Posted by Rob Eshman
Why do journalists covering Howard Stern’s debut on NBC’s America’s Got Talent tonight keep quoting the Parents Television Council opposition to Stern as somehow important?
Howard Stern went national tonight—and America’s most reviled DJ began the transformation into America’s most beloved reality show judge. I predict Stern will go from Satan to sweetheart in less than a season.
That’s because, as I’ve written here for years now, Howard Stern is among the century’s most innovative, creative, intelligent and just plain entertaining entertainers. America will soon discover that too.
All the news reports leading up to Stern’s debut—from Matt Lauer to The Yentas (i.e., The View) to the LA Times create faux drama by quoting anti-Stern statements from an organization called the Parents Television Council. The Parents Television Council has called for a boycott of AGT advertisers to punish them for bringing Stern, whom they call vulgar and indecent, to network TV.
Can we just be clear that the PTC is B.S.?
Since its founding—and initial burst of attention—in 1995, the PTC has steadily declined over the years by any objective measure: fundraising, membership, staffing, leadership.
I can tell you the PTC is laughably irrelevant, but why not let the facts tell the story?
Open up the non-profit organization’s Form 990 tax-filing and the awesome powerlessness of PTC is all there, in the numbers.
•Fundraising. In 2006 PTC received $5.1 million in income. In 2010, $2.9 million. The decline year over year has been steady and inexorable.
•Membership. Of that $2.9 million, the filing shows $152,000 in “membership dues.”
The minimum contribution for membership is $15—which works out to about 10,000 members. That squares with a 2010 report in The New York Times in which a former financial officer, Patrick Salazar, claimed that the PTC, which purports to represent millions of average Americans, has a membership of just 12,000 people.
The bulk of PTC’s income comes from a small handful of conservative foundations. The conservative Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, for instance, donated $5000 to the group in 2010.
•Staff. The organization’s staff has steadily shrunken over the past few years. It now lists just three employees—how effective is any national organization with 2 senior staff and a secretary?
•Leadership. Founder L. Brent Bozell III stepped down a few years ago and was replaced by executive director Timothy Winters. (The 990 shows Bozell still received $24,000 in compensation last year, as a board member). Who has ever heard of Timothy Winters?
•More Fun Facts: According to the Form 990, PTC paid The Mail Room $3836 to engage in direct mail solicitation. That campaign brought in $296.
•Social Networking. Parents Television Council’s Facebook page has 97 LIkes. Howard Stern’s has 97,000. (The Jewish Journal has 1800. Hey, if you like this post and disdain the PTC, go ahead and Like us back).
Bottom line: Any reporter that quotes the Parents Television Council’s opposition to Howard Stern with the implication that PTC is significant, is committing journalistic malpractice.
Oh, wait my favorite fact about the PTC is this: On its web site the Parents Television Council proudly lists the members of its advisory board along with their pictures. The first advisor listed is Steve Allen.
Steve Allen has been dead 12 years.
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May 8, 2012 | 1:35 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Sacha Baron Cohen spoke to Howard Stern Tuesday morning, not as Borat or Bruno or The Dictator, but as an even more elusive character: Sacha Baron Cohen.
The British comedian famously refuses to do interviews out of character, even going so far as appearing at this year’s Academy awards as The Dictator—and spilling an urn full of ashes (flour, actually) on a spooked Ryan Seacrest.
Monday night he marched onstage at The Daily Show decked out as The Dictator for an interview with Jon Stewart—even with a guy who gets the joke he refused to appear as himself.
But for Stern, he shed his shtick. He was just Sacha. My guess is Howard either refused or simply wasn’t interested in interviewing Baron Cohen in character. In Howard’s world, nothing is more shocking and surprising and funny than honesty—and you can’t get that behind a fake beard and makeup.
The interview on Sirius XM was comedy legend. “Two tall hairy Jews,” as Baron Cohen described them, bantering at 100 mph about their careers, their comedy, and for one segment—which I managed to record below—on being Jewish.
“You’re an Orthodox Jew,” Howard asks Baron Cohen at one point in the conversation.
And they were off. I’m burying the lede here, but during their exchange Baron Cohen acknowledged that many of the creative choices in The Dictator and Borat were designed to mock anti-semitism, and show the utter hypocrisy at work when the Arab world singles out Israel and Zionism for criticism.
The Arab Spring, said Baron Cohen, reveals the flimsiness of that lie.
“All these dictators blame everything on the Zionists,” said Baron Cohen, “it’s a great scapegoat. Now, young people are saying the reason we’re not happy is we’re living in these dictatorships. There’s a guy who’s a trillion-aire who’s sleeping with models and actresses, and we’re here without any rights being persecuted.”
“Yeah,” Howard agreed, “Forget the Jews. They’re not our problem. The problem is our dictator is killing us.”
Baron Cohen revealed one way he made this point: his character in The Dictator speaks Hebrew. So, by the way, did Borat. Howard asked Baron Cohen how it was that he was fluent in Hebrew, and Baron Cohen said his mother is Israeli—in fact, his grandmother,m at age 97, still teaches fitness classes in Israel.
Two more parts of their conversation struck me. One was the difference in their Jewish identity. Both men married non-Jewish women, and Stern couldn’t quite understand why Baron Cohen’s wife converted to Judaism. He also assumed that Baron Cohen satirized anti-semitism in Borat and The Dictator because he faced it as a kid.
But Baron Cohen said he never experienced anti-Semitism. As the son of an Israeli, and a generation younger than Stern, he has none of the love-hate relationship with his faith that is so prevalent in men like Stern, Woody Allen, Larry David. The children of traumatized immigrants passed Judaism on as something heavy and dark, a bitter pill, and most often their children spit it out. Stern used to love to tell listeners that he was only half-Jewish.
He wished. But for Baron-Cohen’s generation, assimilation, fear, rejection were replaced by pride, acceptance, even joy. They could see Judaism as a viable spiritual path, without the personal baggage of anti-semitism and the Holocaust.
Yes, listen to the interview, you’ll see what I mean.
The other was just how much of a role model stern was for Baron Cohen.
“I’ve been watching your career for 20 years,” he told Stern.
If you’ve heard the interviews Stern has done over the past year with Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and others, they all same much the same thing. A generation of ambitious, funny, comedians grew up listening to Stern, and were inspired by his courage and honesty—and crudeness.
As Baron Cohen said, “This is a guy who’s got balls.”
You can hear the Jewy part of the interview here:
Click here to read a penetrating op-ed by Sacha Baron Cohen’s cousin Simon Baron Cohen on the reasons killers target children. It’s not funny, no. But boy that Baron Cohen family is bright.