Interview - Bob Pagani aka Cranky Media Guy

I/V: Cranky Media Guy, Publisher, Author & Announcer - 16th Sept 2003

Media Man Australia completes part 3 of an interview with The Cranky Media Guy!

Describe the connection between politics and media?

The late Frank Zappa is and has been my idol since I was a kid. He had a great quote that I love. "Politics is the entertainment division of big business." I think that pretty much sums it up. At least in America, it takes LOADS of money to run for national office. Who's going to give them that kind of money, other than big business? Therefore, it's incumbent (no pun) on office-seekers to kiss ass on Big Business. That's why, at least in my humble opinion, you see all these huge, record-setting mergers sailing right through the supposed oversight process. You don't bite the hand that feeds you, you know? Congress and the White House are owned, lock, stock and barrel, by industry.

Why is a lot of money a good thing, for successful political campaign, in the media?

Well, good for who? Not good for the public, that's for sure. It's good for the politicians because, as actual research shows, the guy who spends the most on his campaign, usually wins. The public SAYS that they are skeptical about politicians, but the truth is, most Americans are poorly educated and don't really understand the issues. They vote for the guy in the nice suit who looked good on the TV news when he was standing next to his bleached blonde wife on the podium in front of the flag banner.

Who are the most media savvy politicians of all time?

I wouldn't say he was the best president of my lifetime (although, next to George Bush, he looks like Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Winston Churchill all rolled together), but Bill Clinton was an amazing politician. He had the mojo, for sure!

I would argue that there's no more divisive issue in America than abortion. I mean, you just aren't going to change anyone's mind about that. I remember once, during Clinton's term in office, that a bunch of
anti-abortion people were invited to the White House, for some reason. Prior to meeting the President, I saw some of them on camera, saying that they were really going to let Clinton have it for his pro-choice stance.

Later, though, when they came out, they were talking about what a nice man he was and how they understood his position, etc. I thought, "What is this guy, a hypnotist?" I really wish I could have been a fly on the wall that day. How good a schmoozer do you have to be to pull THAT off?

As for the current crop, George Bush couldn't find his ass without a map and a GPS. He is, however, surrounded by the most cynical, savvy political machine anyone's ever seen. You want to know who pulls Bush's strings? Look into a guy named Karl Rove. He's the one who makes sure that Bush looks "presidential." I mean, when Bush was speaking in front of Mt. Rushmore, these guys positioned the podium so that his head would be precisely lined up with the heads on the mountain. They understand
perfectly that the average American gets his or her news from TV and that pictures are the way to get your "talking points" across. Ultimately, it isn't really about "talking," it's about how the guy LOOKS on camera, even if he says unspeakably stupid shit like, "Bring it on!" challenging terrorists to target our troops. He's got a skull full of cottage cheese, but he looks "presidential" when he's lined up next to Teddy Roosevelt. Masterful and disgusting, all at the same time.

What's some dirt on some of the Californian politicians?

Wish I knew. Other than the stuff about Schwartzenegger from the old Oui interview, that is. It is entertaining, in a perverse way, to watch the political party of "family values" totally ignore the fact that Arnold bragged about having participated in gang bangs. Maybe they were Christian gang bangs!

What's some good qualities about them?

Well, the whole thing really IS Democracy in Action, isn't it? Some people are laughing about the "chaos" of the California election. I, on the other hand, think it's just dandy. Why SHOULDN'T average people be able to run for office. It isn't like the rich, privileged assholes who usually hold office have done such a great job, is it?

The current mayor of my home town, New York City, Michael Bloomberg, is the richest man ever to hold public office in America, if I'm correct. I was back there in June and I almost had to laugh when people told me that they were disillusioned with him because he didn't seem to "understand the average person." Uh, he's a fucking BILLIONAIRE, people! What did you expect?? His life resembles yours only in that he has to ingest oxygen and eat occasionally. This isn't a guy who has to cut out renting movies at
Blockbuster so he can eat lunch out once a week. Why WOULD he understand how the average person lives?

In all seriousness, I'd rather see Gary Coleman be the next governor of California than for Bloomberg to win another term as New York mayor. Coleman's parents ripped off his TV money and he's had to work as a security guard. Already, I think he has more in common with the average person than Bloomberg-or Schwartzenegger, for that matter.

How do you know when a politician is lying? - you know - lips are moving....

