Minefield Culture: Dubya’s Re-Election Sparks a Rant

minefieldBlitz Magazine, January 2005

Shhhhhhhhh. Don’t tell anyone what you know. Don’t let anyone know what you think. Keep your opinions to yourself. Smile. Be nice. Don’t upset the apple cart. Your job depends on it. Your career depends on it. Your children’s futures depend on it. Your life depends on it.

This is the environment in which we now live. It’s nothing new in many other parts of the world but, in North America, censorship has moved from a slow creep to a full gallop and it is the responsibility of all of us to do something about it.

We now live in a culture of ignorance. Talk to people you know—see how many bother to read newspapers. It shouldn’t surprise you that a lot of them don’t bother. Why? Too much information, and few of us have the time. More importantly, most of the information is useless pap.

Most importantly, many newspapers can no longer print real stories. They can’t discuss secrets and motivations of public figures and the corporate world. Journalists can’t break a lot of important news stories. Columnists can’t express their opinions. In some cases, newspapers are knowingly printing false information. Because editors and publishers don’t want to get fired. And, if they allowed their papers to return to the days when investigative reporting was an essential service performed by real journalists, they would be fired. By the corporate interests who own their papers and only want certain things revealed, and in a certain way.

Americans are fond of calling their nation ‘The Greatest Democracy in the World’. That statement is now so far from the truth that it wears the cloak of pathos. When the Republicans very much illegitimately made off with the White House in 2000, Americans had an opportunity to fight to have a real democracy (only Colorado has taken baby steps to try to change the system of electoral college-allocated votes). Americans had a chance to force their politicians to take a look at the Canadian system that, with all its faults, is still the best in the Americas. But Americans did nothing.

In November, they had another chance to take back their democracy. Instead, half of them had to suffer the humiliation of hearing the world’s collective gasp at the re-election of a man who is, without a doubt, the worst ‘leader’ their nation has ever had, a dangerous man leading a dangerous charge.

Canadians haplessly watch all of this, with no choice but to care, and worry, because we’re physically, economically and culturally attached. Woe to us. Because now the shredded US democracy is held hostage by a massive block of ‘Evangelicals’, a group of Christians most closely associated with ‘Family Values’. These people talk of this Family Values credo like it’s something new—as if millions of family members over many centuries have not held the same values.

It’s easy to make fun of the ‘born-agains’, with their hokey ‘praise the lords!’, their never-ending fundraising antics and their cult-like obsession with the bible—all conducted while said fundraising is wrought with fraud, their church leaders are involved in sex scandals, their fellow church members run corporations that are some of the biggest tax evaders, employee abusers and environmental offenders on the planet, and their kids spend their allowance on pot, crack and bullets.

Yes, these people are dangerous. Because they choose to lead lives of ignorance, and they want the rest of us to join them. Since the election, everyone in entertainment, broadcasting and journalism openly acknowledges that the Evangelicals have to be appeased. Pleased. Placated. Pandered to.

We all shook our heads at the uproar caused by the revelation that Janet Jackson has breasts. Now it’s not funny. Now it’s ‘No Sex! But, er, Have Babies! And, uh, Up with Marriage! But Don’t Let Yer Wife Find Out About Yer Other Gal! If Yer Gay, Don’t Tell Anyone! And if Yer Gay, uh, Down With Marriage! Up with The NRA! But, uh, No Shootin’ Anything Cuz The Bible Says Thou Shalt Not Kill!’

Yes, the bible-thumpers of America now have their hands firmly around the necks of American culture and it’s going to take one heck of a Democratic candidate to undo the damage in 2008.

Meanwhile, there’s an alarming increase in the number of American schools that, in sex education classes, teach one thing: abstinence. So there’ll be millions of teen-agers battling raging hormones while learning about sex every day, and in every way, from the Internet. With no access to birth control, lots of girls will get pregnant, and they won’t have access to abortion. While gun clubs proliferate and video games become violent to extremes previously unimagined, journalists will not be able to do stories that might offend the sensibilities of local pastors. Television producers will have to stick with stupid, ‘clean’ sit-coms, and movie producers can forget about releasing certain films in certain markets. Everyone involved in any form of media communications now has to wade through a minefield of hypocrisy and political correctness the likes of which no one has seen before.

