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Robert Zaller

of Bala Cynwyd, PA on July 12, 2017

Enjoyed your takedown of WHYY.  I stopped listening to their radio the day they took classical music broadcasting off the air in favor of "Car Talk."  Their TV — reruns of Lawrence Welk and the Three Tenors — was embarrassing long ago But my bigger objection— bigger even than Marrazzo's salary, or for that matter John Fry's at Drexel, where I teach — is to government broadcasting as such. 

Journalism is one area in which I believe in competitive private enterprise, the fiercer the better. Maybe the BBC works for Britain, but there's never been anything like that here, and the middlebrow, play-it-safe programming and commentary on PBS is a waste of taxpayer money at best and a species of indirect propaganda at worst. 

Journalism should police itself by rigorous professional standards and competitive self-criticism, but there should never be any pretense that there is a neutral, objective source that you can unproblematically "trust."  That's really the unspoken premise of public broadcasting, and it's also where propaganda begins.

Author's Response

In theory, I agree with you— especially when your theory is applied to places like Greater Philadelphia, which enjoy a robust variety of media voices. On the other hand, I once undertook a two-week project that required me to spend hours each day in my car while driving across southern Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and Wyoming. In such cultural wastelands, was I grateful for the companionship of public radio? Believe it.

K. Palmer Hartl

of Society Hill/ Philadelphia, PA on July 13, 2017

This seems an update to the 2008 piece, as the author indicated. This observation seemed to go nowhere then, and I am not sure it will go anywhere now. I think it identifies a general problem with CEO salaries. Boards are complicit. In many cases it is a crony system.  Many of the people who sit on this board are friends and connected generally in the Philly area. CEOs become part of the club.
I think the real issue may be: How do we value the contribution of a CEO to company success?
I remember after the 2008 crash, the New York Times columnist Paul Krugman said that until we solve outrageous CEO compensation packages, we will not solve the economic stability problem.  

I also heard an interview the other day with a person who has written about the end of the loyalty paradigm  and the loss of benefits by American workers.  When asked when this changed, the author said that he believed it was when CEO salaries started to be linked to the stock price. At that point, the motivation was to get the stock price up and be damed with what that meant in terms of other stakeholders and their importance to the organization. Cost control was a key part of getting the price up, and benefits are expensive.  There is hardly a single defined benefit pension plan left outside of government employees, and even there it is going away.
In Bill Marrazzo's case, it would be interesting to know Terry Gross's compensation. She is the main national talent that WHYY has. I will bet it is not equal to his.

Author's Response

As a former clergyman turned management consultant, you are perhaps ideally suited to define what constitutes "success" for a not-for-profit institution. If a church produced a balanced budget but little else, would it be deemed successful?  

Wayne Thomas

of Philadelphia, PA on July 14, 2017

The WHYY situation is far from unique. The WHYY trustees, like boards everywhere, use consultants to aid them in setting the CEO's salary. They look at comparable salaries and tell the consultant they want to be in the upper half of the salary range. Their belief is that you cannot attract top people if you pay a substandard salary. Obviously every organization cannot be in the "upper half"; therefore, CEO salaries have tended to increase.  

There is nothing wrong with compensating CEOs for meeting budget performance objectives. Your argument should be with the WHYY trustees and the objectives they set. If you object to "things like increasing audience share, converting to digital technology, and bringing the budget into line" and believe instead that the CEO should be paid based on something else, you should define it and state how it is to be measured. While a "smell test" might make amusing journalism, it does not provide any objective criteria for determining compensation.

Author's Response

The late Washington sage John W. Gardner observed that when it comes to recruiting key executives, there are only two qualities for which an organization should be willing to pay almost any price: Taste and judgment; “Almost everything else can be bought by the yard.” These, I readily agree, are not objective criteria. But why have a board at all, if not to make subjective judgments? Everything else can be handled by computers.

Wayne Thomas

of Philadelphia, PA on July 17, 2017

Subjective criteria may be appropriate for the policy-setting body (i.e., the board of trustees) when deciding objectives the organization should accomplish. But when it comes to determining whether or not a CEO has met his specific goals and is therefore entitled to a bonus, only objective criteria can be used.  

Richard Goldberg

of Old City/ Philadelphia, PA on July 17, 2017

I agree with Dan that Marrazzo has not achieved the basics. Just because WHYY is the most profitable of major-market public radio stations is not a measure. In fact, his salary is almost 50 percent of WHYY's profits. While his programming contains some of the most successful public syndications, he is not their originator, nor is he anything but a caretaker.
Compensating the CEO of a major nonprofit should have nothing to do with profitability. In fact, WHYY is basically devoid of any originality, other than "Fresh Air" and "Radio Times." The lack of originality and innovation does not deserve to be rewarded with the highest compensation of a CEO in the category.

