Cory Farley, voted "Best of Reno" 26 times in 27 years by readers of his column in the Reno Gazette-Journal, takes an unconventional look at topics from presidential elections to the best way to cook Brussels sprouts.

Location: Verdi, Nev, United States

Thursday, May 01, 2008

One more reason to fear for democracy

I had an awful experience last night, and it's changed the way I think about my country.
I watched "The O'Reilly Factor," and its eponymous host, Bill O'Reilly.
I hadn’t watched Bill O for two or three years, for one simple reason: He’s an insufferable horse’s ass. Putting his politics aside, which is a good place for them, he violates every principle of fairness, to say nothing of the most basic precept of journalism: Ask the question, then shut up and listen to the answer.

A bible for reporters is The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White. One of the rules they lay down for writers is “Do not air your opinions gratuitously. To do so is to imply that the demand for them is brisk.”

Now, critics will point out that I built a moderately successful career by violating that principle every chance I got. But there’s a difference, and here it is: I never claimed to be objective. For 27 years, my column said OPINION at the top. I like to think I was fair, but the column often wasn’t balanced: It was a column of opinion, and the opinion was mine.

O’Reilly has the same right, of course. It’s society’s misfortune that he has such an encompassing venue in which to present his twisted and unAmerican views, but nobody can question his right to hold them.

When you claim to be fair and balanced, though, when you’re broadcasting from the no-spin zone, you accept certain responsibilities: A) you have to actually take a shot at being fair and balanced, and B), you have to turn down the spin bolt a little.

O’Reilly can believe whatever he wants. I don’t care for his politics, but I’m not sure I care for anyone’s, and it’s a free country. What’s depressing about him, and his show, is that he presents it as spin-free, and millions of people apparently don’t question that description.

Last night was a good example. I subjected myself to 45 minutes of Bill O because his guest was Hillary Clinton. I ‘m not particularly a Clinton fan, but she’s a historic figure in an important election. I wanted to see how she handled herself with a hostile interviewer, and a little bit of me wanted to see them beat up on each other. I didn’t much care who won—I was interested in the spectacle.

Three minutes into the show, I was doing the wave on my couch and holding a big foam finger in the air every time Hillary opened her mouth. About five minutes in I started recording, and I watched it again this morning, but it didn’t help: I can see how people might watch O’Reilly for the comic value of seeing a man imitate a pompous and oblivious ass, or actually BE a pompous and oblivious ass. But that millions of people take him seriously and believe this is how journalism should be practiced is profoundly depressing.

If I were reading a transcript of the interview and scoring it like a debate, I’d have to give it to O’Reilly. He challenged Clinton, and on some points she didn’t respond strongly.

If you SAW the interview, though, you heard the reason: O’Reilly is a boor. Clinton is nobody’s novice, and she was both knowledgeable and well prepared for the interview. She addressed every issue O’Reilly raised—but when she tried to explain her position, he simply shouted her down. It made no difference what she said, because he rode over her, making irrelevant claims or simply making more noise, so her responses couldn’t be heard.

When O’Reilly was wrong—as he was, for instance, in a comparison of tax rates today with those of the ‘40s, 50s and 60s—he ignored her corrections and plowed ahead with his erroneous point. His acolytes eat it up, and more’s their shame.

Two things make this especially unbearable for me. First, I care about journalism. For many reporters and editors, even in this profit-oriented era, it’s a calling. They put up with the low pay, low public opinion and lousy hours because they believe the job is important. O’Reilly dishonors those people and disgraces their profession, not by what he says, but by claiming that he’s objective when he says it.

Second, the success of our democracy and the welfare of our nation depend on a free and fair press providing the public with accurate reports on the issues of our time. Opinions, everybody’s opinions, have a place in those reports. But opinions disguised as fact, opinions that ignore reality and that play on people’s fears and prejudices, don’t belong in the no spin zone.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

That's "gloat," with a capital G.

