Monday, 22 September 2014

Media Nut

Did I ever tell you how I became a media nut? It started generations ago as I entered graduate school in Cleveland where my uncle the Reverend Aloysius Mark Fitzpatrick was the editor there of “The Catholic Universe Bulletin”, a weekly diocesan paper. I had won an annual essay of the Jesuit University of Detroit (Don’t ask me why the Jebbies named their U’s after cities rather than saints (maybe it was to entice non-Catholics for potential conversion!) “Needed More Red-Blooded American Catholics” to advance racial discrimination. (Commies were the only Americans in the ‘40’s who were square with blacks!) That prize made me want to conquer the media world. Alas, when the doctoral committee at Western Reserve University asked me who I wanted to write my dissertation on, I replied “Marshall McLuhan”! "Who”? They replied in Unison! I silently middle-fingered them and decided to go on the spot to Michigan State, where at least I wouldn’t have to pay out-of-state tuition.

Now State was then what we called a Cow College, a university that only majored in agriculture. But Times were a-changing, mainly because of a brilliant new English Department. I had just gotten married and my first son Michael, 1952, was on the way. So I became the janitor of the East Lansing State Bank, right across the street from the U. Now janitoring was not my ambition, but you hear every bit of gossip as you you push your broom. And I heard that the 10th and 12th grade teacher had just been canned for incompetence. I asked the new English chair if I would jeopardize my graduate status if I got that teaching: “Hell, no!” he replied. The depression was just over and his department had financed their Ph.D.’s with such jobs. So I took it! The best students I ever had—children of uni profs or Lansing execs!

Here’s where the “cow college” returns. MSU was the first U to get a TV channel. And they were eager to find programs. I invented one for my students: “Everyman Is a Critic”!, a Saturday morning TV rant on teenage age leisure. It caught on—so much so that the Ford Foundation gave me a grant to spend a year in New York to goose the T&V Execs into doing more for high school students. I visited “Scholastic Teacher” and ended up as their radio and TV editor—with access into every High School in the USA:I invited myself, and found Dr. Ralph Bunche (the first black to be a rep abroad in our State Department—he had just been on a “Time” cover. The other guy asked “Well how’s it going, Mr. Hazard?” “Lousy” I replied. “I’ve been trying for weeks to get an interview with Sylvester “Pat” Weaver, NBC’s head. He was very committed to raising TV’s IQ, but nobody wanted to palaver with an English teacher from Nowhere. Finally, the other guy said, "I like your enthusiasm, and I’m on the foundation that gave you your grant”. “I’m Roy Larsen, the publisher of “TIME”, how would you like an office in the Time-Life Building. I gulped, and took his card. 

Monday I was given my own office on the 34th floor of the Time-Life Building. I called Weaver first thing. “Busy”. But I left the magical “Time” phone number, Judson 62525. “The Time PA system barked, “Is there a Patrick D. Hazard, from East Lansing High? Call NBC!” NBC was a five-minute walk across Sixth Avenue. “Fifteen Minutes”? Weaver spent four hours connected with every department at his network, introducing me to Ed Stanley, NBC’s public affairs Officer. CBS; ABC; NPR followed. I was a functioning media nut. “Freshman English” is the toughest course to teach after High School boredom. They have their own convention. I spoke. “Don’t Let Liberace steal your students”! I cried.

Three profs from Trenton offered me a job teaching Freshman English at their college. The students were great! All first college families! I finished my dissertation. And at age 30 I got a Carnegie Scholar grant to create the first mass culture course in an American university at Penn. One year to design it. Second to teach it. The third year Walter Annenberg gave Penn 2 million dollars to found a Grad School in Communication. “Faute Mieu” I was the organizer, gently dragging my mentor Gilbert Seldes out of retirement to be Dean. I taught media history, until Harvard’s David Riesman nominated me to be the first director od The East-West Center in Honolulu: Asians to learn American Technology, Americans to learn Asian Culture. Best (and shortest) job I ever had: I had a weekly radio hour called “Pacific Profile”, a Sunday Morning commercial station with my wife called Coffee Break”. 

What I was too innocent to see, the State Department financed this department to keep Commies out of the U. And my number 2, chosen without a word from me, a Seymour Lutsky had been a CIA operative in the 10 years since his Iowa Ph.D., which could “earn” by milking six cows, for four big ones. I quit on the spot. 

We (me, my wife and three children)back to our sweet Louie Kahn house in Greenbelt Knoll, an experiment in racial integration. I became English chairman of what became Arcadia University. Soon I was training into New York every Tuesday to advise them on What BBC programs they should promote for ETV and high schools and universities and wrote a quarterly essay for the BBC on the best American TV the preceding quarter. 

Once a media nut, always a media nut. Here I write this essay at 87,  judging German papers and TV for their value.

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