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Emily Rooney apologizes for 'uninformed, dismissive and disrespectful' comments about minority documentary makers

Apology from Emily Rooney, Beat the Press

WGBH's "Beat the Press" started tonight with an apology by Emily Rooney for the way she dismissed complaints by media professionals about the lack of minority representation at PBS in general and the way that all the time given over to documentaries by Ken Burns makes it near impossible for other documentary makers to get their work aired.

Rooney particularly went after the Asian-American producers of a documentary on 150 years of Asian-American history that got less air time than a Burns bio of Ernest Hemingway, saying that maybe their work just isn't as good as Burns'.

She also pooh-poohed the notion that the five hours a year Burns gets on PBS is a lot - something the other four panelists on the show, including fellow GBH commentator Callie Crossley, who has worked on documentaries, said then was wrong, because documentaries in general get very little airtime, so five hours is, for them, significant.

Tonight, Rooney acknowledged she hadn't seen any of the work on the Asian-American experience and admitted she went too far in defending PBS and Burns.

"I crossed the line," she said, admitting her remarks were "uninformed, dismissive and disrespectful."

She added, "I want to sincerely apologize for my offensive remarks."

Rooney's on-air apology, which was recorded before the show aired, came two days after 21 documentary makers and film-festival organizers in New England wrote the station asking it do something about "Rooney's demeaning and racist commentary" on April 2:

Many of us have produced for GBH, which is known for its fact-based reporting and integrity. Rooney is a longtime presence there, touted in her bio as someone with “deep knowledge of media, politics and culture.” The program we reference was about access to airtime and funding from PBS – which concerns all of us. Instead of showcasing her understanding of the subject, Rooney relied on derision, racist tropes and more ignorance than fact.

Yesterday, GBH General Manager Pam Johnston wrote back that she agreed:

We acknowledge and share the concerns you have raised about the April 2 edition of Beat the Press, which did not meet GBH’s standards for opinion journalism, or our commitment to being an organization that respects all people. We have taken steps with Emily Rooney, and she has recorded an apology, which will be broadcast at the beginning of the next edition of Beat the Press, on Friday, April 16.

Like you, we are committed to growth and change within the public media system. This episode is an unfortunate reminder of the continuing work GBH must do, and is doing, to meet our commitment to advancing understanding, tolerance and justice.

The original episode, in which you get the feeling Crossley is being more restrained than she really wanted to be:

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Comments

Shot:

Rooney suggested “that maybe [Asian-American filmakers’] work just isn't as good as Burns'”.

Chaser:

Rooney acknowledged she hadn't seen any of the work on the Asian-American experience.

Although I have no doubt that Ms Rooney did work hard and has achieved a great deal on her own merit, I think it’s time for Emily Rooney, Megan McCain, and the rest of the nepotism media class to shut the hell up when it comes to criticism of Asian Americans or any people of color challenging the corporate media power structure.

Literally the only people interested in their hot takes on Asian Americans in media are people who also have the same interest in protecting the white affirmative action infrastructure that confers media credibility based on last name.

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Voting closed 100

Emily Rooney is the epitome of white liberal privilege. Several years ago I remember watching her commentary on “Greater Boston” about a fire at West Roxbury’s Tai Ho Mandarin and Cantonese Restaurant. In response to the death of two Boston’s firefighters, she marveled how Boston firefighters from all backgrounds came together to the aid of a Chinese restaurant in an impoverished minority neighborhood. The host of Greater Boston didn’t know the difference between Roxbury and West Roxbury, where the fire actually occurred.

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Voting closed 102

If you listen closely to her on “Beat the Press” and her regularly appearances with Margery and Jim on “Boston Public Radio”, I peg her as center right. Of course this a best guess and I don’t know, but this is supported by her 3-year tenure in the 90s at Fox News working under Roger Ailes. Who knows?

But I think we can agree that she is insulated by her privelege and it would benefit her to steer clear of certain conversations about merit.

