Media Second Acts and Untimely Endings

Mass media has lost some of its great figures due to death, retirement, and old-fashioned scandal, with four larger-than-life figures -- David Carr, Bob Simon, Jon Stewart, and Brian Williams -- all leaving the stage this week.

From their stories we can glean some of life's hard truths; their differing sagas provide us with some poignant lessons about the fragility of life, the enduring power of heroic work, and the age-old lesson that extreme hubris often precedes a fall from power.

The tragic death of 58-year-old New York Times media columnist David Carr illustrates the evanescence of life. Working until the end, Carr collapsed at his desk in the New York Times newsroom after moderating a panel discussion earlier in the day. He was dead by the time he got to the hospital.

Carr was one of those very talented journalists who could see ahead of the curve and put together seemingly disjointed trends, explaining them in thoughtful and entertaining ways. A newspaperman for most of his life, his writing about television, social media and the ascending power of online journalism was so authoritative, he was considered the pre-eminent media pundit in the country.

His life story also provided a fascinating arc for those who believe in the healing power of family and meaningful work; a former crack and heroin addict in the 1980s, Carr cleaned up his act when his twin daughters were young and he landed some of the most coveted perches in the country -- first covering entertainment and then media at the Times.

His untimely end came just 48 hours after the tragic and violent death of Bob Simon of "60 Minutes" fame. Just before he died, Simon, 73, was working on a piece with his daughter about the search for a cure for the deadly Ebola virus. Simon had a remarkable career as a roving foreign correspondent, which included 40 days in captivity in Iraq when the first Gulf War broke out in the early 1990s. His captors treated him especially poorly because he was Jewish -- the most dramatic example of his intrepid life covering foreign wars and international disasters. It is certainly ironic and sad that Simon perished in the back of a cab in a car crash on the West Side highway, not far from his home.

Simon stands out as one of the unsung heroes whose quiet grace endeared him not just to his peers and colleagues, but also to the entire viewing audience of 60 Minutes.

Speaking of network television, it is hard not to feel a sense of embarrassment and bewilderment, over the rise and fall of long-time NBC anchorman Brian Williams. On top of the world with a mega contract, winning ratings, and guest appearances on hit shows like 30 Rock and Letterman, Williams had it all, but somehow thought he needed to embellish an already stellar resume and career.

His fall from grace -- and subsequent six-month suspension -- potentially could lead to a particularly common American narrative: a fall, a mea culpa tour, and then a successful second act.

Williams, I hope, will be able to learn from his mistakes and return to the perch he earned as the dean of broadcast journalism.

And then there is Jon Stewart, the Michael Jordan of late-night comedy. America's most trusted news source, "The Daily Show," has informed millions of millennials about the important issues of the day. But Stewart did this not with a well-coiffed countenance or slick graphics and dramatic war-torn backdrops, but with laser-sharp wit, sarcasm, and cynicism.

As heir to the trailblazing wit of Chevy Chase and a 1970s pioneering skit called "Weekend Update," Stewart every evening lifted the veil of hypocrisy and cynical politicking by this country's power elite. As many have said in recent days, you knew you were relevant if Jon Stewart and The Daily Show" skewered you.

Like an athlete who knows just went to hang 'em up, Stewart went out on his own terms, and at the top of his game. His widely quoted remark that he wants to have more dinners with his family, who, he said, "I have heard from multiple sources are lovely people," has, in its own funny way, a ring of truth to it.

Maybe Stewart, who now could potentially claim the mantle of "America's Most Trusted Newsman," wants to try his hand as an NBC anchor for six months? Nah. That would interfere with the family dinner hour.


Tom Allon, president of City & State NY, was a Republican and Liberal Party-backed mayoral candidate in 2013 before he left to return to the private sector.
Reach him at: