Was Kurt Andersen The First To Out Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie?

bert-and-ernieNovember 2009 marks the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street, the self-proclaimed “most widely viewed children’s show in the world.” Google is celebrating with logo doodles, while the Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy blog is using the opportunity to ponder the age old pop culture question: Are Bert and Ernie gay?

Probably not, but who would start such a salacious rumor about a pair of puppets? As it turns out, it was probably Studio 360 host and author Kurt Andersen! Speakeasy quotes Anderson’s 1980 book The Real Thing:

“Bert and Ernie conduct themselves in the same loving, discreet way that millions of gay men, women and hand puppets do. They do their jobs well and live a splendidly settled life together in an impeccably decorated cabinet.”

When reached for comment about being the first to “out” the fabric children’s characters, Andersen responded by saying, “As far as I know, it was simply and purely a joke of mine. (As it happened, my wife-to-be had gone to work for Sesame Street in 1978.) And no, I had no notion, of course, that this idea would become an enduring urban legend. But it pleases me that it has.”

But the hetero-normative mainstream isn’t having it! “They don’t exist below the waist,” says Sesame Workshop President and CEO Gary Knell. Then, Speakeasy writer Michelle Kung points to an official denial from Sesame Street in the early ’90s:

“Bert and Ernie, who’ve been on Sesame Street for 25 years, do not portray a gay couple, and there are no plans for them to do so in the future. They are puppets, not humans. Like all the Muppets created for Sesame Street, they were designed to help educate preschoolers. Bert and Ernie are characters who help demonstrate to children that despite their differences, they can be good friends.”

Good friends is all! How dare that Kurt Andersen and his subversion. Happy 40th anniversay, Bert and Ernie — whatever the nature of your relationship may be.


Blogger Yoani Sánchez, Who Says She Was Beaten by Cuban Authorities

blogeracubana-773080In the two years since she started writing her blog Generation Y, Yoani Sánchez has become one of the most notorious voices of Cuban dissidence. Using different methods to overcome the restrictions for Internet access on the island, this former philologist has turned posts on her daily struggles into metaphors for the Cuban drama.

Her blogging has also produced two books and received awards such as Spain’s Ortega y Gasset and Columbia Journalism School’s Maria Moors Cabot. But the Cuban government has denied her permission to travel to receive them. What makes Sánchez’s story more compelling is that she emigrated to Europe in 2002, but decided to return to the island two years later “for family reasons and against the advice of friends and acquaintances.”

Last Friday, while she was on her way to a demonstration for nonviolence in Havana with friends, Yoani says she was kidnapped and beaten by men in plain clothespresumably state agents — in what seems to be the first documented physical attack on members of the growing network of Cuban bloggers. She described her injuries as “No blood, but black and blues, punches, pulled hairs, blows to the head, kidneys, knee and chest.

We spoke to Yoani on Sunday night.

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How are you, Yoani?

Well, I can’t say I’m fine, but I’m here.

I read the post where you narrate how you were kidnapped and beaten. Is there anything you want to add to it?

Well, a few hours ago I dictated a post through the phone — I imagine it’s already online. It’s a reflection on being a victim and the things that I didn’t say earlier.

One of the things that strikes me the most about this attack is that your blog is mainly about daily life in Cuba. You are not criticizing anybody in particular or making incendiary denouncements. Your posts are about simple things. It is shocking that the Cuban government can be afraid of that.

I don’t think they are afraid of me, because I’m just a little person that they can easily eliminate. What they are afraid of is the phenomenon of the alternative blogosphere, the phenomenon that more and more young people are projecting their voices: that is tremendously contagious. This is why they may be attempting to make a sort of ‘prevention,’ applying some sort of vaccine, so the blogger virus, the virus of opinions, does not spread. I don’t think their attack is against the person of Yoani Sánchez, but rather against the blogger phenomenon, a phenomenon of different opinions that is taking place in Cuba. They want to paralyze as many people as possible with a preventive strike.

“They don’t understand that these new phenomena can’t be fought with the old weapons of repression. They still haven’t understood the potential of the web.”

Has anything like this happened to you before? Were you followed or attacked?

In the two years I’ve been writing my blog, I’ve been living as if in one of those Saturday night films: people following me wherever I go. But until now they hadn’t interacted in a physical or violent way with me.

There was one precedent, however. During a rock concert, where some friends and I demanded the liberation of a musician, there was some sort of organized violence. But it was covered by the loud music and everything else going on at the concert. What happened [on Friday] was more direct, more aimed at the blogosphere. Those affected by this action were blogger Claudia Cadelo, blogger Orlando Luis Pardo and me. This shows that [those in the Government] are particularly stricken by the potential our words have through the Internet.