How refreshing it was to see an American soldier ask Donald Rumsfeld an intelligent, cogent question relating to the fact that American soldiers in Iraq aren’t properly outfitted for combat. Rumsfeld was horrified, and so taken aback that his hands fluttered. Why? Because he had been assured that any media member not toeing the Republican Line had been blacklisted. There’s little doubt that a barred journalist fed that question through that soldier—a hugely sad commentary on the decline of democracy and freedom of the press.

North of the Mason Dixon Line, it’s no secret that an awful lot of Americans don’t hear about US soldiers dying in Iraq, that children are learning history from texts that have been ‘cleaned up’ (read: changed). They famously know little about other countries, other economies, and other civilizations. This means that there are millions of Americans who, unless they’re savvy enough to seek out independent journalism, don’t have all of the information, and truth, they need to be productive citizens.

This is censorship. By a group of people who cling to something that may or may not be real. And who, to satisfy their lust for their beliefs, invest millions in keeping one political party up, and keeping down–way down–anything resembling illumination, revelation and truth.

History has shown us, over and over and over again, that ignorance is dangerous. Rampant ignorance among Americans is bound to have an effect on Canadians. Which means that we must be very sure to protect and support writers, independent journalists, independent producers, independent broadcasters and the increasingly-precious CBC. If we don’t establish a bulwark against this new wave of censorship, we’re going to be in as much trouble as the Americans are now.

 

 

 

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Gretzky, Tylenol and the Real Spin City

gretzy1Blitz Magazine, November 1999

Watching the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease riddle Michael J. Fox as he testified before the US Congress recently, I wondered if Wayne Gretzky was also watching, and whether he felt horrified or mortified.

Gretzky, as you know, attached himself to a disease—osteoarthritis. He doesn’t have it; he’s never even been tested for it. He does have some pain, which (duh) he acknowledges as being the result of a lifetime spent playing a violent contact sport.

I don’t know how Fox’s 1998 announcement of his affliction affected Spin City’s ratings, but my theory is that it inspired a Johnson & Johnson spin doctor. That this person saw the sincere (and justified) outpouring of affection and concern for Fox and thought: ‘Hey! Gretzky’s a famous, popular, polite Canadian! A renowned athlete! He’s gotta’ be in some kind of  pain! We’ll tell the media he’s got arthritis! We’ll connect it to the non-profit sector! Sales of Tylenol will soar!’

On September 14th, this appeared, care of Canadian Press, in the Vancouver Sun: ‘The disease that affects more than four million Canadians has hit one of the country’s greats: Wayne Gretzy, recently retired hockey hero, seems to be suffering from arthritis.”

On the 15th, the item was on the front page of the Globe & Mail.

On the 16th, the TV commercials began. Interview format, Wayne Gretzky claiming to use Tylenol to treat the symptoms of a disease which he does not have.

Well, it blew up in the company’s face, with the media crying foul and Gretzky back-pedaling at slap-shot speed, telling the National Post that he often uses paying gigs to promote worthy causes, and claiming to be the victim of a newspaper war.

But Gretzky ain’t Bambi, and I doubt that it’s coincidence that the Tylenol/arthritis thing, the announcement of his new National Post column (yeah, right), the naming of an Edmonton highway after him etc., coincided with the launch of his clothing line at The Bay.

All of this got me thinking that Gretzky’s PR people forgot a crucial rule: Never make a journalist look foolish. There isn’t a journalist alive who hasn’t been duped–who’s been too busy, or too lazy, or too ambitious, or too short of time to check a fact. Who has printed information from a press release, or the newswire, without stopping to question the information. Who has then found himself with egg on his face.

