Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Brief Remembrance of Ted Kennedy

Back in '91 or '92, when I was in Boston for Reuters, I got to participate in an annual event that was legendary among journalists in the area: The Kennedys threw open up their Hyannisport compound to reporters and their families for a summer day of eating, playing and casual schmoozing.

And when I say "threw open," I do not exaggerate: We had the run of the place. When Ethel Kennedy's front door is ajar and you wander in and she looks up from her paper to tell you a story or two about Bobby and point out John's favorite chair in her house, well, that says something about the manner of this remarkably gifted political family.

It was like a company picnic and the entire management team was there to make us feel like family. We were greeted with a receiving line, with every hand shaken by every single Kennedy, even those whose ages were in the single digits, because it's never too early to learn about the family business. There was no pressure or spin but there was one particular Kennedy, driven by her life-long cause, who was on the prowl in this target-rich environment: a beleaguered PR person begged me to listen to Eunice Shriver's spiel about the Special Olympics and visibly sighed with relief with gratitude after I had.

Sen. Edward Kennedy — "Ted" to many there but not me — was our official host. The de facto Kennedy patriarch both loomed large, and mingled. I was flabbergasted at the ease with which he and the family dealt with so many strangers, so many whose job it was to not exactly paint him in the most favorable light.

There were probably no enemies in the press there, however, and it is also astonishing at how few enemies Sen. Kennedy actually had. His best friend in the Senate (perhaps anywhere) was the very conservative Orrin Hatch. Like the hospitality Kennedy showed the guests on his lawn we have all heard stories of his ability to reach across the aisle and really any divide in a sincere way.

Joe Scarborough, a rather rapid right-winger when he was in Congress and now a morning show host on MSNBC, recently told a story about a personal tragedy involving a child. "The first person who called was Ted Kennedy," Scarborough said, seeming still to wonder how the senior senator from Massachusetts could possible know so much about the family situation of this junior representative from Florida, and relate to it on so personal a level, and offer whatever sort of medical or any support he could. And stay on the phone for a long time. And mean it all.

I had no close encounter with Sen. Kennedy that lovely summer day, but he and my wife ate his food — and covered up an enormous, tabloid-esque scandal: there was broken glass in one of the cakes. No harm done as we made this discovery. I went to the catering table and asked for the person in charge and quietly told him the situation. He was grateful, and quietly pulled it off the table. Later on he came by to sort of take our temperature and I am sure our manner convinced him that his secret was safe with us. Even he had the grace that seems to be in the family's DNA by not seeking to take any formal steps to see to it we wouldn't give this scoop to the Boston Herald.

And how does a gracious Kennedy see to it that you do not overstay your welcome? One of the activities listed on the invitation was a boat ride in the bay. It was the last activity of the day. We were asked to gather our belongings. You know where this is going: it was a one-way ride to the parking lot that was our staging area, with the Kennedy's all along the shore, waving us goodbye.

I covered Sen. Kennedy once or twice when he was in his home district. As my brief was national and international in nature there wasn't too much story in him for me. But there was a big issue at the time that was national in scope and in which Sen. Kennedy had a personal stake: Health care reform. Then, it was an initiative of President Bill Clinton who had First Lady and now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to get it done.

Here we are nearly a generation later with Sen. Kennedy's life work yet undone. He was ever the optimist; back then, at an event, the money quote from him was that he was sure health care reform would get done because the president had put his wife in charge. It was a fabulous line, both for a cheer and a laugh, typically conversation-ending and inarguable while being entirely playful. That is how you get things done without pissing off your opponents.

Weeks before his death Sen. Kennedy was quoted as saying that he would "walk on broken glass" to vote on health reform bill and, sadly, he will not get that chance. I don't think it is disrespectful — and doubt Kennedy would not have done some political calculation himself: how are health reform's chances with its greatest evangelist in public service now an object of such sympathy?

Photo: Ted Kennedy on his Hyanniport home porch, Sept. 28, 2008 by Boston Globe photographer John Tlumacki.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Social Media Restrictions at Sporting Events?

An 'Instant Panel' discussion on CNBC's Power Lunch about recent attempts to restrict what fans can do with the pictures and videos they take at sporting events, by event organizers.