I'm tempted to say, "When they're a Republican," but the Democrats aren't very far behind them in the "bullshit the public" category.

Who do you vote for and why?

Thanks to a incident with the FBI back in the mid-90's, I don't get to vote. Long story, but I was basically entrapped by the Feds. Nothing will make you more cynical about the government than being set-up by a private investigator hired by the FBI. Anyone who tells you that there aren't two levels of justice in this country has never been represented by a public defender.

How many illegal immigrants are there in the United States, and why are they found of California?

I don't know if anyone knows exactly how many illegals there are in America. As for why they are "fond of California," well, just take a look at a map. Mexico, the source of most illegals, is due south of America and the Tijuana/San Diego border is the busiest crossing point between two countries in the world.

I worked at a radio station in San Diego back in the early 90's and I was amazed when I took a ride down to the border. I-5, the Interstate highway that takes you there, has four lanes in each direction. The middle two each way, however, are blocked off with cones. The reason for that is so that illegals who run onto the highway won't have to dodge traffic all the way across. Seriously.

Know how you see signs with silhouettes of deer on them to warn you that animals cross the road? Near the California-Mexico border, they have similar signs with silhouettes of a woman, a boy and a girl running on them. Again, seriously.

There's a pedestrian bridge over the Interstate near the border crossing. It's about 30 or 40 feet up and if you stand on it, you can see over to Mexico and watch people jump the wall to run into America. It's an
absolutely fascinating sight, watching people risk arrest to change their lives, hopefully for the better, right in front of your eyes.

How common is payola and cash for comment in the United States?

Way more common than people realize. I was in radio for many years and the use of "independent promoters" was very common until recently. Ask yourself why a company like Warner Brothers, part of the largest media company in the world, would need to use outside promotion people. I'm certainly not in a position to make an accusation of illegality, but let's just say that one possible reason would be to put a layer of deniability between the company and a person who might be involved in illegal activities.

I do know that, in the 80's, it was common for program directors to receive "gifts" from record promoters for adding records to the station's playlist. Greed being the universal human failing that it is, it's hard to believe that that sort of thing has totally disappeared.

What % of the typical newspaper is PR?

Great question, one that I wish more people would ask themselves. I've read accusations that at least HALF of the average newspaper on a given day is stuff that originated with a PR firm. God knows that the TV news business is infested with PR bullshit.

My local Fox station (Portland, Oregon) has a 10 o'clock news show whose second half-hour should be called "PR-palooza." There are these nasty little things called "video news releases" that come from companies paid to promote stuff, often pharmaceutical products. They provide the video tape and have the local news anchor do a voice-over on it and pass it off as "news." It's bullshit and the local Fox show is FULL of that crap. I assume other stations around the country are also passing off promotional
material as "news." It's a friggin' disgrace but since the average American gets the majority (or ALL) of his "news" from TV and they're not about to tell you that they're using pre-packaged PR material, most people never realize this is happening.

Why are worldwide newspaper sales declining?

To be fair, I can only really speak about the situation in America. In this country, we do such a piss-poor job of educating kids that they come out of high school essentially illiterate. Even if they had the attention span, how could they read a newspaper all the way through? All those big words, you know?

What does a good hoax involve?

For starters, it helps if the hoax involves something in the real world, about which people have a strong opinion. One reason the recent "Hunting for Bambi" thing got so much press coverage was that it touched on the subject of violence against women. It seemed to be advocating it, which understandably pissed off a lot of people.

A second point is that a good hoax has to be right on the edge of believability. Ideally, it should be something that is unlikely, but not impossible. If I say that I have developed a way to fly to the moon under my own power, it isn't going to fool many people, no matter what "justification" I come up with for the story.

It also helps if the story is self-contained; that is, that the "facts" of the story can't be disproven by checking with outside sources. The more you can control the story, the more it will be taken seriously. This June I was in New York City, helping promote a company owned by two friends. I managed
to come up with a hoax that got some ink in some small papers, plus stories on, not one, but TWO, local TV news shows. I fooled TWO reporters in the largest media market in America, where people are supposed to be cynical. To this day, the TV stations don't know that I hoaxed them. I'm waiting for
an appropriate moment to reveal what I did (IF I decide to reveal it at all, that is).

How do you make a hoax become real news? example a, b, c?

