Sunday, January 27, 2008

TV: Cullum's Big B.O.

Do we get hazard pay? We should at least be provided with Hazmat suits after having to watch a public broadcasting program entitled CEO. As Jim noted last week, a copy of it arrived with a cover note -- a warning note. The show aired last Friday. Our apologies to anyone who watched. Had we watched the copy when we got home the weekend before last, we could have issued an emergency warning of the public disaster about to take place.


Have you ever wondered what would happen if character actress Thelma Ritter had attempted to affect a Katharine Hepburn manner of speech? Probably not but for the perverse, meet Lee Cullum who seems to exist to suggest a full grown and blousy version of the animated program Arthur's Muffy brought to life. We checked with PBS friends and they noted there was once hope for her -- many decades ago -- but she's "regional, that's putting it kindly." We were told by another friend that they were surprised she still had an outlet anywhere.

Once upon a time she took her hick act around PBS and NPR where she was presented as an expert. She did a little radio bit in 2002 that wasn't carried widely and one reason was because people couldn't believe anyone could be so stupid to claim Nancy Pelosi was out of touch with her centrist party but Martin Frost was the natural choice for Democratic Minority Leader of the House. We wished we could have heard that. We find it laughable for reasons we can't share and for the reason that Frost campaigned for the House, even after elected to it, without using the word "Democrat" in his TV ads, his posters, etc. He was the one to represent the Democratic Party in the House?

But Lee Cullum is human trash and, watching, we realized that she's human trash in a bad, ill-fitting wig. Her current hair color is red but she's had a number of shades over the years and they've never been attractive. You can only do so much with what you were born with -- she wasn't born with much. She was born with the ability to swing it and sell it and we're trying very hard not to use the word so many will think of. If you've thought we're saying she's a ___, you are right; however, we are attempting to avoid using that because we're aware that might be confused with her gender and it has nothing to do with her gender.

It has to do with the fact that she's a tool for Big Business. If that confuses anyone, peruse her official bio which includes: "Previously on the board of the Council on Foreign Relations for ten years, she is a member of CFR, the Trilateral Commission, the American Council on Germany, the Inter American Dialogue, the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, the Founding Committee of the Dallas Committee on Foreign Relations, the Texas Philosophical Society and the National Conference of Editorial Writers. She also is a fellow of the Dallas Institute for Humanities and Culture." In this day and age, it's not many who will brag of membership to the Trilateral Commission. But Cullum has no shame, common sense or concern for the public.

Which is why it's appalling, the aged hooker (yes, we're getting closer to the term) does what she does on the public dime. Public television was created for a reason, as was National Public Radio (NPR), and it makes no sense that this woman has been allowed to make a decades long career out of it. True, in the early days, they did go out of their way to include women on the air because the networks did not. Things have gotten a little better for women (one anchor is not 'better') at the networks but, even were they not better, putting a little Corporate Cheerleader on air isn't anything public radio or television needs to do.

As we've already noted, she's frightening to look at. Ignore the content of the quotes we're about to share -- yes, she's more than slanted to the right but pay attention to the wordage, the excess wordage, and grasp that she's supposedly taking part in a conversation.

Cullum: "You grew up in Arizona, went to the University of Arizona, studied engineering, and then you took a job with Fluor as an engineer and you ran practically everything over the years, you ran chemicals, and fibers and plastics and energy, then the engineering and construction unit, which looks to me like the heart of the company. You became chairman and CEO in 2002 and four years later you moved the headquarters here to Dallas, to Irving, Texas really, from southern California. What was the thinking behind that move?"

If Cullum wasn't so keen to show off the research someone did, she could have simply stated, "What was behind the decision to move Fluor from California to Irving, Texas?" Of course, doing that wouldn't allow her to dominate the 'conversation.'

Cullum: "I've been wondering where the name Fluor came from and I found out. John Simon Fluor founded the company in 1912. By 19 -- by the 1930s, you were building major refineries in Texas, Missouri and Indiana with more to follow plus natural gas plants in Venezuela, Canada and Saudi Arabia. I am wondering is, uh, you grew up really with the oil business, the emerging oil business. Do you think of yourself as primarily related to energy? You do many things but is energy at the top of the list?"