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Voting closed 74

Rooney is "center-right" compared to most of the the other panelists that appear there

Did anyone else notice the clock behind Callie Crossley in the WGBH newsroom was wildly variant during the show?

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Voting closed 29

The only person who would peg Emily Rooney as center right is a isolated and never ventures out of the 128 circle.

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Voting closed 51

She's a boomer hag - supporting Hillary doesn't make you liberal - she was a centerist neoliberal (aka someone who might have been a republican if they hadn't gone off the deep end starting with Reagan).

Roll up that overton window and take a look at the historical rightward shift of the past few years.

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Voting closed 45

Ageism and misogyny in a single post.
I believe you’ve outdone Emily Rooney and her racism.

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Voting closed 182

The phrase "boomer hag" is nothing but a slur and adds no value to the discussion. It reflects badly on the writer. Rooney certainly deserves criticism, but that comment wasn't it.

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Voting closed 165

"boomer hag" - this type of bigoted language has no place on UHub or anywhere. You should be ashamed of yourself.

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Voting closed 105

i think conventional wisdom is that people who don’t venture outside of their comfort zone are far less likely to correctly identify various political leanings in a national or even global context.

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Voting closed 15

Look, If you listen to Rooney enough—she doesn’t believe that we were lied into the war in Iraq, she is very pro cop, she worked for Fox News in NY—it’s hard to see her as being liberal. Of course I have no knowledge of her beliefs beyond her WGBH tv/radio appearances and I know reporters try to play it straight, but even if I am wrong about her being center right, it would be tough to examine the same body of punditry and build a case for Rooney being liberal.

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Voting closed 39

The term "liberal" has been applied to mean a different standard at different times. Go back 55 years, it was anyone who thought the 1964 Civil Rights Act was basically a good idea. Go back 40 years, it was anyone who voted for Carter vs. Reagan. My personal feeling is that the Clinton administration really highlighted the split between people who identified as "liberal" (legacy of the past 10-12 years, in contrast with Republicans of the time) and those who were to the left of them. I think of Rooney as a Clinton "liberal", and I don't see where there's a problem with that, given that we have more than two nouns and any number of adjectives that we can use to describe people's politics. "Liberal" does not mean "champion of the downtrodden and disenfranchised", and insofar as it ever did, it was highly dependent on your definition of who the downtrodden and disenfranchised were.

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Voting closed 23

PBS airs content that isn't made by Ken Burns?

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Voting closed 59

They also have period shows from the BBC.

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Voting closed 25

Or Beating ADHD with the Amens but your comment is still hilarious.

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Voting closed 23

She’s terrible. She’s awful. Really smug and dismissive of all views other than her own super white view. Ugh.

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Voting closed 66

I do think that Emily Rooney failed to make a cogent point, but it sounded like she was attempting to push back against the notion (suggested by everyone else on the panel) that PBS should consider the race of a content creator as a primary factor when choosing what content to air. I am fully aware that in 2021 questioning the proposition that ‘race must be considered when making programming decisions’ is considered a racist act or evidence of racist thought by many people, however I find it concerning that reasonable people cannot apparently discuss and disagree on these questions in public anymore. I believe that it is possible that a person, with no hatred in their heart could argue that it is wrong (dare I say racist?) to make programming decisions based on the race of the content creator rather than the quality of the product produced. I think Emily Rooney’s canned apology only serves as a warning to others in the media who might dare to question the progressive orthodoxy of the day, and sadly I do not think that’s what we as a society need from our media.

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Voting closed 46

I watch Beat the Press every week.

