Sunday, June 12, 2011

I Know it When I See It

Thomas Jefferson was really big on a free press. So much so that freedom of the press is a part of the very FIRST amendment to the United States Constitution. According to one of my old journalism teachers, journalism is the only career that is protected in the constitution. He wrote about it often in other writings. He said, "No government ought to be without censors, and where the press is free, no one ever will." He had a purpose in mind for that free press-the so called "fourth estate." The title "the fourth estate" was first used in Europe, also in the 18th century. It was said that each branch of government has three estates (in the U.S. those would be legislative, judicial and executive.) But the press, even there, was the "fourth estate," because it was also there to protect the people. Back to Jefferson-he also said that, "The press is the best instrument for enlightening the mind of man, and improving him as a rational, moral and social being." My, how far we have come. And how quickly. Even before he died, Jefferson also said, "The most truthful part of a newspaper is in the advertisements." This is pretty much where the hill started tilting downward for us as a nation. There are some journalists, and journals, who still take their responsibility seriously as the eyes of the people on the government. I'm a big fan of Jeremy Scahill, for example, who wrote a book exposing the use of Blackwater in the war in Iraq. But for the most part today, the press that is most often viewed by the American public has become nothing more than a large collective of pornographers. I think the fun they've had with the Anthony Weiner photo scandal is absolute proof. The other men who have recently misbehaved in a sexual way have not had the wall-to-wall coverage that this one has. It is amusing to me to watch the smug looks on their faces as they play word-games with the fact that Anthony Weiner's name is the same as a slang term for a man's penis. I have not, in fact, heard the word "penis" quoted on commercial or cable news so much in my life. What possible "redeeming social value" does this have? Why couldn't John Ensign, Mark Sanford or David Vitter have had such salacious surnames? I rest my case.

That's a pretty harsh statement, right? Well, show me a recent example of the mainstream media doing their business as designed-exposing corruption in the government, or enlightening the American public. I'm open. Please-show me! In the 1957 Supreme Court decision Roth vs United States, the court defined obscenity as, "the dominant theme of the material, taken as a whole...appeals to the prurient interest, which is utterly without redeeming social importance." This is how I see a great deal of what is purported to be "news" in our country today. Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Anthony Weiner, and, yes, Sarah Palin, contribute nothing of value to our national discourse-except perhaps during the initial "this is what happened today," phase. And even during that phase, there is much of what is deemed news that I, and many people I talk to, wonder if it "enlightens" the public in any way. In 1964, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said, "I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so {defining obscenity} but I know it when I see it." This is where the subject becomes Sarah Palin.

I made a comment last week that I believe her to be a loathsome human being. A friend asked me why I thought that she is any worse than "any publicity seeking" person. And there are many reasons. Perhaps "loathsome" is not fair, but I do not share her "family values," her desire to have absolutely everything only on her own terms, and I do not believe that she has contributed one single positive line to the discussion of what ails us as a country. Here is why:

1. Sarah Palin LOVES the media. She Tweets, she Facebooks, she contributes something to Fox news, but she blames the media for every possible bad thing that has ever happened in her life. Every question is a so-called "gotcha" question. When she recently gave a rambling, incoherent answer about Paul Revere's ride, the "gotcha" question was, "What have you got from your trip, and what are you taking away with you?" She called that a "gotcha" question when she was called on her particular spin on the Paul Revere story. Gotcha!!! Every single person who runs for office is asked what they read, watch or listen to. People like knowing such things. I recently saw an interview with Mitt Romney in which he was asked what was on his iPod. He wasn't bothered by it-and he answered the question. We know a little more about him as a result. But when Katie Couric asked Sarah Palin what newspapers she reads, she got rattled and said, "Oh, all of them." And then accused Ms. Couric of asking "gotcha" questions. Her response shows that it was indeed a gotcha, because it should have enlightened the public about how well Ms. Palin thinks on her feet.

