Guess who’s coming to dinner?

Thanksgiving is the favorite holiday for many Americans. While the common assumption is that the favorite holiday is Christmas, that’s not necessarily true. Although most of us love the Christmas season, the holiday itself –Christmas, The Big Day–is full of stress, expensive, all-too-often -demanding (on both diet and finances and travel) , something to be survived vs. enjoyed. The expectations are just too high.

Thanksgiving, however, is a totally different deal. You can enjoy a great meal with friends and family (just remember: no politics at the dining table), listen to the seasonal music and watch the seasonal TV shows, catch a great holiday sporting event, and emerge relatively unscathed from the event (except for a few extra pounds).

And so, in the spirit of brotherhood and fine food and wine, we have decided to promote a little Thanksgiving thought-piece: if you could have your choice of anyone in the world to share that once-a-year Thanksgiving meal with, who would it be. The idea is to gather a group of your own best and brightest and fill out the table. The format is simple: a dining room table with room for 8 guests. That’s a manageable number of guests. That means eight chairs to be filled. No relatives, please..you can see them another time and that’s too easy a choice for this project. Instead, make a wish list of the people you’d like spend a few hours with: entertainers, writers, leaders, businessmen, sportsmen, athletes, commentators, artists, comedians. It’s your table, you make out the list. Have at it and send your Ultimate Thanksgiving Guest List to us at the Media Bunker. (admin@donaldpierce.com).

The top 5 lists get published–judging is based on the thoughts and preferences and, dare we say it, intellectual bias, of the staff in the Media Bunker and at Perception Engineering. But–and this is important–every list will be read and pondered. A few ground rules: everyone you would invite has to be alive at the time the list is prepared, highly charged political figures are to be excluded (we get enough of that in daily life), and the invitees have to actually exist (i.e. you cannot invite a Chewbacca or some other tv/movie character). Your list should contain eight names, spelled correctly, with a note to the side about who they are–college professor, novelist, film director, writer, religious leader. All entrants receive a free, one year subscription to donaldpierce.com (which is, as you’ve noticed, already free but it does sound nifty. The form is below. Hop to it. To get you going, we’ve made up a few guest lists just as inspiration

A Sample Thanksgiving Guest List

Seth Meyers Late night TV Host

Warren Buffett Investor

Jose Altuve Professional Baseball Player

Roger Penske Entrepreneur, race team owner

Gloria Steinem Author, feminist

Reese Witherspoon Actress, Southerner

George Lucas Film maker (Star Wars, Indiana Jones )

Retired Admiral Bill McRaven Former top SEAL Commander, planned Bin Laden raid

Another Thanksgiving Guest List

Thomas Keller One of the top chefs in America

Paul Simon Songwriter, entertainer

Anna Wintour Editor of Vogue Magazine

Daniel Weiss Head of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC

Bill Gates Entrepreneur, Philanthropist

Dr. Peter Mansell Immunologist, former head of Louis Pasteur Institute

Phil Mickelson Professional Golfer, 5x Majors Winner

Jeff Bezos Entrepreneur, CEO of Amazon

You get the idea…..the best and the brightest from a wide variety of fields and professions, to provide a once in a lifetime conversation that expands the boundaries of thought for everyone attending Got it? Hop to it. Look forward to seeing your thoughts.

The Fine Print: Send an an email with your eight choices, and the reasons why you selected them, for Thanksgiving dinner attendees to admin@donaldpierce.com . We will read all of them and, if past is prologue, will publish all of them on the site. Obviously rude, derogatory, or poorly mannered communications will be deleted. Image courtesy of Getty Images (www.gettyimages.com) , who have the photographic history of the 20th and 21st century on file. This photo has not been altered in any way. We thank them for sharing; donaldpierce.com is produced by the Media Bunker and Perception Engineering. Contents (c) 2019 donaldpierce.


The Performances: Camila Cabello on SNL

Great music performances, pulled from the archives of SNL, the Grammies, late night TV, and special concerts. Some of these performances are very new and some are very old. They are all very good.

Camila Cabello on Saturday Night Live, 12 October 2019.

The Fine Print: Video provided courtesy of YouTube and Camila Cabello. This video has not been altered in any way. All rights belong to the respective artists and rights holders. We thank them for sharing. Great performances posts are produced by The Media Bunker and Perception Engineering.


The Act You’ve Known For All These Years

The Hunt For New Music:

“It was twenty years ago today, when Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play”….
Sg. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Lennon-McCartney)
Editor’s Note: Actually, it was more than 50 years ago that “Sgt. Pepper’s” was introduced in America. In celebration of that event, there are several posts and interesting links to checkout and enjoy about the most celebrated album of our time. 
There is an exact moment when The Beatles started the transition that would move them from their position as the world’s biggest rock band into the dominant cultural and musical influence that they became after “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was released.
That moment was 29 August 1966, when The Beatles played their last live rock concert, in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. The stadium was jammed and security for The Beatles was so tight that they had to be taken to the stage in an armored truck. One of The Beatles–looking out at the crowds and chaos that surrounded them–said simply “we can’t do this anymore”.
And after San Francisco, 1966, they didn’t.
As the band grew in popularity all over the world, the music was getting left behind. The screaming at the concerts was so loud that band members couldn’t hear each other, couldn’t hear their own instruments and, individually, they were getting restless–creatively, intellectually, musically. It was time for a change.
Ten months later that change materialized, in the form of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. It was the first rock concept album, a total break with The Beatles tight and carefully Brian-Epstein- groomed image, a reach in terms of music and technology and instrumentation, a musical composition so complex it could not be performed live and stressed the limits of the then-available recording technology, a very complete break from the past. Those paying attention to the musical evolution of The Beatles knew that their music was changing, becoming more adventurous and complex. It started with “Rubber Soul” and gathered momentum on “Revolver”, an album that provided an early test of some of the concepts and musical ideas (“Eleanor Rigby”, “Tomorrow Never Knows”) that would reach full definition in “Sgt. Pepper”.
To produce “Sgt. Pepper”  took 400 hours of studio time and 129 days–an immense amount of time for that period in popular music, but nothing compared to the amount of time it can take a 21st century band to record an album today. Working for The Beatles was their drive to change, to create, to push the boundaries, along with a team that included their legendary producer George Martin (later and deservedly, Sir George Martin) and recording engineer Geoff Emerick. Working against them was the technology of the day: all analog, a modest four track Studer tape recorder, analog audio tape, the limits of electronic recording technology and techniques of the time.
It mattered not. Through diligence and drive and experimentation–and listening to what each other had to say–The Beatles pushed through, expanded the very limits of what was possible in the studio, turning the studio itself into a musical and creative instrument, not merely a recording device, and produced the album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band”,  that Rolling Stone magazine has called the greatest rock album of all time.
At the core of the album’s concept was a step away from all The Beatles had been before and a step into what they would be going forward. Everything changed, from image and dress to composition complexity and musical density. The Beatles, in essence, created a band that could free them from the success and popularity of their past and give them again control over their musical destiny.
It was a risk. A massive, huge, intellectual, financial, business risk. If it went wrong, if their audience didn’t “get it”, if the album failed commercially, The Beatles could easily have been “over”.
But they did not play it safe, and that is the very greatest thing about “Sgt. Pepper’s”. They were fearless and opened a door into the future for themselves and for other bands by expanding the vocabulary of rock music. They elected to toss out the known for the unknown. Brian Epstein–their manager at the time” Sgt. Pepper’s ” was written, produced, and released–proved again to have perfect pitch for what to do and when to do it. Unlike other managers who  might discourage such an adventurous leap, Epstein–admittedly a little bewildered but totally committed to the group–backed the venture.
On June 2nd, 1967, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was released in the United States. It was released in the “summer of love” and became the background music for a huge cultural change in the United States and the rest of the world. The album was loved, hated, revered, despised, analyzed, deconstructed, misunderstood, applauded.
But–it worked. “Sgt. Pepper’s” changed music and the possibility of rock; it also became the soundtrack the world needed at a time of volcanic change and international unrest.
There is a cost to change–there is always a cost to change. By August of 1967, Brian Epstein had died, the victim of “incautious self-overdosage” according to the English coroner. Friends of Epstein noted that he was worried if his management contract would be renewed, that he had been contemplating suicide for some time, that he knew his value as someone expert in staging large concerts and drawing huge crowds might be less valuable going forward when all the creative work would be done within the confines of the Abbey Road studio; that the band he had nurtured and grown into a worldwide phenomenon had, finally, and with his own urging, outgrown him.
By 1970,  after the release of  “Let It Be”,  it was over, as The Beatles, rich and famous and influential beyond comprehension,  lacking a centering influence (Epstein),  displayed signs of transitional difficulty from being merely the biggest rock band in the world to the dominant creative influence of an era, as infighting and self-absorbed musical and personal directions and personality conflicts mixed in with confused business activities and management, took it all apart.
What was left was the music, and in particular, this one rather spectacular piece of music, that changed everything.
The Fine Print: Image embed courtesy of our friends at Getty Images, who have the photographic history of the 20th and 21st century on file. This image has not been altered in any way. We thank them for sharing.


Missing It: What Happened to The Tonight Show Opening

Paying Attention

This post was originally put up in early September (maybe you’ve noticed a trend..as we work through some of the greatest hits from the past). Last night, 8 October 2019, the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon opening returned to its’ classic opening format…the one used since the first telecasts of the show. Why? Who knows. We’re digging for those answers now. 

On 20 March 2019, the opening to The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon changed. You’d have to be a creature of habit to notice or a television producer to care about it, but on that date, the iconic opening that had served (we thought) Fallon and the Tonight Show so very well for all of it’s existence was replaced by a non-dynamic opening graphic–just a few seconds of visual really– followed by Steve Higgins WWE inspired introduction of Fallon, who comes out from behind the curtains and goes right to his mark, starting the evening off by thanking the audience (or, alternatively..”You made it, you’re here, the Tonight Show”) and then dropping into his five to seven minute monologue (after thanking the Roots, his very, very good house band).

The original Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon video opening was a short, sharp, piece of art, directed by New York film maker Spike Lee with crisp editing and music by The Roots. It had movement and attitude and it rocked into the show.   It looked like it had SNL title opening ancestry and it did, because the show is produced by Lorne Michaels, who created Saturday Night Live (among other NBC shows).  It set the tone, like the one from Jimmy’s predecessor show, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (above)

And, yes, we really wanted to have it embedded in this piece but could not find a copy of it. Perhaps NBC removed it from public visibility or maybe we didn’t look in the all right places but….it was not findable.(thanks to YouTube for the video at the head of this post).

However, we were able to source something that will provide the type of deep drill down we favor here at the Media Bunker: a shot by shot analysis of the opening produced by our friends at Popspots NYC.com …..

You are encouraged to click the link and go through the opening sequence, shot by shot. That’s all it will take to give you an appreciation of what a great little opening the show (once) had and we like it so much.

So why the change and why now? No clues yet, despite more research than I want to talk about. It could be that the change was mandated by a new “showrunner” (the term previously used to denote the executive producer). One of Fallon’s key team, Mike DiCenzo, who has been with Fallon since Jimmy’s first late night show (Late Night With Jimmy Fallon) left; as DiCenzo says, “After 10 years of late night television, it’s time to decompress”. The name DiCenzo may not ring an immediate bell, but you would recognize his repeating character on the show–Bucket Hat Guy, who often engaged in complex back-and-forth word association oneupmanship with host Fallon. Who knew he was the head writer?

At the end of his term with The Tonight Show, DiCenzo was operating as “show runner” so he had extra duties layered on him in addition to the writing he produced for the show (one of his bits was “Slow Jamming the News with President Obama”…a legend). DiCenzo left the show on 22 October 2018.

DiCenzo was replaced by Jim Bell, who is a news and sports producer for NBC and worked previously as President of  NBC’s Olympics Coverage. Bell has experience with the Today Show and was brought in to punch up Fallon’s show, which has been sliding in the ratings. It was just announced that Stephen Colbert’s show (The Late Show with Stephen Colbert) had done something the Late Show had not done in 50 years…finish ahead of the Tonight Show in the ratings (specifically the key under 50 demographic that advertisers and networks all want). It was also announced that Katie Hokenmeyer, another top producer for Fallon who worked hand-in-hand with DiCenzo and another staff member that has been with Jimmy since his Late Night show days, has also recently left.