Tom Goodman

of Center City/ Philadelphia, PA on July 26, 2017

It's quite clear Robert Zaller (above) stopped listening to NPR years ago. He hasn't a clue about the values of "Morning Edition," "All Things Considered" and "NewsWorks Tonight."

"Fierce competition" is not the root of good journalism, as Fox News has amply demonstrated. Rather, committed journalists and editors who want depth rather than headlines or propaganda are the keys to good journalism. NPR has these qualities.

Zaller's criticism that NPR aims for a trustworthy neutrality further underscores how an admitted non-listener (How does he arrive at this conclusion? Perhaps he is a closet listener?) is the one who cannot be trusted!

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Lynn Morin

of Vernon, CT on July 05, 2017

I love Michael Jackson for the same reasons you do. He was a tortured soul, in many ways. Where does the blame begin and end? With his tyrannical father fore and the enigmatic Dr. Conrad aft? It is that and so much more. Michael claims he was emotionally distraught over negative press, yet he kept doing all those strange— at least abnormal— surgeries, spoke with the voice of a woman, and at one point was a dead ringer for Liz Taylor, another one of his eccentric obsessions. People said he was Illuminati all the way, and was demonically possessed, which in turn piqued his sexual interest in young boys.

He had strange interpersonal relationships: with the children withnwhom he surrounded himself, with the families he opened his home to, with his family of origin, with his wives and early girlfriends. The only healthy relationships he seemed to have was with his children: Prince, Paris and "Bigi," also known affectuonately as "Blanket."

Taken as a whole, Michael was a successful but quirky pop star, prone to many of the same addictions that plague many in his chosen industry. By all accounts he was a good dad. The depth of his association with the Luciferian Illuminati is speculative at best. Was he a pedophile? Only God knows, as well as any of his supposed victims. Living or dead, Michael is still a superstar with millions of fans.

Rest in peace, Michael. I'll always love you.

Author's Response

I'm amazed to see a comment on my Michael Jackson article, since I wrote it just after he died. That said, he was certainly the type of artist who inspired that kind of passion in his fans. Like Lynn, I will always be a fan of Michael Jackson's brilliance. Like Lynn, I have no idea of the truth about his personal life. We are all enigmas, even those of us who are constantly examined under the microscope. 

In the article, I mentioned that Prince was one of my idols. Little did I know that he would follow his rival to heaven (if you believe in such things) less than a decade later. I adjusted relatively quickly to the admitted shock of learning that Prince, my first rock star crush, was a drug addict because I'd already had to process my reactions to Michael Jackson. There were those who were outraged when Dave Chappelle compared the deaths of MJ and Prince to the loss of the Twin Towers. I understand that such a statement could sound like sacrilege, and yet, especially to black kids of a certain generation, it was true.


of New York, NY on November 10, 2017

MJ wrote the book on sexy, hott, sweet, precious, and bad! I first saw him in concert at the age of grandparents couldn't believe I was allowed to go to a concert to watch a man grab his crotch! LOL! Well, I went to ten more over the course of MJ's lifetime, and let me just say: They were awesome.

I hate the way MJ was treated. All those lies...rumors...people using him...nobody being a true friend to him....his finances being mismanaged. I truly hope all those who treated him this way pay for it in a big way. He was such a sweet, loving person— too good for his own good.

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Dan Rottenberg

of Philadelphia, PA on June 23, 2017

I'm not sure which is worse: (1) A narrow-minded theater critic like Hedy Weiss, who retains her prestigious post while dozens of more enlightened theater critics are starving; (2) theater critics and theatergoers who believe the decision to hire or fire Hedy Weiss should be determined by them instead of the people who pay Hedy Weiss's salary; or (3) an actor who refuses to perform for unsympathetic critics.

If only Mao Tse-Tung were still here, Hedy Weiss could be sent to a re-education camp to correct her wrongful thinking, and we'd all be happy. Ah, but what's the good of crying over spilled milk?

Author's Response

Dan, I guess I fundamentally disagree with your premise. If I were to answer your rhetorical question earnestly, I would have to say: The racist with the 150,000-reader platform is definitely worse. But I will address your comments with a little more nuance than that.

I don’t believe we write in silos— correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that the entire reason that BSR exists? When a fellow writer publishes a review (or several) that I deeply disagree with, I feel compelled to write about it… as you yourself have done on more than a few occasions. Also, although the people who sign Hedy Weiss’s checks are ultimately the only ones with the discretion and power to let her go, I don’t believe that articulating the reasons why I believe she shouldn’t hold the job is merely an intellectual exercise. As we critics often say, we write for the public. I am a member of Hedy Weiss’s public, and I have the right to voice my displeasure with the many ill-informed opinions she has published during her career. I believe I have a right to say that she doesn’t deserve her platform, and to state my reasons why.

I am one voice in this conversation, and ultimately the decision to fire Weiss is not mine to make, but I do not regret using my platform to say what I think is right.