Not much time today--I'll do more on this on the radio Monday, if I have time--but in case you missed it, I just want to point out that there's general agreement the Republican convention at the Peppermill this weekend ended in chaos.
Of course it's only the state convention, and nobody at the national level takes Nevada very seriously. Still, after all those years of watching the GOP's Stepford voters march in lockstep, it was really, really enjoyable to see them whacking at each other, and over such a lame disagreement: Ron Paul is a non-starter, his tax plan is laugh-out-loud unworkable, and most of the Paul supporters I've talked to have a faraway look, like they're waiting for instructions from the Mother Ship. In the long run, what happened this weekend won't matter: John "The Third Bush" McCain will be the Republican nominee, and I'm increasingly fearful he's going to be elected president. As John Stewart pointed out a couple of months ago, "Voters say they want change, but when it's time to vote, they may decide that a 71-year-ikd white guy is all the change they need."
But while I can enjoy the sight of Republicans in disarray, I'm going to do it.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Waiting for the chimney to come crashing down

For the 28 years and 10 months we've lived in our house, I've meant to get earthquake insurance.
After a pretty good-sized quake eight or 10 years ago, I redoubled my resolve: I'm going to call and add earthquake insurance to our policy. I'll do it tomorrow. Well, maybe tomorrow. OK, tomorrow for sure.
When the current series of small quakes started in, what was it, February?, my wife and I began nagging each other: We really have to get quake insurance. We understand that this is a seismically active area. We have three friends in Reno who happen to be geologists, and they all have quake insurance. That ought to tell you something even if you're resistant to being told stuff.
A few days ago there was a quake rated at 3.6 on the Richter scale, centered about three miles from our house. No quake insurance. A day or two later there was another, a 4.1. Still no insurance. Then a 4.2, which finally inspired me to make the call.
"Are you kidding?" my insurance guy said, in effect. "I couldn't write you a quake policy now if you were the Queen of Outer Space."
OK, I thought. Maybe it's over. We've come through the worst of it. Our house survived the biggest known earthquake in Verdi history, a 6.0 in 1948, so let's not worry.
That night we had a 4.7 quake.
I'd just gotten into bed, and when the temblor started, I had a vision of our old brick chimney, right outside the bedroom in line with my head, crashing through the ceiling. It didn't, but when I went out and looked at it this morning, I couldn't swear that it's as vertical as it used to be. The movement of the earth in the largest quake was too general for me to feel a direction, but my impression is that it was generally northwest-southeast. I'm not too concerned about being injured by the collapse of the house--small frame buildings generally don't pancake, and we probably could crawl out of the rubble. If the chimney should fall to the northwest, though, it would wind up in bed with us.
We've been following the pattern of quakes as it's developed, and it's unusual in that there hasn't been a single strong one followed by a series of generally decreasing aftershocks. They keep getting bigger, which seismologists say indicates a "slight increase" in the chance of a severe earthquake still to come. Nothing to do but wait it out, wishing I'd bought the insurance any of the 5,000 times I've thought of it since 1979.
Meanwhile, both our cat and dog have forsaken their normal sleeping places in favor of our bedroom, where, just about the time I doze off, one or the other of them will ease up onto the bed, bringing me stark, staring awake with what I now realize is a remarkably accurate impression of about a 3.5 quake.
I grew up in the Bay Area, and I've been through dozens of earthquakes. I'm not a sissy about them. But this can stop anytime it wants to.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