‘Thing is, burned journalists have terrific memories. And the next time they receive information from that guilty PR firm, account executive or client, they will remember. And toss it aside. Or fact-check it until the subject screams for mercy.

The moral of this Gretzky story, then, is that unscrupulous, untruthful PR campaigns benefit no one, demean all involved and, in the long run, do nothing but damage.

 

Doing the Needful: Defending the Hateful

collinsBlitz Magazine, May 1999

Doug Collins just won’t go away. Collins is the (retired, thankfully) North Shore News columnist who is famous for his ridiculously right-wing positions—he’s a ‘new Canadian’ who constantly rails against immigration; he believes that the Auschwitz photographs were propaganda. On and on goes a never-ending stream of vitriol, a bilious spew which the paper’s editor, Tim Renshaw, appears to be unable, or unwilling, to stem.

When I was the North Shore News’ social columnist, I was often criticized—and, twice, banned from events—because I worked for the same paper that employed him (in a creepily stalwart and loyal manner, I might add).

Now that he’s hung up his dripping spike, I see Collins only at the dog park, where it seems that even the dogs move a little faster to pass this grim, angry guy.

In 1993, changes to the Canadian Human Rights Act included newspapers and other publications in the Act’s provisions. Those amendments, now embodied in the Human Rights Code, prohibit the publication of any statement that ‘indicates’ discrimination, or is ‘likely’ to expose a person, or group, or class of persons, to hatred or contempt.

In 1994, Collins wrote four columns to which a Jewish man objected. The man filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission. In February, a tribunal found Collins guilty of violating the BC Human Rights Code. He was ordered to pay the complainant $2000., and the North Shore News was ordered to cease publishing statements that ‘expose, or are likely to expose, Jewish persons to hatred or contempt.’

In April, Collins filed an appeal of this decision with the BC Supreme Court. He objects to the tribunal’s determination that it has a mandate to decide the appropriateness of a newspaper column, and that it can dictate the newspaper’s content. He is challenging the Human Rights Code, claiming that it infringes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and that it ‘is not a reasonable limit prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.’

No one wants to side with Doug Collins, but we are all now in the position of having to support his argument.

Journalists, through their presentation of factual information and their statements of opinion, are supposed to expose people, or groups of people, to contempt or hatred. Pedophiles, rapists, skinheads, ‘freedom fighters’, serial killers, crooked politicians—all need to be exposed to, at least, contempt. As a society, we need that exposure to take place. And, in a free society, we can’t have some tribunal (even the word is repellant) telling journalists that they must be selective in their reportage or statement of opinion—that it’s OK to not flatter, or to damage, the position of one group, but not another.

I have not read the offending columns. I read one hate-filled columns years ago and have not since read anything written by Doug Collins. But the courts have to grant that the public is capable of that same discrimination; that people have the ability to know, or learn, what is credible and what is nonsense. The courts have to provide protection for that nonsense. If they don’t, the credible—the essential—will be unprotected. As will we all.

 

On Dicks & Democracy

spin

Blitz Magazine, May 2001

I used to spend a lot of time with a political strategist. I’ll call him Dick. I can’t say I knew him well, because it was his goal to not be known well. Once, he had too much to drink and let slip his mother’s name. The only time I got a direct answer from him was when I asked the time.

I thought of Dick while watching the ‘debate’ during the run-up to the recent provincial election. There were four candidates, facing four seasoned journalists. The journalists asked questions. Their questions were not answered, not even indirectly. The robots spouted scripted statements vaguely relating to the subject. No one was challenged; there was no debate of any kind. Later, the media discussed who won.

There were only three notable things about the session: the incumbent’s response to every question was a tired deflection against Gordon Campbell; Campbell’s constant repetition of the words ‘British Columbia’, as if to remind himself what province we’re in. And Green Party leader Adrienne Carr’s statement that she “truly believes” that private sector businesses would “find a way”, on their own, to establish wage parity. Sure. Have another joint.