2. She uses her children as props, but wants the press to pretend they aren't there. During her recent bus trip around some U.S.historical sites, her daughter Piper said to the media, "Thanks for ruining our vacation." If I were the therapist who will most assuredly be counseling Piper twenty years from now, I would love to say to her, "Look, Darling, if it were just a family vacation, it would not be paid for by your mother's pac, nor would it be in a bus decorated to call attention to your family." A bus with Sarah's autograph on it, with a rendering of the preamble to the constitution, and an American flag on the side, this was not an anonymous family vacation. But Sarah wouldn't have the balls to say to Piper, "Piper, honey, we need a free press to keep us free from oppressive government." Or, "Sweetie, I want the press here. That's why I painted the bus that way." I won't even bring up Bristol's pregnancy, and how Ms. Palin stroked the family on stage when she got the nomination for vice president in 2008. A family is not a stage prop, brought along to polish an image. And if a mom marches the family in front of the public that way, they do become fair game. This is another thing I was taught in journalism school-public figures are "fair game." If Mama Grizzly doesn't want the kids to be fair game, she shouldn't use them as props.

3. She uses pac money for personal vacations. Or does she use personal vacations for campaigning? If it is the first, which, according to Piper it was, then it is illegal. Ask Christine O'Donnell. Using political contributions to pay for your personal living expenses is against the law. So, is she being dishonest about her purpose, or did she use the money in an illegal way.

4. She is completely dishonest about American history. According to her interpretation of Paul Revere's ride, for example, Revere rode, not to warn the colonists that the British were coming, but to tell the British that they couldn't take our guns. The second amendment to the constitution wasn't even written until twelve years later.

5. She contributes nothing to the national debate. She throws out red herrings, applause lines and extreme right-wing talking points, but she has not voiced an original idea since she entered the national consciousness.

6. When her "gaffes" are pointed out, she never, ever, ever admits that she was wrong. It's okay to say you were wrong. It doesn't mean you are weak. At least I hope not, since I am frequently wrong, and I admit it regularly. I was always taught that showing some humility, and admitting it when you are wrong is a sign of maturity. People are more likely to forgive a mistake if it is admitted. But when someone insists that they were not wrong, forgiveness and admiration of one's humility cannot take place. Ask George W. Bush. It was one of the things he was often criticized for. Some people are still talking about his comment that his biggest regret in life was "trading Sammy Sosa." Really? A guy who over-drank, used cocaine, sent us to war over WMD that did not exist? When Ms. Palin first came into the national spotlight, I compared her to a female George W. Bush. I'm completely afraid now that she would be way worse.

Speaking of being willing to admit being wrong, I think "loathsome" might have been a bad word choice. Based upon the emails that were released this weekend, Ms. Palin did (apparently) have potential as a national candidate. However, over and over again she has shown an inability to answer questions on the fly,  or think on her feet. What about that 3:00 A.M. phone call-the one on the red phone? Once her fame occurred, once she realized that no matter how silly it appears on the surface, the press will follow her like starving dogs, she lost her bearings. Her fame, new wealth, and rock star status went to her head, and because of her inability to process all that attention reasonably, she has done nothing but stumble. So while she may not be a loathsome human being, she may really be a victim of "new money" syndrome, she has shown that without doubt she would be a loathsome elected official. She has become a publicity whore, but one who wants to control a narrative that is not controllable. And the reason for that is because the press, according to the definitions given at the beginning of  this essay, the press are her pornographers. 

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A Picture is Worth.....

During the war in Viet Nam we saw this:
and this:

and this:

It lead to this:

And this:

We've now been in Afghanistan for nearly ten years because they were the garden in which the plot to attack the United States on September 11, 2011 was germinated. But we don't have the protests going on. The Bush administration kept the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq off the books, so every penny spent is adding to our deficit while we pretend that it isn't costing us a thing. The lives of our soldiers and Afghan civilians are being wasted by traditional warfare-terrorists don't operate on a traditional field of battle. Not to mention that we have been told repeatedly that the terrorists who attacked us are now in Pakistan.

During this time we've seen this:

                                                                     And this:

 ...and many more disturbing pictures. Battle wounds that would have killed soldiers forty years ago do not now, so we have people surviving multiple limb losses, and traumatic brain injury. We've seen mercenaries hired by the US government kill multiple civilians, and giant corporations with ties to higher ups in our government make obscene amounts of money while doing shoddy work that has put our soldiers in danger. The same scandal occurred with the care being given in our military hospitals. The number of soldiers who have come home only to commit suicide or wind up homeless because care for mental wounds is even harder to come by is staggering. So, why aren't we angry? Is it really because we don't have a draft? We don't need do this:

Is it because we are too busy doing this:

And This:
Or this:

Or This:
Or This:

People, we can't continue to be so fat and lazy that we just won't bother to: