Letter From New York January 25, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

As the Friday night train trundled languorously north, there was an animated conversation between my fellow passengers about what had been the most important stories of the week – in a week that was full of important events.

Haiti still dominated the news and my train companions were all struck by the number of children who had been orphaned, a tragic number in a tragic situation, helpless individuals in an almost hopeless situation.

Friday night there was a telethon for Haiti, organized by George Clooney, a star studded event that pulled on heart strings, opened pockets in a desperate economy, raising an unprecedented 58 million dollars. The reality of the devastation of Haiti has struck everyone – there hasn’t been a story that has quite captured the attention of the world to this degree since 9/11. It is a story that has seized the hearts and minds of people around the world.

Nothing really matches it but the drumbeat of news goes on.

Democrat Martha Coakley lost to Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts for the Senate seat once held by Edward Kennedy. He campaigned as an opponent to Obama’s Health Care Reforms and his victory has dark ramifications for Democrats, a signaling of discontent one year into the Obama Presidency. Even loyal Democrats are discontent, wondering why there is so much focus on Health Care Reform when the economy remains mired in trouble with employment not rebounding. Why health care and not job creation? Without jobs, who can pay for health care? As a close friend of mine stated: it’s the economy, stupid.

Following close on that and outraging most of my Democratic friends was the news that following a Supreme Court decision corporations are now granted the right to spend as much as they want to support candidates. Conservatives rejoice and liberals are rending their clothes. The ruling overturns decades of precedent and could fundamentally change the landscape of American politics. Have we opened the door to office going to the highest bidder?

While the Haiti catastrophe played out in the endless news cycle and while Democrats despaired because of Massachusetts and the Supreme Court ruling, the pop culture landscape was also the focus of attention as NBC came to terms with what to do with its late night franchise. In the end, Conan O’Brien was out, Jay Leno was back in and Conan went out on Friday night with a great deal of humor and more class than could have been expected. In his final remarks, he lauded NBC, his home for many years while acknowledging their current differences. It was a moment he will be proud of in the future; he did not go darkly into that good night.

I went to a hotel in downtown New York on Tuesday evening to meet a producer I’ve known for years though have not seen for many of them. He and the woman he is partnered with were staying in the Millennium Hilton, which overlooks Ground Zero, the World Trade Center site. Both of them as well as many of the crew they were with had not been to that part of Manhattan in all the years since 9/11 and all of them were struck in awe by being by the site and felt, they said, the ghosts of that day all around them. It both left them awestruck and unnerved.

As a New Yorker, I simply was glad that, after all these years, construction cranes were sprouting from the site and there was movement in moving on. The actual site holds less trauma for us now; we are glad to see movement, real movement, in building fresh while at the same time recognizing the city will never be the same – and this has been a week where events have indicated the world will never be the same. It won’t be in Haiti. It won’t be in politics. New York is not the same. But then nothing is ever quite the same, from week to week – it’s just this week seemed to underscore that more than most.

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