There is some concern with Fallon losing to Colbert in the ratings race for the first time; Fallon is notoriously soft on current politics and Colbert is constantly blistering Trump and his team, nightly, and has built a following because of his scathing takes on the present administration. And..it can only get better for Colbert as the 2020 elections are on the horizon and that only means more interest in politics and political commentary and content that plays right into Colbert’s humor sweet spot.

NBC had obviously thought that the strategy of bringing in an ex-Today Show producer would bring a more current and controversial focus to Fallon’s show (Colbert’s show started to take off when CBS moved their Morning Show producer to Late Night). But so far, the results aren’t too good–the cohesive team that took Fallon from very late night to late night has been broken up by the departures of DiCenzo and Hockenmeyer and from a distance, it seems that Fallon is most comfortable working with the team that helped him build his career. In the new management shuffle, Jimmy is now the “talent”, and subject to executive pressure to change his style to meet a perceived new audience demand. Bell’s first turn at managing the show hasn’t done much for Bell’s reputation–he lost the time slot–and so his position as head of the show may be in jeopardy, especially since rumors are floating around that Bell doesn’t get along with Lorne Michaels, who developed Fallon’s show, Seth Meyer’s Show, SNL, and is the reigning king of comedy at NBC–i.e. Michaels is irreplaceable and Bell is not.

Why so much interest in these two late night shows and their hosts?


The two most lucrative shows at NBC have long been  the Today Show and the Tonight Show. These shows generate vast amounts of advertising revenue and are comparatively inexpensive to produce vs. series television shows or sitcoms. If you’re the head of a major network, the time slots you want to control are early morning and late night. When those cash cow time slots start to drift away, it’s time for a change.

So is that the reason the opening for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon was changed? Certainly hope not because the change wiped out four years worth of brand/graphic/film equity and replaced it with an opening that–currently–is not worthy of a major network television show. No doubt Jimmy can get back in the ratings game, but he need to get the band back together.again…bringing back the original opening would be a very good start.

The Fine Print. Photo embed courtesy of our friends at Getty Images, who have the photographic history of the 20th and 21st Century on file. This photo has not been altered in any way. Copyright Getty Images, 2019,and or their designee all rights reserved. We thank them for sharing. Late Night With Jimmy Fallon via and courtesy of our friends at YouTube; all rights belong to the respective rights holders. We also thank PhotospotNYC.com and in particular Bob Egan for developing and posting their shot-by-shot analysis of The Tonight Show opening. (if only we could post it!)/ Spotify music playlist courtesy of DJ Tschugge and Spotify. Turn it up.  DonaldPiece.com is an evolving experiment in digital communications with a surprisingly broad bandwidth and is produced by Perception Engineering and the Media Bunker. Entire contents copyright (c) 2019, Donald Pierce unless otherwise noted. Thanks for reading. Come back soon. 




Summer Weekend Concert Series: Dr. John at the Newport Jazz Festival, 2016

A video of Dr. John performing at the Newport Jazz Festival in 2006. The video is very good throughout but there is a bit of an audio issue in the beginning of the set. Stay with it. Thanks to the  Newport Jazz Festival and Funk and Reggae for sharing.

The Fine Print: Special thanks to our friends at YouTube and the Newport Jazz Festival for sharing this video of Dr. John performing. All rights belong to respective artist. Special thanks to Funk & Regagge on MV for posting it. You are advised to run the sound through your stereo system and the video through your flat screen. You are also advised to turn it up. Summer Weekend Concerts are curated and edited by Perception Engineering and the Media Bunker. Turn Dr. John’s concert on and get to the Big Easy without even leaving town..except in spirit. Enjoy. 

Life Lessons: Nina Griscom

I started to hear about Nina Griscom for the first time in the 1970s, when I was working in New York City. Since then, she’s always been on the media radar and social scene; you didn’t have to be in New York to hear about her, you would catch a media bit in New York Magazine or Bazaar, or Vogue. Her trademarks were visible even through the media prism–a sharp sense of humor, a certain blue blood grace and humility, enough energy to attend multiple social events a week and the type of easy, refined beauty that many aspire to but few possess naturally. It seemed a glamorous, effortless life from a distance, and if there were any dark elements, they certainly didn’t appear in public.

Nina had dipped out of sight until the other day, when I ran across a big article about her in the New York Times. The gist of it: no matter how golden your life, there’s always the chance of a downturn. And so it is with Nina, in her case a health issue. How she’s handling it (vs. how it’s handling her) is the basis of the story, and it’s worth your time. As my friend Miles Geauxbye, the Southern VC once said, “You never get another chance to make a last impression” and Nina is intent on riding out her fate with the same grace and humor that has marked her life. There’s a life lesson there and we should all learn it.

The Fine Print: Image courtesy of our friends at Getty Images (gettyimages.com) who have the photographic history of the 20th and 21st century on file. This image has not been altered in any way. We thank them for sharing. Link courtesy of The New York Times. Post text copyright 2019 donald pierce. Produced by the Media Bunker and Perception Engineering.

Get Back: Why Apple Should Return To Its’ Roots

Last week, Ewan Spence, a technology writer for Forbes and a specialist on Apple, wrote a powerful and very straight forward piece on how Apple was intentionally killing the Macbook Pro. Spence’s main thesis is one many have suspected, but few addressed so factually: that Tim Cook’s primary focus has been, is, and will be the iPhone and the associated ramp up of “services” that fill the created needs of iPhone users. You can read Spence’s article here.

All of what he says is true. My art director/writer/producer friends are all upset with the decreasing set of input/output ports on the new Macbook Pros. They could care less about the smaller size and lighter weight–to them, a Macbook Pro is a production tool, not a fashion accessory. Carrying one is not burdensome if it can produce what you need when you need it. But recently, advances in the Macbook universe of hardware and software have been small, barely noticeable. An iPhone is a small computer you make phone calls on, but a Macbook Pro was a small computer you could edit a video on or use to write your next novel or design/program your next app.