I’ve had several conversations with Premier-Elect Campbell over the years. Ordinary, interactive conversations. But for this election, he’d clearly put himself thoroughly in the hands of a Dick. So had the others. I could hear the conversation, applicable to any one of them.

“You said we weren’t supposed to speak to the public.”

“Correct.”

“Then why am I doing this debate?”

“Just recite one of the responses you’ve memorized.”

“What if the response doesn’t match the question?”

“Immaterial.”

“What if the journalists notice?”

“They’ll be drunk.”

“And later, when journalists gather around me to scram-”

“Scrum. Say nothing. Be in a hurry.”

“But what about democratic principles? What about my obligation to be open, honest, forthwith—”

“Forthright.”

“That too.”

“Forget democratic principles. This is an election.”

BC politics has always been unusual. But this election was extraordinary. I’ve never seen an election, anywhere, where the Dicks so obviously orchestrated everything. No attempt was made to hide that fact that Dicks had total control. Over every movement, every syllable spoken. No one got a direct response to any question, from any candidate, at any time. No citizen was able to spontaneously communicate with any candidate: when a candidate arrived somewhere, the grassroots members that everyone’s always gushing about were unable to get near him without literally muscling through the pre-arranged barrier of placard-waving supporters.

Thomas Paine is often misquoted. He didn’t say that ‘power corrupts’. He said that ‘authority corrupts’. The difference is evident here. Those who have attained power ceded the authority to acquire that power to highly-paid Dicks, Who are faceless, invisible, simultaneously paid by many differing interests, accountable to no one.

Who loses? Any pre-existing good intentions on the part of prospective politicians are smothered, which must make politics torture for the well-meaning. Governments vanish behind a fog that we can’t rely on journalists to dispel, because centralized media ownership dictates their positions. And the man on the street? What man on the street?

When Dicks run the show, we lose, Dicks win. The Dicks gotta’ go.


 

On Automobiles, Advertising & Talking to Americans

Blitz Magazine, January 2003

suv

I’m sitting in traffic, in my Mustang. We’re not going anywhere and I have no idea why. Because I can’t see a thing. I am surrounded by SUVs. And I start to think about how gullible people are. We know that, in an accident, an SUV is 30% more likely to roll and 25% more likely to kill the other driver. We know that, by virtue of their size, SUVs increase traffic volume, thereby increasing the amount of time vehicles are on the road, thus the amount of fuel burned. We know that SUVs burn more fuel individually, and that they cost more to insure. Yet people keep buying them.

I prefer the European attitude toward automobiles. They’re mere appliances, made of steel and plastic and rubber and fibre. Their purpose is to get people from point A to point B, in a safe and efficient manner, with some speed and a little fun thrown in. If you look at any European street, it’s clear that people there don’t care about dents and scratches, or dust and mud. I have an English friend who drives an old Bentley. It makes strange sounds, smells of cigars and is usually full of damp dogs, but it’s fuel-efficient and there’s no point in fixing something that ain’t broke. Over there, people like nice cars, but cars are by no means the status symbols that they are on this side of the pond.

In North America, automobile advertising has people believing that, without an SUV, people might not be able to drive up mountains—as many of us so often have to. Worse, advertising has people believing that SUVs are safe, and that they’re essential for good parenting. That a huge van with a built-in entertainment system is a must for childhood happiness, or that the ability to reconfigure seating will keep kids from fighting. I spend $80 a month on gas, which is barely enough to get the average SUV-wielding soccer mom to and from Wal-Mart. In fact, the money that parents spend on these contraptions each year far exceeds the annual tuition at most private schools.

The other message being swallowed is speed. (I should admit here that speed has always been a problem for me. In fact, I flunked my first driving test by going over the speed limit.) But, in Vancouver as, I’m sure, in other cities, speed has become an increasingly deadly problem.

