Come On, CBS Sunday Morning!

Come On, CBS Sunday Morning!

CBS Sunday Morning, you are my favorite show.

In a landscape of negativity and hopelessness with regard to media storytelling, CBS Sunday Morning presents pieces that celebrate the arts and life with laughter and tears.  One thing you do particularly well is reflect the emotional context of a given week or season with taste.  So I was surprised that your cover story for the week of Christmas was The Shadowy World of Counterfeit Wines.

Let me first give you some credit.  You know your demographic.  It’s highly educated, highly appreciative of the arts, and wealthy.  I get it.  This story was like an episode of White Collar for the wine world, perfectly suited for your demographic.  But it’s Christmas week.

The bulk of the piece was about billionaire Bill Koch’s wine collection and that a portion of it is counterfeit.  When he found out, he got angry and launched a legal battle.  The End.

Let me highlight some things that seemed outside the context of your typical production planning for a week such as Christmas week.

1.  Koch:  “For 421 bottles that are definitely fake, I’ve spent $4.5 million.”  According to the story, Koch himself said he’s spent nearly twice as much on fake wine as the average college graduate will make in a lifetime.  Why in the world would you use that painful comparison to bring attention to a loss?  If the same numbers were put on authentic bottles, would you say during Christmas week, “Look!  For twice as much as the average college graduate will make in a lifetime, I have 421 bottles of wine!”  Probably not, because it’s an inconsiderate thing to say.  Do you realize then that since the bottles are fake, it makes it even worse?  That money was wasted.

2.  In 1985, the so-called “Thomas Jefferson wine” sold for a record price of more than $157,000 to Christopher Forbes.  Factor in inflation and that amount more than doubles.  At the time of purchase, Christie’s offered the following disclaimer:  “There is an immense amount of circumstantial evidence supporting the ordering of this wine [by Thomas Jefferson] and its identification, but, of course, no proof.”   Here’s what I heard:  The amount spent on a single bottle of wine [accompanied by an authenticity disclaimer] was roughly triple the 2012 U.S. average household income.  Oh, and those are 1985 dollars.  Oh, and the official poverty rate in 2012 was about 15%.  Oh, and Merry Christmas.

3.  In 1988, Bill Koch bought four of these “Th. J.” wines for just under $400,000.  It’s like when you can buy four of something for $4 that cost $1.50 each.  That’s a savings!  Merry Christmas.

4.  When Koch began to question their authenticity, he hired investigators, including an ex-FBI agent.  Okay, so he put people to work.  That’s a good thing.  Merry Christmas.  And it paid off!  They informed him his bottles were fake!  (noisy inhale)

5.  Koch was furious!  Understandably.  These people had taken advantage of him.  “If it takes me until the end of the world, I’m going after the fraudster,” he said.  Yes, he said “fraudster.”  He goes on to admit, through a smile, that he’s spent (so far) $25 million on eight lawsuits aimed at the perpetrators of such counterfeiting.  That’s right.  There are few things in the world more worthy of $25 million in litigation costs.  Merry Christmas.

6.  CBS, toward the end of the story:  “As for Bill Koch, with more than 40,000 bottles in the cellars of his various homes, he’s stopped buying.”  [Cut to imaginary John Stewart]  Why?!  Oh God, please tell me, why?!  There are so many more bottles in need of a home!  For God’s sake, buy more homes to house them!  Bill Koch’s response:  “I’m tired of the aggravation of being violated by these con-artists and crooks.”  You tell ‘em, Bill!  We’ll show you…fraudsters!  We’ll spend whatever money is necessary to make sure that you get…what you deserve…fraudsters!  Because we’re tired of the aggravation of being violated…fraudsters!  If only the rest of the world could know what it feels like to be aggravated and violated.  Merry Christmas.

7.  As to the question “has it been worth it” to spend such large amounts of money to go after these crooks, he concedes to a comparison with Don Quixote’s windmills recognizing that his efforts might be in vain.  [Cue imaginary John Stewart again]  You think?!  Koch again:  “But, to me, it brings me great satisfaction.”  And come on, that’s worth $25 million, isn’t it?  Merry Christmas.

CBS Sunday Morning, the story was interesting at best, but it was a celebration of excess.  That might have been fine during another part of the year, but not during Christmas week.  Come on!

Note to Bill Koch:

Mr. Koch, I’m new to the world of writing and commentary.  The last thing I ever want to do is write things I would not say in person.  I recognize that the content above takes a comedic turn at your expense.  This is because in my opinion, a point made with a smile is often more powerful than one made in anger.  Having said that, Mr. Koch, I have no room to make any assessment on your character.  I just want you to be aware that your actions, when publicized, are at minimum confusing to the majority of Americans.  Such extravagant living is difficult to digest.  We have no tools with which to process it.  However, all things are relative.  I also have material things that are purely for pleasure.  So, where do I draw the line between appropriate excess and inappropriate excess?  I don’t know.

I enjoy challenging people to think differently about things.  I hope you will think differently about the role of wealth in your life.  Perhaps you could do something more socially productive with your surplus, and challenge your peers to do the same.  Merry Christmas…really.

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