What Gov. Gibbons has in mind for the mustangs

If you caught any part of the presumptuously titled Cory Farley Show on KBZZ Tuesday, you probably heard Lacy J. Dalton and Willis Lamm talking about Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons' plans for the state's wild horses.
Lacy was a pretty hot country singer in the '80s (CMA Newcomer of the Year in 1983, I think it was) and has performed with most of the big names in the business. She took a break for awhile to deal with some personal issues, but is back performing again and has a new CD, "What Don't Kill You Makes You Stronger," coming soon. My wife and I saw her at Piper's Opera House on the Comstock a few months ago, and she still has the stage presence and powerful voice that led one critic to call her a combination of Janis Joplin, Bonnie Raitt and Joan Baez.
Most journalists who've been around long enough to get over their jock-sniffer awe dislike doing celebrity interviews. You're generally talking to people who've been interviewed hundreds of times and who have a carefully cultivated image. They give canned answers to the usual questions, dodge or draw a blank on unusual ones and escape as soon as they can, their duty to the fans done for another day.
Sometimes you find an exception, especially if you can get them talking about something other than their careers. Lacy is passionate about Nevada's mustangs, and she and Lamm gave us an entertaining, informative hour and a half.
A little background, then I'll give two Web sites for more information on the mustangs, plus the one I promised on the air that features (warning! And I mean it!) extremely graphic video of wild horses being slaughtered.
Nevada's Director of Agriculture, a Gibbons appointee named Tony Lesperance, has promised to remove all 1200 or so mustangs from the Virginia Range, in and around Storey County. Gibbons, when he was in Congress, had a career rating of zero, as in zip, none, nada, from the League of Conservation Voters, and Lesperance is a nutjob anti-government rancher, a member of the "shovel brigade" that battled the feds near Elko a few years ago over a road in the Jarbidge wilderness. For the bulk of Nevadans, concerned about the future of the state and its wild lands, he's about the worst choice imaginable for the position he holds. Which of course made him a natural pick for Gibbons ....
Anyway: Lesperance, who's been called "one of the most radical members" of the anti-government movement, has vowed to get the mustangs off the range, claiming that they're not native to the area, that they're starving, and that each one contains a tiny little Al Qaeda terrorist armed with weapons of mass destruction. I made that last part up.
Dalton and Lamm represent a number of environmental and wildlife groups that have allied for the emergency, bent on protecting the horses initially, and with a dream of creating a sanctuary for them, where visitors could come from around the world to see them in their native environment.
Dalton has founded an organization called Let 'em Run. You can check that out at Lamm has an intimidatingly detailed, documented and damning site of his own,, indispensable to the formation of an opinion on this issue.
And if you feel yourself beginning to be swayed by Lesperance's arguments--which, I will say as plainly as I can, are mostly crap--look here for undercover footage of horses sent to Mexico for slaughter:
A final warning: It is not for the faint of heart, stomach or will. Or for children.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Johnny Mink leaves radio, I'll struggle on awhile

David Giovanni Mencarelli, perhaps spurred to greater achievement by my giving him the greatest nickname in radio history on Monday, has quit at KBZZ.
"Johnny Mink's" departure reduces the head count at The Cory Farley Show by half, the talent level by two-thirds and the experience level by four years. Which leaves, uh, me, a veteran of three weeks and one day on the air.
It would be pretentious to talk about Dave's "contribution" to a show that's not as old as the yogurt in your refrigerator. Still, I'll miss him, and I think listeners will, too. He was the Other Voice that stepped in when I stalled out, providing counterpoint and comment when I had none. Radio made me nervous at first--still does, a little--but I wasn't halfway through my first day before I realized Dave would step up if I bogged down. I could throw him any kind of line ("Dave, what's your position on ketchup?"), and he'd come back with something that moved things along. He was also a regular on The Panama Show from 6 to 10 a.m. , and I know they'll miss him there.
Regular readers and listeners (by which I mean, "the four people who both read this blog and listen to KBZZ") will be curious about what happened, but I'm not the guy to ask. Some of it goes back to before I went to work for the station, and Dave says it has nothing to do with me.
I hope not: I like him and enjoyed working with him. When the Johnny Mink Special comes on Comedy Central next year, I'll try to get him back on the radio.
Meanwhile, The Cory Farley Show will continue. I'm assured somebody will be there Tuesday to answer phones and push buttons, and The Boss says he's "got some interesting ideas" for the longer term. My personal long-term plan hasn't changed: I'll do it as long as it's fun. So far, it is. But less so, I suspect, without Dave.
Did I mention it's on The Buzz, 1270AM, from 10 a.m. to noon? Did I mention you can call 823-1920 and talk on the radio where millions can hear? I mean, not that millions will, but they could. Tomorrow's guest (Tuesday) will be Tom Jacobs from the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles, and Wednesday's will be Beryl Love, executive editor of the Reno Gazette-Journal. Both have agreed to take questions from callers.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Readers? I still have readers?