Does that strike you as a conversation? We should note that the guest, Alan Boeckmann, actually had our sympathies (which only disgusted us even more) because he had to attempt to respond. At some points, early on, not grasping that this wasn't a conversation, he would attempt to respond in the midst of her clauses. He would think, "Oh, that's the question." He would learn differently as Cullum, like a locomotive, chug-chugged on, ignoring him. Viewers had to wait and wait for Ms. Smarty Pants to finish showing off all the useless details she'd crammed into her notes and finally get to the point. As with sweat, never let them see your prep-work.

What's even sadder is whenever she would finish her editorial statements -- which only sometimes contained a question mark -- Boeckmann would respond in what appeared a genuine manner (it kills us to say that) and attempt to start a conversation but instead of her responding to what he had said, she was back to her notes and ticking off the next question. Twenty minutes in, this was broken only once. When she was wrong about a former portion of the Soviet Union and tried to cover, when corrected, with, "There are so many 'stans'."

While he answered, she would blink. Repeatedly. As if her blinks were counts or beats and, after X was reached, she could launch into her next lengthy speech that had no bearing on anything she had asked prior or on what Boeckmann had just replied. In fact, the 'conversation' could have been taped with her asking 'questions' ahead of time and him appearing at a later date to respond since she refused to have an exchange.

It was awful TV. It was awful to watch her heavily lined face under that hideous wig, it was awful to hear that twangy, locked jaw speech, it was awful to wait and wait for an exchange that never took place and, most important for TV, it was boring as hell. That's before we even get into the politics of the show. It was lousy TV and apparently the Dallas NPR and PBS station doesn't have the guts to give her the needed walking papers so an incompetent is going to be allowed to eat up time until the day she dies. As a general rule, no one wants to watch or listen to a host going through a list of overly worded questions prepared ahead of time -- a list that is never broken from even to ad lib, "That's interesting."

Iraq was a topic which is why a PBS friend thought we'd enjoy "ripping into" (their words in the note) the show.

The chief editorial statement there, from Cullom of course, was this: "Fluor's been involved in the reconstruction of Iraq and last year you received a letter, dated January 22, 2007, from Representative Henry Waxman, who runs the House Committe on Oversight and Government Reform, inviting you to testify and instructing you to send voluminous documentation of your association with various contractors including Blackwater which became quite controversial because some of its people allegedly shot and killed some Iraqis recklessly and unnecessarily. Do you still have an association with Blackwater?"

You really have to hear the disdain in her voice on words like "voluminous" and "allegedly." But just reading "some Iraqis" may be enough to do it for some. That would be at least 17 Iraqi civilians dead as a result of a slaughter, not alleged by the FBI's own investigation.

Her disdain is also apparent when she goes on to refer to journalist Jeremy Scahill, "There's a writer called Zeremy Jeremy Scahill who's written a book on Blackwater and you appear in it, you might want to look yourself up in the index. He said that you hired 700 Blackwater guides to look after 300 people there working on a 2 million dollars worth of contracts."

"Writer"? He's a journalist and, Lee Cullum, having already insulted him by calling him a "writer" and having refused to give out his book title, do you want to explain "Zeremy" because we're seeing it as a slur, or zlur, if you will. (The CEO's response was, "That would be very surprising." Cullum's scripted questions were written ahead of time so, naturally, she had no follow up for him.)

Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army is the book title Cullum couldn't bring herself to recite. Those who might have been looking for a book by a "Zeremy Jeremy Scahill," with little luck, can thank us by getting the word out on the Disaster Capitalist Lee Culum. On page 227 of his book, he reports that Waxman stated that a memo disclosed "'that Blackwater was operating under a subcontract with [KBR competitor] Fluor when four Blackwater employees were killed in Fallujah in March 2004,' . . . He charged that Blackwater appeared to providing security services under the LOGCAP contract in violation of the terms of the contract and without the knowledge or approval of the Pentagon." Instead of raising that question (and Cullum brought up Falluja but a different aspect), she refers the CEO to the book. Television With A Yawn is all Cullum provides. There's a reason for that, and as you continue reading Scahill's page 227, you'll find the next section labeled "Whores of War." Cullum's name doesn't appear but should. Although limiting it to just "war" might be underselling her.

She certainly lives to sell everything, distortions of Hugo Chavez, distortions for Big Oil. Take the moment where she editorializes of more refineries in the United States that "there are some who say that's not a minute too soon" and goes on to credit Hurricane Katrina with 'demonstrating' the need for more refineries -- "it became quite apparent," Cullum informs.