One thing to note, trying to put it in context, I believe there was some controversy that Ken Burns' was "allowed" six hours of programming on his documentary about Ernest Hemingway - and the discussion on Greater Boston that night was devolving into how many hours Burns got for Hemingway, when one of the Asian American documentary makers only got two hours for a story on Asian Americans that covered over 250 years. I felt that Rooney was aware that the topic of Hemingway, and the targeting of Burns, were definitely creating a reaction and she was getting the usual bland and politically correct responses from her same old, same old panelists. They tend to go on long so she as tries to wrap it up with a quick statement...she tried to make her point and this time she made a mistake because she was rushing it but she was defending the fact that the letter stated it was addressing "PBS's tendency to exclude Asian American and minority documentaries" but she felt that in reading and analyzing their letter - it was only targeting Ken Burns although it gave the impression it was a "general" complaint. In other words, she was pointing out that the letter stated it was airing a general grievance, but she pointed out that every word in the letter seemed to be targeting one white guy - Ken Burns. I think in context she was trying to make a point that was actually well intended being a good journalist and looking at the disparity in the stated intent of the letter vs. the content in it. This is something she often does.

I knew from her comments that she would get in trouble for what she said. I also knew that her longtime colleagues would not dare defend or explain what she meant once Callie got cross - no pun intended. Callie immediately put up a red flag and I know she had a good point but I believe Rooney was disparaging of a collective group challenge of documentary filmmakers against one man - Ken Burns. As Ken Burns' brother said in a different interview, Burns could be making documentaries for other channels or whatever but he has stuck with PBS because they want him to be there. So, the fact that the letter was going after Burns kind of stuck in Emily Rooney's craw. That was her point and I am sticking to it. I think her intent was to point out that the joint letter was raising an issue with PBS about its bias -- and then making it all Ken Burns' fault. That was what she found fault with and so do I.

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Voting closed 16

After living in Boston (Back Bay) for a good part of her life and hosting a regional affairs show called Greater Boston, she took the T for the first (and likely last) time in 2015!

Uhub source post on that

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Voting closed 76

I remember that clearly. Those who normally dwell in ivory towers are reluctant to enter the scary tunnels.

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Voting closed 36

Thank god someone else remembers this! I think of it every time I see/hear/read about her. It floored me.

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Voting closed 26

Give her an office and a stipend, and put her on the Wellesley Dinner Party circuit earmarking Trust Money from elderly viewers.

Just keep her off the air.

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Voting closed 32

Next she'll be apologizing for 'uninformed, dismissive and disrespectful' comments about racism in Boston.

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Voting closed 20

Starts the argument with zero credibility. It's like attending Laconia Bike Week and complaining about the motorcycles. Dreadful elitist navel gazing.

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Voting closed 31

The show truly is awful. They should be apologizing for everything ever said on that show.

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Voting closed 13

I can't think of any point in Rooney's career when I didn't feel she was essentially clueless (dating back at least 20 years or so).

That said, the comment calling her a "hag" was utterly disgusting.

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Voting closed 77

They pretend it's not.
Why they still receive public money is a mystery.

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Voting closed 44

You are the public. What do you wish to see and hear on public TV and radio that you don’t already?

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Voting closed 31

They are free to be elitist if they wish but they shouldn't get public funds in my opinion.
Look at their demographics, they are not attracting Mr. and Mrs. Blue Collar.
They do like to buy shows from the BBC it seems, and I love Nature, but you can get Nature shows all over the place.

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Voting closed 35

construction workers are real americans, and so are teachers.

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Voting closed 25

I said I think PBS is elitist.
I'm not alone in that opinion, if you don't, that's fine.
The demographics of their viewers is public knowledge and they naturally cater to their audience.

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Voting closed 26

But I do on this.

They have some great shows but many only appeal to people with money.

I can’t watch This Old House anymore because even though it’s fascinating how they rehab old buildings, it’s never for the ordinary people who may have been gentrified out of these homes.

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Voting closed 26

Was once a fixer upper DIY type of show
I saw one episode where they had imported wallpaper from a specialist in England who recreates old wallpaper. I bet that wasn't cheap.

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Voting closed 21

Yes, I remember when it was a good show.

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Voting closed 15

Right? It’s like a Home Depot ad now. So boring!