I really hate to dodge a question, but I think I have to this one time. I look at the specifics of hoaxing like a magician looks at his tricks. Ask Penn Gillette (of Penn and Teller) how he did a certain trick and he'll tell
you that, if you go to the library, you can find a lot of books that will tell you EXACTLY how to perform it. If you are truly motivated, you'll actually GO to the library and learn. Ultimately, in the world of magic, there really are no secrets.

Well, I can't tell you to go to the library to learn how to execute a hoax, because I've never actually seen a book that reveals how to do it. I can tell you, however, that being a hoaxer requires a little skill at improvisational acting. When I'm meeting a reporter in character, say, I have no idea what questions I might be asked. I have no choice other to play it by ear. If I'm good at what I do, however (and I'd like to believe that I am), I should know my character and story well enough to be able to answer anything that may come up.

I'm just reckless enough to trust that, if I throw myself into the deep end of the pool, I'll manage to stay afloat. Let's just put it this way: I've done it many times and I've never been caught. As a possible point of
interest, I can also tell you that I've never spent over $100 on a hoax.

How has online media changed the media landscape for the better and worse?

Well, to the good, it has allowed people like me, who don't have the money or resources to start a newspaper or TV station to have a forum to vent which can potentially reach a lot of people.

The down side is that it, like any other form of media, can be used by assholes to do bad things. What amazes me is that people often take a lot of things that are, to me at least, self-evident nonsense, seriously. I mean, anybody who can sign onto AOL can create a website. When even "reliable sources" are wrong as often as they are, why would you believe ANYTHING that arrives in your email inbox??

I correspond, just for laughs, with a guy who has the same name as I do who lives in Virginia. Not too long ago, he sent me (and everyone else on his mailing list) a story about Mel Gibson having been horribly disfigured when he was young. I felt obligated to inform Mr. Pagani that the story was bullshit, using as my source. Ultimately, people believe what they WANT to believe and usually what they want to believe is something that seems to illustrate a principle of human behavior, either positive or negative.

What have been the highlights of your career?

Maybe I'm fooling myself, but I'd like to believe that the "highlight" of my "career" is still ahead of me.

So far, I've managed to get myself into just about every major (and most of the minor) newspapers in America, along with Time, Life and People magazines. I've been on Oprah, CNN and a lot of other major TV outlets. I've come up with things that people who have never heard of me specifically, have heard of.

My ex-wife once asked me, "Why does everything you like involve fooling people?" That's probably the best personal question I've ever been asked and, to be honest, I can't say that I have a perfect answer to it. I've just learned, through personal experience, that it's entirely possible to simulate reality and convince people of its truth. Being able to pull that off makes you question the world you live in, believe me. Even if I don't know exactly why I do these things, I know that I feel compelled to do then and I expect to continue.

Who are your mentors?

My absolute, Number One idol is the late Frank Zappa. He was everything I wish I could be more of: incredibly intelligent, unbelievably talented, insightful. At the risk of sounding like I'm saying the politically correct thing, another big idol of mine is my wife. She's the smartest human I've ever met.

When I was a kid, I heard about a guy who did hoaxes named Alan Abel. Years later, when I was in my late 20's, I actually got to meet Alan and I became involved in some of his scenarios. Doing that was how I learned the basics of hoax-perpetration, if you will.

In the early 80's I was privileged to become friends with Andy Kaufman. I was a fan of his before I met him and if there was one person in show business I would have wanted to meet, other than Frank Zappa, it was Andy. I still quote a few things that Andy said off-the-cuff to this day.

I should mention my Dad, too. I think he's where I first started to get the idea that the world is not what people think it is.

What adjectives best describe you?

Eccentric? Smart? Original thinker? Funny?

What are your current projects?

Well, the ones I can talk about involve wanting to establish a Museum of the American Novelty Item. I'm also trying to work out details to turn a "dark ride" in Pennsylvania into the world's first ride-through art museum.

In 50 years from now, how would you like to be remembered?

It would be great if kids looked to me as a source of inspiration, as someone they would like to be like, as an original, someone who thumbed his nose at convention. I'm not counting on this, mind you, but you asked how I 'd like to be remembered, so there it is.


Editors note: Cranky Media Guys didn't dissapoint. We are privilaged to have secured this interview with this unique, interesting, intelligent and media savvy crusader


Cranky Media Guy official website

Interviews with Bob Pagani

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