Thursday, October 17, 2013

How to Disillusion an Entire Generation in 16 Days


GreenbergRants has been unusually silent for a while, some of you have pointed out. Yes, it’s true. Actually, I’ve been busy working some nice writing gigs that pay real money, while this blog only pays off in allowing me to vent my frustrations with the injustices that we endure in America every day. The latter is actually payment enough in some cases. But trust me when I tell you that I have been hyper-aware of the events unfolding in our nation’s capital over the past 16 days. And trust me when I tell you it all seems eerily familiar.

Way back in 1972 when the Republicans were accused of executing a break-in of the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate complex, I was a freshman in college. I bought a used 13-inch television set for $45 so that I could watch the nationally televised Watergate Congressional hearings. And yes, you may now add “nerd” to your list of descriptors of me, but even at age 19 I was oddly fascinated by a crime of this magnitude that could possibly have been perpetrated, or at least masterminded by the President of the United States, Richard Nixon. To make a long story short, for those of you who were not yet on the earth at that time, the end result was that top White House officials were forced to resign, and ultimately the President had to step down.

Well, that was a result, but the crisis had much larger implications. Those of us who had not even yet voted in a presidential election were left to sort through our own misgivings about our government. In truth, many of us never again trusted our government in the way that our older siblings or our parents did. We became cautiously cynical about government, and we were pushed hard into the realization that even the most powerful people in the country were flawed and not necessarily immune to the dangerous seduction of power. They were just people like us.

The comparison of the recent 16-day U.S. government shutdown to Watergate is clearly on the minds of others, as well.  The Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky wrote, “…this has been in its way worse than Watergate. Watergate ultimately vindicated our system against the machinations of one sociopath. It took time, because he was a president. But even he ultimately observed democratic norms and, when cornered, did the honorable thing.”

It gets worse. The Gallup organization released results of a poll this week, stating, “Eighteen percent of Americans are satisfied with the way the nation is being governed, down 14 percentage points from the 32% recorded last month before the partial government shutdown began. This is the lowest government satisfaction rating in Gallup's history of asking the question dating back to 1971.”

By the early 1970s when Watergate happened, young Americans were already disenchanted with the U.S. government, having lived under the cloud of the Vietnam War throughout their youth. When the Watergate story broke, it was almost like the final validation that what we believed about our government’s incompetence was accurate. Still, as Tomasky said, in the end at least there was some closure and some level of satisfaction that the bad guys got caught and were banished.

This time, the bad guys just got up the next morning and went back to what they want us to believe is work. Ted Cruz, the radical right-wing junior senator from Texas, who CNN’s Piers Morgan dubbed “the male Sarah Palin,” (below, right) who tried to lead the charge to defund the Affordable Care Act, is left friendless and pretty much powerless in the Senate, but he’s still standing and back at work. John Boehner, the weepy Speaker of the House is widely held to be a true failure in this battle, but he got up and put on one of his countless navy suits and headed back to work the morning after. Other Republican senators who actually voted against the new deal will have to live with the legacy of trying to prolong the government shutdown, and will likely pay for it at the polls.

But what about us? What about the citizens? We’ve been dealt some major blows here. The morning after the debt deal was finally approved, the big three credit reporting agencies were clearly shaken by the upheaval, and economists were left to wonder if the U.S. credit rating would be downgraded, which means higher interest rates for you and me.

That same morning Chase bank reportedly sent letters to its business banking customers informing them that they would no longer be allowed to make international wire transfers of money. Economists say that when a bank as big as Chase initiates capital controls, it usually means they’re nervous about money leaving the country. Economists also point out that if Chase is doing it, other big banks will do it, too. The banks are experiencing cash anxiety that they will pass on to you and me.

So what’s worse? The short term practical downsides of shutting the government down for 16 days, or the long term emotional and psychological scars? I’d put forth that it’s the latter. I had occasion to speak to a 20-something American during the shutdown, who said this: “I don’t see how any of it matters anyway. I mean it’s just a bunch of old white guys who are into their own shit and not really concerned about me. I mean they always get theirs, man. Right?

Well, he has a point, right? What it tells me is that it doesn’t really matter which party caused this, or which individual Congressmen or women exacerbated the problem. What matters is that once again our elected officials have let their misguided agendas potentially taint an entire generation’s trust level in their own government. That, coupled with the broader worldview of the incompetence of the U.S. Congress has now established 2013 as the year that may just last for several decades.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

THE DREADED J-WORD: JOURNALISM

Melissa Harris-Perry models tampon earrings.  Really.
It was a very embarrassing -one might say “humiliating”- week for journalism. One reporter wore tampons as earrings, live on air. Another tweeted a photo of himself almost nude, and a third reporter asked a highly respected scholarly researcher how he, a Muslim, could justify writing a book about Jesus.

Could it get any worse for the broadcasting business? Well, yes it could. In addition to all of the above, which I’ll detail in a moment, there was beleaguered, way-past-his-expiration-date Rush Limbaugh who said this of Huma Abedin, wife of serial sexter Anthony Weiner: "It's relevant to point out here by the way ... Huma is a Muslim. In that regard, Weiner ought to be able to get away with anything.

“Muslim women don’t have any power, right?” he continued. “Muslim women are beheaded, stoned, whatever, if they drive, have affairs. In certain countries, Muslim women, if they’re raped, are killed -- it’s their fault."