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Voting closed 17

I’ve seen episodes on this old house in the past year that are directly aimed at new home owners. It’s usually the balding gent and I’ve seen him show young uns how to replace a few rotting boards on the front porch, simple toilet fixes, etc etc. And yes, some times they’ll go to a factory where they cut up expensive granite countertops headed for McMansions.

They also hired a young woman of color to work with its pasty crew. I feel like you are trying to jam this show into this argument. There is no one being displaced by this show.

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Voting closed 19

This old House is a good show but they never seem worry about costs.

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Voting closed 13

The demographics of their viewers is public knowledge and they naturally cater to their audience.

and this, in your opinion, is why they shouldn't receive public funds? am i correct in my reading of the words you wrote?

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Voting closed 22

It doesnt mean someone is not a "real american" to me. You wrote,that not me.

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Voting closed 25

But PBS is free to the viewer and without commercial breaks; what isn’t attractive about that? It’s a premium experience available to all.

PBS has many awesome shows and documentaries; Nature is great, but name another nature show as well produced or presented without interruption. Nature and Nova do Dicovery and National Geographic channel better than Discovery and NatGeo. Blue collar people I know love it.

My blue collar mom loves Downton Abbey and Antiques Roadshow. I also think she has a crush on “that Rick Steves” she constantly urges me to watch (I do like him). She always tells me about the commercial-free classic movies they often shown on Saturdays.

I did not have cable in my early years so my blue collar grandparents who cared for me made sure Sesame Street and Mr Rogers were on every day after Scooby Doo. I hear from many of the parents who are colleagues that Daniel Tiger (‘Tigre’) is very popular in their family, especially from moms who are immigrants.

I don’t like all PBS shows, but to claim that there isn’t programming that’s attractive to blue collar types is absurd. The programming is quite diverse and I would bet that you would like many episodes of American Experience, American Masters, and Frontline.

If the hypothetical “Mr & Mrs Blue Collar” are too busy watching Tucker Carlson or Keeping up with the Kardashians, then of course they aren’t going to be attracted to PBS programming.

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Voting closed 56

... it used to be anyone could watch old shows for free online. Now you have make a donation and become a member to see them.

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Voting closed 16

...but indeed the back catalog is restricted. Same with on demand content through your cable provider. I wish there was more freely available old content, but I do think the $5 per month is a great deal, though.

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Voting closed 24

.. other for profit providers charge.

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Voting closed 10

...viewers like you!

I get it. We are all asked to subscribe to every damn thing nowadays (big thanks to Adam Gaffin for not building a UHub paywall!). We are subscribing ourselves to death.

But PBS, as imperfect as it is, still has a good deal of free content and does not need to make money for shareholders.

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Voting closed 34

It's called "cable", and people pay for it. Am I wrong?

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Voting closed 12

Not if you use broadcast tv. It still exists, you know. And it’s totally free.

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Voting closed 23

PBS airs Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr. which I enjoy watching. Over the years I've watched Beat the Press and more recently Open Studio with Jared Bowen. I find it absurd that an internet keyboard warrior will therefore judge me as elitist, blue collar, or anything else for that matter. How f'ing arrogant!

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Voting closed 26

Watch it too

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Voting closed 20

And Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, COSMOS, and Masterpiece Theater made me who I am today.

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Voting closed 15

I have enjoyed her cantankerous views on many things over the years. This, however, unlike so many things she has commented on in the past, she hadn’t even thought about.

Edit: I should have said thought through.

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Voting closed 21

Though it’s clear that Rooney failed to make a coherent point at the end of the little round table discussion I’m disheartened that she’s been labeled a racist for questioning the notion that race should factor heavily into every programming decision made at PBS. For many of us liberals, the current tendency to boil every question down to race is not progress but a return to tribalism. I would hope that we could at least discuss and argue the merits of the ideas in our public forums.

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Voting closed 32

On an opinion show.

