Until a few moments ago, the only Alec of any real prominence I was aware of was Alec Baldwin. Or maybe Alec (may the force be with you) Guinness. I had no idea there’s a significant political group with the ALEC acronym, but there is. It’s the American Legislative Exchange Council. It’s apparently funded by the Koch Brothers, and other deep-pockets ultra-conservatives. Their purpose, is to formulate, present and then pass, state legislation of significance to right-wingers. Like pumping millions into union busting in Wisconsin. They’ve been around since the early 70’s and pick up regular donations, including corporate donations, ranging from $5 thousand to $50 thousand per hit. I’m hearing on television that corporations, some of whom had no idea what they were funding, are starting to bail.
Thing is, I heard about this on the Ed Schultz show on MSNBC. I don’t always agree with Big Ed, but I watch the pundits for one reason. Local television news, and to a lesser degree, over-the-air network news, has become an infotainment embarrassment. It’s largely unwatchable. It hasn’t always been this way.
Back in the day, in the early 80’s, at the once mighty KABC-TV here in Los Angeles, we had a lineup that included political heavyweights. Oh sure, we covered all the breaking news and such, but News Director Terry Crofoot, Station Manager Dennis Swanson and GM Tom Van Amburg, were smart enough to know that there was an audience that wanted more than the usual “fluff n’ stuff” and near meaningless cops and robbers shoot um ups and slow speed pursuits. Consequently, we had (along with everything else), something called “substance.” News that didn’t insult your intelligence. We had Bruce Herschensohn, John Tunney and Bill Press doing political commentaries and debates. Yes, debates within the newscast! Beyond that, there were some real positives to having a few political insiders on the staff. I’ll never forget one night I was sent over to John Tunney’s house. Ted Kennedy was there for dinner and Tunney got me a one-on-one with the Lion of the Senate.
Former Los Angeles County Supervisor, Baxter Ward, was also on the payroll. Not as a reporter, but as a regular commentator. Back in the day, there was a line between straight journalism and commentary, and it was clearly defined. Amazing, isn’t it? Even with all that substance and insight borne of experience, we were number one. A strong number one. We were so far ahead of the competition that the PR flacks in town wouldn’t start a news conference until a reporter wearing a circle-7 lapel pin showed up. They were heady times, but we deserved it. We were that good. And it wasn’t because we gave up on news and switched to infotainment. It’s because we focused on news in spite of infotainment.