John Harrold

of Palatine, IL on June 26, 2017

I have not read many of Hedy Weiss's reviews, because I rarely read the Sun-Times any more. She is getting a lot of publicity due to this issue. I used to read Richard Roeper's columns on a regular basis, because they were so lacking in integrity: One day he would take one point of view and then on another he would take a contradictory viewpoint. It was hard to believe that more people didn't call him out for it.

Then, for some reason, the late Roger Ebert decided he didn't want to share his television movie review program with another film critic, so he gave the job to Roeper. All of a sudden, Roeper was a film critic. Years before Ebert anointed him a film critic, Roeper wrote a column about the film, Primal Fear. He condemned it because he considered it anti-Catholic. He was outraged that the film was released close to Easter. Ebert gave it 3 1/2 stars our of 4. But Ebert reviewed it as a film. Roeper wrote a column about it as being anti-Catholic propaganda. I don't pay attention to anything that Roeper writes, and if he happens to be on the radio when I'm listening, I change the station. I think that he is a poster boy for mediocrity, but I don't advocate his being fired from any of his jobs.

Author's Response

Thanks for your comment, John. At the risk of sounding like an advocate for mediocrity, I would say I find Hedy Weiss’s long and documented history of racially and culturally insensitive comments far more egregious than Richard Roeper’s middlebrow sensibilities.

Michael Colucci

of Chicago, IL on June 27, 2017

I enjoyed your article. Just for the record, Hedy's exact quote re Kushner was: "Kushner, in the classic style of a self-loathing Jew… "

Author's Response

Thanks for reading, Michael. I have read Weiss’s review of Caroline, or Change from which the comment originates. Weiss wrote that “Kushner, in the classic style of a self-loathing Jew, has little but revulsion for his own roots.” I don’t know how that could be read as anything other than Weiss calling Kushner himself a “self-loathing Jew."

Richard da Silva

of Center City/ Philadelphia, PA on July 01, 2017

I found and read Hedy Weiss's review of Pass Over online and find the outrage over it to be unfair and hysterical. She praises a great deal about the play, doesn't like the ending, and what she says about crime in Chicago is true.

Kyle Smith, a conservative critic (not to be confused with the Philadelphia composer Kile Smith), posted a piece about the Affaire Weiss on the National Review website, "In Chicago, Thought-Police Brutality." I heartily recommend it for anyone interested in common sense rather than vendetta. It offers a defense of Weiss and also amplifies what she actually said about Tony Kushner, adding some context.

Hedy Weiss has been reviewing for 30 years. Have her critics actually gone through her whole output to offer a balanced appraisal? And Weiss will survive. The Chicago Sun-Times will pay for her theater tickets if necessary. The intolerance to free speech of some cultural leftists beggars belief, but they don't have a monopoly on it either.

Author's Response

Conservative commentators seem fixated on the fact that Weiss praised certain elements of the play, as if a few kind words about the acting or production excuse the dog-whistle racism at the heart of the review. Praise is rather hollow when it’s couched in (subtle or overt) racism, or when a critic uses her platform to neglect the actual issues raised by a play and instead pushes an agenda that, at the end of the day, has nothing to do with the play. I suggest you read playwright Antoinette Nwandu’s response to Weiss, published in American Theatre magazine, to gain some insight on that.

Several other writers have trotted out the word "vendetta" to cast those voicing opposition to Weiss’s reviews as disgruntled Chicago theater professionals  holding some kind of grudge for a prior bad review or a comment they perceived as insensitive. That’s not the case, of course. As you yourself point out, Weiss’s review of Pass Over was positive, and some of her most egregious statements come from reviews that were, by and large, favorable to the production. 

I found Smith’s column pure sophistry. But even if Weiss were attempting to cast Tony Kushner as a “self-loathing Jew” because he criticized the state of Israel and wrote the film Munich, that would merely be another example of Weiss using her platform to proselytize, rather than doing what a critic should do: evaluate the work at hand. Perhaps she should ask her editors at the Sun-Times to shift her from the theater beat to the op-ed page. 

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Micki Ginsberg

of Moorestown, NJ on June 07, 2017

Bryn Mawr is blessed! We need such a theater in Moorestown!

Rob Buscher

of Philadelphia , PA on June 07, 2017

This is a good article, and I agree with everything you've said about the state of cinemas in Philly. But it seems strange that you make no mention of International House's newly rebranded Lightbox Cinema, since they are absolutely the best when it comes to repertory film programming, granted they are across the river in University City.

I think the real problem is that Philly audiences just don't come out to the movies the way they do in other big cities. In the '70s there were more than a dozen theaters in Center City alone, but they all closed down when the multiplexes opened up. Maybe that will change when someone finally builds one in Center City?

Joseph Glantz

of Levittown, PA on July 01, 2017

The County Theater in Doylestown has a pretty good mix of art house and repertory films. See