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Voting closed 32

...on a show that criticizes the medium that informs the public.

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Voting closed 36

Agreed, William Dawes 18

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Voting closed 13

55% of their programming is done by POC. It's not that only Ken Burns gets a chance to create documentaries. It's just that the public at large care about them more, and everyone makes a big fuss when a new one comes out every 5 years or so. So looks like we are all horrible people by supporting this system of oppression by watching excellent shows by leftist documentarians (who are white!).

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Voting closed 22

55% of their programming is done by POC.

And if all of their content was documentaries, then 55% of their documentaries would be done by POC. As it is, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to show your work.

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Voting closed 22

Why is there so much Ken Burns? Because a ton of people watched his Civil War documentary. This gives him name recognition. People liked most of his other stuff, so when he puts out something new people are likely to give it a shot.

Basic answer: they choose programming that people watch. It is not that hard.

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Voting closed 35

He is definitely talented but they should be spreading the money around to other talented filmmakers.

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Voting closed 23

Give me more Bruce Lee. That's some real film making.

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Voting closed 14

Had Rooney just said that as opposed to implying the other programs weren't as worthy of watching she wouldn't be forced to apologize.

PBS airs lots of Ken Burns because it results in favorable press and brings in donations/underwriting. That is a truthful and not insulting statement.

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Voting closed 30

I found his Vietnam War documentary very riveting also, covering all sides of that complex situation.

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Voting closed 27

Whose only claim to fame is essentially being the daughter of a famous misanthrope.

On a show with useless talking heads opining on their fellow useless media members partially sponsored by Trump lover Ernie Boch Jr.

Blech!!!

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Voting closed 23

Time for Emily to go. Don’t know what the station’s contractual obligations to her are, but GREATER BOSTON and the company (tax-exempt GBH foundation) must put some Asians in management (only one Asian now in the C-suite) and on-air anchor jobs.

How white we are:
https://www.wgbh.org/foundation/who-we-are

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Voting closed 10

Wow that's some serious white fragility coming from Emily Rooney in that original clip. She twisted the message and put forth a bunch of totally uninformed opinions. No one is saying that Ken Burns isn't an amazing documentary creator. They're simply saying he gets too much time and money from PBS when others who are equally deserving should probably be getting a share of that as well.

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Voting closed 21

Hmmmm? WGBH finally presses for an apology from one of its news crew?

Case in point -- a couple of years ago when the Merit Ratings Board at the Registry scandal hit the fan, along with the seven fatalities and additional injuries in New Hampshire as well as how many more accidents caused by drivers who should have had their licenses pulled by the RMV, Greater Boston's Jim Braude went off on one of his usual screeds and in which he blamed EVERYTHING on Governor Baker.

As is all too usual, Braude was variously and often mistaken.

In turn, knowing all manner of inside information, I wrote into WGBH management complaining about Braude yet again talking up his mistaken beliefs rather than properly and responsibly reporting on the tragedy.

The only response was that Braude selectively took my comments out of context and then harangued me in what can only be described as a mean-spirited ad hominem attack on the air.

Again I wrote to WGBH to complain of Braude's bullying and ask for it to act.

I got zip back. So much for proper review by an internal ombud per typical news media practice or at least provide of a format to duly criticize Braude over his petulance.

In time, however, and even as Braude kept on for time pressing his false narrative, hard information eventually come out on this tragedy and so proved my knowledgeable criticisms of Braude valid and his screed of me thus without any merit whatsoever.

Now, however, Ms Rooney has had to issue a mea culpa over what were charitably at best sloppy statements with a racial angle.

This old white guy, however, is still waiting to see the over-the-hill, bombastic, cranky and even older white guy bully that is Braude fade out to black, sign off into the sunset or comparable.

In the meanwhile, I pretty much only watch Greater Boston when Adam Reilly is substitute hosting.

That and find Ken Burn's documentaries a great antidote whenever I am suffering from insomnia.

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Voting closed 17