that poor father a hug.

Amidst all the vitriol, people were actually losing their lives. Innocent children, even.

I’m not saying that politics is unimportant. Or that it doesn’t have a place and time. But the place and time is not now.

Frankly, anyone trying to score political points while a parent is burying their child deserves a fate crueler than I can imagine.

There’s plenty of time to have an honest discussion about the political climate in this country and how that may or may not have contributed to this tragedy. But first, let’s grieve our loss.

I’ll leave you with Christina’s words: “I hope you know all the words to the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ and sing it with your hand over your heart. I hope you jump in rain puddles.”

I hope I do, too.

Scott Leffler, night/city editor for the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, has been in the local print and broadcast media for the past decade. His column appears every Tuesday. Contact him at scott.leffler@lockportjournal.com.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Pay-for-parking is the American way

I hate paying to park.

I'd rather park farther away and walk.

When I go to festivals in the area, I always try to find a spot on a street somewhere, even if that street is a very healthy walk from the festival. I usually walk the farthest for Allentown.

On the occasion when I'm lucky enough to go to a Sabres or Bisons game, I'll park in the second ring of parking, where it's half of what it costs to park right next to the arena or stadium. And still that costs as much as $10 sometimes.

It seems to me that paying $10 to rent out a parking space for a few hours is highway robbery.

It's a downright mugging to charge as much as $60 for those same spaces, which is exactly what parking lot owners near HSBC have been charging during the World Junior Hockey Tournament.

People are complaining. And Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown is calling for an investigation into the matter.
As much as I abhor taking advantage of a situation, what they're doing is not only legal, but the basis for our entire economy.

It's a free market system. Private parking lot owners can ask for as much as they like. It only becomes worth the asking price if people pay it. And people are paying by the carload.

We don't think anything of paying double, triple or more for a hotel when we go at “peak times.” We understand that plane tickets cost more during the holidays and gas is always most expensive on Fridays. We know that there's a significant markup on food when we go out to eat. So why is this parking thing such an issue?

The popular thought out there seems to be that it's just not fair to charge people that much, especially if we're trying to entice them to come to our city. Yes, I said “our city.” Buffalo is our city, no matter what your postal code may be.

If you've ever had to park in Manhattan, Toronto, Washington, DC, or any one of a number of other big cities, you'll recall that parking wasn't cheap. It was a downright mugging.

Actually, I literally got robbed once parking in DC, but that's another issue altogether.

Have you ever considered going to one of those cities and then decided not to because parking was too much? I can't imagine too many people would say yes. It's the cost of doing business. It's the cost of going on vacation. And who are we to tell parking lot owners in Buffalo can't make a healthy profit for a couple weeks?

If the argument is that we Western New Yorkers shouldn't have to pay that much to park, your point is completely moot. The NFTA offers a variety of ways to get to HSBC. If you'd rather pay $60 than take Metro Bus or Rail, then you've decided – although maybe begrudgingly – that the $60 is worth it.

Me? I'll just avoid the area altogether until after the World Juniors is over. I couldn't afford the tickets anyway. Which, I might point out, are considerably more expensive than, say, Disney on Ice Tickets. Why? Free market economy. It's just how it works.

Complaining about it could be considered un-American.