But that reasoning is flawed, too. Your work has received recognition outside of Cuba and it’s impossible to cut your access to the web. By attacking you, they might make you a greater figure than if they just ignored you.

Of course, but they are dunces. Their main problem is that they don’t understand that these new phenomena can’t be fought with the old weapons of repression. They still haven’t understood the potential of the web, and that these repressive measures do nothing but increase the number of hits on my blog. They haven’t understood very well what is it that the new technologies do, nor the different effects that repression causes when a blogger is attacked. So they are just employing the old methods of restraint, intimidation, and attempting to isolate you. But they actually produce the opposite effect.

In the post you wrote about the attack, you state that the actions of your kidnappers were motivated by the “the blustering terror of he who knows that his days are numbered.”

Yes, because when the arguments and the faith in a system are over, when the people stop believing in a certain political discourse, those who are in charge can only resort to violence and restraint. This is what we are seeing in Cuba now: the absence of any sort of argument, handling people through violence and fear. This is all we have left. There is no symbolical legacy, none the things that existed in the first years of the [revolutionary] process. Terror is the only thing that remains.

>>>NEXT: “I run towards the place where fear is born.”


Glenn Beck Dominates Bestsellers List With Children’s Books Too

sweater_11-9We’ll just say it – there’s not a single thing Glenn Beck won’t dominate right now.

TV, radio, publishing, and now, Children’s book. That’s right, another New York Times bestseller.

In the wake of his last New York Times #1 bestseller, “Arguing With Idiots,” way back a couple weeks ago, Beck’s new Children’s book, “The Christmas Sweater,” reached #1 on the NYT list this week.

This makes it five consecutive publications to debut at #1 on the NYT bestsellers lists. His publisher believes he has made history. From the release:

Beck’s publishing house, Simon & Schuster, believes that Beck has become the only author in history to ever have #1 New York Times bestsellers debut on these four different lists: hardcover fiction (The Christmas Sweater), hardcover nonfiction (Arguing with Idiots and An Inconvenient Book), nonfiction paperback (Glenn Beck’s Common Sense), and now with The Christmas Sweater: A Picture Book, children’s picture books.

And some of these books by Beck are still hanging around their respective NYT lists. “Arguing with Idiots” is #5 on the hardcover nonfiction list in its 6th week and “Common Sense” is #8 on the paperback nonfiction list. It was released June 16 and has currently sold more than 1 million copies. At this point Beck could release a collection of drawings from his chalkboard and it would hit #1.

As for the next time you’ll see Beck on TV or radio, he tweeted today that he’s slated to be back tomorrow. We’re sure he’s got a lot to say in the week he’s been off air.

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Did President Obama Call Tea Partiers “Teabag Anti-Government People?” (UPDATE)

obama-300x200In the midst of his yearend push to pass sweeping health reform legislation, the last thing President Obama needs is another dustup with the tea party set. Is it possible that he referred to them as “teabag” people in discussions with House Democrats?

Update: a Democratic Representative’s office responds — see end of post.

From the New York Times’ Prescriptions Blog:

Mr. Obama, during his private pep talk to Democrats, recognized Mr. Owens election and then posed a question to the other lawmakers. According to Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, who supports the health care bill, the president asked, “Does anybody think that the teabag, anti-government people are going to support them if they bring down health care? All it will do is confuse and dispirit” Democratic voters “and it will encourage the extremists.” (emphasis added)

The quote should be taken with a few large grains of salt before one draws any conclusions about President Obama: it is, after all, “according to Representative Earl Blumenauer,” and could be a paraphrase rather than a direct quote.

Still, the quote’s emergence is a sign of the powerful information-sifting capabilities of the social web: even though the offending word “teabag” appeared two thirds of the way into a wonky post on a fairly obscure NYT blog, it’s already starting to bubble up on social aggregator sites like Digg and Reddit. This, in turn, highlights the dark side of these sites, which sometimes tend towards sensationalism and a herd mentality: a Digg headline falsely claims that “Obama uses the word ‘teabagger’ to describe the opposition.”

It’s possible that an older fellow like Earl Blumenauer could naively use the phrase ‘teabag’ without realizing its explosive connotations — which is why the question of who said what and who paraphrased what is so crucial.

It’s a question worth asking whether the New York Times deliberately buried the lede on this one, out of genteelness or whatever other motivation. By now, anyone who has been seriously following the tea party movement should know that a lot of people out there are greatly offended by the phrases “teabag” and “teabagger,” given their sexual connotations (cf. Urban Dictionary).