Good luck with that, guys.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Social Media Account Security on NBC Nightly News

A hit on the NBC Nightly News, pegged to an uptick in attacks on social media sites.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Big Game Hacking on CNBC

I was the convenient time-zone mouthpiece, but the work on this story has been done the inestimable Kim Zetter on's Threat Level blog.

So, guys, hope you liked it. Please don't drain my bank account.

Monday, August 17, 2009

August 17, 2000: Internet Crosses 50-Yard Line in U.S.


2000: Half of United States households have internet access, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

Nielsen is best known for measuring the popularity of a certain other mass medium that went viral a half-century earlier. How fitting that this paradigm shift came with fin-de-si├Ęcle serendipity to a millennium that had already witnessed staggering technological advancement.

Not since television transformed the world in the early 1950s had anything entered the collective consciousness as quickly or pervasively as the internet, which began its life 40 years earlier as "Arpanet," a relatively humble military experiment. (In style, BTW, "internet" — even "the internet" — is lower case.)

Like television, experiencing the internet initially required the procurement of expensive, finicky equipment. And as in TV's earliest days there wasn't much to see. One internet service provider (ISP) even playfully reminded us of the limits of the net in a TV ad during which a menacing voice told a web surfer: "You have reached the end of the internet. Please go back."

Continue Reading on Epicenter.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Text Etiquette On Today — Or, How I Survived 5 Minutes Without My iPhone

I've become quite the mouthpiece on digital etiquette lately — specifically the rights and wrongs of messaging when you are with people. It's all tied to Wired magazine's August issue dedicated to the subject, and I am standing in for Brad Pitt, as usual.

In a recent appearance on CNBC's Power Lunch I argued that there was no sensible rationale for regulating texting from the boardroom. Not too much controversy there. But an impending hit on the Today show about texting from every place other than the boardroom spurred a good-natured mini intervention at home, where I was reminded that I'm addicted to love for my iPhone.

Yes, my name is John A., and I use my iPhone all the time. And, I am not alone, I do not think: With every new mobile means of communication comes a new opportunity to shut out people in the world that's right around us and engage in some sort of conversation with others who are not.

Some of this is business, of course, and some of it social. Some, perhaps most, is in that in-between world of burnishing the personal brand that has become absolutely essential to networking.

If that sounds a little too much like "my fans expect it," it is.

Continue reading on Epicenter

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Ode to Noodle Soup

For sniffles and snuffles
Here's the straight poop
There's no better tonic
Than hot noodle soup

Try apples, you’re thinking
Or nice canteloop
No no, that won’t do it
Just hot noodle soup

I know you’d like liquor
Imbibed on the stoop
But don’t let that blind you
To hot noodle soup

The brain cells are mushy
You might have the croup
No matter. There’s nothing
Like hot noodle soup

Away, I could sail now
Aboard my own sloop
If only my first mate
Was hot noodle soup

This isn’t their problem
That helpful friend group
But blessed are they who
Bring hot noodle soup

I’d like to perk up now
I do hate to droop
I know! I will find me
Some hot noodle soup!

The dreams are subsiding
Now there’s a big whoop
The rantings are waning
Thank you, noodle soup

Friday, August 14, 2009

Twitter TMI

A brief appearance on a CNN piece about Tweeting TMI. Don't blink!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Contessa Brewer: All is Forgiven

It took a year, very nearly the end of the world as we know it, and perhaps pity for some sincere remorse. But if every dog has his day mine came Thursday as I finally got face time with Contessa Brewer.

She would certainly have no idea of my embarrassment for having failed to recognize her in our first interview in the same studio back in September 2008 — a faux pas she handled with grace and self-deprecating humor.

This time we were soul mates, mourning even a brief interuptus with Twitter, the emotional impact of which we each implicitly understood. Ms. Brewer is an avid Tweeter as @contessabrewer, which she casually mentioned. When I told her that I followed her, she offered to reciprocate, and I am sure I blushed.

On air, it was more of the same. Near the end of the interview, when I allowed as I had "misted" when Twitter failed this morning, she offered me a tissue and laughed when I told her friends had immediately e-mailed me to ask how I would be spending my "Twitter vacation."

It's good to be able to walk in the sun again.

Next Monday I'm slated to do a live hit on "Today," in the 4th hour with Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb. Now that I have made peace with Ms. Brewer, the sky is the limit, evidently.