On the one hand, there’s a huge population of recent yuppies who are too busy to drive their teen-agers anywhere. It’s a lot easier just to buy them their own high-performance cars—and trust them. On the other hand, Vancouver has a huge population of Asian immigrants. These people work hard and prosper in their new county, and they want to give their kids (especially their sons) everything their hearts desire. And they’re new to the culture, so they’re finding their way through that culture’s media.

In both cases, if the family prize wants the newest, fastest car on the lot? No problem! ‘Course, he could end up blind, paralyzed, dead or in jail… Recently, in a Vancouver suburb, road-racing teens snuffed out the life of a 30 year-old RCMP officer. This week, the officer’s parents (also Asian immigrants) were on the news—he was their only child and the item was on how they’re working with local government to stop road racing. The broadcast then went to commercial—it was a spot from Subaru, about its newest, fastest car. It’s ‘rally-proven!’

So now the question is, how socially responsible will advertisers be forced to become? We can’t advertise tobacco. We can’t show anyone drinking liquor. There are strict rules governing promotion of those products and only hypocrites can support those rules while claiming that the Zoom Zoom Zoom commercials don’t contribute to dangerous behaviour.

Obesity is a huge problem among North America’s youth, with a thoroughly preventable disorder saddling millions of kids with diabetes and heart disease. What’s this going to do to the rules of advertising for McDonald’s? Coca Cola? Chips, pop, doughnuts? Candy, chocolate bars? Pizza? Or those fat-packed, salt-soaked pre-made meals people keep buying?

We know that one cause of obesity is a sedentary lifestyle. What’s going to happen to the marketing of video games? Computers? And now Canada has ratified the Kyoto Accord and we are committed to reducing greenhouse gases. What’s going to happen to that automobile advertising? I have no answers here—but I do know that the future of marketing is going to be very interesting.

The whole Kyoto storm was another amusement. There’s Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, touting the oil industry line that cutting greenhouse gases is going to cost thousands of jobs and all kinds of money. Meanwhile, the precious Alberta beef industry depends (duh) on climate. Following the worst drought in the memory of every farming community on the Canadian prairies (the ‘bread-basket of the world’), Alberta farmers were shipping their cows to slaughter and entering lotteries in which the prizes were rail car-loads of moldy hay.

BC Premier Gordon Campbell took the same position as Klein. But Vancouver and its environs are now legally committed to bidding on the 2010 Winter Olympics. I’m writing this on December 16th. Vancouver’s famed winter rain arrived last week—two months late. I have a garden full of flowers, and the local mountains have yet to see a snowflake. Let’s hope that Whistler/Blackcomb can make enough snow by the time the Olympic Selection Committee gets here.

In the US, it’s ‘Global warming? What global warming?’ Rising sea levels are causing the United States to physically, and rapidly, shrink. Inestimable damage is done every year by increasingly intense storms, and American farmers are no happier than Canadian farmers. Cross-border smog has created an epidemic of asthma among Ontario children; in summer, from the sky, Toronto is barely visible. There are pockets of Texas where up to 40% of the population suffers from respiratory ailments and cancer is rampant. Ah, yes, Texas. Home of the World’s Most Dangerous Man.

There’s little doubt that, when Jean Chretien’s communications director called George Bush a ‘moron’, it was one helluva PR gaff—even though she was telling the truth. But it made me recall a famous quote by Barbara Bush. It took place at a party celebrating Dubya’s first Texas gubernatorial election. Babs, not realizing that there was a journalist behind her, reportedly turned to her daughter and said: “Can you believe this?”

If a guy’s mother doesn’t think he should be in public office, he shouldn’t be in public office. But Babs raised Dubya to do what he’s told, and he’s doing it. Texas industry put him in power and the result if now evident there. American industry put him in national power and the damage is evident everywhere else. Two years of this guy and the world is a disaster. Last night, Al Gore announced that he won’t run in the next presidential election; I get the feeling that he thinks he might not be able to fix things. On the same broadcast of 60 Minutes, Donald Rumsfeld was shown telling Steve Croft that the war on Iraq has ‘Nothing to do with oil. Nothing whatsoever’.