Hmmm..did you know we behead Muslim women in America? I did not know that. Oh, and did someone forget to tell Rush that Huma Abedin was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan?

Meanwhile, none other than anti-journalist Glenn Beck rented a series of rooms in a downtown Salt Lake City hotel to display his collection of Nazi memorabilia, including hooded KKK cape, a swastika banner that was used at Nuremberg, a copy of Mein Kampf signed by Adolf Hitler, the love letters of Hermann Göring, a satin handkerchief with Hitler’s blood.

Oy.

If you’re already starting to hyperventilate at all of the above, calm yourself and read on. First, about those earlier-mentioned earrings. Melissa Harris-Perry, a relative newcomer to the cable news circus, hosts a Sunday round table talk show on MSNBC. After state troopers confiscated tampons, maxi pads and other potential projectile items from those entering the Texas state capitol building recently, Perry made light of the civic debacle this way:
                       

Upon seeing Harris-Perry don tampons on her lobes, satirist and cultural commentator Dennis Miller tweeted, “David Brinkley turning over so rapidly in his grave you could make chicken shawarma in it.”

"70 is the new 50"...Not
Oh and about that above-referenced journalist who tweeted an almost-naked shot of himself: That would be Geraldo Rivera, 70, of Fox News. Rivera, whose checkered career spans five decades, tweeted the selfie with the tag line, “70 is the new 50.” No Geraldo, based on what we see in the photo,
70 is 70, and my unsolicited advice goes like this: Get dressed.

Compounding the tasteless episode were Rivera’s own words of attempted justification. He began by explaining he had had a long day at work, and he had a couple of drinks before breaking out the camera. Then he said, "And I never do tequila when I'm alone, but I had this new bottle that someone had given me. That second my fate was sealed. I said, 'Dammit, I like that picture.' I had learned how to use Twitter a couple of weeks ago and there I was."

Yes, Geraldo, there you were, but what about us? Do we really need to know that when you’re alone you like to do tequila shots and take naked self pics?

Then there is the case of Lauren Green, also of Fox News, who conducted an on-air interview with religious scholar Reza Aslan. Aslan, author of Zealot: The Life &; Times of Jesus of Nazareth, thought he was to be interviewed about the research he did and the content of the book. But Green inexplicably decided to interview him about how odd she found it that he, a Muslim would write about Jesus. Watch:
The Twitterverse exploded following Green’s disastrous interview. Tweeted one viewer: “Me: ‘I’m an oceanographer.’ Green: ‘But you live on land.’”

It bears mentioning that all of the broadcasters mentioned herein are experienced adults who were most likely hired in part based of their editorial judgment (except perhaps Harris-Perry, who has no background in media, according to her own bio). Of course one can also be fired for editorial judgment issues – does the name Don Imus ring a bell? Why then, would any of these professionals say or do what I have described here?

In part, this can be explained by a lack of oversight on the part of news directors and the editorial brass. The game today is all about attracting and retaining viewers or listeners. Watch cable news networks often and long enough and you will see a plethora of incidents just as tasteless and unprofessional as the ones I have described here.

You are observing the pioneer days of the 24-hour news cycle. It may not seem that way, but consider that even the granddaddy of all round-the clock news, CNN is only 33 years old. Others, like Fox and MSNBC didn’t arrive on the screen until 1996. By then, the average household in America was either wired for cable or just about to be, which meant the American viewer was on the threshold of remote control roulette. After decades of having just three or four stations from which to choose, suddenly we were in the TV driver’s seat with up to 200 channels. Heady stuff.

From there, cable news stations went into what we could term a “cultural decline.” And now, this many years later, a host is wearing tampon earrings, another is naked on Twitter and a third evidently hasn’t read her interviewee’s book, so she decided to try to discredit the author instead of discussing his work. Ugh.

According the a new Gallup poll, Americans’ confidence in TV news is down to 23 percent of those who responded. That matches our lack of confidence in newspapers. To give you an idea of how bad the numbers look, in 1996 our confidence in TV news was at 46 percent. In 1980 our confidence in newspapers was at 51 percent. (These figures area based on responses when asked if consumers have “a great deal or quite a lot of confidence” in these entities.)

Jon Stewart -- The New Cronkite?
If that doesn’t disturb you, you should also know that among young people, high profile news broadcasters are not trustworthy. Who will ever forget the TIME Magazine poll in 2009 that found Jon Stewart of The Daily Show the most trusted newscaster in America. Huh?

Therein is the danger of cable news networks putting people like Harris-Perry, Rivera and Green front and center. As if the journalism profession were not sullied enough by its own historical missteps, by promoting individuals who value entertainment over substantive content, the viewing public comes to equate their broadcasts with any other white noise that comes from our increasingly technologically- sophisticated televisions. The technology is at an all-time high while the content of what it projects is in the gutter.

I remember about a zillion years ago when I was in journalism school, NBC anchorman John Chancellor came to speak to us. He said, “You are about to enter the most noble profession there is. Keeping the citizenry informed about the issues that directly touch their lives is as important as any job can be. It’s a big responsibility that carries with it a rich history to which you will now contribute.”

Those were some wise words. Compare that with a quote from Geraldo Rivera: “I’m old, but I’m still cute and strong…and very butch.”

Fellow TV viewers..we’re doomed.