By moving away from the needs of the mobile creative (Apple is still trying to serve the needs of the stationery creative with desktops but that market is diminishing because American workers are not all that stationery anymore) Apple is failing to meet the needs of people who have built businesses and portfolios and services based on the capabilities of their Macbook Pros. On the other side of the operating system divide, Microsoft is pushing the Surface and Surface Pro to the creatives that Apple used to own (does anyone remember when desktop publishing saved Apple, the company?), a fact that is obvious by the TV commercials that Microsoft is running and the software they feature.

Tim Cook has ramped up the numbers for Apple, the public company, and the stock has done great, but he has not done much for Apple, the creative company, the cause, the “Think Different” company. By changing the business model to emphasize the iPhone and iPhone subscription based services, he’s put the company into a commercial lane that may go in a direction most Apple users don’t want to take. At one time, using an Apple computer was a statement, a commitment, a passion. When Steve Jobs ran Apple, you never felt like it was a giant company–under Jobs, Apple had personality and creativity and took chances. It was a little messy around the edges but it was exciting and they changed things, constantly. Apple was the closet thing in tech to what The Beatles were in entertainment. Every Apple new product announcement was a revolution, not an evolution.

Not anymore.

The lack of really innovative products–so new they have no precedent–at Apple is a bit shameful. Really, we don’t care about the width of the bezel–show us something that does things we’ve never seen before and helps us to think in different ways. At the very least, don’t take away the flexibility and productivity of the products from Apple we use every day, which Apple has done in designs for the Macbook, by making them virtually upgraded (parts are soldered in, embedded, so they cannot be easily replaced by newer or more capable ones…..good for Apple, bad for users). Really, it’s time for Apple to stop the all-bow-down-to-iPhone corporate culture and devote some attention and imagination to the Macbooks–Air, Pro, and other wise. As the great Texas football coach Darrell Royal used to say, “we’ll dance with who brung us”. Not a bad idea.

Maybe it’s time for Apple to take one more cue from The Beatles and get back to what built the company and their market. I think there’s a song for that. I think the execs at Apple should listen to it.

The Fine Print: Video courtesy of The Beatles and YouTube. All rights belong to respective rights holders This video has not been altered in anyway. We thank The Beatles and YouTube for sharing.

Soundtrack For The News

Rudolph Giuliani Ukraine Associates Arrested Trying to Leave Country

Acceleration Of the Ukraine scandal continues as more and more people are drawn into the web of suspicion and conspiracy.

The Fine Print: Embed Video of U2 Performing “Gimme Shelter”, with Mick Jagger, Fergie, and Will i.am courtesy of YouTube and Zarastro 1040. This video has not been altered in any way. All rights belong to the respective artists. We thank them for sharing. Sound Track For The News is produced by the Media Bunker and Perception Engineering.

The Breaking News Epidemic

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published in 2015 but is just as timely–perhaps even more timely–today than when it was first released. We are going into a period of extended “breaking news” interruptions due to the chaos in Washington and the 2020 Election Year Cycle, so it’s not a bad idea to revisit the original piece and to inform critical thinking that can differentiate between a news item that is truly important and worth of the “breaking news” tag, or just a blatant attempt to gain clicks or viewers. Sometimes the best way to understand the future is to look at the past.

Paying Attention: No doubt, we know precisely where the current “breaking news” /”breaking alert” epidemic started: September 11th, 2001. On that day, every news channel and every broadcast station was bombarded with news, news feeds, photos, videos, interviews, theories, conflicting reports about the Twin Towers attack. So much information was coming in so fast and from so many different sources, and the market was so hungry for it, that each new story line was branded as one of “breaking news”–a category of news status that is reserved for the highest, latest, most important information. In the past, breaking news stories were those stories big and important enough to “break into” existing broadcasting programming with short segments on the event in focus–one that was frequently in progress even as the news story covering it was running.
One of the most famous such stories in modern history was when CBS News and Walter Cronkite broke the news  with a CBS News Bulletin about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  But, it was 911 that brought the “Breaking News” label back into popular media deployment (along with the bottom headline ticker, introduced so that multiple streams of information could be delivered simultaneously on a television screen) and as news producers, directors and editors learned that the breaking news label had the power to gather more attention (and ratings), “Breaking News” went from something really, really important to a label applied to some rather mundane stuff.  And, of course, as is the case with anything that is over-used, the public gets numb after a while and “Breaking News” as a label of importance suffers importance degradation.
The most egregious promoters of “Breaking News” overuse are–who else–the folks at Fox News, who continuously  run “News Alert” and “Breaking News” labels continuously on their telecasts. Roger Alies, the head of Fox News, is the best in the business but he has a tabloid attitude–one no doubt inherited from his boss, the one-and-only Rupert Murdoch, a tabloid newspaperman without peer in our time.
The problem with “breaking news” and “news alerts” heading is the same problem laid out decades ago in the fable “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”. If you do it too much, do it too often, do it for stories large and stories small, then soon enough your audience (market) becomes numb to the heading and the words and their meaning just become digital wallpaper on the screen, without significance because they are present on every show, and on every screen.
Breaking News works best when it’s important, necessary, urgent. A little restraint on  news producer’s part would salvage the power of this prime communications tool. But–we do not live in an era of restraint and, ultimately, it is up to you–the viewer–to determine whether the item scrolling along the bottom of the screen or cutting into “regularly scheduled program in progress” is really breaking news or just a programming gimmick.

The Sorensen Memo: How To Manage A Presidential Replacement

Embed from Getty Images

We live in dangerous and interesting times. With all of the very heated discussions about the impeachment inquiry and possible removable from office of President Trump –both sides accusing each other (and anyone else within shouting range) of various forms of wrong doing–it seemed like a good time to do a little digging and see what historical imperatives/perspectives were available to provide background on this unique moment in American history. You don’t have to be President to be impeached–it’s an equal opportunity legal remedy provided for in the Constitution–but there is no doubt that everyone perks their ears up when a Presidential impeachment is being discussed or pursued. That is, to be crass, the “glamour impeachment”. There have been three Presidential impeachments in American history: Andrew Johnson (acquitted), Bill Clinton (acquitted), Richard Nixon (proceedings terminated due to Nixon’s resignation) . In each case, plans had to be made for the government to continue, plans which would be put into action–or not–depending upon the outcome of the impeachment process. There was no need for a Presidential replacement for Clinton (he stayed in office and left with a soaring approval rating) or for Johnson but there was for Nixon, whose situation was more complex.

A little digging turned up the fact that Theodore Sorensen, President John F. Kennedy’s close advisor and speechwriter (and also the author of the seminal biography, “Kennedy”) had written a Memo while the Nixon impeachment was progressing, detailing the nuts and bolt of replacing a sitting president. The Memo was written for Carl Albert, who was then Speaker of the House and was produced to insure that there would be a smooth transition in the Presidency if/when President Nixon was forced from office. For background, the Nixon/Watergate scenario can be found in this recent article from The Washington Post and it was that situation which generated the impetus for this post.

Nixon’s situation, and the necessity for the Memo, was created by the fact that Spiro Agnew, Nixon’s Vice President, had been forced to resign due to legal troubles and the possible resignation or impeachment of President Nixon was imminent. A change was going to come, and it was going to have to be managed. Succession in such cases followed a mandated order: President gives way to Vice President and if the Veep is not available, then the Presidency would go to the Speaker of the House. Nixon had no Vice President (Agnew was out) at the time, so the next person in line for the Presidency would have been Representative Carl Albert (D-Oklahoma), who was then Speaker of the House. Sorensen and Albert both felt that there could be a vacuum in the Presidency if there were a delay in confirming Gerald Ford who had been selected as the new Vice President to replace the disgraced Agnew as the new VP for Nixon. But proceedings were dragging on and a break in government leadership was unthinkable. Thus–the “Sorensen Memo”.

Sorensen’s Memo was a typically brilliant and level-headed way to give Albert a “heads up” on what would be required if he, Albert, had to step into the role of President. Ted Sorensen was one of our very best minds( a member of the “best and the brightest generation” in Washington) and his memo details the logistics and structure of assuming the Presidency; a reading will re-iterate what we have always expected our presidents to do when they take office and will also highlight the significant differences between the ethics and process expected of an American President vs the current administrative occupants in the White House. Perhaps the current administration needs a refresher course in how it’s done. Look no further, it’s below.

The “The Sorensen Memo”, is required reading for our times and was obtained via the Fordham Law Archive of Scholarship and History. Please see the citation at this end of this incredible historical document for proper attribution. We thank the Albert Family, The Sorensen Family, and Fordham University for making it available to Americans. There is a direct link that will take you to a copy of the original document (look sharp, you’re at Fordham Law!) and may be an easier read than the text of Sorensen’s memo, reproduced below, with admittedly some awkward formatting. In any event, it is strongly advised that you read the “Sorensen Memo”, so you have a working knowledge of how a new American president is installed after an existing American President is booted out of office. Given the times, it may come in handy.



Succession Theme

Basic Posture


1) Taking the Oath of Office

2) Physically Taking Over the Office

3) Resignation from the House

4) Preservation of White House Files

5) A “Quick-Fix”on the National Security Situatio

6) The Outgoing President

7) Communications with Existing White House Staff Cabinet, Agencies

8) Congressional Leaders


1) Your Personal Staff

— 6 or 7 slots to fill immediately

2) Address Congress in Joint Session

3) Projecting your Command of the Office to the World

— a series of steps to take

4) First Presidential Press Conference

5) Other Meetings or Phone Calls in FirstWeek

— list of categories of bases to touch

6) Other Decisions to be made in First Week

a) The Vice Presidency

b) Future political plans

c) Succession in Speakership and House

7) Personal Arrangements

a) Health

b) Residence

c) Financial Arrangements

d) Offices






November 8, 1973

This Memorandum is for your use in the event that

you are suddenly elevated to the Office of President of

the United States by an unexpected vacancy in that Office

before the confirmation of a new Vice President. Should

that vacancy occur as the result of a lengthy and foreseeable

process or orderly agreement or arrangement, the additional

planning time thereby provided will make unnecessary

certain portions of this Memorandum and make possible a more

precise elaboration of certain others. Should a new Vice

President be confirmed before a vacancy occurs, or should

the President serve out his term, this entire Memorandum

will become unnecessary and can be destroyed (if you fear

that its existence, if discovered, might be misinterpreted

as evidence of an improper motivation on your part for the

President’s ouster).

If, on the other hand the President should

suddenly become incapacitated or die (and either of those

contingencies would impose additional concerns not set

forth in this Memorandum), or if he should suddenly resign,

this Memorandum — once it has been reviewed, amended as

necessary and finalized by you — is designed to think

through in advance the steps you will need to take in those

first hours and days of unprecedented pressure.


The intended result of the Memorandum and the

theme which should be conveyed in all of your early

actions and statements is simply this:

This country cannot afford even a brief

interruption in the continuity and functioning

of government. Any confusion or instability at

this crucial juncture that gives the impression

of a rudderless ship would risk serious damage

to the national security, economy and spirit.

A new President under these unprecedented circumstances

must visibly, smoothly and efficiently

take charge of the instruments of office in fact

as well as name, and without any show of uncertainty,

before either the nation, its government servants

or its allies lose heart, and before other centers

of power in the government, the nation and the world

start spinning off in different directions.

A few cautionary reminders, undoubtedly unnecessary,

for that first week in the White House:

(1) Beware or men, agencies and nations

seeking to take advantage of the pressures, to test

you, to commit you or to outmaneuver you. Make no

decisions or announcements at the request of others

until necessary and until all possibly interested or

knowledgeable persons have been consulted. Identify

and get rid of any hold-overs undercutting you or

forming factions.

(2) Do not let the press or anyone

else set artificial deadlines for you. The tasks

suggested below will be time-consuming enough

without your making other decisions — particularly

on policy and personnel — with which you will have

to live a long time and which can be made later in

more considered fashion. This Memorandum contains

no suggestions on the process of selecting new

Cabinet members or the process of devising new

policy initiatives. Both may be required later but

not in the first week.

(3) No one else, no matter how much authority

he had in your House office, should be allowed

to commit you to any action, person or.point of view

without your specific approval in advance. Every

casual statement by you or a member of your staff

on or off the record — that was previously a matter

of politics or public relations will hereafter be

regarded as Presidential and national policy.

(4) Many a new President has had difficulty

in shifting roles from'”legislator to Chief Executive;

in realizing that a different perspective and time

frame now govern his place in history, that attacks

by him on his predecessor accomplish nothing, and

that raising questions and pointing with alarm are

no longer enough for the man who must have the

answers and actually run the show.


(5) You must be your own man, listening

to your own common sense conscience and

convictions even when they differ from the experts,

the pressure or the majority opinion. You are not

required to either follow or revamp the patterns

of White House operations established by any of

your predecessors.

Finally, you will need from the start — both for

private peace of mind and for public use — a “Basic Posture”

regarding your service in the Presidency an approach which

will govern your attitude and actions in undertaking both

the early agenda set forth below and your subsequent conduct

of the office. This “Basic Posture” should also be the basis

of your earliest public statements as President; and, although

this involves highly personal decisions on your part that we

have not yet had an opportunity to discuss, I am suggesting

a posture in the form of a first-person statement as

the most helpful way of setting it forth for your consideration:

At no time did I seek this awesome burden; but I

cannot shrink from my responsibility. Under the

statute long ago considered with care and lawfully

enacted by the representatives of the people

convened in Congress, my election by the House of

Representatives as Speaker placed me next in line

for the high office to which I have now succeeded.

Between now and January 20, 1977, I intend to fulfill

the obligations of that office to the best of my

ability. I shall not be a candidate for the Presidency

in 1976 or at any other time.


Our principal task now is to heal the wounds

which have sorely divided and troubled our

country and to renew our national spirit. To

this end, I pledge a non-partisan administration

of national reconciliation and unity. I intend to

retain and appoint in my Cabinet and Administration

the best men and women in the country available for

the job, regardless of party.

To the Congress, to the news media, to those now

serving the Executive Branch and to the American

people, I pledge my unceasing efforts to work with

you for the achievement of our national goals; and

from you I request your patient understanding and

cooperation. With your help, and with God’s help,

we shall not fail.


1) Taking the Oath of Office. For both legal and

practical reasons consistent with the need for no hiatus in

the functioning of government, you should be sworn in as

President as soon as possible, within a matter of hours

after the vacancy occurs.

Where? The East Room of the White House

is preferable to any Capitol Hill location as a symbol

of the transfer of power. An outdoor ceremony or a

large auditorium would be inappropriate.

Who Administers the Oath? The Chief Justice

is the best symbol of non-partisan continuity, although

any Federal judicial officer will do if you have a

strong preference. A family Bible should be on hand.

Who Attends? Numbers are limited by both the

size of the room and the fact that a small, quiet ceremony

is the most appropriate. Invite your family, close friends

and aides, leaders of the House and Senate from both

parties, members of the Cabinet and Supreme Court, and

a pool of correspondents and photographers. In keeping

with the need for visibly demonstrating to the world

a calm and purposeful take-over, television cameras on

a pool basis should be allowed. It should be a somber

occasion — no music or refreshments.

What Statement? A full-scale inaugural address

would be inappropriate. After taking the oath, you can

read and/or have your aides distribute a very short statement

along the lines of the “Basic Posture” suggested above

on pp. 4-5, possibly combining with it some thought

from the “Succession Theme” set forth on p. 2. From

the moment you learn of the vacancy until the issuance

of this “Statement Upon Taking the Oath of Office,” no

other statement to the press or public is necessary or


2) Physically Taking Over the Office. To show

continuity, to assert command and to obtain the maximum

use of the indispensable and unequalled White House communications

and transportation network, and for your own

security, you should move your base of operations away

from Capitol Hill and to the White House/Executive Offices

complex as quickly as possible. If time is required for a

removal of your predecessor’s personal belongings from the

Oval Office, another office can be used temporarily.

Arrangements should also be made to move your own aides, their

secretaries and your secretary into temporary offices near

yours as quickly as possible, even if doubling up is required,

until more permanent staff arrangements can be made when

everyone’s situation (and loyalties) are better known.

Career personnel, military aides and the Secret Service can

brief you regarding the faci!ities and services now at your


3) Resignation from the House. By such letters as

the Parlimentarian suggests, you should promptly resign from

the Speakership and from the House.

4) Preservation of White House Files. Depending upon

the circumstances creating the vacancy, a possibly unpleasant

but obligatory task, which if ignored might open you to

charges of dereliction and on which the advice and assistance

of the Attorney General and/or Special Prosecutor and/or

Senate Watergate Corrunittee Counsel will be required, is to

irrunediately take such steps and issue such orders (implemented

by the FBI) as may be necessary to prevent the destruction

or dispersal of any files or tapes until an orderly

decision on their future can be made by the appropriate

legal authorities.

5) A “Quick Fix” on the National Security Situation.

An immediate briefing from the Director of the CIA, a

briefing from the existing White House military aide regarding

the “buttons”, the courier who follows you about and

the emergency facilities at your disposal, and a brief meeting

with the National Security Council can all be limited the

first day to ascertaining the answers to two questions:

(a) are there any crises or danger spots likely

to explode this week, or likely to be exploited by those

wishing to take advantage of this country’s preoccupation

with the change-over; and what should be planned by way

of deterrent or response; and

(b) What are the procedures to be followed

that will assure your knowing of all developments in ,

the national security area before any corrunitments or

responses are made in your name?

6) The Outgoing President. Assuming the vacancy has

not been caused by the death or disability of the outgoing

President, you should meet with him to pledge an orderly and

efficient transfer of authority, and an administration of national

unity; to request his cooperation and advice; and to discuss

practical problems of his moving out and your moving in to

the Residence and Oval Office.

7) Communications With Existing White House Staff,

Cabinet Members and Other Agency Heads.

By telephone or in group meetings (a Cabinet meeting is

desirable if time permits during the first day), with

such exceptions if any that the circumstances of the takeover

make obvious, you should ask each of them to stay at

least until you get to know them and their work and can

discuss their future with them in calmer fashion. Ask each

one to prepare a confidential report to you on major issues,

problems or tasks facing him at this time, and his recommendations

for your future decisions in his area of responsibility

in particular. Direct a top-to-bottom freeze on

all new jobs, promotions and replacements until you an

your people can examine the need therefor (to avoid any lastminute

partisan moves to create sinecures for friends, etc.)

8) Congressional Leaders, including key Committee

chairmen and ranking members, both Houses, both parties.

Invite to oath-taking ceremony, and meet immediately thereafter.


1) Your Personal Staff. If the change-over is sudden,

your Capitol Hill staff will have to suffice during that

first day. But you will not be able to function effectively

for very long in the White House without a top-flight team

personally loyal to you. Select only those individuals in

whom you personally have supreme confidence and who will

perform precise duties that you now know you will need. It

will be easier to add new bodies later after experience demonstrates

their need than to transfer those you have already

appointed, although some reshuffling during the first year

is inevitable. Keep the numbers down, avoid personality clashes

and rivalries, and keep titles to a bare minimum. The following

are basic (use of “he” means “he or she”). (Each of these

senior positions [the first six listed] may be paid salaries

up to Level II, which is subCabinet rank; and the first spot,

if filled, could receive Cabinet pay.):

(a) Chief of·Staff — You can fill this

role yourself as JFK sought to do; or you can seek

a true alter ego, a deputy President, an Executive

Assistant with even broader responsibilities than

Haldeman or Marvin Watson (but not, like Sherman

Adams, to the exclusion of everyone else).

Consider this with care, forgetting about imagery.

(b) Program and Policy Aide — The focus

here is on legislation, executive orders, the Budget,

and policy pronouncements, with the emphasis on

domestic policy primarily but not exclusively.

He should become plugged-in promptly to the Budgetary

process, inasmuch as work on the Budget you are to

present next January is begun many months ahead. He

should also ascertain immediately from OMB and the

Executive Clerk the status of all bills enacted by

the Congress and awaiting the President’s signature

or veto within the prescribed period of time. He

and you can decide later whether the formal Domestic

Council apparatus erected under Ehrlichman should

remain and how many assistants to cover the various

departments he should have. He need not be a lawyer;

but if he is, he can be called Special Counsel — a

once honorable title. Making maximum use of OMB can

drastically cut the number of White House aides

reporting to him. Speech-writing should be handled

by this aide and those reporting to him, if speechmaking

is to be reintegrated with policy-making.

(c) National Security Aide. This individual

will not have the power, staff or role of a Kissinger;

but as Commander-in-Chief receiving conflicting advice

from the Secretaries of State and Defense, the CIA,

the Congress and foreign officials, you will need

someone to refine and define the issues, keep track

of the “buttons” and budgets and coordinate

this part of your effort. He and the Secretaries

of State and Defense. should be compatible and acceptable

to each other. He should meet promptly with

all officials involved to ascertain what decisions

by you in this area will soon be required and what

is going on in various negotiations and problem areas.

You and he can later decide how large a staff he


(d) Press Aide. This role is clear.

In addition, consider in a later decision whether

to retain the Nixon system separating the White

House “press spokesman” from the “Director of

Communications” who is concerned with strategy,

overall administration press policy, and advancing

the Administration’s image. Your appointees in

this area of activity should also decide with you

after things settle down on their staff needs and

whether to retain in the White House or return to

Commerce the Office of Telecommunications Policy.

(e) Administrative Aide — sometimes

called appointments secretary. Not to be confused

with the across-the-board deputy listed first. This

one handles your appointments, schedule and travel,

oversees the clerical and non-professional White House

personnel, and supervises other logistical and

housekeeping arrangements. He will need assistants,

one of whom oversees the flow of correspondence and

makes certain every letter gets the right answer.

(f) Congressional Relations Aide.

Another clear role. Must work closely with program policy

aide to “deliver” packages prepared by latter.

Needs at least one assistant for Senate and three for

House. All must know Hill, be liked there, and be

willing to spend considerable time in sheer palaver

and hand-holding.

(g) Personal Secretary.

— These 7 slots (six if there is to be no chief-ofstaff)

must be filled promptly, and are necessarily so personal

in their relationship to you that hold-overs from your

predecessor’s White House would not be appropriate. Give some

thought in advance as to whether your present staff can

adequately fill each of the above posts and whom else you

might draft if and when the unpredictable happens.

These key people can be supplemented in time by a

variety of assistants plus the following other posts which

may require your own man:

(h) Director, OMB — a crucial policy as

well as administrative and fiscal position

(i) Personnel and Patronage Aide.

(j) White House Physician — can be military,

but wholly up to you and your wife.

(k) First Lady’s Aides. Two or three principal

aides, serving as Social Secretary, Press Secretary and

Personal Aide; in addition, both the President and the

First Lady should decide on a Chief of Protocol for the

State Department and whether to change the Executive

Housekeeper and Chefs.

That is all that is required. Indeed, these plus their

assistants and the career people on the staff now are all that

the White House requires. A small, lean staff is desirable.

The functions of a “staff secretary,” “cabinet secretary” and

“counsellor” can all be absorbed in the above. Roving, freewheeling

administrative assistants are undesirable. You can

decide later whether one of the above, or someone on their

staffs, or additional special assistants, should be utilized

for narcotics, youth, aging, minorities, Indians, ethnics,

women, liaison with the National Committee, liaison with NASA

and the Space Council, and relations with state and local governments.

An International Economic Affairs Aide, a Science Advisor,

a Consumer Affairs adviser, the Council of Economic Advisers,

the Council on Environmental Quality and the Directors of OEO

and OEP, are all less personal, work out of the Executive Offices

buildings and should report through your aides primarily.

Bear in mind that you will also undoubtedly be needing

some top talent for your Cabinet later on, and should not move

people in and out of the White House staff too quickly or

foreclose a desirable Cabinet appointment by putting the man

or woman in question on your WhiteHouse staff.