As I assumed practically nobody had noticed, I haven't updated this thing since the middle of last month. The radio show (10 a.m. to noon on KBZZ, 1270AM) is kicking my butt, taking three or four hours of preparation every day, and by the time I get done with that and a couple of other things including the Reno News & Review column, I've said about all I have to say.
I started blogging for fun (there's certainly no money in it) and to stay in touch with readers. It really never occurred to me that anyone would read it regularly, but I'd been writing for a long time and wasn't sure how to stop: It just felt weird not to sit down and do 500 words or so every day. When I let it slide, I wasn't sure anyone would notice and was pretty sure no one would care.
A few people, at least, do. They've written or called or stopped me in the supermarket and said they miss the Gazette-Journal column, can't listen to the radio show and would like to see more frequent posts on the blog.
I'm no more immune to flattery than the next guy, and I'm getting the show prep under control. It's down to 1:1 now, one hour of prep for every hour on the air. If I can keep it there, and I have something to say that's not too tedious, I'll pick up the pace here over the next few days.
But you could listen to the radio, you know....

Friday, March 21, 2008

Off the deep end again, at 1270 on your AM dial

One of the things that happens when you get old (I hear...) is that you get afraid to try new things.
It's nonsense, of course, Just the other day I ate my french fries without adding salt, a culinary adventure many people half my age haven't experienced. Later this afternoon, I may try napping in the Big Chair instead of on the couch. Life is to be lived.
Still, I'm a little apprehensive about what I apparently have to regard as What's Left Of My Career: Starting Monday, I'll be on the radio.
Regularly, I mean. I've done radio many times, but nearly always with someone to fall back on. When you're the guest, and all you can think of to say is, "Uh...," it's not your fault. When you're the person after whom the show is named, "Uh" won't carry you very far.
As of 10 a.m. Monday, that will be me, on KBZZ, 1270 AM.
Panama, aka "The Franchise," will move from his present 9-to-noon slot to 6 to 10 a.m. I'll take the 10-to-noon period, then Don and Mike will pick up at their normal time.
This is, in some ways, extremely cool. I love radio, and was a Radio-TV major my first two years in college. When I got home from Vietnam and went back to school, I switched to print, for reasons I've been trying for several years to recall. So when The Buzz asked if I was interested, I had to say yes.
Sounded like a good idea at the time. But I've been hanging out in the studio with Panama for a few days to learn how it's done, and it's like juggling cats.
When I was doing television commentary, I found that I could sound smart or look good, but not at the same time. When I focused on what I was saying, my tie curled up like Dilbert's and my glasses fell off. When I was perfectly groomed and turned out, I talked like Yosemite Sam.
I looked forward to radio for several reasons, but a big one was that you don't have to dress up. Half the people you hear on the air aren't even wearing pants (which is also true of TV news anchors, by the way. That's why the sets have solid fronts, so you can't see Brent Boynton's skivvies).
Turns out, though, that radio is another area in which you can't be proficient without, you know, actually being good at it. Like I needed another one of those.
To be honest, I'm not that eager for an audience until I begin to figure this thing out. My understanding, though, is that radio station owners prefer it when people actually listen to their employees. so check me out, 10 to noon starting Monday at 1270 AM. No passing judgment, though, until I learn how to work the phones.