Is that what became apparent, Cullum? Funny because Joshua Karliner (CorpWatch) saw it differently: "One of the strongest storms on record, Katrina provided an epic and horrific laboratory for observing what happens when corporations and consumers pump more and more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere." But, again, Cullen's not just a whore for war. She works for all of big business -- so much so, we kind of picture her standing below a street lamp on the corner of Wall Street and Broad Street.

On the subject of Katrina, Boeckmann made a declaration that flies in the face of all known facts on who got employed. He stated that Flour employed people from Louisiana ("In New Orleans, 90% of the people we used were from Louisiana."). We could cite sources a plenty but will instead just go with Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: The Rise Of Disaster Capitalism which states, "Something else was familiar: the contractors' aversion to hiring local people who might have seen the reconstruction of New Orleans not only as a job but as part of healing and re-empowering their communities. Washington could easily have made it a condition of every Katrina contract that companies hire local people at decent wages to help them put their lives back together. Instead, the residents of the Gulf Coast, like the people of Iraq, were expected to watch as contractors created an economic boom based on easy tax payer money and relaxed regulations."

Ah, yes, tax payer money. A term never heard in Lee Culum's spit-shine of the 'free' market.

She marveled over a "5 million dollar contract with the US Navy" but, of course, left unstated was the fact that the US Navy is not a money-making body and is dependent upon the tax payer for funding. She wasn't concerned that the US Navy was contracting out their duties to Fluor, she was too busy marveling over five million dollars. She was probably attempting to figure out how many corporate hand-jobs and half-and-halfs she'd have to do to rake in that kind of money?

She was positively beaming when she brought up nuclear power and how Fluor has the contract for "two advanced boiling water" plants -- that's cute, isn't it, "boiling water" -- in "Baytown, Bay City as it's called now." Her host insisted it was "clean energy" and we don't know why he felt the need to point that out because Cullen wasn't questioning it. We got the feeling she'd stick her whole head into a microwave -- bad wig and all -- if anyone had question the 'goodness' of radiation.

There are many valid complaints made against NPR and PBS as a whole. We would argue that the work of Lee Culum exemplifies all of those valid complaints and urge FAIR to, at least for one story in Extra!, take a look at the regional offerings. They do tremendous damage and tend to fly under the radar. CEO is the worst of the worst and we're basing that on the fact that we're on the road every week speaking about Iraq and catching NPR and PBS stations all over the country. We've seen bad. We just hadn't seen Cullum bad.

Among the valid complaints (that even friends with PBS agree with) is that there is a tilt towards Big Business (we'd say more than "a tilt" but they will agree to "a tilt") and there has been a huge move away from covering labor issues. At such a time does any PBS station need to create a program entitled "CEO"? And if they do, should it be such a fluffy program?

We checked to see how long the program had been around and were disappointed to find out it's not been around since the start of this decade. Translation, no rah-rah clips of Cullum and Ken Lay exist. As sad as that is, what's more frightening is that Big Business Cullum gets to represent Democrats. We spoke with community member Billie who lives in the DFW area and she said there's no sound more frightening than Cullum's "Thurston Howell the Third voice yammering on each election cycle, beating down any Democratic who tries to stand for anything not in the DLC bible." Billie missed the most ridiculous moment friends alerted us to, when Lee Cullum addressed the Iraq War. (In fairness, we should say "this decade." She's also infamous for defending the 'science' of The Bell Curve on PBS but adding she believes in 'means' not 'genes'. That's telling 'em, Lee.) She started off sounding reasonable, "Do not go to war if you don't have to" and we might be able to think, "Well good for her." However, to that sentence she added "without understanding first the history of the nation you are about to convert into the enemy." Of course she added that. Those Foreign Relations Council types always have to have their wars. She's all for illegal wars, all for wars that don't have to be fought (never by her or her family) as long as there is an "understanding" of "the history of the nation". You tell 'em, Lee.

We can link to KERA comfortably. We can even give them a "shout out" and link to Krys Boyd's Think. But we can't link to Disaster Capitalist Lee Culum's CEO. If you don't grasp yet how bad the show is, get that when we explained it to PBS friends, they all understood. They all really, really understood. That alone tells you everything you need to know. Throughout the writers' strike, as we've focused on 'news' and 'public affairs' programs, we've had PBS friends screaming at us over the phone repeatedly over comments we've made; however, when it comes to Lee Cullum, they don't even fake defend the woman's work. And if they can't, no sane person can.
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