Yes, Obama’s healthcare pitch to lawmakers is important to the public debate, but in today’s political climate, the possibility that Obama used the word “teabag” in conversation with Democratic lawmakers is a story of its own, not a noted-in-the-third-paragraph-with-no-followup story. At the same time, it’s possible that an older fellow like Earl Blumenauer could naively use the phrase ‘teabag’ without realizing its explosive connotations — which is why the question of who said what and who paraphrased what is so crucial.

Update: Representative Blumenauer’s communications director tells Mediaite that Blumenauer was paraphrasing. “Congressman Blumenauer was simply summarizing in his own words the President’s remarks following the caucus meeting,” she said in an email.


Twenty Years Ago Today: Peter Jennings Reports “Astonishing News” Out Of Germany

Berlin Wall FreedomToday is the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. So much has happened in the last 20 years to fundamentally change the political landscape of not only Europe but the entire world it’s hard to remember a time when the continent of Europe was literally divided by a wall. Or how momentous it was, and how sudden, when that wall suddenly came down.

It is amazing to watch this clip (below) of Peter Jennings deliver the “astonishing news” out of Germany in a breaking “special report’ on November 9, 1989. In part, because it somewhat conveys the sense of shock and awe that accompanied the news, but also because it’s such a quick and poignant reminder of a time when network news actually did break news stories to a nation unaware of the breaking events on the world stage.

As with other huge news stories of the recent past (Katrina comes to mind) it’s hard not to speculate how differently that day, or that time, might have unfolded has media outlets such as Twitter and YouTube been available. In the meantime, here is Jennings and ABC News’ special report on November 9, 2009. Below that, the opening paragraphs of the New York Times A-1 story that ran the following day.


NEXT>>> New York Times A-1 Story On Fall of Berlin Wall


Newsweek Launches ‘Decade In Rewind’ Website, Recaps Ten Years In 7 Minutes (VIDEO)

05-30-02-timeballwebWe’re less than two months from the end of the decade and up to now, the media has been suspiciously quiet about it. Maybe it’s going to be a surprise party, but it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to believe that the retrospective coverage would have been wall-to-wall for the entire second half of the year. There’s always December!

Whatever the case, Newsweek is kicking off their celebration of The Aughts and welcoming 2010 with a new website: The Decade In Rewind. It’s highly interactive, filled with top 10 lists and essays, and will doubtlessly be fleshed out at New Year’s Day grows ever closer.

The best part so far, though, is their 7-minute review of the decade in the style of Nine Minute Sopranos, all fast-talking and nostalgic, which was posted to the Newsweek Tumblr this morning. From Y2K to Obama, it’s all there.

Unfortunately, they’ve decided to make the clip un-embeddable, but the video transcends that obnoxious reality because it’s just that good. Watch it here.

Update: Newsweek was nice enough to pass on the video in shareable form. Check it out below:


Rupert Murdoch Wants All His Sites Removed From Google

Picture 8There have been times the past twelve months or so when it’s seemed as though Rupert Murdoch may be attempting to build some sort of way-back machine that would take both him and his media empire back to a safer time when the Internet could not interfere with his newspaper world dominance. The latest evidence is news that Rupe is going to take his newspapers off Google. Not a joke.

Rupert Murdoch has suggested that News Corporation is likely to make its content unfindable to users on Google when it launches its paid content strategy .

When Murdoch and other senior News Corp lieutenants have criticised aggregators such as Google for taking a free ride on its content, commentators have questioned why the company doesn’t simply make its content invisible to search engines…Murdoch claimed that readers who randomly reach a page via search have little value to advertisers.

The saying “cutting off your nose to spite your face” comes to mind. Love it or hate it, taking yourself off Google seems like the 2.0 equivalent to removing yourself from the newsstand and relocation behind a secret door only the chosen few have a key to. Which is a little bit how the Wall St. Journal already operates — you don not need us to point out the that NYP is not the WSJ.

Meanwhile, being removed from the newsstand is apparently a problem the New York Post is currently facing. From today’s New York Times:

Nearly every paper in America has lost circulation, but The Post more than most — down almost 30 percent in 2.5 years, to 508,000 in the most recent reporting period, against 544,000 for The Daily News. The slide accelerated after The Post’s price returned to 50 cents last year. And this year, The Daily News has surged far ahead in online readership.

In the Post’s defense, they did overhaul their website a short time ago so that it’s now actually navigable. That said, the reasons to visit the site beyond acquiring a jpeg of today’s front cover are sadly slim indeed.