He’s lying. And everyone knows he’s lying. Senior US cabinet officials are popping up all over the place, doing as many interviews as they possibly can, trying to sell a war that has no credible basis. It’s gone past the point of ridiculousness to the point of comedy. Every day, there are reports that UN weapons inspectors have found nothing, and that they have unfettered access to suspected sites. And, almost every day, the British or American PR machines come out with a ‘new’ piece of ‘evidence’. ‘Oh,’ they say, ‘We’ve had this evidence for years—we just didn’t tell anyone.’ Who do they think they’re kidding?

Anyway, what set me off on this tangent is a 60-minute re-run of Rick Mercer’s Talking to Americans. At one time one of the funniest concepts on TV, watching it became one depressing experience. As you’ll recall, Mercer would ask Americans to comment on outrageously stupid ideas. So we see Americans congratulating Canada on legalizing insulin and staplers, the completion of 800 miles of paved road, getting a second area code and becoming part of North America. ‘Hysterically funny.

Then a professor at Columbia University signs a petition against placing Canadian senior citizens adrift on ice floes. A professor at Harvard, after proudly proclaiming that he received tenure in 1965, agrees that Irish-Canadians should be allowed to vote. A professor at Boston College considers the merits of Canada’s honouring of its treaty with Chief Gordon Lightfoot and allowing an annual rhino hunt. A professor at Stanford concurs with the notion of sending ground troops into Saskatchewan. And the governor of Arkansas congratulates Canada on getting FM radio. And they’re all serious.

When these spots first aired, Bill Clinton was president of the United States. If the American media had been less obsessed with his sex life, the world may be in better shape today; he recently told David Letterman that all of ‘that’ definitely distracted his administration from the hunt for Osama bin Laden, which began in the early ‘90s.

There was never any doubt about Clinton’s intellect. The guy is probably a genius. And when someone that sharp is running the show, other types of ignorance can be funny.

Now, ignorance is as deadly as any other weapon. And the Leader of the Free World (shudder here) is a dimwit. His ignorance is a staple on Saturday Night Live. It is commonly discussed on the late night talk shows. It’s now mentioned by mainstream journalists, as if it’s OK. But it’s not OK. While one can occasionally see a dim flicker of understanding in those tiny little eyes, there’s little doubt that he’s not the one running show. He’s being handled. Who by? Who knows? PR experts certainly, but who are they and what agenda do they have?

 My thoughts return, again, to how gullible people are. Americans in particular. There should have been massive protest, even civil disobedience, when Bush was elected in the shadiest of shady elections. There wasn’t. Texans voted for the guy because he likes to talk tough—they love that ‘Don’t Mess With Texas’ mantra. Just a few months ago, Americans had a chance to reduce the number of Republicans in office, reduce Bush’s power and damage his chances for re-election. Yet barely 25% of them turned out to vote.

My conclusion is that North Americans have adopted the mentality of sheep. If it’s advertised, buy it. If a politician says it, it must be true. If it’s in the papers, it’s gotta’ be real. Perhaps this mentality is not new, but it’s never been more unhealthy, more damaging, or more dangerous. And what we all want—what we all absolutely need—is for everyone to start telling the truth.

 

On Being Sick of the Blood

Blitz Magazine, January 2007

bleeds

The year of BC news-viewers’ discontent has begun, and in the most appalling fashion. It was yesterday that the first trial of alleged serial killer Robert Pickton began. We had been duly warned: Global began to advertise its up-coming coverage a week ago. Now, it has become clear that the news-viewing public will be forced to watch the media engage in the agonizing process of sucking every ounce of blood from this already-bloody story.

Pickton, as you know, is accused of killing 26 women, whom he lured from the Vancouver’s skid row to his suburban pig farm. He is now on trial for six of those murders. A cursory view of CTV showed that its coverage was in pretty good taste. Global was a different animal altogether, with anchor Deb Hope using her nauseating ‘there, there’ voice to repeatedly warn squeamish viewers to use their discretion, following which no fewer than five reporters filed from the courthouse.