All in all, these are potentially the most important

decisions you will make as President. Do not overlook talent

already in the Executive Branch; and scrupulously avoid any

conflict-of-interest problems. In selecting both aides at

the start and Cabinet and other appointees later, the most

careful check is required (as the Eagleton and Agnew

experiences demonstrate) inasmuch as most well-known figures

are rarely equal to their reputations and those whom you do

not know will often seem more attractive than those friends

whose limitations you do know.

2) AddressCongress in Joint Session — within a week

of your taking office at most — possibly the most important

step in reassuring the government, the public and the world

that you are otop of the situation. This will be largely

a personal statement of your hopes, themes and plans and cannot

be written in advance.

3) Projecting Your Command of the Office to the World.

(a) Work with USIA on material to be

broadcast and distributed abroad.

(b) Work with State on cables to principal

heads of state and heads of government, reassuring in

particular Israel, Japan, Western Europe, China and


(c) Plan an early address to the UN.

(d) Plan an early reception for the

Washington diplomatic corps.

(e) Schedule a series of reviews with our

Ambassadors abroad.

(f) Meet with the UN Secretary-General.

(g) Meet with the NSC again, and with the

Secretary of State, Joint Chiefs, Secretary of Defense,

and CIA Director separately, and with the Chairmen

and ranking members of the Senate and House Committees

on Foreign Relations and Affairs.

(h) However, travel abroad would be unwise

and unnecessary.

4) First Presidential Press Conference — not until

after your address to the Congress — schedule in advance

for prime time television as part of the effort to accustom

the public to you as President; also to show a desire to

accommodate all media to the extent possible. Be careful

of exclusive interviews in the meantime unless you know the

interviewer, subject and ground rules thoroughly.

5) Other Meetings or Phone Calls in First Week and

then in subsequent weeks:

(a) Key Governors, Mayors, political

leaders, Senators and Congressmen of both parties;

(b) Key publishers, editors, and leaders of

all the various interest groups; labor, business, farm,

racial, ethnic, religious, lawyers, college presidents,

etc. Lists of each of these can be constructed;

(c) the Special Prosecutor et al.;

(d) Pentagon employees, State Department employees,

heads of government employee organizations;

(e) Various wise men, elder statesmen and others

now in private life not likely to serve on a full-time

basis in your Cabinet but able to offer useful advice

on the Presidency, the country and potential appointees.

To the extent that they are Establishment figures, this

also helps reassure the business community. (Possible

examples: Earl Warren, John Gardner, Averell Harriman,

Robert McNamara, Elliot Richardson, Archibald Cox, George

Ball, Clark Clifford, David Rockefeller, McGeorge Bundy,

Arthur Goldberg, Tom Clark, Andre Meyer, Eugene Black,

J. Irwin Miller, Ralph Nader, Simon Rifkind, John Mccloy,

Ros Gilpatric, Arthur Dean, Douglas Dillon, Wilbur Cohen,

Paul Samuelson, Jerry Wiesner, possibly George Wallace,

and many other possibilities.)

(f) The Chief Justice;

(g) Comptroller General Staats — a useful

source of advice and information;

(h) The Cabinet.

6) Other Decisions to be made in the First Week.

(a) You should have a Vice President soon.

If as a part of your non-partisan approach you want

Gerry Ford and that is still appropriate, you could

include that in your Statement upon Taking the Oath of

Office. If not, you can seek suggestions and discuss

possibilities in the series of meetings outlined above.

NOTE: I question whether it is either necessary

or desirable to commit yourself to resigning in favor

of a Republican Vice President. That would only heighten

the impression of political instability in our government.

You are the legitimately chosen successor selected by

our most representative body under a long-standing plan

adopted by the Legislative Branch. This is stressed

along with the non-partisan nature of your Administration

in the Oath-taking Statement, which speaks in terms of

your remaining until January 20, 1977; and to that I

recommend adding your selection of a Republican Vice


(b) Do you intend to run for office again?

You need not decide that now; but whichever way you do

decide, if you do, that plan could also be included in

the Oath-taking Statement.

(c) Do you want to influence the choice of

your successor as Speaker? Do you want to influence

(c) Financial Arrangements. Exchange for

the choice of your successor in your House seat? If

so, you will want to take quiet steps promptly.

7) Personal Arrangements.

(a) Health. Get a thorough physical

check-up, and consider making the results public.

(b) Residence. Allow Nixon family

adequate time to move. Decide which if any other

residence you want to keep and dispose of the rest.

Your wife should tour the mansion and discuss plans

and staff needs with theHead Usher and Chief

Gardener. See Camp David. It is essential that

your family and the Secret Service fully understand

each other’s wishes. Indicate your preferences for

those to serve on White House detail. Exchange for

government bonds or place in blind trust any remaining

securities you and your family own; resign any

directorships or memberships, and sell any property,

that could conceivably prove embarrassing. Your

salary will be $200,000 plus a $50,000 personal


(d) Offices. As staff situation settles,

decide on whose desks and office will be where.

Your House office files and belongings must be

transferred or stored, and all the personnel in

that office appropriately placed.

Brought to you for free and open access by the Twenty-Fifth Amendment Archive at FLASH: The Fordham Law Archive of Scholarship and History. It has been accepted for inclusion in Watergate Era by an authorized administrator of FLASH: The Fordham Law Archive of Scholarship And History. For more information, please contact tmelnick@law.fordham.edu.

Citation: Sorensen, Theodore C., “Memorandum to House Speaker Carl Albert” (1973).Watergate Era.

The Fine Print: Photo of Theodore Sorensen courtesy of our friends at Getty Images, who have the photographic history of the 20th and 21st Century on File. This photo has not been altered in any way. All rights belong to respective artists. we thank them for sharing.

The Billie Eilish SNL Video Performance

Last Saturday night (28 September 2019), singer Billie Eillish knocked it out of the park with a stellar performance and staging of her song, “Bad Guy”. The visual, which features Eillish walking up the walls, across the ceiling, and down the other wall while she performs, was a classic and a very large production for SNL. The video above shows precisely how it was done……Stanley Kubrick used similar techniques in filming 2001 and so did Fred Astaire in one of his many musical movies. A great song set to phenomenal visuals. What’s not to like?

The Fine Print: Video courtesy our friends at YouTube, via SNL. It has not been altered in any way. All rights belong to their respective owners. We thank them for sharing.