Every available family member was tagged for comment, a diagram of the courthouse was shown and explained, the judge was profiled, the Crown prosecutor and lead defense lawyer were profiled, the victims were profiled. The biggest guffaw was elicited by an interview with a child psychologist who advised how to counsel parents on how to help their children deal with this coverage—although I noted that he did not advise turning the TV off.

We all know about the ‘if-it-bleeds-it-leads’ mantra. We’re used to it, which is why we’re all so desensitized to the carnage we watch on the news every day. But so much has been said about ‘thinking outside the box’, that one would think that news organizations might pick up on that. They haven’t. No news organization seems to want to dare to step outside of said box and make changes so that their news delivery is more dignified and professional. Instead of wanting to simply inform and enlighten, they want to continue to pile it on, feeding the most base and prurient thoughts to be mined from the minds of viewers.

Does this help society in any way? Not a whit. In fact, I would suggest that it contributes to stress, anxiety, negativity, fear, callousness, even crime. Not everyone watching these stories is rational, intelligent and strong enough to listen to this crap without being influenced by it. Indeed, perhaps Robert Pickton is one of those people.

 

Journalism in America: Blues, Buffs & Buttheads

In 1836, in The Pickwick Papers, Charles Dickens wrote the following:

It appears, then, that the Eatanswill people, like the people of many other small towns, considered themselves of the utmost and most mighty importance, and that every man in Eatanswill, conscious of the weight that attached to his example, felt himself bound to unite, heart and soul, with one of the two great parties that divided the town-the Blues and the Buffs. Now the Blues lost no opportunity of opposing the Buffs, and the Buffs lost no opportunity of opposing the Blues; and the consequence was, that whenever the Buffs and Blues met together at public meeting, Town-Hall, fair, or market, disputes and high words arose between them. With these dissensions it is almost superfluous to say that everything in Eatanswill was made a party question. If the Buffs proposed to new sky-light the market-place [sic], the Blues got up public meetings, and denounced the proceeding; if the Blues proposed the erection of an additional pump in the High Street, the Buffs rose as one man and stood aghast at the enormity. There were Blue shops and Buff shops, Blue inns and Buff inns;–there was a Blue aisle and a Buff aisle, in the very church itself.

Of course, it was essentially and indispensably necessary that each of these powerful parties should have its chosen organ and representative; and, accordingly, there were two newspapers in the town-the Eatanswill Gazette and the Eatanswill Independent; the former advocating Blue principals, and the latter conducted on grounds decidedly Buff. ‘

This passage stuck in my mind a long time ago, but I remembered it recently when I watched the brouhaha about Barack Obama’s speech to the schoolchildren of America. The reaction to the announcement of Obama’s speech was enough to elicit, from people with brains, gasps and giggles, as American parents bought the idea that Obama was going to brainwash their children, use mass psychology to indoctrinate them, and steal into their brains and turn them into little robots. These are the same people who think that Obama is a closet Muslim, that Obama rhymes with ‘Osama’ for an actual reason, and that Obama’s a socialist who is somehow connected to Hitler and Kim Jong-il (no kidding-check out the blogs).

And it wasn’t just parents; there were teachers–people with university educations, who were reluctant to let their students watch Obama’s speech. I sat through the painfully comical interview with the painfully stupid Arizona State School Superintendent who could say little other than that allowing children to watch Obama’s speech was nothing more than ‘hero worship’. He didn’t appear to know what the term meant-he just kept saying it because, obviously, someone had told him to.

‘Course, Obama told children to persevere, work hard and stay in school. Tsc tsc tsc…bad president. I didn’t happen to watch the speech, but I assume it was more entertaining than that of Ronald Reagan, who did the same thing but spoke to America’s kids about tax breaks and Republican policy. No indoctrination there!

The Dickens passage popped into my head just a few weeks later when, horrified and disgusted, I watched the mortifying behaviour of Americans during the town meetings held to discuss Barack Obama’s healthcare reform package. This, however, was a much more serious case of one party shooting down an idea because it was the other party’s idea. Who can forget the middle-aged woman who told the Senate committee how she was nearing the end of her life because, when the lump in her breast was found, her insurer cut her off?

In America, girls are encouraged to marry doctors because, if they do, they’ll be set for life. Parents hope that their children may become doctors because, if they do, they’ll be rich. In America, medicine means profit. And in order for healthcare to be reformed in that country, Americans have to get it into their heads that, when it comes to healthcare, profit is not the foremost consideration. That’s a gargantuan leap. Those who make their living managing hospitals, marketing hospitals or managing companies which supply the healthcare industry, and the shareholders of all of those companies, do not want people to make that leap.

Of course some of the hysterical people at the town hall meetings were on the payroll of interested parties. In this age of rampant corruption, that’s to be expected. But the level of ignorance displayed in the Man-on-the-Street interviews was more shocking, as we saw that an astonishing number of people actually believe that Obama’s plan would institute ‘death panels’, which would deny care to the elderly or disabled. And that Canadians have to ask permission of bureaucrats before they can see a physician. ‘Didn’t help that the Republicans were able to rustle up a disgruntled Canadian-and I’d like to know what her pay-off was.

The question becomes one of where these people got their information. And how they became so hopelessly mired in ignorance. But it’s a question easily answered–they got it from their journalists.

journalism rush

Just as there were ‘Blue’ and ‘Buff’ journalists in Dickens’ day, there are journalists today who are so stuck to their political parties that they’ve forgotten that they are journalists-or that they’re supposed to be. Either they’re truly and hopelessly indoctrinated, or it’s a matter of the fact that they cash cheques which come from media organizations whose shareholders tell them what side they will fall on–or their advertisers tell their bosses which side they will fall on. These people aren’t really journalists; they’re simply mouth organs for political strategists, who dismiss the concept of ethical behaviour because winning is all that matters.

I don’t even want to know how many people listen to likes of Rush Limbaugh, a man who has failed at everything in life except radio; an under-educated, hate-spewing rube who has likely never fact-checked anything before spouting it as gospel. Then there’s Ann Coulter, a very clever lawyer who should know better than to say anything without fact-checking it, and who continually gets caught lying about people and statements and events, but who just keeps on raking in the dough earned by her never-ending spew of bile.

And who can ignore Bill O’Reilly, who actually does have a journalism degree, but keeps on shoveling the shit anyway, distorting and twisting everything that crosses his path and, when he’s caught, shouts down opposers? It’s amusing to me that O’Reilly is a graduate of Harvard, and that Harvard’s seal reads ‘Veritas’.

If you take a look at the website of the Society of Professional Journalists, you’ll note that it points out that ‘professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility’. Then, if you look at its Code of Ethics, you’ll see that the main points are: ‘Seek Truth and Report It’, ‘Minimize Harm’, ‘Act Independently’ and ‘Be Accountable’.

Well, that pretty much knocks out Coulter, O’Reilly and Limbaugh, as well as a huge number of North Americans who are working as journalists, but who are really nothing more than suits and haircuts being told what to do and say by special interest groups. Either they don’t think about the enormous amount of damage they do when they deliberately mis-inform people, or they don’t care.

One hopes that there are parents who are now embarrassed about listening to all of the crap about Obama’s speech and now know better. One hopes that, each time they realize how very wrong their sources were, that people will stop listening to these base sources.  One especially hopes this when it comes to those who are listening to biased sources about American healthcare reform.

When we read Dickens (who was a real journalist), we see that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Our ancestors brought this system, and that mentality, to North America, where it flourished to such an extent that, today, journalists ‘belong’ to their political parties, and blithely lie so as to support the needs and desires of their masters. In the case of healthcare reform however, this practice, and the idea that the opposition’s idea must be shot down, regardless of whether or not it is a good idea, is going to continue to cost people their very lives.

dickens

Blitz Magazine 2009